Daniel Lentz: River of 1,000 Streams
Cold Blue

A new Cold Blue release by Daniel Lentz is always cause for excitement in these parts. For forty-plus years, the Southern California composer has been dazzling listeners with his highly personalized music, one that like Cold Blue deflects attempts at genre pigeon-holing. Minimalism's present, true, but embedded so deeply within the complex DNA of a Lentz composition it dissolves, and without too much effort traces of jazz and popular music might be located, too; at the very least, his music is richly textured, rhythmically propulsive, and melodically enticing. Refreshingly free of lugubriousness, Lentz's panoramic tapestries never fail to reward the listener with their vibrancy and evocative power.

In Fanfare magazine, Robert Carl contrasted the “fogs and mists” of Ingram Marshall's work with the “bright, edgy, poppy sounds and rhythms” of Lentz's. The characterizations aren't inaccurate, but in the case of 2016's River of 1,000 Streams the lines blur: in presenting a much more textural style, the twenty-eight-minute piece is both a quintessential Lentz work, as exemplified by the clear melodic figures that intermittently extricate themselves from the whole, and one reminiscent of a Marshall piece like Fog Tropes in the way the layers collapse into misty wholes. That latter effect is a product of the work's design: as performed by renowned pianist Vicki Ray, River of 1,000 Streams shadows the performer's playing with up to eleven layers of “cascading echoes,” echoes that, generally one to a few bars in length, reappear anywhere from a half-second to twenty-five minutes after the originating material is played.

If anyone is up to the challenges of Lentz's piece, it's Ray. A longtime new music champion, the current head of the piano department at CalArts has worked with Steve Reich, Oliver Knussen, Louis Andriessen, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, among others, and has appeared on labels such as Tzadik, Nonesuch, Innova, Cold Blue, and New World. In terms of overall effect, the piece, “conceived one early morning on the banks of the Yellowstone River” according to Lentz, rolls forth with the unstoppable force of a huge mass, its bass tremolos initially rumbling like some below-ground geological awakening before ascending gradually in pitch like a slow-motion wave. As the parts accumulate into dense, rolling clusters, Ray's rendering invites comparison to similarly layered presentations by Charlemagne Palestine and Lubomyr Melnyk, but Lentz's individuating voice asserts itself loudly when those bright melodic figures chime, much like radiant shafts of light breaking through heavy cloud cover. Think of River of 1,000 Streams as a distinctive addition to a remarkable, still-growing discography.

September 2017