Jeffrey Roden: Threads of a Prayer Volume 2
Solaire Records

Listening to Jeffrey Roden's music is akin to entering a quiet gallery of refined b&w photography after suffering the sensory overkill of Times Square. Such an experiential shift, while jarring, salves when the eye is suddenly allowed to focus on single image details and absorb them at one's leisure. There's no better illustration of the composer's style than his Threads of a Prayer project, which now arrives in what one presumes to be its concluding chapter. It would be well-nigh unthinkable for anyone who acquired the first installment in the series to not complete it by obtaining the second volume, too. It's an indispensable part of the whole, even if it's naturally overshadowed by the epic, two-hour-long first volume.

Certainly the second release's style of music and stripped-down presentation are complementary to the first, with again the playing of pianist Sandro Ivo Bartoli prominently featured. Solaire Records' presentation of Roden's work is as exemplary as before, with the CD housed within a slipcase and accompanied by a thirty-six-page booklet featuring articles, essays, and photographs. Four compositions are performed, two by Bartoli alone and the others by two trios, the first piece scored for violin, double bass, and timpani and the other violin, double bass, and organ. Double bassist Szymon Marciniak, organist Tobias Fischer, timpanist Wolfgang Fischer, and violinists Jakub Fiser and Stepan Jezek join Bartoli on the recording. That the second volume seems like a natural extension to the first is borne out by the fact that the new release's material stems from the same sessions as the first; certainly there are similarities in tone and dynamics, with the music on both volumes pitched at the level of a sustained hush and characterized by delicacy, introspection, and nuance. Comparisons to the music of Morton Feldman are both understandable and unavoidable.

Roden's long career as a professional bassist who issued five CDs of solo bass playing feels a long way removed from the current project, so much so that it in many ways feels like a total reinvention. That said, the heightened sensitivity to time and space that distinguishes the best bass players is central to Threads of a Prayer also; in Roden's own words, “Time is of monumental importance in my work, and I spend quite a bit of energy and focus on the amount of time that elapses between sounds and in the decay of a chord or note.” It's the kind of intimate music, in other words, where every detail signifies, not only the notes played but the spaces between them, too.

Listeners acquainted with the first volume will already have expectations of what to expect before the first note on the second sounds, and it shouldn't therefore come as any surprise when Fiser and Marciniak inaugurate the field with static single-note pitches. Variations in pitch follow as the strings map out the territory with stately solemnity, accents by the timpani added to deepen the dramatic effect. During as we rise up, organ playing appears but more as a quietly throbbing backdrop to the minimal expressions of Jezek and Marciniak. Bartoli brings a similar mindset to the title track and 6 pieces for the unknown, his ponderous solo playing accounting for three-fifths of the fifty-three-minute total. The instrument's ideal for presenting Roden's music in the way the sustain of its notes extends into the lengthy pauses separating one note from the next. When gestures are so small in number, each one carries with it pronounced significance.

Musically speaking, there's nothing less satisfactory about the second volume compared to the first, yet it can't help but feel like the less substantial of the two, given how much it's in the first release's shadow. Here's that rare instance where it might have been better to release Threads of a Prayer as a complete three-CD set rather than as separate volumes. Regardless, never was there a time more in need of music like this than now: in its own self-effacing way, Roden's project is like a manifesto arguing vociferously on behalf of meditative music everywhere and the benefits that accrue from carving out temporal spaces for quiet, reflection-inducing music.

July 2017