Phillip Schroeder: Passage Through a Dream

Passage Through a Dream, Phillip Schroeder's follow-up to his 2006 album Move in the Changing Light, proves to be as satisfying as that earlier release, with five premiere recordings presenting euphonious music of crystalline beauty. With its focus on long, flowing lines, Passage Through a Dream's compositional style echoes that of Gavin Bryars, though in Schroeder's case Bryars' bass is replaced by multi-layered piano sprinkles. That connection is strengthened by the inclusion of clarinet in Schroeder's music (alternately played on this recording by Michael Henson and Marty Walker), which calls to mind the lead role Roger Heaton's clarinet takes in Bryars' Ensemble and on the After The Requiem, Vita Nova, and The Sinking Of The Titanic recordings, for example. Schroeder's music also fits comfortably into the West Coast ambient-minimal style associated with Jim Fox's Cold Blue label (tellingly, Fox plays a hand in Schroeder's new album, with Fox contributing design, graphics, and editing to the project).

The five pieces are chamber-like serenades, calming in the extreme and masterfully realized by the musicians involved. In addition to the aforementioned Henson and Walker, Schroeder's joined by soprano Erin Bridgeman, Rick Dimond on accordion and vibraphone, Jamie Lipton on euphonium, harpist Jane Grothe, and flutist Jennifer Amox. In the entrancing title piece, Henson's extended clarinet notes stretch languorously across shimmering piano clusters, which Schroeder builds up using multi-tracking and digital delay. The effect is like that of cumulus clouds drifting across the sky, their movements so slow as to be almost imperceptible. In contrast to the uplifting mood of the opener, “A Necessary Autumn” is, yes, autumnal in spirit, with Walker's clarinet in this case unfurling long, woodsy tones against a dense piano backdrop Schroeder enhances with upper-register electric bass playing. Lipton's euphonium playing adds to the already dense, digitally delayed flow of Henson's clarinet and Schroeder's four-hand piano on “Oceans of Green.” During the ruminative “On Occasion,” Walker's clarinet becomes the stablizing nucleus around which constellate Dimond's accordion and vibraphone and Schroeder's electric bass. If there's one piece that separates itself from the others, it's clearly “Sky Blue Dreams” (composed in 1985 but revised in 1994 and 2010), the only setting to feature vocals. In this recording, soprano Erin Bridgeman drapes her soothing voice across an ethereal backdrop of woodwinds, vibraphone, harp, and piano.

Though subtle differences in instrument groupings create contrast from one piece to the next, the five form a unified whole, due in large part to their shared style and the omnipresence of Schroeder's multi-tracked piano playing, a sound rendered even gauzier via the addition of digital delay. Processing the instruments' sounds using delay results in lush fields of sound, and the resultant music assumes a dream-like, slightly out-of-focus character when the echo of its elements continues to resonate after they're played. Such treatments merely intensify the mystical and meditative qualities that Schroeder's pieces fundamentally possess in their compositional makeup.

September 2011