Post-Haste Reed Duo: beneath a canopy of angels...a river of stars
“There aren't many saxophone and bassoon duos,” declaim saxophonist Sean Fredenburg and bassoonist Javier Rodriguez in what certainly must be one of the year's biggest understatements, even if 2016 is in its early stages. But as their Post-Haste Reed Duo debut release makes clear, theirs is no novelty act; the music on the release holds up as an excellent collection of contemporary classical works by Louis Andriessen, Simon Hutchinson, Lanier Sammons, John Steinmetz, and Ethan Wickman, no matter the instrumentation involved.
The two met as students at Louisiana State University and then again years later, becoming friends first and musical colleagues later. When not performing as the Post-Haste Reed Duo, Fredenburg is Instructor of Saxophone at Portland State University and Rodriguez Assistant Professor of Bassoon at the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho. Not surprisingly, the two weren't able to draw upon an extensive body of works for saxophone and bassoon so set about creating arrangements of existing pieces and commissioning material for the newly formed group to play. On the recording, four commissions are featured along with an arrangement by Jeff Chambers of Andriessen's Lacrimosa (1991) specifically created for the Portland-based duo.
The album begins with Hutchinson's bioMechanics (2011), which expands on its woodwinds soundworld using electronics. Said addition allows Fredenburg and Rodriguez to build dramatically on their core sound and transform the group into an industrial-strength electro-acoustic ensemble featuring bassoon and saxophone as its front-line. In this bold opener, sheets of metallic noise as well as beat patterns interact with the duo's acoustic sonorities, making for something of a showstopper, even if it's just seven minutes long. Still, as interesting as the opening piece is, it's bettered by the second, not only because it's an Andriessen composition and therefore evidences his distinctive composer's voice but also because of its austere presentation. In addition, the material exudes a character reminiscent of Stravinsky's later works, plus the arrangement allows the microtonal combinations of the two voices to be heard with remarkable clarity.
Confluences, Wickman's 2014 work for alto sax and bassoon, works through three movements, the first (“Rogue”) an attempt to mirror unpredictable planetary movements in the spiraling interactions of the instruments, and the second (“Receding Orbits”) a comparatively plaintive study in independence and unity. The third movement gives the album its title and concludes Wickman's piece with a minimalism-styled to-and-fro of cyclical patterns. Sammons' Some thoughts about time (2012) reintroduces electronics for six short episodes of contrasting character, some intricate and agitated (“Strata”), and others calmer by comparison (“Intertwined,” “Held”). At album's close, Steinmetz's four-part suite Songs and Dances (2013) ranges between the pulsing, minimalism-fueled “Prelude” and lyrical, Nyman-esque “Aria/Procession” to the melancholy “Folk Song” and joyous “Dance Song.”The pieces that are most memorable and come into strongest focus are the opening two, in part because their longer duration allows them to establish a stronger identity than the shape-shifting settings that follow, as colourful and rich in detail as they are; still, whatever one's response to the material, there's no denying that Fredenburg and Rodriguez bring a consistent level of conviction to all of it. But what beneath a canopy of angels...a river of stars demonstrates above else is that whatever reservations one might harbour regarding the limitations of a saxophone-and-bassoon pairing can be set aside, as Fredenburg and Rodriguez clearly show that music of limitless stylistic range and emotional scope is possible when such instrumentation is involved.