Billband – Towards Daybreak

Billband is a chamber ensemble organized by composer Bill Ryan, created to perform his music. I’d best characterize Ryan as a post-minimalist, drawing inspiration from classical, jazz and popular music and bringing them together in an original fashion.

Most of the music on this album was commissioned by a dance company, and the works have a certain programmatic quality to them. As with most composer-founded ensembles, the intimate connection between creator and composer works to the music’s advantage. These players know Ryan’s music — and it shows in their committed performances.

Ryan’s music is somewhat sparse, so how it’s performed makes a world of difference. Simple Lines, for example, is a work for two cellos (or in this case, one cello overdubbed) with rather plain melodic lines. But the expressiveness cellist Ashley Bathgate pours into those lines makes this work a thing of beauty.

Sparkle, as the name implies, is a light, shimmering work. Glockenspiel and piano tinkle away in the upper register while the soprano sax adds a glistening melody.

My favorite track is Blurred, which begins with a simple piano line. The line becomes obscured as it repeats against slightly different versions of itself. Cello and violin lines slide from note to note, further smearing the sound. Overall, a quiet and quite effective work.

Not all the works are slow — Rapid Assembly is a jazzy little number, and Friction is a bundle of nervous energy — but there is a uniformity to the album. Ryan draws on a small group of instruments; piano, violin, cello, percussion, bass clarinet, and saxophone. This provides a consistency of timbre to the album.

Listening from start to finish provides a complete aesthetic experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The works on this album are, on the whole, quiet and introspective, and deeply emotional. This is quiet time well spent.

Billband : Towards Daybreak 

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