FAME Review: Octet Ensemble - Scatter My Ashes - William Susman
Octet Ensemble - Scatter My Ashes - William Susman

Scatter My Ashes -
William Susman

Octet Ensemble

Belarca Records - 0004

Available from Amazon.com.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

In another review this month, I mention there are certain guitar stylists I don't dare begin listening to unless I'm prepared to go through their entire catalogues: Grant Green, Gabor Szabo, George Benson, etc. That's because I get so damned captivated even despite a deep enamorment for the wild fretbenders (John McLaughlin, Robert Fripp, Ritchie Blackmore, that ilk). Well, the same is true on the progressive music side of the house with cats like Mike Oldfield, Barclay James Harvest, and Phillip Glass, especially Glass. There's just something in how he handles the serial minimal task that aces everyone else (Reich, Adams, Nyman), his work filled with a luminescence particular to the man's genius. However, I also listen closely to all those 'somebody elses' and now can add William Susman to the list of hyper-competent composers broadening an oft-embattled field ('n what the heck is wrong with people that they don't understand the sublime genius of work like this?).

His 2009's Music for Moving Pictures (here) was a knockout, but Scatter My Ashes is definitely more refined into the serial / operatic vein, true undiluted neoclassicalism heavily imbued with Impressionist / Romantic overtones and baselines. There are 18 movements here to four song cycles written between 1992 and 2011, one of them rescored for octet, but, really, everything flows in linear and circular motion as though a beautifully eccentric segmented ballet simultaneously restrained and exuberant, more than once ecstatic. Mellissa Hughes, who has worked with top-shelfers Steve Reich and John Zorn among many others, encants Sue Susman's libretti (two cycles), interesting meditations, at times extended haiku-esque, first on elementalities and then the myriad enigmas of earth's most quizzical life form: human beings and their baffling shenanigans.

The combination of Elaine Kwon on acoustic piano and Susman on electric is intriguing, one rarely runs across it even in jazz bands, but then everything about Scatter is transcendentally unorthodox, the octet extraordinarily disciplined, often deceptively so. I attended a Glass concert years ago in Long Beach (CA), and seeing the musicians perform such musics adds another dimension to the work. The celebrated John Kilgore engineered the release, and it sparkles, not a single nuance but goes perfectly captured, crystal clear and glowing, a textbook example of the sound cartographer's art. Expect both lullabyes (Even in the Dark) and splay-footed perambulations in oscillating resolve (Only the Clear Space Inside) but, much more than that, look to an immersion in a sonic experience all too little practiced (most others don't have the chops) yet perhaps the best confluence of any number of modalities (classical, neoclassical, progressive, avant-garde, trance, etc.) skillfully achieved as the entire concept of music top to bottom marvelously persists in non-stop hybridzation and transmogrification.

Track List:

  • Camille (2010)
    • Vitality
    • Tranquility
    • Triumph
  • Scatter My Ashes (2009)
    • Scatter My Ashes
    • The Night Tree
    • Even in the Dark
    • Only Clear Space Inside
    • Eternal Light
  • Piano Concerto (2011)
    • Build-Decay
    • Glide
    • Spin
    • Jagged
    • Ripple
    • Cadenza
    • Shimmer
  • Moving In To An Empty Space (1992; arr. for octet: 2010)
    • Hot Time
    • Begging the Night for Change
    • Moving in to an Empty Space
All music composed by William Susman, all lyrics written by Sue Susman.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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