Massachusetts born Dmitri Tymoczko (48) is a Harvard and Berkeley educated composer with a Guggenheim fellowship, a Rhodes Scholarship and the Tanglewood Leonard Bernstein fellowship under his belt. As well as classical, he plays rock and jazz, and he’s the author of A Geometry of Music – published by Oxford Press – which has been praised as, potentially, a modern analogue to Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre. As a musician, he exhibits a wide-ranging literary and philosophical imagination and a keen sense of humour, while his works reveal a decidedly polystylistic bent. This is the third time his work has been championed on the enterprising Bridge label.
Rube Goldberg Variations, actually the central of the three works here, refers to Rube Goldberg, the mid 20th-century American cartoonist and inventor best known for his whacky illustrations of gadgets designed to perform inherently simple tasks but invariably in indirect and highly convoluted ways (google Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin if you need a way in). A four-movement, 20-minute work for brass quintet and prepared piano, its inspirations range from the kinetic sculptures of Tinguely to the composer’s own experiences of fatherhood. Ear-tickling and rhythmically compelling, Tymoczko unpacks the piano sound bit by bit from the byways of John Cage through the sharper resonances of Bach’s harpsichord and the mellow tones of the modern concert grand, all the while bathing the solo instrument in the warm waters of the brass quintet. It’s foot-tapping stuff – especially the sassy, sexy Stravinsky Fountain movement and the closer with its suggestions of massed shofars – with tastefully arrayed echoes of minimalism and fragmented jazz.
The disc opens with an eclectically scored work for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano and closes with a more conventionally orchestrated work for piano quintet. The first of these (I Cannot Follow) riffs on the idea of lovers parted by death and was inspired by a Marenzio madrigal. With prominent tuned percussion, including some lovely use of vibraphone, and a sometimes distorted guitar sound reminding one of Mike Oldfield in his heyday, it’s another attractive sound world where baroque patternings meet modern jazz. I’m not sure I was left feeling any great sense of loss – the music’s motile drive was too purely enjoyable – but for a wicked musical trip I can certainly recommend a listen equipped with a decent pair of headphones.
The closer, S Sensation Something, is perhaps the most conventional piece on the disc, opening as it does with simple layered string lines with piano notes dropped like pearls in a pond. The endlessly irritating sleeve notes by Mark Keresman offer no illumination as to the ideas behind this enjoyable 16-minute single movement work other than to reference Shostakovich and Stravinsky. To that I might add Reich and Nyman in what revs up to be a rollercoaster ride laced with shimmering scales and plenty of syncopated energy.
All in all, an intriguing musical voice that should interest anyone in search of a new auditory experience.