Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Billband - Towards Daybreak

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 lines make 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 -- bot 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.


  1. Thanks, Ralph. I'm glad to have learned about the recording (esp. "Blurred") and the label.

    1. You're welcome! That's the fun of exploring the repertoire -- sharing those discoveries with others. Innova has some great releases, including one by UVa's own Judith Shatin. You'll be hearing more from Bill Ryan and Billband is subsequent weeks.