This latest volume of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora that I’ve just finished reviewing definitely fits the Advanced designation it is given! Like each of the three previous volumes, this one begins with a short biographical sketch of each composer represented in the volume. The composers are: Margaret Bonds, Bongani Ndodana-Breen, Halim El-Dabh, Gyimah Labi, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Joshua Uzoigwe, and George Walker.
Each of the pieces in this fourth volume are quite long and are certainly not for the faint of heart! If you love new, out-of-the-box, culturally diverse, difficult music, then this is the book for you. Here are my notes on each of the pieces:
1. Prelude and Caprice – The Prelude is B-Major piece is full of rich harmonies. A thick texture gives way to inner voices and requires a good handle on voicing. In some respects it is not unlike Brahms. The Caprice is more complex and difficult to understand musically. It’s fast and furious. A challenge to be sure!
2. Ukom (from Talking Drums) – As one might guess, a percussive rhythmic structure drives this piece. It is monotonous at times, but gives way to a fun LH melodic section with lots of accents!
3. Flowers in the Sand, Part 1: After the First Rain – I’m pretty sure every rhythmic combination possible is used in this piece! Eights, Sixteenths, Dotted and Tied notes, triplet variations of each – a nightmare for anyone rhythmically challenged! 🙂 There is a sotto voce feel throughout this piece – the pianississimo at the beginning followed by a pianissississimo at the end probably explains that. Part II: Colours in the Dunes is, in a word, colorful. Not always pretty, per se, but definitely colorful.
4. Coma Dance – This piece continues the pattern of rhythmically complex elements. It would have been most helpful to hear a recording of this piece, because I never fully wrapped my ear around how I’m sure it was supposed to sound.
5.Troubled Water – This familiar tune was very expressive, with two playful e-minor sections sandwiching the softer E-Major section. A very nice arrangement with lots of personality!
6. Toccata – The furioso marking aptly portrays this driving and dissonant piece. With frequently changing meters (12/8 to 15/8 to 18/8 to 9/8, etc.), there is constant movement from beginning to end that will have you racing to keep up!
7. The Lotus (from Six Dialects in African Pianism) – It is not surprising to see parallel fourths characterizing this piece. Hints of syncopation come out in the hemiola figures throughout.