Lois Lowry’s science fiction novel “Gathering Blue” tells the story of a young orphan with a deformed leg living in a dystopian society that leaves disabled people to die in the fields. But her life is spared due to her talent in threadwork—and her greatest triumph occurs when she discovers the art of dyeing the color blue, the one color no one else in her cruel society knows how to make.
Contemporary classical duo RighteousGIRLS takes this notion of blue as a symbol for social (and musical) harmony and explores its full spectrum of dazzling and luminous shades in their debut album, “gathering blue.” Titled after Lowry’s novel, the album blends elements of classical, avant-garde, jazz, improvisation, and post-production techniques.
RighteousGIRLS, comprised of New York-based flutist Gina Izzo and pianist Erika Dohi, creates a colorful musical palette through their collaboration with a variety of dynamic New York artists. Featured composers include Andy Akiho, Ambrose Akinmusire, Pascal Le Boeuf, Christian Carey, Vijay Iyer, Dave Molk, Mike Perdue, Jonathan Ragonese, and Randy Woolf.
The album opens with a bang—literally. The duo introduces themselves with “GIRLS,” composed by album’s producer, Pascal Le Boeuf, and scored for two flutes, piano, and prepared piano. The theatrical showpiece utilizes a variety of extended techniques and unconventional acoustic sounds, creating a dynamic, idiosyncratic, and completely otherworldly musical experience. Izzo’s rhythmic flute playing hovers above an array of distinctive piano timbres. For Izzo and Dohi, nothing is off limits: Dohi uses palms, elbows, and forearms on the prepared piano keys while Izzo strums inside the piano itself.
The next piece moves beyond the musical score: Izzo and Dohi experiment with improvisation in “Accumulated Gestures” by Vijay Iyer. Featuring drummer Justin Brown, the piece explores the ever-evolving theme of rhythmic contrast, keeping the listener (and the musicians) constantly on their toes.
Improvisation is a key theme in “Anzu” by jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire as well. Titled after the Japanese word for “apricot,” the piece captures both the velvety sweetness and also the faint tartness of this vibrant fruit. Featuring Akinmusire himself on trumpet, the piece paints a gorgeous sonic landscape with slow and soulful trumpet and flute melodies dancing over a twinkling piano backdrop.
RighteousGIRLS picks up the pace again in their adaptation of “…nobody move…” by Randy Woolf. The intentionally chaotic piece employs an energetic groove that showcases Dohi’s avant-garde jazz piano chops.
The work is followed by a RighteousGIRLS rendition of Jonathan Ragonese’s solemn and contemplative “non-poem 1.” In direct contrast to the preceding piece, “non-poem 1” explores soft, meditative melodies surrounded by silence.
Andy Akiho’s “KARakurENAI” offers another dramatic change in musical texture. The piece, which features Akiho on prepared steel pan, crafts an entire orchestra of colorful percussive sounds accented by flute and piano embellishments. But this is not just any average old prepared steel pan—Akiho performs the left-hand ostinato with the cardboard tube of a dry cleaner coat hanger while poking out the right-hand melody with a wooden chopstick. Yes, a wooden chopstick.
The duo also performs Mike Perdue’s “Entr’acte,” written for two flutes and two prepared (and intentionally overdubbed) pianos. Quizzical and unconventional, the piece is titled after the French term for music that accompanies a theater set change.
Perhaps the duo is setting the stage for a tribute to one of the biggest names in contemporary classical: Milton Babbitt. The next piece on the album, titled “For Milton,” is a flute and piano duo written by Christian Carey in fond memory of the late composer. The piece showcases both Babbitt’s famous serialism as well as his affection for the soulful swing of early jazz.
The piece is followed by Dave Molk’s “Edge,” a RighteousGIRLS-commissioned piece that packs some serious punch. The flute and piano spew glitchy and jarring staccato melodies blurred by brief legato interludes.
And true to the blue color symbology, “gathering blue” also packs a little bit of mystery: a series of ethereal hidden interludes written by Le Boeuf weave together this fearlessly bold and vibrant album.
And somewhere between the serialism, the prepared steel pan ostinati, the elbow piano playing, and the brink of silence, RighteousGIRLS crafts a palette of blue hues richer and more diverse than you ever dreamed possible.