ALBUM REVIEW: The Westerlies

by Seth Tompkins

The Westerlies’ eponymous sophomore album is unified by a clarity of purpose and a distinctive sonic palette. The overall effect of this release is one of harmony and serene simplicity. In fact, this album is so consistently styled and masterfully produced that it could be easy to miss the ingenious subtleties and careful construction that underpin the simple beauty of this release. That would be unfortunate, because to miss the subtleties in these 17 tracks is to miss the potential lasting impact of this album.

 

It is difficult talk about The Westerlies without mentioning the album’s distinctive sound. Despite differences between tracks, the sound of this album is remarkably consistent from track to track, creating a satisfying unity that runs from beginning to end.

The chief element in this unity of sound is the types of articulations The Westerlies have chosen to use. This is not to say that the articulations are uniform across the album; quite the opposite is true! Within just the first few tracks, the wide variety of articulations varies from mellow to aggressive and from bright and insistent to smooth and nonchalant. However, despite this obvious prowess, the group does manage to create a unified sound through articulation alone. This is mostly accomplished through their heavy reliance on a specific articulation: a somewhat soft, breathy, but very consistent sound that is reminiscent Stan Getz. This particular sound is one that guides the listener through the entire album. While not a sound that may be familiar top all listeners, by the end of the second disc, it seems like an old friend.

sa46c18-r01-005_ed_csashaarutyunova2015_web

Photo Credit: Sasha Arutyunova

The most outstanding specific sonic element on this disc is the way in which the group has handled the bass. Despite the trombone usually being a “bright” instrument, through smart microphone placement and expert execution, The Westerlies have coaxed an incredibly broad array of bass sounds out of the humble trombone. In many sections, the bass sounds as if it being produced by a euphonium, tuba, or even an electronic bass instrument. There are also moments when the bass sound is pure trombone. The staggeringly wide range of bass sounds The Westerlies include on this release is worthy of high praise, especially as it is apparently achieved with little or no digital alteration.

Another notable element of the sound world of this album is the group’s use of extended techniques. The noodling, the screeching, the growling, and related sounds make frequent appearances on this release. However, instead of the intrusive gimmicks these techniques can sometimes be, here they serve only to color and shade the unified sonic world the group has created. In many instances, these unusual sounds blend so well with the main textures of the music that they may pass unnoticed as they sculpt the soundscape. In many spots on this release, these effects take the place of electronic effects; there are many moments when what sounds like a digital alteration is actually being created live via the acoustic instruments of the group through these deftly executed special techniques.

The apparent lack of digital enhancements on this release is one of its chief merits. Through the use of extended techniques, savvy microphone placement, and top-notch engineering, The Westerlies and their producer, Jesse Lewis, have managed to create a collection of sounds that in many other cases would require a great deal of computerized hocus-pocus. And beyond that, they have managed to do it in a way that is not the least bit self-righteous. They are not shoving the fact that they are mostly acoustic in our faces; acoustic is simply the way their music exists.

mgp_5019bnw

Photo Credit: Michael George

A secondary aspect of the laudable lack of digital trickery on this release is the freedom the group takes with letting some of the “uglier” sounds of brass playing bleed through. In many spots, edgy sounds come through that some producers might want to keep off their finished products. In other places, the sound of these muscular instruments can be heard bouncing of the wall and ceiling of the recording space. The fact that these peripheral brass sounds made it onto the final album is evidence that this group has done some deep soul-searching on the true nature of brass playing. Much like their choice to stick with a mostly-acoustic sound, The Westerlies’ choice to include some of these realistic sounds onto the album shows that they are not interested in the expectations of anyone else; they are thinking for themselves and forging their own path.

Perhaps one reason The Westerlies chose to build the sonic world of this release with the above elements is that they see their group as primarily a live acoustic ensemble, even in the context of a studio recording. Few, if any, of the tracks on this release would be difficult for the group to recreate in a live setting, and the live performance would likely sound much like the album, including sounds of “the room” and many of realistic sounds of live brass playing that are often omitted in commercial recordings. If this is indeed the case, this is an integrity move and their audience is better for it.

The compositions themselves also warrant praise. Much like the delicious balance between varied and unified articulations and colors throughout the album, the pieces themselves represent a diverse, yet broadly unified element that ties the entire release together. All the compositions on this release save three are by The Westerlies themselves. While there are moments of raucousness and unique diversions that occur frequently among these compositions, the overall effect is similar to that of the soundscape that pervades the album; the pieces have enough in common that they hang together remarkable well. Hopefully, these overarching unities bode well for the future of the ensemble, signaling that the quartet is bonded in a way that will afford them fruitful collaboration for years to come.

mgp_5255-2

Photo Credit: Michael George

Finally, the three compositions not by The Westerlies must be considered. It is a fascinating trio of pieces: one traditional tune (arranged by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon), a Duke Ellington tune, and a piece by Charles Ives. There might be myriad reasons why the quartet chose these three, but it seems that the most likely plan is this: these tunes give just enough context to convince a skeptical listener to buy into this genre-defying acoustic quartet. Also, one jazz tune, one “modern” piece of classical music, and one traditional hymn-like tune are an excellent representation of the background that most classical-trained brass players have. Whether these tunes are intended to provide context for the new music on the album, or are a nod to the background of the quartet members, or are simply included because the quartet likes them, they are woven with the same delicious technique and careful construction as the rest of the release.

The Westerlies is an album with two layers of existence. It is at once a plainly beautiful release shot through with genius technique and considerate musical planning, and an innovative exploration into what the future of acoustically-driven music could be. The fearless choices The Westerlies have made on this release lead the way for acoustic music in the face of an increasingly computerized musical landscape, while at the same time creating a sublime listening experience that can be enjoyed for its simplicity and peace.

the-westerlies-album-cover-full-640x576

2016 FOLKLIFE PREVIEW: Meet the Westerlies

by Maggie Molloy

The Westerlies are a Seattle-born, New York-based brass quartet named after the prevailing winds that blow from West to East—but this month they are reversing those winds and travelling from East to West. Their destination? The Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife.

We are thrilled to present the Westerlies, along with Sound of Late and the Skyros Quartet, at our Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m.

The Westerlies All photos credit Sasha Arutyunova, except the final

While the Westerlies may be charming, dapper, and impeccably dressed, let it be known that these guys are not your typical boy band. Comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, the guys are known for their bold artistry, skilled technical finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility.

The guys grew up together playing music in Seattle under the mentorship of Wayne Horvitz, and after relocating to New York City to attend school, they formed a quartet in late 2011. Since then, they have cultivated a new brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of composers as diverse and wide-ranging as Ives, Ellington, Bartók, Ligeti, and many more.

But no matter what they play, the one element that remains constant across all of their music is the warmth, camaraderie, and good-humored personalities of four longtime friends. We sat down with the guys to see what we can expect at the Second Inversion Showcase:

Second Inversion: How would you describe or characterize your ensemble’s sound?

Andy ClausenAndy Clausen: When The Westerlies first came together as an ensemble in 2011, it felt much more like a rock band in spirit. We were four childhood friends from Seattle who had just moved to New York and found a little slice of home when we were hanging out. At the same time, we were all seeking some sort of escape from the musical confines of jazz and classical conservatories. 

As we started composing and arranging for the group, we realized rather quickly that it wasn’t going to be a traditional classical chamber ensemble, or a “brass band”—that what we were seeking was something entirely other. 

Whenever we approach a new piece with the ensemble, whether it’s an original composition, a folk song, a Ligeti piano piece, an Ellington piece, a Bulgarian choral piece, or a Wayne Horvitz composition, we are trying to find the most personally expressive means of interpretation. Sometimes that involves dramatically reimagining the structure and whittling a piece down to its simplest essence, sometimes it involves a more literal reading of the score.

Having the freedom to radically personalize every piece we play through a democratic arranging process, and allowing each piece to grow and evolve over years of touring is something we have not experienced in any other type of ensemble.

We each come to the ensemble with variety of musical interests: folk, jazz, contemporary classical, gospel, Hindustani, indie rock, metal, Romantic, minimalist, maximalist, country, and blues.

Whatever “sound” The Westerlies have stumbled upon is the result of four friends channeling these diverse interests through warm air, buzzing lips and conical brass tubes—with a lot of love and saliva in there too.

SI: The Pacific Northwest is really blossoming in the contemporary classical music sphere—what do you think makes our music scene here so unique?

Willem de KochWillem de Koch: I think the Pacific Northwest in general, and Seattle in particular, has always been viewed as a distant outpost by the rest of the country. The geographic isolation and dramatic natural beauty of the region allow for a spirit of experimentation and entrepreneurship in every field, but that spirit is definitely imbued in the music of the Pacific Northwest of every genre.

Seattle has an immense and robust arts infrastructure, thanks in big part to the unique culture of philanthropy that has been cultivated here over the years. The nonprofit sector in Seattle is thriving, and that includes the numerous arts organizations and music presenters in the city. The musicians here would not have the freedom and ability to create exceptional work if it were not for the platform provided by organizations like KING FM and Second Inversion, Earshot Jazz, Town Hall Seattle, and of course Northwest Folklife. The list goes on. 

It should also be acknowledged that Seattle has a long history of exceptional music education. All four of us are products of the music programs at our Seattle public schools, and our time spent in those programs was a formative experience for all of us. Organizations like Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and Seattle JazzEd continue to ensure that every student has access to excellent music education, and that Seattle’s music education legacy will be upheld for many years to come. I really believe that music education scene in Seattle is completely unparalleled. 

SI: Northwest Folklife strengthens local communities through art and music, celebrating diverse cultural heritages and working to ensure their continued growth and development. What types of communities or music traditions are represented in your music?

Riley MulherkarRiley Mulherkar: The four of us come from differing musical backgrounds so there’s definitely a wide variety of traditions and communities represented in our music. One of the most direct influences we share comes from our mentor Wayne Horvitz, whose music we recorded for our debut album. Wayne has worn a number of hats in his career, from being a leading figure in New York’s downtown scene in the late 80s to film scoring and writing chamber music, jazz, and electronic music. His ability to seamlessly weave it all together is something we’ve admired since before we even existed as an ensemble.

Growing up in Seattle, the jam sessions around the city played a huge role in our development—whether at Cafe Racer or the Faire Cafe, these long nights of music opened up our ears and our minds. When we moved to New York, we were all introduced to a thriving contemporary classical community as well as a creative landscape in Brooklyn that has played a huge role in our development both individually and as an ensemble. More than anything, these communities have instilled values in us which shape the way we think, compose, and play.

SI: As Seattle natives, what does the Northwest Folklife Festival mean to you?

Zubin HenslerZubin Hensler: Folklife was the first music festival I ever went to. My parents brought me along when I was 7 months old and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss a year from then until I was 18 and moved to NYC. So, it means a huge amount! What a privilege to grow up in a city where diverse music is celebrated and presented regularly. I owe so much of my musical (and life) education to the performances that I was exposed to at Folklife and the other festivals in the region. So, it’s a great honor to be able to come back and hopefully pass on some of that inspiration.

 

 

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

Willem de Koch: It’s always a treat to return home and perform for our hometown crowd. We grew up performing at Folklife in our high school jazz bands, so we’re excited to have the opportunity to perform at the festival with our own band. We’re also really looking forward to being a part of the Second Inversion Showcase. Maggie Stapleton and everybody else at KING FM and Second Inversion have been doing a tremendous service for Seattle in highlighting both local and national artists who are creating unique new sounds.

We’re honored to be a part of the Second Inversion community and are really looking forward to hearing the other artists at the Showcase. All we hope for the audience is that they’re each able to make their own personal connection with our music, in whatever form that may be. The Westerlies on Lopez Island

Photo credit: Andrew Swanson

The Westerlies will be featured along with Sound of Late and the Skyros Quartet at our 2nd Annual Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m. For more information, please click here or RSVP to our Facebook event.

Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife 2016!

by Maggie Stapleton

Copy of Facebook Event Cover – Untitled Design

We are excited to announce the lineup for Second Inversion’s 2nd annual showcase at Northwest Folklife on Friday, May 27 from 8-10pm! RSVP to our Facebook event and invite your friends to this exciting FREE event!

Sound of Late
12493927_1324713520887600_6671891356435475989_o

Sound of Late is a new music ensemble that creates distinctive performances and unexpected collaborations that build and inspire the communities around us. They believe music is best when shared with other people, which is why Sound of Late is working to support the artistic and creative community across the Pacific Northwest. By dissolving the boundary between artist and audience, they hope to inspire new collaborations and to raise the visibility of our region.

For more on Sound of Late, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

Skyros Quartet
Skyros Quartet1

The Skyros Quartet, praised by the Topeka Capital-Journal as “stellar,” brings a bright and inventive style to the concert hall and can be seen performing, teaching, and leading community events in their new hometown of Seattle, as well as concertizing around the US and Canada.The Skyros Quartet is passionate about the future of music and performing works by living composers. They have worked extensively with composers Tonia Ko, Andy Davis, Devin Maxwell, and Liza Sobel.

For more on Skyros Quartet, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

The Westerlies 
SAA_0411_cSashaArutyunova2014_800pxWEB
The Westerlies (“prevailing winds from the West to the East”) are a New York based brass quartet comprised of four friends from Seattle, Washington: Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. They re-imagine the chamber music experience through boldly personal performance, recording, collaboration, education, and outreach. Since their inception in 2011, they have cultivated a new brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of Ives, Ellington, Bartok, Ligeti, Stephen Foster and numerous traditionals. Their music exudes the warmth of their longstanding friendships, and reflects the broad interests of its members.

For more on The Westerlies, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

NEW CONCERT AUDIO: New Works for Flute & Ensemble

by Jill Kimball (original post November 18, 2015 with edits by Maggie Stapleton)

For most classically-trained musicians, performing a world premiere is the exception. But for flutist Paul Taub, it’s the rule.

Taub, a Cornish College of the Arts professor and well-known Seattle-area performer, has been a proponent of new music for decades. Over the years, he’s performed and commissioned countless premieres. But last November, he took it a step further.

Taub organized a concert of made up exclusively of world premieres by five area composers–Tom Baker, Andy Clausen, David Dossett, Jessika Kenney and Angelique Poteat–and featured a handful of world-class local performers, including Taub himself. The concert was part of the Wayward Music Series at the Good Shepherd Center’s chapel performance space. Second Inversion was there to record the concert and we’re pleased to present the audio!

I asked Taub a few questions about the pieces he commissioned, and his answers are below.

paultaub
What inspired you to do a whole concert of world premieres?

My musical life—as a student, an educator, member of ensembles, professional organizations, circles of colleagues and friends—has often centered on new works and their creators and interpreters. And my relationships and interactions with composers have been highlights of my career. In my thirty-six years in Seattle, I have participated in hundreds of commissions of new music. This project gave me a chance to create opportunities for five unique composers to write works for me, in a chamber setting. The works you will hear on this program will contribute significantly to the general repertoire for the flute in chamber music. They are also gifts to the Seattle music-loving community, brought together through its interest and support and enjoy­ment of these engaging and inspiring composers. For me, the final gift is to be able to prepare and perform these new works with some of my favorite colleagues – Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Walter Gray, cello; Joe Kaufman, contrabass; Cristina Valdes, piano; and Matthew Kocmieroski, percussion!

You’ve heard and performed lots of new music. What do you think makes a new piece really good?

That’s a tough question! People have such contrasts in taste, stylistic preference… What one person considers a masterpiece someone else will find trivial, or boring. I consider myself a musical omnivore in terms of style so I can only answer the question more “generally” by saying that what I really, really like is music that grips me both emotionally and intellectually. Somehow the perfect balance between those two elements makes for a great piece.

Why did you choose these five composers?

[These composers] have been invited to participate in this project because of the high artistic quality of their work, the diversity of their styles, the varied stages of their career trajectories, and above all, because their music truly speaks to me and to the public.

The variety of musical styles is a key element of the project. Baker and Kenney are well-established “mid-career” composers, with impressive resumes and works that have been played internationally. Poteat, in her late 20s, is emerging as a significant voice in the Seattle and national music world, with recent pieces commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. Emerging composers Dossett and Clausen (whose band The Westerlies has taken the jazz world by storm), are recent college graduates (Cornish College of the Arts and the Juilliard Jazz Program). The composers’ musical styles are varied and contrasting, with influences as diverse as jazz, electronics, Persian modes, classical music and improvisation.

What does the rest of this concert season have in store for you?

I’m especially looking forward to a few events. I’ll be playing a solo by Estonian composer Helena Tulve with the Seattle Modern Orchestra on February 20; touring the Northwest with a program of Brazilian flute and piano music with pianist/composer Jovino Santos Neto (Portland, Methow Valley, Seattle and Bellevue) in late February/early March; and taking the lead in a concert of music by Janice Giteck on April 12 at Cornish.

Five World Premieres: Q & A with Paul Taub

by Jill Kimball

For most classically-trained musicians, performing a world premiere is the exception. But for flutist Paul Taub, it’s the rule.

Taub, a Cornish College of the Arts professor and well-known Seattle-area performer, has been a proponent of new music for decades. Over the years, he’s performed and commissioned countless premieres. But this week, he’s taking it a step further.

On Friday at 8pm, Taub has organized a concert of made up exclusively of world premieres. The show will feature flute chamber works by five area composers–Tom Baker, Andy Clausen, David Dossett, Jessika Kenney and Angelique Poteat–and will shine a spotlight on a handful of world-class local performers, including Taub himself. The concert is part of the Wayward Music Series at the Good Shepherd Center’s chapel performance space. If you go, bring a $5-$15 suggested donation.

I asked Taub a few questions about the pieces he commissioned, and his answers are below.

paultaub
What inspired you to do a whole concert of world premieres?

My musical life—as a student, an educator, member of ensembles, professional organizations, circles of colleagues and friends—has often centered on new works and their creators and interpreters. And my relationships and interactions with composers have been highlights of my career. In my thirty-six years in Seattle, I have participated in hundreds of commissions of new music. This project gave me a chance to create opportunities for five unique composers to write works for me, in a chamber setting. The works you will hear on this program will contribute significantly to the general repertoire for the flute in chamber music. They are also gifts to the Seattle music-loving community, brought together through its interest and support and enjoy­ment of these engaging and inspiring composers. For me, the final gift is to be able to prepare and perform these new works with some of my favorite colleagues – Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Walter Gray, cello; Joe Kaufman, contrabass; Cristina Valdes, piano; and Matthew Kocmieroski, percussion!

You’ve heard and performed lots of new music. What do you think makes a new piece really good?

That’s a tough question! People have such contrasts in taste, stylistic preference… What one person considers a masterpiece someone else will find trivial, or boring. I consider myself a musical omnivore in terms of style so I can only answer the question more “generally” by saying that what I really, really like is music that grips me both emotionally and intellectually. Somehow the perfect balance between those two elements makes for a great piece.

Why did you choose these five composers?

[These composers] have been invited to participate in this project because of the high artistic quality of their work, the diversity of their styles, the varied stages of their career trajectories, and above all, because their music truly speaks to me and to the public.

The variety of musical styles is a key element of the project. Baker and Kenney are well-established “mid-career” composers, with impressive resumes and works that have been played internationally. Poteat, in her late 20s, is emerging as a significant voice in the Seattle and national music world, with recent pieces commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. Emerging composers Dossett and Clausen (whose band The Westerlies has taken the jazz world by storm), are recent college graduates (Cornish College of the Arts and the Juilliard Jazz Program). The composers’ musical styles are varied and contrasting, with influences as diverse as jazz, electronics, Persian modes, classical music and improvisation.

What does the rest of this concert season have in store for you?

I’m especially looking forward to a few events. I’ll be playing a solo by Estonian composer Helena Tulve with the Seattle Modern Orchestra on February 20; touring the Northwest with a program of Brazilian flute and piano music with pianist/composer Jovino Santos Neto (Portland, Methow Valley, Seattle and Bellevue) in late February/early March; and taking the lead in a concert of music by Janice Giteck on April 12 at Cornish.

 

NEW VIDEOS: The Westerlies

In their signature charming, dapper, and talented style, The Westerlies dropped by our studios during their holiday visit to Seattle for a video shoot here in our studios.  Please enjoy this assortment of videos featuring music by Andy Clausen (trombonist with the goldenrod shirt/navy jacket!), Charles Ives, and Wayne Horvitz.

 

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: THE WESTERLIES’ “WISH THE CHILDREN WOULD COME ON HOME”

by Maggie Stapleton

We’ve written about the Seattle-born/NYC-based brass quartet The Westerlies before in our first ever video premiere feature.  Now we have a spotlight on their May release of Wayne Horvitz’ music – Wish the Children Would Come On Home, for which their Official CD Release Party is Friday, August 8 at the Royal Room.

So, why Wayne Horvitz?  (Why NOT Wayne Horvitz is really a better question, but…) Andy, Willem, Zubin, and Riley are long acquainted with Wayne as a teacher, mentor, and friend from their growing up in Seattle, but Horvitz actually approached THEM about doing the album in early 2013.  He recognizes all of the musicians as “technically excellent, theoretically sophisticated, mature beyond their years, astute, perceptive, and self-aware.”

Jazzy sonorities and harmonies combined with a composed structure give this album that quality of “it has a little something for everyone” – the Westerlies chose a broad range of Horvitz’ music to arrange and record, including jazz tunes, film music, and classical chamber pieces.  Now, none of these pieces were originally composed for brass, so the Westerlies had the extra task of doing the arrangements.  Horvitz praises the fact that “they sound like a band, not a brass ensemble” despite “the way they have manufactured a kind of limitation, simply by creating a quartet with 2 trumpets and 2 trombones.  Within all the bounty of their collective backgrounds, they have created a band that is a real hassle!  No rhythm sections, no chordal instruments, and music that is sometimes fiendishly difficult.”  I couldn’t agree more.  The textures and sounds created sound like much more than the sum of its parts (which are all great!).

The music on this album ranges from sultry (Please Keep That Train Away From My Door), lulling (Waltz from Woman of Tokyo), bombastic (The Band With Muddy), nostalgic (Triads totally has a Renaissance quality to my ears), goofy/playful (The Barbershop), free and experimental (Interludes), and smoky (The Store, The Campfire).

Keep an ear out for Andy, Willem, Zubin, and Riley’s voices on the Second Inversion stream!  As we incorporate this disc into our programming, you’re likely to hear one of them introduce the tracks on this album.  In the meantime, mark your calendar for the show nearest you on their WA, OR, and CA tour.

You can purchase Wish The Children Would Come On Home at The Westerlies’ Store.