Karl Henning | 26 JUL 2019
Trombonist Colin Williams celebrates his return to performing with this album of new music, some of it freshly commissioned. Associate Principal Trombone for the New York Philharmonic, Williams suffered a facial injury some ten years ago, when he was Principal Trombone of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which left him unable to play for almost a year.
He relates experiencing an identity crisis; anxiety caused not only by the forced separation from the trombone (his musical partner of so many years) but by the realization, as he looked around, that his household goods, his home and supporting his family — in a sense, all these could be part of his life through his playing the trombone. The process of recovery and restoring his ability to play was difficult, but he was determined to win his way back.
Once again able to perform, and back in his milieu, he decided to record a CD to express his exultation again to be playing. For much of the program, Hanako Yamagata is the collaborative pianist.
Serenata by Anthony DiLorenzo, which opens the album, has an affable jazz-standard vibe. The character of Vicissitudes by W. Gregory Turner feels more like a calm reflection upon troubles now past and overcome, not a struggle which is a present obstacle.
The titular composition, Michael Martin’s Ash, which Williams commissioned for the CD project, is in three parts: The piano opens the “Slow March,” with a lugubrious tread which at first seems almost immobile the trombone enters, sobbing and keening, rather than marching, in a musical representation of the desolate feeling in the immediate wake of the injury; In “Don’t Look Down” the piano spirals recklessly downward, while the trombone resists the piano’s insistent vertiginous suggestions and works to keep its gaze raised; “Horizon” is music of a placid equanimity, the drama is past, and our view is clear.
In Syracuse Blues by Jacob TV (Jacob ter Veldhuis), Williams collaborates with a student trombone choir (Kevin Casey, Lovrick Gary, Josh Hutchinson & Teddy Nagelvoort) in a solemn chorale, punctuated by a “found musical object,” in this case a recording of Portuguese Fishermen, whose unintelligible cries sound like a kind of chant. The composer means the piece as a lament for the ocean whose life is suffering the effects of global warming (the dying reefs, e.g.)
Another commission for this album, Mahler Fantasy, is accompanied by fixed media in which composer Alexander Bonus includes synthesized sounds, birdcalls and piano rolls which Mahler prepared.
Red Sky by Anthony Barfield, originally for trombone and band, is (the composer writes) “a representation of the Big Bang Theory. As history tells us, the Big Bang is a theory that explains how the universe expanded from one single point. All the matter, energy, and light were compacted into an infinitely dense point. The universe then tremendously expanded. This work focuses on Space, Matter and Energy as a whole.” It is fitting that a piece with such grand ambitions be, at 14:13 the longest track on the album. The principal theme is an energetic modal dance.
Williams relates that in his convalescence he listened to Bert Appermont’s Colors (also originally for trombone and band) and was so taken with its exuberance, he was resolved to include it as the concluding set. It is a suite of character pieces in which the composer associates the following traits with four colors: Yellow — inspiring and stimulating, ( wisdom and light); Red — dynamic, passionate developing into dramatic, furious and fighting (also courage and will-power); Blue — melancholic, dreamy and introverted (also truth and peace); Green — hopeful and full of expectation (also balanced power and harmony).
Mr. Williams’ tone throughout is warm, strong and centered, his musicianship polished and assured. He has come back to play, and the music throughout this album shows him in robust, unerring, mid-season form. ■
Karl Henning is a composer, clarinetist and writer based in Boston, Massachusetts. Henning has also written reviews for MusicWeb International, BerkshireLinks.com and good-music-guide.com.