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Nathan Davis/International Contemporary Ensemble: The Bright and Hollow Sky

John Garratt

Composer Nathan Davis is at the mercy of his instruments and his players – and he's just fine with that.

As a composer, Nathan Davis lets many variables dictate what it is he is writing before he puts his own personal thoughts and feelings into the piece. He is unusually attuned to the abstract wants and needs of particular instruments and is careful to consider who will be performing his works. The Bright and Hollow Sky is a collection of five extended works performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, and each one is drastically different from the other. "Like Sweet Bells Jangled" is a chance for Davis himself to play with ring modulation while clarinet, piccolo and flute supply sharp dissonance. The effect would be considered dull and slow on other albums, but it's something of a jolt here. "The Mechanics of Escapement", an odd exercise in minimalism that is in turns soothing and frantic, is played on what sounds like my daughter's toy piano coupled with clock chimes. "preApnea" and "Dowser" are haunting flute and bass clarinet solos respectively, but the bewildering title track is saved for last, corralling a chamber ensemble into the sound of a sky that can't decide if it's calm or raging.


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