Creative Music and other forms of Avant Garde
THE ARTIST AS MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER…Louis Rosen: It Is Still Dark-Three Suites, Music For Guitar
by George W. Harris •
Reacting from the draconian COVID lockdown, some artists went into a major recluse. New York based Louis Rosen used the time of solitude for an opportunity of creativity, putting together a handful of releases that he either composed for or played on. Here are the first two, and the breath, width and depth of his ideas are in rich evidence here, touching bases on almost every viable and enjoyable genre.
It Is Still Dark: Three Suites is a wide-ranging affair, divided up into, you guessed it, three parts. The first section, the five-part Winter Carols, features solo pianist Kimberly Grisby and Charity Wicks on an inspiration of Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol, including a charming and uplifting “Streets of London, Christmas Eve”, a reflective and nostalgic “Christmas Past” and a dark and foreboding “Christmas Present”.
A Suite for Clarinet and Piano has Grisby teamed with the warm toned Andrew Sterman, with an innocent and Grieg-ish “Overture in Miniature”, a prancing “To Olga” a chiming “Lost” and a reflective nocturne of “Round”, with tender mercies emitted on “IT IS STILL DARK”. Last but not least is Broadway-toned vocalist Darius de Hass entering stage right for a harrowingly told story on “Emergency”, a richly vibrato’d “IT IS STILL DARK” and a hectic and staccato’d pulse of “It Was Jazz Music”. As opposed to most modern pens, Rosen’s is clear, lyrical and melodically applied. Charts worth navigating.
Rosen actually performs on the other album, Music For Guitar, playing both nylon and steel strings on fragrant originals. He gives a gentle Andalusian feel with nylon strings on “Passamel”, with a gracious use of space for “Before Rain” and the reflective and patient “Air”. On steel strings, his walking bass line sets the foundation for a story told on the calliope sounding “Travis Tea”, while he seemingly takes inspiration from the pop song “Spooky” and turns it into a folksy excursion. Dark strums create shadows on “Severin Hotel” and a trip to the Cumberland Gap give color to the bluesy “MSNBC (78 to 44) and the back porch of “Fly Not Hence”. Casual and cozy conversations.
A very skilled and versatile composer, Louis Rosen has written over 30 scores for theater productions and recorded at least ten albums on piano or guitar. His music is difficult to classify for it blends together jazz, folk music and classical. Music For Guitar features a dozen pieces on which Rosen plays solo acoustic guitar.
The melodies are rich, there is more variety in moods than expected, and such titles as "Before Rain," "Air," "Meditation 1 A.M," "MSNBC (Or 7/8 to 4/4)," and "Night Blues" gives one an idea as to the moods covered. For the closer, the rockish strut "Eight And Forty In A Pie," guitarist David Mansfield improvises a second guitar part.
Louis Rosen's melodic and mostly soothing music is well worth several close listens. It is available from www.louisrosen.com.
Scott Yanow, November 2022
Though more frequently at cabaret/jazz venues, every now and then I come across a musician who creates what might be called modern classical, defying genre reduction, unique. Some months ago, I wrote about Ian Herman. Louis Rosen, musician/composer/songwriter/teacher has been creating this way for years. Particularly fertile during COVID, Rosen taps and sometimes melds rock, folk, blues, classical and jazz influence. Two recent instrumental CDs elicit moviola scenarios. You’ll imagine your own, of course. Here are some of mine.
CD – It Is Still Dark: Three Suites by Louis Rosen
Winter Carols: A reimagining of music composed for production of A Christmas Carol that played annually at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey. The main themes reflect variations of traditional Christmas and Advent Carols. Piano-Charity Wicks, Kimberly Grigsby
Streets of London, Christmas Eve: Lightly falling snow. Bustling top hats, capes, long skirts; hands in muffs. Stacks of packages tied with strings. Boys messily sliding in the ice. The smell of roasted chestnuts. The clop, clop of horses. You can see your breath. Portrait of Ebenezer Scrooge: Brittle, scowling, suspicious – darting eyes, disapproval. Ccccold. Streetlamp shadows. Foreboding. Christmas Past: Chiming mantle clock. Uncle’s spiked eggnog recipe. The swishing of sleighs. Flickering candles. Plum pudding. Velvet and fur. Hand-knit sweaters and socks. Building a snowman. Christmas Future: Funeral march. Dirt and soot. Poverty. Recrimination. Regret. Winter Solstice Dance: lively, gay. Men in breeches. Hand over hand circling…couples pair off opposite one another creating an arbor through which each peels off and passes under… Turn, turn, hop, skip…Make a circle, all move forward and back, forward and back…whirl in place…couples move as if skating, hands entwined behind her back… Face each other… Smiles lock.
Suite for Clarinet and Piano: Six parts. Bookended by two movements based on music composed for plays by William Shakespeare. Piano – Kimberly Grigsby. Andrew Sterman -Clarinet
Sprightly – court jester? Butterflies? Skate board tricks? Rolling down a hill?; Drawing in frost on a window. Stuck inside, restless. The hiss of a radiator. Much one can do, but nothing feels right; Slow motion opening of a flower…a ballerina…lazy awakening, languid stretch. Hypnotic; Come out and play! Bicycles. Spring at last! Race you!; Lost. Does it matter? No one’s waiting; There’s a note! They like me! Saturday? I’ll float till then. Wait until you hear-yes, me! Bubbly.
Songs for Sondra – Songs of Exile: Philanthropist Sondra Gilman passed away in 2021. Her partner Celso Gonzalez-Falla requested that Rosen set five of his poems to music as a gift for his beloved.
Darius de Haas-Vocals; Joseph Thalken-Piano; Rolando Morales-Congas, Bongos, Timbales, Guiro, Cymbals, Triangle; Erik Charlson-Vibraphone, Marimba, Timbales, Claves, Cabasa, Cowbells, Shakers, Triangle, Wind Chimes, Cymbals; Michael Goetz-Bass. Louis Rosen-Orchestration, Conducting.
“I Live in My Own World”…full of pictures nicely arranged that bring out memories… A soliloquy. Balladic with deeply Cuban influence. Some vocal Spanish. Evokes We two form a multitude. “It is Still Dark”: He wakes early gazing upon his love. Light filters slowly into the room. Out a window, the sea glistens. Barefoot, he makes coffee. “Emergency”: “When I am sad, I cook – dishes from my land.” Anxious. “It Was Jazz Music”: Soft bass, tiptoeing lyric. Collar up, cigarette smoke. “I do not want jazz! I want the music of sunlight!” Homesick. Textured, infectiously rhythmic Cuban music. Dark, unsettling. Terrific complicated vocal and rich arrangement “What Will We Tell”…our grandchildren…that we laughed, played in the sea…Grateful for a life together. “We never felt alone.”
CD – Music for Guitar – vignettes with thematic and harmonic relationships but each an impression unto itself. Louis Rosen – Guitar
Passamel: At first a desert morning having camped out. Solitary. Shaking off a cold night. The sun still low. Landscape stretching forever. Distant hills or mirage? Miles to go. Then, curiously, sitting in the stone framed window of a Medieval castle, playing and reflecting. Before Rain: A spider web shimmers in light breeze. Grass bends as if on whispered command. Delicate fingering. Airbrushed sky. Collars up. Air: Deep inhale, hold, deep exhale. No one else is awake. Do I hear dew softly land?
Night Song for CM: admiration, affection, puzzlement. Music rather than words. Meditation 1 a.m.: Only a little awake. Gauzy dream fragments. Feeling tender. Cozy, no rush. Night Blues: A Maxfield Parish ombré sky. He asks himself, “why bother?” Hands move, notes assemble. This is why. Fly Not Hence: Oars up, drifting. A hawk high on wind. Dragonflies over water. Issues furrow the brow. Time passes imperceptibly. He might never go back to shore. Eight and Forty In A Pie: (Blackbirds?) Texture, rhythm; a bobbing head. Pick and strum. Yeah. Satisfaction.