I may not know much about new music (the genre), or much about playing an instrument, but I appreciated the listening instructions enclosed within the liner notes from Stealth’s debut album:
“…listen is intended as a moment in time for contemplation. The listener chooses the length based on various points within the experience. The album is intended to be heard as one track but can be divided based on your desired length of listening experience.”
It sounds intimidating, but listen is surprisingly accessible. The title is very apt. I decided to go all-in. The album is almost an hour, divided into nine unnamed segments.
Considering that Stealth is composed of percussionist Richard Burrows and bass clarinettist Kathryn Ladano, I was surprised the music was so smooth. Judging by a previous project both were involved in (a quintet called Digital Prowess), I expected Stealth to be a lot more random and schizophrenic. Plus, Kathryn Ladano and I share the same last name — she’s my sister. So I know a little bit about the nutso kind of music she normally liked to perform. Let’s just say that I saw Digital Prowess play Frank Zappa’s “The Black Page #2” in front of a crowd including a few seniors who may have wondered what the hell was going on.
That’s not to say Stealth isn’t challenging, but I think much instrumental music is challenging by its nature. There are some factors here that take the edges out a little. Richard Burrows performs a dual role: adding steady beats to help keep you up with what’s going on, and using percussion to create melodies and other special moments. Meanwhile, Kathryn Ladano creates interesting and rarely heard sounds from just a wind instrument, all the while maintaining a balanced accompanying role with the percussion. At no point do the two instruments interfere with each other. Sometimes you may have to ask yourself, “Is that sound I just heard percussion, or did she do something crazy with the bass clarinet?”
Improvisation similar to “point f” on the CD
The music evokes scenes in the mind. At times it’s a jazzy, gripping spy drama, at others a slow moving tour at dawn…you can imagine many images to go with this music, and I think that’s part of the point. The liner notes state clearly that listen is an interactive experience. It’s fairly seemless though can hear where the intended breaks take place. I think most listeners would want to break it down into bits, maybe half an hour at a time.
But like I said, I was fearless and went all-in for the hour. I found the album to be an excellent, always interesting journey. The duo format works splendidly and I hope Stealth re-convene for a second album. The percussion and bass clarinet are never up front as feature instruments as they are here. Lead bass clarinet? Turns out it’s a pretty versatile instrument once you’ve spent a couple decades squeezing noises out of the beast. There are noises called squeaks that are not considered “proper” in classically trained circles — they are considered mistakes. Kathryn Ladano has turned squeaks into music by mastering them, just as Ted Nugent has done the same with guitar feedback. As for Richard Burrows, my only wish is that the liner notes should have spelled out the different instruments he’s playing because there are a lot of different percussion sounds on the album. He’s excellent, and I especially like what I call his “jungle drums” on “point i” of the CD. Really enjoyable.
I’ve stated my bias up front, but I do truly believe that listen is a praise-worthy work. Sonically it’s deep, and very well recorded. Check it out and buy your copy by contacting the artists via kathrynladano.com. Coming soon to Amazon and iTunes.