Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Ben Geyer Sextet - The Narrative (2018)

Program music, or music which evokes concrete images, has existed for centuries. Think of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with its duck theme or Princess Leia’s Theme in John Williams’s Star Wars sound track. The Narrative, the debut album of The Ben Geyer Sextet, comprises two pieces of program music. The first shows the behavior of the ice molecule and its atoms; the second depicts the events surrounding the Biblical murder of Abel. Both projects began with a basic story. Themes were developed which musically projected the nature of the central characters in each story. Finally, the themes were plugged into the outlines and orchestrated to serve the stories’ moods.

The opening piece on The Narrative, entitled The Slip, serves as the music for an original work for three modern dancers choreographed by Annie Now. Each dancer represents an atom in the water molecule. The two hydrogen atoms are introduced in the first movement, and their stability contrasts the imbalance of oxygen in movement two. In “The Happening,” the atoms merge into a water molecule and collectively waltz. The molecule SLIPS as if it’s standing on ice, blows apart through electrolysis, and the atoms return to their independent existence. 

Inspired by the John Steinbeck novel of the same name, East of Eden Suite tells the Biblical story of “Cain and Abel” in the second half of The Narrative. Listen for the contrast between Cain’s sinister theme and Abel’s heroic one in the introductory movement. “Sacrifice” reflects the mystery surrounding the section of the Biblical story which supposedly motivates the murder. In “The Argument,” a bass part based on Abel’s theme represents his sheep creeping onto Cain’s land. Cain’s theme responds with increasing intensity in the horns leading to a raucous moment of anger. In the saxophone duet which follows in “The Fight,” the characters duel until Abel wins, Cain begs for mercy, and then Cain bludgeons Abel’s head with stones. “Conversation” depicts an increasingly distraught Cain emotionally reacting to the murder. A climactic drum solo midway through is played over an iteration of Abel’s theme representing the Biblical line, “Thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground,” and Cain calms to stillness to end the album. 

The Narrative is a product of good timing. After finishing East of Eden Suite in 2007, I began to compose for sextet instrumentation whenever possible. By 2008, I was living in Manhattan with a book full of arrangements, access to like-minded musicians, and a performance opportunity, so I decided to form a band. By the summer of 2009, I realized that I was in a prime situation to record an album. My new work, The Slip, matched my earlier piece in scale and tone; I had access to a top-notch studio through a friend, recording engineer Corey Levesque; and I hired consistent personnel on a cluster of performances, thereby developing a band sound. The tour which preceded the recording was a joyful experience for the entire band. If I have one hope for the the affect of this album, it is for that joy to come through your speakers. 

Ben Geyer

1. Hydrogen 07:00
2. Oxygen 02:35
3. The Happening 05:08
4. Cain and Abel 08:30
5. Sacrifice 05:48
6. The Fight 04:01
7. Conversation 05:50

All compositions by Ben Geyer (ASCAP)
Produced by Ben Geyer
Graphic design by Ben Geyer
Cover art by Gustav Dore
Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Corey Levesque of Mastersuite
Copyright 2009 Ben Geyer
All Rights Reserved