Most musicians bring life to a page of musical notes and try to make it sound fresh and in the moment. Pianist Jane Buttars and cellist David Darling improvise their music — moment by moment. In their first album together, Tympanum, the listener gets to sit in on their exciting moments of creation. Each piece is a journey, imagined and created step by exciting step. Do not expect to listen to their improvisations while you are doing something else. Their focus is so intense that it snatches you and demands your full attention.
Each of the 14 selections takes a different mood journey. Sometimes persistent but unexpected rhythms bubble up to the surface and fairly bid the listener to get out of a chair and MOVE for heaven’s sake. Or gentle swaying lifts your spirits, like a high swing, and then subsides into still calm.
They are not limited to major, minor or modal; they can play for two minutes in the key of silence.
How to compare it? Maybe to say, think of combining the energy of jazz improv plus the adventuresomeness of Poulenc, plus the whimsy of e.e. cummings, But keep in mind that this is a duo of classical musicians.
Grammy Award-winner David Darling formerly played with the Paul Winter Consort and co-founded Music for People, which aims to encourage trained musicians to find joy in improvisation and ordinary people to find music in themselves. (This is my translation of MfPs mission statement.)
Buttars is a classically trained performer and teacher, a Fulbright Scholar, and a dance and Dalcroze student, with a Doctor of Musical Arts in piano and harpsichord performance. (Full disclosure: she is my workout partner at the Rabara Pilates studio.) Based in Princeton, she directs Music From the Inside, a program of group improvisation classes and workshops for all levels, beginners to professionals, and she leads Music for People sessions.
I can envision several important uses for Tympanum, beyond listening for delight. These improvisations fairly beg to be danced to — by those who do “contact improv” or those who choreograph. They could work wonderfully as part of a worship service, to introduce or follow a psalm or meditation that fits the particular mood. Creative dance teachers and nursery school teachers– here is a gold mine. Listen at CDBaby.
Mostly, though, I just want to sit in my rocking chair, look out the window and be taken on one journey of imagination after another, each moment new.