Playing for and with nature: Diane Moser debuts ‘Birdsongs’
Album launch by Diane Moser
Sunday, April 22, 5 p.m.
Central Presbyterian Church
of Montclair, 46 Park St.
By GWEN OREL
Disney heroines often sing to birds, who sing right back. Mary Poppins does the same.
Animation and fancy?
Birds apparently enjoy having musicians to play with.
Diane Moser doesn’t sing with the birds, but she did play with them when she was in residence on an artist’s fellowship for five weeks at the MacDowell colony in New Hampshire in the summer of 2008.
Her CD “Birdsongs,” which launches at Central Presbyterian Church on Sunday, April 22, is the result.
“Every day I was recording with them and improvising with them and at night I’d listen to the recordings,” Moser said.
At first she tried transcribing what the birds sang, but it was difficult as the birds often sing in half-tones. Then the pianist discovered that if she played to them, they would get excited and sing back.
“We ended up just kind of jamming,” Moser said with a laugh.
The music includes light, vibrant staccato flute, melodic piano, and bouncy, almost Latin rhythms.
Moser’s seventh C consists of two suites: “MadDowell’s Woodlands part 1: Morning and Afternoon,” and “MacDowell’s Woodlands part 2: Evening,” and a track titled “The (Un)Common Loon” labeled “Intermission.” Before the suites, there is a track called “Birdsongs for Eric” (for Eric Dolphy).
Central Presbyterian Church is not only the venue for the album’s Montclair launch. It had a launch in Catskill, New York, last week where Moser recorded the CD.
“It has the best acoustics that I’ve ever found,” she said.
“Birdsongs for Eric” was composed for and played in the Eric Dolphy Freedom of Sound festival at Montclair State University in 2014. Dolphy, who died in 1964, was a multi-instrumentalist (saxophone, clarinet and flute) and jazz icon.
“Hello” and the tunes in the first suite are for “birds I hung Out with in the morning,” Moser said. “‘Won’t You Come Out to Play,’ those guys, I hung out with them in the afternoon. In the early afternoon, it is harder to get birds to come out because they are resting.”
So she decided to test that theory by playing, and seeing if they would come out to play with her.
And they did.
Kyle Pederson is a former student of Moser’s. Moser teaches at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and in a low residency program in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA music composition program. Pederson was her student in Vermont.
Moser commissioned him to write a piece for the project, and picked the bird of his state, Minnesota, to honor.
“The (Un)Common Loon” is really a programmatic piece,” Moser said. It dramatizes the loon from morning to evening. . Technically, it’s part of the suite, “a day in the life of the loon,” she said.
Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, a regular at the MacDowell colony, composed “A Hermit Thrush at Eve” there in 1920-21. Moser composed the “Variations” that accompany it.
“Birdsongs” reflects a project that evolved over nine years, Moser said. She and her band have performed several of the tunes, and a few of the tracks on it have been recorded before in other arrangements: the playful “If You’ll Call Me, Then “I’ll Call You,” dedicated to saxophonist Mark Dresser, and based on songs of the American Robin; and “Dancing with the Sparrows.” She’s performed some of the tracks with a quintet, with two flutes.
The new CD is a trio, with Moser on piano, Anton Denner on flute and piccolo and Ken Filiano on contrabass.
Moser prefers the light, fluid sound of this music in a trio.
“[Anton and Ken] play, you know, in between the cracks in the same way that birds sing,” Moser said. The fluidity in the music allows the notes to breathe.
In New Jersey, Moser listens for different kinds of sparrows, and is hoping to hear a Baltimore oriole.
It’s special, Moser said, that the concert will take place on Earth Day. And even though this concert will be indoors, she hopes sometimes when she plays that the birds will join in.