During my Friday evening drive to the Shalin Liu Performance Center, lightning flashed over Cape Ann. Now one, then two, even double flashes that seemed to straddle Rockport shot down from the same cloud mass, perhaps as a harbinger of what was to come: the ensemble of Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Mika Stoltzman, marimba; Eddie Gomez, bass; Duke Gadd, percussion; and Mihye Kim, vibraphone.
As a pair of seagulls played in the background (the curtain was open), Richard Stoltzman’s introduction to the first piece, “If you have any questions about it, see me after,” was met with much laughter. The audience was in good humor. A good start.
The uprush of energy in the opening unison lines of Keith Jarrett’s Terra Cotta, set the tone. The sharp attacks of the hard mallets on the marimba gave the clarinet notes a real edge, much like the coloristic effect of Stravinsky’s eighth note string pizzicatos that punctuate the attacks of sustained wind chords. Sharply sectional, Terra Cotta’s repeated fast, slow, slow, slow, fast construction gave ample time for lovely lyrical melodic clarinet lines accompanied by soft marimba tremolos, and the low notes of the marimba were scrumptious to the ear. Slower sections balanced the energy of the opening and gave us a chance to hear the mellifluous notes of the clarinet in its mellow registers. During the third section, the most delicate sounds emerged from percussionist Duke Gadd’s brushed cymbals, creating an aura around the notes of low clarinet melody. During a later slow section, Eddie Gomez and Richard Stoltzman created a lovely duet. Shortly after, another magic moment occurred when the clarinet, in its low register, was accompanied by high harmonics in the bass. Lovely piece, if a little long.
For a marimba player there is the issue of mallet placement on the stand behind. As Mika Stoltzman stood with her back to audience tending to these things, her partner’s comment that she was “communing with the mallets,” drew appreciative laughter from the audience. It was just right. The sounds and force of Tamar Muskal’s Shout (written for the Stoltzmans) quickly made us appreciate the care with which mallets were chosen. The opening was swept away by several marimba ostinato passages that brought out the clarinet’s lovely melodies of long high notes. This set up a cadenza-like section featuring registral extremes that led back to the high energy of the opening.
Jeff Babko’s Funky Little Fugue (announced as an “appropriate encore piece”) was short and totally fun. The strong and sharp accent at the end of the initial four-beat phrase kicked it back into its repeat again and again. The performers and audience both enjoyed the play of it. The threat of an academic fugue was never realized—thank goodness.
Bill Douglas’s Jubilation opened with a dialogue between clarinet and marimba. Eddie Gomez’ control of the beat created power and the terrific “walking bass” kept us guessing which direction it would take. The extended and virtuosic marimba solo brought much applause and prepared the ending.
Mihye Kim (vibraphone) joined the ensemble for Patrick Wilkins arrangement of Marcos Valle Suite. Two mallet instruments! I was worried, but the combination was exquisite. Mihye Kim’s sensitive playing brought a dimension of quiet sparkle to the piece. It refreshed the texture and brought new dimensions to the sound of the marimba. Great idea. A lovely and short piece that everyone appreciated.
Marcos Valle’s Beco featured great playing from double bassist Eddie Gomez. The ensemble made it fun. The brief, unexpected clarinet quote from “The Lone Ranger” (Rossini’s William Tell Overture) brought chuckles — and clear evidence that Richard Stoltzman knew his audience.
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue preceded intermission. The classic glissando opening was lovely. The piece gave everyone a chance to shine. The audience enjoyed Mika Stoltzman merely dropping the pages of the marimba part to the floor as they needed to be turned. The long first half ended with cheers and standing ovations.
After intermission the audience was somewhat reduced, but the enthusiastic many who remained were rewarded with some of the best playing of the evening. William Thomas McKinley’s Mostly Blues is a collection of 21 short pieces written for the Stoltzman’s clarinet and marimba duet. Apparently he started with a small number and then couldn’t stop. We heard numbers 1, 4, and 21. The audience applauded and laughed at Richard Stoltzman’s quip, “if we are invited back, we will play more.” These three are lovely pieces that formed a simple ABA structure, with the slow lyric song of the first balanced by the sweetness of the last. The strongly contrasting second piece bumped along in what sounded like a 7/8 measure. It would be nice to hear more of these.
Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk Well, You Needn’t provided another opportunity to hear Eddie Gomez and Richard Stoltzman working together. The double bass solo was wonderful and the audience said so with their hands.
The solos, duos, trios, and quartets of the last pieces (Ringo and Bill Douglas’s Sambata) provided an opportunity to really hear percussionist Duke Gadd do his stuff. The clarinet/marimba arrangement of Ravel’s Pavanne was a lovely idea. The change of pace in the program worked. I would have liked the harmonies to be more sustained, but . . . . An improvisation by the clarinet brought the piece to its climax and drew murmurs of appreciation from the audience.
Chick Corea’s Marika Groove was a New Year’s Eve gift for the Stoltzmans. The traditional fast-slow-fast arrangement featured the quartet and drew the evening to a rousing close. Think twice before turning down the opportunity to hear a program that features marimba and clarinet, bass and drums, since it can be lots of fun to hear terrific players doing their thing.