RT 9309 (1997)

 

Dana Reason
Peter Valsamis


border crossings

 

Dana Reason : piano
Peter Valsamis : drums, sampler


The Caretakers
Bird of Paradise
EMC
Border Crossings
Duet fort the End of Time

visit Dana Reason' web site

 


DANA REASON & PETER VALSAMIS

From the first spare notes of this extraordinary recording of piano and percussion music, it is clear that Dana Reason is finding her own creative voice, without paying heed to the boundaries that define jazz, classical, or "new" music.

Carefully damped or allowed to ring and decay, these opening notes of "The Caretakers" not only present themselves in space and time with certain characteristics of pitch and shape, but they define the intervening spaces in such a way that the "silences" become integral, even audible components of the composition, as well. When the first mysterious chimes and clangs of Peter Valsamis' percussion and sampler ring in a few moments later, like the ghosts of an ancient gamelan another layer of meaning rises from the depths of this deceptively simple sounding introductory passage. For nearly 20 minutes, the track progresses through sections of varying sonic density and emotional intensity, sometimes gathering like a storm on the horizon, briefly unleashing itself with abandon, piano and drums tangling as one; at other moments, waning to a whisper, allowing room for reflection and respite from the emotional turmoil.

The boundaries between silence and sound, simplicity and intrigue, tranquillity and turbulence, are just a few of the borders Reason and Valsamis dance across on the five extended pieces collected here. Another is the increasingly porous barrier that once existed between composition and improvisation. Reason and Valsamis have become important participants in the ongoing movement to redefine, or at least enlarge, the roles of the composer and improviser.

While Border Crossings was being recorded, Reason was a graduate at Mills College in Oakland, California. After moving there from Montreal, she and Valsamis added their energies to the San Francisco Bay Area's thriving creative music scene, in which the sense of adventure and the search for authentic personal expression are valued for more than adherence to any predetermined genre.

That notion of "the quest" takes Reason and Valsamis into territories associated with everything from chamber music to avant-garde jazz. It also impels them to extend the conventional technical approaches to their instruments, whether that means reaching inside the piano or using a panoply of mallets, brushes, and pads. Yet, eclecticism and technique remain firmly in the service of pure and original musicality. Their ability to seamlessly traverse traditional delineations comes in part from training.

Reason received her Bachelor of Music from McGill University, her Master of Arts in Composition from Mills, and is pursuing her Doctorate of the University of San Diego. She has studied composition with Alvin Curran, Pauline Oliveros, Alcides Lanza, and John Rea, and piano with Julie Steinberg, Boaz Sharon, and Louis-Philippe Pelletier. Her performance credits include appearances at the Knitting Factory in New York City the Music Gallery in Toronto, and the San Francisco Jazz festival, as well as with George Lewis, Joe McPhee, Lisle Ellis, Philip Gelb, and the Cecil Taylor Orchestra. Reason's debut CD, Primal Identity, was released in 1996 on Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening label.

Valsamis, with a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University, is versed in Balinese gamelan, gospel,jazz, and electro-acoustic music.He has worked with Steve Lacy, Vinnie Golia, Bern Nix, Al MacDowell, Bob Ostertag, Don Preston, and is currently enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts of Mills College.

But all the training and impressive resumes in the world cannot take the place of vision. And in music, as ironic as it sounds, vision is something you can hear. It is audible in Reason's almost breathless solo piano piece, "Bird of Paradise;" in which she carefully sculpts the steps of a path that leads you on a walking meditation through a gallery of dappled light, where melodic fragments describe hidden harmonies, and the ear attends, in exquisite anticipation, to the subtlest variations of pressure on the keys, the strings, the air. That vision conjoins curiosity and invention during "EMC" which deconstructs and revoices the pop vocal standard "Everything Must Change," making explicit the message of a lyric that may be taken for granted in today's popular and political culture but not in spontaneous, tumbling interactions of Reason and Valsamis.

As Border Crossings continues through the title composition -- a 19-minute suite of six movements, advancing from a conversation between instrumental textures toward their ultimate assimilation -- and into the concluding "Duet for the End of Time," you might find yourself experiencing the sensation that you are listening to music rather than to players, a sensation that is especially exhilarating, even liberating, given our culture's tendency to exalt the cult of personality in pop music and the cult of individual exhibitionism in both the jazz and classical idioms.

Reason's compositions are indeed profoundly personal, and her performances with Valsamis express strikingly original colors, shades, and dynamics. But what emerges, sometimes delicately, sometimes boldly, from the sympathetic interplay of piano and percussion is less a declaration of virtuosity and style than an unfolding of meaning and an expression of that ineffable quality, musical integrity. That may be the most difficult border to cross. Dana Reason and Peter Valsamis make it seem as natural as breathing and as magical as life itself.

Derk Richardson, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Fi Magazine