Flute Journal readers will be familiar with various themes that we have pursued from time to time in our articles and reviews, including: expanding horizons and repertoire for flutists, breaking down barriers between jazz and classical music, mastering woodwind doubling. So it is most fulfilling to encounter an artist who represents all these values, and among these we must number New York based composer and multi-instrumentalist, Ben Kono. It is regrettable that it has taken this long to produce a review of his recording Don’t Blink. Fortunately, however, we can rectify that oversight just as Ben is preparing to release a new project, as these can be understood together, along with his earlier recording, Crossing. Both Don’t Blink and the new album Voyages, which is due for release by the end of 2021, have been made possible grants from Chamber Music America, with generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Don’t Blink, which is described as An Eco-Suite for Jazz Ensemble was issued in 2019. In addition to crossing genre boundaries, it is also unusual in its dedication to the environment, particularly to bringing attention to threatened species. Kono writes:
“How do you portray in music what it feels as a child discovering you will never enjoy the spectacle of passenger pigeons in flight? Or the anxiety of knowing your own daughter may miss your experience of hiking a glacier if global warming continues at its current rate? What in music can convey the awesome wonder of standing in silence among the redwood giants, or the unexpected excitement of meeting a monk seal during a morning swim? These and other powerful emotions I have tried to explore in this suite of vignettes composed specifically for the Ben Kono Group, made possible by a 2013 commission from Chamber Music America: New Jazz Works Commissioning and Ensemble Development Grant. Rather than the usual jazz fare of love, loss and betrayal, I envision a narrative of mankind’s often testy relationship with his environment realized through the unusual use of woodwinds in a jazz quintet setting. The concept began as a collection of melodic fragments, some inspired by my four year old daughter’s pianistic excursions. Some of these melodies had ecological themes attached to them and I began to imagine a way to connect them together in an extended composition.” The composition is described as follows:
“Through a sequence of connected vignettes, the arc of the suite’s narrative takes it’s itinerant shape from the composer’s own life-long exploration towards environmental consciousness. From a metaphoric dream pitting the extinct dodo against marauding humans, to reckless pollution of our waterways and political inaction, to an innocent encounter with an endangered monk seal, this collection of musical anecdotes presents a unified tale of environmental stewardship and moral responsibility, and to that end exploits the vast aural palette of the Group’s wide-ranging talents.”
The work is remarkable for its variety of themes and textures, its presentation remarkable for the precision and creativity of its execution, particularly from Kono himself, who exhibits a remarkable mastery of a range of woodwind instruments, — alto and C flutes, English horn. bass clarinet, tenor saxophone and dizi — and from his sidemen: keyboardist Henry Hey, guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Kermit Driscoll and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi,who scale the heights of musicianship in their ability both to interpret the score and to engage in highly effective jazz improvisation.
There is some remarkable music here which will appeal to flutists and other woodwind players, as well as to those interested in ways that truly creative musicians can expand the boundaries of jazz and contemporary composition.
To hear, and purchase tracks from Don’t Blink click here
Some examples of Ben Kono’s work on flute:
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