The first movement of Four Ethereal Planes has probably what will be the quirkiest title of all four movements total. It's a loose play-on-words with the saying "apples and oranges," in which two specific ideas or items can't really be compared with each other. This is somewhat explored in the movement, but it's not the main focus.
Descriptively, "Oranges and Apples" instead creates a sonic painting of my experiences journeying on the maze-like subways of New York City. For example, to get from my NYC residence to Lower Manhattan (where my graduate school New York University is located), you would take the orange line as it's the most direct path to get there. However, as with any of the subway lines in the city, they can be unpredictable, thrilling, somewhat dangerous, and wild.
This movement takes all of this with a grain of salt, a light-hearted, humorous, and ever-changing experience with a constant sense of unpredictable motion.
"Oranges and Apples" is a relatively standard chart if we want to specifically focus on its form. When the beginning material is recapped, for example, there are few changes but most of them pertain to color.
Kevin Day's role in all of this, the solo piano, is two-fold - while he introduces material that is explicitly written out, approximately 80-85% of his part is completely improvised. The main motive of this movement, for example, starts in the solo keys and is passed to players in the band throughout various other spots. Both of Kevin's roles can be briefly seen in one of the phrases:
The jazz band, meanwhile, contains what I like to call a more blocky kind of orchestration - in this case, the saxophones and brass sometimes play together, but more often than not, they engage in various moments of call-and-response as if at odds with each other. Bass and drums, meanwhile, form a close trio with the solo keys.
Now this isn't to say that the solo keys is a separate entity from the group or anything like that. Neither are bass and drums. There are various other solos in this movement - specifically, featuring alto sax and trumpet. In one of these instances, the solo keys does do a little bit of comping for support:
But, in another case (and specifically where the most wild moment in the movement happens), there are TWO solos happening concurrently - solo keys and alto sax at odds with each other, completely independent from each other, all while competing with the full force of the band. This should add to the chaos that's building up in this spot. The fun part is that even though I have some ideas of what I'm looking for in improvisatory moments like these, the real creativity of these moments (and the concerto as a whole) will come from how the performers interpret all of this. Not just the solos, but all other material as well.
Note below that the solo keys has switched over to Hammond organ at this point (Kevin will be using piano, keyboard synth, and the organ for this piece) -
The most free-form improvisation for the solo keys comes in as a 40-bar phrase with a 2 1/2 bar leadoff, where this part really begins to take off. Even though moments like this are peppered in earlier spots, this is the first instance where Kevin can truly play with all cards in the deck when it comes to the improv. Suggestions that are included on the part at the moment give various different emotions and feelings for what I'm looking for - there are no specific musical interpretations written down. The latter point is entirely up to him:
In this movement, Kevin's improvisations will only be supported by bass and drums. The band purposefully drops out to help introduce this element to the piece. Further movements will feature more interplay between soloist and group, especially for what the next movement will require.
The final element that brings this movement together is the few instances of unpredictability in rhythm. This also extends itself to the stylistic approach. "Oranges and Apples" is predominantly a swing number, but in two specific spots, it suddenly switches to straight eighths without warning:
Overall, "Oranges and Apples" is more of a light-hearted introduction for Four Ethereal Planes. It sets the tone for what the remainder of the piece will be like, especially with its musical concepts. The work as a whole is meant to be more fun and joyful in nature as opposed to the strongly-contrasting emotions that my soprano saxophone concerto Summertime Echoes is exploring with regards to the human experience.
I just want to point out that, once again, I have to glorify Dorico (the software I'm using to engrave this piece). Below is the first page of the solo piano part (a very rough copy - this won't be its final version, but this is just so I had something to send to Kevin). This is close to exactly how it looked the moment I opened the part layout in the program:
If this was Sibelius, this would have taken me about 2-3 minutes on a good day to format it in this way. Dorico - you are utterly brilliant. I have a feeling that part extractions may not actually be quite so painful for this piece...
Next post will talk about Movement 2 - "The Dance That Never Was," the ballad for the concerto. Passionate, yes, but perhaps subtly sad. Bring on the smooth.