Willie Reviews Michael Vincent Waller’s “Moments”

Willie Reviews Michael Vincent Waller’s “Moments”


Moments collects composer Michael Vincent Waller’s compositions for piano (performed by R. Andrew Lee) and for vibraphone (performed by William Winant). The titular moments imply a time and place and allow a journey back into the consciousness surrounding those or any moments. RPM’s review:

With each passing year, I escalate my seasonal patterns. It goes like this: I breathlessly anticipate spring, summer, autumn, or winter, and then consider each day in a given season less “mine” and more an inevitable consequence of the sun’s place in the sky or the wind’s patterns. I expect this to continue for as long as I live, and my first instinct is to place this phenomenon as a reaction to the relative shortening of my years (what will surprise me in the year 2040?). If I cannot take back the years I flew through without considering the changes day-by-day in everything around me, surely I can try to match those changes as they occur like an eager dog jumping onto a treadmill.

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Still, I suspect a push for seasonality is more generally an attempt at meaning-making right now. We can count on art to confront the crisis of making meaning of life because it so often stems from that feeling. And composer Michael Vincent Waller’s Moments invites the overwhelming angst and unease from those thoughts deep within us that refuse articulation. It does so because it funnels them into abstract forms so deftly and transparently that on hearing the music, we see more clearly into our own meaning-making quests. Whatever it is that eats at you and pushes you to confusion, you are likely to journey back to it through this collection of piano and vibraphone compositions.

In the long-fought battle to contain the moment, a number of brave composers have created themes and purposes for compositions. These curious categories make grand appearances on Moments, and not only do they tick the boxes for nocturnes, divertimentos, or whatever else, they are so spot-on and recognizable as genre pieces, they draw attention to the existence of their particular modes.

Michael Vincent Waller, photo by Tim Saccenti

The two nocturnes for piano (named Nos. 1 and 4) on the album follow nocturne protocol to a T. As a category, the nocturne is a bit of an oddity. It’s a brave act to acknowledge out in the open that nighttime brings out frighteningly unexplainable thoughts. Some nocturnes merely demand a performance in the nighttime and may not fully explore the creeping insecurities that accompany a ramble after dark. Others, like Waller’s, capture a moment of doubt or gasping awe. In No. 1, Lee’s playing picks notes out of the floating air in an utterly intelligible way. The lyric portion in the right hand and the insistent arpeggio in the left meet at straight corners because they can. The same relationship remains in No. 4, which skews romantic and dramatic but returns evenly just the same.

The two pieces with dedications in their titles (odes?) come from a more loosely defined tradition, but follow their category all the same. “For Papa” delights in a personal touch—a theme which comes back again and again to stand in for memories and evocations of the subject. “For Pauline” takes a different route, and forces us to hear it not as chord against chord against chord but as an implied relationship that takes shape through its suggested context. The work of the title is to set up expected relationships that really do play out.

Artwork for “Moments,” from Unseen Worlds

Throughout all of its settings and themes, the album relies on translating whim and transitory thought into digestible gesture. Composer, pianist, and fellow Unseen Worlds labelmate “Blue” Gene Tyranny says it well in his album notes: “We are fortunate in the century of exploration to encounter music that does not sacrifice the ever present needs of the listener for emotional satisfaction.” There are few processes more difficult and finicky than filtering and straining an idea. “For Pauline” is an extreme example, in which single chords form the texture throughout. Its radical evenness astounds and convinces the listener of its process. “Love – II. Baby’s Return” spins an enchanting waltz that is soothing in its insistence on repetition. When you take a walk and you find yourself completely alone and you want order immediately and you want it now but also you cherish the inconsistencies and perilous absence of order, that’s when a piano composition does the trick. One does not preclude the other, and Waller’s ability to stand on the edge of deep thought is impressive.

After a few listens, I’ve identified a loose theory of the moment according to Moments: it’s unique but repeatable, persistent, pestering, and ever-present. And still, it’s important to rupture the moment in order to find your bearings, however temporarily. On these 50 degree days, I think I will choose to find myself in the vibraphone rather than lose myself in a chilly puddle of thought.

Score: Seeing the city’s orange glow reflected over a lake while the city remains behind the trees.