Review of “Jackalope” by Dr. A. M. C. Waterman
Dear Alice and Robert,
I have now had opportunity to listen to Steam on three occasions, the last at the weekend, and I like it a lot. Congratulations on a well worthwhile and well executed project!
The most impressive thing, to my uninitiated ear, is the very high quality of the instrumental ensemble: whatever instruments you are each playing there is always good balance, excellent tone, and all the signs that you are listening to each other — like a good madrigal group or string quartet. These virtues were particularly noticeable in (the accompaniment to) Peter Eat Your Heart Out; in Falls of Richmond, where the low tessitura — on viola and mandola — resulted in a warm, rich tone; in The Stig, where the flute was very effective; in Home with the Girls & Glory, where the Bass added a lot; and perhaps above all in (the accompaniment to) Robert and Alice’s Waltz.
In terms of composition, my complete unfamiliarity with the idiom means that my comments may be wide of the mark. I was particularly impressed by Fritz / Grind (the least idiomatic of all your pieces): it had just the right touch of 50s sophistication and you all played it convincingly and well. But in many/most of them, what I would call the ‘part-writing’ — which I suppose in actuality was at least partly improvisation — was extremely well done, with occasional tantalising hints of imitative counterpoint. Perhaps the high point was the beautiful interlude before the last stanza of Robert and Alice’s. But Home with the Girls / Glory ran it close, with its entirely unexpected use of the tierce de Picardie (which I would be surprised to learn is idiomatic). On repeated hearing though, my first (only overheard) impressions were confirmed: Mattawa / Montebelo / Fleur is the most interesting and effective of the lot, and this has less to do with the chord progressions — which I didn’t find that remarkable — as with its exciting cross rhythms, which create a tremendous momentum and makes it a perfect choice to wind up with.
At my third listening I made a few notes which I attach to this letter unedited. I don’t know that they add much to what I have said: they are a bit like ‘tasting notes’ for wine. But since you know these particular wines a lot better than I do you may be interested to see what first impression they made on a neophyte.
Thank you very much for such an excellent Christmas present!
Track 1: like the sudden transition to a new key between second and third tunes
Track 2: more pedestrian than previous
Track 3: good words, excellent instrumental parts
Track 4: excellent idiomatic style – sophistication – one of the best on this disc
Track 5: good instrumental blending, rich tone
Track 6: good modal melody (mode VII?) but a bit too sprightly for a lament
Track 7: effective syncopation – ‘Providence’ doesn’t seem to be particularly ‘driving’
Track 8: attractive and interesting part-writing in Stig, quasi-polyphonic; flute very effective
Track 9: good to give us a break in triple time, but I don’t know what a ‘hambo’ is, or what ‘Scandahoovian’ means – attractive part-writing and instrumentation
Track 10: one of the most interesting pieces on this disc – quite unexpected but effective use of tierce de Picardie! (is that idiomatic, or just someone’s bright idea?) – Bass very effective and a welcome variation of colour – a bit heavy-footed at the end but very effective
Track 11: something about the root progressions in one of these pieces doesn’t sound quite right to my ear – but I should need to see the score to identify it.
Track 12: excellent and effective instruments – good double-stopping near outset and a beautiful instrumental ensemble in the long interlude before the last entry of the singer; this really is a very effective piece – though if I were tinkering with the melody I would do something now and again to deliver us from the tyranny of the dotted crotchet
Track 13: in some ways these three contain the most interesting music on the disc and I particularly like the extremely effective cross rhythms which create a powerful momentum. The progressions in Fleur are fine, but not remarkable by comparison with what one used to hear in Big Band arrangements and later, progressive jazz. [Had I been writing the jacket notes I should have called them ‘masterly’, which means ‘like a master’ – rather than ‘masterful,’ which means bossy or overbearing.]
— Dr. Waterman is a professor emeritus of Economics at the University of Manitoba. He also happens to be Alice’s father.