Founded in 1997 the Imanis (Valerie Coleman, flute, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe, Mariam Adam, clarinet, Jeff Scott, horn, and Monica Ellis, bassoon) have been dedicated to the commissioning of new works by established and emerging composers with diverse musical backgrounds and experiences from around the world. Currently they continue that tradition through their Legacy Commissioning Project, and the evening's program included the World Premier of Travesias Panamenas (Panama Crossings) by Danilo Perez, a work co-commissioned by Tuesday Musical and the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
Primarily known as a contemporary/Jazz pianist and composer, Perez certainly knows how to write for wind quintet, as he intelligently combines the rhythms and melodies of his native Panama with a hint of modern jazz idioms. Perez creates wonderful sonorities and rhythmic patterns that sometimes seem to be inviting the listener to dance. Bassoonist Monica Ellis and clarinetist Mariam Adam magnificently handled all of the technical wizardry that Perez threw at them with ease and class.
Opening the concert was Red Clay and Mississippi Delta, by Imanis' Valerie Coleman. Reminiscent of her relatives at family reunions, Colman uses jazzy chords and finger snapping rhythms that invited the audience to join in the fun. Although hints of Gershwin could be heard, Coleman writes with her own pen.
Jason Moran's Cane, also a reminiscence about his family's history in the rural Louisiana town of Natchitoches, "Togo to Natchitoches" grabs one's attention with flute, horn and bassoon solos over nervous, syncopated rhythms. "Coin Coin's Narrative" also has nervous, repetitive elements, this time from the flute and bassoon, punctuated by chords and chatterings from various instruments. Those unsettled rhythms come back in "Gens Libre de Couleur", but are grounded by Stravinsky-like dissonant chords. "Nathitoches to New York" begins with broad chord strokes, which eventually become syncopated and lead on to cheerful oboe and flute tunes and jazzy, bluesy horn licks before the chords return. A swirl of notes brings the suite to an end.
Gamal Abdel-Rahim's The East Side Suite, a fun piece that combines a number of musical styles including a bit of Klezmer, was given a superb reading. Throughout, the Imani played with a collective voice, paying close attention to blend and dynamics.
Composer and saxophonist Daniel Schnyder's Woodwind Quintet, is a twenty-minute work that requires players to be versed in a variety of musical styles. In the hands of lesser musicians, the piece could easily become a series of idiomatic motifs, but the Imanis again presented a cohesive delivery that made all of the musical styles work together. Bravo to oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz, who somehow managed to pick up a cold English horn, put on the reed and play the opening chord softly and perfectly in tune. How did she do that?
Joining Imani for the final work of the evening were the members of Lunaris, the University of Akron School of music Graduate Quintet (Cassandra Dries, flute, Michael Resanovic, oboe, Ann Hung, clarinet, Ben Strecker, horn, and Tom Breadon, bassoon) in an arrangement for double quintet by Jeff Scott of Piazzolla's Libertango. Although the audience was told the piece had received limited rehearsal, this fact was certainly not evident in the rousing performance given by the ten players. A perfect way to conclude the evening. Although I sometimes question audiences that are a bit too quick to rise to their feet, this concert more than deserved the standing ovation it received from the large audience.