Bass Clarinet Quartet: Late Classic Era

We are witnessing the Late Classic Period of Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet, apparently. You can bear witness to the last days of this period on Sept. 12 when the quartet plays in a bass-clarinet-heavy concert at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

The show includes the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk and a performance of a bass clarinet nonet by Jonathan Russell. If you don’t like the sound of the bass clarinet, this will not be the place to be.

As for Edmund Welles’ different eras, bandleader Cornelius Boots lays out the whole chronology on his blog. This wasn’t a decades-long master plan; it’s more that, with benefit of hindsight, he sees the phases of his musical development. He’s been nurturing the idea of a heavy bass-clarinet band since the late ’90s (the Inspirational Era), developing some songs as part of hard-rock band Magnesium. I got turned on to Edmund Welles during the band’s Early Classic Era, as the album Agrippa’s 3 Books came out, and what I’ve written on this blog has covered the Classic Era and beyond.

Boots’ other foci have included teaching — the Edmund Welles album Tooth and Claw now has a companion book that teaches you how to play the songs — and the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. He recently recorded a shakuhachi album, Mountain Hermit’s Secret Wisdom, in a cave, exploiting the acoustics to produce meditative pieces such as “Banshiki” — listenable on Bandcamp.

But he’s also playing metal on the shakuhachi, making clever use of athletic tongue-trilling and the instrument’s ability to bend notes. Here’s his cover of “Run to the Hills.”

An Edmund Welles Christmas

Edmund WellesHymns for Christmas (Zeroth Law, 2012)

edmundwelles5I’ve been a fan of Edmund Welles (the bass clarinet quaret) and recently posted about how their latest album took a turn for the metal. So I had to wonder what dark horrors would be dredged up when Edmund Welles went and did a Christmas album.

None, it turns out. Unless you count Christmas music itself as a horror. I have to admit, I’m in that camp, due to decades of exposure to syrupy muzak and cloying lite rock. There’s a Bay Area station that plays that stuff 24 hours a day during December — and they brag about it, and the Law does nothing to stop them. What a world.

I tend to forget that Christmas music started out as simple classical/folk songs. That’s what Hymns for Christmas delivers, an elegant, stripped-down approach that’s so refreshing.

Cornelius Boots, the brains behind Edmund Welles, wrote some eloquent notes (and a nice blog entry) about what the music means to him and how he shaped his approach, citing Dickens and handbell choirs along the way. It’s that kind of Christmas music, without the artificial sweeteners, played as gently as falling snow.

That, I can live with. And while listening, you can marvel at the range of the bass clarinet — which, as Boots points out, comes close to the range of male vocalizing. It’s possibly the most enjoyable Christmas caroling I’ve ever heard.

Listen for yourself at Bandcamp, CD Baby, or Cornelius Boots’ store … which is part of a snazzy new web site for all his work in general. This entry is peppered with links to it, but here’s one more just to be gratuitous.