Sonata for Piano # 5 (2006) 22:52 Dedicated to the memory of Olivier Altman
 I. Introduction 08:29  II. Scherzo 02:22  III. “Nobody knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” 03:55  IV. Introduction and Fugue, Choral 07:54
Clipper Erickson, piano
 Antarctic Convergence (2006) 08:36 for tenor saxophone, piano and double bass
Andrew Rathbun, tenor saxophone Laurie Altman, piano Scott Lee, double bass
 Pedro’s Story for solo piano (2007) 06:35
Clipper Erickson, piano
 Romare Bearden: A Gallery Tour (2006) 23:01 for tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, piano and double bass
Andrew Rathbun, saxophones Laurie Altman, piano Scott Lee, double bass
3 for Duke (2006) 14:15 for soprano, flute and piano
 I. Sophisticated Lady 06:45  II. Mood Indigo 04:26  III. It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t… 02:48
Patrice Michaels, soprano Helen Rathbun, flute Laurie Altman, piano
total time 75:43
NOTES ON CONVERGENCE
Composing, in the very broadest sense is a journey from inwardness to lucidity. One is carried from piece to piece into resilient and expansive shapings and forms; harmonic and rhythmic narrowings and complexities; sonic dots, clusters and timbres of light and darkness all bound up into a final product: completion, on both a personal and universal level. One begins by (as the artist Robert Motherwell states), “seizing the glimpse” – the idea (or ideas) which underpin and support the entire composition. Differences in thematic content allow for the inclusion of inner voices that bend and blend with the musical landscape and topography at hand. Stylistic castings – a “minimalist”, a “romantic”, a “jazzer” – seem beside the point. For myself I use what I need to and get there by going where and how I must go. The compositions on Convergence are deeply varied: separated by time, place, emotion, event and “glimpse”. An Antarctic journey yields a spiritual commentary upon cold, emptiness and unimaginable beauty, while a trip to a San Francisco Art Museum becomes a bonding of artistic color and vision with my eyes and then into my heart. The reading of a fantasy novella carries my imagination into clouds filled with ghosts, dreams and death. While a piano sonata speaks of loss, pain, fatherly affection, anger and love. Finally, a revisiting of a musical master, Duke Ellington, allows me to re-imagine three great enduring classics, traveling down new pathways with them; a rebirth of sorts, a distortion and expansion of form, mood, length and content.
Sonata for Piano # 5
Sonata for Piano # 5 was written and completed in 2006 and is dedicated to the memory of my son, Olivier Altman, who passed away in 2004. The form of the work emerged quickly (this Sonata has always seemed to be one of my most organic works) with the opening introduction and its pitch relationships providing much of the evolving material and development. The choice of C sharp minor as a predominant key seemed at the time to be most compatible with my mood and the Sonata’s content. The opening movement is highly rhythmic and vertical in character with minor thirds used as a common thread. A return to C sharp minor (a moment of personal memory) is resisted at first by fleeting intrusions and then solidified and carried forward by a sixteenth note triplet figure. A return to the opening material, expressed with some variation brings the movement to its close. The second movement, a Scherzo, is fast, intense and highly rhythmic. It begins with a figure derived from the opening movement (a kind of after thought) and proceeds through a new idea of alternating 2/4 and 5/8 contrasts. The ending returns to the opening figure and closes with a percussive burst of chords at high velocity. Movement three is my take on the famous spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. The piece seemed an apt metaphor for both the loss of my son and the ensuing an enduring pain and grief it has caused me. It closes, wistfully, as if in a dream. One of peace, quiet and release. Movement four begins with a recapitulation of the introduction (as in movement one) – bookends of a sort – and is followed by a long Fugue and two Chorale like insertions. The opening five notes of the Fugue subject are derived from the introduction and the Fugue proceeds rapidly through key, metrical and structural manipulations. The Chorales provide moments of space, breathing and contemplation. Insertions of material from the introduction – an attempt to derail as it were, the Fugue’s forward thrust are overcome (a moment of great pain and anger) before the subject returns again in C sharp minor and brings the Sonata to its conclusion.
It is a rare thing in any musical period that such a drama of the emotions, with their sometimes subtly, sometimes violently, shifting colors, can be expressed in an organic and integrated form such as a Sonata. As a performer the greatest challenge I have is to render this kind of creation both as a clear architectural structure and as a moving expression of the heart. Performing Beethoven’s Sonatas is a similar experience. Laurie Altman’s Sonatas share many qualities with these. The motivic development, key relationships, and the manner in which the meditative and transcendent slow movement proceeds through a kind of fantasy (in Sonata for Piano # 5’s case a restatement of the opening introduction) to an exuberant and triumphant Fugue, all recall the Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106. It signifies the triumph of unstoppable creative force over the tragedy and sadness of human life. Sonata for Piano # 5 is Laurie’s reimagining of Beethoven’s universally psychic drama in the musical language of the 21st century. Laurie completely understands the meaning of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. The opening sonority, embracing the full range of the keyboard says space and timelessness. The call-response phrasing and pianistic versions of the grunts and moans of “sorrow songs”, follow the authentic tradition of spirituals. This is the center of the work, the central experience of what the previous movements have been hinting and searching for. The ending Fugue is the response to that experience, majestic and fiery energy. Being a part of bringing forth this creation into real sound has been a wonderful labor, rewarding in its difficulties and in itself. My feeling as a player is that Laurie Altman’s Sonatas will be seen as a unique contribution to the literature, showing that music from the soul and heart, not simply a cerebral construction, is as vibrant and relevant as in the era of the great keyboard composers of previous times.
Antarctic Convergence for tenor saxophone, piano and double bass
Antarctic Convergence was imagined and completed in 2006. Its beginnings occurred aboard the Endeavor, a National Geographic ship that my wife Jeannine and I were traveling aboard during a trip to Antarctica in 2006. I became haunted by trying to find a sound – something to bring me closer to the emptiness, the vastness, the color, the cold, and the pristine stillness of that remarkable place. Though more or less a straight AABBAAB form, the harmonies and structural spacings take it into other places. The improvised statements of the three instruments become personal commentaries; dialogues within a void; assertions of place, temperature, incline and conclusion.
Laurie Altman’s Antarctic Convergence is program music at it best. It’s an evocative piece which accurately captures both the desolation and the beauty of Antarctica. It is also a fine example of one of my favorite aspect’s of Laurie’s music, which is his highly evolved sense of harmony I was completely taken with the chordal colors in this piece from the very first time we read it. Laurie realizes these colors perfectly at the piano, understanding them with the perfect timbre.
Pedro’s Story for solo piano
Mexican pianist, Ana Cervantes commissioned Pedro’s Story (2007) from a group of composers asked to create musical impressions of the Mexican Author Juan Rulfo’s seminal work, Pedro Paramo. Juan Rulfo (1917–1986) was an esteemed Latin American novelist, short story writer and photographer. Pedro Paramo, a novella like fantasy is set in a mythical hell on earth inhabited by the dead who are haunted by the moral transgressions of the past. I had an opportunity to listen to some of the other composers works and found them, in some cases to be a form of “new age” classical fantasy, a bit too predictable and consistent in their use of motion / stasis, loud and soft and over exaggerated dramatic pauses. My Pedro’s Story is far jazzier, with decided Latin tinge, song form in structure, AAB, that in time moves into the realm of fantasy without exploiting it.
Laurie Altman’s Pedro’s Story is simply a narrative. A strange narrative perhaps, but as logical as Rulfo’s masterpiece. The novella forces the reader to understand everything in retrospective and Laurie’s version asks the listener to listen likewise. What is essential is not an impressionistic portrayal of the ghosts in the story but the reader’s experience of the narrative. It is a story that suggests a musical version because it is best appreciated in time, both sequential time and disturbed time. Laurie’s Pedro’s Story is taught and terse, like Rulfo’s. There is nothing extraneous, nothing that doesn’t need to be there.
Romare Bearden: A Gallery Tour for tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, piano and double bass
Romare Bearden: A Gallery Tour is obviously, in some manner fashioned after Mussorsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, though its linkage to that work was never a consciously motivated event. Leaving the San Francisco Art Museum after experiencing the full range of this remarkable artist’s work left me with no other outcome than to write, immediately, in fact, a new composition; a kind of tribute to the richness that his show had inspired as well as the ways in which Bearden’s usage of color, structure and shape would infuse, feed and energize the roadmap that was to become Gallery Tour. The overall structure of the work balances, after an opening piano statement a series of pieces, eleven in total (which was the number of galleries – rooms – that the show was housed in) with a short ritornello, periodically interspursed between galleries that provides an adhesive unity to the work with at least five distinct returns. The earliest series of galleries, numbers one through seven were deliberately meant to be both short and concise musical events, akin somewhat to the manner and ways in which a painting or collage is first seen and observed from a distance. Gallery 8, a distortion of Jerome Kern’s standard, All the Things You Are with improvisations; Gallery 10, a rendering of the black spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (Bearden’s work deeply touches the souls of black people immersed in life and music creating), and Gallery 11, a final summing up are all significantly longer in length, a measurement of the scope of this great artist’s work, as well as in number 11, some final colors and shapings; an animated and pulsing sense of unified excitement and intensity moving from canvas on into sound and instrumental dialogue.
In New York City, when like minded musicians gather for a session, invariably we begin with “a piece”, which means a free improvisation: nothing is said, we just play together. I always think that this is what Laurie does within himself when he composes: the interplay is with his own musical mind and spirit. The muse speaks to him deeply and visits often. He composes with harmonic and rhythmic complexity, with vigorous form and beautiful melodies, and yet it all somehow sounds free, fresh and necessary. These two compositions, Antarctic Convergence and Romare Bearden: A Gallery Tour, represent the impressionistic and improvisatory specialness that is Laurie: they are fearless, searching, and meant to be in the world.
I also admire Laurie’s ability to create longer form works, and his tribute to the great artist, Romare Bearden is a fantastic work. As an improviser, it is such a pleasure to get to create melodies with such distinct and striking backdrops that Laurie creates throughout this piece. A great deal of the music is rather difficult, with plenty of mixed meters and odd groupings, uneven phrasing and difficult harmony, but the music still remains organic and pure. Laurie does not compose difficult music for the sake of just being “difficult”. He composes what he hears and feels, and this is what results; regardless of the technique, his music sounds original, melodic, and most importantly, beautiful.
3 for Duke Version for flute, soprano and piano
Duke Ellington’s music resides, pulsating inside my body. From the first moments, age 11 or 12 of finger piano poking on Sophisticated Lady to, in turn, a lifetime of Ellington compositions, events and performances, I remain assured that his greatness lies in the directness and clarity of his voice, his sudden rhythmic and mood shifts, coupled with an ability to swing yet remain poignant, thoroughly engaged, subtle and unequivocally honest and penetrating. These three seminal Ellington pieces are scored for flute, voice and piano. The construct of the work begins with the solo flute, both addressing and veering off course, searching, in this case for a way into the opening bars of Sophisticated Lady’s opening words, “They say”. This “Lady” unfolds as a vehicle for voice and piano, slower, more somber and lush, the approach confronts something empty and alone, speculative and meditative. “And when nobody is nigh, you cry”. “You cry”, rendered three times for emphasis and power ends the song. Mood Indigo, heavy and soulful at the outset finds energy in new metrical pathways, leading to a flute solo – a brighter and more up tempo feel yet yielding to the flute and piano floating off somewhere, someplace at the end. It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t… is held together by a recurring ostinato imparting groove and bounce into the proceedings. The entire ensemble is at play here with numerous interconnections, dialogues and unsettled moments. A set of quartal harmonies in the piano, a chromatic ascending flute figure, and voice scats towards the end leads to a verbal return, “So-phis-ti-ca-ted-La-dy”, bringing the piece full circle with a bit of word/instrumental play evaporating into lightness and short punches at the end.
Deepest thanks must be given to all those participating musicians who invested copious amounts of time, study and creative energy into this CD. Helen, Patrice, Scott, Andrew and Clipper: Playing with you or simply listening was an enriching experience and one that allowed me the space to be something more than an intractable composer with a fixed vision. Being more malleable, yielding and open to suggestion and commentary allowed these works to improve and grow stronger, ultimately leading to new ways in and out.
To Judith Sherman, engineer and producer and her assistant Jeanne Velononis, my heartfelt thanks for such inspired listening and insight. I am so much the better composer by your finding the voice within me and allowing it so securely and often sublimely to come out and find a place to reside.
A special embrace for my wife, Jeannine, for her inspired and meaningful photo’s, and my dear friend, Christian Henking, for catching me at a good moment.
Finally, the very deepest of thanks to Wulf Weinmann and NEOS Music. I feel honored by your support of this project and proud to be associated with a company so unequivocally devoted to presenting modern music, rich in both, expressiveness, singularity and quality.