If you’re unfamiliar with Myriam Alter’s last CD, Alter Ego,
you might expect her to be one of the musicians performing on If.
For the nature of music marketing is such that the performer’s name usually appears on the front of the liner notes, even if he or she is performing the music of, say, George Gershwin. In a reversal of roles, though, Alter is the composer of all the the tunes that appear on If,
and she, herself a piano player, recruited Kenny Werner for the piano work instead. In fact, she recruited all of the musicians with care to realize the sound that she imagined as she wrote the ten compositions on If.
Having dropped out of music for over 20 years, Alter returned to it with her own ideas about melody, cultural references, colors and rhythms. The Belgian composer listened to Sephardic music throughout much of her childhood, and she grew to embrace the mixture of Middle Eastern ornamentation and modes with Latin percussiveness. The music of If
contains this combination of influences throughout the CD, much of it referring to Argentinean music, and specifically tango nuevo, as her phrasing contains a high degree of elasticity, a section expanding here only to contract metrically later. And still, Alter doesn’t create the extremes of emotion, and the contrasting adjacent allusions associated with Astor Piazzolla as his romantic lushness preceded the stomp of a march. Rather, Alter’s music is lighter, gentler and more metrically consistent, even as it swells and recedes like a bellows.
Combining the bandoneon and the clarinet as her lead instruments, Alter’s music is rich with suggestions of festiveness, observation of familiar activities and a celebration of life. On "Children Play," Alter fuses together several sections, first of frolic and then a ¾ slowdown for rest before a gradual acceleration again as she musically depicts her own reminiscence. Or "It’s All There." is built upon a rather simple long-toned melody, which John Ruocco plays in the middle register on clarinet while Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon creates the rhythmic tension as an undercurrent before settling down into a unison statement of the repetitive theme.
One peculiarity of Alter’s song titles is her unusal use of punctuation, a device with which Annette Peacock adds meaning to her song titles as well. Thus, "Home." is a statement, a sentence unto itself, indicating the self-containment of the composition. Or "I Think Of It," implies by its comma that a connected thought preceded by an "and" or a "but" follows; the connectiveness carries over into the music associated with the title.
Myriam Alter was given the opportunity to express the music that she recalls from childhood and that remains a part of her being throughout her life. Brought to life by top-notch musicians who understand Alter’s vision, that music, through its authenticity, is distinguished by its originality and consistency, quite unlike most other music being recorded.