Review


Levi Raleigh Brown
God is an Alchemist:
Bass trombone and organ

N.p., ,
Publisher: Levi Raleigh Brown
Date of Publication: 2020
URL: http://leviraleighbrown.wixsite.com/music

Two scores

Genre: SOLO MATERIALS

Levi Raleigh Brown (b.1996) is a composer, percussionist and jazz pianist. Often crossing genres and disciplines, his work aims to draw attention to the universality of the daily human experience. He is particularly interested in the unpredictability of everyday life, contrasted against human desire for control through constructed means, such as art. Musically, he explores these ideas with a sense of spontaneity, drawing from a variety of musical styles and experimenting with concepts of texture and form.

The composer gives an excellent description of the programmatic elements of this piece:
Go ahead, light your candles and burn your incense and ring your bells and call out to God, but watch out, because God will come, and He will put you on His anvil and fire up His forge and beat you and beat you until he turns brass into pure gold. -Sant Keshavadas

 The piece uses the above quote as a starting point for thinking about the difficulty involved in personal refinement, and does not necessarily involve ideas of religion. The idea is that Life can be, and often is difficult, even unbearably so, but it is these difficulties that eventually turn “brass into pure gold.” The piece follows this idea in a semi-linear way, with the organ often taking on the role of God or the chaos of the World, and the bass trombone the role of the “brass” (the individual), although the roles are not always this clearly defined throughout.

 The piece begins with an organ cluster with notes gradually being removed until only a minor sixth is left. This introduces the idea of the whole piece, which is that of refinement. Throughout the piece, the organ often moves rapidly through erratic clusters, suggesting the chaos of the world, while the bass trombone struggles to fit into this texture. It repeatedly returns to a high A, a relatively unstable note to give a sense of weakness in comparison to the organ. There is also a section where each player performs independently of the other, creating a feeling of unpredictability, even among the performers. By the end of the piece, the trombone is playing a melodic line, which is also hidden within the organ clusters, showing a sense of unity between the two, and a refinement of the trombone’s role.

This work was commissioned by bass trombonist Juan Saldivar Jr. and was premiered February 5, 2020 by Saldivar and organist Maxine Thevenot. It is expertly scored for both organ and bass trombone. There are detailed instructions for various colors and registrations in the organ part. The bass trombone is also required to produce a large variety of sounds with various mutes, various forms of vibrato, glissandi, flutter tonguing and hand positions in the bell. The overt programmatic elements make it easier for the listener to follow the often-dense chord clusters, aleatoric passages, as well as the disjointed rhythms and melodic lines. This is wonderful music in an advanced idiom, written for professional level performers. The notation is beautifully printed, complex but clear and easy to follow. For a copy of the score and recording of the premiere, contact the composer at levibrown13@gmail.com, or visit his website at leviraleighbrown.wixsite.com/music.

Reviewer: Karl Hinterbichler
Review Published April 10, 2020