Rhapsody and Dedication

James Armstrong - Rhapsody and Dedication - cover image

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I'mpleased to present this performance for piano solo, which is my first studio recording in seven years. Time has brought some new approaches to the music, and strengthened my ties to the past. I remain indebted to the work of Béla Bartók, Ferruccio Busoni, and my late friend Andrew Hill, who encouraged me during an extended absence from performance. These disparate influences have yielded a program replete with contrasts; from episodic neoclassical structure to more open, improvisatory forms.

The near-liturgical cycle, Rhapsody & Dedication, was written in memory of my bassist colleague, James Edmiston (1957-2007), who worked tirelessly with me in several groups, and in some of the most challenging environments imaginable. Jim was blessed with a powerful musical imagination, and perfect pitch. I could riff out something and heíd immediately play it back, beautifully harmonized. Somehow, he always found a way to creatively interact with the music, no matter how unusual. His listening skills were exemplary. Over time, I learned to not direct him; he always worked best with minimal input from me.

Prologue, The Monks, and The Eternal Spirit are metaphors of Jimís Buddhist faith. The Abyss is based on compound interval sequences with oblique references to diatonic harmony. Forlane is a more conventional dance form with roots in French classical music. Fantasy on a theme by Domenico Scarlatti is an attempt to capture something about that composer; compound modes and counterpoint based on a key center in F-sharp. Tarantella / Scherzo, the contrasting finale, owes a lot to Bartók and Busoni, and is an exploration of this 1885 Steinwayís percussive resources.

Portrait of Yoko is dedicated to a friend from Nishi-Shinjuku, whose insight and benevolence inspired this unusual form. An essentially simple, declaratory phrase leads to extended polyphonic variations. Abstractions is an exploration of some favorite harmonies; an intersection of the diatonic and chromatic. The rhythmically challenging Zhong Wen was written for my five year old daughter, Julia, who continues to study Mandarin. The pan-tonal signature piece Beijing Girl concludes the program.