Such a Sky

Imogen Manins (cello), Tony Gould (piano), with Slava Grigoryan, David Jones, Riley Lee, Gian Slater, Eugene Ughetti
Arrangements, Improvisation
Move MD 3364
Reviewed by , April 1st, 2014

Imogen Manins and Tony Gould are Melbourne-based performers who have assembled this album from recordings made from a series of concerts they gave in 2012. Two of the tracks are credited to Gould as a composer, but the remainder of the selection is drawn from classical and popular repertoire. The format is like the jazz standard idea of choosing an existing song, arranging it in some new way and then improvising on it. But apart from some pieces that use harmonies that could be associated with jazz, this collection of tracks could not really be labelled as jazz (perhaps with the exception of the rendition of the Jobim composition Luiza). Much of it is folk-like (in the sense of utilising a modal melody against a drone) and all of it has a very slow, gentle and relaxed approach that might even position it in the ambient genre. Certainly there is very little drama or urgency in the music.

Manins and Gould play on all the tracks and the arrangements also involve other excellent performers, one or two per track.  These include luminaries such as guitarist Slava Grigoryan, percussionist David Jones and shakuhachi master Riley Lee. Although the album has primarily an instrumental approach, several of the tracks employ the distinctive wispy voice of Gian Slater, combining improvised vocalise and song interpretations. The centrepiece of her contribution is Tony Gould’s moving setting of Auden’s Funeral Blues, a lyric previously set by Benjamin Britten and Ned Rorem, amongst others.  Stater also gives a haunting rendition of Michael Atherton’s beautifully simple song Shall We Dream.  

From the credits and the liner annotations of this CD it is clear that a major focus of this project is Manins’ work as an arranger. Ambitiously she has created an effective version for a quartet of shakuhachi, piano, cello and percussion of Ross Edwards’ new millennium piece, Dawn Mantras, although replacing the children’s choir part with block piano chords is not ideal. More creatively she has on Such a Sky produced an inventive arrangement around Lionel Bart’s Who Will Buy. Her creative contribution to other tracks where no arranging credits are given is also evident from her strong cello solos.

On the basis of what one hears here, Manins as a performer-turned-arranger should in future be considering putting her hand up as a composer, following in the footsteps of her distinguished collaborator, Tony Gould.

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