Imagine my surprise when our friend Paula Mlyn insisted (gently but still rare for her) I should sit down and listen to the NAXO’s CD 8.559871, titled MIGRATIONS, assuring me that I would not be disappointed.

It was one of quite a pile of CD’s sitting on my desk waiting to be reviewed and making me feel guilty about my procrastinating ways.

Paula’s email gave me the kick in the butt I needed.

But I must confess I sat down to listen to what I feared was going to be a catch-all sampler of music by a composer of renown about whose work I knew little much to my dismay.

I began to listen and curiosity grew into sheer delight, as I listened to Derek Bermel’s Migration Series for Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra, a work commissioned by Wynton Marsalis that embraces cutting edge jazz melded into big-bones music demanding serious symphonic chops from its players.

Twenty-nine minutes of boldly polytonal, complexly contrapuntal, harmonically unpredictable, swinging music played to the hilt by the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, with soloists Ted Nash on sax and Bermel himself on clarinet kept me on the edge of my seat.

I was hooked.

As lyric wordsmiths go, the Modernist Portuguese poet Eugénio de Andrade is not an obvious choice for a piece for voice and orchestra. But for those of us who love the mellifluous language of the Lusitanians at the extreme Southwest corner of Europe and the way Andrade makes it sing on the printed page, the choice Bermel made to set Mar de Setembre (September Sea) to nice and easy music to be sung by a Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, rather than a classical soprano was nothing short of brilliant.

In a smoky, come-hither, laid back delivery Souza enchants the listener through five settings of poems by the Portuguese master. In this short cycle music and words are so happily married one would venture a guess that the creative mind and the impassioned heart behind this work were Portuguese. I actually later found out Bermel’s family background is partly Portuguese.

No wonder.

A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace, is the closing work on the CD. A triple-titled, triple-structured homage to Béla Bartók, its three parts titled in Hungarian AmericanizationDrop of Music… and “veg”, its music Magyar to the core, joyfully jagged rhythmically, luxuriantly lyrical, defiantly dissonant at times, inventively orchestrated, provides a rousing conclusion  to this sampler of Derek Bermel’s music.

With part of the CD given a terrific reading by the Albany Symphony led by its resourceful maestro David Alan Miller, and top of the line engineering by Silas Brown and Doron Schacter, MIGRATIONS is worthy of serious attention.

Talk about a geographic and musical journey!

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com