Composer-producer Fred Myrow may just be on to something: His Earthworks consort concert Tuesday night at Los Angeles Theatre Center was an informal, familial affair--something like an electrified, very hip Schubertiade. And more are promised.
All of Myrow's pieces (six were performed Tuesday) don't wholly work, but then that was part of the charm: When Myrow, at the piano, stopped the performance of his "Fantasia on 'Amazing Grace' " during the second section, it didn't matter much. No one seemed especially shocked when Myrow pleaded amplification imbalances and began afresh. And it was better the second time around, sonically and musically.
Of the six, the aforementioned "Fantasia" and a new piece titled "Bloomenveldt" stood out for their freshness of invention and lush arrangements, respectively. "Fantasia" benefited from a superb bit of fiddle/violin magic by Richard Greene, who was called upon to play mountain hoedowns one moment and toss off a bit of Paganiniana the next. Such are his talents that he made the decidedly episodic piece seem seamless.
"Bloomenveldt," inspired by a novel by Norman Spinrad, laid down a thick tropical groove at the outset and, in a Glass-like fashion, explored its narrow harmonic boundaries exhaustively there-after. The scruffy mix prevented vocalists Joan La Barbara, Bruce Scott and Kevin Toney from developing any counterpoint to the relentless rhythms, and as a result the piece seemed too long by half--though it was pretty to listen to.
"Tao-Mec," "Passage" and "Songs from the Japanese" all suffered from a defiantly post-modern bashfulness about turning a coherent musical phrase: many squeaks, squawks and howls but not much meaning therein. "Songs," however, improved over its four-sing course, and vocalist La Barbara infused the translated poetry with wonder--even if the vocal lines were almost too craggy to bear.
Included in the stellar Earthworks ensemble--a terrific group sometimes sabotaged by an indifferent sound mix--were keyboardist Ralph Grierson, wind instrumentalists Ray Pizzi and Jon Clarke, percussionists Babatunde Olatunji and Kwasi Amevuvor, and Myrow himself at various keyboards.