Good God, where the hell have I been that I missed this unbelievably pristine clarinet player??? Gary Gray is to the clarinet what Wynton Marsalis is to the trumpet, a master of the first water and remarkable in tone and clarity. Not only has he released three CDs before Shades of Gray, but the highly respected UCLA professor has also been featured on—now get this—1,000 film and TV soundtracks. That's not a typo, those three zeros properly follow that one. Unreal. Shades, on the Centaur label, is styled after one of those hyper-great Naxos releases, and properly so: the recording is audiophile; the arrangements spartan but very warm while retaining a good deal of a cool, sometimes almost icy, clarity; and the performances are above top shelf.
My favorite section is Gernot Wolfgang's 3 Short Stories for Clarinet & Bassoon, a marvelous neoclassical procession as adventurous as a Miro painting, Gray double-tracking with bassoon (Judith Farmer) in low and high registers, offsetting each others' work in constantly switching lead voices. Charlie Bernstein's Blending for Clarinet & Violin comes in second, but, really, every cut here is a wonderland. Blue Muse is played with the legendary Kenny Burrell, the cat who wrote the song, and the take on Jobim's Wave is sassily akin to what Vangelis was doing in the Blade Runner soundtrack's throwback sections, contrasting futuristic extrapolations (which, here, would be the Gernot and Bernstein cuts) against updated nightclub airs.
What Shades of Gray is, is a very hip chamber recital that you, the listener, would attend from the floor rather than huddled in the wings with the servants—I mean, good gravy, how bourgeois to do otherwise!—austere enough to render every note museum quality, warm enough to encourage the removing of the powdered wigs and brass-buckled clodhoppers the noblesse loved to affect in days gone by (and probably still do; watch Eyes Wide Shut). I wouldn't go so far as to approve consumption of malt liquor as well, that'd be a mile too gauche, but a good malbec would go rather nicely in all this. You wouldn't want to get sussed, as we see too often even nowadays among the hoity-toit at opera or Shakespeare performances, but instead wander into ever the slightest dreamlike estate in order to greatly enhance melting more fully into the ne plus ultra of the experience, the sublime exhibition of true mastery, real art, above which human beings may not tread.
One small complaint, though, Wave ends by fading out, and too rapidly so, on a what promises to be an elegant solo by pianist Vince Maggio, who earlier almost shocked the proceedings with a highly energetic lead line. Why the denouement, then, was executed so cavalierly, I haven't a clue. The disc, after all, is 68:52, so there was room for that extended outro and thus one feels just the tiniest bit robbed in the truncation. But only for a moment.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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