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Documerica - works by Mary Ellen Childs, Ralph Farris, Kip Jones, Ulysses Owens Jr., Dorothy Lawson, Jerod Tate, Tema Watstein et al. / Ethel

Album Summary

>Lawson, Dorothy : Epic Soda, for string quartet
>Owens, Ulysses, Jr. : The Simplicity of Life, for string quartet
>Jones, Kip : Shout-out, for string quartet
>Williams, James "Kimo" : Into the Liquid, for string quartet
>Watstein, Tema : interlude i, for string quartet
>Farris, Ralph : Factions, for string quartet
>Tate, Jerod : Pisachi (Reveal)
>Watstein, Tema : interlude ii, for string quartet
>Childs, Mary Ellen : Ephemeral Geometry, for string quartet
Performers Ensemble Composers

Notes & Reviews:

Documerica originally a multimedia concert presentation that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2013, powerfully presented by the string quartet ETHEL and taking the same name as the 1972-77 Documerica project, in which the then newly formed Environmental Protection Agency asked 70 freelance photographers to travel the U.S. with the edict to capture their impressions of Americans interacting with their environments. These eight compositions, both original and commissioned by ETHEL provided the musical annotation to the backdrop of imagery and here stand alone brilliantly in this exuberant and visceral collection that indeed suggests the sprawl of this America with composers including Mary Ellen Childs, Grammy Award winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., Chickasaw Nation's Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate and James Kimo Williams contributing works that filtered through ETHEL's inclusive ethos become a post modern 21st century classic.

American Record Guide, May/June 2016
There's something in the way the string quartet Ethel records that makes them different from other groups. The sound is so immediate and they seem so much closer. Documerica is a multimedia project that combines still images from the Environmental Protection Agency's digital collection of over 15,000 photos with music. The music varies in style and tonality but draws deeply from American composers and sounds. Reich and some pop music progressions make 'Shout-Out' by Kip Jones a suspension filled, repetitive joy with heartfelt sections. Dorothy Lawson's 'Epic Soda' is a sawtoothed hootenanny with rustic charm and lots of energy. The raw energy of 'Epic Soda' is funnelled into strife and discord in Factions by Ralph Farris. Repetitive motives, syncopated, angular lines, and a murky mood. Ephemeral Geometry by Mary Ellen Childs combines the strongly bowed, vibrant lines from 'Epic Soda' with the darker, more explorative nature of Factions. Space, time, and perception of musical ideas are manipulated just as photos of images can make us view normal objects in different ways.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Lavender Ridge Studios, Red Hook, NY (07/16/2014-07/23/2014).

Apart from the in-group listeners who will know what's going on, there's little in the graphics here to tell you, and the notes, with their upside-down text, aren't going to enlighten you totally. In brief, Ethel is a string quartet, and Documerica was a 1971 collection of photographs commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency with the aim of documenting America's vanishing natural resources. Some of the pieces are tied closely to these photographs (the examples that appear in the booklet margins are apparently not the pertinent ones); others are more generally linked to aspects of the American landscape. The music ranges from abstract (Mary Ellen Childs' Ephemeral Geometry came about because Childs "gravitated toward the archive's more abstract photos") to pieces influenced by jazz, blues, and rock. These last are perhaps the most interesting: The Simplicity of Life, a four-section work by jazz bassist Ulysses Owens, Jr., is dispersed around the program and shows some effectively straightforward ways of transferring something like gospel revival music (sample track six, the "Revival Crusade" movement, for an idea) to the string quartet medium. There is something here that you won't hear every day: a work by a Native American composer, Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate (track nine, Pisachi [Reveal]). To top off the conceptual experiment (or incoherence, depending on your point of view), the album comes with four covers, one each for the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West regions of the U.S. Collect them all! The overall concept here is vague, but the realization has some fine moments. ~ James Manheim



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Works Details

>Lawson, Dorothy : Epic Soda, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Ensemble: Ethel
  • Running Time: 4 min. 58 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Owens, Ulysses, Jr. : The Simplicity of Life, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 10 min. 16 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Jones, Kip : Shout-out, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 5 min. 50 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Williams, James "Kimo" : Into the Liquid, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 12 min. 16 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Orchestral
  • Written: 2013

>Watstein, Tema : interlude i, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 1 min. 31 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Owens, Ulysses, Jr. : The Simplicity of Life, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 10 min. 16 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Farris, Ralph : Factions, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 10 min. 36 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Tate, Jerod : Pisachi (Reveal) :: 6 Epitomes, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 12 min. 30 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Watstein, Tema : interlude ii, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 1 min. 54 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Owens, Ulysses, Jr. : The Simplicity of Life, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 10 min. 16 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013

>Childs, Mary Ellen : Ephemeral Geometry, for string quartet
  • Performers: Jerod Tate (Percussion); Tema Watstein; James Williams
  • Running Time: 12 min. 13 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2013