BWW CD Reviews: Yellow Sound Label's TAMAR OF THE RIVER (A World Premiere Recording) is Majestically Opulent

BWW CD Reviews: Yellow Sound Label's TAMAR OF THE RIVER (A World Premiere Recording) is Majestically Opulent
Cover art courtesy of Yellow Sound Label.

The critically lauded and Drama Desk Award nominated TAMAR OF THE RIVER was originally commissioned as part of Signature Theatre's American Musical Voices Project: The Next Generation and enjoyed performances in July 2010. Later, in March 2013 an abbreviated "oratorio" version was produced by New York Theater Barn and Choral Chameleon. From September 21 to October 20, 2013, the world premiere production was produced by Prospect Theater Company at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City. With a rich tapestry of complicated choral and musical stylings, Marisa Michealson's inventive and experimental score has been recorded and recently Yellow Sound Label released TAMAR OF THE RIVER (A World Premiere Recording).

Not since Dave Malloy's NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 (Original Cast Recording) have I had the pleasure to experience a score so meaty, unique, and vastly interesting in the genre of musical theatre. For many reasons, including this one, it is only natural that Dave Malloy's thoughts about the piece exist as the show's liner notes. In these notes he pristinely captures the essence of the recording's aural landscape, writing, "the musical theater traditions it [TAMAR OF THE RIVER] draws on are vast and positively cosmic, in every sense of the word; aspects of Jewish liturgical music, Islamic azans, European opera, jazz harmonies, African-American gospel, Japanese Noh singing, Balinese monkey chant, Balkan timbres, Pendereckian tone clusters, and Meredith Monkian extended vocal techniques all are kneaded together into something that simultaneously sounds like it came from 7000 years ago and some distant and improbable quantum future."

Borrowing a tale for the Bible's Old Testament, TAMAR OF THE RIVER tells the story of a woman charged to bring peace to a war-torn world that is separated into eastern and western halves by a river of blood. This ancient tale situated in the timeless everyplace of all great mythology lends itself perfectly to this blending of ancient spiritual music modalities and more modern influences. The whole recording has a timeless aspect to it and a power coming from the sincerity of sorrow, yearning, love, and triumph represented by the vocals and minimal instrumentation.

In TAMAR OF THE RIVER, it is the vocals that give the recording its majesty and opulence. Chants, improvisations, dissonance, rich chords, and so much more permeate the air, soul, and mind as the recording plays. The vocal compositions are complex and earthly, especially when performed by the ensemble that represents the river. Notes cascade, ebb, and flow in tumultuous succession, making TAMAR OF THE RIVER unlike most other projects. Listeners who have experienced the work of Dave Malloy will instantly draw comparisons to him. They will also draw comparisons to Steve Reich's works, where repetition, layering, and convoluted musicality all add depth and surreal richness to his compositions.

Whether in solo or in groups, TAMAR OF THE RIVER (A World Premiere Recording) offers a dizzying array of vocal brilliance. Leading the cast as Tamar, Margo Seibert exposes listeners to a range of tonal and artistic maturity that Broadway's ROCKY didn't allow her to show. She flutters down chromatics with appealing dexterity and colors her notes with gripping emotionality. Her supporting cast, comprised of Ako, Erik Lochtefeld, Vince B. Vincent, Mike Longo, and Margot Bassett, all bring their individual skills to the table, ensuring that Marisa Michelson's undulating score is always beautiful, even when unnerving and discomforting.

Yellow Sound Label digitally and physically released TAMAR OF THE RIVER (A World Premiere Recording) on September 23, 2014. The album can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.

For information about other theatrical recording releases, click here.


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