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Percussionist-Composer Alex Cline to Release OCEAN OF VOWS This March

Percussionist-composer Alex Cline's new double CD, Oceans of Vows (Cryptogramophone Records) is slated for release on March 10, 2017.

A deluxe box set of music drawing inspiration from four poems by Buddhist teacher Thic Nhat Hanh, together with excerpts from the Avatamsaka Sutra, it's performed by Cline and his all-star 14-piece Flower Garland Orchestra, featuring Nels Cline, Yuka C. Honda, Areni Agbabian, G.E. Stinson, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Jeff Gauthier and many other top names of the L.A. creative music community. Proceeds from the sale of the box set will be donated to the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation.

Made possible by a grant from the Shifting Foundation, the full-concert-length Ocean of Vows was composed and recorded over three quarters of 2015; it premiered at Cal State Northridge's Valley Performing Arts Center on October 11, 2015.

"I had wanted to set Thich Nhat Hanh's poetry to music for a long time," says Cline. "One of the things that prevented it before -- other than having a solid opportunity/excuse to do it -- was that I was rather daunted by many of the poems' length, something that is rather funny if one compares them with the length of the Avatamsaka Sutra -- they're microscopic by comparison!"

Consisting of two parts, each composed of five movements and each lasting close to one hour, the work is structured around textual and wordless vocal parts performed by vocalist Areni Agbabian. The intermittent appearance of a large temple bell introduces the work's 10 sections, which, calming to scorching to cloudy points in-between, expand and contract in subtle streams of disposition and aspiration.

Cline envisaged the piece as being performed by "a mirror-image electric ensemble where there are two of many things -- two guitars, two keyboards, two percussion, along with other added elements."

As conducted by Vicki Ray, there is a Takemitsu-ish greenness in Cline's orchestration of his and Brad Dutz's percussive maelstroms and brush-bys, Nels Cline and GE Stinson's exultant/watchful guitars, Chi Li's twining erhu, zhonghu, zheng and qin, Jeff Gauthier, Maggie Parkins and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's strings, Will Salmon's wisping/serpentine flutes and Yuka C. Honda and Wayne Peet's sampled voices and spacious electric keyboards.

At 19 minutes-plus, the episodic, multisectional "A Flash of Lightning" is the lengthiest track among the album's time-stretching/condensing sections, and a particularly thrilling product of Cline's half-composed/half-spontaneous creative process, which extended to several movements requiring singer Agbabian to improvise textual vocal sections.

"I don't want it to be obvious what's written and what isn't," says Cline. "I like it when it's blended together to the point where you can't tell. Yet the larger the group, generally speaking, the more you have to structure and compose things, so there is a lot of it that's structured and composed, while at the same time there are entire parts in various movements where the players know what the material is, what the musical parameters are, and within that they can do whatever they want."

The performances of Cline's compositions drew enormous benefit enormously from his knowing well the fertilely imaginative veteran musicians he's playing with and what their particular skills and aptitudes are.

"Even though during certain sections people are playing at certain times and not at other times, the guitars for example are completely open; they just orchestrate the way they hear it. They know the kind of thing that is going to work and they know what I like. One of the reasons I get them is because they can make that happen and I don't have to explain it."

A palpably monumental work, Oceans of Vows is unashamedly very long, quite ambitious, and just plain real, real big."I'm known to make jokes about how my music is not for people with short attention spans," says Cline with a laugh. "And it's true, I tend to gravitate toward things that are lengthy and slow-moving. I don't know why that is, but it started before I was involved in Buddhist practice. I've consciously even reined in a lot of my inclinations, which would actually be things that are moving even slower, for even longer."

He cites director Andrei Tarkovsky as one inspiration for his love of the glacial pan across the sonic spectrum (dedicating the 31-minute title track from his 1999 Cryptogramophone album Sparks Fly Upward to the filmmaker), and learned valuable lessons from Art Ensemble of Chicago / AACM sax man / educator Roscoe Mitchell (to whom Cline paid tribute in his 2013 "For People in Sorrow" concert at L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall).

"Things that have that patience, that slow unfolding, can be incredible," he says. "It's a little like sitting meditation, like when you're sitting and you realize that your thoughts are driving you crazy -- unless you decide to let them come and go. You just have to be with it, and allow it to be what it is."

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