Bill Ryan, Billband, Innova, Towards Daybreak
Composer Bill Ryan is known to many as The Force behind The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, the student group that gained widespread praise for recordings of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians (2007) and Terry Riley's In C with remixes (2009). With Towards Daybreak, the sophomore release from Ryan's ensemble Billband, the focus returns to his own work. Towards Daybreak comes out Tuesday, January 29 on Innova. The music - by turns contemplative, roiling, elegaic, and aggressive - reflects experiences in Ryan's life, from the birth of a child to the loss of his parents.
In its latest incarnation, Billband includes cellist Ashley Bathgate, pianist Vicky Chow, and percussionist David Cossin of the Bang on a Can All-Stars; violinist Todd Reynolds (Outerborough); bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern; and cellist Pablo Mahave-Veglia and saxophonist Jonathon Nichol from GVSU. Cellist Paul de Jong (formerly of The Books) appears as a special guest.
Bill Ryan and Billband celebrate the release of Toward Daybreak with a show at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday, February 10, 7:30 pm (doors at 6:30). Tickets are available at www.lepoissonrouge.com. For this show, Billband will expand to an octet with the addition of Doug Perkins on percussion.
Ryan's post-minimalist musical language is personal and expressive, poised on a knife edge between lushness and reticence. This is a music that reveals itself gradually, working its way deeper with each listen.
His previous record with Billband, Blurred, was released in 2004; Gramophone called it "gritty and funky." Says Ryan, "A lot has happened in my life [since then] - another beautiful child, relocating to the Midwest. New friends, strengthening connections with old ones. Teaching my son to drive, teaching my daughters to play. Watching my students become young adults while my own teachers begin to retire. All of these experiences impact my music, but none greater than the sudden loss of my parents - my mother in an automobile accident, my father from cancer. While I was initially paralyzed by these losses, life did continue, and eventually, the music did too. This CD comes out of these experiences - it is about loss, it is about grieving, it is about carrying on. It is also a celebration, an appreciation, and a thank you."
Towards Daybreak is bookended by a pair of elegies. It opens with Simple Lines, in memory of Ryan's father, and ends with a live version of Blurred, written after the passing of his mother. The ravishing Simple Lines, played by Bathgate on multi-tracked cellos, is built on lengthening, wave-like figures that are simultaneously yearning and consoling. Blurred captures the brittleness of grief with a pinging, raindrop-like piano figure and frail harmonics, deepening into insistent, obsessive chords.
Throughout the disc, Ryan compels attention through the cunning opposition of elements: hesitancy and forward motion in Toward Daybreak; somber tonalities and playful rhythms in Rapid Assembly; turbulence and control in Solitude in Transit and Friction. As a whole, Towards Daybreak blends the precision and craft of the best minimalism with the humanistic interplay of a small chamber group. Grammy-winner Silas Brown engineered and co-produced the album with Ryan, and the attention to sonic detail shines through. The strings are rich and woody, the percussion viscerally captured, the winds vividly present. The tracks are: