by Walter Simmons
BECKMAN Big Muddy ● Richard Stoltzman (cl); Patrick Beckman (pn) ● NAVONA NV5815 (enhanced CD), 40:35
Patrick Beckman is an Illinois-born and –based pianist and composer. One of those musicians who has endeavored to keep his age pretty well hidden, he is, I suspect, somewhere in his early 60s. Although he has been active in the academic world, his musical involvements have been quite varied, embracing works for the musical theater, music for dance, and rhythm and blues, and as well as more “straight” classical pieces. Big Muddy is an ambitious five-movement suite for clarinet and piano composed in 2008, and inspired by and based on musical styles that originated around the Mississippi basin. The result is a hybrid of jazz styles and techniques articulated with the composure and balance provided by a more classical foundation. Although this is not the kind of music to which I typically turn for pleasure, I found Big Muddy quite enjoyable to listen to, and would recommend it to anyone enjoys the music of, say, Dave Brubeck or others of that ilk.
In fact, the only aspect of the recording I found unpleasant, I’m sorry to say, is some of the playing of Richard Stoltzman. A highly active and much admired musician with exceedingly broad interests, he has certainly earned a good deal of respect. But I found the jazz-based inflections of his playing often grating, piercing, and strident. This is not because I am allergic to jazz-style clarinet-playing in general; there is something about Stoltzman’s playing here that is too close for comfort, and had me leaping to turn down the volume repeatedly. Beckman’s own playing is fine, and, I must admit, he praises Stoltzman’s contribution to the skies.
The “enhanced” CD includes more information about the participants—but no birthdates—and a study score of the music.