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California Dreamin’ Not so Dreamy for Composer Mark Abel
Mark Abel has concluded that California is a state of shallow people and uses his latest CD effort, “The Dream Gallery, Seven California Portraits”, to be released Tuesday on the Delos label, to let all his compositional anger out in an aggressive attack on the people who populate large and small communities within California borders.
Abel, and film orchestrator, Jeremy Borum, have worked together over a year and a half as co-producers to hone down this cynical draft, albeit as performed by an outstanding ensemble of singers and musicians, capably led by Sharon Lavery, resident conductor of the symphony orchestra at USC’s Thornton School of Music and popular Music Director of the Downey Symphony. Studio musicians make up the orchestra, with Borum at the piano. Singers soprano Mary Jaeb, baritone David Marshman, mezzo-soprano Delaney Gibson, bass Carver Cossey, contralto Marth Jane Weaver, and tenor Tom Zohar are each assigned a city or town to, quite frankly speak against. Each performer brings formidable resumes in both performance realm as well as academe. Most have credits soloing and/or performing with Los Angeles groups as the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Angeles Chorale, Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, etc. Most live in Southern California teaching college level vocal music near where they live.
The songs, or portraits, Abel has conceived, strike at the bleakest, most disillusioned among us. “Helen (Los Angeles)” was once the pride of Fontana, but now watches as her friends and her marriage dissolve. Jaeb sings in clear tones effectively presenting the music and lyric Abel brings to describe the dysfunctional family. In “Todd (Taft)” Abel rejects the small-town nature of the first place in the San Joaquin Valley to bring a gusher of oil around 1900 and where Little League Breakfasts hold sway today. His music describes a dry, raw environment and lyrics that can see only “barren lands and tumbleweed”. Marshman is suitably dour.
In turn, Abel turns his focus to Berkeley (“If only we could build a wall to keep out those who would pollute our purity”) with DeStefano nicely dramatizing the snob-liberal; San Diego (“We’re in La Costa for now, but soon we’ll be moving up to Rancho Santa Fe”) gets a saccharine treatment from the sweet-sounding Gibson as the music drives to a pseudo rock beat; Richmond brings the wonderfully dramatic bass of Cossey to Abel’s best treatment, but also the most devastating assessment (“Broken glass, broken lives”); and onward to Soledad, an immigrant haven near Salinas, where Weaver sings movingly (“We had to fight to belong here”); and finally, Arcata, the Northern-most spot, geographically, with Zohar presenting a stage-y style in the final track, asking, seemingly, what Abel had in mind all along: (“What now?”).
Writing a place-themed work has met with disinterest in the past. Mel Torme tried the jazzy “California Suite” with top West Coast jazz musicians that became forgotten the day it was released. Abel is not likely to score here, either, in spite of his efforts. Certainly there will be no Chamber of Commerce trophies given out.
Musically, Abel is more than a little competent. He is, though, behind the curve in what is going on in composition throughout California. The concept of combining classical, rock and jazz in, what Abel describes as “alternative classical” is not new.
Indeed, as Abel says, “I’m one of those people who believe there are really only two kinds of music: good and not so good.”
“The Dream Gallery, Seven California Portraits” is available from Delos on line, listed at $5.99.
By Bill Peters