Fuse Commentary Drill Down: Donal Fox’s “Peace Out”

Fuse Jazz Critic Steve Elman is currently surveying works that illuminate the tradition of the jazz-influenced piano concerto. His series began with an examination of Chick Corea’s current recording, The Continents. In part two, he takes a look at eight works by jazz composers that precede the release of Corea’s work. This post is a detailed examination of one of the works discussed in part two.

Donal Fox (Photo: Lou Jones)

Donal Fox: Peace Out, for Improvised Piano and Orchestra (2009) – Fox, p; American Composers Orchestra; Stefan Lano, cond [Rec. 11/30/09, Carnegie Hall, New York City; private recording, currently unavailable commercially]

Length: c. 15 minutes

Movement I

Virtuoso piano trilling a la Cecil Taylor leads to a big aggressive modern chord from the orchestra. Then a series of long tones from the orchestra, never settling on a tonality. Then some exchanges between piano and orchestra, very serious, but somehow not knitted-brow music.

The tones gradually coalesce into an ascending scale in the orchestra. There are some portentous blatts from the ensemble as Fox steams along.

The texture thins, with the strings in the lead. There are a series of repetitions of a dark chord, to a kind of conclusion, which leads attacca to:

Movement II

An ensemble passage, continuing with some of the harmonic feel of Movement I, as Fox establishes the theme of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time.” The orchestra states it more or less fully, and then the piano reharmonizes it. A virtuoso xylophone passage follows, much like Fox’s furious arpeggiation in Movement I. There are some “stomps” from orchestra, then more of “Now’s the Time,” adeptly passed around through the sections.

A George Russell-like ticking rhythm effect is established, with the strings dark but a bit more melodic. Fox plays with the chords of the theme, and then sets up a dialogue between his left hand and and the tympani. This section ends with high strings.

A solo cadenza follows, improvised, like Cecil Taylor playing boogie-woogie. Fox’s left-hand work is remarkable here. A vamp figure from “Now’s the Time” effects the transition back to written material. Some more stomping from the orchestra and tympani, and the high strings end the movement.

Movement III

Again a very organic transition, with the tympani announcing the movement, close to the stomp feel.

This is followed by an unexpected near-minimalism: a four-note figure establishes the mood of a pastorale, and then those same four notes are repeated by the strings and high winds, but not to the point of obsession.. The piano picks up the mood and decorates all around these notes as the support from strings and winds remains constant. After all the stomping, it’s like the sky has cleared after a storm. Fox finally make his own statement of the four-note figure, the orchestra fades away, and a few last words from the piano hang in the air.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts