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Album Review: Evensong
Kevin Keller
Cover image of the album Evensong by Kevin Keller
Kevin Keller
2023 / City Hall Records
39 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Evensong is the fifteenth album from Kevin Keller and is the first of his albums that is built around vocal music. Four of the eight tracks were composed by Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century and combine her plainchant melodies and Latin texts with Keller's production. The results are both ancient and contemporary, merging seamlessly. Keller is joined on the album by four sopranos: Danya Katok, Elisa Singer Strom, Katherine Wessinger, and Wendy Baker; along with Sarah Zun on violin, Angela Pickett on viola, and Laura Metcalf on cello. In addition to the voices and strings, Keller combines classical textures that include organ and piano with electronic sounds, instruments and rhythms.

The tracks are titled "Evensong 1-8" and take us on a journey through a life from conception and birth to death and the mystery of what follows. It also utilizes the early Christian idea of canonical hours (divisions of the day marked by music) as well as the seven church modes (scales based on those used by the ancient Greeks) that were used before the major and minor modes emerged during the Baroque period (17th and 18th centuries). It's a fascinating, moving and very beautiful project!

Kevin Keller released his first album, The Mask of Memory, in 1994 and has had a more-than-colorful career creating a wide variety of music for recordings, soundtracks and dance. Originally from Northern California, Keller is based in New York.

"Evensong 1" begins the album with the soprano voices backed by strings, organ and electronic instruments and sounds, and takes us through the beginning stages of a new life. It is the first of the tracks based on von Bingen's plainchant. "Evensong 2" is much more electronic, combining a simple bell/organ-like melody with wordless vocals and a gently-driving rhythm. The cello enters at about the mid-point of the piece with a soulful melody. It is followed by a lively organ passage with the voices and rhythm before all of the parts build to a rather abrupt ending. "Evensong 3" is another von Bingen plainchant combined with electronic instrumentation and conveys the feeling of moving forward with purpose and drive. "Evensong 4," also a von Bingen plainchant, feels darker and more mysterious, perhaps expressing the struggles and confusion of growing up and the decisions and hardships that the process can involve. "Evensong 5" becomes even darker and more intense as life takes on more difficulties and challenges. Mostly electronic, the voices keep the music abundantly human and deeply emotional. "Evensong 6" expresses feelings of inner peace and acceptance. Mostly piano and strings, its simplicity is pure, honest and full of grace. "Evensong 7"is the fourth of von Bingen's plainchants and brings us to the end of life with a mournful cello and strings as well as vocals, piano and keyboards. It's a gentle and beautiful send-off to a soul in transition. "Evensong 8" is a plainchant composed by Keller in homage to Hildegard von Bingen. It features voices and electronics in a way that von Bingen would likely use if she were composing today. Ambient and ethereal, it's a touching close to an outstanding album.

Evensong can be purchased as a CD or download from Bandcamp and Amazon; to download or stream from Apple Music/iTunes, and from many streaming sites including Spotify. Highly recommended!
April 8, 2024
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