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Album Review: Red Descending
Seth Kaufman
Cover image of the album Red Descending by Seth Kaufman
Red Descending
Seth Kaufman
1999 / Cascadilla Records
62 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Red Descending is Seth Kaufman’s fourth CD of original material, and includes pieces composed for theater, dance, and film, as well as specifically for this recording. A dynamic, passionate, and dramatic pianist, I am delighted to have recently discovered his work. The pieces range from the tranquil “Evening Still Young” to the wild and crazy “Urban Angel,” which made me laugh the first time I heard it. Being involved with so many different forms of expression, Kaufman’s music is a bit more experimental than many other composers’, but that also makes it very exciting to listen to. This isn’t snooze music by any means, and it contains elements of classical, jazz, and contemporary music. Kaufman’s is a unique musical voice, and one that offers more of a listening challenge than many artists. I like it!

“Fabric of Space-time” is a jazzy piece that begins the CD with a bounce. Rhythmic and percussive, Kaufman really puts his piano (as well as his playing chops!) through its paces on this one. Richly varied, this piece is fascinating! “Distant Heart Sounds” opens with the sound of a heart beat played with the strings of the piano muted. A rather plaintive melody enters for several bars, and then the piece opens up with rolling chords and a stronger rhythm. The piece alternates between the quiet and the passionate, almost a dialogue with two very distinct voices; this is one of my favorites! “Stillness the Dancing” and “Opening” are both beautiful pieces that are more on the quiet, reflective side. Then “Urban Angel” (part of a solo piano score for a modern dance piece) comes crashing in! I’d love to see the dance that goes with it! Parts of this piece are very beautiful, and others are playful and discordant - a lot of fun! “Brass” is dark and bluesy, and the style is again very percussive. “The Orphanage” is part of a solo piano score composed for the 1922 silent film, “Oliver Twist.” A great piece on its own, it is easy to imagine the figures on the screen moving a little faster than in “real life,” and to picture the scenes of a bleak orphanage and its inhabitants. “Plum-colored Fields” was inspired by the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. In the liner notes, Kaufman says “Entering the octagonal chapel is like walking into a magnetic field. Immense, dark swaths of color hang motionless on the walls like surround sound.” A sense of vastness as well as openness and awe make this an amazing piece. “Repercussion” is a more darkly reflective piece with sections played with the strings muted with Kaufman’s hand. How he gets so many sounds to happen at once is awesome - I’d really like to see how he does it.

Red Descending is an incredible album, and Seth Kaufman is a pianist who is fully in control of the piano - from the most powerful chords to the most delicate melodies. A true artist, indeed! There isn’t a weak track on this album, and I very highly recommend it! Seth Kaufman’s albums are available from cdstreet.com and by special order from Tower Records.
July 11, 2003
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