Pope Joan; Transfiguration (New World Records)
Anne LeBaron writes ritualistic music of excitement and power. LeBaron uses techniques from a dazzling array of styles and periods to craft pieces that hang together as expressive wholes. Pope Joan and Transfiguration are both settings of texts that deal with secret or alternative histories, in which the world is either very different from the world we think we are in (Pope Joan) or a world that has turned out differently (Transfiguration). LeBaron brings her considerable talent and imagination to bear in these pieces, producing works of deep political commitment that are not swallowed up by the politics. LeBaron’s voice is a distinctively late 20th century American one, embracing the European and American avant-garde traditions and American pop gestures with equal effect.
---Sequenza 21, March 5, 2008
"Pope Joan, Transfiguration" reveals Anne LeBaron's taste for stylised music-theatre, a surprising development for a figure I usually associate with the outer limits of hardcore improvised music. Pope Joan (2000) takes as its subject the medieval Pope John who the Catholic church were supposedly stunned to discover was a woman after "he" gave birth. LeBarony score for mixed ensemble brilliantly evokes an imagined medievalism, not so far removed from the Peter Maxwell Davies of the Fires of London era. Transfiguration (2003) features soprano Lucy Shelton in another highly ritualised processional score that presents a mediation on time.
---Philip Clark, Gramophone, April 2008
The performance (of Pope Joan) is splendid if a little rough-and-ready in places; that of the cantata Transfiguation even better. The performance is thrilling and the delivery of the overlapping texts compelling; it completes a remarkable slow-burner of a disc.
---Guy Rickards, Tempo 63, 2009, Cambridge University Press
Sacred Theory of the Earth (CRI / New World)
. . . It's a virtual curriculum vitae of her diverse approach."Devil in the Belfry" for violin and piano, performed with verve by Christopher Pulgram and Paula Peace, respectively, is an animated piece that takes its start from an Edgar Allan Poe story about a meddling fiddler who disrupts a fastidious Dutch town. Critiquing how modern life's insistence on efficiency can turn to bland conformity instead of harmony, the violinist explodes onto the scene with creative passages and turns. It's among the best tone poems I have heard in some time, the key being that the music is both vividly descriptive and musically interesting in its own right. "Telluris Theoria Sacra," for chamber group, may sound overly complex, but it's a fascinating basis for a composition. In 1681, a pastor named Thomas Burnet wrote a volume by this name that postulated the universe as a clock, with God the "clock-maker" and Earth's history as having seven phases.In four movements, LeBaron skillfully boils down his thesis into an engaging and urbane work. Strains of jazz, popular and avant-garde music combine in complicated but smooth and intelligible forms. LeBaron's musical representation of Burnet's phases reminds one of Hesse's imaginary "Glass Bead Game," and she employs some deft creativity to keep it up. The Atlanta Chamber Players give the work admirable ensemble.
---Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post Gazette
. . . Translating the concepts of flood, fire and apocalyptic destruction into sound, LeBaron employs the basic forms of classical rhythmic dances such as the Tarantella and Waltz, twisting them modernistically to suit the topic of each movement. Despite occasional bouts of tussling dissonance, the effect of the whole is more plucky and whimsical than one might expect in a disastrous chronicle of upheaval and natural forces. . . . But the other two pieces show great crossover promise, melding aspects of New Age, ambient/experiential and post-jazz improv. LeBaron's harp and Amy Porter's flute create a luminous, ethereal environment in Solar Music. Sachamama, in combining the exquisite drones of Harry Betroia's famous metal sculptures with Peruvian folk songs and rainforest flute melodies, envelopes listeners in an uneasy, subtropical calm. Rather than involving the ponderous, dense mathematics of atonalism or the trance-inducing minimalism employed by some avant-garde masters, LeBaron's music generally provides a more immediate impact: It provides a solid thematic basis while engaging the audience on both intellectual and emotional levels.
---Manny Theiner, In Pittsburgh Weekly
The Musical Railism of Anne LeBaron (Mode)
Interrogating and expanding the blues, like unfolding the depths of swing from Ellington to Mingus to circus and march music, defines the work of harpist and composer Anne LeBaron, who includes Myra Melford as pianist/keyboardist for the lengthy "Selections from The E. & O. Line," an electro-acoustic blues opera with a libretto by Thulani Davis. A rewriting of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, E &O focuses on Eurydice as a blues vocalist who relates the very gendered experiences associated with the blues and itinerant life in early-twentieth century American. And the "blues" for LeBaron doesn't stop calling at the end of E &O. Her prepared harp pieces and chamber works are rich with outside improvisation and kinetic energy.
---Andrew Bartlett, Earshot Jazz
Also on Mode Records is American composer Anne LeBaron's The Musical Realism . . . modern compositions based on rock, blues and gospel. Excerpts from her landmark 'electronic blues opera,' "The E. & O. Line" are tasty indeed.
---Dwight Loop, Santa Fe Sun
Rana, Ritual and Revelations (Mode)
Anne LeBaron . . . is one of the most inventive composers on the Washington scene. Her creative vocabulary includes microtones, natural sounds, special one-of-a-kind instruments, musical modes and systems of other cultures, electronic tape and standard instruments and voices. She uses these resources with imagination, technical skill and a good sense of what will work in music and what she wants to say.
Her new CD "Rana, Ritual and Revelations" (Mode 30, with texts), performed by the New Music Consort and members of the Theater Chamber Players, is for listeners with adventurous tastes, and even they will like some things better than others. But the quality of imagination is often dazzling, and so is the control of elusive forms and material. Highlights include "Rite of the Black Sun" for percussion quartet, "Planxty Bowerbird," in which her own unusual style of harp playing interacts with taped sounds, and "Concerto for Active Frogs," which interweaves a tape collage of recorded frog sounds with voices and instruments in a nocturnal dialogue of strange, haunting beauty.
---Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post
Finally, for evidence of the spectrum covered by contemporary composition, check out Anne LeBaron's Rana, Ritual and Revelations. Some of harpist LeBaron's compositions incorporate elements of Asian string and wind music ("Lamentation/Invocation," "Noh Reflections"), though the disc's standout is "Concerto for Active Frogs," a rumination on rumblers, squeakers, and peepers with Curlew's George Cartwright on saxes and animal calls, Jim Staley on trombone, William Trigg on percussion, David Shea on baritone voice, and a full pond of chorus members, both human and amphibian. So much for the dryness of academic music.
---John Corbett, Down Beat
Due in some degree to her previous experiences with European and American improviesers, Anne LeBaron brings an extended, unconventional approach to composition in these five fascinating pieces. Her music has a loose formal feel, and a spontaneity in both detail and sense of direction that can be surprising and rewarding. This is especially true in Planxty Bowerbird, in which her own modified harp ("prepared" not unlike John Cage's preprared piano), unorthodox technique (including bowing and rattling the strings), and prerecorded synthesized tape create a coloful fabric in imitation of the bowerbird's extravagantly festooned nest constructed as part of the mating ritual. In Concerto for Active Frogs she goes Messiaen one better; not content with transcriptions of nature, she uses a tape of actual American and Mexican frogs as cantus firmus beneath some rather playful saxophone, trombone, and vocal improvisation.
. . . LeBaron's music also reflects her deep interest in music of other cultures. This works to her advantage in Lamentation/Invocation where, drawn from Korean, Indonesian, and other sources, bent clarinet notes and glisses, pentatonic scales, percussive punctuation, zitherlike harp, and melismatic voices resonate in languid, lovely, unusual combinations. . . There are enough fresh colors and moments of fantasy here to warrant a strong recommendation to listeners looking for something off the beaten path.
---Art Lange, Fanfare
"Anne LeBaron is an interesting composer, whose work I didn't know until the appearance of this recent disc. Rather like Stockhausen's music, each of her pieces seems to inhabit a world of its own; on the evidence of this disc there are a few obvious LeBaron fingerprints. Her music responds to a variety of external stimuli...And it's all here too, on the one disc, in five pieces whose only unifying features are a sensitivity to instrumental sonority and a splendid sense of timing. This is refreshingly undogmatic music, and well worth checking out."
---Bradley Lonard, ABC Radio (Australia)
. . .A spacious, somber, and sensuous piece, "Lamentation" utilizes a shifting pentatonic structure and, according to the liner notes, derives from a highly refined fifteenth century Korean lyric song form kagok. "Noh Reflections," for violin, viola and cello is created after Japaneses noh theater, which is both highly emotional and yet distinctly abstract. LeBaron's compositional style in this work, as well as the others on this disk, demonstrates these qualities superbly.
---Lynette Westendorf, International Alliance for Women in Music Journal
a triple hitter: Rana; Phantom Orchestra; and Jewel Box (Tellus 26)
Anne LeBaron (and Zeena Parkins) are going to bring the harp into the 21st century whether it wants to be there or not. On Phantom Orchestra, LeBaron's thoroughly pomo quintet with improv superstars Frank London, Marcus Rojas, Gregg Bendian, and Davey Williams mixes tango and Funk guitar, bursts into free improvisation, and waxes eerily evocative---and that's just on one track. Rana, Ritual and Revelations . . . sounds much more heavily composed but no less spontaneous, making chamber music for neurotics seeking realistic solace in isolated beauty. LeBaron also opens and closes the latest Tellus offering, a various artists compilation that collects the work of women who've worked with Harvestworks, the Audio Arts Organization (the others are Laetitia Sonami, Sussan Deihim, Bun Ching Lam, Catherine Jauniaux Ikue Mori, Sapphire, Mary Ellen Childs, and Michelle Kinney). LeBaron's "Blue Harp Study I and II" samples her harp, which was altered in various non-standard ways; the samples were then put into a controller keyboard, which was used by several players at once for unusual group improvisations. LeBaron's imaginative, often haunting works are of uniformly high quality.
---Steve Holtje, The New York Review of Records
"Dish," on Urban Diva (CRI)
I'm always interested in what Anne LeBaron is up to. She's establishing a solid reputation among followers of contemporary music as somenone unfailingly inventive and human. "Dish," on texts by Jessica Hagedorn, sounds like a new turn for her. It makes more use of popular music sounds: the ensemble includes sythesizer, drum set, electric bass. This is a long, varied journey through Hagedorn's poems, tracking, inflecting, enhancing the protagonist's moods at every step.
---Rich Taylor, American Record Guide
While every piece has its merits, two stand out from the rest . . . Jessica Hagedorn and Anne LeBaron's "Dish" is an avant-feminist text of exploration, disillusionment and emotional triumph superimposed on a dizzying hodgepodge of quick-change musical ideas: electronic gamelan, funky jazz, sleazy blues and Motown samples.
---Cliff Furnald, College Music Journal
D.C.-based composer Anne LeBaron's collaboration with poet Jessica Hagedorn is one of the highlights of Urban Diva, a collection recently issued by soprano Dora Ohrenstein. . . LeBaron's music for "Dish" is a compelling mesh of funky bass ostinatos and alternately cloudy and warring ensemble textures that both support and give free rein to Ohrenstein's vocal performance.
---Reuben Jackson, Washington City Paper
Sounding like the lead singer with a small "club" group, Dora Ohrenstein deftly moves from jazz to pop to blues, adopting whatever vocal style LeBaron calls for. In the bluesy section the singer uses a sort of sprechstimme; later she employs a timbre reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich to moan "pieces of paper and tarnished jewels line my bed." This music is wonderful fun with undertones of gender politics. Housework, love, sex and feminism are all there, and the ending is divine.
---Lucille Field, International Alliance for Women in Music Journal
Southern Ephemera (Music & Art)
I have been lucky enough to hear a tape of a composition - Southern Ephemera - by Anne LeBaron, performed by Newband. The piece is interesting for the Society because it is scored for Partch instruments. The piece proved popular with critics, and it certainly is engaging. LeBaron's sense of humour comes strongly through. There is a sense of the continuation of a Partchian tradition where LeBaron quotes ironically from popular music, and the Newband turn in a good account.
---The British Harry Partch Society (Vol. 1 No. 2, Aug. 1995)
Phantom Orchestra: The Anne LeBaron Quintet (Ear-Rational)
D.C.-based harpist/composer Anne LeBaron's quintet date, Phantom Orchestra, is that rare fusion of compositional, stylistic, and improvisational wit that jazz lovers get damn little of from players in these parts. LeBaron does not dominate the date with her instrumental prowess; instead, her single-note lines and lovely arpeggios provide restless underpinnings for trumpeter/cornetist Frank London, tuba player Marcus Rojas, percussionist Gregg Bendian, and versatile guitarist Davey Williams, while engaging the players in compelling motific exchanges.
---Reuben Jackson, Washington City Paper
. . .a dynamic mixture of liberated noises---perc clatter, harp fragments,
horn bleats and mesmerizing melodic lines . . .The result is more Beefheart than Beatles. Great tuba skronking, too.
---Jeff Bagato, Mole
More than a narrowly focused or 'hyphenate'composer-performer, writing exclusively for her own instrument, LeBaron has produced a substantial body of compositions, many of them haunted by the subject of Orpheus. . . On Phantom Orchestra, she's heard closely paired with the excellent Davey Williams, one of the best guitar improvisers around, and with two bright and buoyant wind players who give the group sound its humanized, breathing elements. 'Superstrings and Curved Space' indicates her interest in scientific ideas, a concern that runs all through her work, a tightly woven, structurally anomalous piece that shouldn't make sense, but somehow does. 'Bouquet for a Phantom Orchestra' is more impressionistic. 'Top Hat on a Locomotive' confirms the element of humour in LeBaron's own conception of things.
Richard Cook and Brian Morton
---The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP, and Cassette
Her musical style draws from a whole gamut of influences, from jazz and free improv (with Carla Bleyish horn arrangements), the jaunty rhythms of LeBaron's southern Louisiana, world-music-sounding accompaniments, and straight ahead new music . . . "Bouquet of a Phantom Orchestra" has definite jazz, theatrical, and satirical overtones, as does much of the music on this disk. . . .LeBaron's music is elegant, interesting and always understated. Her control of all the aspects of electronic and acoustic composition and orchestration is more than impressive. This CD is a welcome addition to any jazz or new music library.
---Lynette Westendorf, International Alliance for Women in Music Journal
"Top Hat on a Locomotive" is masterful, starting with Far Eastern motifs of harp and percussion and ending with Bendian's busy percussion. An implied swing to "Bottom Wash" is loaded with improvisational interplay and the sawing, soaring, seething guitar of the ever-present Williams. LeBaron's only getting started, but from the look of things, she's on to something very special. Recommended, but only for those willing to challenge standard listening parameters.
---Michael G. Nastos (2001)