Mark Tewarson’s Coastal is filled with the things that make up our favorite songs, tunes, and jams. It’s those moments that grab you: a mood shift, a key change, the drop, or a single naked line sending chills down your spine. Those moments that remind you of something long past — the album is filled with them.
Self-released Oct. 21, Coastal is the first collection of concert music by the film composer. The first track, “Bell Snap,” opens with what sounds like muffled hand drums punctuated by pitched gongs and cowbell, electronically smattered on top of a steady bass drum. Synths and plucked strings are joined by flute (David Weiss) and anchored in the low register by bass (Robert Jost). Layers build until they topple over, and the drums (Robert Dipietro) gather everyone into a climactic mosh pit.
“Lying Awake” begins with a searing continuous line, much like a bow sliding over crotales: ethereal, a suspension of space rather than a suspension in space. Bassoon (Anthony Parnther), flute, and clarinet (Weiss) frolic like children on a playground seeking the unity of structure to play on — one game to play. When they find it, they circle it, spinning, before violin (Caleb Burhans) and cello (Clarice Jenkins) take over and weave an intricate mix of mature conversation.
“Orangeville” is scenic with shades of color transitioning through seasons, like riding a train down the coast. Led by the piano, it contains an elemental mixture of chord changes heard in Negro spirituals with the pace of hymnals: meditative in nature, but of spirit rather than mind. “Thin Ice,” meanwhile, opens with tinges of frost. The flute ushers in high-register chirps glimmering under a bright sun. Flute, cello, and bass (Alan Hampton) each take turns driving the relentless rhythmic force, steering the downbeat, or exploring the melodic lines perched atop. Following is “Trails,” featuring Leo Sidran on vibraphone, accompanied by piano. Each note is given a crystal tincture, just enough to sound like a faint glockenspiel, distant with a sizzle that becomes more distinct as it gets closer.
“Interruption” is a clear and brilliant showcase of the similarities we can draw between music of different genres. Within it is an exhilarating juxtaposition of 90s R&B slow jams and a steady, structural build similar to Samuel Barber’s Adagio of Strings. The sliding synths, broken only between phrases, mimic the sliding vocals of Tyrese, Joe, or Jodeci.
“Thin Ice,” “Bell Snap,” and “Lying Awake” all have Dub tracks, each encased in static, electricity, thunder, and lightning after being stripped down yet magnified in distortion. Dub music comes out of Jamaica; beginning in the late 60s and early 70s, reggae was remixed into electronic versions that dropped out vocals or other instrumental elements to emphasize the rhythm and low bass with echo and reverb. Often considered a dance music, Dub is traditionally a style — a culture music.
The same frost of “Thin Ice” pierces like icicles in its Dub opening. It’s like that one opening note of Miles Davis’ muted trumpet in “Blue in Green” from Kind of Blue: be ready for it or it will electrocute you. The flute line is echoed and crushed, phasing in and out before the strings scratch away into a pulsed bass line. “Bell Snap Dub” simmers in a static sound filled with an electric charge. A guiro and pitched gongs, this time sounding as though in a cave, echo in a bitter cold with steam rising off of foggy flute lines. The rhythmic lines drop out often, leaving the electronics weightless. “Lying Awake Dub” results in thunder, the sound of reverb bounced the same way thunder is heard near, then far, crashing against itself. Out of the thunder comes the circular playground games of the original track, but as electronically pitched bass drums. In the Dub tracks, Tewarson creates temperature-controlled imagery of being in tunnels; sometimes underwater, other times mining for coal, the acoustics phase and fade, rising above, weightless, before descending once again into the heavy rhythmic pulses that define Dub.
Coastal marks Tewarson’s first concert music album, yet the art of the climax often heard in film music is still masterfully felt. Whether intended or not, each track evokes a setting, a plot, exposed characters, and even more exposing camera angles. Composers often intend to paint scenes in their music, but Coastal is comfortably composed in the director’s chair.
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