of Darkness and Light (world premiere, LA Phil commission with generous support from Sandi and Kevin Kayse)
The LA Phil has been playing and presenting the music of Billy Childs since 1992, on jazz programs, certainly, but also chamber music, neighborhood concerts, and full orchestra programs. A Los Angeles native, Childs was shaped artistically by the city’s manifold multicultural influences and has been returning the influence as a creative power for decades
“I was discovering my musical voice, I’d say, around the age of 14 – around the early ’70s,” Childs said in a KPCC interview last year. “And what was happening during that time was this kind of unprecedented inter-genre respect and tolerance between classical, or Western European music, and jazz. [Between] rock and jazz. And even film music had all these different elements blended in… So all of this kind of informs my music because this is what I grew up with. I grew up not seeing any difference between a beautifully stated work of art in jazz and in classical. To me, it’s all the same thing.
“And you know, the essence of who I am and what I’ve developed into as a musician is rooted here, in Los Angeles. My jazz chamber group, my style of composing for classical music, my way of leading a jazz band has all been formed here in Los Angeles. And I’m proud of that.”
Of Darkness and Light is a big piece, in sound and aspiration, and characteristic of Childs’ thoughtful but deeply personal mix. It begins with a probing prelude, solemn polytonal chords built of thirds serving as pillars for flowing solos that rise and fall. Expanding in sonic space as it gathers weight and energy and playing with half-step displacements, it crests in a huge climax, the initial chord now blown wide open.
A nimble presto dance follows, interrupted by slower music that recalls the opening and brings the piano to the fore, for partly improvised solos. The chiaroscuro implied by the title is apparent throughout in the intervals and spacing, as well as the instrumentation and sharp contrasts. The harmonic and the rhythmic become one at the end, in thundering chords that find their way to rounded reaffirmation of the opening. — John Henken