Clarinet Sonatina "Gumbo" (2008)
for clarinet & piano
"He has managed to create a spicy three-movement fusion showcasing virtuosic display in both the clarinet and piano parts. Patterson and Andrist give a dazzling performance of a work that well deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.”
Scott Clarke, The Clarinet
Clarinet Sonatina “Gumbo” is dedicated to my friend, clarinettist Jose Franch!Ballester who commissioned the work one August evening in Philadelphia after hearing me play a rolling shuffle!style version of Rufus Thomas’ ‘Walkin’ the Dog.’ Jose, who is always looking to expand the already diverse musical world of his repertoire, immediately asked if I could write a concert piece for him that used that kind of American r&b feel. My immediate suggestion was to create a homage to New Orleans style grooves which I had played around since I was a kid, particularly Professor Longhair and the Funky Meters. That summer, 2007, Jose and I improvised a bit at his home in Philly and came up with some basic ideas for the work, launching points for my composition. These included the opening Longhairish fanfare, the basic chord progression (which I had been stuck on since 2002 or 2003) and arch of the second and the main groove of the third, the very same that I had played the night of the commission. I finished a draft of the piece at Yaddo that fall and collaborated with Jose to fine tune the work leading up to our premiere of it in June 2008 at the Delaware Chamber Music Festival.
The first movement, a crab-like sonata form where the recap occurs in reverse, is a fast rolling, melodically driven work, slipping in and out of a series of slightly varied rhythmic grooves with athletic lines and a cool sense of humor. The second is a slow, deliberate quasi chaconne, where the repeating chordal pattern is continuously developed in tandem with a lyrical clarinet line. The piece builds to an emotional fever-pitch, the clarinet wailing over piano exclamations, before settling uneasily back into its meditative opening. The third movement is about raucous rhythmic play. The disjointed opening gives way to its more straightforward counterpoint as the piece takes off over the piano groove that inspired the work. Oscillating between that Professor Longhair feel and a ‘Funky Meters’ groove as a second theme, this sonata rondoish movement lays down a harmonic field on top of which the piano and clarinet throw improvisatory lines at each other.
Listen to clips from the premiere of the work by Jose Franch-Ballester and the composer and link to a recording of the work by Rob Patterson and Audrey Andrist on the media page.