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Jennifer Grim’s “Through Broken Time” explores post-minimalist and Afro-modernist flute music

Howard Wershil

Nov 14, 2022

Visit flutist Jennifer Grim’s website and you will instantly behold an alluring photograph of a musician magically suspending her chosen instrument deftly in mid-air. And so, the tone is set for the magic that comes from a beguiling CD of music for solo flute, multiple flutes, and flute and piano by composers spanning up to half a century of style and experience.

Each of the composers featured here – Tania León (b. 1943), Alvin Singleton (b. 1940), Julia Wolfe (b. 1958), David Sanford (b. 1963), Allison Loggins-Hull (b. 1982), and Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) – has a unique voice to offer, expressed through finely honed compositional technique and personal musical taste.

As it progressed, I would have been content to be engulfed and enchanted by solo flute exclusively. Yet, I was surprisingly greeted with accompanist Michael Sheppard’s ably performed piano incursions that enhanced the quality of the composition without detracting from the spell woven by Grim’s sensitive performance and León taste and restraint.

Over time, the piece becomes more dramatic, but the balance between piano and flute remains constant, as does the composition’s spell. At one point, in an effortless glide into a surprising change of pace, the piece becomes more conventionally harmonic and rhythmic, almost to the point of being danceable, before returning to a more calm, dreamlike freedom of expression that slowly, carelessly melts away.

Alma is one of the newer compositions on this CD, provided by one of the more established composers represented. Perhaps the piece’s ease of expression suggests an ease of compositional creativity that only experience and maturity tend to provide. León’s self-assurance in providing a familiar style in current times echoes the confidence of a J.S. Bach offering baroque musings in an age drifting rapidly towards classicism.

Unlike León’s Alma, Alvin Singleton’s Argoru III (1971) seemed more jubilant and playful, even purposefully erratic, yet somehow maintaining the impression of thematic consistency throughout the piece. Excellent use is made of the flute’s wide range, with leaps between registers creating a viable impression of a multi-voiced instrument. While the musical language is predominately atonal, cohesion and contrast are provided to the materials through judicious use of motifs and variations, and the groupings of tones within each. Jennifer Grim’s interpretation is wonderfully insightful, and her execution of the range and variety provided by the materials is flawless.

In Ghanaian Twi, “argoru” means “to play.” Depending on interpretation, this phrase could be considered an opportunity for joy and entertainment or a call to performance and expertise. In Argoru III, and perhaps the rest of Singleton’s “Argoru” series, we are rewarded with opportunities for the best of both.

Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen (2021) is the kind of musical experience you come away from feeling practically born again.

It makes terrific advantage of contrasts of dynamics and registers available to the instruments utilized, and even varies its harmonic language from time to time, providing the semblance of some bit of conflict and resolution that minimalist compositions usually don’t contain.


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