8 p.m. Oct. 13 Vanderbilt's Ingram Hall
Next Wednesday, Daniel Roumain makes a triumphant return to Vanderbilt for a concert at Ingram Hall dedicated to his work. The composer and violinist graduated from Blair in 1993 and has gone on to gain increasing attention for work that bridges the musical language and performance styles of classical music and hip-hop, reflecting his own background as a classically trained musician and a young Haitian American.
Roumain draws heavily on pop music for his melodic and harmonic material and his music's rhythmic drive. His album I, Composer comes across as much as a soul album as anything. Most tracks have vocals of some sort, mostly sung by Roumain, and he plays many of the instruments, in places assembling multitracked cuts like Prince would. However, he also takes a more traditional composer's role, with several tracks built around music performed by the string quartet Ethel and a drummer.
His writing for string quartet distinguishes this album. Where the pop elements are unremarkable, he writes more effectively and subtly for the quartet than many pop arrangers do. The quartet is a basic voice of classical music and has been used over the generations for some of the most intense music in the Western canon. Roumain has a strong feel for the power and range of the quartet, and has the facility to use it as a core instrument, not just decoration. In some places, his string writing even achieves a chomping rhythmic drive like Led Zeppelin.
Outside his own projects, Roumain works with the singer Cassandra Wilson, and has been involved with one of the most important experiments in cross-pollinating older genres with hip-hop, the Blue Series on Thirsty Ear Recordings under the direction of jazz pianist Matthew Shipp. These recordings bring musicians from free jazz together with hip-hop artists to explore the possibilities of merging the structural and sonic complexities of both genres. For decades, jazz musicians have looked for hybrids that could revitalize their music, but little of sustainable interest emerged. These efforts seem to bear fruit in the Blue Series with music that can stand on its own. Roumain has appeared on recordings in this series led by DJ Spooky, saxophonist David S. Ware and Shipp.
In his concert music, Roumain does something similar to the Blue Series recordings in looking past traditional genre boundaries to connect with a larger, younger and more diverse audience. Like jazz, classical music faces the problem of relevance to a wider audience, and also a question of relevance for younger musicians themselves who want access to the sounds and tools of contemporary pop music in order to express their entire sense of themselves. From his first days as a student at Blair, Roumain pursued classical technique vigorously but would not force himself into a confining classical music box.
The program at the Blair School will emphasize Roumain's work as a composer and violinist. It includes pieces for solo piano, string quartet, violin duo, a mixed instrumental sextet and a violin concerto that should cover the range of his writing and show his skill as an instrumentalist. There is some improvisation planned as well, which may get closer to the spirit of his recordings and his contributions to the Blue Series.
In addition to its value as a reunion and a welcome back to town for a composer who spent formative time here, this concert provides a firsthand experience of one of the younger but more accomplished musicians currently connecting musical streams in the hope of revitalizing all of them.
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