I've had some great albums from Rattle Records, and I think they do a great job of promoting NZ music, both contemporary classical and jazz. So one of the things I put on my Christmas present suggestion list was a relatively new album called Flight on Light, with a clarinettist called Manos Achalinotopoulos. You can read a biography of him on clarinet.gr.
Achalinotopoulos is a fantastic clarinettist, and a marvellous musician - there's no doubt about this. He can get the clarinet to make sounds you couldn't imagine a clarinet making. And on the album he produces some fantastic improvisatory music. Achalinotopoulos is backed on the album by a number of NZ musicians, most notably John Psathas.
So what's the problem? My wife and I listened to the album on the way back from Christchurch in January, and I've played it a couple of times since then. Hearing it in the car we had ample space to listen more carefully than we might here at home where there are always other things going on. But we were disappointed: Achalinotopoulos is given free range to play in any mood. Unfortunately, he's chosen, or perhaps is mostly inclined to play, very moody, melancholy, reflective, often quite abstract music. There's little change in mood from one track to the next. The only one that has a bit more life to it is actually given that life by the backing musicians, who set some pace and rhythm behind Achalinotopoulos. He, in effect, plays as he does on all the other tracks. This is not to say that he never plays at speed - he certainly does, but it's all within a fairly monochrome colour palette. It's like being in a house that's painted in a variety of greys, and everything else - furniture and furnishings - fits into that grey colour scheme. As some readers will know, we've just painted our house grey, with white tonings, and I realised the other day that our kitchen is grey - with white tonings. And our bathrooms are both grey. But the difference is there are plenty of other colours as well, so that the grey doesn't take over.
For me, the grey takes over on this album, and after three or four tracks you want some red, or green, or yellow.