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Imanis return

May 2, 2007

Imani Winds
Ensemble Music Society
Indiana History Center
April 25

Two years ago the Imani Winds came; they played; they conquered. Last week, the Ensemble Music Society and a sizeable audience welcomed these young, top-o-the-line musicians back to the IHC’s Basile Theater. While their return was a bit less breathtaking then their inaugural, we heard — once again — five of the best woodwind players ever appearing as an ensemble in these parts. Or perhaps I should say four woodwinds and a French horn, a standard “wind quintet.”

Though the Imani Winds are true culture-barrier breakers — flutist Valerie Coleman, oboist Toyin Spellman-diaz, clarinetist Mariam Adam, hornist Jeff Scott and bassoonist Monica Ellis all write music, arrange it, talk about it to the audience and play it — we heard less of their own work this time around. And that worked somewhat against them.

The Imanis (“imani” is Swahili for “faith”) began with a classical standard, the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music. Though they negotiated the famous excerpt’s fleet passage work with good dexterity, this music was made for sharing that load between the winds and strings — especially paired flutes. Too many rapidly “blown” notes must be exactly precise and together to render the Scherzo’s fleetness as we’ve come to know it. The Imani timbres failed to match up consistently throughout the piece, giving it a heavier texture than the music demands. Still, few ensembles could have stayed together as well as this one — if staying together were the only consideration.

Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen (b. 1973) was in the audience, getting strong recognition for his brief piece entitled “Shadow,” as the next offering. With an opening flute line, “Shadow” consists of a sequence of quick turns or flourishes, stuff which our wind players negotiated with nary a concern for slips or errors; they made none. Only a top flight wind group could have made a success of this modern morsel, and it connected well with everyone present.

Flutist Valerie Coleman then offered her three-movement Afro-Cuban Concerto for Wind Quintet. Its opening movement, “Afro,” featured off-the-beat stress in jazzy lines equally shared among the five players. The ensuing “Vocalize” contains pensive, wistful lines nicely harmonized suggestive of a blues idiom. A rumba rhythm pervades the final “Danza.” This leads to a pace quickening (accelerando) before a pause, then a brief cadence. Eclectic, well-wrought and satisfying.

The Imanis began their second half with a piece entitled “A felicidade” (“To Happiness”) by Brazilian A.C. Jobim (1927-1994) as arranged for wind quintet by their own Jeff Scott. The “happiness” herein was inscribed in an early 20th-century salon style with some quirkiness overlaying a constant rhythmic thrust. Engaging throughout.

Brazil was again represented in the final work, Suite Popular Brasileira by Julio Medaglia (b. 1938). This time the rhythms tended toward the samba in “Choro,” “Baiao,” “Seresta” and “Frevo.” With very tuneful, quite accessibly strong rhythmic elements, the pieces are short and to the point.

But unlike two years ago, the Imani Winds failed to rock throughout.