Thursday, September 22, 2011

Song of Solstice: music for changing seasons

What is the sound of seasons changing? It could be what you hear as you listen to Song of Solstice from Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean Orchestra.

With a gathering of music from Celtic traditions along with songs she’s written, Cutting offers a vision of that which invites contemplation and celebration, consideration of darkness and light in both spiritual and natural realms that accompanies the turn song solstice jennifer cutting ocean orchestraof earth’s time from autumn through winter and back to spring again. To do this, she weaves in strands of musical ideas from Celtic to classical to steampunk, and creates a sound that’s immediately inviting.

Drawing on the gifts of artists from her own Ocean Orchestra as well as a range of guests, many of them from the thriving Washington DC area music scene, Cutting offers complex and layered arrangements which serve the music and open new ways of hearing it. Complex does not mean stuffy or hard to understand: there’s a very good chance you’ll be singing along with several of the pieces, and that the music will stay in your mind long after you've played the recording.

Song of Solstice, the title track, offers a rousing take on celebrating the joys of the colder seasons of the year, and gives a nod to wisdom to be gained from contemplation and patience in the calendar’s darker seasons. As well there's an affirmation of the joys of friendship, whose gifts are often strengthened by winter’s connections. Christmas Day in the Morning, a traditional tune from Shetland set as a quiet instrumental with harp from Sue Richards and bodhran from Myron Bretholz, leads into Song of Solstice, a paring which enhances both.

Green Man is another piece you’ll not forget, a lively song whose origins Cutting drew from ancient Celtic tales as well as ideas that appear in the story of King Arthur. You do not have to know anything about either of those, though, to enjoy Steve Winnick’s cheerful and inviting lead vocal. He is backed by Highland bagpipes, bouzouki, electric guitar, fiddle, bodhran, other percussion instruments, and vocal harmony. Turning of seasons, death and rebirth, and the vibrancy of nature in the midst of winter are just a few of the things touched upon in the song, which offers a fine mood and beat for dancing and drumming as well as for singing.

Time to Remember the Poor suggests a different avenue for contemplation. Gothic steam punk psychedelia fusion is what Cutting had in mind. The words are from a Victorian era broadside, set to a haunting soundscape of voice, guitar, keyboard, samples, bass, and drums, It all seems quite contemporary yet evokes the the atmosphere of Victorian times and the thoughts in the lyrics as well. Lisa Mosciatello is the voice, Al Petteway plays electric and acoustic guitars, Juan Dudley is the drummer, Rico Petrocelli plays bass, and Cutting provides the samples and plays keyboards on the piece.

Putting classic, folk -- especially Celtic -- and rock ideas in conversation and jennifer cutting photo by iriene youngcollaboration with each other is a a way of approaching music which has long interested Cutting. For ten years she was bandleader for the award winning Washington DC area based British folk rock group The New Saint George. Later, Jennifer founded The Ocean Orchestra, which has allowed her to take her composing, arranging, and performing ideas of creating music drawing on varied genres in a more Celtic direction, and to invite in the talents of changing casts of musicians in the United States and overseas. “Celtic music for ancient moderns” is how she describes her work.

“I think of myself as a soundscape architect -- I try to get the structures and textures from my imagination out onto the recorded sound canvas, with the help of many amazingly gifted people who all add their own genius into the mix, “ Cutting says. “Creating a song or an arrangement is a lot like putting up a building or designing a landscape, except that my materials are instruments and voices. Hearing it build layer by layer is the ultimate thrill.”

Listening to the result is fascinating, too. Song of Solstice includes six originals by Jennifer Cutting, and varied other works, among them pieces from Celtic tradition including music from France and from Shetland. As with a well designed building or landscape, all the elements enhance each other and invite repeated exploration.

Listen to excerpts from Song of Solstice

photograph of Jennifer Cutting by Irene Young

you may also wish to see
Music Road: Another Fine Winter's Night: Matt & Shannon Heaton
Music Road: Oceans & Journeys: Road Trip in Maryland
Music Road: late summer, early autumn, music, Ireland

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Blogger Anjuli said...

I'm looking forward to listening to Jennifer Cutting- this sounds very interesting.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Kris @ Attainable Sustainable said...

I'm going to start paying attention to my music choices to see if they change as the seasons do!

2:18 AM  
Anonymous Wandering Educators said...

how fascinating. this is one i need to get. thank you!

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Terrific collection. I think I like the instrumental selections best. I've always been more of a solstice girl.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Sheryl said...

Sounds like a lovely selection to welcome in the chaining seasons.

7:26 PM  
Blogger jcreaturetravel said...

Love this collection. I listen to all of them. I especially enjoyed Christmas Day in the Morning and Christmas Eve is here. I'm very big into Christmas music so these will be great additions.

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi said...

Celtic steampunky fun, sound like my kind of weirdness.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Alexandra said...

Loved this comment: "I think of myself as a soundscape architect."

I lived in DC many years ago, so it was interesting to me to learn about the music scene there today, but could you please explain what steampunk is, as I am not familiar with that term. Thanks!

8:55 AM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

steam punk originated, I think, in science fiction writing -- sort of an alternative future past, so to speak, such as science fiction set in the Victorian age (when steam was the main means of power). neo Victorian, I've heard it called too. have you see Sugarland's Incredible Machine video? they used that aesthetic in the staging of it. alternate futures incorporating the past would apply to this recording, I think.

Jennifer and members of the Ocean Orchestra, care to say more on this?

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Living Large said...

This sounds like a really nice choice for the changing seasons.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

OK, I knew what steampunk was from a design aesthetic POV, but didn't know the description could apply to music as well - super cool!

And I love songs about winter and the changing seasons (James Taylor is also one of those guys who captures the darkening fall light in music oh so well).

6:59 PM  
Blogger MyKidsEatSquid said...

I love the cover art for the album too.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Jane Boursaw said...

Well, this is perfect since the seasons are indeed changing here in Michigan. Thanks for another timely music review, Kerry.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Donna Hull said...

I like the idea of music for changing season. Can't wait to listen to this.

9:07 AM  

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