The lines between musical genres have become so thoroughly blurred in the postmodern world (namely the premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s “Blues Symphony” a few weeks ago at Strathmore) that they barely exist anymore. And that’s a good thing, particularly for imaginative young composers such as Douglas Detrick, who brought his AnyWhen Ensemble to the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon for “The Bright and Rushing World” — an extended, 10-movement suite that draws naturally from the jazz and classical worlds.
Detrick describes the work as a journey — a young man heading out into the world for the first time — and it opened with the composer on trumpet laying out the theme that runs through the work. The other members of the quintet (saxophones, cello, bassoon and drum set) soon joined in, and over the next hour, engaged in a sort of picaresque roam through Detrick’s sound-world, forming and reforming into different combinations, shifting from one colorful, and often engaging, episode to the next.
Despite some fine playing by all the instrumentalists, it was a rather mild journey, and the work never seemed to gain much traction. Less “bright and rushing” than subdued and meandering, it came across as a succession of meditative sketches, with ideas suggested, gently passed around and then set aside, without developing a strong narrative or building into a powerful whole. And whenever the music started to come alive — as it did several times with a sense of urgency and purpose and direction, it would suddenly shy away and retreat to musical navel-gazing. Pleasant enough, but without much sense of risk or passion or of anything really at stake. By the end, you felt like you’d been on a stroll around the block rather than a journey into the burning heart of life.
That said, Detrick has a fine ear for timbre and texture, a mastery of classical and jazz styles, and an engaging technique on the trumpet. The AnyWhen players — Hashem Assadullahi on saxophones, Shirley Hunt on cello, Steve Vacchi on bassoon and Ryan Biesack at the drum set — played beautifully together, with obvious rapport and a fine sense of balance.
Brookes is a freelance writer.