After and Before is Air & Rain’s second recording. The group consists of Meg Cassell, oboe and English horn, her brother Stan Cassell on piano, and Max Benoit on percussion. Air & Rain’s first album, When Faraway is Here, Max was featured on two compositions. However, in this recording, percussion is incorporated throughout, and with its addition, the ensemble has created a distinctive style that has evolved into unconventional textures, unique blends, and expressive depth.
Air & Rain’s Creative Process
All the pieces on this album are created and composed on the spot. Air & Rain’s two recordings represent music making and playing for the joy of it. The creative process is to allow whatever takes place to unfold as pure creation. It is interesting to note that even though Stan and Meg have not played music together ever before (that is, before the advent of Air & Rain) they have very similar expressive styles, taste of musical expression, instinctive give and take. You could say, it is in their DNA as siblings. For them, these musical projects are born of absolute celebration of each other and of the very divergent roads each of them have taken until now.
Biographies of the Artists
Meg currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida and has been a professional classical oboist for her entire adult life. She has studied Oboe at the University of Oregon, Yale, and as a Fulbright Scholar, studied at the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Hanover, Germany. She subsequently played contract tenured positions (in orchestras) over the next 16 years in Germany and in the States. She played for years with the Oregon Bach Festival and with Festival of the Future in Switzerland. Meg now enjoys a varied career teaching at the university level, playing chamber music, making concerto appearances, as well as adding improvisation and composition with Air & Rain.
Stan, a Portland, Oregon area pianist, guitarist and visual artist, is as versatile as a musician and artist as he is a professional scientist. As a professional musician, he writes and plays in just about all popular genres, from rock, folk, spoken word, to blues and jazz. He brings to Air & Rain harmonic richness and a vast array of styles. Within science, he investigates friction as well as the dynamics and interactions of microscopic particles.
Max, also of Portland, Oregon, is currently reinventing himself as photographer, composer and guitarist, as well as being an accomplished percussionist. He has studied music theory and jazz, and has also played rock, psychedelic/experimental music, and blues. He is particularly inspired to be the “&” in Air & Rain and is enjoying the revival of hand/ethnic percussion instruments. He brings to the group unique expressiveness and color.
Walt’s Rainbow Store
The dream of something so evanescent as refracted light being able to be found at your local Rainbow Store is the bittersweet song of the first track. It is set in a waltz style, with melodic and tonal sections and freely improvised sections.
The World in a Fish
Relentless drive and motion using the musical devise of ostinato creates the pressing nature of this composition. The figure in the solo English horn is somewhat unidiomatic for an instrument generally thought of as dark, introspective, and lyric. The percussion plays a significant role in this musical rendition of obsessive motion toward a goal or ideal, stopping at nothing. It is an example of how rhythm can shape the intensity of a relatively simple melodic or formal piece.
A Strand Line is the line that marks the interface between land and water; a shoreline for example, which changes daily and over geologic time. This piece interfaces tango and dance elements to jazz and plaintive exhortations of the oboe. Percussion again adds much to that tango like style and expressive ‘drama’ while the piano solos weave tightly in and out of the accompaniment of the oboe. Overlapping stylistic and expressive elements contribute to the juxtaposition of ideas, hence ‘Strand Line’.
Canon Over Red Thread
This piece for oboe and percussion uses canonic elements to create interwoven melodies predominated by half and whole step intervals over the percussion line. The use of overdubbing helps create a surreal tune reminiscent of ancient dances of Arabia. The distinctive tone color of the oboe and the choice of percussion instruments used lend themselves ideally to this expressive style of hot, sultry nights, storytelling, and unrequited love.
After and Before
The title piece beholds beauty of musical line and space, simplicity, and expression. The piano, percussion, and oboe throughout the tune ‘hold space’ for each other, to express something that honors that which is, that which was, the transparency of hindsight, and an appreciation for the bounty of the present.
This creation by Max on wawa tube and bells is ironic yet almost a meditation. It is a musical interlude.
Sculptures in a Day
Beginning with more sophisticated elements of atonality, of suspended time and harmony, this piece then develops using simpler harmonies. Percussion then adds colors which almost act more like ‘sound effects’. The piece eventually opens up completely, the rhythmic pulse establishes itself clearly, and Meg plays a long improvisation over Stan’s ostinato on the piano.
This begins as kind of a honky-tonk, driving, piece. Four measure phrases, a lot of left hand piano, and melodically built upon three simple notes in the oboe, D, E, and F. In the middle of the piece, the texture opens up to something completely different. Here, Stan and Meg show their striking synergy as the improvisation takes us briefly from honky-tonk to someplace ephemeral, to the dream and back again. Max again adds percussion elements that create depth which subtly but significantly deepen the idea of the alchemy of this composition.
Expansive voicing creates the suspension and lack of resolution throughout this rather ‘dark’ composition. Wide leaps in the oboe, the bottom of the range of the piano, and juxtaposed melodic fragments in both piano and percussion (as phantom refractions of familiarity) move in and out throughout the piece.
In Blue Hue
In Blue Hue’s musical idea is built upon beauty of line and the simple elegance of a musical phrase. This composition is transparent, song-like, tonal, symmetrically phrased, and acts as coda to this, Air & Rain’s second CD.