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Imani Winds Work 'Underground'

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

`Imani' is the Swahili word for `faith,' and it's the foundation of a group of young musicians in a wind quintet called Imani Winds. They say they want to redefine the boundaries of classical music, adding hints of Latin-American dance rhythms and African-American spirituals. Music critic Tom Manoff has been listening to their new album, "The Classical Underground."

(Soundbite of music)

TOM MANOFF reporting:

I was surprised by how much I like this CD. While I enjoy a good wind quintet in concert, it's recorded sound often seems bland. But the infectious energy from this ensemble makes "Classical Underground" anything but bland.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: The opening piece puts the listener on notice that Imani Winds is after a new wind quintet experience. Jeff Scott, the French horn player of the group, has added a percussionist in his arrangement of Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango." The result is kind of jazzy with a South American tinge.

(Soundbite of "Libertango")

MANOFF: Another nod to jazz is Jeff Scott's "Homage to Duke," which explores some sweet and moody wind textures. The playing is wonderful.

(Soundbite of "Homage to Duke")

MANOFF: Creating new sounds and styles for a wind quintet is a primary goal for this ensemble. To that end, a substantial number of works on the recording are either arranged or composed by two of its players. We've already heard music by Jeff Scott. Here's some from flutist Valerie Coleman, her Concerto for a Wind Quintet.

(Soundbite of Concerto for a Wind Quintet)

MANOFF: Coleman is a facile composer, but her reliance on standard gestures and ...(unintelligible) keeps this work from taking off. The best music on this CD and stylistically the freshest is by the Cuban composer Paquito D'Rivera. Its lovely melodies and delicate textures are performed exquisitely by the Imani players.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: By comparison, nothing on this CD measures up to D'Rivera's music, suggesting that repertoire will be an important challenge for the ensemble's future. While Jeff Scott and Valerie Coleman are promising composers, using so much of their music on this recording has created a self-imposed limit on stylistic exploration. The Imani Winds are brilliant performers, but their ultimate success lies in a musical path a bit less inward, a path that embraces many more voices from the diverse culture around them.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: The album is "The Classical Underground" by the Imani Winds. Our reviewer is Tom Manoff.

(Soundbite of music)

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.