From Stravinsky to Wayne Shorter
Their repertoire ranges from Felix Mendelssohn and Elliott Carter, to contemporary composers like Jason Moran, Simon Shaheen and Wayne Shorter. Since 1997, the members of New York-based Imani Winds have been building new audiences and commissioning new music for the traditional wind quintet.
French horn player Jeff Scott and flutist Valerie Coleman, members of the quintet, also are composers, and Scott credits Coleman as the original driving force behind the group. Coleman realized that no one had attempted to create a touring wind quintet that also acted as a catalyst for new music. “She had a vision of all that we are doing 16 years ago,” Scott said.
Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe; Mariam Adam, clarinet; and Monica Ellis, bassoon, are the other members of Imani Winds. The group will perform a free concert Monday at North Carolina Central University.
Repertoire for the wind quintet is not as extensive as, say, the string quartet and other chamber groups. “So if you are going to make a career out of this, you’d better be writing, you’d better be commissioning” new music, Scott said. In addition to compositions that Coleman and Scott write, the quintet also has created the Legacy Commissioning Project to support composers who will write for the quintet. Among the composers whose works Imani has commissioned and premiered are Simon Shaheen (“Zafir”), Jason Moran (“Cane”) and Wayne Shorter (“Terra Incognita”). Imani also has collaborated with Boston Brass on some re-arrangements of the music that Gil Evans and Miles Davis produced during their long association.
The collaboration with Shorter began when he wrote “Terra Incognita” for the ensemble, Scott said. Imani toured for a year with Shorter. His latest quartet album “Without a Net” includes a live recording of “Pegasus” on which Imani Winds performs.
Scheduled for release later this year as part of the centennial of Igor Stravinski’s “The Rite of Spring” is a recording of that work, arranged for quintet by Jonathan Russell of Princeton University. The arrangement was written originally for a group of musicians from a San Francisco orchestra who bring music into the schools, Scott said. The members of Imani liked the arrangement, and had Russell add about 12 to 14 more minutes to the arrangement.
“We play the piece almost like a new piece of music,” Scott said of the arrangement. “We’re not going to do anything strange with the tempos or strange with the dynamics … but the effect has to be there,” he said. “It’s probably the most dynamic piece we’ve had to deal with because you are trying to create a mood and we don’t want the mood to be off.”
Scott is at work on a new composition for the quintet, a tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach and John Coltrane, musicians and composers he called “extremely spiritual people.” He hopes to finish the piece for the quintet and jazz quartet in another year.
Later this month, Imani Winds will tour several cities in Europe, continuing to build an audience for quintet music. Scott said audiences are not so much surprised by the repertoire as by a wind group that can make the music sound so convincing. “We’ve always found people open to our repertoire, and audiences enjoy it because we do give a varied program that runs from avant garde to very listenable.”