Emily Koh’s biography lists her as: “composer+” a suggestion that in addition to being a composer, she is also a bassist. However, that mathematical sign does not even begin to describe her prodigious gifts as a multi-disciplinary artist. This enables her to inform her radiant music with experiences from across the visual and sonic artistic spectrum. Remarkably, on the repertoire for the album [word]plays, Koh also adds a literary dimension to her compositions.
While it is true that the five pieces on this album are – as Koh correctly subtitles the collection – “microtonal works for saxophone(s),” the artistic topography of the music is spectacularly prismatic. This is best experienced in the three items performed by the New Thread Quartet, comprising saxophonists Jonathan Hulting-Cohen (soprano), Kristen McKeon (alto), Erin Rogers (tenor) and Zach Herchen (baritone). The items are further connected like a three-movement suite with titles that play upon three words: homonym, heteronym/, cryptonym. They unfold in diaphanous layers of sound as the quite magical mystery of each is revealed in waves of microtones.
That set is bookended by medi+ation and b(locked.orders); two solo saxophone pieces, the former performed by Philipp Stäudlin (baritone) and the latter by Noa Even (soprano). These are clever miniatures, the writing of which feels as if the performance instructions suggested is one-or-more-syllables-per-non-uniform-length note. There is exquisite poetry in these charts; a rumbling gravitas in the former and a high and lonesome, swirling tonal palette in the latter.