by Colin Vallee (@ColinJBeard)
I wondered what I had gotten myself into when I agreed to write about Robert Stillman’s “What I Owe.” A series of blasts, drum hits, and honks quickly ramp up creating this disorienting ocean of sounds, and I was ready to endure this for all nine plus minutes of the run time. It wasn’t until the saxophone sailed in above the mix that I realized this tumultuous ocean was just the sound of a door creaking open, leading me from a free jazz maelstrom to a wonderfully meditative layering of clarinets and harps.
This composition is the hero’s journey made audible; conflict and resolution in a delightful two act play; a spirited take on structure that wants to push you away as desperately as it wants your attention. The intro is so jarring I suspect most people will feel bamboozled and unable to continue, but I assure you, you absolutely should.
The bleats and blats, which at first feel arrhythmic and noisy, start to mimic rain as your brain instead focuses on the amazing saxophone melody. It reminds me of a recent Full Spectrum Records release - the Tim Feeney composed, Aaron Michael Butler performed, Things I Said I’d Never Be. Like “What I Owe,” Things I Said I’d Never Be has fun with audience expectation, instead asking for you to bear witness to chaos with the promise of salvation on the other side. That salvation is a serene clarinet playing a longing melody that doubles over on itself, shifting and growing until the harp breaks through carrying you to the end.
Every time I’ve heard this piece a new narrative has played out in my mind. I can’t get enough of it, and I’m excited to hear the rest of this album. Stillman played and recorded all the instruments on “What I Owe” which serves as the centerpiece to his upcoming album, Reality, out Feb 22, 2019 on Orindal Records.