Review of LNT104: Tin Pan Ballet: Music of Martin Butler
Tin-Pan Ballet (1986) for six players including a synthesiser and Jazz Machines (1990), also for six players, are delightful, colourful pieces paying homage to jazz. They are good examples of this composer's happy nature. Jazz and dance rhythms feature prominently in these light-hearted pieces. They may not plumb any great depths but are very enjoyable in their unbridled, extrovert manner.
Surprisingly enough, maybe, the solo pieces are more substantial in spite of their hidden programme. Bluegrass Variations for solo violin, written in 1987 as the test piece for the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition, alludes to North American fiddle music but goes a good deal further than mere pastiche or parody of the Hoe-Down. It is a substantial piece, rather demanding from the technical point of view though the emphasis is more on style than mere instrumental virtuosity.
On the Rocks, composed in 1992, is a beautiful nocturne though the composer, rather humorously, refers to the piece as "Debussy playing cocktail lounge music". Once again there is no parody in this finely crafted atmospheric piece.
The mini marimba concerto Going with the Grain (1991) may be somewhat lighter though it has its fine moments, such as the beautifully dreamy slow movement. The outer movements abound with lively dance rhythms and with colourful scoring. It is a quite attractive, entertaining work in its own way; however, I feel that it somewhat outstays its welcome.
In short, no towering masterpieces here, but entertaining, expertly written works to be enjoyed to the full for what they are worth. After all, why should contemporary music always be deadly serious? Everyone here, the composer included, seems to enjoy him- or herself enormously and there is no reason why such joyous music making should be ignored. Sit down, relax and enjoy!