By Nicholas May
When it comes to the saxophone, or any instrument, it is uncommon for an artist to be well versed in two very different generes. Dr. Idit Shner, Associate Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies at the University of Oregon, has established herself as a multi-talented, bilingual saxophonist across her numerous classical and jazz albums. Although I have not yet listened to her full discography, I certainly will be!
The album's title comes from the first piece, Minerva by Evan C. Paul, which was dedicated to the Roman goddess of music and intellect. Immediately, the lister feels the power, complexity, and elegant control of Idit Shner's sound in the opening cadenza. The first movement is saturated with extended altissimo and devilish technical runs that are no match for Shner.
The second and forth movements flow much more organically; as they are metered dances and much lighter sonically. Shner eases through all of the shifting harmonic centers in a relaxed, almost playful manner. The ending of the second movement seemed anticlimactic; ending abruptly without giving the listener a chance to prepare. However, both movements had excellent balance between the instruments, in addition to a strong, stable groove throughout!
In the middle movement, Shner changes the color palate to a more subdued, crystalline tone; which is really quite beautiful. This is the most purely melodic movement on the album. While Shner's vibrato is present, I would have preferred more - reminiscent of a violinist, or violist, playing mournfully.
After the fourth dance movement, we return to the ambiguous atmosphere established in the first. Shner skillfully guides the listener through the abstract phrases, lines and overall "intellectualism" of the piece; which culminates in a well executed melancholic melody.
The second work, Na'ama by Zim Slama was easily my favorite! Shner conveys a colorful, and emotional, journey in this unaccompanied pseudo-improvisatory composition. Well done.
The most abstract piece of the album, Saturation by Andrea Reinkemeyer, displays Idit Shner's soprano saxophone prowess. Shner creates a mysterious and dark atmosphere, reminiscent of a timeless cinematic thriller. The further I proceeded into the piece, the more I feared that I would be snatched and murdered! The objective of any artist is to move the listener, to paint a picture in the imagination. Her ability to elicit fear, and indeed anxiety, is the mark of a true talent.
What else can be said? Quicksilver by Stacey Garrop has been the piece du jour for the past year; receiving critical acclaim and performances across the United States, and indeed the world. While I have only heard excerpts previously, I knew the solo to be very demanding. This was my first time listening to the piece in its entirety, let alone with the piano reduction.
The piece opens with phantasmagorical chords; Shner sets the scene of an alternate universe vividly in a powerful introduction. Once the tempo increases, one will note the fire in her playing; as if bestowed by Aries. Her sound is never distorted, even with the vast array of altissimo lines. Though strength, tone, and passion are in no shortage throughout this piece; one may yearn for shorter staccatos and/or more separation among the more animated sections. The middle movement is full of drama and lamentation as Shner guides the listener through a journey to Hades. Quicksliver culminates with a frantic scherzo; however, Shner’s playing is anything but frantic. She shows utter, complete control; making the fast passages seem easy, almost second nature.
I wholeheartedly give Idit Shner my deepest congratulations on an exquisite album that will appeal to both the layman, and the academically trained musician. In cannot recommend this work enough, and has been one of my favorite releases of 2019. Do yourself a favor and listen to Minerva as soon as you have an opportunity; you will not regret it!