Over the years I've written a lot of music that straddles classical and jazz music, and that uses elements from both traditions. I've written orchestral, chamber and solo pieces, some of which have improvisation and some not. This is music that is truly 'in the cracks', mostly using instrumentation and ensemble formats from the classical tradition, but using rhythmic and harmonic devices that come from other areas, particularly jazz.
Recently I created an album on Bandcamp called 'In The Cracks', comprised of a collection of these pieces, and downloadable for free. In this post I've written short descriptions of each piece on the album, with a link to the tracks themselves. There are some great musicians on here, both classical (National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Ioana Petcu-Colan, Conor Linehan etc.), and from the world of jazz, (Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, John Ruocco etc.), and I hope you find something to enjoy. If anyone is interested in the compositions themselves, and would like the scores of any of these pieces, just drop me a line
Synapsis (Concertino for Orchestra)
This is a sort of mini concerto for orchestra. Written in 2008, it features, at various stages, every section of the orchestra and really gives them something to play. It's a technically difficult piece, and the RTE NSO play it really well. The title came from a word a friend mentioned in an email, and I liked the fact that it sounded like a cross between synapse and synopsis. I imagined the idea of the orchestra being a large brain, and its synapses firing ideas from one side of the orchestra to the other. It has a lot of jazz influences, particularly in the rhythmic language, but also in the fact that the opening, fast 16th note phrase, (and much of the subsequent material), was taken from something Brad Mehldau played in a solo on a Michael Brecker album. Thanks Brad!
Music for String Quartet
A piece for probably the most classic of classical ensembles, the string quartet. When you're writing music for string quartet you've got one of the most outrageously accomplished musical traditions looking over your shoulder. But intimidating though it can be, it's also so satisfying to write for - so perfectly balanced and capable of so many different kind of expression. This continuous piece is in three sections - a spiky rhythmic motif, a lyrical slow section that moves between dark and light atmospheres, and a groove finale that descends into some chromatic madness.
This is genuinely in the cracks, since it uses a symphony orchestra, a big band, and an improvising soloist - the great Dave Liebman. This is the 3rd movement of a large-scale piece for the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra (their combined symphony and jazz orchestras), and is in effect a concerto for soprano sax and orchestra. This is the largest group I've ever written for (more than 130 musicians), and it was both a pleasure to have such forces at my disposal, and a challenge to use them effectively.
3rd section of a concerto for jazz flute and chamber orchestra, written for the great flautist and saxophonist Michael Buckley and the Irish Chamber Orchestra- it features both written and improvised passages for the flute. I added a drum set to the string orchestra for this piece, and also use bass guitar in this movement.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Another daunting task for me - to write a piano concerto! In the classical tradition, as far as orchestra with soloist is concerned, there's probably no greater body of work than the piano concerto, and the greatest of the great - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Bartok, Ravel, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff etc. - have written extraordinary and famous works in this idiom. So to take this on was a particularly challenging assignment for me. Although very familiar with many great piano concerti, I tried to use that tradition while at the same time bringing in elements from my own world, and influences from great pianists in that world, such as McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. Conor Linehan is the wonderful soloist here with the RTE NSO, recorded live in Dublin
Sonata for Solo Violin
Writing for a solo string instrument is a completely different challenge to writing for a full orchestra. You have to balance and contrast the generally linear nature of the instrument, with chorded passages to fill out the texture. This is the finale of what is actually a very big work in five movements that takes almost thirty minutes to play. This movement features some serious fireworks for the violin and the great technical challenges are brilliantly surmounted by the violinist who commissioned this work, Ioana Petcu-Colan
A Little Blues
This piece is, as the name suggests, a 12-bar blues. It's completely written, but there are some very jazz elements in it, particularly in the violin and piano writing. Performed here by the great young Irish chamber group the Ensemble Avalon, I later went on to write some music for the pianist in this group, the very talented Michael McHale, and had already worked extensively with the violinist Iona Petcu-Colan (see the solo violin sonata above).
A funk piece for Wind Quintet? Why not! Commissioned and recorded by the outstanding UK wind quintet the Aurora Ensemble
Sonata for Solo Viola
Another piece for solo strings, this time the very underrated viola. This a four-movement piece which features a lot of rhythmic music and although the soloist for whom this was written - the notable and very accomplished Canadian violist Tanya Kalmanovitch - is a very fine improviser, and the music has many improvisatory flourishes, all of the the material is fully notated. This is the fourth movement, a groove piece.
Music for Clarinet and String Trio
One of my earliest 'in the cracks' pieces, this time for string trio (the Hibernia String Trio), and clarinet, (on this performance the extraordinary virtuoso clarinettist John Ruocco who is equally at home in jazz or classical). This is the slow movement built on a kind of eastern modal melody that's later reharmonised. The clarinet is required to play both written passages and improvisation. John's improvisation on this is amazing
ARC - for 12 Saxophones
This is definitely the most unusual ensemble I've ever written for! This was commissioned by the European Saxophone Ensemble and they performed it all over Europe and recorded it. The challenge with this piece was not to make the ensemble sound like a giant accordion. The piece featured both written and improvised passages, and the instruments ranged from bass saxophone to sopranino, and rehearsals took place in a lovely small village in France - such a memorable experience for me for all kinds of reasons. I used the sound of the all the saxophonists fingering their instruments for the opening - a unique sonority.
Stillness/Movement (from Renaissance Man)
Music for string quartet and electric guitar - the first movement of 'Renaissance Man', a suite I wrote for jazz guitar trio and string quartet. This was written in memory of my father who had passed away thirty years earlier, and this movement was written based around a memory I had from my boyhood, walking in the forest at dawn with him, and the birds beginning to sing, quietly at first and then building to a cacophony of beautiful sound. In having this suite played I was privileged to have the guitar legend John Abercrombie play the guitar part - in this section he improvises in between the written passages for the strings