By Daniel Webster


Once a freewheeling Swarthmore student, Kitty Brazelton was a force in Philadelphia music through sheer will and implied sexuality. Her groups lived in vans and empty houses - and without creating substantial work, they left a feeling that they could have, if the pipes hadn't frozen or the tires gone flat.

But Brazelton's passion has sustained her as a composer, and in mid-life she writes music that draws on that showy past and shapes it with craft that could not have been predicted in the '70s.

Her commissioned piece As the Day Goes By was the centerpiece of Relâche weekend concerts in Wilmington and Philadelphia. Written at warp speed after Sept. 11, Day is meant to be her Guernica. Brazelton wrote herself into the score. And Friday, at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, her husky rock voice pushed anguish through the instrumental ensemble. The work's message is mostly in its sound, but toward the end, instrumentalists joined in the "Dies Irae" before Brazelton intoned a word from the Koran meaning blessed be.

The cohesion of the music comes from her expression of then and now. Inspired use of steel drums as the eloquent, melodic voice of beauty gives the music its tenderness.

However risky it may be to write a quick response to news, Brazelton contains her primal scream within balanced musical quantities. She writes nervous but shaped agitation and invokes nostalgia without approaching sentimentality. The ending - a series of crescendoes and decrescendoes - seemed like exhausted breathing, and drew its strength from its seeming inevitability.

Relâche surrounded this piece with rollicking jazz explorations that ranged from Carolyn Yarnell's Bach-based More Spirit Than Matter to a big-band romp, Road Map, by John King.

That last work, full of improvisations, obeisances to bop and blues, and irresistible rhythmic bounce, could be the ensemble's greatest hit. Its level of energy sweeps everything before it. Bass Douglas Mapp, percussionist Harvey Price, and saxophone player Bob Butryn shaped riffs and bright orations from fiercely rhythmic musical ideas. But the un-jazzy instrument, the viola, played by Anthony Simmons, and pianist Andrea Clearfield added witty flashes that were both ironic recollections of style and mood.

related links:

Kitty Brazelton, composer


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