"Journey Long, Journey Far" opens with “The Dark-Eyed Chameleon,” a song cycle for soprano and piano that depicts the pathos, elation, grim aftermath and eventual metamorphosis stemming from a shattered love affair. This unique and powerful work is brought fully to life by Mary Jaeb, one of Southern California’s most outstanding and versatile singers. Her wide experience with the crossing over of musical genres beautifully suits Abel’s hybridized style.
The second piece, “Gentle Spirit,” is a purely instrumental remembrance of a dear friend whose life was cut short in tragic and random fashion. The composition moves from mystery to affirmation to farewell in a series of linked and often striking episodes.
The final piece (the CD’s second “mega-work”) is “The True Believers,” a musical meditation upon religious-based terrorism. The listener is carried on a multi-hued journey that charts the sociological and spiritual origins of the phenomenon, the exultation after a devastating attack of 9/11 dimensions, and concludes with a movement called “The Accounting,” in which the terrorists are turned away from the nirvana they seek.
The piece takes Abel’s ideas about stylistic synthesis several steps further and owes much of its success to the emotive, side-by-side singing of soprano Katy Stephan and baritone Richard Mix, two of the San Francisco area’s most respected performers. For much of the piece, the pair assume the characters of the terrorists as they declaim about their ideology in fervent and grandiose terms, while the music probes for underlying psychological currents -- both fearsome and gentle.
Review of "Journey Long, Journey Far"
Composer Mark Abel is probably best known for his production work with early '80s New Wave pioneers such as The Feelies and The Bongos, co-producing the former's 1980 A&M debut, Crazy Rhythms—considered by many critics to be among the best of the post-punk era and highly influential in the indie circuit. Nearly three decades later, Abel has pretty much abandoned rock and instead adopted the freshly-coined tag "alternative classical." Still a trailblazer, Abel retools classical music for the new century, bravely incorporating elements of pop songwriting, opera, jazz, prog and even New Age into its cobweb-strewn trousers. The result will either inspire or insult purists, but nobody will walk away without any feelings at all.
Abel arms himself with a trio of powerhouse vocalists on Journey Long, Journey Far. The stunningly beautiful soprano Mary Jaeb carries the first half of the disc on a cycle dubbed "The Dark-Eyed Chameleon." As revealed through Abel's anguished, painfully candid lyrics, "The Dark-Eyed Chameleon" addresses a relationship split in two; each song is a shattered image, and as a whole they illustrate a portrait of pain, pathos, and disappointment. The shifting moods of Abel's piano in the opener, "The Burned Horizon," doesn't mend the seething rage in its little black heart. "Behind your mask/Lies a secret face that the world has never seen," Jaeb sings, her voice throbbing with deep-seated ache. Feelings of betrayal and deception wrestle with the initial outbreak of love, vividly captured by the soaring highs and dramatic lows of Abel's piano.
The instrumental interlude "Gentle Spirit" opts for atmospheric, cinematic textures. As with the components of "The Dark-Eyed Chameleon," though, the music is driven by Abel's various emotional states and not because of satisfying intellectual curiosity. The orchestral sweep of "Gentle Spirit" engulfs on a primal level, removing contemporary classical music from its snobby detachment and transforming it into something personal and relatable yet still artistically impressive. The album concludes with the epic storyline "The True Believers," a post-9/11 allegory wherein the terrorists who slaughtered in God's name find themselves at the receiving end of His wrath in the afterlife. Abel frames the tale of irony and poetic justice through the ethereal singing of Katy Stephan and Richard Mix.