Charles Argersinger, 2010

I have long admired Dr. Argersinger’s work so I was eager to hear his new CD, L.A. Rendezvous. Argersinger (a retired WSU music professor) is a consummate composer of contemporary art music and a superb jazz arranger and composer, so it was no surprise that the album exhibits a high level of craftsmanship. What did surprise me is the variety of instrumental and vocal selections featured on the album.

The CD consists of arrangements and compositions for jazz ensemble as well as three pieces for a cappella choir. Several of the jazz ensemble pieces (and one small group selection) feature jazz vocalist Sunny Wilkinson. Although it is rare to find an album consisting of such a wide range of material, the pieces work well together and make for a cohesive whole. It’s akin to visiting an art exhibit by a single artist—Argersinger’s unique voice as an arranger and composer provides the thread that ties the album together. To quote the liner notes, “Each piece is chosen for its place in Argersinger’s compositional history and reflects a giant step on the path to his compositional success.”

Throughout the album it is clear that Argersinger is a masterful and innovative composer and arranger. His work is harmonically sophisticated and the arrangements develop in a convincing way. Composers sometimes refer to the concept of la grande ligne—the long line or feeling of flow or inevitability that is evident in an effective composition. That reference came to mind as I listened to the arrangements and compositions. Argersinger is a master of pacing and, while there are many surprises, he develops the pieces in a way that feels organic.

I have commented to students that most good music has a linear dimension, and that comment seems relevant to L.A. Rendezvous. When a composer or arranger uses a linear approach, more emphasis is placed on the independence of melodic lines. I enjoyed hearing Argersinger’s frequent use of linear process and particularly enjoyed his use of counterpoint in pieces including “Salsa ’n Peppers” and “High Wire.”

Singer Sunny Wilkinson is featured on several selections, and I was struck with how well the arrangements fit her voice—like the proverbial hand in glove. Wilkinson sounds terrific and I appreciated her strong interpretations of tunes including “Exactly Like You” and “It Could Happen to You” as well as her fine scat solos. The album also features many outstanding instrumental solos including a wonderfully emotive introduction to “Waltz for Debby” performed by pianist Ron Newman.

Production values are high and it is clear that great attention to detail went into the mix. Each instrument and vocal track has its own space in the mix, and the recording has a polished feel that fits the well-crafted arrangements and compositions.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to Dr. Argersinger is that I look forward to revisiting L.A. Rendezvous in the future. There is a lot to take in from his raucous original “Rage Cage” to the impeccable Voice Trek [vocal quintet] performances of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “A Little Luck,” and “Not Like This.” Argersinger takes the listener on a multilayered journey—and it’s a journey you will want to repeat.

Brent Edstrom is an associate professor of jazz studies, music theory, and composition at Whitworth University.