The San Francisco Bay Area is a rich and varied musical scene with a plethora of talented and creative musicians. Given that I am not surprised and perhaps just a touch chagrined to not have heard of George Hurd. After a bit of research I learned that this is his debut album so I guess I feel better.
For an emerging composer he is well represented by his web page referenced above and another for the George Hurd Ensemble. Like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and many others he is taking the composer/performer route which is certainly a better guarantee of getting one’s music performed and performed well.
Hurd is also a promoter of an interesting gaggle of other musicians and musical organizations as well and while this is his debut recording Hurd has a significant history of success and a composer, performer and arts administrator.
Now to the album at hand. Navigation Without Numbers consists of 11 tracks of chamber music with electronics, electroacoustic music. Each is an individual piece but they seem to create a unity and this listener’s experience was that of a soundtrack to a film yet to be made. Indeed Hurd has written a few film scores as well.
The musicians are: Solenn Suguillon, violin; Jacob Hansen-Joseph, viola (and stomping); Erin Wang, cello; Ari Gorman, double bass; Elyse Weakley, piano; Annie Phillips, bass clarinet; Adam Murray, violin; Andrew McGuire, vibes; Anton Estaniel, cello; Theresa Au-Stephen, violin; Jason Hallowed, viola; Anna Steinhoff, cello; Alana Grelyak, piano; Stephanie Wallace, harp; Katie Weigman, vibes; George Hurd, electronics with Anna Singer and Joseph Voves, stomping and clapping. There is also an appearance by well known bay area violinist Carla Kihlstedt appearing on the fourth track.
There are no liner notes here so one is left only to one’s ear and heart to extract meaning and significance from these compositions. To this writer’s ear it seems to be a combination of gypsy influence and jazz at times in a tonal context with an almost dance like feel at times. This is not background music but it can be enjoyed with varying degrees of attention. By that I mean that the music is assertive enough to be useless as Muzak which requires little attention and perhaps even none and that it benefits from closer attention and multiple hearings. The overall experience is perhaps that of a good chamber group entertaining a knowledgeable clientele at a hip coffee shop. Not your run of the mill classical, not exactly jazz but a very pleasant album.