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Joshua Stamper - Interstitials

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Artist: Joshua Stamper

Album: Interstitials

Label: self-released

Review date: Jul. 27, 2011

Joshua Stamper has made his share of “interstitial” music, arranging the horn, string and woodwind breaks for artists like Danielson, Twin Sister and Ben + Vesper. He’s a subtle element in a whole catalog of eccentric pop music, taking on the colors, chameleon-style, of the artists he’s working with. Listen hard, for instance, and you can make out his impact, in the chamber music swells that tip Dan Zimmerman’s “Silence Is a Golden Mountain” from morosity to resilience, in the blasts of horns and string embellishments that separate I Was a King’s Old Friends from the common run of power pop, or in the gleaming string textures that make Twin Sister’s upcoming In Heaven glisten with eeriness.

On his own account, Stamper has made six full-length recordings, composing for various jazz ensembles, chamber groups, films and himself. Interstitials employs a broad palette of instruments – voice, guitar, clarinet, bassoon, trombone, flute and others – in compositions that are dense, but never overcrowded.

All but one of these songs is structured around a vocal line, with Stamper pursuing delicate, unpredictable melodies with his soft, uninflected voice. Instruments work as fellow-travelers, not a supporting cast. They wander in tight, sometimes intersecting paths that comment on, rather than reinforce Stamper’s vocals. A flutter of clarinet, running up and down the scale, introduces the lovely “Smoke Signals,” for instance, playing peek-a-boo with insistent, spit-roughened blasts of low brass. He sings the song’s whispery, dream-like lyrics in an unhurried way, holding the notes while insect swarms of instrumental activity swarm around him. And yet, the overall tone of the song is serene and full of clarity. It seems, on reflection, to be an almost impossible conjunction of spare-ness and luxuriant profusion.

Stamper’s lyrics are quite good, too, in a formal, written poetry sort of way. He does well imagining the inner life of an old tree in “Arbor” and gets the right sort of prickly wryness into “Incredible People,” as he contemplates the downside of being loved for his strengths, rather than unconditionally. (“Incredible People” underlines this discomfort with a wonderfully twitchy, staccato counterpoint in various flavors of brass.)

Still, it’s in the title track that Stamper approaches Cole Porter-style sophistication, in a series of lyrics about the things that fall between. “The space between the fish and the water / the space between the ink and the blotter / the sound and the ear / the thrill and the fear / the spoon and the batter / the rock and the shatter,” he sings. “You’re the space between.” Stamper, himself, resides in the intersection of a variety of things – between pop and experiment, between formal elegance and confessional self-expression, between the improvisatory flow of jazz and the rigors of classical composition. It’s the kind of balancing act that makes choosing one thing over another seem cloddish.

By Jennifer Kelly

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