There are two qualities I admire in Dmitri Tymoczko — his sense of humor, and his craftsmanship. Tymoczko’s titles are often humorous – like the title track on this release.

But his humor also extends into the music. Several of his works have a light-hearted quality to them. These works sound like they were fun to compose, and fun to play.

And that’s where craftsmanship matter. Because Tymocko’s music isn’t written to support the gag titles.

Rather, they take an essential part of that title and develop it in interesting and imaginative ways. And that makes (in my opinion) Tymockzko’s music worthy of attention — and repeated hearing.

According to Tymoczko, “I Cannot Follow” was inspired by a line in a 16th Century madrigal. In that work, it was a lament that the narrator couldn’t follow his deceased beloved. The work begins with the instruments — saxophone, guitar, vibraphone, and piano — echoing each other in simple imitation. But over time, the imitations begin to change, and eventually breaks off. Tymoczko’s music has both a literal interpretation of the title as well as the deeper meaning of the source material.

“S Sensation Something” is a work of exceptional beauty for piano quintet. The title develops a single letter into two different words. The music develops a simple, consonant melody in a similar fashion. As the work progresses, the melody is repurposed and reharmonized with increasing dissonance. It then returns in a transformed state at the end.

The title track, “Rube Goldberg Variations” references both J.S. Bach and the cartoonist who created outlandishly useless machines. Tymoczko uses a brass quintet to keep things moving with angular, “robotic” music (that’s the Rube Goldberg part).

A prepared piano plays throughout, gradually shedding its modifying accessories — paperclips, erasers, etc. By the end of the work, the natural sound of the piano emerges in a variations-to-theme structure (that’s the J.S. Bach part).

Tymoczko’s music speaks to the listener on several levels. And, I think, it appeals to all kinds of listeners. In additional to classical audiences, these works should appeal to fans of progressive jazz and rock — especially Frank Zappa fans. Tymoczko writes classical music truly relevant to today’s audiences.

Dmitri Tymoczko: Rube Goldberg Variations
Flexible Music; Atlantic Brass Quintet; Amernet String Quartet
Bridge Records 9492