Paul Halley,
Nightwatch
(self-produced, 1982;
Pelagos, 1998)

In this re-issue of a 1982 recording, Paul Halley reflects on the changing aspects of the night from dusk until dawn. His improvisational meditation is conducted on the Great Organ at New York City's Cathedral of St John the Divine over five nights of recording.

The name Nightwatch comes from a late night meditation program for teens for whom Halley would play meditative improvisations. Halley considered the finished recording "a night-journey" and named it Nightwatch "in deference to [his] severest critics."

There are five parts to this night journey: "Sunset/Dusk," "Moon Dance," "Nocturne," "Nightwatch" and "Dawn/Sunrise." Each track is singular in its evocation of mood and image. Halley captures the sunset on the first track, introducing gentle themes that gradually build into the majesty and splendor of the setting sun. The nocturnal pageant continues in "Moon Dance" which spins into a lively dance melody. In contrast, "Nocturne" begins with a sweet haunting tune evoking the stillness and serenity of the middle of the night that still hints of the unknown. The music swells dramatically toward the middle of the track, yet retains its centered quality.

"Nightwatch" begins with stately somber notes on the French horn stop which develop into a gentle melody. The tune grows gradually into a whirling joyful noise which cuts off sharply with the arrival of the dawn. According to the liner notes, "Dawn/Sunrise" "is based on the ancient plainsong melody 'Adoro Te, Devote'" and the music evokes the gradual brightening of the sky before the sun bursts above the horizon.

This is a remarkable recording in that it is completely improvised, no small task under ideal conditions -- "do-overs" are not an option. In addition, the album was recorded at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a gorgeous space but one which can be a challenge in terms of recording acoustics.

Nightwatch is relatively short; the five tracks make up a hair over 38 minutes of music. The length is appropriate, though; Halley knows what he wants to say with his music, and he says it directly and well.

Paul Halley's Nightwatch will appeal especially to organ music afficionados, but the music is accessible to and evocative for anyone. Those already familiar with Halley's previous work need no introduction at all.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 1 December 2001



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