Reviews for Electric Diamond 

ELECTRIC DIAMOND at The ArtMusicCoffeeHouse
Howard Moscowitz

Last night, in a small living room in suburban New Jersey, I and seven other invited guests were held spellbound by the three very talented musicians that comprise the group called Electric Diamond. We were joined by possibly hundreds of people throughout the world who enjoyed the concert on a live internet webcast from The ArtMusic Coffeehouse. This was chamber music at its finest, firmly rooted in the past while defining the future, both musically and technically.

The ArtMusic Coffeehouse is a new epicenter for up-and-coming talent. Hosted by Don Slepian, each show (Wednesday evenings, 9PM thru 11PM Eastern US Time) features performances and interviews with talented folk, blues, jazz, classical and world music artists. Set before a modest live audience, the concert begins with Don Slepian's keyboard improvisations. It continues to move between interview and live performance, revealing the thoughts and musical personality of the evening's featured artist. Through webcasting, it can be heard virtually anywhere. This is exciting, like live radio used to be.

Don Slepian started the concert with an extended keyboard improvisation. I had never heard Don play before, and I was profoundly impressed. He's a masterful performer comfortable in virtually any style. He moves effortlessly and gracefully from mood to mood and from style to style, in a very personal and intimate manner. He changes the sounds on his Yamaha keyboard without pausing; using strings, percussion, piano, harpsichord, harp, banjo and many others, in virtually any combination. The music flows continuously, sometimes sounding like Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Joplin, The Beatles, Fats Waller, Elton John, many others, and in his own unique styles; not necessarily in that order.

Next, Karen Bentley - Violin and Viola, and Stuart Diamond - Lyricon, joined Don as Electric Diamond. This is a group of musician's musicians, classically trained and masters of all styles. Don and Stuart, both electronic music pioneers, have been playing together for nearly thirty years. Stuart is a composer as well as a Bassoonist. Last night he played the Lyricon, a vintage electronic wind synthesizer and quite rare. It looks like a silver Clarinet or soprano Saxophone, with no bell and a wire coming out of the bottom. It controls a vintage Oberheim monophonic synthesizer. It has an expressive range that is marvelous, comparable to any classical orchestral instrument. It has a dynamic range of about 100 dB and can play virtually any pitch to excite both subwoofer and tweeter. Stuart uses the Lyricon to great effect. He is a master of phrasing, certainly something very rare for a player of an electronic

Karen, who joined them a few years ago, is a virtuoso violin soloist who has performed concerti with some of the world's great symphony orchestras. She is also a member of a Progressive Rock band, as well several other Jazz, New Age, and New Music ensembles. Not only does she have flawless technique, but a marvelous ear. It was thrilling to hear such an outstanding musician improvising so expressively.

Electric Diamond started their set with a beautiful piece based on 15th century secular medieval melodies. I found this fascinating because it was at once both ancient and contemporary. The group played together as if they were of one mind. Modal melodies and phrases were passed from one instrument to another twisted and intertwined, each time modified and harmonized in new ways. As Stuart pointed out in a discussion during the concert, this form of improvisation was the norm in the 15th century. Electric Diamond was so accomplished at this that one could have thought they were performing a composition of Josquin des Pres, or one of his contemporaries, from memory.

As the evening progressed, Electric Diamond played in many differing styles including, but not limited to, classical, romantic, jazz, blues, avant-garde, Latin, and native American; in many combinations. They even played a J. S. Bach Ave Maria (actually Prelude No. 1 in C Major) and a Purcell trumpet voluntary; Stuart's Lyricon sounded more like a piccolo trumpet than a piccolo trumpet. I was delighted.

As I sat listening, only a few feet from the players, it occurred to me that this was chamber music much like it was in Mozart's time. These musicians were at once reviving the art of classical improvisation and creating new music. With the webcasting, it is possible that people all over the planet were sharing this experience in their own homes; talk about the global village.

The format of the ArtMusic Coffeehouse appropriately provided the performers the opportunity to talk about their music and themselves. This certainly enhanced the concert. The "show" lasts two continuous hours, and I think that's too long without a break, both for the audience and the performers.

It's great to review a venue which is available to everyone on the internet. I urge you to listen in to future ArtMusic Coffeehouse concerts, and comment on them at the forum. Don offered to get us a few audio clips of last night's concert, which we'll post as soon as we can. Below are come links to web sites of the artists.

Alan Freeman

By the music they create you'd scarcely believe that this trio of: Stuart Diamond (lyricon), Karen Bentley (violin) and Don Slepian, are American. You see, one is used to a certain feel in synth fronted music from the USA, but Electric Diamond sound so very European. I suppose the reasons for this are the instrumentation and the classical/medieval feel of the music. Very Italian, very Vangelis, very baroque and mysterious. It's unlike anything Don Slepian has done before too, relaxed and restrained without being tedious. The subtleties and richness of the musical textures add to make a music of spontaneous vitality. 'Performed live', with 'no overdubbing or midi-sequencing' it says on the cover - and it's all the better for it.
Music Tolkien Might Have Written If He'd Used a Piano Instead of a Pen
by Bunny McBride
New York

To tell you the truth, I was just sitting there. Suddenly a brigade of knights on horse back came charging toward me. There was no escape. I sat stunned in my seat. A few yards before converging on me, these men in armor were instantly transformed into a troupe of fairies - fairies that spun and danced themselves into streams of light. By the time they surrounded me I was quite pleased.

This sort of thing happens when Stuart Diamond and his Electric Diamond Ensemble throw a concert - as they did recently In Manhattan's Symphony Space and in Little Carnegie Hall.

The composition that sent visions of knights and fairies prancing abut the concert hall was composer Diamond's "Dance of Merlin." It followed "Lyric Images," which moments before had filled the hall with imaginary skeins of yarn tumbling, Unraveling, looping around the audience, passing between our chairs, tying us up in knots, tossing us loose.

Imaginative, visual, linear music is what I'd call it - the kind of stuff Tolkien might have come up with if he'd used a piano instead of a pen.

Diamond's music happens with keyboards, percussion (Michael Lauren), and a Lyricon. The Lyricon is a still-rare instrument, usually associated with jazz. Physically it looks like a flute fitted with a clarinet mouth piece and wired into synthesizers. Phonically it can sound like just about anything you want It to: harpsichord, flute, bassoon - or beast.

Yes, beast. And beast it was in Diamond's "Beauty and the Beast" which, in its world premiere, crowned the concert in Symphony Space. From Beast's first bellow the piece is established as the most remarkable of the three compositions. It opens with Beast flailing in darkness. His ferocity flies at you from every direction - so madly that you expect Beast to crash into himself and smash piece and audience to smithereens. Somehow, he doesn't. Enter Beauty (soprano Sally Jo Anderson) with her wordless vocabulary that is alternately haunting and soothing, tender and strong. When the unlikely duo moves from solos into duet, Beast's ferocious troubling becomes tremulously gentle. The result is some times heart-wrenching.

Diamond uses the electronic idiom in a way that makes you feel he's taking you home by a new route. And whether you're the type who walks home in wingtips, Adidas, or sandals, it's hard not to believe Diamond can get you there. He's a mediator of sorts, a classical composer who's ushering traditional Western music into the electronic age. And he's been at it for decades.

Back in 1970, the atonal trend established among contemporary classical composers In the '50s continued to cool music scores. But Stuart Diamond, maverick or oblivious, was busily penning romantic, melodic compositions - and plugging them into his synthesizers. The result was a music that was indeed far out ("a wonderful trip into the asteroids," according to Variety), but in no way distant r detached.

Diamond likes being unusual, but not inaccessible. "I don't believe a composer can live in an Ivory tower," the wild-haired composer told me a few days after the concert. "Music must function as entertainment before it can be great art. There's a dynamic relationship between composer and audience, and if the audience isn't involved you don't have a chance to do anything with your music."

It seems Diamond is an elusive nightingale out on a limb, he can't be caged with the classicists, not with the disjointed mechanistic bleeps and bloops still associated with serious electronic music.

The Diamond difference may have some thing to do with the intent behind his composing. We talked about It in his Manhattan music studio - a completely non-classical room spilling with masses of wires, buttons, and levers.

"My concern," says Diamond, pushing back his wire-rims with his thumb and middle finger, "is to bring the audience to a philo ophical position as a result of listening. I'm more concerned with that than with grinding a stylistic ax. Once you've hooked an audience's imagination you can take them on a journey in such a way that creates certain images. You can bring them to various emotional effects, including a feeling of transcendence. To be able to accomplish this is the art, and that's what music is about for me."

While studying music at Haverford and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, Diamond also studied philosophy. The more he talks the more it shows. "There are several levels of what I'm trying to accomplish. The highest level is an epiphanic notion. I'm not pretentious enough to say that I'm touching people with God or that God has to speak through me, but I think of great art very much as a healing thing. I think that some change in perspective is valid and is what audiences seek. Even if you're performing a tragedy, like "Romeo and Juliet," you can help the audience walk away feeling enriched, aware of life.

"I try to be very positive in my statements. I used to write negative pieces, then somewhere along the line I began to write positively - just an expression of what I wish to express in general in my life."

Diamond says he's always been a romantic and melodic person. he started playing wind instruments at age 9, and from that point on was very conscious of line. At age 18 he began composing: "The first thing I wrote was a title page: 'Stuart Diamond, Symphony No. 1. I never got beyond the first movement of that one. It was dreadful, of course. But it did have a strong melodic line."

After six years at Haverford and Sarah Lawrence, Diamond plunged into New York's Lower East Side and took it by - well not exactly by storm. In fact, his first two years were touch and go. "I played bassoon professionally, and wrote music textbooks and magazine articles to support my composing. What a way to spend my youth!" he chuckles, slapping his forehead, crooking the wire-rims. "But things got better. There I was, struggling to squeeze in a couple of hours of composing a day when, out of the blue, I was discovered by the Criterion Foundation. Criterion had been looking for composers different from the academic tradition. A friend of mine played a tape of my music for some foundation people and as a result they offered me total financial support or several years. The grant came to me out of the sky. I hadn't even applied for it. A little Cinderella experience."
Electric Diamond
Phillip George

Electric Diamond is a step beyond... A window into the future of music. With the release of their first CD, Electric Diamond goes beyond the new age, Ancient airs from the Middle Ages, flute songs of Native Americans and their own original composition are passed through the prism of Electric Diamond to emerge recast for a new millennia.

Ambitious words and music. Certainly, this is a pleasant enough album, as performed by Stuart Diamond, lyricon, Karen Bentley, violin, and Don Slepian, keyboard. What, you ask, is a lyricon?

The Lyricon is an electronic wind instrument, invented by Bill Bernardi, that transforms the player's breath and embouchure pressures into electrical voltages which in turn control an Oberheim (OB-1) synthesizer.

That straight, what's it all sound like? Well, cream-puffy, new/middle-agey, to begin with, in five creative renditions of familiar medieval dances (two French, two Italian, and one designated English), harmonized and rhythmicized (purists beware!). The 14th-century "Ductia" has the lyricon coming off as an Irish Piper, and the 13th-century "Dance Royale" takes a stately rather than a perky approach. "Lamento di Tristano" (14th-century) takes the solemn approach of Florilegium Musicum of Paris rather than the uptempo version of HAM; "La Rotta" finds an electric dungeons-and-dragons (with a hint of "Peter Grimes") rather than the sometimes heard Greek party. While the manuscript for "Trotto" is housed in the British Museum, it is Italian, rather than English, in a realization spirited, if not passionate, wittily employing a pseudo-tango beat.

Presumably original compositions range in style from koto-like flourishes, neoclassic virtuosity, and minimalist urgency in keyboard to suggestions of country, blues, and jazz in the expert violining. The music has a breadth and a passion that searches across a wide spectrum, and the lyricon demonstrates an ever-surprising range of techniques and timbres.

Three large sections -- "Arcadia," "The Shades of Light," and "Sirens" are concluded with another borrowed music, now from Native American flute songs, in "Painted Clouds," which has haunting suggestions of Mahler's "Symphony No. 1" and Villa Lobos's "Little Train." But like Ives or Stravinsky, the disparate influences here add up to the convincingly melodious whole that is Electric Diamond.

By John Foxworthy

Last night's performance by Electric Diamond was definitely electric to say the least. For me here in California the show had an even heavier impact. Electric Diamond's opening was accompanied by a heavy thunderstorm and closed with an international war.

As I sat back and listened I was surprised to discover what a Lyricon is, that Don Slepian is 50 and that this trio has performed at the Guggenheim Museum.

Electric Diamond started out the evening with an improvisational "jam" playing what seemed to be some ancient Druid or Welsh influenced classical piece that flowed flawlessly. When I learned that the entire selection was played on the flyI was floored. These guys have been playing together for decades, which just goes to demonstrate how three musicians can connect and become one.

Stuart Diamond's Lyricon intrigued me as I had never heard of the instrument. It is a wind instrument that transforms human breath into synthesized electronic impulses. The sound was simply unblemished and mixed well with the all electronic synthesizer Don was playing.

In the breaks between pieces Don took some time to introduce the other members of the ensemble. These conversational interludes proved to be both entertaining and educational and I learned a lot about Electric Diamond and the music they were playing.

Don Slepian played a spirited set of keys, always interesting and certainly right on the note. He also hosted the session in the true attitude we expect from AMC. The audience was appreciative and warm, I got the feeling of walking into "Cheers" from the group:).

Perhaps I was most taken by Karen Bentley and her violin. Her adaptation to the changes in the improv selections, her mastery over arpeggiated scales and her sheer control over her instrument all came together and made for the epitome of a disciplined classical musician. All in all, Electric Diamond put on a killer demonstration.

Now, I'd be lying if I were to say that this particular style of music was my bag, however, I am a lover of all music and a believer that all great musicians, no matter the genre, are great because they have opened their minds to all possibilities. Electric Diamond invoked some deep emotions for me and my wife. This was by far the best ArtMusic Coffeehouse yet!
Carol Wright

Several years ago, I researched an article about the golden oldies of New Age music, but one of my favorite olde time composers, Don Slepian ("Ocean of Peace"), had dropped from sight. Then out of the blue, he called asking if I would review his new album. When it arrived, the album cover, with its airbrushed ED monogram and diamond (Stuart Diamond plays the Lyricon Wind Synthesizer on the album), offered scant clues to its exquisite inner treasures. ELECTRIC DIAMOND opens with a suite of five "Dances from the Middle Ages." These short tunes take advantage of Diamond's Lyricon, an instrument that electronically transforms the player's breath into Medieval shawms, long trumpets, and other ancient horns. The melodies are played straight, but electronic wizardry of Don Sleppian makes them snappy and resplendent with the pagentry and frolic of centuries past. Violinist Karen Bently joins for the second suite, "Arcadia." Two are modern chamber music pieces (Ravel's music might be a close comparison) that conjure tree groves and midwinter frosts, while "The Furnace" blasts with electric horns and whirlpools of sparks. The third suite, "The Shades of Light," progresses from the calm (Bentley's violin flutters on warm currents of vibraphone and string bass like a butterfly's first flight) to a piece that races at the greyhound speed. "Sirens" and "Painted Clouds" moved me even farther into the realms of spirit, sensuousness, and drama. I don't think I'll ever tire of listening to ELECTRIC DIAMOND, but if I had to pick a favorite piece, it would be "The Way In" with its haunting trumpet theme.

JAMES ROOS, Herald Music Editor
Diamond Gives Rock Some Class

Stuart Diamond, didn't set out to classicize rock, but with his new Lyric Images, he seems to have succeeded in doing just that.

NEW YORK-Turning rock and roll into chamber music may be about as elusive a trick as the alchemists' dream of turning lead into gold, but Stuart Diamond, at least to my ears, has done it.
Walking into the Guggenheim Museum reeent1y- to investigate the underground auditorium in-the-round -- I encountered the young Manhattanite heading an adventurous series of contemporary concerts, including even the world premiere of' a classical piece by jazzman Dave Brubeck. Yet the cream of the concert, late in rising, was Diamond's own Lyric Images, one of the first pieces of chamber music in my experience to effectively incorporate rock's raucous sounds.

It is no news, of course, that rock has borrowed heavily from the world's wealth of classical music. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention took off from Schoenberg, Varese and Webern. Jethro Tull, among other rock troupes, has aped the harpsichord-flute sounds of Bach. Emerson, Lake and Palmer even concocted their own version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

BUT HOW OFTEN have you heard of a classical composer drawing inspiration from rock? Gershwin and Ravel were fascinated by jazz, Bartok by Hungarian folk music. But Diamond is among the first of the new generation maximize rock in classical form.

Not that he set out to classicize it. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't really conscious of using rock in the sense of trying to create a new art form" he admits. 'If it's infiltrating into my music it's because I've been using rock instruments and taking advantage of talented young musicians who have a real feeling for rock."

In his Lyric Images, for instance, Diamond solos on the lyricon, a kind of electronic clarinet, With musicians who have rock backgrounds on percussion and electronic keyboards. The four-movement work has sections of free-swinging improvisation but is mostly written out. It has genuine economy of style.
Judging from the voluminous applause, it has audience appeal, too, evoked by the music's sometimes rock-jam aura, sometimes rhapsodic, mystical sound. What you ultimately hear is the mellow, haunting lyricon soaring above the pounding insistent beat of rock.

WHY TURN ROCK into classical music? "In a way," Diamond admits, "it stems from the wish to be commercially successfully. Today tonality is back in vogue with classical composers because audiences in general have been alienated from the serious music scene. I would even say that except for the composers listening to each other's music, the audience for contemporary classical music doesn't really exist."

Still, in the realm of new music, Diamond, has a formidable background. A graduate of both Haverford and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, he has reaped awards and grants galore and composed for television as well as the concert hall. His music has even been documented on three major record labels, yet almost nothing he composed before presaged this new turn to rock.

'What set his oft? "The fact is I don't like academic, mathematically oriented music-the electronic atonalists. I find composers today in a quandary of not knowing in what direction to move.
What I have tried to do is very tonal, even melodic," he notes, "though influenced by the sound and power of rock."

The result is music cast in the mold of a classical chamber work that retains the full flavor of big rock-band sound thanks partly to the use of original rock instruments and the improvisatory skills of the players.

In a sense, Diamond has distilled the essence of a popular musical form, as Georges Euncesco, for example, captured the heart of the Balkan gypsy in his Third Sonata for Violin and Piano "in the Rumanian style." Of course, whether or not Diamond's work will spur others to follow his lead in anybody's guess just now. But his music bears listening, and perhaps, as he puts it, he really is 'ahead of the pack."