Jeffrey Zeigler: Something of Life on Innova

A soloist with collaborative roots

Jeffrey Zeigler’s recent solo album Something of Life illustrates musically what the title purports to be: an autobiography. Whether it be the Reich-like trance of Paola Prestini’s “Listen, Quiet” (where he collaborates with So Percussion’s Jason Treuting), the looping and digital ephemera of Gity Razaz’s “Shadow Lines,” or Glass’s neo-Baroque “Orbit,” it is obvious that Zeigler’s soundworld comes from the diversity of musics explored throughout his career as a soloist, chamber musician, and collaborator. While not necessarily highlighting Zeigler’s virtuosic facility as a soloist, the album does showcase the collaborative and convivial nature of his performing.

Ambition and authenticity

It is an ambitious album that authentically explores this engaging and diverse soundworld which doesn’t shy away from longer, meditative works like “Something of Life” (22 minutes) and “Listen, Quiet” (14 minutes) or the shorter aggressive works like “Babel” (under 5 minutes).  Zeigler’s voice authentically resonates with the post-classical world by avoiding ideological soapboxes through going right to the heart of earnest music-making where egos are left at the door of the recording studio. Zeigler accomplishes this by deftly moving in and out of these various musical styles while also uncannily moving to the forefront whether it be the aggressive technique in Felipe Perez Santiago’s “Glaub”, or to the background in Kotche’s “Something of Life.”

Groove, emotion, and lyricism

“Glaub” leads off the album with an emotional punch that gives us a good idea of what Zeigler’s soundworld is about: groove, emotion, and lyricism. This is maintained throughout the album in varying degrees, but it is the title track by Glenn Kotche that seems to offset the whole trajectory. The backbone of this work is not the cellist, but rather stitched together field recordings of a character’s “day in the life.” We hear elevators descending which are cartoonishly accompanied by a string glissando, and, yes, when the piece ends and the elevator goes back up, predictably, there is an upward glissando as well. Yet, despite these initial eye-rolling moments it doesn’t take long for a listener to realize that this “aural representation of the everyday” replete with sirens, bird calls, trains, dogs, and traffic is in the foreground and the cello, who up to this point in the album acts as the source of emotion and subjectivity, becomes an omnipresent narrator of the mundane. Yet, despite some moments of groove-like foot-stomping, nothing really happens.

Listen to John Zorn’s Babel, performed by Jeffrey Zeigler on “Something of Life”

Collaboration and curation

But, maybe that is what “Something of Life” really means, it’s about nothing happening. This acts as an interesting coda to the preceding music where Zeigler, as the soloist, iterates the subjective human experiences of decoding and understanding one another (“Babel”), frustrated desires for quietude (“Listen, Quiet”), or nostalgic yearning for tradition (“Orbit”). Zeigler’s contribution to the solo cello repertoire draws into focus the current state of contemporary classical where the emphasis on flawless and exuberant virtuosity is equally matched by collaboration and curation of contemporary composers.

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