The Country & Western Big Band Suite
Commissioned by Ballroom Marfa, The Country and Western Big Band Suite was the first installment of The Marfa Triptych, three portraits of West Texas envisioned by Graham Reynolds. The project was an instrumental suite for 14 players, described by Reynolds as “classic instrumental country meets Western soundtrack meets power jazz rhythm section.” The project culminated in a live performance at the Crowley Theater in 2014 and a full-length album released in November of 2019.
The album features legendary country guitarist Reid Volkaert (Merle Haggard), the celestial pedal steel of Ricky Davis (Dale Watson), and adventurous contemporary string quartet Invoke, all alongside a horn and rhythm section comprised of several of Reynolds’ longtime cohorts. The opening track “Good Morning, Marfa” evokes the warmth of the sun emerging over the peaks of the Davis Mountains and introduces one of the album’s central musical themes. The up-tempo train anthem of “Union Pacific” pairs nicely with the rollicking ranch and cattle themed “Stampede.” “Highway 67” conveys the majestic and ethereal dip south from interstate 10 just past Fort Stockton, which geographically continues on to the Mexican bordertown of “Ojinaga.” Dazzling and virtuosic guitar work courtesy of Redd Volkaert is highlighted on “Redd Redd Redd” and “Goat Herd.” The string quartet “Runaway” builds on the earlier ride on the rails, while “The Uninhabited” mixes western soundtrack with the often-overlooked keyboard sorcery of Graham Reynolds; a meditation on the vast and rugged West Texas landscape that is also apparent on “The Chihuahuan Desert.”
The project was inspired by Reynolds’ trips from his base in Austin, Texas to the high desert grasslands of Far West Texas. His approach combines local musical traditions – from cowboy songs and Southern jazz to the norteño music of Northern Mexico – with a personal perspective that comes from years of scoring film, theater and modern dance performances.
Reynolds spent a significant amount of time working with Ballroom Marfa to coordinate research trips throughout the region. His itinerary included visits with musicians, historians, storytellers, artists and local legends from Terlingua, Alpine, Presidio, Shafter, Fort Davis, Valentine, Marfa and other far-flung locales in the Big Bend region.
The Marfa Triptych
The Marfa Triptych is three portraits of West Texas as envisioned by Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds. The multimedia, genre-hopping trilogy of performances is inspired by Reynolds’ interest in the intermingled populations of the Texas-Mexico border regions, from ejido to ranch to the visual arts community.
The first installment in The Marfa Triptych wasThe Country & Western Big Band Suite.
Reynolds performed the second composition, a live score to the desert sunset, on October 4, 2014, at the Overlook at Mimms Ranch in Marfa, Texas. Among an intimate audience of 60, Reynolds played acoustic piano and various percussion instruments as the sun set and the moon rose.
The final piece in the Triptych, Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance, was an experimental chamber opera for two singers and six instrumentalists using a hybrid of compositional techniques, including looping and sampling, overdubbed layers of vocals, improvisation mixed with notation, remixes by Mexican electronic artists, and devised theater staging and conception practices. A culmination of the themes developed in the first two sections, Pancho Villa reflected the Mexican and Mexican-American impact on the region, the permeability of borders, and the limitations of our concept of delineated states.
Called “the quintessential modern composer” by the London Independent, Graham Reynolds composes and records music for film, theater and performance with collaborators ranging from Richard Linklater and Jack Black to DJ Spooky and Ballet Austin. His film projects include scores for Before Midnight, Bernie, and A Scanner Darkly. With the Golden Arm Trio, Reynolds has toured the country and released four critically acclaimed albums; he is co-artistic director of Golden Hornet Project, which has produced over 50 concerts by more than 60 contemporary composers; he is a member of the Rude Mechs theater collective; and he is the resident composer with Salvage Vanguard Theater.
The Marfa Triptych has been made possible through the support of Texas Commission on the Arts and Ballroom Marfa members.
Special thanks to Jennifer Bell, The Big Bend Sentinel, Adam Bork, Michael Camacho, Primo Carrasco, Rob Crowley, Tim Crowley, the Crowley Theater, Boyd Elder, Chris Hillen, Hotel Paisano, Tim Johnson, the Long Center, Carlos Lujan and Cochineal, Marfa Public Radio, Marfa Recording Company, Alex Marks, Tom Michael and the Thunderbird Hotel.