Best Album Featuring the Work of a Chicago-Based Composer

Lee Hyla, My Life on the Plains (Tzadik)

Critics' Picks

Lee Hyla has been the Harry and Ruth Wyatt Professor of Theory and Composition at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music since 2007, and in that capacity he's helped nurture the ongoing bloom of fierce, forward-looking contemporary-classical ensembles in Chicago. But he also writes gripping music of his own, something he makes vibrantly clear on the recent My Life on the Plains. The CD collects three works performed by Boston's Firebird Ensemble, each of which draws from a very different source of inspiration: Polish Folk Songs is a jaunty, jump-­cutting three-part suite adapting music that Hyla fell in love with on a visit to the town of Zakopane; Field Guide is a musical conversation involving the songs of birds from around the globe; and the title piece, named after the autobiography of George Custer, is a marvel of recycled and mutated riffs, rigorous unison passages, and piano clusters worthy of Cecil Taylor.