For a woodwind quintet with classical music at its foundation, the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds is very restless, always working to cross borders in music.At their Fontana concert at Dalton Center Recital Hall April 12, they'll play pieces by European 20th century composer Paul Hindemith, Argentinean tango master Astor Pizzolla, Brazilian composer Julio Medaglia, Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez, and the Imani's flautist and founder Valerie Coleman.
Her "Red Clay Mississippi Delta" is in a classical form, "but what makes it unique, is that it's very bluesy," Coleman said from a tour stop in Hanover, NH.
It was inspired by her mother's family from Mississippi. "When they'd come up to Louisville, Ky., where I'm from, they'd bring up barrels of moonshine, hot tamales and all these southern things that really are a testament to the life of a southerner."
Coleman grew up in the inner-city West End neighborhood. Her mother ran a daycare, and in that nurturing environment, with a "gnarly old organ" and a couple of tape recorders, Coleman became a pre-teen composer. She'd mix what she played on the organ on the recorders, and realized she could create symphonies.
"Now, I didn't say they were very good symphonies," she said. "It really kept my summers busy, in a joyful way."
She joined the public school orchestra, where there were many African-American musicians. Coleman went on to Boston University, and soon noticed she was often the only black person in the orchestra.
Coleman wondered if she could recruit musicians with a "shared background," she said, "to see what kind of interpretations being African-American and Latino would bring to interpretations of classical music."
In 1997, Imani formed out of her efforts. "We soon found out that our tastes just came into the group in entirely different ways of trying to bring in different musics, sounds and rhythms," she said.
"That really fueled the hunger of exploration for us." They gathered a huge repertoire of Middle Eastern, Asian, Latin American and other pieces from "all over the map, because at some point down the line we gave ourselves permission to do this kind of exploration."
In the world of contemporary classical and chamber music, this kind of exploration is becoming common, she said. It's simply "today's music, the music of now. It's really challenging all of those notions, the conventional thoughts and way of music of the past."
It's gotten to the point that musicians and groups looking for audiences and grants are bumping into old borders of the "classical music" definition, and "are having difficulty because so many genres are starting to blend together."
"We define ourselves as a chamber music and classical music advocate -- how far do we go? Because now jazz is really mixing itself into things, and music of different nations," Coleman said.
"I think it's kind of funny -- classical music, American music, is taking this turn toward something without labels, and it's just great because it means that we in Imani Winds are not alone in this exploration."