Steve Reich on ECM

Steve Reich

The ECM Recordings

Steve Reich and Musicians

ECM New Series 3xCD 2540-42

 

After some one-off studio LPs for a variety of imprints, composer Steve Reich found his first label “home” with ECM Recordings (his second, Nonesuch, came after this triptych of recordings). Initially known primarily as a jazz label, ECM had decided to diversify its offerings to include classical artists such as Reich and Meredith Monk. The first of Reich’s ECM recordings, Music for Eighteen Musicians, sold more than 100,000 copies, which certainly encouraged producer Manfred Eicher to continue to take on ambitious classical projects, ultimately starting the New Series in 1984 to present Tabula Rasa, the first recording in a long term collaboration with Arvo Pärt.

The Reich reissues contain an informative set of liner notes by Paul Griffiths, who helps to provide valuable context for these works as part of Reich’s output. Music for Eighteen Musicians is a totemic Reich work, and the performance here is authoritative, lively, and dramatically paced. Its successor, Music for Large Ensemble, luxuriates in an expanded sonic palette with a greater number of winds and strings. Violin Phase is a holdover from Reich’s early style of patterned “phase music,” while Octet hews close to Music for Eighteen, providing a taut sound world filled with contrapuntal excursions set against Reich’s ubiquitous ostinatos. Whereas Violin Phase is a backward glance, Tehillim looks forward to Reich’s many texted works of the 1980s and beyond. That said, its use of canonic drums and clapping also bring it full circle to the composer’s early experiments. Another connection: the titular psalm texts are rendered by four sopranos, put in a similar register to that of the singers in Music for Eighteen Musicians. While also sustaining substantial growth and departures, Reich’s repertoire is filled with connections such as these. The ECM box may not tell the full story of his music, but it sketches the outlines of its trajectory in admirable fashion.  

Anthony Braxton – 3 Compositions (CD Review)

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Anthony Braxton

3 Compositions (EEHMH) 2011

Firehouse 12 3xCD/blu-ray/digital

Anthony Braxton: composer, sopranino, soprano, and alto saxophones, iPod;
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, trumpbone, iPod;
Mary Halvorson: guitar, iPod;
Jessica Pavone: violin, viola, iPod;
Jay Rozen: tuba, iPod;
Aaron Siegel: percussion, vibraphone, iPod;
Carl Testa: bass, bass clarinet, iPod

“As a culture, we are slowly moving away from target linear experiences that are framed as stationary constructs that don’t change on repeated listening, to a new world that constantly serves up fresh opportunities and interactive discourse. American people have made it clear that the new times will call for dynamic inter-action experiences.”

  • Anthony Braxton

Compositions 372, 373, and 377 are the next phase in Braxton’s use of recorded sounds as part of the musical fabric of his work. Each of the musicians playing on the recording is not only responsible for their respective instruments; they are each also equipped with an iPod on which they can call up past Braxton recordings to add to the proceedings. While one might expect a fair bit of chaos from this approach, the results are surprisingly focused. Recorded when Braxton was sixty-five, his skills as a player remain undiminished in their vitality and improvisational acumen. Correspondingly, his collaborators possess, to a person, both strong vantage points and enviable chops.

The compositions on display here are filled with swaths of variegated textures. One of the cool things about the addition of the iPods is that different instruments than those possessed by the live cohort get to take solo turns. Thus, we hear voices and piano interject asides amid the vigorous exertions of the players. As a trope on listening in the digital age, with the dangers of information overload and the distractions of an increasingly saturated environment rife with visual and sonic information competing for attention, this current Braxton project is certainly a successful experiment. But the ability of the players to pace their exchanges, exquisitely varying the saturation level of the discourse, also allows listeners a way to recalibrate that is most musically compelling. Recommended.

Happy 90th Birthday Pierre Boulez

Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez turns ninety today. This year will see a number of celebrations of his nonagenarian status. Two boxed sets by recording labels with which he has long been associated up the ante for audiophiles.

Pierre Boulez – 20th Century (DG 0289 479 4261 0) is a 44 CD boxed CD featuring Boulez conducting a panoply of music by 20/21 composers: Bartók, Berg, Birtwistle, Debussy, Ligeti, Messiaen, Ravel, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Varèse, Webern, and Boulez himself. Handsomely yet snugly packaged, it will fit well on the shelf of any enthusiast of modern music. The set was released in February as a limited edition.

March 31st sees the release of Pierre Boulez: The Complete Erato Recordings (Erato 0825646190485), a 14 CD collection. It includes recordings by Xenakis, Donatoni, Grisey, Dufourt, Ferneyhough, Harvey, Höller, and others. These more recent compositions make the boxed set an excellent and complementary companion to the DG set.

Is the prospect of nearly sixty CDs a bit too daunting a starter kit or refresher course? Then perhaps you might prefer Harmonia Mundi’s flash sale. Over at HM’s USA site, you can pick up the Wergo recording of Boulez’s early but essential Structures (WER 6011).

However you choose to celebrate Boulez’s birthday, do celebrate. The contributions he has made to 20/21 concert music can scarcely be measured – even on 57 CDs!