As 21st-century musicologists continue to sort out the maze of 20th-century repertoire, a name that hopefully will resurface is George Cacioppo. Another Midwest maverick in the tradition of folks like Kenneth Gaburo and Salvatore Martirano—whose music is slowly being acknowledged as being equally fascinating as the music produced on the two American coasts—Cacioppo was a key voice in the legendary ONCE Festivals of the 1960s. His 1966 Holy Ghost Vacuum or America Faints for solo electric organ is ostensibly written for the organ’s loudspeakers—keyboard and pedal combinations were devised especially to trigger beats and difference tones. In Cacioppo’s own performance, documented on a rare mono reel-to-reel tape from Ann Arbor, the result is beyond creepy; almost a twisted synthesis of late Feldman and the Doors, and predating both.
Tony Atherton, alto sax; Bill Barrett, chromatic harmonica; Joseph Berardi, percussion; Steuart Liebig, contrabassguitars
Think you’ve heard everything? Try some wacked out jazz on chromatic harmonica. Bill Barrett coaxes all sorts of slides and runs out of this usually somewhat technically-limited instrument. In fact, I’m wrong, there’s nothing technically-limited about harmonicas at all if he can pull this off!
Judith Bettina, soprano; James Goldsworthy, piano
Vocal warm-ups will never be the same again thanks to David Rakowski’s delightful series of Encores, works which are as brainy yet playful with singing as his trademark Etudes are with piano playing. On Scatter, Rakowski merges scat singing with melodies derived from pitch mapping the names of the performers.
Luna Pearl Woolf’s “post-Katrina lament for solo cello and a cappella choir” is a four movement, 25-minute work, but I’m stuck in the five-minute second movement. The text is a poem by Eleanor Wilner, written in response to the disaster, and the music is haunting, especially in this section. But it’s a complicated feeling, because despite the horrifying imagery—”through drowned canyons of shanties; what passes, airless, there/past bloated bodies, staring eyes, unseeing”—it’s also heart-ripping but entrancingly beautiful scoring. Cellist Matt Haimovitz draws an emotional wailing and weeping from his instrument without melodrama, and his solo cello manages to securely hold its own against the choir.
The Electric Weasel Ensemble (Allen Strange, Stephen Ruppenthal, David Morse, Music Easel synthesizers; Brenda Hutchinson, pulse control; Donald Buchla, frequency shifting and mix) and Charles Amirkhanian, triangle
The first sounds heard on Johanna M. Beyer’s Music of the Spheres is an unsettling mix of soothing ocean waves and the ominous roars of a mutant lion, which revs everything up for the danse macabre that follows. Theremin-like sine waves weave around one another, occasionally punctuated by the dings of a triangle. Welcome to electronic music circa 1938. It took nearly 40 years before the piece was premiered in—you guessed it—1977. Whoa, talk about composing for the desk drawer.
Depending on how much you enjoy the computers in your life, Nathan Davis’s Crawlspace will either be one of the neatest things you’ve heard in a while or your worst nightmare turned into audio. You see (or rather hear), the composition is based entirely on sounds made inadvertently by the composer’s noisy laptop. An overarching, though extremely subtle, rhythmic sensibility allows Davis, a Brooklyn-based electronics-oriented composer and percussionist (not to be confused with either the Pittsburgh-based jazz multi-instrumentalist or the recently-deceased North Carolinian singer-songwriter) to make it all hold together somehow.
Music from Copland House: Jesse Mills, violin; James Wilson, cello; Michael Boriskin, piano
Though John Musto has had a major publisher for many years and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize nearly a decade ago, until now there have been no commercially available CDs devoted exclusively to his compositions. Music from Copland House more than rights that wrong on a new disc featuring three works written since Musto got that Pulitzer nod. The earliest of these, a Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, remains my favorite. The opening, which hints at a rapprochement between post-minimalism and a latter-day impressionism, is ample proof, if anyone still needs some, that there’s still a lot of great music that can be written for this most conventional of chamber music combinations.
If you like liner notes, there’s plenty to read about here. But don’t expect a bunch of ratios or mathematical relationships. This music involves alternative notation systems and a semi-improvisational approach. What you end up with is a long jam with some left-of-center timbres: Bill Ruyle on tabla, the late-great Arthur Russell (dammit, buy some of his albums already) lends his amplified cello and vocals, and the composer, Peter Zummo, plays trombone. Calling a 20-minute opus such as this a song might go against some sensibilities, but it also hints at the listenability of this oddball concoction.
The New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum
Some years ago there was a joke going around the Internet about twelve-tone Christmas carols which seemed the perfect antidote to the email list from ASCAP of the most widely performed Christmas songs, all almost invariably chock-full of nuthin’ but 1-4-5. So imagine my glee when I discovered George Perle’s 1958 arrangements of two French Christmas carols for unaccompanied chorus on Bridge Records’ new 2-CD retrospective of his oeuvre. Well, don’t expect any yuletide mirror-form hexachords here, but despite its undeniably tonal idiom—it’s unapologetically in G major throughout—Perle’s setting is still a refreshing alternative to the usual seasonal fare. Happy holidays!
Nothing says jazz like a B3, and nothin’ says country like a pedal steel, so what is a girl to do when a band decides to mix and match them both? Everyone seems to be getting in on the “just little bit country” hay wagon these days, so it’s really no surprise that the trend is showing up in the jazz arena as well. J.A. Granelli is making music out of this timbral juxtaposition that sits quite comfortably in its own pasture (okay, I’ll stop with the country girl metaphors), cleanly avoiding the common pitfall in these experiments which results in something of a random pile-on. Maybe it works so well because “Lazy Eye” is a soulful, bluesy track, and there’s nothing as universal as music that sounds like it comes with a side shot of whiskey to help you through your troubles.