The Studio for New Music at the Moscow Conservatory conducted by Igor Dronov
Projecting a rather bleak sense of stasis from the onset, Joseph Dangerfield’s The Waves Roll on, Thundering and Shimmering contains several explosions of glistening timbres and melodic fragments that blend into a dark landscape. The music sets listeners adrift to contemplate the delicate sonic filigree, and then slaps us around with some heavyweight climaxes. If you’ve ever driven someplace you’ve never been before enveloped in a dense fog, Dangerfield’s piece is a good candidate for spot-on accompaniment.
The first time I heard Philip Bimstein’s Casino was back in 1999 at the Bang On A Can marathon, but since then it’s left such a visceral impression on me that it’s hard to imagine that until now it has not been available on CD. “EatDrinkGambleSex,” the first movement of this three-part sonic homage to Las Vegas, is as in your face as its title suggests. Scored for wind quintet and a tape track (which combines an interview with a seen-it-all, heard-it-all dice caller and actual sounds from a casino), Bimstein paints a vivid sonic picture of contemporary America with all of its broken dreams and all-too-frequently unchecked desires.
You’ve probably never heard of Joe Jordan (1882-1971), but New World Records has packaged 20 of his songs into this anthology that should get you up to speed before any more times goes by. Though this is a minor portion of his catalog (the liner notes reveal that Jordan composed and conducted dozens of musicals in Chicago and New York and wrote more than six hundred songs), it’s a beautiful recording made by The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra under the baton of Rick Benjamin. “Happiness” is a ballade Jordan wrote with Fred Fisher in 1918, and here it is sung by the soprano and high school English teacher Bernadette Ulrich Boerckel, whose style only adds to the nostalgic grace and charm the simple tune delivers.
What’s so essential about Martin Bresnick? Well, for starters he’s impacted a few decades worth of composition students at Yale. If you subscribe to the old adage that those who can’t do teach, let The Essential Martin Bresnick change your mind. The composer’s String Quartet No. 2, here performed by the Flux Quartet, explores an idiosyncratic take on the medium. Harsh intervals morph into strange aggregates which, in turn, do an ugly-duckling-turning-into-the-swan routine. Bresnick manages to acculturate quite a few alien attributes into the traditional setting, making a hybrid weird enough to standout in the crowd—they never taught us that in school.
Terry Plumeri, bass; David Goldblatt, piano; Joe LaBarbera, drums
Terry Plumeri’s take on “Beautiful Love” gives off the impression that the bassist is squinting at a masterpiece and seeing an entirely new work of art. This being music and not paint, thankfully he can share what he hears inside the standard. His floating bowing style gives the tune a uniquely haunted, wispy quality that’s unlike anything I’ve heard before. The sound is almost vocal. His colleagues at the piano and drums back that vision up with more sonically rooted performances, allowing Plumeri the room to let out all his kite string to enchanting effect.
Amid the Noise is a moody, ethereal, bliss out sort of disc—qualities that are something of a surprise coming, as they are, from a percussion ensemble. But on this outing, So Percussion is playing with the delicate side of the largely tuned percussion in their arsenal. The tracks are lovely, and at this level of minimalist approach, the music risks too easily fading into the background if you’re not mindful. When taken as an album, So Percussion’s 12 tracks (all composed by ensemble member Jason Treuting) might lull the listener so deeply as to loose hold on their ear, but one at a time they are little bits of snowflaky beauty. The nearly seven-minute Go is one of the more complex tracks on the album, making shifts in energy and instrumentation, though the toy piano often commands the timbral palette. There’s even a music video up on YouTube.
Nashville, Tennessee, seems to be an unusual place to be if you’re a composer of electronic music, and Stan Link’s electronic music is in fact very unusual for the genre. Like his mentor Paul Lansky, Link creates electronic landscapes that are more emotional than procedural which makes his music the ideal proselytizing soundtrack to convert folks who think electronic music is too cerebral. Returning is almost neo-romantic, which is admittedly an odd way to describe music created in a studio based on found sound, but give it a listen and you’ll hear what I mean.
Philip Glass, organs; Dickie Landry, saxophones; Joan La Barbara and Gene Rickard, voice
In case you’ve forgotten, Philip Glass changed our lives. Remind yourself by listening to Analog, a collection of early recordings featuring the composer himself tinkling the Farfisa. Yes, it totally sounds retro, but these recording are so well engineered they’re practically radioactive. Take the composer’s “River Run,” part of the suite of pieces he wrote for François de Menil’s film Étoile Polaire about sculptor Mark di Suvero. The music exudes a lively buzz so palatable one can almost hear why the word “new” was inserted before “music” in the first place. Even though it made its big splash decades ago, the music still maintains a freshness, especially if you haven’t heard these pieces in a while—of course, the great re-mastering job doesn’t hurt either.
London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knussen
Characteristically controversial, Charles Wuorinen once said that the two greatest American composers were Schoenberg and Stravinsky. And indeed, both European icons were in fact naturalized U.S. citizens at the time of their deaths. Perhaps no other composer has reconciled the compositional rigour of Schoenberg with the flair and virtuosity of Stravinsky. Wuorinen’s A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky is something of a Rosetta stone for that compositional synthesis. Completed and expanded by Wuorinen from scant sketches Stravinsky was working on at the time of his death, it’s difficult to hear where Stravinsky’s musical contributions end and Wuorinen’s begin. As such, they offer a valuable missing link between the late works of Stravinsky and Wuorinen’s post-1971 oeuvre, particularly his orchestral works, which after hearing this, you might begin to listen to in a completely new way.