Sunday, July 04, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Endurance Test

JoAnne Brackeen: Keyed In. 1979. Columbia Records: JC 36075 (vinyl).

JoAnne Brackeen: piano
Eddie Gomez: bass
Jack DeJohnette: drums

This is why I keep needles handy for my turntable. Because three dollars at some out of the way vinyl shop turns up an outstanding gem such as this. The rhythm section of Gomez and DeJohnette is a knockout and Brackeen provides both the compositions and pianistic chops to take full advantage of this ensemble. The space afforded to each player as they move smoothly in and out of the focal point makes for an engaging listen. JoAnne Brackeen should figure more prominently on the jazz radar. She has made some great records that stand up extremely well when revisiting them.

Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane. 2007. Skipstone Records: 37101-34642.

Erik Friedlander: cello

I'm already a huge fan of Maldoror, Friedlander's solo cello disc of improvisations inspired by the surrealist poetry of Comte de Lautreamont. Which is dramatically darker and less personal than the inspirations that fuel Block Ice & Propane. A nostalgic reminiscing of family summer road trips of Erik Friedlander's youth. The difference in inspiration comes all the way through to the difference in sound and substance. Block Ice & Propane harnesses improvisation in a completely different direction with episodes that feel composed with many of the interpretive details added by this one of a kind performer. The music has a strong sense of tonal center. With all the contrasts observed between the two solo outings I am already a big fan of Block Ice & Propane. There's a great deal of heart in this music as Friedlander strums, plucks, bows and coaxes a large fiddle out of his instrument.

Morton Feldman: String Quartet No. 2. 2002. Mode Records: 112.

String Quartet No. 2 (1983)
FLUX Quartet
Tom Chiu: violin
Cornelius Dufallo: violin
Kenji Bunch: viola
Darrett Adkins: cello

Feldman's obsession with duration poses a unique set of challenges to the attentive listener. Not to mention the marathon effort called for from the performers. Listening to all six hours and seven minutes of this single movement work in a single sitting is both an invitation and a daunting challenge. The attentive, active listening that I reserve for the HurdAudio Rotation stretches incredibly thin over this activity. It's that endurance state that Feldman's music works within in these elongated works. The penalty for allowing one's mind to drift in and out of the endless sea of unfolding moments is nonexistent.

There is no thematic development unfolding over the course of the journey. The minutes and hours drift by without the faintest hint of melody with material that treats half hours as mere breath. My efforts to concentrate on these textures of string quartet leaving me in an altered state akin to prolonged fasting and meditation. I begin to hear the physical movements and breathing of the performers pulling the bows and plucking the strings as they labor to sustain the taut stillness of this work with its unison entrances and exits.

The use of repetition is striking. It is a non-mechanical form of repetition that bends just beyond predictability or groove. Short phrases and gestures that cycle under their own logic without repeating exactly upon each iteration. Nearly the entire expanse of this music is built upon the subtle differences of shading along a canvas that nearly defies its own frame. Or a landscape that stretches impossibly past its own horizon.

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