Eighth Blackbird [Matt Albert, Matthew Duvall, Nathalie Joachim, Lisa Kaplan, Nick Photinos, Ken Thomson]
Cedille Records CDR90000 195 [46’02”]
Producer Elaine Martone
Engineer Bill Maylone
Recorded 30 September – 2 October 2019 in the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
A major new work from the three composing members of Bang on a Can, which both fulfils a commission from Eighth Blackbird – among the most enterprising of American ensembles who are devoted to new music – and also finds these composers at something near their best.
What’s the music like?
In an introductory note, David Lang explains how he, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe have often collaborated on projects, but here determined to create something where their own and naturally gregarious personalities were subsumed into a composite whole. The resulting work offers a stern test even for such virtuosic musicians as those in Eighth Blackbird; in addition offering opportunities for their sometime collaborator, the choreographer Susan Marshall, to create a theatrical context for a score whose often stark contrasts belie its modest dimensions.
The first part of These Broken Wings is the most archetypal in its tightly interlocking patterns along with hard, bright sonorities and rhythmic clarity. The music’s near clinically objective progress continues until being suddenly curtailed then replaced by several seconds of silence.
In contrast to the foregoing, The Light of the Dark focuses on not always controlled anarchy. In addition to this ensemble’s regular line-up, instruments such as guitar and accordion take their place in what the composer terms a ‘‘late-night jam session’’. From the swerving drone of its initial cello solo develops an often deliriously OTT interplay, given unlikely definition by the pauses which cut right across the activity and for no other audible reason. The closing stage initially unfolds in a crescendo of velocity before hurtling into a ‘brick wall’ of silence.
The second part of These Broken Wings is very much the ‘slow movement’ in its held chords and ethereal harmonies. An undetermined element is introduced with musicians told to ‘‘drop things when they are not playing’’, as though smearing paint on an otherwise pristine canvas.
The longest and also most intriguing component, Singing in the Dead of Night (seemingly a reference to a certain Paul McCartney song) is also the most varied in its superimposing of distanced and otherworldly timbres that evolve as dissonant cluster-chords, before suddenly exploding in a maelstrom of undirected energy. This duly alternates with more introspective passages, in the process suggesting a kind of morphed variations on those opening chords as ultimately blow themselves apart in what feels an unnerving corollary to nocturnal isolation.
The third part of These Broken Wings restores something of the initial extroversion, with its heady interplay for ensemble. Not that this is wholly a reversion to type, the melodic line that eventually crests the ensemble opening-out the rhythmic activity on its way to a hectic close.
Does it all work?
Yes, in that the level of cohesion between the three component pieces (necessarily) overrides the contrasts between them. It helps, of course, that the members of Eighth Blackbird are in their collective element as regards the rhythmic and co-ordinational intricacies of this music.
Is it recommended?
Indeed, and its relatively short measure no doubt matters less in the post-CD era. The booklet, which includes succinct and informative notes on each piece from its composer, is enhanced by Susannah Bielak’s cover art such as sets almost all the pages in appealingly varied relief.
Listen & Buy
You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Cedille Records website