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Bang on a Can - Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint; Eight Lines; Four Organs

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This is a record that serves two purposes: first to offer a retrospective of Steve Reich's work over the course of three decades and second to showcase the strength and virtuosity of New York's contemporary ensemble Bang on a Can. Both are extraordinary. The disc opens with Reich's "New York Counterpoint" (1985), scored for clarinet and recording tape. The score indicates that the performer is to lay down 11 tracks and perform live over them in performance. The modern recording process generally running along these lines anyway, a recording of said work is not so novel. The music, however, is exquisitely performed and has a sweetness of sound uncommon to Reich's work -- at the same time manic and busy -- very jazz-inflected and swinging. Reich's "Eight Lines" (1983) follows, being a revision of 1979's "Octet." One of the most complex and fascinating works in his catalog, "Eight Lines" -- scored for two pianos, two string quartets, flute, piccolo, and clarinets -- weaves a dense fabric of music where melodies emerge, interlock, and sing. Its 5/4 time signature resists mental subdivision, making the composition appear seamless from beginning to end. Based on Jewish sounds of cantillation, this piece builds melodies one note at a time, making the listener hear a melody emerge that they have actually been listening to for some time; a remarkable work. The disc closes with "Four Organs" (1970), a 16-minute piece comprised of one chord. Interesting on its own merits for its playfulness with the way listeners hear, this piece does not stand up to repeated listenings. In fact, repeated listenings may give the listener a headache. The piece begins with four organists playing a single chord, repeated twice per phrase with simple pulsing maracas to keep the tempo. As this pattern repeats, single notes extend beyond the chords either preceding it or following it until the latter half of the piece, when the seemingly amorphous gel of sound is continuous and static. The second performance of this piece in 1973 resulted in a near riot, with audience members shouting at one another and one lady banging on the stage with a shoe in an attempt to stop the music. Those who listen to Reich's music will undoubtedly have a more patient ear but will likely program this track out of the mix. A highly recommended recording. ~ Mark W. B. Allender

1) New York Counterpoint, for clarinet, bass clarinet & tape~Fast - Evan Ziporyn (05:03)
2) New York Counterpoint, for clarinet, bass clarinet & tape~Slow - Evan Ziporyn (02:44)
3) New York Counterpoint, for clarinet, bass clarinet & tape~Fast - Evan Ziporyn (03:22)
4) Eight Lines (revision of "Octet"), for chamber orchestra - Bang On A Can (17:37)
5) Four Organs, for 4 electric organs & maracas - Bang On A Can (15:53)

Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint; Eight Lines; Four Organs
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Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint; Eight Lines; Four Organs | Bang on a Can