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Assassin Reverie - Riley / Terry Riley, Arte Quartett, Et Al

Release Date: 10/25/2005 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80558   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Terry Riley
Performer:  Terry RileyBeat Kappeler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  ARTE Quartett
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 48 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Terry Riley (b. 1935) has maintained one of the most original profiles of all American composers. He was already guaranteed a place in the history books as the author of In C, a piece which serves as the Sacre of minimalism, and also explores aspects of open form and controlled improvisation in a manner that looks more and more sharp and prescient with the advantage of hindsight. But he’s never been content to rest on his laurels. A true counterculturalist, Riley has always pursued his own bliss, and if that meant, for instance, taking a few years off to study North Indian singing, no sweat. When the Kronos Quartet wanted music from him, they had to pester him until he gave in—following which he wrote a succession of works that opened up Read more “classical” vistas in his practice that most had never suspected were there. In short, he’s been a far more diverse and far-ranging composer than his early reputation would suggest, yet he’s never been particularly eclectic, but rather synthetic. He loves a wide range of music—jazz, world, and classical—and somehow he makes them work together in a manner that reflects the organicity of this love.

This new release is the fruit of his collaboration with the Swiss ARTE saxophone quartet (Beat Hofstetter, soprano; Sascha Armbruster, alto; Andrea Formenti, tenor; Beat Kappeler, baritone). Two of the works, Uncle Jard and Assasin Reverie, were written for this ensemble. Right at the outset, let it be known this is a wonderful group, with a big honking sound as needed, yet capable of creating an extremely pure and sensuous blend as well.

Tread on the Trail is an early work (1965) rearranged for saxophone quartet. It is similar in structure to In C, but has a swinging rhythmic figure built into all its motives, unlike the former’s straighter pulse. It develops enormous momentum, especially when the group converges on a grand unison, animated only by the rhythm. The result is truly elemental. That’s also augmented by the fact that the quartet has tripled itself via overdubbing.

Uncle Jard, 1998, is a pure delight. Again, it’s an earlier work (which was originally in far looser form) re-imagined for Riley at keyboards with the quartet. In the first two movements, Riley also sings, and it’s a “sound for sore ears.” I don’t mean that it is horrible—in fact, just the opposite. Riley has a rough, cowboy/mountain-man voice, but it’s authentic, honest, and his ear is immaculate. The first work, where he accompanies himself on harpsichord, is in North Indian style. The second, a down-and-dirty honky-tonk blues number, speaks of Uncle Jard, an invented figure of the composer’s grandchildren, who they claim “told them to do” any naughty thing. The piece is a charmer, funny and funky, and Riley could almost pass as the great New Orleans pianist Dr. John. The final movement is a whirling dervish, leaving the voice behind to race through its modal landscape.

Assassin Reverie, from 2001, is a post-9/11 piece, and divides clearly into two very different parts. The first is a luscious ballad, rich in jazz harmonies. Then somehow a cataclysm occurs, and an electroacoustic sound montage (realized by Beat Kappeler) emerges that almost annihilates everything in its path. The quartet responds with a free-jazz screech-fest, and only near the end does the original sweet music return, chastened by the disaster that’s ensued. I admit, this work is a little too “trippy” for my tastes, but I still admire Riley’s courage to take risks, and the piece is absolutely memorable, so I have to salute its artistic integrity.

It’s probably good we don’t like everything equally, as that’s an index that an artist is stretching him/herself. I’ve been playing this disc repeatedly, and at least two of the works have got me in their spell. Some will find this over-the-top, too non-classical for their tastes. I think it’s American in the best sense: fresh and familiar, original and rooted, open to the world and grounded in tradition. Riley’s only 70, and I think he’s just warming up.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Uncle Jard by Terry Riley
Performer:  Terry Riley (Voice), Terry Riley (Harpsichord), Terry Riley (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  ARTE Quartett
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; USA 
Length: 19 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Notes: Studio 2, Radio DRS, Zurich, Switzerland (2001 - 2003); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (2001 - 2003) 
Assasin Reverie by Terry Riley
Performer:  Beat Kappeler (Electronics)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  ARTE Quartett
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Length: 18 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Notes: Studio 2, Radio DRS, Zurich, Switzerland (2001 - 2003); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (2001 - 2003) 
Tread on the Trail by Terry Riley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  ARTE Quartett
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964-1965; USA 
Length: 9 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Notes: Studio 2, Radio DRS, Zurich, Switzerland (2001 - 2003); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (2001 - 2003) 

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