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Eastman: Unjust Malaise / Mitoff, Hudson

Release Date: 11/29/2005 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80638   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Julius Eastman
Performer:  Amrom ChodosBenjamin HudsonJoseph FordDennis Kahle,   ... 
Conductor:  Julius Eastman
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Julius Eastman (1940?90) was a total musician: composer, vocalist, pianist. Despite a slight physical build, he was an overwhelming theatrical presence; his performance and recording of Peter Maxwell Davies?s Eight Songs for a Mad King is one of the definitive documents of the postwar avant-garde. By all accounts, he was also an extremely difficult, demanding, and mercurial individual, and this accounts at least in part for the fact that he died relatively young and destitute, even though his list of admirers was legion. And finally, he was black, he was gay, and all the titles in the headnote are his own?he Read more rigorously defended his right to use the ?n? word, and so any offense this now gives in print needs to be directed back to the composer.

Having finished this introduction, I can now state that this anthology of Eastman?s works is a major event. We have here, in three discs at over three hours, a portrait of an artist who most thought was lost to us forever. Eastman was enormously intelligent and sophisticated, but he was idiosyncratic, to say the least, in his systems of notation and archiving of his works. These recordings are one of the few portals back to the recent past that give us a sense of his creative persona, and hopefully they will inspire further musicological work that can unearth and revive more of his ?uvre .

I actually heard Eastman perform live once, in Paris on October 23,1980, at the American Center. I kept a journal of my concert-going that year, and it?s worth taking a moment to quote a much younger me on the topic, reporting fresh from the scene: ?Julius Eastman?passionate work for voice and piano (one and the same), ?Come as you are, my dear, naked and alone,? (descending chromatic scale); mixture of improvisation and written, but impossible to draw the line where? conceived as a whole . Repetitive but not trance music?large blocks alternating with none another (?Pétrouchka? tremolo in r. h. for final movement).?

Listening to the current CD, while the aforementioned work is not on the program, my comments then still seem on the mark to me now. One remarkable thing about my memory of the Paris concert is that I still hear the music as though from yesterday. It had an ?elemental? quality that the works on the New World collection share. Eastman was able to create primal motives that were harmonically concentrated and rhythmically propulsive. He also seems to have been one of the few musicians to take the idea of ?floating? repetitive modules?as first explored in Terry Riley?s In C ?and create a wide range of works from this basic principle. Probably the most successful such works on this collection are the three pieces for four pianos that occupy almost half its length. Recorded from a concert at Northwestern University, they are realizations of pieces that could work with any instrumentation, though Eastman states in introductory remarks (included on the disc) that the ensembles should probably be formed from all the same instruments. All I can say is that the multiple piano medium seems ideal for this music. The resultant powerful percussion drive balances with the full sonority of the instruments to create visceral impact. For me, Evil Nigger is the standout (enhanced by Eastman?s voice shouting the cue ?One, two, three, four!? each time the players arrive at a ?sync point?). But all these pieces are knockouts.

The other works don?t seem quite at the same level, though only one irritates me. Stay on It is for a mixed ensemble, and uses a pop-influenced hook as its motivic anchor. The Holy Presence of Joan d?Arc is a compelling work for multiple cellos similar to the piano pieces, while Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d?Arc is an austere vocalise that gives the one evidence on this set of Eastman?s extraordinary vocal presence. If You?re So Smart, Why Aren?t You Rich? is the only piece to wear on me. Its constantly rising and falling chromatic lines aren?t a problem per se (as Kyle Gann points out in his habitually excellent notes, one can make good music out of any materials, no matter how humble), but rather the orchestration, which pushes brass (especially trumpets) into awkward shrieking registers. Here, we do get into one problem with Eastman?s work. It seems that once he had an idea, he ran with it, but often with a haste that compromised the final product, either in terms of a clear notation that would make future performance easier, or in flaws of basic craft, like the matter of orchestration raised above. Like many strong artists possessed of a clear idea, he may have been impatient with the details of realization, and this will probably be a handicap those wanting to revive and preserve his music will have to face.

But that effort is also clearly worthwhile. Eastman was probably his own worst enemy: the French terms poète maudit , enfant terrible , and provocateur all come to mind, and while they have a romantic aura that intrigues us, they also suggest what was difficult about the man. But there?s also such deep musicality and intense personal vision here that it?s impossible not to be swept away by the work at its best. Eastman represents an important link in the story of early American post-minimalism. Before almost anyone else (again this insight comes from Gann?s notes), he was integrating elements from popular music into the process-oriented practice of classic minimalism. Indeed, the only composer I?m reminded of in terms of sound and technique is Frederic Rzewski, and that comparison is high praise indeed.

The sound from archival concert recordings is more than adequate, and the performances (by a range of the composer?s colleagues and friends, as indicated in the sprawling headnote) are on the edge and on the mark. A heroic rescue, and sure to be on my next Want List.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Stay on It by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Amrom Chodos (Clarinet), Benjamin Hudson (Violin), Joseph Ford (Saxophone),
Dennis Kahle (Percussion), Doug Gaston (Saxophone), Jan Williams (Percussion),
Petr Kotik (Piano), Georgia Mitoff (Voice)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1973; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/16/1973 
Venue:  SUNY at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 
Length: 24 Minutes 20 Secs. 
If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You RIch? by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Michael Pugliese (Chimes), Don Harry (Tuba), Geoffrey Brown (Trumpet),
James Kasprowicz (Trombone), Thomas Miller (Trombone), Lori Noody Osgood (French Horn),
Daniel Wittmer (Violin), Charles Lirette (Trumpet), Akram (Piano),
Benjamin Hudson (Violin), Edward Folger (Chimes), Thomas Sperl (Double Bass),
Paul Schmidt (Double Bass), Philip Christner (Trumpet)
Conductor:  Julius Eastman
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1977; USA 
Date of Recording: 02/11/1979 
Venue:  Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York 
Length: 24 Minutes 29 Secs. 
The Holy Presence of Joan D'Arc: Prelude by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Julius Eastman (Voice)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; USA 
Venue:  Third Street Music Settlement, NYC 
Length: 11 Minutes 43 Secs. 
The Holy Presence of Joan D'Arc by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Chase Morrison (Cello), Abby Newton (Cello), Larry Rawdon (Cello),
David Sabee (Cello), Jodi Beder (Cello), Sarah Carter (Cello),
Barry Gold (Cello), Julie Green (Cello), Christine Gummere (Cello),
Maureen Hynes (Cello)
Conductor:  Julius Eastman
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; USA 
Venue:  Third Street Music Settlement, NYC 
Length: 20 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Gay Guerilla by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Patricia Martin (Piano), Janet Kattas (Piano), Julius Eastman (Piano),
Frank Ferko (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1980; USA 
Date of Recording: 01/16/1980 
Venue:  Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 
Length: 28 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Evil Nigger by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Patricia Martin (Piano), Janet Kattas (Piano), Frank Ferko (Piano),
Julius Eastman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979; USA 
Date of Recording: 01/16/1980 
Venue:  Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 
Length: 21 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Crazy Nigger by Julius Eastman
Performer:  Patricia Martin (Piano), Janet Kattas (Piano), Frank Ferko (Piano),
Julius Eastman (Piano)
Written: circa 1980; USA 
Date of Recording: 01/16/1980 
Venue:  Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 
Length: 55 Minutes 0 Secs. 

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