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Anthony Coleman: Lapidation

Coleman, Mcdonald
Release Date: 12/11/2007 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80593  
Composer:  Anthony Coleman
Performer:  Joseph Kubera
Conductor:  Anthony Coleman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Retake Iowa
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



COLEMAN Lapidation. East Orange. 1 I Diet on Cod. 2 Mise en Abîme. The King of Kabay Anthony Coleman, cond; Various musicians; Joe Kubera (pn); 1 Retake Iowa 2 NEW WORLD 80593 (50:13)


I actually met Anthony Coleman (b. 1955) back in the day. It was summer of 1981, and we were both attending the Read more composition seminar at the Centre Acanthes in Aix-en-Provence, that year directed by Mauricio Kagel. He was just out of school having gotten his master’s at Yale, and was funny, energetic, charmingly profane. The young French loved him, in part because he was the “noble savage” American of their dreams. I saw him again a little later in New York, where he was beginning a long and fruitful career as a pianist in the downtown improvising scene. He was already playing with John Zorn and introduced me to him in the record store where Zorn worked as a clerk.


I’ve seen Coleman’s name around for years, and so I was eager to listen to this collection of his work. From the outset he’s worked what fellow composer Lee Hyla aptly describes as the jazz/classical dichotomy, blending elements of jazz harmony, orchestration, and improvisation with modernist notation and gestures. Overall, he’s quite fluent at it. I think he has a great harmonic ear; the pitches and chords always make sense. The music owes a lot to Varèse, in that often Coleman sets up a large vertical sonority, a type of scale stretched up like a ladder, then parses it out in individual notes or small motives to different instruments, finally animating it a little like a mobile or wind chime. Because he’s also got jazz in the blood, one feels a little like Varèse is mixing it up in these pieces with such as Monk and Mingus.


The works I like best are the shortest and the oldest. East Orange (2007), played by the estimable Joe Kubera, is a concise piano work that distills this practice into knotty, swinging outbursts. Cecil Taylor mixed with Webern in this case. The King of Kabay (1988) is a direct homage at its start to Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments , and develops a real energy over time, in part because Coleman allows these wonderful musicians some latitude to improvise.


And that leads to what’s missing for me. The other works, at least according to Hyla, are completely notated, and somehow they feel a little thin to me, missing in detail and the energy it would give. It’s particularly frustrating, because I know Coleman can swing. It’s almost as though there’s too much respect for notation here, and it’s holding back the music. Lapidation (2002) actually sounds very similar in its materials to The King of Kabay; I Diet on Cod (2007) has the jazziest sound; and Mise en Abîme (1997) is by far the most “Webernesque,” which I felt immediately and then read from Hyla that Coleman begins the piece with the famous chord at the start of Schoenberg’s Farben from the Five Pieces for Orchestra (this is the movement that created the idea of building a piece from a single sonority, creating development by change of color). They all are the products of a fertile imagination, a wide-ranging musical knowledge and curiosity, and a fine ear. And they all sound a little “underwritten” to me.


Two of five are hits, I think. I’ll be glad to hear more, and I especially respect Coleman’s course and aesthetic choices. I’d personally like to see him mix it up in the next release more between “the raw and the cooked,” where I think his most interesting expression seems to lie.


The performances strike me as about as definitive as one can get. Because the players for all the large ensemble pieces but I Diet on Cod come from a floating pool of musicians in the downtown scene who morph from one project to another, they blur from piece to piece on this release in a way that would cause headnote hell if I listed them there. So here they are en masse for those three works: Doug Wiesleman and Ned Rothenberg, clarinets; Marty Ehrlich, saxophone and clarinets; Gareth Flowers, trumpet; Christopher Macintyre and Jacob Garchick, trombone; Stephen Gosling, piano; Ted Reichman, accordion; Jim Pugliese, percussion; Marco Capelli, guitars; Kevin Norton, Cornelium Dufallo, violin; Dan Barrett, cello; Sean Conly and Ken Filiano, bass. As the only named group, Retake Iowa is: Ahsley Paul and Chris Veilleux, alto saxophone; Dana Jessen, bassoon; Matt Plummer, trombone; Christopher McDonald, piano; Cory Pesaturo, accordion; Jameson Swanagon, electric guitar; Ben Davis, bass; and Eli Keszler, drums.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1. Lapidation by Anthony Coleman
Conductor:  Anthony Coleman
Period: 20th Century 
2. East Orange by Anthony Coleman
Performer:  Joseph Kubera (Piano)
3. I Diet on Cod by Anthony Coleman
Conductor:  Anthony Coleman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Retake Iowa
Period: 20th Century 
4. Mise en Abîme by Anthony Coleman
Conductor:  Anthony Coleman
Period: 20th Century 
5. The King of Kabay by Anthony Coleman
Conductor:  Anthony Coleman
Period: 20th Century 

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