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A Sweeter Music / Sarah Cahill

Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Other Minds Records   Catalog #: 1022   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Terry RileyMeredith MonkFrederic RzewskiKyle Gann,   ... 
Performer:  Sarah Cahill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Residents
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A SWEETER MUSIC Sarah Cahill (pn) OTHER MINDS 1022-2 (78:20)

RILEY Be Kind to One Another (Rag). MONK Steppe Music: Excerpts. RZEWSKI Peace Dances. GANN War Is Just a Racket. STONE Sonamu. Read more class="COMPOSER12">KLINE The Long Winter. ONO Toning. THE RESIDENTS _drum no fife

During the past decade, dismayed by the war in Iraq, pianist Sarah Cahill called on several contemporary composers and asked them to compose what might be called “protest music” for her to perform. Eighteen works resulted, and according to Cahill’s booklet note, those not found here will be recorded for later release. A Sweeter Music premiered at UC Berkeley in 2009, and traveled all over the United States. This recording is not live, however, but was made in 2013 at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Right off the bat, one has to praise the relevance of this project, even if the results are somewhat mixed. There’s no reason why music can’t be political. If you don’t like the message, listen to something else. Cahill is a fine musician and I believe she gets everything that there is to get out of these pieces. (To be fair, I must state that I have nothing to compare these performances to, as all of these are world premiere recordings.) Cahill is a new music specialist, and her discography (for New Albion, Cold Blue Music, New World Records, and other labels) includes music by Ornstein, Blitzstein, and Cowell. (That sounds like a law firm!)

There are no grand anti-war statements in the manner of Britten and Haydn to be heard here. The mood is mostly meditative, although the “Crash” movement of Phil Kline’s The Long Winter is dizzyingly violent, and there is a detectable wryness in the two works including the spoken word, those being Kyle Gann’s War Is Just a Racket and The Residents’ drum no fife . (Cahill herself is the narrator in the former, and one of The Residents narrates the latter.) War Is Just a Racket uses a text from 1933 by General Smedley Butler. Butler’s text is interesting enough, but Gann’s music, which supports it and comments upon it, doesn’t really add all that much to it, except in a mickey-mousing kind of way. I can remember when The Residents were making excitingly weird records such as Duck Stab and Third Reich ‘n’ Roll , but then they lost their edge. drum no fife consists of a series of spoken commonplaces (“Everybody wants to love their mother, don’t they?” and so on) that add up to who knows what over the course of nine minutes. The Vince Guaraldi-like piano part actually is more interesting. Another work in the “thanks, but I’ll pass” category is Yoko Ono’s Toning , which is 6:31 of what your piano sounds like when the tuner is checking his or her work. “The ascending harmonies and their minimal connective notes, thereby, wake up the healthy vibration of the parts of the body,” we read, “while each part responds to the musical notes and harmonies necessary for its healing.” That may be true, but György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata cleared out my sinuses. Top that, Yoko Ono!

On the other hand, there is some great stuff here, including the disc’s opener, which is Terry Riley’s Be Kind to One Another (Rag) , a nearly 13-minute work in which initially simple material is developed, evolved, and varied in a way that makes it sound like an organic life-form. Meredith Monk’s Steppe Music is represented by an eight-minute excerpt from its 30-minute whole, but it doesn’t sound fragmented or inconclusive. It’s a quiet, thoughtful landscape in which the listener is encouraged to listen closely. Rzewski’s seven Peace Dances are occupied by hazy recollections of traditional tunes, but each dance is too short to lose its way, and the often dreamy (but not somnolent) atmosphere gives the listener room for his or her imagination. Carl Stone’s Sonamu uses the composer’s live electronics to draw a haunting veil over and around the pianist. Those with active imaginations may hear voices. Finally, in Phil Kline’s The Long Winter , the aforementioned “Crash” is followed by the haunted and hushed “Embers.” (Although this work was not directly inspired by the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and its aftermath, Kline admits the aptness of the association after the fact.) Elegiac stuff, this, but without the slightest trace of corn syrup, thank goodness.

A Sweeter Music is a bit of a mixed bag, then. Still, the concept is important, and Cahill’s pianism is of the most delicate and subtle sort, so I feel a thumbs-up is deserved.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Be Kind to One Another by Terry Riley
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Written: 2008/2010 
Steppe Music: Excerpt(s) by Meredith Monk
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Peace Dances by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Written: 2007-2008 
War Is Just a Racket by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Written: 2008 
Sonamu by Carl Stone
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Written: 2010 
The Long Winter by Phil Kline
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Written: 2009 
Toning by Yoko Ono
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Written: 2008 
drum no fife by The Residents
Performer:  Sarah Cahill (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Residents
Written: 2008 

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