COLD BLUE TWO • Various Performers • COLD BLUE CB0036 (58:10)
LENTZ Celli. MARSHALL Son of Soe-Pa. SCHROEDER Another Shore. COX Later. C. SMITH Sometimes the Sword of Seven. J. L. ADAMS Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Sky with Four Suns. R. MILLER Come out, sit awhile; break the bottle, and you is lost. BRYARS It Never Rains. FINK Prelude to Alone. TENNEY Mallets in the Air. POLANSKY Eskimo Lullaby. GARLAND Nights in the Gardens of Maine. ROSENBOOM Hymn of Change. J. FOX Colorless sky become fog
My colleagues Peter Burwasser and Raymond Tuttle have already reviewed this disc in the previous issue, and I have no complaints about their views. I just wanted to throw in a few amplifying remarks of my own, because I find this a striking release, that has more significance beyond its apparent surface.
Cold Blue is a plucky little label, under the dedicated stewardship of Jim Fox, that’s been advancing a very definite aesthetic and consistently advocating a set of composers over the years. As such it performs an important service to the cause. At first glance, this anthology looks like a sampler, but it’s much more. None of these works have been recorded on previous Cold Blue releases (I believe), and many have been written especially for this collection. As a result, it’s an unusually recent, fresh, and wide-ranging “group portrait.”
It’s worth pointing out a little bit of history here. So many and varied tides of innovation, revolution, and counterrevolution have swept over the musical landscape for the past century or so, that by now the waters are muddied, but interestingly so. The rule of high Eurocentric Modernism in the U.S. began to crumble in the 1960s, with the double whammy of Minimalism and postmodernism, led by composers as different as Steve Reich and William Bolcom. But before this clash, there were other and earlier important American traditions, in particular experimentalism (usually associated with Cage and his school), and the ultramodernist “mavericks” (think Ives, Cowell, Ruggles, Crawford). These strains were the first, even before the Minimalism of Riley and Young, to advance a West Coast aesthetic, which was looser, more Pacific-oriented, and less afraid of overt evocations of beauty.
And so this emphasis on experiment combined with beauty has become a unifying thread for a generation of mostly West Coast composers, generally in their 50s. To take just one example from this disc that I love, Philip Schroeder’s Another Shore has the glistening rain of celesta (with digital delay), but rigorously structured according to the Fibonacci series. John Luther Adams is another who often uses strict process to achieve effects parallel to natural processes, at times “sublime.” James Tenney (no longer with us) is one of the closest “ancestors” to this school, and his piece for string quartet and Harry Partch’s “Diamond Marimba” is a gentle but bracing tour through the overtone series in just intonation.
Not all composers are such formalists. There are some who achieve effects of great complexity through increasingly dense digital overlays (Marshall, Smith). Others are firmly committed to an ideal of simplicity through repetition, deriving from both popular musics and Minimalism (Bryars, Fink, Fox). Some are seemingly simple, yet also subtly unpredictable (Lentz, Cox, Bryars). And finally there is a trio of surprises towards the end. Larry Polanksy, Peter Garland, and David Rosenboom have written some highly complex, algorithmic music in their day. Yet these brainiacs give us a series of folk songs for the future. Polansky has a gentle tune in just intonation for guitar and voice, based on Inuit song; Garland (who’s moved from New Mexico to Maine) gives us a sort of sea shanty for solo accordion; Rosenboom contributes a tonal hymn that Ives would have been happy to get his hands on. All this goes to prove that these composers are truly “experimental” in their willingness to break any stereotype that might be settling upon them.
The performances are consistently lovely and sensitive. I came out of the listening not only refreshed, but with a much stronger sense of this aesthetic, and how it continues to grow and mature in the hands of these composers. Highly recommended.