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Mackey: Heavy Light / Mosaic, Et Al

Release Date: 07/27/2004 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80615   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steven Mackey
Performer:  Emma TahmizianZizi MuellerMichael FinckelDaniel Druckman,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mosaic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Steven Mackey has a rock background like Tüur, and when he plays electric guitar figurations in Heavy Light from this deftly played and atmospherically recorded New World CD, that background comes to the fore, or at least to the middle-ground. He says he is using rock as a form of vernacular, or folk-reference, in a serious context. So sometimes, think Zappa. Mostly, though, the three works here sound like serious, witty, chromatic chamber music, with the whole of the last century on board. Manfred Eicher might consider Mackey for ECM.

After a few hearings, the over-riding impression is of intelligence, sly wit, lucid construction, and acute sonic imagination; rhythmic drive is offset by harmonic acerbity, though your
Read more foot will often tap. Daniel Druckman’s percussion battery stars in Micro-Concerto, with a fine vibes solo in Interlude 1. As with Indigenous Instruments, the basic ensemble is that used by Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire for which Mackey wished to write “something more lively” rather than expressionistic. The words come from the composer’s booklet note, which is disarmingly frank and very informative—the best I have read from New World. The notes are available in full at the New World Web site, and would make a good introduction: www.newworldrecords.org.

The Mackey sound world invokes Americana, from Crumb, to Harrison, to Partch, and he manages ensemble-funk better than Reich. Michael Finckel’s cello detunes in Instruments for a memorable dialogue, especially with Emma Tahmiziàn’s piano and Zizi Mueller’s flute in the last movement, “Mesmerizing, strange, dark, funky.” Michael Lowenstern’s clarinet is, thankfully, not asked to make nasty, loud, overblown noises, while Shem Guibbory’s violin presents a whole cast of characters. The Soldier and his Tale are closer than Moony Pete, and the Symphony in Three Movements casts a rhythmic shadow, for example in “Second Crossing” from Heavy Light. It is astonishing how pervasive the Stravinsky influence has become in the last 20 years, but this is an outstanding movement on its own terms. Whatever the dead influences, Mackey’s music has the feeling of a live event, no matter how many times you hear it. He wields an axe very proficiently, too, though he doesn’t really rock out in this context, even evoking a sitar in Heavy Light. I’d love to hear more of his guitar-playing, but his composing voice is driven by a very, very sharp brain indeed, matched to an ultra-discerning ear.

I hope I have given some idea of whether or not you’re going to like this CD, which is mostly subtle and quiet in its effect. Reviewers can only give interim reports on new music and account for their own engagement with the work. Only after six or seven hearings did I realize that I was likely to play Heavy Light quite frequently in the future, just because I liked it and felt uplifted and more fascinated every time. This does not always happen with new releases. I’m sure many “interesting” discs gather dust, once say has been said. Be advised, though, that I do like the work of all the other people name-checked above. If you do too, then Mackey may also find a welcome on your shelf.

--Paul Ingram, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Heavy Light by Steven Mackey
Performer:  Emma Tahmizian (Piano), Zizi Mueller (Flute), Michael Finckel (Cello),
Daniel Druckman (Percussion), Steven Mackey (Electric Guitar)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mosaic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Fine Hall, Princeton, New Jersey 
Length: 36 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Micro-Concerto by Steven Mackey
Performer:  Emma Tahmizian (Piano), Zizi Mueller (Flute), Daniel Druckman (Percussion),
Michael Lowenstern (Clarinet), Michael Finckel (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mosaic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Fine Hall, Princeton, New Jersey 
Length: 18 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Indigenous Instruments by Steven Mackey
Performer:  Zizi Mueller (Flute), Michael Lowenstern (Clarinet), Shem Guibbory (Violin),
Michael Finckel (Cello), Emma Tahmizian (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mosaic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Fine Hall, Princeton, New Jersey 
Length: 18 Minutes 31 Secs. 

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