Clip: Bang On a Can All-Stars
Melodic Inventions, Frenzied to Calm
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Published: December 7, 2006
Bang on a Can, the collective of composers, performers and activists
who champion hip contemporary music, began almost 20 years ago with an
all-inclusive festival. Marathons and festivals are still the main
attractions of this enterprising outfit.
But the festivals are sometimes inclusive to a fault. Concerts by the
Bang on a Can All-Stars, a roster of six elite performers, tend to be
more discriminating, the classy events. The All-Stars program on
Tuesday night at Zankel Hall was no exception. Four of the six new and
recent works performed were inventive and captivating, a high
satisfaction quotient in any field of art.
Fred Frith's beautifully conceived "Snakes and Ladders" is set in
motion with a repetitive series of pensive, bluesy piano chords,
nudged now and then by the bass and electric guitar, and woven through
with melodic bits in the clarinets and cello. What keeps the music
from becoming excessively soothing are staggered rhythms in the
percussion and abrupt melodic flights that keep spiraling upward — the
"Snakes and Ladders" of the title. Eventually the flights turn fitful
and skittish, almost pointillistic, until the piece winds down, thins
out and ends in wistful calm.
The versatile and highly skilled All-Stars — Robert Black (bass),
David Cossin (percussion), Lisa Moore (piano), Mark Stewart (electric
guitar), Wendy Sutter (cello), Evan Ziporyn (clarinets) — seemed
particularly engaged by the next work, two pieces from the "Opere
della Musica Povera" series by Martin Bresnick, a mentor to several
founding members of Bang on a Can, including Mr. Ziporyn. In these
scores, inspired by grimly poignant tales from Kafka, Mr. Bresnick
strives to create astutely structured and organic works using only
"The Bucket Rider," with its delicate pedal tones, murky sonorities
and a chorale-like pattern of pungent chords, was a mesmerizing
prelude to "Be Just!," a breathless work, like some wild toccata that
began and ended with the terrifying thump of rattling chains dropped
upon a bass drum.
Four studies originally created for player piano by the iconoclastic
American composer Conlon Nancarrow, who died in 1997, were heard in
recent arrangements by Mr. Ziporyn. Nancarrow's evocations of
boogie-woogie, swing, wailing jazz, African rhythms and his trademark
frenetic pummeling are made more explicit in these colorful and
effective arrangements, though you lose some of the honky-tonk
plainness of the originals.
The composer and clarinetist Don Byron describes his jazzy, punchy and
pulsating "Show Him Some Lub" as a confessional piece. Mixed into the
instrumental textures are the amplified voices of the performers
giving answers to personal questions about their ancestors, ethnic
backgrounds and aspirations. The audience heard only the answers, not
the questions, so the flow of disconnected words, though affecting,
became just another musical element.
For me Julia Wolfe's "Big, Beautiful, Dark and Scary" was a tiresome
din of perpetual motion and swelling cluster chords. Thurston Moore's
"Stroking Piece # 1" was also blunt, blaring and orgasmic. Both works
shook the place, though, and earned some lusty cheers. I wouldn't be
surprised if the aural onslaught loosened up the granite walls
surrounding this underground hall, just in case Carnegie Hall is
thinking of excavating some more to expand the place.
- Gawd... no wonder the Time Out poll slammed this guy. The people
sitting next to me at the show had a better dialog about the evening.
Wolfe and Moore's pieces were actually roof-raisers and the crowd
responded accordingly. As for their festivals being too
all-inclusive, the last one they had over the summer was otherwise
roundly (and rightly) praised as a triumph.
Perfect Sound Forever- online music magazine since 1993- now new and
MySpace Page: <http://www.myspace.com/perfectsoundmagazine>
Yei Wei Blog aka Wild Taste: <http://yeweiblog.blogspot.com/>
Crazed by the Music blog: <http://blogs.popmatters.com/crazedbythemusic/>