3 Album Reviews: Minimalism (Philip Glass, Julius Eastman)

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Julius Eastman – Femenine (2016) – B

For fans of: sleighbells, vibraphones and soup. 30:15 – 31:30 = bliss.

Jace Clayton – The Julius Eastman Memorial Depot (2013) – B+

Wherein Jace Clayton takes two pianists performing two Julius Eastman songs, feeds them into his computer, manipulates the results, spitting out stuff that always resembles the original compositions, but sound completely new, fresh and exciting. Not necessarily better than the ones that appear on Unjust Malaise, just different. You know Eastman, right? The gay, black minimalist who wrote sometimes visceral compositions about being gay and black in America in the 1970s, with titles like “Evil Nigger” and “Gay Guerilla”? You know Clayton, right? The guy who released a critically acclaimed dubstep mix in 2008 as DJ /rupture? The main draw here is “Evil Nigger”, which was a better composition to begin with, and Clayton does more with it than he does on “Gay Guerilla” (I take “Callback from the American Society of Eastman Supporters”, a Clayton original, to be a bonus track); to say “Evil Nigger” is merely Clayton’s interpretation would be underselling it; to say that he makes them his own would be cliche. Regardless of description, I’m sure Eastman would be happy with the results, what, with his improvisational heart. I know I am: the introduction of the skittering figure of anxiety (the main motif of “Evil Nigger”) disintegrates into the tinniest of sounds on Part I; Part II buries the figure under a crescendoing swell of what I presumed to be synths; the first half of Part III features one of the pianist tinkering at the high end, creating a ghastly, haunted house effect; Clayton fills out the empty space from the lack of two pianists on Part IV with static. (I guess I miss the countdowns that lead into the loud boom of four pianists playing in tandem.) Not essential, though I doubt Eastman ever was (I’d place him on the second tier of minimalists, and Unjust Malaise is an exhausting experience). But when I think about the music I’d like to perform on-stage, it’s stuff like what Clayton does here: attempting at elevating old songs with new technology. Last thing: find me a more eclectic musician than one who released a dubstep DJ mix in 2008 and a tribute to a minimalist in 2013, and you get a cookie.

Philip Glass – Dancepieces (1987) – B+

Opened my eyes years ago to the possibility that Philip Glass is danceable, so this one’s a success, no matter how lightweight it is (what, with two cuts from Glassworks and one from Akhnaten padding out the set, which they wouldn’t have needed to do if they performed/recorded the entirety of In the Upper Room). I hear the dance-equivalent of a bildungsroman: a struggling woman (the somber “Dance I”) and her subsequent escape (“Dance II,” with its ringing high notes); building a new life of happiness (“Dance V,” with its triangle); the startling return to her past environment (“Dance VIII”) and her triumph over it (“Dance IX”). Would make for an EP deserving a much higher score.

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