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Monday, October 12, 2015

Elliott Sharp, The Boreal

Elliott Sharp has a triple-threat ability that has made him a ubiquitous presence on the New York scene for many decades. He is an avant new music composer of distinction; he is equally heralded in avant jazz circles for his compositions and innovative guitar expressions (he also plays reeds well) and ensemble projects; and he is a figure in avant and blues rock via various projects and his Terraplane band. The post today concerns his new music compositions, with a fine new release entitled The Boreal (Starkland 222).

The album presents four exceptionally fascinating experimental avant works for widely diverse instrumentation. The title work (2008) is for string quartet, "Oligosono" (2004) is for solo piano, "Proof of Erdos" (2006) is scored for chamber orchestra, and "On Corlear's Hook" (2007) is for full orchestral forces.

Elliot Sharp's compositions stand alone as stylistically innovative and singular. They do not fall neatly into the various categories of new music today, except that they are more often in an avant garde mode than they are tonal, minimalist or neo-/post-anything.

"The Boreal" gives us four brisk movements performed spiritedly by the JACK Quartet. The key to the special sound of this work lies in the three bow types utilized by the players: rewound bows, bows with spring sounding surfaces or with metal ball chains. When drawn across the bridge the bows create uniquely vibrant sonarities matched with Sharp's imaginative scoring for a series of micro-rhythmic sound worlds that are as uncanny as they are as palpably Sharpian in their immediacy. The music has to do with the northern climes, sub-arctic and sub-antarctic, the Boreal Period of the Holocene Era, and the Boreal Sea, a part of the earth when the supercontinent Pangaea dominated the earth's geography so many years ago

"Oligosono" (2004) has a motor-rhythmic insistence that is one of the characteristics of Elliott's music at times. Jenny Lin plays the piano part and its extended techniques with a dramatic and indefatigably energetic zest, if you will.

"Proof of Erdos" (2006) played here by the chamber Orchestra Carbon under David Bloom, was inspired by the eccentric, brilliant mathematician Pal Erdos. It realizes a universe of what sounds like freely articulated, interrelated motifs and timbre colors, via mathematical procedures that, in Sharp's words, have to do with "permutations and transformations of pitch, rhythm and timbre, structural proportions."

The final work "On Corlear's Hook" (2007) commemorates for full orchestra (the Janacek Philharmonic under Peter Rundel) a time when Sharp and his partner rented an apartment at the far Lower East Side in Manhattan, a location that as Sharp points out in the liners is filled with very diverse sights and sounds. He builds a musical analogy of the time spent there, not meant to be representative per se but rather as a musical transposition of the experience.

The two larger ensemble pieces have correspondingly more elements and a wider range of sound colors expressed.

All the works here give us some key aspects of Elliott Sharp's special musical sensibilities, his acute sense of innovative sound design, evocative universes that point to themselves while at times evoking thematic sound-images Sharp then transforms and permutes to full structural realizations and varying levels of density and spectral diversity.

The music is absorbing, fascinating and uncompromisingly advanced. Every piece bears a personal stamp of originality that does not quite refer back to the high modernist past nor does it engage directly with the present-day trends in new music. It is Elliot Sharp music, in other words, from 2004-2008. And a very worthwhile thing that is.

Strongly recommended.

The album is available this coming October 30th. You can pre-order on Paste this address into your browser to do that:"

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