Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Christian Wolff: Look She Said (Complete Works for Bass)
Listen to Samples
A fascinating instrument with mixed creative problems
scarecrow | Chicago, Illinois United States | 11/27/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Look She Said" is a suite for the contrabass a rare event in its repertoire its exergue, the music materials are drawn from folk songs,long a humanist dimension of the radical avant-garde,of representation that Wolff has practiced. Here of the five parts, the first, second and fifth draw from the the lullabies "All the Pretty Horses", and "The Grey Goose", a black slave song that migrated (so Wolff tells us) through Southern prisons. It is about a tough heroic creature who keeps returning to life. Also the disarming fiddle tune "Cindy" is utilized here. When you hear pure unadulterated,unembellished melodies played on the contrabass it is indeed a heavy forebearance, a lumbered constitution of timbre,sometimes boring, straighforward,and penumbral here. Wolff gets both lifeworlds of content, that of struggle, of pain, yet immersed in life's challenges of being a slave,of hope. There are some very touching gentle evocative moments here in the utilization of harmonics, this gives a nasal threadbare content to the proceedings.Yet overall the work comes across as convoluted as dense,but without the high modernity focus,as say the high,intense complexity of a Ferneyhough would have imparted to his materials.I know Wolff has his own musical language that is indeed highlt convoluted, unfinished, and complex,more like Charles Ives had lived through the Second World War.
"Jasper" is a tribute to painter Jasper Johns, long a imaginative successful icon within the John Cage lifeworld of expression of creativity here animates Wolff to prepare a fascinating graphic score. This work is in four sections/movements,Long Short,Long Short, so it may suggest some classical shape. Here Robert Black is joined by Violinist Robin Lorentz. The opening here has a "sickly" abandoned, quality to it,painful but not in an expressionistic way, more dry melos. This gives way to extended passages with full utilizations of plucked moments, double stops. Indeed two instruments fill the musical space.The second section here of "Jasper" has more playfullness harmonics yet with the same focused anxiety-ridden melos at work. Johns was an introspective man not easily moved to conversation. He has been known when travelling merely to pack, a pack of cigarettes, a skecthbook and a deck of cards to play solitaire.With Wolff turn to Democratic Socialism as many composers turning to radical forms of politics,and means of expression in the late Sixties Wolff always thought of his music as an educative function,something leftover as well from his earlier creativity situated within the Cage mileau of purposeless purpose. This "String Exercise out of "Bandiera Rossa"" is the earliest work here from 1975, a time when Wolff wrote many studies. But here the work comes across, the gestures are really more as a stepping stone,rather than a completed work. It is not an interesting means, a vehicle as a solo. It was written for Contrabassist virtuoso Fernando Grillo who he had met in Darmstadt in 1974. The tune here "Bandiera Rossa" is like the anthem of the Left in Italy,sung by literally millions over the years. Here the work comes across as tenuous,and is played too straight forward,too convoluted,no freedom of time, of durational pacings. I would have preferred some liberties, some performative freedoms takened. Politics is about freedom,getting it and keeping it so Mr. Black should have improvised on this tune, as Rzewski has done to great affect."Dark as a Dungeon" also from this period weritten in 1977,is from a Merle Travis tune about Kentucky coal miners. The interesting aspect here is that the tune never appears directly,but more its outline,which is a wonderfull way of handling folk materials. Of these political composers, Rzewski, Cardew, Smith, if you follow their work it has been a renewed art of arrangement of the utilization of folk materials in fascinating ways. This was also a subversive alternative to the coldly abstract concotions of the avant-garde at the time, namely Berio(who also tried his hand at fold stuff,but erasing the political content, more for its coffee-table conversational value).Here in this version (I've heard another for Bb Clarinet solo) a trombone is added,played herein by Julie Josephson. The result is a lumbering like piece, deeply lyrical,yet too self-consciousthere is no sense of the magical,of the image, but too fragmented adhering to leftover modernity. I would think one ,a composer would let the mysteries, and magical dimensions of a tune to allow it to work its own charmes. But Wolff here is interested in the fragmented moment,and the graphic interface and topologies of what is on the page, rather than what is actually heard.This fragmentariness to my ears grows somewhat thin musically very quickly.At one point there is a stupid call and response area. I don't know if this was to be "tongue n'cheek" humor or not, perhaps parenthetical in musical import.And the trombone at times seems like it is simply filling space for no purpose. It wasn't timbrally interesting, and the trombone phrasings fell into the time honored trap of sounding "Wah-Wah,Wah", rather than a crisper more precise articulation."I like to think of Christian Wolff" as an interesting mixed creatorhad departed the Cage mileau, if in fact he conceptually did,if in fact he did we need more thought then when folk melos is utilized,and placed at the service of the musical proceedings otherwise the tune is merely nothing, homo sacer, a sacrificed object, abjected to what?, to high modernity. I thought that is what this radical movement implied, holding the achievements of modernity(John Cage, indeterminacy,graphic notation) at a distance.When Wolff allows its/his materials to work its/their own charms as in his "Piano Preludes", the results are wonderful, like storming the heavens.
Lastly, the Untitled" for Electric Bass, was like a warm up exercise more for its ecucative value than musical, and it didn't exploit or engage the timbral extensions possible with the electrification."