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Jason Eckardt Ensemble 21

After Serra; Polarities; Tangled Loops; A Glimpse Retraced

Mode 137 [2001-2003; 63 mins] http://www.mode.com/main.html

Jason Eckardt (b.1971) is an American composer new to me who composes exhilarating music that is easier to enjoy than to write about. His many influences have included advanced jazz, gagaku, Webern (whose discovery was a turning point and catalyst for him) and the new complexity (studies with Dillon, Ferneyhough and several other luminaries).

The influences have been assimilated rather than being juxtaposed, and there is a feeling of conviction - he knows exactly what he wants to convey and how to do it, even though the methods are likely to be far from obvious to listeners.

After Serra seeks to echo the sculptor's precarious balance 'verging on collapse' (see cover illustration) with aggressive, volatile outbursts giving way to emergence of the instrumentalists as soloists, but without final stability being achieved. In Polarities the instruments are 'drawn to and away from each other in myrias ways', frenetic activity giving way to final stasis. Tangled Loops celebrates the virtuosity of Coltrane, Parker & Dolphy, with overlapping reappearaances of material and furious uninhibited virtuosity at the limits of possibility. A Glimpse Retraced is for five instruments, four of them accompanying the piano in permutated combinations, duets comprising the most extended passages.

It is all music which grabs and holds attention, and makes you want to play the pieces again to get closer to the composer's mind and procedures. It instils a conviction that Eckardt could explain precisely what he is doing, if telling were fashionable. Those of us who have not had formal courses in contemporary composing methods will have to content ourselves with a more superficial, surface enjoyment of the expertise of Ensemble 21, which was founded 1993 by Jason Eckardt and pianist Marilyn Nonken, and is a powerful representative in USA of new music from Europe.

Exemplary recording and presentation. On this showing, their CDs for New World Records and Mode would reward further exploration.

Samples to hear with more information at http://www.mode.com/catalog/137eckardt.html

© Peter Grahame Woolf