Sunday, August 9, 2009
Frederic Rzewski - Coming Together
Rzewski's "Coming Together" is unquestionably one of the great Minimalist masterpieces, and this first recording of it is absolutely incredibly amazing. It's ridiculous that it's never been re-released.
"Coming Together" is an extremely simple piece. It's really nothing more than a short text read over a repetitive, fast sequence, much of which is played in unison. But the overall effect it creates is of a very slow build up of tension to an incredible climax after 19 minutes.
The text comes from a letter written by Sam Melville, who was an inmate at Attica prison, and was one of the leaders of the 1971 Attica riots, where Melville was killed.
The music starts with the piano playing fast rhythmic notes while most of the other instruments playing longer tones over this foundation. Gradually the other instruments start to play faster until they're all playing in a fast, tense unison.
The lineup on this recording is pretty amazing. Rzewski himself plays piano. Jon Gibson, who has worked with the big four minimalist composers (Young, Riley, Reich and Glass) as well as being an excellent composer himself, plays alto sax. Composer Alvin Curran, also of Rzewski's MEV group, plays synthesizer. Garrett List, whose beautiful LP Your Own Self will probably be the next thing I'll feature on this blog, plays trombone. Karl Berger play vibes, and has played on some classic ESP jazz recordings as well aso working with Don Cherry. Violist Joan Kalisch has played on recordings by Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and Richard Youngstein has worked with Paul Bley. The reading is done by stage actor Steve Ben Israel, who was a member of New York's Living Theatre.
The other pieces on the album are "Attica" and "Les Moutons de Panurge". "Attica" has the same lineup as "Coming Together", though Curran plays piccolo trumpet rather than synth, and is sort of a companion piece, with the text coming from a quote from former Attica prison inmate Richard X. Clark. It's much slower, calmer and droning than "Coming Together".
"Les Moutons de Panurge" is a classic piece of process music, whereby the performers are supposed to play a very long melodic line through a process of adding one note at a time (playing the first note, then the first and second notes, and so on). The interesting bit of the piece comes in the instruction that if the performers forget where they are in the piece (which should happen pretty easily), they are to continue playing but not try to find their way back together again. The piece is played here by the Blackearth Percussion Group.
This LP was recorded in 1973 and released on the excellent Opus One records - all the covers of LPs on the label were meant to respond to black light! Trippy.