Sunday, February 13, 2011
Stephen Montague - Slow Dance on a Burial Ground
What's this? Two posts in two weeks? And more coming!
I'm trying to make my posting a bit more regular, rather than the super-infrequent posts of the past. Another post is coming up next Sunday. I can't promise that I'll be able to maintain a once-a-week posting rate, but I'll definitely aim for at least one entry per month. Anyway, on to the music!
Stephen Montague doesn't seem to be a terribly well-known composer. I never see him mentioned in lists of post-minimalist composers, possibly because he's UK-based, though he was born and raised in the US. Maybe he's better-known in Europe, I don't know. I only discovered him because I was checking out every LP on Lovely Records I could find. No real internet presence either, aside from a bio and work list at his publisher's page.
Montague is one of the group of post-minimalist composers who combined elements of minimalism with romantic classical music, like John (Coolidge) Adams, Daniel Lentz, and others. He's got a number of CDs out, of which I have a couple, on ASV and Continuum Records. They're nice albums, some orchestral stuff, some chamber music and some mixed electronic works, and I would recommend them to anyone interested in the more accessible end of the post-minimalists, but this here LP is rather different.
Side A of the LP is taken up by the 24 minute piece which gives the LP its title, "Slow Dance on a Burial Ground", a tape piece constructed from electronic sounds, recordings of log drums, field recordings and folk flutes. It reminds me a little of Alvin Curran's early work, with its mixture of drones, electronics and field recordings, but Montague's piece here has a strong ethnic/folky element, what with the prominent flutes. It's a beautiful piece, static and textural, which sticks with a consistent sound and feel throughout.
"Paramell I" is the next track, for muted trombone and "muted" piano. Fantastic new music trombonist James Fulkerson plays the trombone, while Montague plays the piano, presumably muted with some fabric or something. Much of the piece features the two instruments playing in unison together, very fast staccato notes, sometimes with longer drone notes from the trombone. Surprisingly the sounds of the trombone and piano blend together, and it can be hard to tell which instrument is which, and when they play together it creates a nice combined texture.
"Paramell Va" (meaning Paramell 5, variation a) is a somewhat similar piece for solo piano, here played by Philip Mead. It features very fast staccato playing on the piano, alternating between high and low chords. I could again compare it to Charlemagne Palestine's Strumming Music, but this piece has a very, very different character. It's more melodic rather than textural, and not what I would call droney at all. It's minimalistically repetitive, but with a more natural, free-flowing character than, say, Philip Glass' piano music, with fantastic crescendos caused by the use of the sustain pedal.
This is a really excellent LP from an under-appreciated composer, and certainly the best work of his that I've heard. It was released on LP on the amazing Lovely Records in 1984, and is one of the very few items on that label that has never been re-released. Lovely seems to have been doing some archival releases lately, though, so maybe that'll happen someday.