When it comes to naming names in the all-encompassing landscape of contemporary music, Jean Derome’s eminence remains relatively unquoted amidst the sacred cows of the last decades. A first-class reedist and composer, he’s indelibly associated with René Lussier — specifically, in the duo Les Granules — beyond significant proprietary works (random memory selection: 1988’s Confitures de Gagaku, on Victo). Derome has shown time and again that his idiosyncratic creativity, compositional skill and ability to put a theory into artistically fructiferous practice are second to none. In its clever mix of conceptual consistency and stimulating interplay, Résistances clearly explains why.
Though partially scored, the composition’s motility principally depends on the nineteen performers reacting to previously learned hand signals. After acknowledging the crucial elements of orchestration in conjunction with the intrinsic influence of electricity in all forms — including the overall tuning — it takes a moment to realize that the scope of this opus reaches far higher than a simple “conducted improvisation” (note the involuntary irony of the term “conductor” in this context).
Across a plethora of intermingling styles, the ensemble — comprising several among Derome’s regular partners in crime — connects with the basic vibe through surges of energy dressed as eruptions, conversations, screams or drones, the whole informed by a cracking musicianship. Notwithstanding the considerable emancipation allowed and the absence of jazz-related stereotypes, the lingering sensation is that of a finely regulated mechanism. Still, serendipitous mutations occasionally materialize. The bulk of Piétinements, for example, resembles Igor Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring played by Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful Of Secrets, lysergic slide guitars and all. In a pair of collective blasts we couldn’t help thinking — in principle — of Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh. The absurdly jarring funk of Mélodie 2 flowing into a marvelous Danse finale may indeed prompt someone to start jumping around the house.
Please consider the above references as a mere reviewer’s divertissement. In reality, there’s so much shifting of acoustic identity and abundance of inventive playing here that coming to grips with this particular form of Derome’s imagination could trigger intellectual paralysis in the easily affected. The remedy lies in the very cause: treat the patient to a few additional hours with this remarkable album; then it’s get up, pick up your mat, and walk. Unless one’s dead for real.
Erik Satie is an iconic avant-garde composer, ahead of his time, underestimated by teachers and rebuffed by critics. Posthumous revenge (if there is such a thing) has been sweet, as his music is some of the most often performed in a variety if contexts, including the stage, film and cabaret settings. This particular recording of Satie’s music takes an appropriately creative approach to rendering the quirky, mystical and ultimately uplifting music.
In the 18 tracks on the CD the Québec sextet Cordâme (a French pun on “strings-soul”/”body-soul”) perform many of the popular themes of this enigmatic, yet accessible composer. The musical pallet includes such pieces as the Gnossiennes, the Gymnopedies, as well as some less-often played compositions such Danses de travers, Rêverie de l’enfance de Pantagruel and Réflexions sur choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes).
The flow of rhythm that characterizes this set draws more from jazz, gypsy music or pop music than from the classical template, with a steady pulse emphasized by percussion and bass, underscored by the string duo of violin and cello, and punctuated by the percussive interplay between piano and harp. The result is graceful, beat-based expression of this diaphanous and at times surreal music, with the languorous harmonies and telescoping melodies being borne by the lilting rhythms.
The compositions, while respected in their forms and lyrical content, are laced with improvisations and structured in arrangements that color the pulses, while preserving the recognizable qualities that people love about Satie. This is not abstract avant-garde, nor romantic excess. It is restrained, yet expressive, with a resulting sweet tension that is mostly light and pleasant.
The title of this three-part work by Hungarian-Canadian composer Gyula Csapó — French and Persian for “Already? Where to?” — seems an appropriate epigraph for someone whose itinerary brought him from Budapest to Saskatchewan, via Paris and Buffalo and points in between.
Csapó completed studies in composition and music theory at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the List Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest before going to Paris to study computer music and acoustics at IRCAM. In the 1980s, he came to the US to study with Morton Feldman, a composer whose work proved to be a significant influence. In the early 1990s, he moved to Canada and, after a period teaching composition at Princeton University, settled in Saskatoon, where he currently teaches composition and music theory.
In its scale and general profile, Déjà? Kojâ? takes some of Feldman’s approaches to arranging sounds and develops them in a way that is Csapó’s own. The work, composed between 2011 and 2016, is structured as a triptych of three roughly equal lengths. The sounds move slowly, as if there were carried along on tectonic plates approaching, receding, and grinding together in a sometimes overt, sometimes more submerged, dissonant fluctuation. Texture here is architecture, as Csapó layers sound masses into striated blocks whose fault lines divide the higher and lower registers. The differentiation of voices rather than classic counterpoint really does seem to be the structural key to this sometimes darkly opaque work; throughout it, the Quatuor Bozzini maintain a clarity of individual articulation, even in the densest passages.