Starkland is one of the few American labels that regularly pays attention to Canadian composers. I previously reviewed their Paul Dolden release here. This challenge to the curious apartheid we seem to maintain with Canadian culture is most welcome of course and one can obtain a great deal of Canadian music via Canadian labels but retail distribution of their non-pop music is limited to mail order and Internet sales (and I don’t mean Amazon either). I strongly recommend perusing the web site of the Canadian Music Center for a truly stunning selection of this too little known recorded repertoire. I should note that most of Brady’s releases are readily available from actuellecd.com. You can find several of those other symphonies here as well as many other pieces and collaborative releases. After hearing this disc I couldn’t resist hearing more by this artist whose work has been known only faintly to me thus far. That order is now being shipped.
Now to the disc at hand. The use of electric guitars as a primary instrument conjures immediate comparisons to Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham as well as to rock and blues but this music is quite different from all of these. This is one aspect of the work of a composer whose work includes writing for orchestra, chamber and solo instruments as well. Brady, largely set taught in music until he attended college (Concordia University 1975-78; New England Conservatory 1978-80) is an interesting composer and performer with a widely varied palette. Brady’s Wikipedia page is surprisingly informative as well. You can find that here.
Tim Brady (1956- ) is an artist of many talents and this recording represents his most recent work, a symphony. It is his fifth essay so titled and his choice of instrumentation for each (of his now 6 symphonies) is unique. In this case he has chosen to score for four guitars (his Symphony No. 4 is for full orchestra) and also presents a separate solo version backed by electronics. It is subtitled, “The Same River Twice” (2013) and I struggled a bit initially getting wrapped up in trying to discern the differences between the two versions but realized that is rather beside the point in a way. What makes this music interesting is the way in which it differs from the likes of Branca and Chatham. Brady clearly comes from a different perspective. The myriad ways in which creative musicians find to integrate cross genre elements fascinates me as a listener. He is 8 years younger than Branca, 4 younger than Chatham but his perspective of the inherently “pop” inflection of the electric guitar differs greatly. He is writing another vital and welcome chapter in this loosely defined group of guitar based experimental musics of the last 40 years and his work deserves attention.
He seems to have more in common (broadly speaking) with Pat Metheny than Fred Frith and his discography reflects encounters with several ECM artists. I’m not sure who influences who here but this is a pleasant and intelligent exploration sometimes virtuosic, sometimes drone-like but a consistently engaging piece.
As I said there are two versions of this symphony on the disc. Along with those are two shorter tracks by Antoine Berthiaume and Rainer Wiens. Fungi by Berthiaume is another example of the integration of pop motives into a broader quasi-improvisational context and is most successful. The disc is rounded out with a sort of little summation “remix” by Wiens entitled “What is time?” which reportedly uses breath as a rhythmic determinant.
The playing is competent and intuitive, not flashy or self-consciously experimental. Rather this is the work of a seasoned composer who uses his materials well .
Recording and mastering, all expertly done, were done in Canada by the artists who also did the useful liner notes (Allan Kozinn writes the gatefold notes). The cover art and the production of the CD belong to Starkland and it is a very nice production.