Rhys Chatham is responsible for one of my most read posts, the fabulous Secret Rose performance reviewed here and here. An album released around the same time is reviewed here. These reviews reflect the music most people think of when they hear Chatham’s name: alternate tunings, large groups of multiple guitars, sometimes groups of brass and woodwinds (Chatham plays trumpet and flutes as well) in a sort of wall of sound.
For this release Chatham has chosen to go solo, sort of. In Pythagorean Dream he uses digital delay in a real time performance allowing him to achieve a similar sound world while maintaining control over the performance in the manner of a solo performer.
Regardless of the instrumentation Chatham has always been interesting and that has not changed in this release. He uses Pythagorean tuning (hence the title) in this work which is split over three tracks for a total of about 55 minutes of impressionistic musings in the key of Pythagoras, so to speak.
The first track has some trumpet sounds softly at the beginning but focuses on the electric guitar building his choirs of instrumental sounds using his effects pedal. This is the familiar Chatham multiple guitar sound. The second track presents his musings with flute, alto flute and bass flute with a guitar cadenza. Here he reminds this listener at times of the work of LaMonte Young with sustained tones and then plays some jazz like riffs over these before the final cadenza with the guitar. The third track, according to the liner notes, is the whole of the brass intro to the piece and is presented as a “bonus track” and is entitled Whitechapel Brass Variations. This track, unlike the previous two, is a live (as opposed to studio) performance and is a good opportunity to hear Chatham’s skill with trumpet. It is a fearless performance. He manages to pursue his experiments without sounding experimental.
The overall effect of this piece, with drones, hints of free jazz and memories of minimalism is mesmerizing and appears to be the next logical step in his development as a composer and performer. A few years ago Tony Conrad released an album inspired by the same tuning system and called that album, “Slapping Pythagoras”. Chatham, by contrast, seems more concerned with soothing him.
The brief but informative liner notes are by the composer and the recording is lucid with Chatham doing the engineering and the mastering. This album is a must for all Rhys Chatham fans and a nice intro to his current work for those who have not heard this important composer’s work..