I recall excitedly taking a class in college in the late 70s which dealt with post 1950 composition. The professor emphasized that the reigning characteristic of this music is “pluralism”, that is to say that anything goes and one gets less useful information from labels like, “classical”, “baroque”, “romantic”, “post-romantic”, “post-modern”, etc. There is no question that this maxim remains very true and we now are seeing composers well-versed in virtually every technique known to the world of composition.
This album is a fine example of such pluralism. Seeing names such as Elliott Sharp and Gareth Davis one might expect something of the “free jazz” genre and that would not necessarily be an inaccurate description. But it would fail to capture the wonderful writing for Ensemble Resonanz by the eclectic (yes, pluralistic too) Elliott Sharp. As a composer Sharp draws on late twentieth century modern/post-modern compositional techniques along with a fair amount of his own creative innovations gleaned from his own experimentation and, no doubt, from his exposure to the wildly creative milieu of the Downtown New York scene of the 80s and 90s.
The result is like listening to shades of Penderecki and Xenakis as they wrote in the late 1950s though the 70s. This is far more homage than derivation however and the achievement here is how well the soloists on guitar and bass clarinet fit into the work as a whole. They fit remarkably well.
This could easily be called “Symphony for Ensemble with Obligatto Guitar and Bass Clarinet” or even Concerto if you like. The point is that Sharp is an engaging composer whose works are very substantial. From his beginnings on the New York Downtown scene with its mix of jazz, experimental and classical he has continued to explore and grow as a composer and that is what ultimately makes this release so compelling.
The musicianship here from Ensemble Resonanz, Sharp and Davis is of the first order and there is a certain sense of a tight fit such that, whatever may be improvised here sounds as though it were carefully written into this large orchestral fabric. This is a powerful piece of music and repeated listenings will doubtless reveal more and more depth. This is a very engaging piece.
Sharp is clearly evolving and growing as a composer and still hasn’t lost his marvelous collaborative and improvisatorial abilities. This is a major work and a lovely recording.