This recent release by Cedille Records (which turned 30 this year) is a fitting example of their vision as well as daring. It is in some ways characteristic of Third Coast Percussion whose albums range widely in their creative explorations ranging from definitive performances of accepted masterpieces as well as of works written for them and/or co-created by them with their own compositional and improvisational skills. Their Steve Reich disc, Perpetulum, and Book of Keyboards CDs have been reviewed here and can be seen to represent the range about which I speak.
The present disc is by an English musician, composer, and producer Devonte Hynes. He is better known by his pseudonym Blood Orange under which he has released several albums whose style might be described as electronic dance music. One might think it unusual that someone who works in a sort of “Pop” genre would have his work appear on a basically “classical” label. And one would be wrong. One need only think of David Byrne’s on The Knee Plays and his work written for string quartet or the incursions into modern classical by Brian Eno on albums like Music for Airports.
So here we have three works by Mr. Hynes played by one of Chicago’s finest musical exports, Third Coast Percussion. The music was entirely written by Hynes on a digital work station, not on score paper (goodbye 20th Century) and transcribed (on to score paper) for the percussion quartet by the musicians. One of the difficulties in writing for an instrument you don’t play is learning exactly how to write for a given instrument. That is where the members of the percussion quartet add their expertise to this collaborative effort. The results will likely surprise many listeners. There are echoes (or homages) to Philip Glass and likely other such echoes as well. The bottom line is that this music will not fail to engage.
Hynes’ style might be described as post minimal (as might a lot of dance music) with an eclectic spectrum. The first work, For All Its Fury is a sequence of 11 distinct sections ranging from just over a minute to just over six minutes for a total of just over 35 minutes of music. One hear the variety of musical ideas that comprise the composer’s style (s). Rather than try to describe or identify these styles I will only say that the music is a journey which is designed to be experienced as a whole. As such it is a very listenable and engaging piece. It is followed by two single movement works titled respectively Perfectly Voiceless and There Was Nothing, each coming in at around 12 minutes.
While there are some clues to the meaning or intent of the music and titles the listener is basically left with the sound object to contemplate. But wait, and this is perhaps one of my tired “memes” but the design and artwork of the album and accompanying booklet are themselves a joy to behold as visual objects (oh, for the 12 inch by 12 inch format). Perhaps there are clues one might glean from this packaging as meanings underlying the sounds therein but I would be seriously remiss to fail to credit Sonnenzimmer, the collective output of artists Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi. And the photographers Stephanie Bassos and Timothy Burkhart of People vs. Places, another collaborative. These images are strikingly beautiful and they serve to augment this release in a way that can’t be done on radio or any of the streaming services. What we have here is closer to an art object with sound. Congrats to Cedille, Third Coast Percussion and Devonte Hynes (aka Blood Orange) and Happy New Year to all!