Monday, April 5, 2010

Composer Chris Dench: Chamber Works

January 15, 2009—Modern concert music remains vividly alive and filled with a healthy vitality. The rigid formalism of the serialist and post-serialist days seems to be gone, the wacky eccentrisms of later Stockhausen and Cage are perhaps not as central now as they were around 1985. What has happened can be looked at on a number of levels. There seems to be a more informal, music-first, words-about-the-music second approach. Innovation is perhaps downplayed for various sorts of sonority. Much of the acoustic-electric and instrumental language is of a flow, a lucidity that communicates with a directness. The sound of jazz-derived free improv and the modern concert piece can be similar on the surface. Both camps have learned something from one another. The improv folks have gotten something of the use of space and sound from the concert people, the latter have been influenced by the spontaneous fluidity and timbre pallet of the improv people. This is a drastic simplification, but good enough for the purposes of this morning’s blog. And in the realm of electro-acoustic and minimalist musics, there are other factors in play too.

With all that in mind we turn to British ex-pat, Australian based composer Chris Dench and his CD of chamber pieces, Beyond Status Geometry (Tzadik). This is a welcome addition to the repertory. Four pieces are represented. The earliest piece (1985-6), a percussion quartet that gives the title to the disk, has a delightful bombastic quality. The two later chamber works, “Light-Strung Sigils” and “Permutation City” have a more conventionally concert oriented sound but are marked by solid invention and inspired levels of performance. The final piece, a solo piano excursion, has a wistful yet robust expressionism that somehow manages to suggest and transcend the piano sounds of Ives and Cecil Taylor while remaining in a world of its own. Dench is well worth your attention and I look forward to hearing more from him.

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