James Tenney, James Nyoraku Schlefer, Yoshio Kurahashi, Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin

Music for Violin and Piano
James Tenney
(Hat [now] Art 120)

Stylistically, James Tenny has been all over the map and this cd is no exception. From serious 20th century to electronic music to minimalism, he’s been there.

Ergodos II with Instrumental Responses is just that – Marc Sabat (violin) and Stephen Clarke (piano) responding, playing along with a 1964 vintage abstract electronic music tape. Clarke polishes off the 3 Pages in the Shape of a Pear (1995), a nod to Erik Saties Pieces in the Form of a Pear, although it doesn’t really sound like Satie. The title is a reference to the graphic score. Diaphonic Toccatta (1997) whips by with a busy piano part while the violin plays a slow melody. The slower Chorale (1974) has a thoughtful mournfulness to it. Koan (1971) is in the previously mentioned minimalist vein – solo violin slowly microtonal slides around, gradually rising in pitch over a long period of time. Diaphonic Trio (1997) is a quiet mellow end to the disc, modern but not terrifying. Of course the performances by Sabat and Clarke live up to the quality I expect from Hat Art. If you’re curious about Tenney’s music, this is a good place to start.

Solstice Spirit
James Nyoraku Schlefer
(Sparkling Beatnik spr 0001)

All the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) I’ve heard has been solo so I was very surprised when I heard the stunning opening track Solstice Spirit for 18 overdubbed flutes. Flute ensembles are way cool but this one seems to be tuned in an obviously non-western way. Worth the price of the cd alone, this track clocks in at 18 minutes and makes the tiny little hairs in my ears dance in ecstasy. Five other tracks of solo shakuhachi round out this cd.

Kyoto Spirit
Yoshio Kurahashi
(Sparkling Beatnik sb 0007)

In the west, at least in the “classical” music world, techniques like over blowing to get multiple notes at once (harmonics) and bent notes (microtones) are “extended techniques” and considered a bit outside and wild. Not so with the ancient Japanese shakuhachi tradition. The music is both chilled out and far out at the same time. I love it. Eight traditional compositions, this is the first commercial CD release by shakuhachi master Yoshio Kurahashi.

Samurai Spirit
Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin
(Sparkling Beatnik sbr001)

New Yorker Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin is one of only a few masters of the Nezasa-ha school of shakuhachi flute performance. Eight tracks – seven traditional pieces and one original composition by Seldin. The Nezasa-ha tradition seems to be obviously different from other shakuhachi styles, more pulsating, more rhythmic. Very interesting, I might have to go on a shakuhachi binge in 2000 and expose myself to more of this music!

David Beardsley
December 1999

Originally published in the Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter.

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