Wild Up - Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Femenine Music Album Reviews

Wild Up - Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Femenine Music Album Reviews
For the first installment of its proposed seven-album anthology of the late composer’s work, the California collective breathes new life into his ecstatic minimalist masterpiece.

Has there been a more compelling story of musical redemption in the last decade than that of Julius Eastman? Born in New York in 1940, Eastman was a precocious teenage pianist and commanding vocalist who emerged as an ambitious young composer. He resided at the borders of minimalism and jazz, the academy’s confines and the city’s downtown crucible. Eastman was also a Black gay man living by the credo “be what I am to the fullest” in a scene that neither looked nor acted like him. After stints working at Tower Records and living in Tompkins Square Park, he died alone in 1990 following reported struggles with addiction, mental illness, and eviction.

But especially since Frozen Reeds’ indispensable 2016 excavation of his early-’70s masterwork, Femenine, Eastman has seemed newly omnipresent, vaunted not only for his ecstatic minimalism but also for his prescient rejection of genre and high/low divides. Over the past decade-plus, there have been a book, a trio of box sets, a DJ/rupture tribute, major newspaper profiles, and multiple versions of Femenine by chic new music ensembles. The Los Angeles Philharmonic paired Eastman’s music with that of Arvo Pärt in August, while the New York Philharmonic will present his work in January, a reappraisal that might have astonished the hometown provocateur. The New York Times even gave this groundswell a name: Eastmania.

No organization has committed more fully to this public reintroduction than Wild Up, a radical California chamber collective of composers, performers, and improvisers whose imagination and ambition seem boundless. They intend to spend the next six years arranging, recording, and releasing an exhaustive seven-volume anthology of the Eastman pieces that survived his piteous end.

They begin with Femenine, the work that has not only been the most publicized for years now but is also something like Eastman’s thesis, the piece where so many of his interests and loves collide in a transcendent hour of nonstop sound. Eastman premiered Femenine in 1974, the same year Steve Reich began writing Music for 18 Musicians and Philip Glass unveiled Music in 12 Parts, three years before Rhys Chatham conceived Guitar Trio. Femenine stands among these pulsating minimalist landmarks but also apart from them. Eastman’s loose score works more as a suggestive framework, allowing whatever musicians are playing Femenine to take liberties with everything besides its rhythms. With a cast of 20, Wild Up run with this mere suggestion of direction: On record, Femenine has never sounded more vital, immersive, or necessary.

A play-by-play accounting of this or any version of Femenine can go one of two ways: Very little happens or changes for the entirety of these 70 minutes, or so much happens in the course of just 30 seconds that trying to chronicle it all would be tantamount to documenting your body’s every skeletomuscular twitch. A choir of sleigh bells rings when Femenine begins, amassing like cicadas at the start of a summer night. A vibraphone soon joins, its enchanting melody instantly indelible. Both persist for the entire piece, gradually fading out toward the end. These double ellipses suggest we’ve heard but a sample of a saga with no beginning or end, glimpsing a cycle that will soon resume.

The rest of Femenine is a dizzying dance of flutes and whistles, violins and synthesizers, piano and voices, which all take the form of perpetual motion machines. Tune out for a second, and a hundred notes seem to whiz past. Femenine works a little like GAS, gamelan, or any other iterative music: The details wedged into the recesses of these repetitive rhythms are what give it power. The music’s emotional dynamism has a pull like that of a particularly absorbing film.

Wild Up push the flexibility Eastman wrote into Femenine to its extreme. Nine soloists improvise against the basic structure. Near the top, pianist Richard Valitutto drifts through autumnal variations so bittersweet they suggest a Bruce Hornsby hymn; warm and sad, his notes offer an apology to Eastman, a tender promise that his short life will relish a long tail. Marta Tiesenga’s baritone saxophone later writhes like a wounded animal, grasping for any shred of comfort but finding none. Singer Odeya Nini grunts and wails, redlining her crystalline soprano until it could crack glass; she inhales pain to exhale it with fury.

Set against rhythms that are as regular as a heartbeat yet flit like an anxious mind, these improvisations collectively suggest a life’s complicated emotional range. The way the weeping flugelhorn and enraged vocals intertwine with one another, and with the effervescent little orchestra around them, mimics the way that at any given moment, whatever feeling is most pronounced is always pitted against whatever else might be bounding through your brain. In Femenine as in life, one mood seldom lasts.

“Pianist will interupt. Must return,” Eastman scrawled in blocky capital letters at the end of Femenine’s score, a command Wild Up borrow for the 10th movement’s title. Throughout their recording, in fact, the instrument plays a crucial role: After a horn launches into a paroxysm during the seventh movement, for instance, the piano cuts in with a clang, commanding its charge to fall in line. It’s as if the instrument is a reminder that this too shall pass, no matter what this happens to be. Femenine backs the joy of existing with the variegated torments of surviving. It feels in keeping with Eastman’s biography that the piece most responsible for his public resurrection is a sweeping survey of chaotic feelings—and an epic testament to perseverance.

We live in a moment that craves newness, that loves the idea of what’s next so much that much of Big Tech’s attention seems focused on content designed to vanish soon after it appears, like a restaurant that sells only smoke. But the same technology that has enabled our quick-hit culture has also fostered a golden era of archival excavation, where gems neglected due to systemic bigotry or mere circumstance are getting their overdue moments of light. Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Laurie Spiegel, Bill Fay: Their returns have thankfully complicated our reductive narratives of history, just as Eastman has done for minimalism.

Eastman’s moment arrived tragically late, of course, a quarter-century after his death went unnoticed by newspapers for eight months. But it’s hard to imagine a better corrective than Wild Up’s rendition of Femenine, which crackles with the absolute urgency of life but moves with the wisdom that it won’t go on forever.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Wild Up - Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Femenine Music Album Reviews Wild Up - Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Femenine Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 11, 2021 Rating: 5


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