Loraine James - Building Something Beautiful for Me Music Album Reviews

Loraine James - Building Something Beautiful for Me Music Album Reviews
As part of an ongoing reassessment of pioneering composer Julius Eastman’s work, the London electronic musician presents originals loosely inspired by signature pieces like “Stay On It” and “Femenine.”

Within the canon of classical-music misfits, a formidable lineage including scruffy luminaries like Harry Partch, John Cage, and Lou Harrison, it’s possible no one has ever not belonged as fiercely, as pointedly—or, at this point, as famously—as Julius Eastman. A Black gay man with an astonishing array of musical gifts as a composer, singer, dancer, and pianist, Eastman gained admission to the prestigious Curtis Institute in 1959, five years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and only nine years after Nina Simone herself had been rejected due to her race. Eastman spent the rest of his short, eventful life surfing turbulent sociopolitical cross-currents, earning a Grammy nomination in 1974 for his stunning vocal work on Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King while also performing his music at gay pride festivals, playing in jazz combos, and fighting against perpetual economic precarity. It was the kind of tortured duality out of which grand allegories are fashioned and dynamite biopics are made, but which mostly felt, for Eastman, like constant struggle: As anyone who knows Eastman’s name by now knows, he died homeless and alone at age 49 in a New York hospital.

Over the last decade or so, there has been a slow-dawning recognition of the singularity of Eastman’s voice, catalyzed by the restoration work done by composer Mary Jane Leach, without whom it’s conceivable Eastman’s music would still be forever lost, as well as committed patrons like Jace Clayton, aka DJ /rupture. In 2013, Clayton released a tribute album that concluded with a piece, called “Callback From the American Society of Eastman Supporters,” daring to imagine a world in which Eastman’s acolytes had grown so numerous they had to be turned away via a polite outgoing message (voiced, as it happens, by Arooj Aftab). It is both a testament to the efforts of people like Clayton and a bittersweet irony that, nearly a decade later, the world envisioned by “Callback” has been slowly taking shape, in the form of multi-part public radio tributes, studies, countless articles, and, most importantly, a fervent new crop of musicians, performers, and artists who found themselves enraptured by the spirit of Eastman’s music.

One such performer is Loraine James, a London-based experimental electronic musician and relative newcomer to Eastman’s music, a fact she writes about in a poignant Guardian editorial: “When the label Phantom Limb got in touch about me creating music inspired by the late New York avant garde composer and pianist Julius Eastman, I had barely heard of him,” she admits, noting that even with a modern-day syllabus that touched on his peers, “it felt like there was effort made to leave him out.”

James begins her album, a collection of originals loosely inspired by specific Eastman works, with one of two variations on Eastman’s signature piece, 1973’s “Stay On It.” Eastman’s score pairs a flirtatious little eight-note phrase with loosely contrasting motivic cells, each one stressing and striating the pulse until the entire piece starts to fall—pleasingly, maddeningly—apart. It’s a perfect piece of rhythmic DNA for a producer like James to play with; the repeated “stay on it” command already sounds like a chopped vocal loop fit for any manner of club track: hip-hop, footwork, house. James takes that skipping motif and plugs it directly into her machines, reproducing it as an arrhythmic heart blip, over which she sings in a confiding murmur. Where performances of “Stay On It” usually feel antic, mischievous, an invitation to swing your hips a little, James’ take is subdued and vulnerable, twisting the emphatic “stay on it” mantra to “maybe if I stay on it,” so that an exclamation shades into a melancholy question mark.

James’ work has drifted into moodier climes lately, away from the destabilized rhythmic propulsion of her 2021 album Reflection and into tone painting and texture. As a fan of both her work and Eastman’s, it’s hard not to see some missed opportunities in their meeting. Eastman made a life’s work out of exploring extremes—juxtaposing quasi-religious chanting with projected images of dog shit for his performance at Phill Niblock’s Experimental Intermedia; giving incendiary titles to beatific works and vice versa. But he staged these collisions in service to larger ideas, hoping to generate sparks through which his wholeness might become better illuminated, and his music was never so alive or engaged as when grappling with irreconcilable truths.

James has also mined opposing forces— communal uplift against introversion, club hedonism against cerebral experiments—for visceral and idea-rich music, but on Building Something Beautiful, she appears more interested in weightless washes of tone, often drifting and beat-free, which is a curious approach for Eastman‘s work, particularly because it fails to illuminate much about what James found in it. Her titles hint at a profound autobiographical identification: her piece based on Eastman’s incendiary “Crazy N*****” is called “The Perception of Me,” while the piece inspired by the 1971 piano work “Femenine” is called “Choose to Be Gay,” but the results are often strangely blank.

Take “The Perception of Me”: In the original “Crazy N*****,” four rumbling pianos surge and abate unpredictably, the gathering storms and wisps of Romantic tonalities suggesting all sorts of possibilities, some baleful, some potentially exhilarating; listening to it is like watching a shifting thunder cloud, unsure if you want it to blow over or burst open above your head. James’ piece does away with those shifting harmonic tensions, generating with her synth tones a cool, clean-lined space in which “contemplation” feels like a friction-free process.

Of all the works on Building Something Beautiful, “Femenine” undergoes the most compelling transformation, an extended improvisational meditation that James freezes in place and turns personal: “You say that I choose to/Let me say what I want.” The synths that wash in and out of headphone space, panning and fading and hiccuping slightly, call to mind the “organic” process of composition Eastman theorized about in his essays, but the result feels not at all like the work of tribute, homage, or acknowledgement. It feels, instead, like a partial map of James’ own complicated emotional terrain, one in which signposts of Eastman’s work—the incessant chiming sleigh bells indicated in Eastman’s original score pop up here, sounding smeary and distant—reappear like symbols in a dream.

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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.
Loraine James - Building Something Beautiful for Me Music Album Reviews Loraine James - Building Something Beautiful for Me Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 02, 2022 Rating: 5


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