Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Happy 80th Birthday Terry Riley - "The Book Of Abbeyozzud" - Cantos Desiertos - Zamorra - Dias de los Muertos - Barabas - Ascencion - Tracy Siverman, Violin - David Tanenbaum, Guitar - Gyan Riley, Guitar - William Winant - Percussion - New Albion 1999

Here we have Terry Riley in a more lyrical, less minimalist mode. If you are only familiar with early masterworks such as "In C" and "A Rainbow in Curved Air", you might be perplexed by the angularity and chromaticism of these pieces from the 1990s. It's often hard to follow where Riley is going when he wanders so freely over the harmonic and stylistic map-which makes things all the more interesting. Composed over six years, each of the 28 pieces (here we get 10) has a title that starts with a different letter of the Spanish alphabet, and Riley evokes Spanish guitar music with intricate passagework, Latin dances, and flamenco strumming. The excellent guitarist David Tanenbaum, who commissioned these works, gives them articulate and poetic readings even at their most unwieldy. He teams up for stunning duos with violinist Tracy Silverman in one suite, and percussionist William Winant joins him in another on tabla, marimba, Peking opera gongs, and other instruments. Riley's talented son Gyan, who ultimately led his father to the guitar, joins Tanenbaum on "Zamorra".  This is beautiful music, however I also enjoy Riley's pure minimalism and trance-like works just as much. Needless to say this is a much more accessible side of Riley's output and many listeners will likely prefer this.

Terry Riley did an interesting thing after writing "In C": he essentially went back to being a student, spending years working in India with the vocal master Pandit Pran Nath. It was not until the early 1980s that the groundbreaking Kronos Quartet convinced him to sit down, be a 'Western composer', and write some string quartets. As often happens with composers, the guitar felt too alien to Riley initially when he contemplated writing for it, but in the early 1990s, his son Gyan won a guitar and some lessons in a raffle, and so the guitar and its music filled the Riley home. Soon thereafter Terry Riley was ready to write. The late Rose Augustine, former head of Augustine Strings who was ever at the ready to bring fine composers to the guitar, jumped at the chance to commission him, and "The Book of Abbeyozzud" was born.

"The Book of Abbeyozzud" (ah-BYE-ah-ZOOD) is a word invented by Riley, without any apparent meaning. Riley writes "....these works are indebted to great Spanish music traditions and to those traditions upon which Spanish music owes its heritage". This is evident throughout the recording, and to wonderful effect Riley-style. 



Scraps said...

I'm not going to argue (exactly); for one thing, I cordially dislike (mostly) minimalism, and I've learned to shut up and listen to people who like something that I don't, or go away, depending on my reception/mood.

But I thought Riley's minimalist pieces (like "In C" and "A Rainbow in Curved Air") were famous, pretty much always in print, talked about, even had an audience in the more adventurous rock crowd, etc. In other words, when you say, discussing a piece not in the minimalist end of Riley's work, "Needless to say this is a much more accessible side of Riley's output and many listeners will likely prefer this", I'm puzzled. I thought Riley's minimalist work, to the average fan, is what they know.


Tzadik said...

Damn it Scraps, are you at it again?!! ;-P

I am not a huge fan of minimalism either, in fact most music by Steve Reich (w. a few exceptions)
I have no interest in, even more so Philip Glass-most of his music annoys me to say it politely;
there are a few notable exceptions: I have always enjoyed his string quartets, his music for organ (in particular the "Glass Organ Works" disc on Catalyst, with Donald Joyce playing one of the great pipe organs-the pieces are mostly transcribed piano works, plus a few transcriptions from other larger works-really I find it to be wonderful music) and a few sections from a couple of his operas-that's about it. Oh actually I have to say I do like the music composed for the (imo) brilliant film/documentary "Koyaanisqatsi" by Godfrey Reggio-the music is extremely effective, within the context of the film anyhow. The opening theme is lovely, and I can easily listen to it w/o the visuals; a few of the frantic, signature Glass-repeated-sonic-cells I would not bother w. as stand alone music. I won't bother going through a list of composers, I think you get the point. "Minimal" structures and sounds in other genres (electronic, electro-acoustic, experimental & post-rock such as Mogwai, etc. etc.) is a different story, there's a ton of stuff that I like.

ANYhow........... when I said many listeners will likely prefer this disc, I was only referring to the visitors *here* on my blog, based on what I know of the tastes of most who browse here at this point (including criteria such as how many views/visits a particular post gets, feedback obviously, blah blah...).

What you said about the Riley works is absolutely correct (hippies always had a grand old time w/ much of it too which isn't surprising). "In C" has been embraced in unusual places, the best example being Norwegian black metal. Ja Ja det er sant !!


Scraps said...

> I was only referring to the visitors *here* on my blog, based on
> what I know of the tastes of most who browse here at this point

D'oh. Should have realized that.

Tzadik said...


Anonymous said...

I'm going thru a Terry Riley phase, and wondered if you could re-up this one. It's fairly obscure to his catalog, and looks interesting. Thanks.