Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gnarwhallaby's [exhibit a]

I had Gnarwhallaby's [exhibit a] album for quite a while before I actually listened to it. I wanted to be able to sit down and focus, and was a bit too busy. Once I had a chance to listen to it, I enjoyed the album as much as I hoped I would. 

Starting right away with Morton Feldman's Half a Minute It's All I've Time for (which also closes the album), it is clear that these pieces were very carefully selected - the notion of a bagatelle by Morton Feldman is so odd to me that I am immediately thrown off and paying attention.

Considering the Feldman as a sort of entrance/exit music, the re-imagined Shostakovich-ism of Edison Denisov's D-S-C-H sets a great tone what's to come. Throughout the album, the particular malaise of the 1960's European avant garde is cleverly contextualized by pairing it with pieces like Marc Sabat's subtly just Modernes Kaufhaus and the aggressive flurries of Nick Deyoe's FLUFF pieces. Of the Polish composers on the album, I was only familiar with G√≥recki. However, I look forward to exploring the many performances of the other composers' works that YouTube has to offer.

Beyond the connoisseurial curation of the album, these are some stellar musicians working at the epicenter of LA's thriving new music landscape. The uncommon instrumentation (Brian Walsh on clarinets, Matt Barbier on trombone, Derek Stein on cello, and Richard Valitutto on piano+) sets the album on a timbral road less travelled, but the whole endeavor is so clearly executed that the novelty of it seems beside the point. Though it explores a broad spectrum of consonance and dissonance, at no point does the album feel unduly melodramatic, stilted, or anti-social. It is clear that this Gnarwhallaby critter is elusive only because it travels in strange waters.

[exhibit a] is one of a few recent releases by Populist Records, who are on a great run featuring local LA ensembles and composers.

Give it a listen!

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