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Friday, April 28, 2017

Michael Byron, The Celebration

Post-modern minimalism can go a number of ways these days. It seems to me that at times works can be guilty of form-formulaics at the expense of  content. When that is the case, I generally find myself to be an unsatisfied participant in the listening sojourn. The building-blocks of content must be of musical interest or the whole edifice founders. Some out there either cannot or will not fashion suitable foundations.  Pardon the mixed metaphors, but they leave us with a sometimes elaborate meal concocted out of unflavorful, mundane, collectively unpalatable ingredients. We leave the table in haste, even in some distress, searching for a bromide.

This sometimes becomes all the more problematic when the work incorporates texts. The way of Einstein on the Beach worked well because of the abstraction of the textual matter and the flow of lines, but it may not necessarily serve as an ideal paradigm. Sometimes the paradigm can be applied in ways that are disastrous. Different Trains by Reich is a very successful alternate paradigm involving speech inflections but again this probably should not be indiscriminately applied to other textual and tonal material unthinkingly.

The problems I speak of are decidedly inapplicable with Michael Byron and his The Celebration (New World 8077872). It is a long and involved work for baritone and piano quintet. Thomas Buckner handles the sung-spoken part with the highly musical ways he is known for. The FLUX Quartet and Joseph Kubera on piano realize the instrumental parts with a steadiness and motility that brings out the beautifully hypnotic qualities of the score. I've reviewed a number of Byron's works here before (see search box) and in every case I am left with a smile and a dream-like state. He is a force for a sort of pastoral presentness that seems always to reach me and do good things to my mood.

Primary to the current project is the setting of Anne Tardos' poetry, introspective, probing, existential in a sort of down-to-earth practicity, if you will pardon the term, a poetic description of life as she images the experience. There are two zones of musicality that maintain themselves throughout. The quintet explores a radical tonality of shifting pentatonic and diatonic flow centers, with repetition and variations of the primal tones overlapping at contrasting velocities, the piano cascading with variable attack points like the contrastingly different speeds of multiple drips from the eaves of an old barn during a rain shower. The strings create a slower unfolding in a more legato manner. The patterns and pitch center are sectionalized, so that periodically they abruptly or somewhat more smoothly change the frame every so often. Byron does this so well we quickly surrender to the moment and flow along with him.

The vocal part floats atop the wash of natural-like processual sounds, alternately reciting and singing the poetic texts, a largo-esque melodic flow changing key according to the modulations of the quintet. The text unwinds in real time, perhaps wisely avoiding repetitions that could potentially end in the gibberish of the "cow cow cow jumped jumped over the moon moon moon" sort.

We readily are carried along with the musical current in a naturalistic way, somehow experiencing the experience as a microcosm of poetic life itself. The work immediately establishes itself and after a few listens stays with you as something rather profound and distinct.

It is cosmically lyrical music, one-of-a-kind, with a beauty that lingers on in its impression even after there is silence.

The Celebration makes its way into your deep memory-experience recesses and attaches itself to your own flow of being. That is a remarkable thing.

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