Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Meredith Monk, On Behalf of Nature

Around 1975, I believe, I purchased Meredith Monk's first album. I took a chance without knowing exactly what to expect, but was confident that if JCOA New Music Distribution was involved, it was going to be interesting. That album featured her chant-like vocals and rim-rubbed glasses. I was intrigued.

Now some 40-some-odd years later, she has continued to flower and develop. The latest,  On Behalf of Nature (ECM New Series 4612794), is a masterful set of compositions featuring her wordless vocals, "primordial utterences" as she calls them. The music is now mostly scored for a chamber vocal group and various instrumentalists, further realizing her unique ritual music at the edge of minimalism yet uniquely, originally situated to sound like nothing other.

As always Meredith's music does not quite sound "Western," nor does it comfortable fit into an "Eastern" framework. It is as always wholly original.

Nature in all its permutations forms the overarching thematic presence, mostly in a primordial. elemental state. Some pieces use a full arsenal of instruments and vocals for her uniquely crystalline, transparent soundscapes. Others utilize smaller, more intimate vocal-instrumental combinations.

For no better word this is music of the spirit, in the widest overarching sense. It is modern in that its primordial roots have no actual forebears, except in Monk herself. It is rather easy to accommodate to if you have immersed yourself in ambient music, assuming you make some effort to focus on each piece with undivided attention.

The payback is real, palpable and rewarding, even if you know Meredith's music. This one is especially captivating!

Highly recommended.

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