While the question of what jazz is and what it isn't is an ongoing debate, jazz isn't the only genre facing an identity crisis. Just as it may be an exercise in futility to link Wes Montgomery with Marc Ducret, clear points of reference in classical music are becoming equally difficult to find. Groups like Clogs, Ethel, Bang on a Can and Kronos Quartet are stretching the boundaries so far as to render them nearly unrecognizable. So here's another question: what exactly is contemporary classical music?
The Italian ensemble known as Sentieri Selvaggi does little to answer that, but on AC/DC it goes a long way to demonstrating just how elastic the borders of the genre really are. While the material emphasizes the New Italian School of contemporary music, with pieces by four of its leading composers, the ensemble also interprets music by David Lang, Bang on a Can New Music Festival co-founder/co-director Michael Gordon, Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, and Laurie Anderson. The result is a program that's remarkably variedand virtually impossible to pigeonhole.
Assembling a curious combination of violin, cello, vibraphone/percussion, piano, clarinets and flutes, they bring a distinctive complexion to Michael Gordon's title track, which comes from a minimalist space, containing all manner of interweaving polyrhythms and harmonies. The result is unlke Terry Riley's seminal In C, where development and interaction occur through each instrument moving at its own personally-determined and random pace through a set of predefined musical phrases. Gordon's composition is more clearly structured, with less serendipity and more intentional design.
David Langwhose recent Elevated explores varying shades of beautycontributes "I Fought the Law, where the sextet is expanded to a tentet. Like Gordon's music, it is rooted in minimalism, but aligned more closely with Philip Glass than Terry Riley in its jaggedly aggressive stance.
Filippo Del Corno's "L'uomo armato feels like a canon, but it's actually more complex. The only thing holding together the elaborate counterpoint between piano, violin, cello, flute and clarinet is Andrea Dulbecco's metronome-like percussion. Ludovico Einaudi's "The Apple Tree is more subtle. An insistent pulse throughout links it to Lang and Gordon's minimalist roots, but with stronger ties to historical classicism's more vivid themes and broader dynamics. Similarly, Lorenzo Ferrero's cinematic "Gamorama Spies and Carlo Boccadoro's more abstruse "Bad Blood manage to join conventions both historical and contemporary.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Laurie Andersen's "Hiawatha. The gorgeous fugue-like composition's pastoral nature exists like an oasis of beauty amongst the more boldly dramatic writing surrounding it.
Throughout, Sentieri Selvaggi demonstrates an uncanny ability to shift gears at a moment's notice. AC/DC may not satisfy those who are looking for an easy answer to the question of what defines contemporary classical music. But for those open enough to accept that it, like jazz, is becoming an ever-growing continuum, AC/DC is a great place to hear just how endless the possibilities can be.
Michael Gordon: AC/DC; Filippo del Corno: L'uomo armato; Ludovico Einaudi: The Apple Tree; Louis Andriessen: Passeggiata in tram in Amerrica e ritorno; David Lang: I Fought the Law; Lorenzo Ferrero: Glamorama spies; Laurie Anderson: Hiawatha; Carlo Boccadoro: Bad Blood.
Paolo Fre: flute, piccolo; Mirco Ghirardini: clarinet, bass clarinet; Andrea Rebaudengo: piano
(1-4,6-8); Andrea Delbecco: vibraphone, percussion (2,8); Thomas Schrott: violin; Marco
Decimo: cello (1-6,8); Carlo Boccadoro: conductor; Cristina Zavalloni: voice (4); Enrico
Calcagni: oboe (5); Massimo Marcer: trumpet (5); Simona Slaviero: percussion (5); Riccardo
Memore: viola (5); Stefano Dall
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