Never quite as celebrated as his New York contemporaries Morton Feldman and John Cage, Earle Brown was, nevertheless, a composer of exceeding brilliance. His music bespoke of breathtaking vistas, informed by his undying love of the New England of his birth as much as it was by his exceptional grasp of the immense fluidity of compositional form. A relative concrete expressionist, he is artistically descended from Edgard Varèse in that his work emphasized timbre and rhythm. In fact, the term, "organized sound," usually associated with Varèse, might quite as easily be used to describe Brown's music. Brown was also influenced by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock. Even though he shared with Pollock a fine sense of actively shaping the form of his work as he conducted it, because his music is rich in timbral viscosity, it appears more concrete in its form.
Earle Brown's work is celebrated by the community of avant-garde musicians with whom he was vastly influential especially for its tangible and practical aspects. Synergy does much to show why. Captured in performances in 1967/68, the two versions of his monumental composition are shaped by the dramatic floating aspect of sound brought to life by woodwinds and strings. With Brown conducting the winds and pianist, Steffen Schleirmacher conducting the strings, Brown shapes the shifting timbres and gently palpitating rhythms with his extraordinary technique of time notation and open form architecture. In both versions of "Synergy," Brown makes a majestic exposition of how time notation unfolds as it is placed in the approximate visual relationship to that which surrounds it. Brown's "time" is not indicated mechanistically as with rhythm. It is articulatedbut not interpretedfor the performer. As a result, because the performer is made more aware of time, he is also more intensely aware of the action or sound he is about to play. This is also what drew Brown to the sculptures-in-time-and-space of Alexander Calder.
His serially informed piece, "Tracking Pierrot" is a work that is marked by his singular style although it doffs its hat to Arnold Schoenberg's composition of eight decades earlier. However, Brown's "Pierrot" differs in its dramatically shifting rhythmsnegotiated expertly by Stefan Stopora's percussionand in its ethereal use of spatial silence. "Windsor Jambs" is similarly constructed. Once again this piece is shaped by itinerant timbre brilliantly executed by voice, percussion and the superb woodwinds that explode together bringing a diaphanous effect to the composition as it unfurlsnew standard for the avant-garde, that it is.
Perhaps this reissue, which features the collaboration between Earle Brown and the enormously talented ensemble for Leipzig will bring the composer's work the greater recognition that it so richly deserves. Brown is, after all, more than a seminal figure in the New York avant-garde of the '50s and '60s. He is a composer and conductor of great depth, influential even today among his acolytes in modern music.
Track Listing: Event Synergy II (1967/68) version I; Tracking Pierrot (1992); Windsor Jambs (1980); Event Synergy II (1967/68) version 2.
Personnel: Christian Sprenger: flute (1-4); Udine Röhner-Stolle: oboe (1, 4); IB Hausmann: clarinet, bass clarinet (1-4); Anja Barz: clarinet (1, 4); Axel Andrae: bassoon (1, 4); Salome Kammer: voice (3); Andreas Seidel: violin (1, 2, 4); Till Bü: violin (1, 3, 4); Ivo Bauer: viola (1, 3, 4); Matthias Moosdorf: cello (1-4); Stefan Stopora: percussion (1-4); Josef Christof: piano (2); Steffen Schleirmacher: piano (3), co-conductor (1-4); Earle Brown: conductor (1-4).
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.