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Evan Ziporyn: Typical Music

John Kelman By

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Best-known for his association with genre-defying contemporary chamber group Bang on a Can, Evan Ziporyn as been gradually amassing a body of written work that is evidence of an equally boundary-averse compositional mind. ShadowBang (Cantaloupe, 2004) found him mixing diverse interests in Balinese gamelan and contemporary minimalists like Steve Reich and Terry Riley on a score for the stage performed with Bang on a Can. Typical Music distances Ziporyn (temporarily) from Bang on a Can on a live recording featuring three recent compositions ranging from solo piano to an intriguing blend of gamelan and orchestra. The result is a work that best demonstrates just how wide his view truly is.

The four-part "Pondok, for solo piano, is performed by Sarah Cahill—a pianist whose reach is equal to Ziproyn's diverse demands. The first part revolves around a lengthy and slowly-evolving theme that combines Middle Eastern, Oriental and Americana flavours; stately yet somehow lithe and delicate at the same time. The second part is more insistently rhythmic, with a percussive single bass note pulse on the left hand driving a development that alternates dense chord clusters with a simple linear motif. The third section is the most abstruse—with single notes sustaining while Cahill reaches inside the piano to extract curiously percussive harmonics—while the final section begins with a percussive single-note phrase as its base, but builds in a more mathematical way from brief, repeated segments reflective of Ziporyn's minimalist roots.

"Typical Music is next; a three-movement suite for piano, violin and cello. While the Arden Trio is the most conventional setting Ziporyn has written for to-date, his approach remains wholly unconventional. Intimate, but surprisingly full for such a small ensemble, while Ziporyn occasionally reaches into areas of dissonance, it's the most overtly lyrical of the disc's three compositions. The second part is the most unsettled, with a tension that keeps pulling towards resolution but never quite making it there. The final part balances a strong theme on violin with a more turbulent foundation on the piano before the trio moves as one into a more dramatic union that references Bartok in its skewed folksiness.

Surprisingly, "Ngaben (for Sari Club), which features the New England Conservatory Philharmonia and Ziporyn's 28-piece Gamelan Galak Tika ensemble, is the most ethereal and spacious composition on the album. Gamelan Galak Tika provide delicate percussive movement—tuned and untuned—while the orchestra layers various themes, but at such a soft dynamic that the entire piece becomes more hypnotically textural than clearly thematic. Even when the tempo gradually picks up speed and the dynamics broaden, the trance-like effect remains, despite a briefly jarring passage halfway through.

Some perceive the classical tradition to be so ingrained as to inhibit the incorporation of wider influences to keep it a living, breathing form. The good news is that artists like Ziporyn are around to prove that it's possible to expand the tradition without losing what defines it in the first place, with Typical Music being anything but typical.


Track Listing: Pondok, Part 1; Pondok, Part 2; Pondok, Part 3; Pondok, Part 4; Typical Music, Part 1; Typical Music, Part 2; Typical Music, Part 3; Ngaben (for Sari Club).

Personnel: Sarah Cahill: piano (1-4); Arden Trio: Suzanne Ornstein: violin (5-7); Clay Ruede: cello (5-7); Tom Schmidt: piano (5-7); Gamelan Galak Tika: Nathan Davis: ugal (8); Yukiko Ueno: ugal (8); Leila Hasan: gangsa (8); Elizabeth Johansen: gangsa (8); Chris Kline: gangsa (8); Pravin Kularajah: gangsa (8); Morgan Ross: gangsa (8); Blair Schoene: gangsa (8); Christine Southworth: gangsa (8); Rebecca Zook: gangsa (8); Miranda Fan: reong (8); Ha Yang Kim: reong (8); Sachi Sato: reong (8); Aaron Woolsey: reong (8); Nisha Nath: pokok (8); Caitlin Schein: pokok (8); Dan Schmidt: pokok (8); Yue Shi: pokok (8); Mark Stewart: pokok (8); Jacques Weissgerber: pokok (8); Loren Boyer: jegogan (8); Jason Kaufmann: jegogan (8); Dan McAnulty: kempli (8);Sean Mannion: gongs (8); Keith Waters: gongs (8); Erin McCoy: ceng-ceng (8); Danielle Smith: bell tree (8); Evan Ziporyn: kendang (8); New England Conservatory Philarmonia: orchestra (8); Dante Anzolini: conductor (8).

Title: Typical Music | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: New Albion

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