Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Lonely Motel is the world premiere recording of songs from the startlingly innovative music and theater work Slide, written for new-music sextet eighth blackbird, an ensemble of wind, string, piano, and percussion virtuosos. The group, with composer-electric guitarist Steven Mackey and singer, actor, and librettist Rinde Eckert, premiered the concert-length work at the 2009 Ojai Music Festival in Southern California, a mecca for cutting-edge music enthusiasts. The same forces perform on the new CD, which takes its title from the final song in the cycle. Eckert plays the central character, Renard, a fictional research psychologist whose fiancée has abandoned him. The heartbroken Renard reminisces about an experiment he conducted using projections of photographic slides to explore the fallibility of human perception. Lonely Motel's 11 songs are about "self-delusion and, ultimately, the isolation created by the attachments we develop to our own fuzzy, personal views of reality," eighth blackbird says. Musically, the songs contain subtlehomages to Dowland, Mozart, Stravinsky, Piazzola, and The Beatles. Reviewing Slide's premiere performance at Ojai, Musical America said Chicago-based eighth blackbird "represents the ascendant generation of postclassical music." Mackey's music was "brilliantly played," complemented by the "amazing" Eckert's "typically riveting physical performance style." London's Sunday Telegraph wrote, "eighth blackbird perform with a freedom almost unheard of in their technically demanding repertoire." The Los Angeles Times said eighth blackbird exemplifies "a new breed of super-musicians" and called Mackey's fusion of rock and classical music "powerful and impressive," as performed by eighth blackbird with "their irresistible élan."
Founded in 1996, eighth blackbird (spelled lower-case) delivers provocative, mind-changing performances to its burgeoning audiences. Combining bracing virtuosity with an alluring sense of irreverence, the sextet debunks the myth that contemporary music is for a cerebral few. The ensemble has enjoyed widespread acclaim for its four Cedille Records CDs. The disc strange imaginary animals won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.
Princeton University-based composer Steven Mackey has been honored with awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and awards from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. As a guitarist, he has performed his own music with the Kronos and Arditti Quartets and London Sinfonietta, among other ensembles and soloists.
Rinde Eckert, finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, is a writer, composer, performer, and director. His Opera/New Music Theater productions have toured throughout America and to major festivals in Europe and Asia. Eckert began a three-year residency at Princeton University in 2009.
"This work... shows an extremely talented composer in high form... The forces that came together to make this piece also had good chemistry. Eighth blackbird quite simply rocks; it’s one of the most adventurous groups around in its curatorial taste and presentation. Mackey plays electric guitar suavely and sounds exceptionally fluent, clean, precise, economical, never showing off, but impressive. (He also does a narrator-cameo relating the synopsis of a Twilight Zone episode that’s hilariously chilling.) And Eckert of course continues to amaze. His voice seems only to get better; it’s operatic in scope and strength, yet entirely naturalistic, and he has a killer falsetto. He’s also the author of this libretto, which is simultaneously poignant, allusive, and focused, and a major factor in the work’s success... Bravo to all." -Fanfare
"Eckert brings a wonderful tone to his character . . . One cannot help but be very impressed by the performance of the amazing contemporary music ensemble, eighth blackbird, as well. . . . As mentioned, the more of Steve Mackey's music I hear, the more I appreciate it. For those who have never heard his work before, I think that Lonely Hotel is a very rewarding place to start. Check in and stay awhile." -Audiophile Audition
From beginning to end, Steven Mackey's seamless musical fabric engages the ear as if it were charting sonic events in a shy and stuttering parallel universe... exhilarating project... rich rewards. It shows Eighth Blackbird as a force for good, and as a serious artistic collaborator on a very high scale, where the music entertains and pleases, and then goes on to something that provokes and stimulates.
La Scena Musicale
Much fun to be had... and eight versatile musicians makes the most of it.
powerful performance... eighth blackbird performs with its customary brilliance, dazzling with its instrumental virtuosity and versatility... Cedille's sound is clean, spacious, and full of life.
American Record Guide
The music is essentially tonal, with the consistent spice of meticulously hairy rhythms and freely sprouting flights of fancy, managed with jaw-dropping skill by this exceptional ensemble.
The forces that came together to make this piece also had good chemistry. Eighth blackbird quite simply rocks... Mackey plays electric guitar suavely and sounds exceptionally fluent, clean, precise, economical, never showing off, but impressive. And Eckert of course continues to amaze. He's also the author of this libretto, which is simultaneously poignant, allusive, and focused, and a major factor in the work's success.
The music is very compelling, indeed.
Lyricist: Rinde Eckert.
Personnel: Matt Albert (violin, viola); Nicholas Photinos (cello); Tim Munro (flute); Michael J. Maccaferri (clarinet); Lisa Kaplan (piano); Matthew Duvall (percussion).
Audio Mixer: Tom Lazarus.
Recording information: Chicago recording Company (03/18/2010-03/21/2010).
Editors: Brian Losch; Steven Mackey.
Librettist: Rinde Eckert.
Photographers: Rinde Eckert; Jane Richey; Luke Ratray; Sibila Savage.
Slide, a theater piece by composer Steven Mackey and writer Rinde Eckert, had its premiere at the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, with eighth blackbird and the creators performing. The original version lasted about 80 minutes, and the version here, recorded after the performers had toured with it throughout 2010, is pared down to about 55 minutes. This album's title, Lonely Motel: Music from Slide, suggests that this disc represents excerpts from the original rather than a pared-down refinement of the material. Mackey's distillation/amalgamation of traditions -- he cites Dowland, Mozart, Stravinsky, Piazzolla, and the Beatles -- as well as a variety of rock styles and minimalisms and post-minimalisms makes a coherent musical statement that carries a pungent emotional punch. The extraordinary singer and dramatist Rinde Eckert contributed the libretto and delivers a powerful performance of the vocal part, and the composer plays electric guitar and serves as narrator. eighth blackbird performs with its customary brilliance, dazzling with its instrumental virtuosity and versatility, along with additional vocal and dramatic contributions. The narrative of the piece, a psychologist's lovelorn reflections on a failed relationship, is poignant and evocative but it doesn't have the compelling dynamism of Dreamhouse, a stunning 2003 collaboration between Mackey and Eckert. The piece was nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Cedille's sound is clean, spacious, and full of life. This beautifully produced album should be of strong interest to fans of new music and new theater music. ~ Stephen Eddins
Submitted on 11/04/11 by Due Fuss