Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"A fiercely aggressive group, combining the power and punch of a rock band with the precision and clarity of a chamber ensemble." - The New York Times
The Bang on a Can All-Stars are back with their first studio album in five years, and the first to include the current line-up of players: Ashley Bathgate, cello; Robert Black, bass; Vicky Chow, piano; David Cossin, percussion; Mark Stewart, electric guitar; and Evan Ziporyn, clarinets.
With Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, the Bang on a Can All-Stars show off their blazing speed, polyrhythmic virtuosity and all-world versatility in a return to the core Bang on a Can sound - an uncategorizable supermix of classical and electric instruments that is part classical ensemble, part rock band, and part jazz sextet. The album is the first in a decade that features the All-Stars exclusively, rather than as part of a collaborative project. Each of the pieces on the double-CD calls upon a different kind of virtuosity, demonstrating the range of musical abilities and experiences arguably unique to this ensemble. Recorded in New York City, all of the music on Big Beautiful Dark and Scary were written for and premiered by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The Bang on a Can All-Stars have gained an international reputation for extreme virtuosity and an utterly unique sound, powered by their unusual combination of clarinets and saxophones, electric guitar, cello, bass, keyboards, and percussion. Part classical ensemble, part rock band, part jazz band, the All-Stars' flexibility reflects the vision of Bang on a Can artistic directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, who believe in the communicative power of a wide range of music from a new generation of composers and performers.
It's this triumvirate that leads the pack on Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, named for the eponymous first track by Wolfe that encapsulates the composer's emotional reaction to a post-9/11 world... Wolfe sucks us in immediately with an undercurrent of strings that sounds like Flight of the Bumblebee on speed, giving way to her singular brand of critical-mass intensity.
This is a very full and very unusual compilation but I would say it is one of Bang On a Can's best. While this music may not appeal to everyone it should definitely be experienced. If the ensemble's appreciable skills are not enough to hook you, I would bet that the David Lang or Michael Gordon works would. Personally, I enjoyed all of it. My answer to my own headliner is that the wildly creative works from this cutting edge ensemble are big, beautiful, dark and... well worth your while!
San Francisco Classical Voice
The CDs' title track, "Big Beautiful Dark and Scary," lives up to its name. Dark, full harmonies are repeated ad nauseam and move slowly up in pitch before jolting back down and repeating. The incessant drive and energy of the piece is insatiable, constantly pushing the listener to the edge of sanity before popping over the top in a splash of sound and color.
National Public Radio
There's music by all three of the group's founding composers: Julia Wolfe's throbbing title work, David Lang's delicate and then driving sunray and Michael Gordon's haunting and nearly apocalyptic elegy For Madeline, with particularly arresting klezmer-style clarinet wailing.
Audio Mixer: Damian leGassick.
Recording information: Omni Parker House, Boston, MA (06/2010/12/2010); The James L. Dolan Music Recording Studio at New York U (06/2010/12/2010).
This release marks the 25th anniversary of the New York mostly percussion ensemble Bang On A Can (the All-Stars mentioned here include collaborators like clarinetist-composer Evan Ziporyn). The group's lasting popularity and influence are further attested to by the more than 5,000 memories the band received after offering free downloads from the album to anyone who sent them one. This double-album set might serve the curious as an introduction to Bang On A Can, which fearlessly proclaimed the connectedness of musical traditions generally thought to be separate when it came on the scene in the late 1980s. Ziporyn's Music from Shadow Bang reflects the composer's study of Indonesian percussion traditions. David Longstreth's cheekily titled Instructional Video, Matt Damon, and Breakfast at J&M reflect the interface between Bang On A Can and the world of alternative rock, while kinetic pieces by Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon hark back to the group's "downtown" origins. A piece by Louis Andriessen shows the group's ability to take on a more severe modernist idiom, while Conlon Nancarrow's Four Player Piano Studies, arranged by Ziporyn, put a new, non-mechanistic spin on those works. All these pieces coexist cheerfully, and the sheer range of the group's expertise and enthusiasms ensures the music is anything but boring. A good place to start with this group, which seems likely to notch a second quarter century of performing and recording. ~ James Manheim
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