> GLASS Aguas da Amazonia 4640642 [JL]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Philip GLASS (b.1937)
UAKTI
Aguas da Amazonia

1 Tiquê River
2 Japurá River
3 Purus R iver
4 Negro River
5 Madeira river
6 Tapajós River
7 Paru River
8 Xingu River
9 Amazon River
10 Metamorphosis 1
UAKTI (Marco Antônio Guimarães: artistic direction and arrangements; strings/Paulo Sérgio dos Santos: percussion/ Décio de Souza Ramos Filho: percussion/Artur Andrés Ribeiro: woodwinds)
Recorded and mixed 1993-94, Brazil and New York (except "Metamorphosis", recorded and mixed 1999)
POINT MUSIC 464 064-2 [54:43]


For those who have not heard of the Brazilian group Uakti, the first they will probably want to know is how to pronounce it. The booklet is helpful on this point, providing the answer as whah-ke-chee. It is less informative about the history of the group, its music and the performers, although does tell us that the group "has been praised for its fearless fusion of wide-ranging musical styles, from classical to New age to world Music".

I assume Philip Glass, in this case, provides the "classical" connection. His minimalist compositional style fits well with the kind of incessant, repetitive rhythms that are a feature of UAKTI's own music.

The group has been around for well over twenty years, not only creating their own music but in some cases the instruments as well and they have acquired something of a cult following.

The association with Philip Glass dates from the early 1990s when he invited the group to join his own Point label (within Polygram) and he became executive producer to some of their recordings.

The vehicle for this Aguas da Amazonia collaboration with the composer was ballet music commissioned by a Brazilian dance group in 1993. The music was recorded then mixed the following year (although the final, extended number, Metamorphosis was recorded later in 1999),

The first track, Tiquê River, acts as a short introduction, consisting of a repeating chorale–type figure for keyboard in organ mode accompanied by tinkling arpeggios. This banality soon mercifully gives way to the rapid pulse of Japurá River, variations around a simple five-note progression pleasantly woven within the inimitable Uakti sound world. I have to confess, though, that half way through the next track I was beginning to wilt. There had been no change of pulse and I was longing for something to happen, even if it were just a change of tempo. I was sustained in the knowledge that track four would bring relief. No such luck. Off it goes again at the same incessant pace. At this point, on first hearing, I could not know the numbing truth which turned out to be that nearly all of the music on this disc chugs relentlessly along at just under 180 beats per minute. All but one of these rivers flow at the same speed.

Now I am aware of Glass’s minimalist principles at work here. The underlying pulse is treated to all sorts of subtle cross rhythms and there is melodic and textural variation across the tracks but, at least for me, this was not sufficient to prevent a sense of tedium that was in danger of driving me to bash my head against a wall. There are moments though. Paru River (no. 7) has an added spring to the rhythm and there are harmonic minor-major progressions that are quite arresting. But the real excitement is held for track nine which starts slower then after two minutes accelerates. Where does this take us? You’ve guessed it - back to 180 beats a minute.

Uakti have produced some extremely well selling discs in their time and with some justification. For example, I Ching displayed innovation, variation and interest. There is no doubt that Glass has had some influence on their style but the conclusion must be that asking him to actually write for them has not done them any favours. The composer is not at his best and the group are dragged down by the impoverishment of his imagination. I could not help being reminded of Sir Simon Rattle’s recent remark about John Adams : "Adams is a ten times better composer than all the other minimalists put together".

Perhaps I take it all too seriously. I read a review that suggested the music would be suitable accompaniment to a Summer barbecue. Of course – background music. So I tried this out by playing the disc while decorating the Kitchen. It didn’t help. The same supportive reviewer ended by saying that the disc was "a great listen but it’s delightful to fall asleep to". I have not tried this one yet but I certainly recommend insomniacs give it a go.

John Leeman

 


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