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.