One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                     Editor in Chief: John Quinn              



alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Eighth Blackbird - Strange Imaginary Animals

Jennifer HIGDON (b.1962)
Zaka (2003) [12:50]
Gordon FITZELL (b.1968)
violence (2001) [9:46]
Steven MACKEY (b.1966)
Indigenous Instruments (1989) [17:34]
Friction Systems
(2002; rev. 2005) [14:37]

Gordon FITZELL (b.1968)
(2006) [11:18]
Dennis DESANTIS (b.1973)
strange imaginary remix
(2006) [5:33]
Eighth Blackbird: (Lisa Kaplan (piano); Matt Albert (violin, viola); Nicholas Photinos (cello); Matthew Duvall (percussion); Michael J Macafferi (clarinet); Molly Alicia Barth (flute))
rec. Ball State University, 15-18 August 2005. DDD
CEDILLE CDR 90000 094 [72:00]



Eighth Blackbird have been playing together since 1996 and by their 'fruit' you know that they are a well integrated group.

This grab-bag of modern pieces dating 1989-2006 reflects the vitality and variety embraced by this enterprising group of musicians.

Jennifer Higdon's Zaka is a fantastic sprint full of irresistible Stravinskian energy and rhythmic drive.

Gordon Fitzell's Violence is more brusquely modern with Pendereckian wails and shuddering tremors and sighs all encased in a shrouded dream of violence presented in a recording of stunning immediacy. 

Stephen Mackey's Indigenous Instruments is in three movements where all the other pieces are in single spans. Mackey is closer to Fitzell than Higdon but there is some of vital grammar to the piece which is dominated by fragmentation, reiteration of motifs and a panoply of Daliesque melting as well as grumbling, rumbling and chittering. The second movement is more placid rather than rattling with activity.  The finale is engaging with jazzy little interjections and hints of minimalist germs as well as chants and chatters in Stravinskian echoes that find their origin in the Symphonies of Wind Instruments but with cooler romantic streams casting benediction from Coplandesque pastures.

David Gordon's Friction Systems which starts and ends with the brawling of machines, melts centrally into a dark-realmed refraction of the Dies Irae. This is dark and fascinating stuff that is well worth hearing.

Fitzell has the honour of a second piece. Evanescence is alive with electronic contrivances and effects as well as the 'natural voices' of the instruments. It ends with the emulation of an electronic alarm. 

Finally we have Strange Imaginary Remix by Dennis DeSantis with clipped synthesised electronic sounds and samples, plunking, breathing, Hammond echoing and chiming in urgent patterns streaming across the page and the listener's attention. Parts of it sound funky; down and dirty.

Modernistic stuff then, perhaps kicking against current trends towards tonality and legato melodics, but if this style is to your taste the DeSantis, Higdon, Gordon and parts of the Mackey are especially well worth hearing.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Dominy Clements

Further details at:



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat



Recordings of the Month


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3



Aho Symphony 5

Dowland - A Fancy


Rachmaninov_ Babayan


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.