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Maki ISHII (1936-2003) Live
Saidoki (Demon), op.86 (Floating Wind - part III) (1989-1992) [13:45]
Concertante, for marimba and six percussionists, op.79 (1988) [20:18]
Percussion Concerto 'South - Fire - Summer', op.95 (1992) [18:04]
Ryan Scott (solo percussion); Bill Brennan, Mark Duggan, Paul Houle,
Blair Mackay, Andrew Morris, Trevor Tureski (percussion); Esprit
rec. Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, 1 May 2009; 24 March
2000 [Concertante]; 11 May 2008 [South-Fire-Summer]. DDD
INNOVA 809 [51:57]
This CD is so modern it even has its own website.
An offshoot of the very trendy American Composers Forum, Innova
is a label "dedicated to forward-looking (-hearing?) work
that pushes and challenges the boundaries of contemporary music",
and their output is filed under Jazz, New Classical, Experimental,
World and Electronics. Quite possibly the only label whose director
is a self-styled "guerilla sound sculptor", its own
five internet radio streams include one dedicated entirely to
minimalism, another to microtonal music and a third, called
Saxophonics, "a dream come true for every kind of sax lover."
Given such unusually high levels of cool, it is hardly surprising
that the cover of this new release of percussion concerto music
by renowned Japanese composer Maki Ishii is more than suggestive
of a jazz CD. "Maki Ishii Live" beckons almost in
neon lights, with Ryan Scott (a jazz artist's name, if ever
there was one!) on drums - and a lot more percussion besides
- whilst the poor old Esprit Orchestra, with all its Old Classical
instruments is relegated to a small font in a scarcely legible
design along with their conductor Alex Pauk. And Ishii's tell-tale
opus numbers are tucked away inside the booklet.
As it turns out, 'live' does not refer to Ishii, who sadly died
in 2003, but to these three recordings for the Canadian state
broadcaster, CBC Radio 2. Live recordings are no rarity on a
classical disc, but 'Ralph Vaughan Williams Live' would go down
like a lead balloon in certain circles. The truth of the matter
is, though, that there is no jazz here, only art music that
is not post-modernist, but boldly modernist - Maki Ishii clearly
influenced by his avant-gardist teacher Boris Blacher in Berlin
in the late 1950s.
Yet the real content of this CD is nothing to be coy about.
This is indeed a quality product, difficult to fault, beyond
the less than generous running time. Splendid performances all
round, with Ryan Scott in quite amazing form, especially in
Saidoki, where he seems to be playing every percussion instrument
known to humankind, and several that are not, often at the same
time. CBC Radio's sound is excellent, truly atmospheric, its
quality not even damaged by an occasional inopportune cough.
The only technical blemish comes right at the end of the last
track, when the final second of natural reverberation is faded
down a fraction of a second too quickly, presumably to allow
the applause to be cleanly cut. The CD booklet is impressively
informative and neat - it can be read in advance for free here.
As for the music, well, from the opening bars of Saidoki it
is obvious Ishii means business: turbulent, compelling, insistent,
startling, exospheric. Saidoki is a seriously eerie masterpiece,
an epic from the fifth dimension that fulfils Ishii's stated
intention of "seeking to create a new sound universe"
with ease and panache. Concertante seems for a while to be milder
fare, opening quietly with gentle ripples mainly by the marimba,
but eventually Scott's virtuosity, often matched by the six
ensemble percussionists, builds momentum until the work ends
in a kind of demented-jazz frenzy. It is not until the Percussion
Concerto that the Esprit Orchestra come briefly into their own,
yet here for once, noisy outbursts notwithstanding, there is
a greater emphasis on quiet - although that is all thrown out
the window as Ishii pursues "the idea of acoustic accumulation"
in the work's incredible Armageddon-like culmination, handled
by all soloists with consummate savvy and passion.
In sum, a superb disc in virtually every respect, marked down
a point or two only by its deficiency of minutes.
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