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John Luther ADAMS (b. 1953)
Everything that Rises [56:21]
JACK Quartet
rec. 2017, Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada
COLD BLUE MUSIC CB0051 [56:21]

I came to the music of John Luther Adams only recently, when I invested in his Become Ocean (CA21101), his large work composed for three orchestras. Like his earlier work, Everything that Rises is composed in a single span and lasts nearly an hour, which in some ways reminds me of early minimalism in the way that he extends notes to make a progression of the piece’s sound world, but a minimalist piece this is not, with the four members of the quartet playing independently of each other to produce this remarkable work.

John Luther Adams says of the work that “Everything That Rises, my fourth string quartet, grew out of Sila: The Breath of the World—a concert-length choral/orchestral work I composed on a rising series of 16 harmonic clouds. This music traverses that same territory, but in a much more melodic way. Each musician is a soloist, playing throughout. Time floats and the lines spin out, always rising, in acoustically perfect intervals that grow progressively smaller as they spiral upward…until the music dissolves into the soft noise of the bows, sighing”. And in the piece the composer further explores his fascination and love for nature, as he describes the work as a series of ascending musical “clouds”.

As a lover of the string quartet idiom, I was more than interested in reviewing this disc and to see just how far John Luther Adams takes and bends this most perfect of musical forms, and bend it he does. This is not a quartet in classic sense, rather the four members, or ‘soloists’ following their own individual line and producing on the way some remarkable string sounds.

It begins with a kind of low drone on the cello and gradually develops and builds through gradually higher pitch to its ethereal conclusion. On the way we get notes that sound more akin to woodwind from the higher strings whilst the lower strings at times produce notes that sound like low brass. The piece ends with differing drones which I found reminiscent of the sounds from a friend’s beehive and so returning again to John Luther Adams’ infatuation with nature. This is, as the composer attests, a melodic work, with the melody being broken up into short sections and played by the higher strings over the bass of the cello. I find this a wonderful quartet; one I have listened to repeatedly, although it is best listened to in a darkened room through headphones in order to enjoy the full experience. I must say that whilst you might think it an overly long work, as you listen to it time does not drag; rather it passes a lot quicker than you think and the piece ends before you expect it to.

The JACK Quartet shows remarkable control as it builds up the intensity and pitch of this quartet with each of the member’s parts clearly discernible, this being helped by the excellent recorded sound. Where this recording is lacking is in the booklet notation, all you get is the short paragraph included above. This work does however, makes me want to hear more of John Luther Adams’ music, and especially his three other string quartets.

Stuart Sillitoe

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