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David TOUB (b. 1961)
Piece #2 (1999-2000) for electronic organ [4:32]
Piece #3 (2000-2001) for electronic organ [12:31]
Piece #1 (2000-2004) for electronic organ [24:03]
4/4 (2010) [21:52]
Piece (2010) for electronic organ and bongo drums [16:44]
David Toub (electronic organ and samples)
Glenn Freeman (bongo drums and post-production)
rec. 2012, location not given.
OGREOGRESS no number [79:45]

David Toub’s music has appeared on the OgreOgress label before, his mf on the ‘For Feldman’ album having Kirk McElhearn tapping his feet (review). At time of writing his Twitter profile reads, “I'm a gynecologic surgeon and minimalist composer; there's probably not many of us around”, which is as good a reason as any to find out more.

The Piece series is indeed determinedly minimalist, the electronic organ sound rooting Toub’s ostinato style close to that of early Philip Glass though managing to avoid imitation when it comes to tonalities and harmonic progressions. Rather than working around arpeggios, Toub’s ostinato basis varies around intervals of a fifth or thereabouts, alternating notes in a reasonably rapid tempo but without rushing us into raised heart-rates. Piece #2 is a short introduction, the right hand throwing in blue notes and improvisatory touches towards the end of the piece to heighten the jazzy feel already set-up by a syncopating rhythmic relationship between left and right hands.

Piece #3 bustles away a little faster than its previous sibling, its right hand line setting up another neat little pattern that, to my ears, could have stayed longer. The initial variation sees the hands joining their alternating pattern, which develops to create some mesmerising harmonic landscapes. Toub’s notes for these works admit to ‘wrong notes’ that appeared during the improvisatory process of building these pieces, notes that were selectively kept in their final notated versions. You can sense the intuitive nature of this music, the patterns varying and developing with an organic freedom that avoids the feel of a mathematical process. This has advantages and disadvantages, but I have to say I rather enjoy Toub’s at times quasi-na´ve, slightly ‘home-made’ quality. We can always do with reminding ourselves that Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata was also home-made.
Piece #1 was started before the others but took longer to complete. With its departure from sixteenth-note ostinato patterns this is a weightier and more extended exploration of sonorities and harmonic progressions. It has a darker, almost gothic feel, with one or two moments that almost take us into the smoky realms of Messiaen’s Catholic incense. There are distinct sections, and there are silent breaks which add to a distancing effect from the more straightforward minimalism of the other two pieces.

The organ sound for these recordings is quite appealing. The Pieces use an Esoniq KS-32 synthesizer which has a colourful sound and rich sonorities that are non-fatiguing to the ear. 4/4 brings us back into the world of “a continuous stream of 16th notes”, the title referring to the time signature of the piece, though this is not an audible feature with the musical lines moving over the barlines with flowing ease. The opening is two-part, to which notes are added after the first few minutes: cluster-like chords forming on the on-beat. The notes take on a more staccato character through the middle of the piece, with a rondo-like return to the more legato opening as a transition towards Toub’s signature two-left/three-right pattern, finishing with a stray coda that uses the opening shapes with a change of (poly)tonality.

The final Piece for electronic organ and bongo drums sets up a bongo drum loop and initially slow moving organ notes that become more or less animated. The drum pattern has a continuous quality, though there is a solo section in which changes occur. With the spare nature of the organ notes, of which there are only five, the drums take on a melodic quality, the overtones in their sound playing into those of the organ. The drums stop while the organ continues, and then re-join, always a good effect, though with Steve Reich’s Drumming in mind more interesting things might have been done. Toub keeps things simple and truly minimal however, and the idea works in a strangely compelling way.

This is an intriguing release and one I’ve found myself enjoying more than I expected. David Toub has a clear idea of what he wants and doesn’t over-stretch his credibility by becoming eclectic or over-ambitious with his idiom, proving at the same time – if proof were needed – that it still has plenty to offer for those inclined to probe and tease out extended works with limited means. This is artful and nicely produced minimalist work, and if you are a fan of the genre in its early period of experiment and purposeful forward momentum then this may well speak to you with a similar unpretentious clarity.

Dominy Clements

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