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After Serra (2000) is a quintet inspired by the work of the post-minimalist sculptor Richard Serra. The notes (by Marilyn Nonken) state that Eckardt is inspired by the monolithic feel of Serra's work (one sculpture adorns the CD cover). The sonic results of the work are stunning throughout -- as huge outbursts give way to nervously mystical sounds. Eckardt's sense of instrumental color, even with such a small ensemble, is always highly controlled and evocative [listen -- track 1, 0:02-1:00].

Tangled Loops (1996) is a duo for soprano saxophone and piano which the composer describes as a celebration of great jazz saxophonists such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Eric Dolphy. The work gradually continues 'looping' around itself to build to an incredibly active climax. The very end of the work, in particular, is a wonderfully scored moment -- as the piano takes off from the saxophone's final note to evaporate into the ether [listen -- track 2, 6:00-7:34].

A Glimpse Retraced (1999) is a piano concerto, scored for solo piano and only four instruments. The notes tell that the piece is inspired by 'memory and memory's tendency to alter past events in the mind'. As such, the form is one of reimagining and 'retracing' as the same material returns in altered forms and presentations. In fact, at the end of the piece, the entire piece so far is 'replayed' in an extremely condensed format. Although the 'orchestra' of the concerto consists only of four instruments, Eckardt uses them so fully that one never feels that the piece is spare at all. It is fully a concertante work and makes a strong impact [listen -- track 3, 0:00-1:11].

Polarities (1998) is the longest work on the disc and is scored for an ensemble of seven players. The first movement begins with an extended clarinet cadenza that leads into the rest of the movement. The other instruments gradually come alive and begin to comment on the clarinet's material. The texture remains throughout the rest of the movement. The second movement begins with percussion sounds (cymbal scrapes and maracas). Very slow, ethereal string glissandi join the texture. These colors (and similar effects from both percussion and instruments) dominate much of the long movement's sound world. It explores a far more subdued world from the first movement, although it does return to the active world of the first movement before dying away.

The musicians of Ensemble 21 are among the finest new music performers in New York City. Marilyn Nonken (featured in both A Glimpse Retraced and Tangled Loops) is one of the finest new-music specialists around today. Her piano playing is incredibly sensitive, and she brings a tremendous understanding and sense of shape to the very difficult music. There are various 'complexity technicians' around who have made a career out of playing very hard modernist scores simply by getting through all the notes (which is certainly an impressive feat). Nonken, however, is very far from that world, being a true musician who has chosen to invest her vast musical insight into the works of the composers she most believes in.

Taimur Sullivan's performance of the saxophone duo Tangled Loops is also noteworthy. He projects a tremendous sound across all registers of the instrument, while conveying the poetry of the score.

Copyright © 13 August 2005 Carson P Cooman, Pittsburgh USA


Jason Eckardt: Out of Chaos

mode 137 Stereo FIRST RELEASE 62'54" 2004 mode records

Ensemble 21: David Fedele, flute; Jean Kopperud, clarinet; Taimur Sullivan, saxophone; Gregor Kitzis, violin; Rolf Schulte, violin (A Glimpse Retraced); Lois Martin, viola; Christopher Finckel, cello; Marilyn Nonken, piano; Thomas Kolor, percussion; Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor (After Serra, Polarities); Paul Hostetter, conductor (A Glimpse Retraced)

Jason Eckardt (born 1971): After Serra (2000); Tangled Loops (1996); A Glimpse Retraced (1999); Polarities (1998)





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