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    Harry Partch – The Harry Partch Collection Volume 2

    The Harry Partch Collection is a set of four individual CDs that were originally released by CRI in 1997 and reissued by New World Records in 2004. Volume 2 features two works, the first of which, The Wayward, takes Partch’s speech-music experiments of the 1940s and ’50s to a whole new level; and the second, And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, which set a new high water mark for his instrumental writing in the 1960s.

    The Wayward is a collection of four works that chronicle the trials and tribulations of hobo life that Harry Partch experienced during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. Composed in 1943 and revised in 1955, the first, “U.S. Highball,” is one of my favorite Partch pieces of all time. A perfect merger of avant garde music and pure Americana, this epic, 25-minute musical roller coaster recounts an actual cross-country railroad trip Partch himself made from San Francisco to Chicago. A prelude that introduces each of Harry’s microtonal plectra and percussion instruments is, in and of itself, simply astonishing and exotic-sounding as all get-out. Then comes the work proper, in which various notes that Partch jotted down during the trip are brought to vivid life: hilarious snippets of graffiti, overheard conversations, flop house signs, railroad speak and town / state names distorted by whimsy (“Leaving Colfax, Califor-nee-ax!” and “Leaving Council Bluffs, I-o-wuffs!” for example). Just the mere thought of this piece makes me smile and laugh. It’s a wild, jarring, forward-rolling-with-occasional-melancholy-moments masterpiece that will charm your head off if you give it half a chance. Crazily enough, a 1958 performance was even filmed and is available on DVD!

    As a reprieve from the rollicking “U.S. Highball,” a short, droning, cloud o’ melancholy known as “San Francisco,” which was composed in 1943 and revised in 1955, presents to the attentive listener one of Partch’s strangest, wooziest dreams that recounts the cries of newsboys at a street corner on a fog-filled night in the 1920s. Then the composer reads “The Letter,” which was composed in 1943 and revised in 1972, written by a hobo pal named Pablo in Cincinnati, Ohio in the middle of the great depression in 1935. “Barstow,” which was composed in 1941 and revised in 1968, buttons up The Wayward with a set of eight inscriptions from a highway railing in Barstow, California that Partch jotted down in 1940 and set to music. This work is a perfect example of speech music in which the instruments mimic the sound of the vocal inflections. The most memorable line: “Go to 530 East Lemon Avenue in Monrovia for an easy handout, gentlemen.”

    Moving on into the 1960s, we encounter And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, a longform, 35-minute piece that represents the apex of Partch’s instrumental efforts. Composed between 1964 and ’66, it takes rhythmic complexity through the roof–especially in some of the later verses, when an array of ultra-complex polymetric rhythms invade your head like a dozen different musical viruses. This work is also a showcase for all of the composer’s 22 instruments, six of which were built since 1960, as well as a study for his masterwork, Delusion of the Fury. Professionally recorded–the instruments ring through loud and clear–and released on CRI, Petals was the first Partch work to enjoy a wide release on a commercial label. It’s also worth noting that LP brandished what is is merely one of the most attractive album covers of all time.

    Label: New World Records Catalog Number: 80622-2 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 5 Total Time: 76:23 Country: United States Released: 2004 More: American Mavericks, Harry Partch Information Center, Innova, Last.FM, Newband, Official, Wikipedia, Yale, YouTube

    Text ©2010 Arcane Candy

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