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    Julius Eastman – Unjust Malaise

    In a myriad of ways, Julius Eastman’s whole life was more unusual than a Kodak moment. For starters, he was a black, gay, avant-garde classical composer and performer. Can you say highly unlikely? Beginning in the late 1960s, he mostly worked in a post-minimal vein for a couple of decades until his life unraveled in the 1980s. That’s when his professional performing and teaching gigs dried up, he got evicted from his apartment, his scores and belongings got trashed, and he spent the next few years living on the streets, just prior to his very unfortunate and premature death in 1990.

    Fortunately, fellow composer Mary Jane Leach spent several years in the 1990s and 2000s tracking down some crucial Eastman info, photos and recordings that were on the brink of falling into a black hole on the other side of music history. The result of her efforts is Unjust Malaise, a 3-CD collection of works spanning from 1973 to 1981. Disc one consists of two lengthy pieces for ensembles and one for acapella voice. In the space of 24 minutes, the voice, piano, violin, clarinet, sax and percussion that bring “Stay On It” into sonic reality offer up extended permutations of light, melodic riffs, then get chaotic with held tones sprayed with sprinkles and woozy, crying clouds. A pop and improv combo follows, which melllows down into a series of beautiful piano riffs. This was the first-ever piece to fuse minimalism and pop.

    “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” features minimal, keening trumpets that wail away over held tones with a bunch of big notes–courtesy of chimes, double bass, French horn, piano, trobone, trumpet, tuba and violin–ascending and descending. Then it’s time for a detour into The Outer Limits as a field of sour drones support some lively violin sawing and bell tolling. “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc” takes an unexpected turn into the territory of solo accapella singing. On this track, Julius proves just how multi-talented he is with a confident display of deep, resonant singing, which is surprising coming from such a thin guy.

    Like disc one, the second disc also consists of three tracks–one for massed cellos and two for piano. “The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc” opens with dramatic, insistent, rock-like cello riffs with a melody splayed over the top that gets all smeary and sour like dissonant eddies on a rushing musical river. If you’ve ever wondered what it would sound like if Glenn Branca employed acoustic instruments instead of electric guitars, here’s your chance. A quiet, minimal, rhythmic piano kicks in on “Gay Guerilla,” only to get louder with layers of dissonance before dipping into a serene sound pool during the last five minutes. “Evil Nigger” pushes layers of flitting paino lines stright into the heart of a nighttime netherworld.

    Disc three keeps the piano flag waving with one nearly hour-long piece called “Crazy Nigger,” in which deep, rumbling piano clouds sprinkled with light tinkles take the listener on an extremely pleasurable, late-night flow-motion cruise. Rising and falling, through thick and thin, the sound finally dies down around 47:00 with some single note pounding and a wind-chimes-on-steroids ending that calls to mind the “Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow” by James Tenney. The closing track consists of a spoken introduction from Eastman that explains the controversial titles of each piece. Needless to say, I highly recommend Unjust Malaise. It’s quite a sprawling set that’s chock-full of super strong stuff from a highly talented musician who left this mortal coil far too soon.

    Label: New World Records Catalog Number: 80638-2 Format: 3-CD Packaging: Double jewel case Tracks: Disc 1: 3, Disc 2: 3, Disc 3: 2 Total Time: Disc 1: 60:32, Disc 2: 72:06, Disc 3: 61:25 Country: United States Released: 2005 More: Amazon, Arts Journal, Last.FM, Mary Jane Leach, Sonic Resolution,Vimeo, Wikipedia

    Text ©2010 Arcane Candy

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