Has there been a more compelling musical redemption story in the past decade than that of Julius Eastman? Born in New York City in 1940, Eastman was a precocious young pianist and great singer who established himself as an ambitious young composer. He resided on the borders of minimalism and jazz, on the edge of the academy and the melting pot of the city’s downtown core. Eastman was also a living black homosexual according to the creed “to be what I am to the maximum”In a scene that neither looked nor acted like him. After relay working at Tower Records and living in Tompkins Square Park, he died on his own in 1990 following reported issues of addiction, mental illness and deportation.
But especially since the essential Frozen Reeds excavation in 2016 of his masterpiece from the early 70s, Feminine, Eastman appeared to be newly ubiquitous, touted not only for his ecstatic minimalism but also for his premonitory rejection of the genre and high / low divisions. Over the past decade and more, there has been a delivered, a trio of boxes, a DJ / breakup tribute, profiles of major newspapers and several versions of Feminine by chic ensembles of new music. The Los Angeles Philharmonic paired the music of Eastman with that of Arvo Pärt in August, while New York Philharmonic will present his work in January, a challenge that could have surprised the provocateur of the hometown. The New York Times even gave a name to this groundswell: Eastmania.
No organization has been more fully engaged in this public reintroduction than wild up, a radical Californian chamber collective of composers, performers and improvisers whose imagination and ambition seem limitless. They plan to spend the next six years arranging, recording and publishing a comprehensive seven-volume anthology of Eastman’s plays that survived his pitiful end.
They start with Feminine, the work which has not only been the most publicized for years, but which is also something like Eastman’s thesis, the play where so many of his interests and loves collide in a transcendent hour of his non-stop. Eastman created Feminine in 1974, the same year Steve Reich started writing Music for 18 musicians and Philip Glass unveiled 12-part music, three years before Rhys Chatham conceived Guitar trio. Feminine is one of those thrilling minimalist landmarks but also outside of them. Eastman’s loose score works more as a suggestive setting, allowing all musicians to play Feminine take liberties with everything outside of its rhythms. With a cast of 20, Wild Up runs with this simple suggestion of direction: on record, Feminine never felt more vital, immersive or necessary.
A detailed account of this version or any version of Feminine can go one of two ways: very little happens or changes in the entirety of those 70 minutes, or so much happens in just 30 seconds that trying to tell it all would be like documenting every skeletal muscle contraction in your body. A chorus of bells ring when Feminine begins, piling up like cicadas at the start of a summer night. A vibraphone soon joins, its enchanting melody is instantly indelible. Both persist throughout the piece, gradually fading towards the end. These double ellipses suggest that we have only heard a sample of a saga with no beginning or end, hinting at a cycle that will soon resume.
The rest of Feminine is a dizzying dance of flutes and whistles, violins and synthesizers, piano and vocals, all of which take the form of perpetual motion machines. Switch off for a second and a hundred notes seem to pass. Feminine works a bit like GAS, gamelan, or any other iterative music: it’s the details stuck in the recesses of these repetitive rhythms that give it power. The emotional dynamism of the music has the appeal of a particularly gripping film.
Wild Up pushes the flexibility in which Eastman wrote Feminine at its extreme. Nine soloists improvise against the basic structure. Near the summit, pianist Richard Valitutto drifts through autumnal variations so bittersweet they suggest a Bruce Hornsby hymn; warm and sad, his notes offer Eastman an apology, a tender promise that his short life will relish a long cock. Marta Tiesenga’s baritone saxophone later twists like a wounded animal, clinging to the slightest hint of comfort but finding none. Singer Odeya Nini growls and moans, redlining her crystal-clear soprano until she can break the glass; she inhales the pain to exhale it with fury.
Backed by rhythms as regular as a heartbeat but which flutter like an anxious spirit, these improvisations collectively suggest the complicated emotional range of a life. The way the weeping bugle and the enraged voice intertwine, and with the effervescent little orchestra around them, mimics how at any given moment, no matter what the most pronounced feeling, is always opposed to everything. that might leap into your brain. In Feminine as in life, a mood rarely lasts.
“The pianist goes interruption. Must come back, ”Eastman scribbled in capital letters at the end of Feminine‘s score, an order that Wild Up borrows for the title of the 10th movement. Throughout their recording, in fact, the instrument plays a crucial role: after a horn has launched into a climax during the seventh movement, for example, the piano knocks into it, ordering its sound. charge to line up. It’s like the instrument is a reminder that this too will pass, no matter what this turns out to be. Feminine sustains the joy of existing with the various torments of survival. It seems in keeping with Eastman’s biography that the play most responsible for his public resurrection is an in-depth study of chaotic feelings and an epic testimony to perseverance.
We live in a moment that thirsts for novelty, who loves the idea of what is Following So much so that much of Big Tech’s attention seems to be focused on content designed to disappear soon after it appears, like a restaurant that only sells smoke. But the same technology that enabled our rapidly successful culture has also fostered a golden age of archival digging, where gems overlooked due to systemic bigotry or mere circumstances get their late moments of light. . Beverly glenn-copeland, Laurie Spiegel, Bill Fay: Their feedback thankfully complicated our reductive narratives of history, just as Eastman did with minimalism.
Eastman’s moment came tragically late, of course, a quarter of a century after his death had gone unnoticed in the papers for eight months. But it’s hard to imagine a better fix than Wild Up’s interpretation of Feminine, which crackles with the absolute urgency of life but moves with the wisdom that it will not last forever.
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