Monday, January 16, 2023

Orchestrated X: Gavin Bryars 80

Gavin Bryars - Pneuma 5

It's Monday -- MLK's birthday holiday if you're in the US! -- and speaking of birthdays, it's time for a milestone one for one of those truly undersung unclassifiables.

He played bass in a trio concert just a few days ago, so at 80 he is still doing what he does, which is hard to describe -- but no less sublime in its results -- for the indeterminacy.

He first appeared 55 years ago, as part of a trio that at first backed Lee Konitz, but after a year switched to what is now termed non-idiomatic improvisation.
Back then it was called Free Jazz, and it operated largely outside of the norms of the repeating chord changes and rhythmic orthodoxy of what had been perceived as legitimate musical expression up to that time.

His partners in this group -- called Joseph Holbrooke after an obscure British composer -- also went on to become legends, one of whom I've covered before: the guitar-reimagining force Derek Bailey.

The other one, drummer Tony Oxley, is just as worthy of tribute, and someday he'll get his own day on here.... oh look, he's 85 in five months.

Of the three, the bass player in that pioneering ensemble -- our birthday hero -- went on to perhaps the most undefinable, yet 100% just as forefront, career.

First, he helped found The Portsmouth Sinfonia, a project that would take several blog posts and a podcast to even attempt to describe. Except to say that it was essentially a Classical orchestra, but potential participants were encouraged to join even if they didn't know how to play their instruments.

Around this time he started orchestrating his own music, which again has so many feet in so many pools it's futile to try to put it into any words.

Two of these pieces -- one, The Sinking of the Titanic (based on the hymn the band is supposed to have played as that doomed ship was ice-cubed to the bottom of the sea) and the other, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (centered on a tape loop of an old hobo singing another hymn, accompanied by an ever-increasing orchestral instrumentation) -- have become almost standard compositions, performed dozens of times in various contexts throughout the intervening decades.

He's been at it since the Sixties, with so many scores and albums and installations and performances in so many varied roles, and straddling so many imaginary aesthetic boundaries, I'm challenged to keep up and I'm allegedly somewhat good at this stuff.

Many of his works haven't ever even been issued as recordings, but because Gavin Bryars -- as uncategorizably brilliant a musical figure as any you could name of our lifetimes -- is going the mighty eighty, octogenarian status today, I am gonna do something about at least one of them.

This is a ballet, for which he did the music in 2014. It's never been issued as a CD or a stream, but it was recorded for, and broadcast by, a French satellite TV channel when it premiered back then. For this very special b'day occasion, I've brewed the audio from that up into a very lovely 80-minute thing.

Gavin Bryars
Pneuma (L'Air et les Songes)
Opéra National de Bordeaux
Place de la Comedie
Bordeaux, France

01 Intro Interlude
02 Prologue
03 Interlude 1
04 Pneuma 1
05 Pneuma 2
06 Interlude 2
07 Pneuma 3
08 Interlude 3
09 Pneuma 4
10 Interlude 4
11 Pneuma 5
12 Interlude 5
13 Pneuma 6
14 Interlude 6
15 Pneuma 7
16 Interlude 7
17 applause & Outro Interlude

Total time: 1:19:57

performed by Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine
Pieter-Jelle de Boer, conductor
Philip Jeck - turntables
Carolyn Carlson - choreographer

256/48k audio from a French satellite HDTV broadcast
extracted, converted to 16/44 CD Audio, edited, tracked, denoised, repaired & remastered by EN, January 2023
391 MB FLAC/direct link

I shall be back in exactly one week, where we will go so Super Soul Sister, you'll Anita chiropractor for your dislocated hips, as you will dance like you're a candidate for sacrum sweetening surgery.

But I couldn't let the day pass without an homage to the great Gavin Bryars -- born this day in 1943, no less -- whose big birthday reminded me of how much pleasure his powerfully personal, yet utterly defiant-of-description, music has given me over the years. Even if -- unlike with that old hobo's taste for Jesus' Blood -- words have yet failed me. I guess you could say his stuff is like the kids used to say in that old Almond Joy ad... it's indescribably delicious!--J.