Heiner Goebbels first broke into the public consciousness in the mid 80s with "The Man in the Elevator", an exciting setting to music of the texts of Heiner Müller incorporating musicians from disparate traditions, managing to find common ground that was often compelling. He more or less continues the latter part of that conception here except that the sets of musicians are divided among the four pieces. In doing so, perhaps unfortunately, they end up having no direct dealings with each other.
The title track feature Goebbels (on prepared piano and percussion) and Chris Cutler (drums, "electrified" drums) in a kind of old-fashioned concerto setting, playing as soloists in front of a small orchestra, the Icarus Ensemble conducted by Yoichi Sugiyama (a modern enough assemblage, counting samplers and electric guitar among its members). The music fluctuates between the more stately offerings coming through the piano and the wilder, sometimes goofily so, contributions from Cutler. It's colorful enough but only hangs together loosely as a composition and Cutler's insistence on filling up every available space with not-that-interesting clatter wearies one after a while.
The three remaining works were performed with the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna under the direction of Franck Ollu. On the first of these, "Ou Bien Sunyatta", Goebbels engages the services of Boubacar Djebate [usually spelled "Diebate" or "Diabate"] (kora) and Sira Djebate (voice) and happily so. While Goebbels constructs an interesting, if somewhat brassily bombastic, orchestration to accompany Dejbate, it's almost beside the point as the latter's kora playing is gorgeous enough to transcend any excessive adornment. He plays a beautiful, simple pattern, repeating it with slight modifications, eventually accompanied by the emphatic vocal of (brother?) Sira. A lovely piece, regardless of who is more responsible. Trombonist Johannes Bauer, always a raucous pleasure to hear, is the featured player on "Die Faust im Wappen"; indeed the opening several minutes are given over to a fine selection of snarls, slurs, and general blatting before the orchestra enters, again somewhat portentously but with some Arabic overtones that leaven the load a bit. Bauer growls and roars throughout, the combination resulting in a boisterous, fun piece. The final offering, "So That the Blood Dropped to the Earth", brings in mezzosoprano Jocelyn B. Smith and revisits Heiner Müller, the text drawn from his "Surrogate Cities". Unfortunately, the pomposity that has lurked beneath the surface for a good portion of the music thus far bursts out into the open here, the vocals turning strident and an almost militaristic feel emerging. Objectively, not a bad bit of writing; the composition works well enough and amply fills its seven minutes with events; there's just the irresistible urge to find a pin to deflate all the pretension.
A mixed bag overall. Listeners who have followed Goebbels career will doubtless enjoy it for the most part. Those who fondly remember his earliest efforts, the ones with more of a streetwise feel and less of a sense of self-importance, might be put off.
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