A very impressive addition to the distressingly small Tenney discography. Bassist Calderone divides the recording into two sections. The first comprises three readings of Tenney's 1971 collection, 'Postal Pieces', one of '(Beast)' and two of '(night)'. The former well lives up to its name, a deep, sonorous work (originally written for Buell Neidlinger), the two lowest strings resulting in waves of beats as the "open A string and the stopped (and retuned) E string...are bowed together" (from Eric Smigel's excellent notes). It's a ferocious, extraordinarily rich piece, one that will set your whole room vibrating. Calderone offers two very different takes on '(night)' which carries the instructions, "very soft", "very long" and "nearly white". The first is more or less in the area one might expect from those descriptives, a fine matrix of high scraping tones (never too acidic), a rustling middle that might almost go unnoticed and a deep but soft rumbling beneath, very much evoking a dirt road over which the upper registers are traveling. It's a gorgeous example of layered textures and tunings. Throughout this recording, there's a liquidity to Calderone's playing that negates any possibility of the kind of academic aridity that can be all too common in this area of music. His second reading of the piece allows more abandon in interpretation, his passage a bit wilder as though that road has been transformed into choppy seas. But the control remains as does the listener's utter fascination with the grains and tones of the bowed strings, a continuous, fluctuating line, self-similar but never quite repeating, never settling into anything remotely routine.
The second part of the disc is taken up by 'Glissade' (1982), a composition in five parts wherein Calderone is joined by violist William Lane and cellist Francesco Dillon. An unusual feature is that each of the sections is quite different from the others, each examining a certain segment of Tenney's sound world. 'Shimmer' begins with a drone and settles into a complex, repetitive loop — it sounds oddly reminiscent of Fripp and Eno's 'The Heavenly Music Corporation' from 'No Pussyfooting', in fact — that unfurls in delightful and surprising directions before nestling back into a drone more "comfortable" than the first. 'Array (a'sysing)' investigates the perpetually rising tones Tenney first dealt with in his classic 'For Ann Rising', here for a trio of strings "rising" in various rhythmic cycles and tunings, entirely lovely and still somewhat disorienting. The brief and intriguingly titled 'Bessel functions of the first kind' has some of the tonal properties of the preceding piece but the strings are set aswirl and buzz up an apian storm, circling and dipping rather than rising, while in 'Trias Harmonica', again from Smigel's notes, "The bass sustains a D while the cello descends an octave and the violist ascends a fifth at carefully measured rates so that specific ratios resound in perpetually new harmonic configurations, all in continuous glissando". The effect is sumptuous and almost indescribably rich — creamy, cloudy layers of shifting harmonies but never, ever "light", always with a paradoxical feeling of grain and earth. The final part, 'Stochastic-canonic variations', begins furiously with rapid, forcefully agitated bowing, soon compounded with violent percussive strikes on the bass strings and eventually the same on the cello and viola, the bass adopting a surprisingly jazzy pizzicato attack. Gradually, the howling vortex sublimates into broad swathes of resonant strings, almost evoking a hymn-like atmosphere, approaching a kind of nostalgic Americana, drifting into the ether.
Bass Works is an absolutely marvelous, absorbing recording, beautifully conceived and performed, one of the finest realizations of Tenney's music I've heard.
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