Jason Eckardt steps forward with this Mode release as a fearless young proponent of modernism in all its complexity, a shining alternative to the prevalent eclecticism of our time. His Ensemble 21, formed in 1993, deserves acclaim as well, a unit seemingly out of step with the American musical landscape, and not surprisingly pursuing collaborations with Boulez's IRCAM and other European composers and musicians.
Included here are 4 works. "After Serra" (2000) is a wild number featuring "aggressive outbursts and bizarre, spinning resonances" (from Marilyn Nonken's liner notes). The use of bass clarinet provides an unusual timbral contrast. "Tangled Loops" (1996) features the saxophone of Taimur Sullivan, with Marilyn Nonken on piano. A fully composed work, it takes as its model the improvisations of Parker, Coltrane, and Dolphy -- a fantastic high-energy piece. "A Glimpse Retraced" (1999) is a chamber concerto for piano and four instruments, and Marilyn Nonken, co-founder with Eckhardt of Ensemble 21, is superb. Finally, "Polarities" (1998) is a fascinating web of changing relations among the players in two movements. The second movement introduces something shocking in the context of what has gone before -- a long, slow, quiet droning section which erupts half-way through with piano, and then the other instruments, vaulted back into furious motion.
Eckardt began in music as a guitarist, who was first drawn to the complexity of heavy metal and jazz. But on the road to Damascus, he discovered Webern, and he has transferred the drive of jazz and rock to the realm of contemporary classical composition. OUT OF CHAOS is definitely one of the best releases of 2004, and it marks the emergence of an important new voice beyond the limited precincts of new music, where Eckhardt has already been a professor and the recipient of many prestigious grants, commissions and awards.
I feel more optimistic about the future of music in general, and American contemporary music in particular, thinking about things to come from the 34-year-old Jason Eckardt -- Elliott Carter and Roger Reynolds have found a worthy successor for their brilliant, cutting edge ideas!