"This album collects some of the greatest music the band has made over its 25 years of being dedicated to 'awesome' ". - San Francisco Classical Voice
The Bang on a Can All-Stars have recorded their first studio album in five years; the first to include the All-Stars' current line-up: Ashley Bathgate, cello; Robert Black, bass; Vicky Chow, piano; David Cossin, percussion; Mark Stewart, electric guitar; and Evan Ziporyn, clarinets.
With Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, the Bang on a Can All-Stars show off their blazing speed, polyrhythmic virtuosity and all-world versatility in a return to the core Bang on a Can sound - an uncategorizable supermix of classical and electric instruments that is part classical ensemble, part rock band, and part jazz sextet. The album is the first in a decade that features the All-Stars exclusively, rather than as part of a collaborative project. Each of the pieces on the double-CD calls upon a different kind of virtuosity, demonstrating the range of musical abilities and experiences arguably unique to this ensemble. Recorded in New York City, all of the music on Big Beautiful Dark and Scary (including the arrangements of the works by Conlon Nancarrow) were written for and premiered by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The album features Four Player Piano Studies by the legendary recluse Conlon Nancarrow, who lived most of his adult life in Mexico City. Without regular access to musicians, Nancarrow wrote much of his music for player piano, resulting in music that escapes the limitations of human performance and is nearly impossible for live performers. For the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the key word here is "nearly." In fact, the Bang on a Can All-Stars have been championing a number of these studies in breathtaking arrangements by Evan Ziporyn that bring out the music's extreme, machine-like, rapid fire rhythmic layering alongside Nancarrow's bluesy, boogie-woogie feel.
Big Beautiful Dark and Scary's title track was written by Julia Wolfe. Wolfe, who was a witness to the 9/11 tragedy, standing with her young children two blocks from Twin Towers when the planes hit, captures the feverish post- apocalyptic feeling of living in the wake of 9/11 with an ominous wall of sound that has the Bang on a Can All-Stars playing at full throttle. For the premiere in April 2002 Wolfe wrote, "This is how life feels right now."
David Longstreth contributes three new works to this album: Instructional Video, Matt Damon, and Breakfast at J&M. Longstreth, who, like Kate Moore, was a composition fellow at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA, captures the off-beat quirkiness that he has come to be known for as the mastermind of indie sensation Dirty Projectors.
David Lang's sunray weaves interlocking melodies in and out of focus like a slow moving kaleidoscope. While staring at the abandoned SUN dry cleaners in North Adams, MA, Lang remembered a description of the Washington monument as an attempt to transform a shaft of sunlight into a solid object. sunray floats and wafts until, suddenly, it turns the corner with tribal urgency.
Delicately scored, moody and melodious, Life is a major new piece by this great Dutch composer Louis Andriessen. Life is, according to the composer, "a kind of contemporary Pictures at an Exhibition," and is accompanied by four short films by Dutch video artist Marijke van Warmerdam. Life combines the subtle beauty of French harmonies with the pulsating energy of American minimalism.
Michael Gordon's shimmering For Madeline follows the trajectory of a rising and falling melody. Pulsing vibraphone and piano chords glisten in the background as a slithering hypnotic tune spirals forever upwards. Contradictory musical ideas and rhythms are locked together in a way that feels always on the verge of coming completely together and at the same time on the edge of falling apart. The tension created is both mesmerizing and heartbreaking.
Bang on a Can All-Stars' founding member Evan Ziporyn contributes Music From Shadowbang, three selections from his theater piece Shadowbang, which fuses the All-Stars' 21st century sound and Ziporyn's decades-long love affair with traditional Balinese music and culture. The range of this piece - in orchestration, volume, and pacing - is vast, moving seamlessly from the delicate and intimate to the blunt and hard rocking.
Kate Moore's Ridgeway was inspired by the ancient path of the same name that runs through Southern England. For 5000 years this path was a religious and commercial superhighway, running through such sites as Stonehenge and Avebury. Moore's piece layers stuttered, propulsive rhythms on top of each other, creating an almost archeological density of musical layers and activity.