Gavin Bryars: Live At Punkt
Gavin Bryars has always had a preference for working with particular players rather than creating pieces on the basis of instrumental timbre. This has over the years become a pool of players who he feels are the best interpreters of his work, and with whom he tours all over the world. If only for this reason it is something of a surprise to discover that this recording is the first time that Bryars has issued a live recording of his ensemble. This is quite a compact group in comparison to some other projects, and fans may recognise the names of soprano Anna Maria Friman and tenor John Potter from their studio recording with Bryars’ music Oi me lasso on BCGBCD05. Highly acclaimed improvising trumpeter Arve Henriksen is introduced as guest with the ensemble for two pieces, one of which, Lauda 37 “Ciascun ke fede sente”, was written with him in mind and premiered at this concert.
Even with the jazz associations with Henriksen and with Bryars’ origins as a performing musician, there are very few moments where anything approaching a jazz feel leaks through the exquisitely sparing textures of the music. Omne homo almost creeps into Jacques Loussier territory with a momentary walking pizzicato bass over some Bach-like vocals, but such brief wafts of lighter moods are held well in check. Arve Henriksen’s trumpet creeps with almost embarrassed timidity in L’alto prençe archangel, but thus warmed up introduces his slow-moving column or air over the sustained string movement under the introduction of Ciascun ke fede sente. While the vocal lines are still the most prominent element of this piece, the trumpet adds colour and introduces counter-melodic material while remaining very much a part of the overall instrumental texture, only becoming a true soloist for a short intermezzo about 5 minutes into the piece. Taking the trumpet away from its brasher big-band image and reeling in its sheer power to reveal true expressive potential has been going on for a while now, with the elder Miles Davis and Chet Baker being obvious relatively recent influences. One can spot this kind of playing as a widening trend these days however, with dreamily hazy players like Till Brönner giving a feel of class to pop releases like Yello’s ‘Touch’ album.
Fans of the richer harmonies and gentle ‘ship lost and becalmed at sea in thick fog’ minimalism of Bryars’ instrumental style will enjoy the extended Lauda (con sordino) which has a nicely played viola solo from Morgan Goff. Some respectful applause between pieces is the only real indication of this being a live performance.
This is one of those CDs which could leap either way in terms of listener response. Either you are going to find yourself bathing ecstatically in exquisite, sometimes almost hypnotically meditative and spiritually uplifting music, or you may find yourself entering a deep blue world of ‘oh gawd get me out of me here’ depression brought on by so much minor-key slowness. I am quite happy to go this kind of extended journey into timeless realms of contemporary antiquity, but can also see it becoming a kind of gebrauchsmusik, played on a loop in shops which sell crystals and incense. There is nothing ‘pseudo’ about Gavin Bryars or any aspect of the musicianship on this disc, and I do recommend it wholeheartedly. On hearing it, you may however feel the urge to switch off the phone, pour yourself a nice steamily aromatic bath and light a few candles. Any complaints?
-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: BCGBCD15
Label: Gavin Bryars
Composer: Gavin Bryars
Orchestra/Ensemble: Gavin Bryars Ensemble
Performer: Arve Henriksen, Gavin Bryars, James Woodrow, John Potter, Morgan Goff, Nick Cooper