Of the three avatars of American classical music minimalism, Philip Glass is the most notorious and Steve Reich the most respected. But it was Terry Riley who made the first and biggest splash of the trio with his 1964 “In C,” an ear-opening and epoch-making work now in the repertoire of hundreds of new music ensembles. You can listen to, and read my review of, its 32nd (!) and most recent recording here — a nice way to wish a happy birthday to Riley, who celebrated his 80th yesterday.
Then listen to the CD under review today and you’ll realize that the “minimalism” covers only a minimal aspect of Riley’s style, one also enriched by Hindustani, jazz, Latin, western classical and numerous other influences. In both the ecleticism and appeal of his music, Riley strikes me as the heir of my favorite among the “American Maverick” composers and forefathers of minimalism, the late great Lou Harrison, for whom music, no matter how high, low, complex or simple, was basically “a song and a dance.”
In today’s album, the superb piano duo ZOFO (shorthand for “20 Finger Orchestra”) performs all of Riley’s works for four hands, as well as their own arrangements of his works for other performing forces. With long romantic melodies (which Harrison referred to as “the audience’s take home pay”) spun out contrapuntally over lush repeating harmonies, much of the music is like a hypothetical collaboration of Bill Evans and J.S. Bach — what a jam session that would be!. Other more varied selections, such as the concluding “Cinco de Mayo,” are like miniature tone poems. Mind you, I would not criticize any of the selections for excessive brevity. But if you can extend the short attention span we Americans are frequently dis-credited with (though no one I’m aware of has ever proven any such thing) and get in the groove, you’ll find much to enjoy here. Happy 80th to an American original.
Stream below; better yet, purchase and download here.