JULIUS EASTMAN (1940–1990) Vol. 2: Joy Boy. Joy Boy, Buddha (Field), Touch Him When (Light), Touch Him When (Heavy), Buddha (Path), Stay On It. Wild Up
Catalogue Number: 07Z020
Label: New Amsterdam Records
Description: Stay On It showcases Eastman the minimalist, while simultaneously emphatically demonstrating that this is yet another pigeonhole into which he doesn’t even begin to fit. This joyously madcap piece is cut from similar cloth to the ecstatic Femenine (07X050), a major work lasting some 75 minutes. Fortunately, a recording of a composer-supervised performance exists to show the expected balance between minimalistic process and (extremely) free improvisation and all points in between. The score is meticulously notated in themes and cells, with detailed instructions on how to combine and layer them - but also making clear the degree of freedom in performance that the composer wanted, which could lead to episodes of raucously atonal aleatoric free-for-all - always returning on cue to the bouncy minimalistic main theme. The Wild Up performance here uses the material as written, but in their own choice of combinations and instrumentation, and with their players' improvisational contributions. The result is quite unlike the composer’s version - as Eastman obviously intended - though the material is so earwormily memorable, and the score is structured in such a way, as to make it obviously the same piece throughout, despite this version being just over 1/3 the length! Joy Boy, from 1974, consists of one page of manuscript, laying out the piece’s chords and gestures, with indications about repeated measures, and is listed in available sources as being for four treble instruments. Wild Up greatly extend the size and register of the ensemble to produce a sonorous, largely consonant piece in syncopated repeating fragments that remains true to the score's indication that the overall effect of the work is of energetic wriggling around on permutations of a couple of chords, while considerably augmenting it. The composer participated in a concert of his works at The Kitchen performance space in NYC in 1980 which included Joy Boy, but no recording has so far emerged, so we have no idea how it sounded (and Femenine, which was also on the programme, took up most of the critics' attention, so we have no written account either). The score of Buddha (1984) also provides the pitches and some suggestions of note values, including extended drones, but little else. The lines of music are contained within an oval frame, drawn on a single page of manuscript paper, with the title written (unusually neatly for Eastman - is it even his writing?) underneath. This could be a stylized drawing of a statue of the Buddha, but offers little in the way of performing assistance. Wild Up have concocted their own interpretations of this material - the only alternative to not playing it at all - of which two are presented here, designated "Field" and "Path". The "Field" version is richly, densely sonorous, in shifting, slowly evolving chords, and sounds very much as though the ensemble's choices may have been influenced by the extraordinary sonorities of Eastman's Symphony No.II, which came to light relatively recently, and is scored for extravagantly huge and impractical orchestra, featuring an unusual number of bass and contrabass instruments, but which nevertheless received a couple of performances around the time that this recording was in preparation. Buddha (path) is very different; out of a plangent soundfield a succession of passionate solos emerges, eventually settling into a sensuous polyphony of interweaving lines, prominently featuring the saxophone. Touch Him When was originally for piano, four hands, and seems to exist only as a recording of the composer performing it with Steve Marrow, on which these two transcription for electric guitar with effects are closely based. The piece is slow, and consists of gestures and progressions of notes, which gives it a vaguely Feldmanesque feel, but richer and fuller in sound than much Feldman - more sensuous. The "light" version plays up this sensuousness, with a full, warm sound, drenched in reverb. The "heavy" version - same chords, same piece - adopts a heavy metal sonority, distorted and aggressive. It’s very effective - both versions are - and arguably makes the piece more impressive than the original, which now sounds like a sketch or blueprint of what the piece could sound like. Eastman certainly never imagined it sounding like this - but it’s still his piece, and testifies to the extraordinary fertility of his creative imagination.