NOW Ensemble

Awake

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    9
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NOW is one of the many composer-driven chamber ensembles flourishing in New York that can trace its aesthetic back through Bang On A Can to Dutch minimalist Louis Andriessen, and ultimately, to American minimalists like Steve Reich. The combination of instruments from both classical and pop worlds (flute, clarinets, bass, electric guitar, and piano) and the uninhibited cross-pollination of classical and pop traditions give the music an appealing, freewheeling vitality. The music of this recital by the NOW Ensemble is notable for its sunny geniality. It's not simple or facile music by any means -- it's full of rhythmic, contrapuntal, and textural intricacies that keep it constantly engaging -- but it conveys an infectious optimism that's worlds apart from both the angst-y complexity that long characterized contemporary classical composition and the nostalgic, reactionary return to old-fashioned tonality. Judd Greenstein's description of his piece, Change, could apply to the sound and impact of many of the works recorded here: "In times when people seem ready to entrust our broken systems with their hopes of making positive change, it's most important to step up and, as Gandhi said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' This piece represents my own reminder to myself to always keep that fire lit." Even the more dissonant and timbrally piercing tracks like Sean Friar's Velvet Hammer and Missy Mazzoli's Magic with Everyday Objects, which she describes as "a piece on the verge of a nervous breakdown," seem to be undergirded essentially with that kind of positive energy. NOW's members play with exuberant enthusiasm and although much of the music has a propulsive, driving rhythmic momentum, the performances are shapely and nuanced, and often, just plain lovely. The sound is clear, lively, and well-blended, but there is a low-level hum audible in quiet sections, particularly in the spaces between the pieces. Highly recommended for fans of new directions in 21st century composition.

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