Maarten Altena

City Music

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AllMusic Review by

Attacca Babel continues its contemporary music series with this offering Maarten Altena and company with poet Remco Campert. Campert wrote the lyrics to four songs (all sung beautifully by Jannie Pranger) that all meditate on music in the city. Not so much the music heard in a city, but the music made by it. The program begins with a raging 16th note motif on the strings, symbolizing the hustle and bustle, crush and rush of crowded, hectic spaces. It eventually gives way to a sonorous creep once the evening rush hour is over with long held tones by bassoon, clarinet, trombone and colored by percussion and Pranger. Presumably this is the music the city makes at night -- the nocturnal sound generation machine. It feels ominous and somehow freeing at the same time. These are scripted charts and there is no room for group improvisation here. "Tape Recorder, Simple" is a spoken poem initially, with the colors of the reed and woodwinds engaging in a kind of pastoral counterpoint. As Campert reads, Pranger sings; the ensemble pulses gently between them, allowing for the allure of quiet within the depths of a roar. Finally, on "Fat (meaning "rich") City," as Campert intones his poem, the ensemble begins opening up the possibilities of wealth (brass) and poverty (winds) co-existing in the same space. It is all Altena can do to hold the group together; such is the urge to cut loose and improvise. But Altena is not moved; instead, he loosens his grip just enough to have the rich timbral exercises played out between horns and electric guitar to create a newer, more contradictory kind of tension. It's an awesome finish with Wiek Hijmans slicing through everything in his guitar's path. This is a colorful, deft, and multi-dimensional work. It may give listeners a bit of trouble from the outset, but ultimately it packs a wallop.

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