Cuts is a 20-part composition by Peter Kowald in which long, droning lines are undercut by individual and group improvisation. Utilizing the talents of a 22-piece orchestra -- not including the three soloists mentioned above or Kowald himself who conducted -- this is a work of extremes in modality, polytonalism, and event-oriented serialism. The participation of Parker, Le Quan Ninh (a far less-known than he should be percussionist), and violinist Zingaro added not only a degree of "legitimacy" to this recording session that was done on four days over two months, but grounding experience since the majority of these players were very young. Each of the "cuts" is clearly delineated, engaging specific elemental components of the orchestra: Zingaro leads the strings and voices through a beautifully droning study in contrapuntal improvisation, while Parker claims headship over a fiery section where horns duel with the rhythm section for a microtonal balance before reaching dominance in their lower registers. On other "cuts," the ghosts of Anton von Webern and Alban Berg enter through a series of dominant serialist frameworks based around diminished ninths and augmented minor sevenths that go through an entire series of minor and diminished scales before returning and disappearing. The sense of drama in this music is high; Kowald isn't out to bore anyone for the sake of realizing his theory of unification through separate entities. There is a sense of surprise in each of his "cuts," because it seems the players are encountering the improvisational elements for the first time -- they are. There is a large color palette to draw from, and therefore a truly cinematic scope for dynamics, all of which he makes use of intelligently, if not always soulfully. Yes, this is academic music, but it is academic music with a purpose and a direction that is engaging and satisfying for anyone wishing to encounter vanguard orchestral music being composed and performed at the end of the 20th century.
by Thom Jurek