Composer Terry Riley's landmark 1964 composition of canonical minimalism is given grand explorative treatment here by Portishead's Adrian Utley and an all-Bristol orchestra composed of 19 guitarists (including John Parish and Jim Barr), four organists, and a bass clarinet player. Riley's composition is defined as: "53 musical phrases in C, no duration." These skeletal parameters, with the work all played on a single note in varying modulations, allows for maximum exploration and improvisation. While the Bang on a Can All-Stars' version from 2001 is perhaps the most satisfying one on record after Riley's own hypnotic version split over two sides on a Columbia LP in the mid-'60s, it was also done beautifully by Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. and released in 2002. Utley's version, recorded in St. George's Hall in Bristol, is unique due to its sheer number of guitarists. This is not the case of a guitar orchestra like Glenn Branca's, where maximum volume and distortion reign supreme in order to discover new combinations of microtones. This recording is crystalline, the volume restrained, the hall's natural acoustics offering natural balance in sound and timbral expansion. Utley's group commences slowly: they begin to wind the work out, the musicians allowing modulations to increase and decrease; the dynamics rise as they pulse, elevating and releasing tension casually. The intricate interplay of lines -- in single notes, triplets, and eighth notes, as sequences shift seamlessly -- creates alternately sparse and busy fragments. Oftentimes, this creates stirring beauty, when guitars exchange single-line runs with organs playing chords and vice versa. That said, sometimes the guitar tones are too uniform and become too texturally restricted to allow for any real variety -- in the cases of the Bang on a Can All-Stars' and AMT's versions, percussion instruments created an additional dimension. That small caveat aside, this long-form work, with Utley's care and gentleness at the helm, allows for subtlety and nuance to move Riley's adaptable masterpiece in a new direction with no horizon in sight.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek