Clarinetist Roland P. Young was combining electro-acoustic experimentalism, avant jazz, and world music as early as the mid-‘70s, but despite the free-wheeling nature of his early recordings, Young has proved to be a cunning cat. In later years, he realized that his early recordings foreshadowed a number of developments in ‘90s electronica, and began releasing albums overtly targeted toward the IDM market, from danceable, high-BPM techno to Deep Forest-esque ethno-chillout. Istet Serenade, however, seems to hark back to Young's pioneering, recently reissued 1980 album Isophonic Boogie Woogie, inserting more jazz into the mix and taking a more "serious" overall approach. It should be noted that Istet Serenade is not a free jazz outing. Young is no wild-eyed Jackson Pollock of jazz, throwing sounds on top of each other in spontaneous combinations. It's immediately apparent that the layers of clarinet and synthesizer coruscating throughout these tracks were arranged in a very premeditated manner. While there's occasionally an air of Pharoah Sanders-meets-Aphex Twin, much of Istet Serenade is closer to the deep listening work of modern avant-garde composers like Pauline Oliveros and Stuart Dempster, where minimalist drones are deployed with pinpoint accuracy despite their organic vibe. There's at least as much synth here as clarinet, if not more, as Young seems more focused on creating sonic atmospheres than showing off his jazz chops. There are a number of moments where he drops an extended clarinet solo over his electronic latticework, but it all feels like it's moving toward a specific destination -- like part of a composition, not a free-for-all jam. And while the mood throughout much of the album is meditative, this is no turn-off-your-mind chillout record, either -- there are plenty of edges and sharp corners in these pieces, striking just the right balance between ambience and intensity.
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AllMusic Review by James Allen