Kyle Gann: Private Dances

Sarah Cahill / Da Capo Chamber Players / Bernard Gann

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Kyle Gann: Private Dances Review

by Stephen Eddins

Kyle Gann is better known for his writings about music (as critic for the Village Voice from 1985 to 2005, and his books, The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, and American Music in the Twentieth Century) than for his own music, but the strength of this collection of his works leaves the listener eager to hear more. Gann is an exceptionally fluent writer, and his elegant program notes make the sophistication of his compositional methods comprehensible to non-specialists. The attractiveness of his music masks the complexity of his methods; these pieces communicate with directness and clarity. The character of the pieces with descriptive titles are easily recognizable: Private Dances, for piano, has movements marked Sexy, Sad, Sentimental, Sultry, Saintly, and Swingin', and each one is a clear, distinct, and inventive characterization of the feeling. Gann's methods may be cerebral, but his results are immediately appealing. Part of the reason may be that while his complexity is primarily rhythmic, his harmonic language is unconventionally but recognizably tonal. In Private Dances, the complexity of the rhythmic structures sounds natural, never undermining the dance-like character of the movements, and it might not even be apparent to someone who hadn't read the program notes. Each of the remaining pieces, for piano or chamber ensemble, is strikingly atmospheric. With a title taken from Freud, Time Does Not Exist for piano spins gestures of gossamer delicacy into an ethereal, dream-like soundscape. In The Day Revisited, winds and strings tuned to 29-note scale play against the fixed equal temperament of keyboard samplers, and the effect is mesmerizing and mysteriously disorienting; at points the listener can lose track of which is the "normal" tuning system and which is the altered one. The Da Capo Chamber Players, pianist Sarah Cahill, and bassist Bernard Gann play with sensitivity and strength, and with an obvious affinity for Gann's music. New Albion's sound is clean and intimate, with a good sense of presence.

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