Eighth Blackbird

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Meanwhile Review

by James Manheim

Eighth Blackbird is a Chicago-based sextet with a strong record of commissioning new works. From the evidence of the music here, they specialize in accessible but not neo-Romantic pieces with clear, distinctive structures. The album mixes music from Chicago, elsewhere in the U.S., and beyond, offering a varied program of consistently engaging music by some familiar composers and some not so much. Perhaps the biggest find is Stephen Hartke's Meanwhile, incidental music to imaginary puppet player, which suggests what might have happened if Igor Stravinsky had spent an extended period in California and become fascinated by the structures and timbres of Asian music, from Japan to Java. Missy Mazzoli's Still Life with Avalanche is offered as a search for beauty in chaos, inspired not by nature but by the news of a relative's sudden death; it overwhelms a calm sphere with a violent one. Another highlight is the delightful Catch of Thomas Adès, which represents the game of Keep Away, with the clarinetist as the individual seeking unsuccessfully to join the group. The pure minimalism of Philip Glass' Music in Similar Motion doesn't quite fit with the rest of the program, and the separation of the two movements from Roshanne Etezady's Damaged Goods is hard to explain (and it isn't clear why the whole work couldn't have been included). On balance, though, this release offers an engaging collection of new chamber music that will appeal even to mainstream classical audiences.

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