Rogue's Gallery

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According to the liner notes of this 1997 release, the new music ensemble Icebreaker was formed in 1989 by several young composers seeking to establish a new direction for British contemporary music. They found inspiration in the Dutch new music scene, and particularly avant-garde composer Louis Andriessen, who the liners describe as working in an "aggressive idiom." In fact, not only does the word "aggressive" show up in Rogue's Gallery's innocuous looking CD booklet, but so do descriptors like "evil," "ominous funk," "Rachmaninov with a bad hangover," and "contemporary music with balls." One would half expect Ozzy Osbourne to be making a guest appearance, but the truth is that Rogue's Gallery is not nearly as heavy as that (and, after all, there are pan pipes, flutes, and an accordion in the group). In fact, Rogue's Gallery is right out of the minimalist school of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, or perhaps David Borden, whose Continuing Story of Counterpoint series on the Cuneiform label sometimes introduces a similarly jazzy sensibility into minimalism's repetitive rhythms and melodic ostinatos. Yet, these five works by five contemporary composers (including Andriessen and Icebreaker musical director John Godfrey) possess an intensity and drive that can make the works of Reich and Glass seem almost new age by comparison; Rogue's Gallery is indeed minimalism with muscle (helped along by electric bass, guitar, and keyboards), seemingly designed to jerk the listener out of a trance rather than provoke one. There's a bit of a rock attitude (horrors!) here, the same kind of feeling Heiner Goebbels has brought to some of his chamber works, or even that can be heard in the dark avant-prog of Belgium's Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. For sheer bludgeoning, madness-inducing repetition, the album reaches an apex of sorts with the nearly 23-minute live version of Andriessen's "Hoketus," which carries the concept of hocketing -- chords and notes tossed back and forth between two instrumental groupings at a fast tempo -- to a nearly ridiculous extreme. Perhaps not the best track on Rogue's Gallery, but certainly impressive, in a head-banging yet arty sort of way.

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