The importance of tradition in all music, especially the avant-garde, is often most evident when approaching the masterworks of a specific composer. The prepared piano works of John Cage occupy such a place in the man's history. These are works simply abloom with every aspect of what makes music such a powerful experience. The piano, an instrument as traditional in classical music as ties and tails, is moved forward into extended playing techniques and new sound capabilities simply by connecting directly with the instrument's actual place in the percussion instrument family. It is a move that, beyond being an essential aspect of great works for the composer himself, also changed piano playing forever. Great music often becomes that simply because of something essentially wondrous about the sound of the instruments involved. This is above all true here with the prepared piano, both in the well-known solo works and the collection of duo pieces which are presented in their first recording on this double-album set. The sounds have references in other musics of the world, most noticeably Balinese gamelan, but being able to spring out of the classical piano repertoire with that type of musical reference is an accomplishment by itself. The Tomato label stepped into what had been something of a gap in the recording of Cage's works in the '70s with this and several other releases. Pianist Joshua Pierce is featured throughout, with Marc Ajemian coming in for the duos. Engineer Gretchen Zoeckler gets a pristine sound out of the piano, and overall the set compares very well with other versions of the prepared music that are available -- none of which also include the terrific piano duo pieces.
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