Although Reich's music during the '80s, as he gained in popularity, was increasingly written for larger, lusher ensembles (with, oftentimes, the concomitant loss of "edge"), he occasionally and happily reverted to more contained compositions such as those included here. "Sextet" is pared down to four percussionists and two keyboardists (the latter including synthesizers) and evokes early pieces of Reich's Drumming while incorporating his ongoing use of longer melodic lines. In five sections, it tends toward a buoyant and jazzy bubbliness, percolating with all manner of busy interaction and wonderfully intermeshed rhythms. One of the new techniques employed is having the vibraphonists bow their instruments, generating long, ghostly tones reminiscent of musical saws but cleaner and more precise. Since this cannot be done quickly, Reich writes patterns that interweave between performers, achieving a kind of hocketing effect where, by playing only every third or fourth note in a rhythmic line, the ensemble can produce what the listener perceives as a fast tempo even as each individual is playing slowly. The closing section is pure effervescent bliss. "Six Marimbas," scored for, unsurprisingly, six marimbas, sounds even closer to the pieces that originally brought Reich to renown and is, in fact, a rescoring of his "Six Pianos" from 1973. The pure, luscious tones of the marimbas make it even more successful than the original and the work is played with obvious delight and rigor by the percussion ensemble Nexus, who includes several members of Reich's working band of the early '70s. In sum, Sextet/Six Marimbas is one of the finest releases of mid-career Reich, entirely without the pretensions that marred some of his other work from the period, and is highly recommended.
Steve Reich: Sextet; Six Marimbas Review
by Brian Olewnick
|Sextet, for percussion, piano & synthesizers|