Henry Brant

The Henry Brant Collection, Vol. 2

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Composer Henry Brant is a significant figure in contemporary music and, in 2006, is the second-to-last man standing that participated in the first wave of American modernism (Elliot Carter is the other.) Brant has never been well represented on recordings, but thanks to Innova we are finally getting a comprehensive overview of the extensive catalogue this pioneer of American avant-garde, whose couple of hundred works span from the early 1930s to the present time. Innova's The Henry Brant Collection Vol. 2 includes three pieces belonging to the concerted genre, featuring a soloist or soloists along with an instrumental backing of some kind.

As Brant has always trod his own path, reinventing the wheel with each new piece, it is inevitable that he should turn out a few duds, and unfortunately the opening work on Innova's The Henry Brant Collection Vol. 2, Nomads, is one of them. It is a "third stream" triple concerto presented at Oberlin University in 1974 for improvised voice, saxophone and a jazz drummer as soloist, with the Oberlin Wind Ensemble providing the ripieno, the only part of Nomads that is composed. The wind band tromps through music that would be suitable for a 1960s AIP-produced horror film as the improvised voice hollers about God knows what, the saxophone attempts to out-Pharaoh Sanders Pharaoh Sanders and the drummer produces a jumble of drums. Nomads is staggeringly awful; like a tape that Alexander von Schlippenbach would have burned. However, as a "party piece" for a get together of aspiring composer types Nomads might have some functionality.

Solar Moth helps to redeem Brant at this point. It features the talents of another pioneer, violinist Daniel Kobialka, inventor of the Zeta Polyphonic violin. Kobialka lays down some dazzling tracks which are combined with layers of Brant himself contributing accompaniment on a variety of instruments. Solar Moth is quite good, although it is dense, tense and claustrophobic and over time can get on one's nerves if the listener is not prepared to devote their undivided attention to it. This late analog studio recording was originally issued on Thomas Buckner's 1750 Arch Records label and is amazingly clear and realistic.

Best of all is the double bass concerto Ghost Nets from 1988; the solo double bass part, played by Lewis Paer, is generous and different from the norm although a lot of it is scored up in the cello range. The American Camerata under Brant and John Stephens provide a solid and respectful foundation, and the quality of the recording is outstanding. In sum, The Henry Brant Collection Vol. 2 consists of one bad piece, one good piece and one that could go either way; it's not quite the sure thing that Vols. 1 and 3 are in the same series, but if one is strongly interested in Henry Brant even Nomads should not serve as a deterrent.

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