Zeitkratzer [Old School]

James Tenney
Zeitkratzer Productions ZKR 0010

Without the necessity for surround-sound or other methods of sonic dissemination, James Tenney (1934-2006) composed tension-laded pieces such as the three here, whose crescendos and decrescendos derive from concentrated orchestration. As the Berlin-based, ad hoc Zeitkratzer ensemble of two woodwinds, two brass, three strings, percussion and director/pianist Reinhold Friedl – demonstrate on this exceptional CD, properly performing the themes of the long-time (1976-2000) York University music professor depends as much on harmonic convergence as intonation, attack and acoustics.

Most fascinating and mostly fortissimo is 1988’s Critical Band. Based on standard pitch A and its fundamentals, this exercise in tonal expansions undulates on pitches that concentrate and divide as they modulate infinitesimally and recurrently. Only when the final variation arrives can the capillary timbres of Matt Davis’ trumpet and Hayden Chisholm’s alto saxophone be distinguished from the others.

Slightly lengthier, 1976’s Harmonium #2, which details the deliberate build-up and break-down of a chord, exposes fundamentals, as the harmonic progression expands through Friedl intense keyboard clusters. After variants on the narrative – related to the circle of fifths – reflect inwards onto themselves as they advance chromatically, the resolution involves a crescendo involving articulating Hilary Jeffery’s trombone reverberations plus thick piano patterns.

Distinctive, the performances are both authoritative and inventive.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 15 #9