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Jim Fox & Michael Jon Fink - The City The Wind Swept Away & A Termperament For Angels

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Artist: Jim Fox & Michael Jon Fink

Album: The City The Wind Swept Away & A Termperament For Angels

Label: Cold Blue

Review date: May. 16, 2004

Cold Blue is a label that releases music that evokes the American west – not the smog and the stars of Los Angeles, where many of its artists are based, but the empty expanses of the deserts of southeastern California and New Mexico and of the woods of Alaska. On some Cold Blue recordings, such as An Hour Out Of Desert Center by Chas Smith and The Light That Fills The World by the Fairbanks-based composer John Luther Adams, the artists make explicit the connections between their music and these geographical areas.

Michael Jon Fink and Jim Fox do not claim that the music on their new EP length releases is related to Alaska or to the desert. But they both create music that, like those areas, feels as if it could go on endlessly, with few dramatic changes or bids for attention. Both make music that comes from the classical tradition, but that feels like it belongs somewhere other than the concert hall, where the composer must dazzle listeners into forgetting that the chairs they’re sitting in are uncomfortable.

Fox’s The City The Wind Swept Away is essentially a glacially-paced concerto for pianist Bryan Pezzone. He is accompanied by string players and trombonists who play long, slow chords and rumble in the background. Pezzone’s material consists almost entirely of repeating, drifting diatonic arpeggios that ring out and fill out the other instruments’ harmonic material. The relationship between the soloist and ensemble is similar to that of John Luther Adams’ In The White Silence, in which celesta, harp, bells and string soloists take turns playing series of notes over the slow chord changes of a string orchestra. Both The City and White Silence also share much in common with the late works of Morton Feldman, in that they also feature broken chords that change slowly and subtly. Fox and Adams both favor rather standard, diatonic prettiness, however, whereas Feldman’s materials were more dissonant and unrelated to any overarching harmonic system.

A Temperament For Angels, a 1989 piece by California Institute of the Arts professor Michael Jon Fink, is a half-hour shape-shifting drone for strings, keyboards and cymbals. Each instrument in the ensemble is used in essentially the same way throughout the piece – instruments simply enter, sustain, and exit, and changes to the piece are marked by the presence or absence of various instruments and the pitches they play. The tone of the piece is much darker than that of The City, thanks in large part to the cymbals, which are bowed – they create shimmering, uncontrolled overtones that give the piece a dreamy texture.

Both The City and A Temperament are indebted to the early minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Fox and Fink don’t obviously use Reich or Riley’s phasing processes or pounding rhythms, but like the older composers, Fox and Fink generally avoid obvious climaxes and traditional classical melodicism, and they also use minimal collections of materials. Like many of the label's other releases, their albums are texturally rich, meticulously crafted and delicately beautiful.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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