Michael Gordon is a lying liar who lies. How’s that for click-bait?
The lie in question is the title of his latest album, "Dystopia," in which the composer delivers some of the most effusive, life-affirming, Arcadia-esque sounds we’ve heard from theBang on a Can co-founder. Cracking into the titular piece, the listener is walloped with brass fanfare, piccolo seizure and percussion buccaneering that gives the impression that the orchestra is playing out a rambunctious and death-freeLord of the Flies scenario. The id is running rampant here, but in a coherent, meticulously-orchestrated chaos. Los Angeles, which serves as the germination point for this endeavor, is an emotionally complicated city, no doubt, but even the warped glissandi and string trills which bisect the goings-on play as burlesque rather than menace.
David Robertson’s baton pulls an extra dose of extravagance from the Los Angeles Philharmonic for this barn-burning opener, and the fact that this is a live recording (2008) offers a particularly compelling, and uninhibited, half-hour in the headphones. Special mention is due the LA Phil’s woodwind section for this track, which sounds taut and nimble throughout.
Gordon mentions the perils of dipping one’s toe into the sacred font of Ludwig van for his Beethovenfest Bonn commission, Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, in the album’s liner notes. Unveiling the score on the dignitary’s home turf must have forced some Xanax-popping, but this four-movement deconstruction makes no claims to improving on the original. Like the conclusion to Dystopia, each of these four movements concludes with a hard-grooving, low brass and percussion groove, and the source material remains focused… an unadulterated fertilizer.
I'm most taken with the “Part 2,” based on the 7th’s Allegretto, in which the somber original takes on a more troubled, blustery tone as high brass offset a rhythmic and incrementally-rising string section ostinato. Also a live recording in this case, Beethoven puritans will undoubtedly get their proverbial undies in a bundle while listening, but for those of us more interested in exploration than reverence, Michael Gordon offers a considered and splendid bit of modification.
- Doyle Armbrust