Jace Clayton - The Julius Eastman Memory Depot / by Doyle Armbrust

That equal rights for gay couples are currently being debated before the Supreme Court makes the release of Jace Clayton’s The Julius Eastman Memory Depot all the more poignant. Eastman was a gay, African-American, post-minimalist composer working within the largely white, conservative idiom of classical music in the 1960s–’80s whose radical brilliance has long remained in obscurity. Clayton, better known as DJ /rupture, is a paragon of social consciousness and a preternaturally talented purveyor of sound who aims to amend that with this tribute.

“Evil Nigger,” which opens the album, is revealed with rapidly repeating D notes that become stuck as pianists David Friend and Emily Manzo mute the piano strings manually. Following a series of attempts to break free, the pianos unleash a torrent of descending lines while the instruments’ natural resonance accumulates with each passing measure. As the third member of this trio, Clayton electronically manipulates the performance in real time, coaxing perspective-warping textures from Friend and Manzo’s piano duet. The experience is unsettling yet compelling, moving Eastman’s inexorable music into a landscape even more urgent and haunted.

By the time the excerpted hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” hits the ears on the album’s second half with “Gay Guerrilla,” listeners may find themselves laughing out loud at the glorious impertinence of it all. Recognition of Eastman’s genius is long overdue, and Clayton’s superlative record goes a long way toward righting that wrong.

- Doyle Armbrust

Originally published in Time Out Chicago on April 11th, 2013