Henry Brant - The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 8
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Henry Brant
The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 8

Somewhat quietly now, the Innova label has been releasing scads of interesting music by somewhat lesser-known artists and composers for over a decade now. They have a unique, decidedly atypical system for putting out releases that works well for both the label and involved artists, and they are partners with the American Composers Forum. They've released work by everyone from unknowns to Harry Partch and made a pretty decent splash last year with Grand Valley State University's performance of Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians.

One of their ongoing series is the music of one Henry Brant, an insanely prolific composer of acoustic spatial music whose catalogue now stretches out over 100 different pieces. Born in 1913, Brant was a precocious youth and started composing at age eight, and over the course of his multi-decade career has composed work for radio, film, ballet, and jazz groups (along with his orchestral work). The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 8 collects eleven of his works that are definitely a bit more on the playful side.

It's pretty clear that things are going to be somewhat lighthearted when the first piece on the record is a jazz clarinet concerto titled "Whoopee In D," and it dances and dives appropriately, with refrains that are faux-stoic before zooming into lighthearted honks and trills. "Music For a Five and Dime Store" mixes piano, violin, and found-sound percussion in a way that sounds like a saloon-player striking up a random jam with an over-anxious fiddler and spoon-clacker, while "Double-Crank Hand Organ Music" again mixes kitchen-sink percussion with two different piano parts for an odd little piece that's alternately shambolic and slightly-refined.

And really, that last statement could probably be applied to a lot of the music on this release by Brant. On the longer compositions on the release, Brant is just as unexpected. Both "Inside Track" and "Altitude 8750" bang around with frantic pianos, string stabs, and loads of odd percussion, while also veering off into odd sections with over-the-top vocals and horn blurts. The latter is especially dramatic, playing out like a paranoid, but giggling theatre production full of loud pronunciations, spastic instrumental flourishes, and even a nearly funeral passage.

I mentioned Partch above, and Brant seems to be on a somewhat similar wavelength musically, relying on tone and timbre, while not using any electronic instruments or amplification on the release. Mostly recorded live at a variety of different venues, The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 8 sounds pretty great throughout, with only the closing track sounding a bit more like a live recording (although audience member chuckles during certain sections of different pieces only seem to add a bit of flavor). Definitely a bit on the goofy side, This seventy-plus minute release is definitely worth seeking out if you're a fan of outsider composers.

rating: 7.2510
Aaron Coleman 2008-03-13 19:58:07