Boomkat Product Review:
At long last, Frozen Reeds bring to life a vinyl edition of Julius Eastman’s 'Femenine' as performed in 1974 by the S.E.M. Ensemble with the composer himself on piano. Laying unheard for decades prior to its digital release in 2016, this new edition now makes the recording available on vinyl for the first time, in a revelatory new remaster by Jim O’Rourke to best and most faithfully represent its radiant recording and heart-tugging traction for longtime disciples and new ears who are set to be wowed again by this long-overlooked masterpiece.
As a gay, black composer in a field dominated by straight white men, Julius Eastman shattered conventions merely by his presence, and his music was equally as distinctive, offering a fluidly unified and singularly thizzing adjunct to the kind of repetitious minimalism explored by downtown NYC composer peers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. He was just as adept at working with Arthur Russell on Dinosaur L’s landmark ‘24→24 Music’ and ‘Another Thought’ set as he was working on Peter Maxwell Davies’ monodrama ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’ or Meredith Monk’s ‘Dolmen Music’ - all revered in their sphere - yet his own, remarkable compositions went practically unnoticed for decades and he ultimately ended up destitute and unsung, living and dying on the streets of Buffalo, New York State.
Eastman’s is one of the most tragic stories in the history of experimental music, and it is only with thanks to the likes of Mary Jane Leach, labels like Frozen Reeds, Flea and New World Records, and performers of new music such as Apartment House and Sō Percussion, that his music finally found its audience in the 21st c. This new master of his towering ‘Femenine’ faithfully represents the work’s 1974 recording by S.E.M. Ensemble, led by Piotr Kotik, and featuring the composer on keys, with Jim O’Rourke’s critical ear offering a brighter mix that gives more headroom to its harmonic interplay and insistent cloud of coruscating shakers and driving percussion.
Practically without beginning or end, yet perpetually in-the-moment and pushing forward, the work elides traditional African music and jazz to avant-classical strictures, but with a lithe, heart-in-mouth feel that could be said to elude the Pan-Asian and Afro-rhythmic inspired works of his peers Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the NYC downtown field. Alongside Eastman’s equally powerful pieces in the ‘N***** Series’, this newly spruced recording sits atop a mountain of pioneering mid-late century avant-classical masterworks as a truly groundbreaking and joyfully free but disciplined work that requires no prior knowledge of its composer to enjoy on its immediate merits - context only deepens the impact.