Boomkat Product Review:
Première release of a pivotal piece by important American composer, Julius Eastman.
After more than 40 years, Julius Eastman’s Femenine - a euphoric, colourful, and inventive work by the brilliant but criminally overlooked composer with the S.E.M. Ensemble - finally sees the light of day thanks to Finland’s Frozen Reeds, bringing to life a wondrous iteration of the highly fertile 1970s north american minimalist/modern classical nexus for a whole new generation of ears.
Notable not least as the only known recording of Femenine, recorded live in 1974 at Composers Forum in Albany, New York - which makes it only the 2nd CD with Eastman’s name at the top - this release also documents the composer on piano (whilst wearing a dress, as it goes) and features his unique innovation, a set of mechanised sleigh bells, rattling throughout the 72 minute performance, which, in a way, neatly characterises the artist’s wide-open, pioneering idiosyncrasies and dichotomies for anyone new to his work.
Un/fortunately, depending your perspective, far too many folk will be new to his work or even unaware of Eastman’s involvement in some true totems of the time; whether that’s as lead vocalist on Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs For A Mad King (1971), playing keys on Dinosaur L’s disco-not-disco classic 24→24 Music (1981), or conducting Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning (1983). And we say too many folk, because, all considered, until quite recently, Eastman has been long overdue the shine afforded to many of his peers and contemporaries.
As a Gay, Afro-American new music composer, pianist and vocalist in the ‘70s, Eastman’s work was innately politicised and exceptional by the nature of its provenance, not to mention the music itself, which pulled from his personal history as much as wider social movements to represent a uniquely fluid perspective on minimalist music’s rigid process and presentation right up to his untimely death, aged 50 in 1990.
With that in mind, Feminine stands at a crossroads between Eastman’s earlier chamber work Stay On It, and later pieces such as his iconic, majestic Evil Nigger and the ambiguous flux of emotions in Gay Guerilla; sounding quite unlike any of them thanks to its sense of communal joy (there were somewhere between 12 and 15 players) and the polymetric meter of his mechanised sleigh bells, coupled with a display of massed, pitching tonal colour that moves with the kind of deliquescent, flighty optimism that’s hard not to be wowed by.
Ultimately, it genuinely lives up to the mantle of “new music” and presents its ideas in a deeply refreshing, insistent, yet never-cloying manner.
A huge recommendation.