Boomkat Product Review:
The tragic beauty and majesty of Julius Eastman’s greatest works pour out of these performances for four pianos by Nicolas Horvath, Melaine Dalibert, Stephane Ginsburgh, and Wilhelm Latchoumia
Surely etched on the heart of anyone privy to the crucial Eastman boxset, ‘Unjust Malaise’ (2005), or introduced to them via Blume’s first time vinyl pressings in 2018; ‘Crazy N.....’ and ‘Evil N.....’ only hit harder the longer you live with and listen to them. These new recordings, made at Festival Musica in Strasbourg, France in 2019, serve to cathartically retrace emotional scars and necessarily reopen old wounds, letting the blood flow to the head with breathtaking effect and rapturous immediacy that one doesn’t often find in C.20th classical music.
For the uninitiated, context is vital to fully comprehend the might of Eastman’s work. As one of tiny number of queer, Afro-American composers working within NYC’s post-Cage, Wolff, and Feldman school of music in the ‘70s, Eastman was a solitary figure who, despite suffering criticism from his majority white, middle class peers, stuck to his staunch political convictions which deeply inspired his work, and patently distinguished it from the milieu, placing him closer to iconoclasts such as Arthur Russell, for whom he arranged strings on some all-time classics. Still, this wasn’t enough to stop him succumbing to various addictions, and Eastman was evicted from his flat in winter 1981-82, leading to the destruction of his belongings, including most of his scores and recordings. He was found dead in Buffalo, upstate New York, in 1990, and the New York avant-garde should be fucking ashamed of that fact.
With that background in mind, it becomes harder to hold back emotions while listening to these works, and, yet, more crucial to give them due attention - especially when you realise they still haven’t reached as many ears as they should have, for various reasons. From the unspeakable titles to their ceaseless, heart-hammering beauty and cacophony, there’s quite simply nothing else like them. They make Reich’s appropriations of African music pale in significance due to their genuine grasp of an endless African pulse, while gloriously refracting the pain of the blues into concert staged scale, and forcing, where possible, classical music to reflect on its prissiness and frankly, the fucking point of it at all, beyond entertaining wallpaper or simply another middle class badge of taste. Naaah, these pieces make the blood boil, eyes stream, and cave your skull every time, meaning they’re not for everyday listening but, when you’ve peers, a society or even philosophy to fight, they are proper fuel to the mind’s fire.