Charlemagne Palestine – Strumming Music


(Aguirre, 2017)

When music elevates your state of consciousness to an entirely new level while simultaneously marking its exact place and time on the ever-marching-forward line of existence, you know you’re listening to something special when you experience it. That’s the feeling you should be getting from Charlemagne Palestine, the enigmatic composer/experimentalist/stuffed animal sculptor (!), whose Strumming Music for Bösendorfer piano has been lovingly re-released by the good folks at Aguirre. The 52-minute piece, originally performed in 1974 and released that same year on French label Shandar, captures an unbroken (save for the flip of the LP) Palestine performance in his Manhattan loft. The tones are heavily sustained, and Palestine plays the piece – unscored, naturally – with rapid motion, notes colliding and shifting gradually as chords are stretched and evolve. Historians (and the record’s liners) tend to mention the names of contemporary Minimalists such as La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, and they’re not crazy. But, and I quote here again from the press materials, “the opulent fullness of his music would more accurately be described as Maximalist.” Neither categorization would be wrong, but the exercise itself really sells short the masterful work on display. From the slow build at the piece’s outset to its cascading onslaught of continuous chordage as it progresses, Strumming Music is the exact center of a Venn diagram connecting classical, ambient, and jazz, and is an obvious precursor to certain electronic musicians’ work. If you’re reading me here at the good ol’ Critical Masses page, you know that you’ll be into this if you’re into a lot of the other stuff I write about. Palestine’s work gets under your skin, burrows its way into your subconscious, becomes part of your waking moments. The richness of the recording serves to cast the playing in an almost enchanted light, an environment where dreams and reality collide and the imagination can soar. But man, this is just Strumming Music according to Palestine. Shelve him, catalog him if you dare, but if you do, you’re missing out on some of the most gorgeously expressive Minimalist/Maximalist/Whateverist piano meditations you’ll ever come across. I mean it. Hyperbole intended. I’m getting lost in the waves. Do not overlook this record.


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