After Serra (2000) (14:13) for flute (bass flute), Bb clarinet (bass clarinet), violin, violoncello & piano Ensemble 21 Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor Download the MP3 sample (2.8MB)
Tangled Loops (1996) (7:35) Taimur Sullivan, soprano saxophone Marilyn Nonken, piano Download the MP3 sample (1.9MB)
A Glimpse Retraced (1999) (14:02) for piano solo, flute (piccolo), Bb clarinet, violin & violoncello Marilyn Nonken, piano Ensemble 21 Paul Hostetter, conductor Download the MP3 sample (1.9MB)
Polarities (1998) (9:53, 16:43) for flute (piccolo/sleigh bells), Bb clarinet (Eb clarinet/bass clarinet/sandpaper blocks), violin, viola, violoncello, piano & percussion Ensemble 21 Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor Download the MP3 sample (2MB)
An American who came of age in the late 1980s, Jason Eckardt’s music captures the essences of the genres that led him first to performance (as a guitarist), and then to composition: heavy metal and art rock, jazz, gagaku and p’ansori, the Second Viennese School, American post-serialism, and the new complexity. It evokes the power of inspired, virtuosic improvisation, the incisiveness of classical ensemble playing, and the raw expressivity of ethnic music.
The first complete CD of young, New York based composer Jason Eckardt’s music.
All first recordings.
Jason Eckardt Out of Chaos Ensemble 21, conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky and Paul Hostetter Mode 137
JASON ECKARDT clearly rejects the argument, made with increasing frequency, that the mid-20th-century atonalists were working toward a musical dead end. Harmonically and rhythmically his music thrives on complex, constantly changing relationships, but like many composers under 40 (he was born in 1971) he tempers the more prickly, jagged elements of the post-tonal style with humor and eclecticism. What holds your attention in his music is not its ingenuity but its relentless energy and drive.
He also has a knack for defying expectations. Drawn to Minimalist sculpture – Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” adorns the CD cover, an allusion to the opening work, “After Serra” (2000) – he resists using the Minimalist musical vocabulary to evoke it. That resistance eventually evaporates, at least partly. The final four minutes of the score is an eerie stasis of slow textural shifts and quietly scampering solos over sustained tones. But that comparative serenity is hard won, coming after 10 minutes of vigorous, high-energy counterpoint. The most ambitious work here, the 2-movement, 27-minute “Polarities” (1998), also begins with an eventful, virtuosic opening section that gives way to quiet spareness. But the proportions are reversed; here the slow, introspective writing is the center of gravity.
The musicians of Ensemble 21 play this music sizzlingly. Particularly striking in “Polarities” is Jean Kopperud’s fluid, feisty clarinet playing, which bounces between klezmerlike note bending and assertive multiphonics that evoke John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Taimur Sullivan, on soprano saxophone, makes “Tangled Loops” (1996) into a vivid character piece. And Marilyn Nonken’s sharply focused and often athletic pianism, Rolf Schulte’s lyrical violin playing, atmospheric percussion by Thomas Kolor and a rich cello line from Christopher Finckel, enliven the involved textures of “A Glimpse Retraced” (1999). — Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, Arts & Leisiure, July 28, 2008
Jason Eckardt Out of Chaos After Serra; Polarities; Tangled Loops; A Glimpse Retraced Ensemble 21 Mode 137
Jason Eckardt (b.1971) is an American composer new to me who composes exhilarating music that is easier to enjoy than to write about. His many influences have included advanced jazz, gagaku, Webern (whose discovery was a turning point and catalyst for him) and the new complexity (studies with Dillon, Ferneyhough and several other luminaries).
The influences have been assimilated rather than being juxtaposed, and there is a feeling of conviction – he knows exactly what he wants to convey and how to do it, even though the methods are likely to be far from obvious to listeners.
After Serra seeks to echo the sculptor’s precarious balance ‘verging on collapse’ (see cover illustration) with aggressive, volatile outbursts giving way to emergence of the instrumentalists as soloists, but without final stability being achieved. In Polarities the instruments are ‘drawn to and away from each other in myrias ways’, frenetic activity giving way to final stasis. Tangled Loops celebrates the virtuosity of Coltrane, Parker & Dolphy, with overlapping reappearaances of material and furious uninhibited virtuosity at the limits of possibility. A Glimpse Retraced is for five instruments, four of them accompanying the piano in permutated combinations, duets comprising the most extended passages.
It is all music which grabs and holds attention, and makes you want to play the pieces again to get closer to the composer’s mind and procedures. It instils a conviction that Eckardt could explain precisely what he is doing, if telling were fashionable. Those of us who have not had formal courses in contemporary composing methods will have to content ourselves with a more superficial, surface enjoyment of the expertise of Ensemble 21, which was founded 1993 by Jason Eckardt and pianist Marilyn Nonken, and is a powerful representative in USA of new music from Europe.
Exemplary recording and presentation. On this showing, their CDs for New World Records and Mode would reward further exploration. — Peter Grahame Woolf, Musical Pointers, October 2004
Jason Eckardt Out of Chaos Mode 137
“The hiker and the listener have much in common,” writes Marilyn Nonken in her liner notes. “Eckardt’s music offers the listener many pathways, each leading to a different listening experience.” It’s not exactly a profound remark, nor a particularly original one (and could apply to hundreds of composers and a multitude of different styles of music), but is quite helpful. For over a generation now listeners have been far too intimidated by contemporary music, particularly of the New Complexity persuasion, seeing it as intellectually impenetrable and as “unlistenable” as it is “unplayable”. Fortunately, we’re approaching the end of that particular tunnel, and, after Elliott Carter, composers as “difficult” as Brian Ferneyhough and Milton Babbitt are beginning to get some long overdue acclaim. Jason Eckardt was born in the city where Milton Babbitt taught for most of his working life, Princeton NJ, and duly passed through Babbitt’s hands, as well as those of Ferneyhough, James Dillon, Karlheinz Stockhausen and, principally, Mario Davidovsky, with whom he studied at Columbia. Not before majoring in guitar at Berklee, though – Eckardt is the first to acknowledge the importance of Metal and free jazz in his background. Nonken claims he turned to composition after discovering Webern, but if one composer comes to mind on listening to the opening ensemble work “After Serra”, it’s Varèse. (Maybe filtered through Birtwistle.) Strong gestures, recognisable contours and vivid contrasts define the music at every level. “Tangled Loops”, performed by Nonken and soprano saxophonist Taimur Sullivan, namechecks Parker (Charlie, not Evan this time), Coltrane and Dolphy, and is perhaps closest to the latter, in its dramatic and dogged pursuit of the interval. It’s a killer piece, and must be a bitch to play – hats off for Sullivan. Pianist Nonken is no slouch either as performers go, as PT readers may well remember, and “A Glimpse Retraced” is a chamber concerto for her and flute / piccolo, clarinet, violin and cello. Proof that there’s plenty of life left yet in the old Pierrot line-up, it’s also the most accessible piece on the disc, alternating tough angular lyricism – Birtwistle once more comes to mind – with an exploration of extreme register as chunky and funky as mid 70s Ligeti. The playing throughout by the members of Ensemble 21 is superb (bravo to clarinettist Jean Kopperud for making New Complexity Clarinet on “Polarities” as sensual and thrilling as klezmer) and the album is as strong and solid as Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc”, a photograph of which adorns the cover. — Dan Warburton, paristransatlantic.com, September 2004
Jason Eckardt Out of Chaos Ensemble 21 Mode 137
Sometimes music can leave you speechless — all sorts of speechless. After an inattentive first listen, Out of Chaos, the new CD of chamber music composed by Jason Eckardt, left me with a what-the-hell sort of speechlessness. Because I’m not exactly a fan of heady discourses on the complexities surrounding form and structure — which is what Eckardt’s music seems to demand — I pushed this disc back towards the stack of CDs that I’ve been meaning to spend more time with, really. So somewhere between the Cygnus Ensemble’s Broken Consort CD, a CRI release from a few years back, and a CD-R of the not-so-new anymore Peaches album that a friend burned for me eons ago, lovingly titled FatherFucker, sat Out of Chaos in a purgatory of what-the-hellness. Needless to say this CD was just too hard to ignore.
I’m not going to lie to you. Jason Eckardt’s music is hard to listen to, if only for the demands it places on its listener. Eckardt favors a sound that stems from Xenakis, Lachenmann, Grisey, and other Euro-titans and feels closely related somehow to Sciarrino, and maybe Ferneyhough. You might stumble, as I did, during your first encounter with Eckardt’s hyperactive über-expressiveness. But as your senses enjoy being overwhelmed and you begin to relax into Eckardt’s stringent music, try to refrain from analytical listening and simply enjoy the beautiful flow of morphing timbres. It’s actually really hard to do as the music unwittingly focuses a zillion floodlights at Eckardt’s compositional concerns, which seems to entail, well, bringing some kind of order to chaos. This subtle and, more often than not, blatant push and pull hints at the composer’s manifested interests in juxtaposing activity and inactivity — the corporeality expressed by the cellist in After Serra, rapidly sawing notes like a competitive lumberjack which is suddenly halted by near silence — in balancing macro-melodic directions and stabilizing a set of narrowly preferred intervals — the shrill piccolo melody over a rising, brutal piano accompaniment in A Glimpse Retraced — and imposing randomness into fixed zones of pitch and register, like forcing square pegs into round holes.
While I understand Eckardt’s connection to the dwarfing and disorienting feeling evoked by the huge, monolithic steel sculptures by Richard Serra that inspired After Serra, I sense a closer affinity in his music to the sculptures of Sarah Sze: giant aggregates of sprawling material that jettison against the laws of gravity and pixilate into tiny, intricate worlds that lay awaiting discovery entirely separate from the whole. — Randy Nordschow, New Music Box, July 2004
Also by Jason Eckardt on Mode Records: Jason ECKARDT: Undersong (mode 234)