"For you I have multiplied my voices, my vocabulary, my vowels..." Although Italian author Edoardo Sanguineti wrote that dedicatory line for Sequenza VIII, it aptly describes all of the Sequenzas, an astounding series of works for solo instruments written between 1958 and 2002 by Luciano Berio. The Sequenzas reveal unthinkably new timbres, codify new instrumental techniques, and push performers to terrifying heights (as well as speeds) of virtuosity. Monophonic (one-note-at-a-time) instruments like the flute and the bassoon become a miniaturized orchestra of quiet murmurs, clicks, wraithlike chords, and quasi-electronic tones.
Two new recordings, Berio: Sequenzas I-XIV (Naxos) and Berio: Sequenzas & Solo Works (Mode), collect the complete Sequenzas and offer a superb, if not superior, alternative to the pricey 1998 set on Deutsche Grammophon, which lacks the final Sequenza XIV composed in 2002. A detailed comparison of all three sets could consume a doctoral thesis; briefly, the Naxos and Mode discs contain performances ranging from really good to great. The budget-priced Naxos release has no frills, short liner notes, and, excepting soprano Tony Arnold, boasts few "name" performers. Mode enlisted several new music all-stars—Irvine Arditti, Carol Robinson, Stuart Dempster—and added a fourth disc of solo works. Also, I appreciate Mode's inclusion of Edoardo Sanguineti's optional prefatory spoken texts, all indexed on separate tracks. You can't go wrong with either set. Essential.
I'm embarrassed to admit I'm just now catching on to Sub Rosa's series An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music. The fourth installment interleaves new pieces by Stephen Vitiello, Spunk vocalist/electronicist Maja Ratkje, and James Whitehead (AKA JLIAT) with classics by Steve Reich, Alvin Lucier, and Gottfried Michael Koenig, whose 1969 "Funktion Grau" anticipates the clicks, cuts, and glitch of the 1990s. Another welcome reissue is 10+2: 12 American Text Sound Pieces (Other Minds). A seminal document of the most neglected area of the avant, this anthology of sound poets includes Brion Gysin, speech-synthesis guru Charles Dodge, and Aram Saroyan, who entrancingly repeats "crickets" in the CD version of the old LP's lock groove.
Brotherman in the Fatherland (Hyena), a live 1972 recording made in Germany, finds multi-reed master Rahsaan Roland Kirk in fine form, blasting off on one and sometimes two or three horns simultaneously. The overlapping drones that conclude "Pedal Up" and relentless finale "Blue Trane" make this well-recorded set a must-hear. Primal force also invigorates the duo of pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz) obliterates much of the subpar hard bop that has filled my inbox recently. No recent album has baffled me as much as Absurd World Country, a self-released disc by Michael Monhart and fiery drummer Gregg Keplinger. Rackety bashing drums, squonking saxes, demented operatic singing, toy piano, and a legion of other instruments coalesce into a dizzying out-jazz homage to Phil Spector.
Finally, I'm enchanted with Garrick Ohlsson's Bach: Goldberg Variations (Bridge). The pianist's delicate touch and smartly chosen tempi earn the disc a spot on the shelf alongside classic recordings by Glenn Gould, Murray Perahia, and Roslyn Tureck.