Julius Eastman - Femenine [Sub Rosa Records - 2021]
Julius Eastman is one of the lesser-known figures in the minimalism/ modern classic spheres- the New York-born composer, pianist, vocalist, and dancer sadly passed in 1990 at the too-young age of forty-nine. Here we have a recent release of one of his longer-form works 1974’s Femenine, and it’s a fine and distinctive slice of minimalism.
The CD release appears on Sub Rosa Records, and is presented in gold, black and white colour scheme digipak. This folds out to reveal pictures of the piece’s players, and a write-up about Eastman & the composition on offer here. So a simple, but effective bit of packaging.
Composed in 1974 Femenine was written for an ensemble, and the version we have here runs as a single seventy-one and bit minute track. Like all great minimalism compositions, it’s all about growing, shifting and cascading layers of musical repetition. With the work wonderfully building up the different sonic tones and identities of the eleven or so instruments involved.
The piece here is played by Ensemble O and Aum Grand Ensemble- bringing together: Sophie Brenado- Basson, Cyprien Busolinin- Viola, Melanie Dalibert- piano, Jozef Dumoulin- Synthersizser, Celine Flamen-Cello, Stephane Garin-Percussion, Ellen Giacone-Voice, Jean- Brice Godet- bass clarinet, Amelie Grould- Vibraphone, Alexander Herer- Keyboards & electronics, Jilien Pontvianne- Soprano Sax, and Christian Pruvost- Trumpet.
The piece opens with a set rustling haze of percussion, this is fairly soon joined by a darting and buoyant vibraphone pattern- and from here the layers of instrumentation build, shift and ebb. Sometimes they bound becoming a branching & grand march, at other times they seemingly split & seesaw against each other, or we hear a single instrumentation tone becomes clear and to the front of the constant flow of sound. Within the composition, one can certainly hear hints of grand and rising orchestra music, ethnic percussion, jazz, and choral music-but none of these ever become too prominent/ or central.
The whole piece is recording with great clarity and depth- with the shifting layers of sound capture in great definition. All of the eleven players are on top form, and I think if Eastman were able to hear this take on his composition he would be most pleased.
It’s great to see this release of Femenine- and let us hope it leads to more of Eastman’s work been released, as he was most certainly had his own distinctive take on the minimalism form. To find out more and buy direct head here.