Various Artists - Notes From The Underground- Radical Music of The T [El/Cherry Red - 2022]
Notes From The Underground- Radical Music of The Twentieth Century is the latest in El’s series of compilations' focusing on experimental sonic fare from yesterday. This time the four-CD set rather darts all over the place, from (by modern standards) fairly straightforward/ formal classical music, onto jazz- be it avant or straighter, avant classical fare, soundtrack work, and fleeting trips into Indian music. So, it’s not totally living up to its titles promise, there are some interesting/ worth sonic fair on display, though I wouldn’t say it’s quite as consistent/ focused as some of the other releases in this series.
Like the other release in this series- the four-disc set comes presented in a card slip sleeve- with each disc coming in its own CD sleeve. The sets feature a thick thirty-five-page booklet, this takes in a series of write-ups about each featured, a good enough selection of pictures, and full track listing & credits.
The first disc opens with Claude Debussy’s "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" (prelude to the afternoon of a faun), which of course is a highly recognisable/ formal symphonic orchestrated work. Next, we have the fifteen tracks that makeup Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps(The Rite of Spring)- which again is a rather formal/ known example of orchestral composition- yes at its time of composing in 1913, the use tonality & rhythm, and feelings of tension and dissonance where fresh, but via modern classical music, it is fairly formal. After these two things do improve, as we have a 1953 track from Karlheinz Stockhausen entitled "Studie 1"- where we get just over nine minutes baying & grating tonality which is still wonderful odd. There are two tracks from Pierre Schaeffer’s 1948 Five Studies Of Noise. We have a 1961 playing of "My Favourite Things" from the John Coltrane Quintet featuring Eric Dolphy. Though oddly/puzzling the disc is topped off with a track from The Prisoner soundtrack, followed by a rather jaunting & playful trad jazz take on "Dry Bone" from The Four Lads.Roger Batty
The second disc features eight-track and this is largely a lot more fitting of the compilation's title- as we start off with a twenty-seven minute 1950’s piece from Edgard Varèse entitled “Déserts” with a jarring and angularly bombastic blend of grating wind instrumentation, crashing percussion, and early tape manipulation. We have three short pieces from the 1950s from British electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram. A jerking-to-shrill piano and flute piece from the 1940s by Pierre Boulez, a track from Miles Davis Sketches of Spain, and a 1959 reading of Howl by Allen Ginsberg.
The third disc features a whopping thirty-three tracks, and this opens with one of the highlights/ stands out of the collection- the whole of Façade – An Entertainment – which features the wonderfully wacky, detailed, at times rapidly spoken poetry of Edith Sitwell, which accompanied by the shifting and dramatic orchestral accompaniment conducted by Willam Walton- it was recorded way back in 1948, and still sounds wonderful strange and distinctively creative album. After this, we have Ravi Sankar track from 1959 entitled "Kafi-Holi", which is a wonderfully vivid and urgent work for sitar, table, and tamura. We have one of the parts from Olivier Messiaen mournful and effecting chamber work Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Though to complete shatter the mood created we have this disc finished of lulling & smooth jazz of Bill Evans Trios 1961 track "My Foolish Heart".
The fourth and final disc opens with a part from Gustav Mahler “symphony no. 5”- which again is a fairly formal & known piece of classical music. As we move on we get John Cage’s 1946 Four Sonatas( For Prepared Piano) and its four tracks, and this of course very much fits the compilations title promise. Though after this we get Erik Satie's Parade( Ballet Suite) from 1959- and again this is a fairly formal example of orchestrated classical music. With the twenty track disc been finished off with a 1960 track from Ali Akbar Khan, which is and twanging-to- sadly wavering Indian raga.
In finishing there are certainly some worthy and very title fitting pieces on this four-disc collection, though there are equally some rather bizarre and puzzling picks too- which sometimes break the flow/ atmosphere created by previous pieces- so a rather mixed compilation, which has it’s worth/ interest, but I just wish it was more balanced/ consistent.