In 2016, composer Steve Reich celebrated a milestone birthday and to mark the occasion an upward of hundreds of performances of his work were performed at various places around the globe. These performances and celebrations just confirmed the almost unfathomable beauty and timelessness of his oeuvre as they represented 50 years in music. They also confirmed why he is an important part of the contemporary music landscape for many generations and not just in classical music.
Apart from revisiting past achievements from his large oeuvre, during the celebrations named “Reich at 80,” he also premiered a new piece “Pulse” which is now a part of the new album titled Pulse/Quartet that unites two recent compositions of his. “Pulse” dates from 2015 and was partially inspired Daft Punk’s collaboration with the esteemed 70’s producer Giorgio Moroder “Giorgio by Moroder.” That is evident in the electric bass that pulsates behind the melodies and movements. This is not the first time he has been inspired to write based on popular music as his previous outing Radio Rewrite was a five-movement piece that was built on themes from various Radiohead songs. “Pulse” was written for winds (clarinet and flute), strings, piano and an electric bass where the melodies stretch in arching lines. What is astonishing is the variety of sounds Reich has conjured from them. It’s a contemplative piece where every sound brims with life and the instruments seamlessly blend together thus achieving a layering effect.
The pulse has always been the heartbeat of Reich’s music and this is more evident in “Quartet” which is one of the most complex pieces that Reich has ever composed because of the frequent change of keys. It’s written for two pianos and two vibraphones and is performed by the Colin Currie Group. The Quartet is far more optimistic in tone and it reveals the fragmentary nature of Reich’s melodies. The repetitive segments and the pulsating effect which are fundamental for Reich’s music are more subdued in the segments and he uses these segments to achieve create a hypnotic effect. The instruments reiterate certain phrases, pulses, sounds and they always interact with each other. The combination of two pianos and the two vibraphones provides a rhythmic and harmonic foundation over which steady rhythms and intricate melodies mesh and layer together. There is that pulsating vitality that As a result, this gives the impression of a flowing effect where the music that gradually evolves and dissolves. It is tempting to label this music merely as minimalism, but to do so would be slightly misleading because there is so much happening in the midst of the pulse patterns and the layering melodies and sounds. Pulse/Quartet is a brilliant recording by a composer though he’s been around for many years is hitting his stride. The music is profound, enchanting, accessible and engaging.
–Nenad Georgievski, allaboutjazz.com