Skimmed Cream

JEAN HASSE
Kinkh (Visible Music)
Remember Hans Otte's Book of Sounds? If you liked that, you might also like Hasse's slightly jazzier, less dryly conceptual Pocket Pieces for piano. She's fortyish, American, living in England, and her postminimalism is dreamy but not without backbone; she ups the tension before you can settle into anything. There's a little improv, a lovely piece for reverbed and echoed flutes, and a gentle, Earle Brown-inspired percussion piece, but most of the disc is small, thoughtful piano pieces of often Satie-esque melancholy. B

PAUL LANSKY
Ride (Bridge)
Tied only with Robert Ashley, computer maven Lansky continues to put out the best records in the new-music business. If Ride doesn't quite duplicate the sonic luxury of his last disc, Conversation Pieces (Bridge), it's only because he's revisiting some old concepts with better software. Idle Chatter Junior is here, fourth in a series of boppy, voice-triggered, postminimalist pieces, plus the title track, which transforms traffic sounds on a New Jersey highway into a whooshing soundtrack of portentous harmonies. There's even an homage to his alma mater, the High School of Music and Art, in which he morphs his own singing of the school song. Lansky in a light mood has more tricks up his sleeve than most composers do in a frenzy of ambition. A

DAVID MAHLER
Hearing Voices (Tzadik)
In sharp contrast to his Austrian namesake, Mahler's got the best sense of humor in new music. Once the genius of funny things to do with tape recorders, he sat out the early '90s, he says, mourning the loss of tape, but has recently become resigned to digital technology. So he did interviews with four creative artists, put them in his computer, and he takes the dancer's (Sandy Silva's) voice and makes it dance. The quarter-tone composer's voice (Thomas Peterson) is broken up into quarter-tone melodies. And like that. It's obvious, any kid with Pro-Tools could do it . . . but it's so charmingly done. B PLUS

JAMES SELLARS
Piano Works (CRI)
Reprogram these six sonatas and a sonatina (each played by a different pianist) in chronological order of composition, and you'll hear Sellars progress from a mild-mannered postserialism to a breathtakingly masterful postminimalism. Sellars has a superb ear for postminimal tonality and textures and no patience for minimalist process or any linear rhetoric. His post-1983 sonatas flutter and dart and ask odd questions; though absolutely smooth, they never make a common or predictable gesture, yet are consistently charming. If the most beautiful is the Sonata Brasiliera, the most peculiar is the Sonata Dada, a seamless, Satie- and Cage-inspired continuum of non sequiturs in A-flat major. Since the pieces also remain a little abstract, Sellars may turn out to be a composer's composer, but he has raised the style to new, idiosyncratic heights. A

PAUL STURM
The Diplomat's Shadow (Turnstyle Media)
Once one of the Midwest's most original and unsung figures, now living in Arizona, Sturm is a tenderhearted conceptualist whose concern is personal politics, but whose music remains very musical. The title cut is a symphony for electric guitars, but with Brancaesque macho replaced by gentle poetry. Ascent of the Deer Ghost was made as a quasi-Native American ritual to help Sturm deal with the atrocities of mid-American hunting culture; Eye of the Panopticon springs from Foucault's analysis of prison structures. Live performance would probably clarify how the sounds relate to the ideas, but Sturm's lively rhythms and his paradoxically delicate use of noisy and weird timbres (including power drills and string-pull talking dolls) reach levels of bizarre loveliness. B PLUS

'BLUE' GENE TYRANNY
Go, Blue (O.O.)
Much about this disc doesn't sound very Tyrannyesque: It's performed by the U. of Michigan's Digital Music Ensemble, who bring their own take. So while we do get some of "Blue" 's transcendent pianism, virtuosic and reticent at once, we also get Terry Rileyish versions of his Decertified Highway of Dreams, bopping along with high energy and poppy tunes over an endless three-note ostinato. Well, OK; we can afford to expand Tyranny's world into a direction not so infinitely subtle and acknowledge connections to minimalism we had forgotten were there. Maybe not deep "Blue," but it's infectiously joyous. B PLUS

JACK VEES
The Restaurant Behind the Pier (ReR)
Vees is an electric bassist, and so is my son, Bernard. The Hendrix and Beatles covers on this disc, Bern says, "make you think, well, so he figured out how to play Hendrix on solo bass. But the original pieces are really interesting." I agree. It is remarkable how many diverse sounds and textures Vees can dredge up: gamelan-like textures of harmonics, harsh electronic buzzes, twangy sitar melodies. And each piece has a strong, clear concept, making this a varied and listenable disc for a humble solo instrument. B


Pick Hit

BANG ON A CAN
Renegade Heaven (Cantaloupe)
You wouldn't have expected that totalist Bang-on-a-Canners Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon would blend so well with minimalist twang-on-a-stringers Arnold Dreyblatt and Glenn Branca, but somehow all these composers, plus Phil Kline, have converged on a momentary common idiom.

It's a new phase in postminimalism: busy music sans repetition, melody, or identifiable harmony, but with easily characterizable textures, an attempt to make abstraction pleasant. Wolfe's "Believing" is her first credible rock-influenced piece. The stunner, though, is Branca's "Movement Within," a densely sliding texture of microtonal strings that'll make you seasick. Kline's "Exquisite Corpses" ends the disc with a lighter jam session feel, and the whole thing's a brilliantly vivid photograph of music right this second. A

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