PETER GORDON: Symphony 5 – Foom Records

PETER GORDON: Symphony 5 – Foom Records FM004CD [3/3/15] ****:

(Katie Porter – clarinet, bass clarinet; Paul Shapiro – tenor sax, soprano sax; Max Gordon – trumpet; Peter Zummo – trombone; Bill Ruyle – vibraphone; Ned Sublette – electric guitar; Randy Gun – electric guitar; Yunior Terry – bass guitar; Elio Villafranca – piano; Robby Ameen – drums; Peter Gordon – organ, synthesizer)

Peter Gordon was born in New York City, but spent his formative teenage years in Munich. There he learned to play saxophone and clarinet. He became familiar with avant-garde jazz figures (Sun Ra) and the emerging British rock movement. When he moved to Los Angeles, he met Don Van Vliet, known to many as Captain Beefheart. There, the concepts of rock music being assimilated into pop structures took hold. After studying music in San Diego, he moved back to New York in 1975. The burgeoning musical scene of the 70’s allowed for spontaneity and freedom of expression.  Gordon collaborated with Phillip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Arthur Russell and Rhys Chatham. In particular, his compositions and arrangements for the Love Of Life Orchestra incorporated many genres, including funk grooves into near-classical formats.

This maverick is releasing his first album, Symphony 5 on the UK label Foom Records. Five distinct compositions utilize the intricacy of a larger ensemble. Symphony 5 was recorded at the Roulette ballroom in Brooklyn. The opening track, “Exposition” begins with a blended swell that introduces the various instruments in an evolving alchemy. At 3:02 there is a transition to a pulse-driven movement with counterpoints and rhythms. Later, there is a moody juxtaposition of horns and reeds that climaxes in a sudden, cacophonous ending. “Transgression” has finger-snapping bluesy vibe, underscored by the polyrhythmic arrangement. There are transitions, some brief, some expanded that defy conventional patterns and change the flow of the piece.

There is a funk/hip-hop component to Juvenalia (apparently homage to Lil Wayne’s “Project Chick” and Cash Money Millionaires). The song is anchored by a repeat melody line and tougher muscular chords. There is a spirited, jazzy piano solo (Ello Villafranco). But with each successive melody refrain, there is expanded instrumentation. Jazzy and funky accents build up the intensity throughout the jam. With considerable prominence, “Homeland Security” displays a punctuated, ominous vibe that is permeated by orchestral flourishes and precise counter-rhythms.The finale, “Chamber Disco” has a hypnotic, driving beat with some lyrical melody counterpoint and impromptu breaks. The ending fade brings this inventive album to a hushed close.

Symphony 5 is difficult to categorize. Like Frank Zappa or Sun Ra, Gordon adopts an experimental approach to orchestrating. The music is compelling and with each additional play, something new can be heard.

TrackList: Exposition; Transgression; Juvenalia; Homeland Security; Chamber Disco

–Robbie Gerson

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