A look back at one of the ‘founders’ of minimalism well worth your while!

JON GIBSON: Relative Calm – Jon Gibson, saxes and keyboards/Joseph Kubera, keyboards/David Van Tieghem, percussion – New World 8783-2 [Distr. by Albany], 69:06, (11/04/16) ****:

I first became aware of Jon Gibson some forty years ago while he was still a member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. My admiration for Jon at the time was solidly (but only) due to his appreciable saxophone skills. I learned of his skills as a composer who could very capably bend the edges of what was then the minimalism genre through his Two Pieces (minimal though they are, they do not ‘mirror’ Philip Glass and others) on vinyl LP which has recently been rereleased on CD.

Relative Calm on CD is a major find. From the press materials, Gibson is “one of the less frequently mentioned pioneering composers of minimal music and is probably best known as a founding member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. Gibson also holds the unique distinction of having performed with Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young (as a member of the Theatre of Eternal Music). In addition to Glass, the four composers are widely regarded as the founding fathers of minimal music. Gibson also has a track record of composing for modern and post-modern dance and Relative Calm (1981) is the fruit of one of his numerous collaborations with well-known choreographers, in this case Lucinda Childs, who commissioned the work. The rediscovery of Relative Calm, one of Gibson’s major works, is “cause for rejoicing among aficionados of minimalist music.”

I agree and I must admit that I was not aware of Relative Calm (somehow I missed it…) but I certainly am aware of Gibson’s work and that of the cutting edge choreographer Lucinda Childs, who is known to many as one of the prime forces in the creation of Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. Like most works constructed in this genre, there are mathematical patterns that form the structure for each of the work’s four sections. (It is important to realize that the first movement, Relative Calm, also acts as the title to the whole but the other three movements; “Q-Music, Extensions RC” and “Return”, are indeed movements within the choreographed whole.) Those patterns are fun to follow but the work stands on its own as an enjoyable listening experience.

I think, like much minimalist music, it can be appreciated or evaluated by just listening but is enhanced when we experience the total package. There are spots in this work that reminded me of the Philip Glass-Twyla Tharp collaboration, In the Upper Room; as an example of a work best experienced seen and not just heard. Gibson’s comments on his work are very helpful.

“In Relative Calm, I am very much involved with texture and collage, and it is mainly intuitive. I don’t want to be compulsive about the concepts that may inspire a piece. An idea may look wonderful on paper, and may feature an exciting and innovative formula, but the music must sound. Some composers care only about the idea … but I care only about the actual sound of the music.”

I enjoyed this work a great deal and I suspect that people who claim to find the work of Philip Glass tedious (something that I do not find) may like Relative Calm for the harmonic variety, the sonority and even just a little bit of ‘edge’ that separates it in time and place from the other members of his camp. (The third section, “Extension RC,” for example, is saxophone-based and barely sounds like the work of the same composer.) I would love to see more music and theater works from this era find their way onto CD.

—Daniel Coombs