KITTY BRAZELTON: Ecclesiastes: A Modern Oratorio – Kitty Brazelton, voice, electronics, The Time Remaining Band – Innova Recordings CD 727, 73:32 ***
Not familiar with east coast composer Kitty Brazelton, hearing this disc immediately made me want to find out who she is. According to her website, Brazelton has spent her life singing, playing in bands, improvising, composing operas, symphonies, music for chamber, church and choir, teaching, writing, translating ancient texts, “think(ing) in four languages” and learning as much as she can about the world around her. When she was eighteen she joined the campus acid rock band, discovered medieval plainchant, radical free jazz improvisation and the ascetic serialism of the mid-20th-century classical “uptown” scene all at once. Kitty Brazelton is a professor at Bennington College in Vermont and lives in New York City’s East Village.
Her interpretation of the Book of Ecclesiastes is, indeed, a very unique experience. Taking its text from Ecclesiastes, chapters 1 and 3, Brazeleton suggests, in her notes, that the piece be listened to with eyes closed. That would provide a distraction-free listening environment but apparently the piece was first conceived as a dance work for choreographer, Gina Gibney. The opening section, “preface” and its segue into “the beginning and ending of all things” does provide a strangely attention getting sound environment that I found quite interesting. This opening actually reminded of several disparate sound sources; a bit of David Hykes, some Dead Can Dance, even a little Peter Gabriel. Brazelton’s drones and sampled and processed vocalizations do create an other-worldly environment.
The drone and engulfing overtones that create this strangely captivating sound are reflected elsewhere, most notably in the 7th section, “Heaven” and in the ebbing closure, “beyond mind”. However, in keeping with Brazelton’s view of the source texts, there are also some bracing, jarring, almost nightmarish moments such as “a time to every purpose” and its interlude “under”. The composer uses her electronic sounds and the female voice to create what I thought was this “harmonic choir” feel while reserving the male voices and the bells to create a much more strident, almost threatening feel when the texts warrant. Kudos go to all the performers but David Bryan’s countertenor and the tenor of John Brauer stand out in a startling way, as the mood is created.
One also has to admire Brazelton’s research in the source material. According to her notes, she had personally retranslated Ecclesiastes: 1-3 from its 5th century Latin as well as an 11th century Hebrew source, carefully choosing what to use in comparing those ancient sources to the much more familiar King James Bible. This work is quite interesting but those new to the most contemporary and “atypical” uses of existing sacred text (where we come to expect certain sounds and a certain emotional feel) may have to listen a couple of times and break it down by section to appreciate the sound and the intent. There is an almost Sufi-like quality to the droning (very Eastern in source and affect) and the more contemplative moments as well as a very nerve jarring and strident feel elsewhere.
There is much to admire in this work and much to inspire research into her other music. Innova has always done an excellent job finding and promoting the most unique music being written and played today, full of intrigue and difficult to label. This particular disc is supported, engineered and directed by new music pioneers Kyle Gann and Philip Blackburn. I do recommend this to anyone who wants a very new, unusual listening experience that sounds all at once very Eastern, very spiritual, very “east coast” and very demanding. It may not grab you sympathetically on the first listen but it will grab you.
— Daniel Coombs