Bang On A Can All-Stars * * * * *
Reviewed by Velimir Pavle Ilic
Billed as a reworking of Brian Eno's ambient masterpiece Music For Airports, Sunday's programme allowed us to witness Bang On A Can's breathtaking array of musicianship first-hand, as their versions of pieces by cutting edge and established composers showed how seamlessly the lines between classical, contemporary and ambient music can blur.
Part rock band, part amplified chamber ensemble – with a little avant-garde irreverence chucked in for good measure – the All-Stars cross musical boundaries and cover an impressive range of styles to mesmerising effect.
Guitarist Mark Stewart kicked off with his take on Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint – playing against a pre-recorded tape of his own guitar loops, his quick, intricate fingers scuttled over the fret board – before the rest of the group entered for a version of David Lang's Sunray, an elegant new work that feels like being swept along by the gentlest of breezes.
Possessed of a lulling dissonance amidst eerie percussive threads and passages of indulgent, languid piano, the piece was lifted further by the urgency of the ensemble's staccato-esque refrains.
Versions of jazz musician Don Byron's Dark Room and Show Him Some Lub were no less impressive, the former an endearingly ramshackle, playful arrangement pinned together neatly by the clarinet of Evan Ziporyn, while the latter was an altogether more thrilling interpretation, a supercharged mass of vocal interplay that could easily find itself in the middle of a Bruce Nauman art installation.
The searingly beautiful Stroking Piece #1 – written by Sonic Youth's ubiquitous Thurston Moore – continued the drama, building to an all-engulfing climax that spiralled deftly into freeform chaos before petering out into a barely discernible epilogue.
Brian Eno could never have imagined that Music for Airports would be realised with live musicians, but the All-Stars added lustre and resonance to the evening's showpiece finale, subtly filling the work's open spaces.
Built around a tranquil piano progression, its transcendent, tonal qualities extended beyond Eno's original vision, as the drone of the cello and ornate tubular bells combined to scintillating effect while xylophone keys twinkled like stars.
This might have been considered background music for everyday life, but its intoxicating potency took it far beyond the incidental.