(Moers Music)

The James Choice Orchestra is a collective of composers and improvisers whose “leaders” are Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Frank Gratkowski, Matthias Schubert and Norbert Stein, each represented here by a piece. Its main scope is pursuing a blend of music which exploits aleatory constituents, most of them dictated by the musicians themselves who – given a set of instructions – move smartly amidst improvisation and pre-determined scores, in a way orientating the original ideas towards (potentially) unpredictable twists and turns. Among the performers, luminaries such as Melvyn Poore, Scott Fields, Thomas Lehn, Philip Zoubek are found. Everything perfect, then? Well, not completely. The positives: instrumental prowess all over the place, scintillating timbres, blocks of extremely functional movements of the parts shifting the weight of the composition in a systematic search for dynamic change. The other side of the coin is that this kind of artistic conception seems to be born with an inner tendency to adhere to certain theatrical manifestations that sometimes appear pretty dated, with particular reference to female vocalism (sorry, one of my limits is that I always hated Cathy Berberian-like burlesque soprano virtuosity, including shrieks, laughs and the likes, and even when the male participants join in, it just recalls a pale imitation of Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels”). That said, the music still possesses lots of different qualities, needing attentive scrutiny as any difficult orchestral proposition would. Still, three consecutive listens of this complex performance (which, furthermore, lasts almost 80 minutes – that doesn’t help) didn’t deliver me from a few residual doubts. Translation: an interesting release, but several prominent branches needed to be pruned.

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