Gordon Beeferman: Four Parts Five

In the liner notes to Gordon Beeferman's Four Parts Five, Anders Nilsson, the electric guitarist on the date, asks, “What does this music sound like to you? Jazz? Chamber music? ... Psychedelic? Twisted funk?” Certainly some of those elements can be located within the four-part composition: like classical chamber music, it's through-composed, yet it's also executed by the quintet with the vigour and enthusiasm of jazz players; and though it would be hard to imagine anyone easily dancing to the half-hour piece, it does possess an undeniably powerful rhythmic urgency and thrust. Perhaps the NY-based composer's own characterization—“a rhythmically virtuosic, hair-raising, unsettling, and densely harmonious piece made for the brain and the body”—comes closest to hitting the mark.

In a standard quintet performance of a four-part composition, one might expect an occasional solo to arise. Not so in this case: Four Parts Five is as taut and air-tight as a composition could conceivably be, and with Beeferman's writing so mathematically precise and the framework so intricate, little room is left over for soloing. His approach is close in spirit to math rock in that regard, or perhaps another way of looking at it would be to imagine the composition as resembling some imaginary collaboration between Steve Coleman, Conlon Nancarrow, and the late Steve Martland.

It takes little more than a second or two for the music's tone to be established when the opening part rolls out alternating bursts of declamatory unison statements, the music rollicking and Beeferman (piano, Hammond B3 organ), Peter Hess (flute, bass clarinet), Anders Nilsson (electric guitar), James Ilgenfritz (bass), and Adam Gold (drums) venturing virtuosically down labyrinthine pathways. There are moments when the obsessiveness of early minimalism rears its head in Beeferman's writing (e.g., the opening minutes of the second part), yet the musicality of the ensemble never gets lost along the way. The third part even verges on funk, despite being driven by a stuttering rhythmic pulse, while the ensemble's sound comes closest to jazz on the swinging fourth when bass clarinet, piano, guitar chords, and ride cymbals form part of the mix. Admittedly such music can exude a slightly claustrophobic feel when every note is nailed into place, but there's also much listening pleasure to be derived from material so fastidiously structured.

February 2016