After Terry Riley's revolutionary In C, it certainly never seemed that the compositionally brash cofounder of the minimalist movement would take on a lyrical bent. But that's what he's done on this collection of pieces for violin, guitar, and percussion. Violinist Tracy Silverman and guitarist David Tanenbaum play warmly and sublimely on Cantos Desiertos, finding pristine melodies and high, arching curves around which to spread their finesse. Tanenbaum gets unbelievably rich tones from his guitar, and his range is the one consistent ingredient throughout these pieces. He duets with Riley's son Gyan, himself an accomplished guitarist, on "Zamorra" and with percussionist William Winant on Dias de los Muertos. Winant's marimba and gongs are especially appropriate for Tanenbaum's resonant string work, fluctuating from an absolute crispness to a milky froth. Where Riley's chamber works, such as Salome Dances for Peace, are intensely rhythmic, these works veer much more stealthily toward a kind of glorious flowering, even if the blooms are in dusky colors and muted, curvy patterns.
In "Gnosis", the Santiago de Cuba-raised and New York-based pianist-composer David Virelles looks towards one melting pot from the vantage point of another. At one level an autobiographical album, a sequence of images conveyed through sound, Gnosis is a far- reaching work with deep roots. Transculturation and traditions are among the subjects under consideration, and the complex tapestry of Cuba’s music: the sacred, the secular, and the ritualistic. It’s an exciting, vivid and multi-faceted project of rapidly changing temperament, in which pulsating ensemble music and pristine, meditative solo piano both have their places. And it is enveloped in a feeling of mystery and magic that has made each of Virelles’s albums special.
As one-third of the composer-collective Bang on a Can, David Lang is something of a genial father figure of the indie-classical scene. Talk to any of the world's main players and you're likely to hear them tell you about their life-changing stint in Bang on a Can's summer festival, which has acted as a sort of feeder school and incubator for the group's try-anything mentality. Lang's music has undergone many stylistic shifts over the years: In the 80s, he wrote bristlier stuff, but in the last decade or so, he's shifted quietly into a more pensive register. The Little Match Girl Passion, his 2008 work that won him a Pulitzer, was written for only four voices and some hand bells. This Was Written By Hand, his most recent recording, is a collection of short solo piano works played by the British pianist Andrew Zolinsky. The album holds the same, sustained melancholy mood: thoughtful, searching, elegiac, minimalist. Lang's way with repetitive phrasing doesn't feel like that of minimalists like Glass or Reich's, though.