Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Little Cowboy Music

Hidden on Rodney Lister's CD Somewhere To Get To, tucked between a wonderful five-part song cycle Of Mere Being based on the poems of Wallace Stevens, and Everness, a song on a poem by Borges, is a polytonal gem of a piece: A Little Cowboy Music, scored for bass, clarinet, violin, and piano.

If one had to summarise Rodney Lister's output in just one word, it would almost certainly be weird, as Rodney is equally at home writing in sonorous, profound harmony and hopeless, meandering dissonance. And when I say weird I don't mean Cagey (e.g. John Cage) weird: there is nothing at all experimental-sounding in the music of Rodney Lister; on the contrary I find it sure-footed and exact. I suppose Rodney Lister's music is weird in the way that Captain Beefheart's and Keith Fullerton Whitman's music is weird: a strangeness somewhat synonymous with genius.

Which brings me back to the Ivesian A Little Cowboy Music which was written some 30 years ago. From what I make of it, it's a quodlibet wherein the themes take different tempi and tonal centers, the end result being a jarring, witty, and, yes, weird polytonal and polyrhythmic experience; made all the greater by the tunes selected. I can't place all of them, but certainly there's Home on the Range, Goodbye Old Paint, Red River Valley, and The Ballad of Jesse James.

Also appearing on the CD is a setting of John Hollander's Blue Wine, by far my favorite track of the CD, though all are excellent. Anyway, I suppose the thesis of this entry is that Somewhere To Get To: The Music of Rodney Lister is one of those CDs that every music fan, not just 20th-century classical fans, but every music fan, ought to listen through at least once.

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