“96 Gestures” is based on a huge score of 96 motifs or “gestures” that musicians play and improvise on, as per a conductor’s cues. By controlling the durations of the phrase length, the conductor could “create contrasts of cohesiveness of pulsation in the tradition of Steve Reich,” writes annotator Stephen Dembski, a professor of music at UW-Madison, who conducted the work. But the effect is far more unfettered and unpredictable than Reich’s chattering, modular-sounding music.
“96 Gestures” grows, from oddly shifting and beguiling rhythmic interactions, into some fairly woolly collective improvs, but it never sounds chaotic. That’s due to the score’s undergridding, Dembski’s guidance and to the extraordinary skill and invention of these fine musicians. Besides guitarist Fields, the ensemble includes saxophonist-flutist Joseph Jarman, pianist Myra Melford, clarinetist François Houle, cornetist Rob Mazurek, oboist-English hornist Robbie Lynn Hunsinger, cellist Matt Turner, bassists Hans Sturm and Jason Roebke, and percussionists Damon Short and Dylan Van Der Schyff.
The result, even through three 60-minute-plus takes, is eminently listenable new music. Charming, quirky dance-like duets and trios mushroom into larger collectives. You won’t forget a plaintive passage of long tones for trumpet, saxophone, bowed basses and drums, about 19 minutes into the opening performance. Each take is quite different, like a landscape constantly mutating into new forms and colors. — The Capital Times