ADAMS Gnarly Buttons; John's Book of Alleged Dances
Anyone who suspects that Cage’s prepared piano was a period cul-de-sac should hear the way John Adams works it into his Book of Alleged Dances. The original idea was to make a digitally sampled loop of the piano part which would then be triggered by one of the quartet members; but practical considerations necessitated recording the loops, which the quartet now perform live.
We start by following a streetcar from town to coast and back again, then visit “Toot Nipple” with “chainsaw triads on the cello”. There’s a raw-edged “Hoe-Down” for leader David Harrington, a “Pavane” for cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and a doleful Habanera, “a lament for a season without baseball” as Adams himself puts it. “Hammer & Chisel” are contractor friends who construct to a knotty toccata; a slithery “Alligator Escalator” employs reptilian harmonics and a chirpy “Serenade” pays subtle homage to Beethoven and Schubert. These and more are kept on a high flame by the Kronos Quartet, whereas Gnarly Buttons (with oblique reference to walking sticks and Gertrude Stein) calls on the combined talents of Michael Collins and the London Sinfonietta. A more intense piece by far (rather less memorably, too), its dry but colourful demeanour occasionally recalls Schoenberg’s similarly spice-flavoured Serenade. The first movement is based on a Protestant shape-note hymn; the second is a ‘Mad-Cow’ hoe-down (written for Adams’s British friends and the principal point of speculative contact with the Schoenberg) and the third, a warming song with sure-fire ‘hit’ potential. Collins does Adams proud, and so do the London Sinfonietta.
Further commentary seems superfluous, and in any case Adams himself pips me to the post with his own entertaining annotation. The recordings are first-rate. '