Whether for reasons of economy or aesthetics, the chamber ensemble is the primary vehicle for contemporary classical music – witness the plethora of groups currently ‘doing the rounds’ in Western Europe and the North America. A definite musical persona is thus essential and, on the basis of this commercial recording début, eighth blackbird is carving out an identity both distinctive and engaging. Petroushskates (1980) has long been a calling-card for Joan Tower, but its synthesis of minimalist figuration with a harmonic style owing more to Stravinsky than just surface allusions is an engaging one. This sextet arrangement by Allen Otte only enhances its suitability as a curtain-raiser. David Schober’s Variations (1998), however, is more a work for launching the second half: a sequence of fluid variations on a motif which steals by in the opening seconds, giving rise to atmospheric music that delights in – without drawing attention to – the subtlety and ingenuity of its own processes.Having early coined the term ‘12-tone tonality’, George Perle has gained a reputation for serialism with a human face. Scored for a Pierrot Lunaire-ensemble in which voice is replaced by percussion, the nine movements of Critical Moments 2 (2001) throw up all manner of connections motivic and gestural. Listen especially to the ruminative eloquence of ‘III’, or the disjunct rhythms of ‘VIII’ – the 86-year-old composer in playful mood. Thomas Albert’s Thirteen Ways (1997) is also a sequence of short pieces, in homage to Wallace Stevens’ collection of blackbird epigrams. Evocative rather than concentrated, Albert’s music mirrors the sentiments of the poems in touching and gently humorous terms, though rather than preface each number with a reading of the verse, it would have been better to let them mingle freely in the listener’s mind. Clear and well-balanced recorded sound, and a booklet which gives the composers’ and the players’ points of view in informal and informative terms. eighth blackbird is clearly a group to take note of – enjoy the present release, and look out for them should they turn up at a recital venue near you.