Duration 55.31 | Released November 2020
The album MOUNTAINS of Chris Cundy released by Aural Terrains has been included in The Wire: Adventures In Modern Music top ten modern classical albums of the year 2021.
This release offers a set of rare modern classical works for bass clarinet alongside a stand alone contemporary piece by Greek composer Thanos Chrysakis. Mountains is a title shared by two compositions from 1977 by Cornelius Cardew and Ton de Leeuw and both are presented here alongside each other for the first time. In addition, it contains Solo With Accompaniment, an earlier work by Cardew that uses indeterminate performance strategies, as well as John Cage’s late work Five. Belonging to the large collection of Number Pieces all written during the final decade of the composer's life.
1. SOLO WITH ACCOMPANIMENT
bass clarinet with three accompaniments
Ton de Leeuw
2. MOUNTAINS (1977) 18'11''
bass clarinet and tape
3. FRYKTORIA (2019) 12'50''
five bass clarinets
4-7. MOUNTAINS (1977)
Variation I 2'50''
Variation II 5'32"
Variation III (Cadenza) 2'25"
Variation IV 3'35"
solo bass clarinet
8. FIVE (1988) 5'05"
five bass clarinets
About the Artist
“swirling around the songs was bass clarinet player Chris Cundy, like a birdsong interrupting an argument” - Los Angeles Times
Playing bass clarinet and rarified woodwind instruments Chris Cundy is a composer and performer with a practice rooted in experimental and improvised settings. His work also crosses over into popular music and he has worked with a variety of songwriters and groups including Timber Timbre, Cold Specks (aka Ladan Hussein), Thor & Friends, Baby Dee & Little Annie, and Guillemots.
Growing up in the Medway towns Chris became friends with artist and punk musician Billy Childish who introduced him to the exploits of homemade music-making at an early age. This led to a lasting DIY attitude and by the time he was 12 Chris had already started out as a street performer and busker. After hearing Eric Dolphy's music he took up the bass clarinet. He remains self-taught.
Also a visual artist, Chris studied painting at Cheltenham where he discovered a synergy between drawing practices and improvised music. This led to self-developed playing techniques using multi-phonics, circular breathing, exploring micro tonality and generally speaking a more tactile approach to the instrument. Chris also performs contemporary classical music and has premiered works by Greek composer Thanos Chrysakis. He performs as a soloist and as a member of The Set Ensemble.
He is also involved with theatre music, and recently contributed to an original soundtrack for Florian Zeller's stage play The Mother starring Gina McKee. Chris has performed at Shakespeare's Globe and toured with circus companies NoFit State, and Imagineer.
One off sessions have seen Chris performing alongside Moby, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Lol Coxhill, Vieux Farka Touré, Fatoumata Diawara, Alexander Hawkins, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Lisa Hannigan.
He has released three solo albums, Gustav Lost in 2016 (FMR Records), The Disruptive Forest in 2017 (Confront), and the mini-album Crude Attempt in 2020 (Pressing Records). A further album of acoustic bass clarinet compositions is expected in 2021 titled Of All The Common Flowers.
Julian Cowley — The Wire #445 — March 2021
In 1977, Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw composed Mountains for bass clarinet player Harry Sparnaay. His score translates recollected traces of folk music and Hindustani song forms into a contemporary idiom that enables the reed instrument to converse volubly with electronic fluttering and warbles, prerecorded on tape. Chris Cundy has resuscitated this engaging piece along with another by Cornelius Cardew, also called Mountains and also writen for Sparnaay in the same year. Cardew opted to recast Bach in ways that test the soloist, while also reflecting his personal tussles with music's nature and potential significance. The contrast between John Cages's Five and Thanos Chrysakis's Fryktoria highlights radically different spatial relationships and modes of communication that can exist within a quintet of bass clarinets. An early, indeterminate score by Cardew rounds out this absorbing release.
Brian Olewnick — The Squid's Ear — 02.02.2021
Cundy presents six relatively recent compositions for bass clarinet, sometimes overdubbed, sometimes with taped accompaniment. There are two works by Cornelius Cardew, "Solo with Accompaniment" and "Mountains", as well as one each from Ton de Leeuw (also titled "Mountains"), Thanos Chrysakis ("Fryktoria") and John Cage ("Five").
"Solo with Accompaniment" (1964) has been recorded by others in various guises and seems to be capable of myriad different expressions, involving matrices which contain elements subject to certain rules of association and much more. It's also humorously perverse in that the "solo" section is relatively simple, the "accompaniment" complex, inverting the standard relationship. Here, the drawn-out bass clarinet lines waft around skittering though sporadic elements, percussive, whistling, quavering and otherwise. There's a sense of sadness in there, maybe a constrictedness; it's oddly moving. Both "Mountains" compositions were written for the Dutch bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay, each also dated 1977. de Leeuw's is for bass clarinet and tape, the latter created by the composer. The sections are sometimes heard separately, engaged in a kind of playful, distanced dance with each other, here and there joining hands for some delicate and generally joyful interplay. Over the course of its 18+ minutes, it becomes progressively more tonal, ending in an area not all that far from, perhaps, a Jon Hassell piece from around the same period, though at once freer and more rigorous. Altogether very enjoyable.
Cardew's "Mountains" has, to the best of my knowledge, only been previously recorded once, by Ian Mitchell on his release with Christopher Hobbs, "the edge of the world" (Black Box, 1995). It certainly occupies a unique place in Cardew's oeuvre, written during a time when he was still preoccupied with working in an area largely given over to socialist workers' songs (the score does, indeed, include a quotation from Mao). However, the piece is structured on variations of Bach's "Partita No. 6" for solo keyboard and contains in its four sections transformations and inversions of same (sounding almost Braxtonian), a graphic section (having previously scorned his immense amount of work in that area), an improvisatory sequence and an up-and-down portion written to clearly evoke, within the staves, visual impressions of mountains. Cundy's performance traverses all of these "obstacles" with ease and good nature, managing to weld them seamlessly and with imagination, presenting a lively, vigorous image, brisk and bracing as a mountain ridge.
Chrysakis' "Fryktoria" (2019) and Cage's "Five" are both recorded with five bass clarinets. The former is a thoughtful sequence of explorations using various aspects of the instrument, moving slowly and with consideration for color and a subtle, only slightly perceptible forward motion. The Cage work is five minutes of unhurried, floating beauty, the five long-held tones weaving and gently glancing off one another like ribbons in a soft breeze. For all the admirable intricacy and flair of the preceding compositions, this might be my favorite from a very strong selection.
Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg — Orynx — 20.01.2021
Une fois n’est pas coutume, de la musique composée. Chris Cundy est un superbe clarinettiste basse (principalement) qui se partage entre l’improvisation radicale et la composition. On l’a trouvé dans plusieurs albums intéressants ou passionnants publiés par Aural Terrains, le label du compositeur Thanos Chrysakis. Dans ces différents albums réalisés à l’initiative de Thanos auxquels participent ils participent tous les deux, il y a une constante : la clarinette basse et l’utilisation de l’électronique. Chrysakis et Cundy, étant des improvisateurs convaincus, on dira que le choix de compositeurs comme John Cage et Cornelius Cardew tombe sous le sens. Solo with three accompaniment de Cardew (1964) n’est pas à proprement parler une pièce pour clarinette basse, mais plutôt une invitation pour un soliste à créer un parcours avec des points de repères sonores adjacents. Mountains (1977) de Ton de Leeuw est une musique pour bande magnétique où le clarinettiste basse grimpe des sommets imaginaires autour d’un drone oscillant (18’11’’). Remarquable ! Comme il se doit avec Thanos Chrysakis qui a déjà consacré des pièces à plusieurs clarinettes basses et anches, Fryktoria (2019) est conçu pour cinq clarinettes qui emmêlent graves, bourdonnements, harmoniques, percussions de clapets, etc… dans une polyphonie fascinante et des moments fragiles durant 12’50’’. C’est à mon avis une des pièces dont je perçois le mieux les intentions, la gravité, l’audace et la cohérence. D’autres Mountains (1977) de Cardew, à nouveau, pour clarinette basse seule en quatre Variations numérotées de I à V (2’50’’, 5’32’’, 2’25’’, 3’35’’). L’intérêt de l’album y est renforcé par le travail magnifique et très inspiré qui rend grâce à cet instrument souvent sollicité et aux propositions mélodiques de Cardew dans sa phase « anti-impérialiste ». S’il faut resituer cette musique de Cardew dans l’évolution de la musique improvisée, on songe à l’appellation folklore imaginaire, exécuté avec grande précision et une réelle musicalité. Chaque son compte, comme si le compositeur était le comptable de la moindre seconde, du moindre instant. On appréciera les multiphoniques et la respiration de la Variation II intégrées dans une remarquable narration dont on goûte le moindre instant sans aucune réitération et où plusieurs approches (techniques) sonores se succèdent. La Cadenza qui suit (Variation III) coule de source en rebondissant sur les étagements des intervalles, prolongée par une forme de gigue décalée (Variation IV). Le Five de John Cage (5‘05’’) avec ces cinq clarinettes basses est le point d’orgue final qui nous envoie avec ses notes tenues et voicings indéterminés des questions sans réponse. Une belle réussite et félicitations à Thanos Chrysakis et à Chris Cundy qui a su incarner l’esprit de ces compositions.
Spencer Prewitt - The Clarinet Magazine - Audio Reviews : Summer 2021
This album is an unapologetic presentation of avant-garde bass clarinet music. Cundy hasn’t set out with the intention to wow a listener with obsequious refinement but instead seems to have focused on presenting the ideas and philosophies of these works in their purest form. There is value, beauty and courage in the artistic freedom required to let a work stand on its own two feet and Cundy should be applauded for that endeavor.
Solo with Accompaniment by Cornelius Cardew for bass clarinet with three accompaniments is an exploration of timbre and texture. Clarinetist Chris Cundy weaves in and out of the electronic texture skillfully and this piece sets the tone for what is to come on the rest of the album.
Mountains by Ton de Leeuw for bass clarinet and tape is an excellent example of an extended work that blends acoustic and electronic elements. The short thematic material that interplays between the clarinet and tape is handled well by Cundy. The fragmented nature of this piece and similarity of color between the acoustic and recorded parts make it challenging to capture an expressive arc in a recording but Cundy has done just that as well as I can imagine.
Fryktoria by Thanos Chrysakis for five bass clarinets is a study of the broad tonal palette the bass clarinet has to offer, particularly in the arena of non-traditional techniques. Rather than gathering the organization of the piece in terms of rhythm or tonal material, the approach here strikes me as a set of scenes which use different textures and timbres to morph from section to section.
Mountains for solo bass clarinet by Cornelius Cardew is written in four variations. The first variation is simple from a technical standpoint and Cundy approaches it with a firm rhythmic feel and with carefully placed diminuendos. The second variation is much more rhapsodic with constant tonal variations achieved by voiced harmonics, bisbigliando and embouchure variations. Variation three is a cadenza which harkens back to the rhythmic feel from the first variation, without much variation in pulse or dynamic, it is at times difficult to imagine where the cadenza is leading. Variation four is quite lively and rhythmic and while the piece ends with a taper to niente, this variation still serves as a tidy ending to this interesting piece.
Five by John Cage is one of his number pieces which were open in instrumentation. This piece also gives the listener long periods of stasis where nothing is happening in terms of the melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic material. However, I think that is the point and it is executed well by Cundy.
If you seek an album to challenge your musical ideals and help you explore the many contemporary tonal possibilities the bass clarinet can achieve, then Mountains is the album for you.