Review: Jürg Frey – 120 Pieces of Sound (elsewhere, Oct 10)

Lots of incredible albums came out last year, but few can claim the same amount of scope and ambition as Jürg Frey’s massive L’âme est sans retenue I, released as a five disc set on Erstwhile. Anyone intimidated by that composition’s nearly six-hour run time may find a more digestible presentation of similar concepts and ideas in 120 Pieces of Sound, which comes out next month on Erstwhile’s newly formed sibling label elsewhere. The disc presents two performances of Frey’s compositions. Stylistically, “60 Pieces of Sound” and “L’âme est sans retenue II” aren’t exactly similar. The former, composed in 2009 for an indefinite amount of performers, is a string-based piece performed by Frey on clarinet with the Boston quartet Ordinary Affects, and consists of 60 chords interspersed with pauses of silence of roughly equal length. The chords range from beautiful and calming to tense and unsettling, with the silences providing pregnant anticipations as the musicians ready their instruments to play the next chord. “L’âme est sans retenue II,” similar to the first installment, is performed solely by Frey using field recordings accompanied by bass clarinet. The sounds are different but the structure is almost indiscernable from “60 Pieces of Sound,” giving the two pieces a wonderful kinship, with the murky beauty of the “L’âme…” segments complementing the heavenly, tensile drones of “60 Pieces of Sound.” This is by far one of my favorite works I’ve heard from Frey, hitting the same spots as 2010’s Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8; and while it obviously doesn’t compete with “…retenue I” in scope it’s a wonderful release for new and old appreciators of the composer’s work alike.