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Album Review

In something like the way that the makeup of Schoenberg's "Pierrot ensemble" — flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and piano, plus sometimes voice or percussion — established a template for 20th and 21 century chamber ensembles, Louis Andriessen's 1991 Hout, for saxophone, electric guitar, piano, and percussion, has been the model for turn-of-the-millennium ensembles and composers. Flexible Music, founded in New York City in 2003, opens FM, its first release, with Hout, and includes five other works for the ensemble by American composers: Nico Muhly, John Link, Ryan Streber, Orianna Webb, and Vineet Shende. A modern classic whose impact deepens with repeated hearings, Hout is notable for amalgamating the timbres of rock and the repetitive gestures of minimalism with Andriessen's fecund imagination, and the result is an immediately engaging work bristling with manic energy and wit, full of rhythmic and melodic surprises. Each of the remaining pieces on the album, four of them recorded for the first time, is to some extent an homage to Andriessen's work. Shende's Throw Down or Shut Up ventures farthest from Andriessen's model and his sound world; it's an unpredictable patchwork of vividly contrasting ideas, including startling vocalizations from the players, that never loses its grip on the ear. Flexible Music, which took its name from Muhly's 2002 piece, plays with remarkable focus, vitality, and subtlety, carefully observing the nuances of these demanding scores. The sound is clean and well-defined but very close — some listeners may think too close — but it's actually suited to the in-your-face quality of the music. This is an album that should appeal to new music fans and anyone interested in compositional trends of the early 21st century.

FM, Flexible Music
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