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Album Review

Composer Henry Brant is a significant figure in contemporary music and, in 2006, is the second to last man standing who participated in the first wave of American modernism (Elliott Carter is the other). Brant has never been well represented on recordings but, thanks to Innova, listeners are finally getting a comprehensive overview of the extensive catalog of this pioneer of American avant-garde, whose couple of hundred works span from the early '30s to the present time. Innova's The Henry Brant Collection, Vol. 2 includes three pieces belonging to the concerted genre, featuring a soloist or soloists along with an instrumental backing of some kind. As Brant has always trod his own path, reinventing the wheel with each new piece, it is inevitable that he should turn out a few duds, and unfortunately the opening work on Innova's The Henry Brant Collection, Vol. 2, Nomads, is one of them. It is a "third stream" triple concerto presented at Oberlin University in 1974 for improvised voice, saxophone, and a jazz drummer as soloist, with the Oberlin Wind Ensemble providing the ripieno, the only part of Nomads that is composed. The wind band tromps through music that would be suitable for a 1960s AIP-produced horror film as the improvised voice hollers about God knows what, the saxophone attempts to out-Pharoah Sanders Pharoah Sanders, and the drummer produces a jumble of drums. Nomads is staggeringly awful — like a tape that Alexander von Schlippenbach would have burned. However, as a "party piece" for a get-together of aspiring composer types, Nomads might have some functionality.

Solar Moth helps to redeem Brant at this point. It features the talents of another pioneer, violinist Daniel Kobialka, inventor of the Zeta Polyphonic violin. Kobialka lays down some dazzling tracks that are combined with layers of Brant himself contributing accompaniment on a variety of instruments. Solar Moth is quite good, although it is dense, tense, and claustrophobic, and over time can get on your nerves if you are not prepared to devote your undivided attention to it. This late analog studio recording was originally issued on Thomas Buckner's 1750 Arch Records label and is amazingly clear and realistic. Best of all is the double bass concerto Ghost Nets from 1988; the solo double bass part, played by Lewis Paer, is generous and different from the norm, although a lot of it is scored up in the cello range. The American Camerata under Brant and John Stephens provide a solid and respectful foundation, and the quality of the recording is outstanding. In sum, The Henry Brant Collection, Vol. 2 consists of one bad piece, one good piece, and one that could go either way; it's not quite the sure thing that Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 are in the same series, but if one is strongly interested in Henry Brant, even Nomads should not serve as a deterrent.


Born: 15 September 1913 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the great iconoclasts within modern American music, Canadian-born composer Henry Brant is a radical figure whose work is impossible to classify. Born in Montreal, Brant began composing at the age of eight and studied at McGill University beginning in his 16th year. In 1929, Brant transferred to the Institute of Musical Art, later renamed the Juilliard School, from which he graduated in 1934. Already by that time Brant had written Angels and Devils, a concerto for ten flutes that gained its...
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