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Album Review

Here is an anthology of John Adams' comparatively small output for the piano, whether solo, duo, or in tandem with another instrument. The title of the album — also the first composition in the sequence — gives you an idea of what to expect, for Adams' motor rhythms turn several of these pieces into travelogues. You're in a car, watching the scenery flash by as the sophisticated well-tuned engine sets the rhythm, slowing to a contemplative crawl before picking up speed again. This is certainly the case in Road Movies, with its fast-slow-fast, three-movement layout and running ostinatos — and Hallelujah Junction, named after a tiny hamlet near Adams' cabin retreat deep in the Sierra Nevada, has the same ABA tempo structure and similar motorized driving ideas. Road Movies introduces a violin into the mix, with star violinist Leila Josefowicz scraping away lustily and rhythmically at the first movement, as if this were prime Stravinsky, and John Novacek on piano, while Hallelujah is left to the duo pianos of Nicolas Hodges and Rolf Hinds. American Berserk is a more complex animal; the rhythms shift, lurch, and generally make the life of anyone who sight-reads it miserable over a span of six minutes. The disc also takes in two Adams solo piano pieces written two decades (1977) before their companions — the brief, limpid, minimalist exercise China Gates and its much larger companion, Phrygian Gates. From a 21st century vantage point, Phrygian now seems like the signpost at the beginning of a long stylistic highway; obsessive minimalist patterns still run the show yet a restless Romantic spirit yearns to break free. The composer provides typically erudite yet offbeat liner notes — always worth reading. ~ Richard S. Ginell, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Minimalism at its best.

This is a fine transcendental album about different philosphies, such as water, or sound waves, as manifest within his Hallelujah Junction, a plentiful piece for two pianos. In his China Gates, Adams takes us to a different emotion to describe his piece in recurring yet absolutely engaging notes and patterns. His music is a lot like math; some can be solve by a simple equation, but the rest-the rest is left to the dark mysterious profundity of unsolved answers.


This album is an excellent collection of Adams' work, from the well known like Phrygian Gates to the lesser known like Road Movies. Every work on the album is engaging and it really gives a good snapshot of Adams' style. Definitely recommended.

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