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Kraig Lamper
American Record Guide, May 2012

Julia Wolfe’s Big Beautiful Dark and Scary concentrates on continually building toward a climax…The cello viciously saws at its strings while the electric guitar offers the real impetus behind the mountainous crescendos. Sunray, by David Lang, is the foil to Wolfe’s piece. With lighter instrumentation and airy pizzicatos, the harmonically eccentric opening meanders forward in a daze…the piece generates more directionally oriented material. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Jay Batzner, April 2012

Bang on a Can certainly knows how to celebrate turning 25. This two-disc release of new recordings features the mainstay composers of BOAC and stellar performances all around. Big Beautiful Dark and Scary also showcases shrewd marketing and promotion. Not only was the recording made available as a free download before the physical CD release, the CDs come with Marijke van Warmerdam’s video component to Life. But, to complete the experience, you’ll also hop over to the iTunes store and pick up the live recording of Closing, an iTunes exclusive track. Yes, I’ve done all these things and I am pretty satisfied with the results.

Disc one contains music by the BOAC Quadrivium: Wolfe, Lang, Gordon, and Ziporyn and each work is an exceptional model of their musical personalities. Julia Wolfe’s title track Big Beautiful Dark and Scary is one continuous and compelling swell that lives up to every adjective in the title. Sunray’s vibrant rhythmic texture, lighter instrumentation, and somewhat emotionally detached affect make David Lang’s piece a great contrast to Wolfe’s previous composition. The music hovers around a bright textural groove with occasional heavier monophonic ensemble sections.

Michael Gordon’s For Madeline is more obsessive in its treatment of materials than the Lang. For Madeline floats around a nattering piano/vibraphone chatter while the others smear around in uncoordinated lines. After 5 minutes of almost undetectable raising tensions, the sliding lines take over as the prominent textural material. Eventually the chattering elements are wiped out, leading the rest of the ensemble into a sparse and vacant ending. Evan Ziporyn’s three movements from Shadowbang are equal parts fun and funky (Angkat), timeless and still (Ocean), and hypnotic (Meditasi, Head).

Disc two opens with pure awesomeness. Instructional Video by David Longstreth is a delightfully charming piece of postminimalism/totalism. At under 2 minutes, this track functions as the “elevator pitch” for what makes the album Big Beautiful Dark and Scary worth hearing. Longstreth’s other two compositions, Matt Damon and Breakfast at J&M are equally attractive for opposite reasons. Matt Damon is slow, lyrical, and just pretty. Breakfast at J&M has the same quirky spark as Instructional Video but focuses more on ensemble textures than cumulative processes.

The arrangements of four of Nancarrow’s player piano studies are right in the wheelhouse of the BOAC All-Stars. Ziporyn’s arrangements are sensitive and fresh sounding and the ensemble performs them with a joyful comfort and playful laziness that makes the music sound anything but mechanical.

The mood-painting in Louis Andriessen’s Life are thoroughly engaging as they are but when paired with the spartan video work of Marijke van Warmerdam the work is complete. Both elements hang in similar spaces that reinforce each other while not interfering with each other.

Kate Moore’s Ridgeway is a panoply of polyrhythmic textures that serves as a strong finish for this 2-disc set. © 2012 Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, March 2012

Whatever minimalism is in music today, or whatever word you would rather use to describe the contemporary classical music of recurring periodicity, the Bang On A Can All Stars are at the vanguard of it…

…if you want to be in a conceptual space where things are moving along, morphing, generating the excitement of the new, this set is one place you want to dwell within. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

Olivia Giovetti
WQXR (New York), March 2012

The Bang on a Can All-Stars’s first release in five years (and first release in over 10 that just features the core ensemble) is a sensory overload of eclecticism and intensity.

It’s this triumvirate that leads the pack on Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, named for the eponymous first track by Wolfe that encapsulates the composer’s emotional reaction to a post-9/11 world…Wolfe sucks us in immediately with an undercurrent of strings that sounds like Flight of the Bumblebee on speed, giving way to her singular brand of critical-mass intensity.

The steam given off by the music’s coal-fuelled energy is somewhat mollified towards the end by the whistle call of a clarinet, and you’re talked down by David Lang’s subsequent sunray, glistening with unsettling curvatures and Tudor-esque motifs that build up into Lang’s own flariful fever pitch. © 2012 Q2 Music/WQXR (New York) Read complete review

Daniel Coombs
Audiophile Audition, February 2012

For reasons from satisfying curiosity to admiring terrific ensemble playing this two disc collection does not disappoint!

This is a very full and very unusual compilation but I would say it is one of Bang On a Can’s best. While this music may not appeal to everyone it should definitely be experienced. If the ensemble’s appreciable skills are not enough to hook you, I would bet that the David Lang or Michael Gordon works would. Personally, I enjoyed all of it. My answer to my own headliner is that the wildly creative works from this cutting edge ensemble are big, beautiful, dark and… well worth your while! © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Matthew Cmiel
San Francisco Classical Voice, February 2012

Do you like fun? Seriously, do you? Then there’s no reason not to pick up the BOAC All-Stars latest two-CD set…the music is riveting. This album collects some of the greatest music the band has made over its 25 years of being dedicated to “awesome.”

The CDs’ title track, “Big Beautiful Dark and Scary,” lives up to its name. Dark, full harmonies are repeated ad nauseam and move slowly up in pitch before jolting back down and repeating. The incessant drive and energy of the piece is insatiable, constantly pushing the listener to the edge of sanity before popping over the top in a splash of sound and color.

Evan Zyporin’s Music From Shadowbang…doesn’t disappoint. This is the music I heard and loved those many years ago. It grooves, it sings, it hums, it buzzes, it dances. © 2012 San Francisco Classical Voice Read complete review

Anastasia Tsioulcas
National Public Radio, January 2012

There’s music by all three of the group’s founding composers: Julia Wolfe’s throbbing title work, David Lang’s delicate and then driving sunray and Michael Gordon’s haunting and nearly apocalyptic elegy For Madeline, with particularly arresting klezmer-style clarinet wailing.

Bang on a Can may have become a venerable institution over the past 25 years, but as this release shows, they’re still kicking down doors. © 2012 National Public Radio Read complete review

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