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Steve Schwartz, December 2013

Noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms. This disc demonstrates why the ensemble eighth blackbird, for my money, stands as the most exciting group on the contemporary-music scene.

I’ve not heard a contemporary chamber group better than eighth blackbird. They go far beyond the professionally fine reading…They absorb scores into their bones, at a level of understanding that becomes artistry and the projection of a point of view. The composers here should be very happy. © 2013 Read complete review

Andrew Quint
Fanfare, November 2013

The six short movements of Stephen Hartke’s work make overt references to Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indonesian sonorities. The music has a delicate, ephemeral quality, set off by more aggressive episodes. Music in Similar Motion by Philip Glass…has an organic quality that is quite absorbing, especially as rendered by the young players. Catch, by Thomas Adés, is the most symphonic of the works on meanwhile. Catch has an athletic feel to it and…it’s stunningly realized by four members of [eighth blackbird].

The sonics, representing the efforts of long-time Cedille engineer Bill Maylone and famed producer Judith Sherman, are immediate, impactful, and highly spatialized. The kick drum is gut-wrenching, as intended, in Mazzoli’s piece, and mallet percussion throughout has an attention-grabbing palpability. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2013

A rich lode indeed! (By way of commentary, I would point out that not only are the compositions on Meanwhile fascinating in and of themselves, but the CD as a whole pulls one into a weird musical universe where everything makes a kind of weird sense, but only if viewed in the cracked reflection of a funhouse mirror.) © 2013 Fanfare

Robert Carl
Fanfare, November 2013

eighth blackbird’s recital on Cedille continues the group’s exploration of “musique sans frontiers,” where the only determinant is the group’s taste and curiosity. And with the exception of one piece on the program…I applaud their choices and found myself consistently excited. © 2013 Fanfare

Joe Milicia
Enjoy the Music, April 2013

Those who have enjoyed earlier releases…can rest assured that the new CD will provide similar pleasures, especially considering Cedille’s usual exemplary sound.

…Still Life with Avalanche…skillfully brings out the particular colors of the eighth blackbird ensemble—the Pierrot Lunaire quintet of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, plus percussionist.

Philippe Hurel[’s]…à mesure…[is] an engaging work, doubtless very challenging to play, that would be exciting to see live.

Cedille provides clarity across a very wide range of dynamics, with the distinctive timbres of each instrument…beautifully conveyed. © 2013 Enjoy the Music Read complete review

Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, January 2013

To listen to this brilliant young American sextet is to be constantly reminded of just how exciting, funny and ingratiating new work can be—especially when it’s delivered with these players’ characteristic blend of breakneck virtuosity and charm. The pleasures of “Meanwhile,” [eighth blackbird’s] most recent release, are almost overwhelming, from the insinuating dance rhythms of Missy Mazzoli’s “Still Life With Avalanche,” which opens the proceedings, to the tart bravado of Thomas Adès’ “Catch.” The title selection by Stephen Hartke, which he dubs “incidental music to imaginary puppet plays,” offers a puckish and tender series of vivid instrumental pictures, while “…À mesure,” an explosive and intricately melodic work by French composer Philippe Hurel, leaves listener and performers practically gasping for breath in delight. And just to show that they can do the classics as well, the group throws in a superb account of Philip Glass’ “Music in Contrary Motion.” © 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Read complete review

Timothy Mangan
The Orange County Register, January 2013

The contemporary classical sextet strictly known in lowercase form, eighth blackbird, is otherwise an easygoing bunch, out to make new music friendly. One of the things that makes eighth blackbird so attractive is simply the instruments it employs—flutes, clarinets, violin and viola, cello, piano and percussion, a nice balance of clang and euphony, bright and veiled, rhythmic and melodic. They make beautiful sounds together.

Two of the most complicated pieces—Philippe Hurel’s bristling “…á mesure” and Thomas Adés’ “Catch”—fascinate most…Adés’ early (1991) quartet, for clarinet and piano trio, is particularly enthralling…It is so beautifully and intricately scored that the dots connect into lines, creating an ethereal picture. It doesn’t hurt that eighth blackbird plays everything on the album with ease and élan. © 2013 The Orange County Register Read complete review

Laurence Vittes
Gramophone, January 2013

…Stephen Hartke’s miraculous Meanwhile, the CD’s title-track, is an absolute prize consisting of five jaunty, Asian-infused movements, clanging and tootling with pleasure…Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life With Avalanche and two movements from Roshanne Etezady’s Damaged Goods…encounter more sober topics and produce more mysterious moods and occasional violence.

As the well-written notes reveal, there is an engaging story behind the way each piece came into being, along with such useful bits of trivia… © 2013 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

George M. Wallace
a fool in the forest, January 2013

Favorite Albums of 2012: #11

The centerpiece of this collection is the title piece, Stephen Hartke’s six-part suite of music for “imaginary puppet plays,” assuredly not plays for children. Also here: a teriffic Missy Mazzoli piece (“Still Life with Avalanche”) and Philip Glass’ seminal “Music in Similar Motion.” © 2013 a fool in the forest

Robert Carl
Fanfare, January 2013

Eighth blackbird has always impressed me with their unstoppable combination of fresh taste and virtuosic playing. They’ve gone from strength to strength in their series of albums, and this might well be my favorite.

Stephen Hartke…contributes the “title track” for the disc, Meanwhile…Perhaps the most consistently striking thing about the piece…is its sound world. It has dazzlingly imaginative percussion writing (the first movement has an insistently groovy hammering of three flexatones, for example). It’s a feast of little sonic plates, served with dizzying speed.

Missy Mazzoli…opens the program with her Still Life With Avalanche…The music is fluent and propulsive…

Catch by Thomas Adès…is mercuriality incarnate. In just over nine minutes, the piece runs through a dazzling sequence of states and moods, at times somber, at others frenzied. Things can sound very raw, contrasts can be unnerving, and yet one never doubts the commitment of the composer to the resultant sounds and harmonies…this is [one of] the most crazily virtuosic music on the program.

Philip Glass[’]…presence on the program as a sort of elder statesman is strangely welcome, and I also salute the blackbirds for their selection of one of the composer’s early…radical, and pathbreaking pieces, from the time when his “absolute” music was perhaps at its height of originality…Roshanne Etezady…is represented by two movements of her Damaged Goods. I’ve enjoyed almost every piece of the composer I’ve encountered…

Eighth blackbird’s taste is stylistically omnivorous. They tend to avoid any school of composition in favor of real personality and high imagination. The result is a rare mix of substance and entertainment. I did mention that they’re able to negotiate all the subtleties of these different languages with equal virtuosity, didn’t I? Also, I salute them for sticking with the plucky Cedille label, which has been one of Chicago’s greatest cultural ambassadors for a couple of decades now. A wonderful disc. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Art Lange
Fanfare, January 2013

The chamber sextet eighth blackbird…has built their reputation by eschewing the classical repertoire and throwing their lot in with contemporary composers. This colorful program makes the most of their flexible instrumentation…and rhythmic acuity.

Stephen Hartke’s six-movement Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays…offers the most exotic rhythms and hothouse colors, drawing from Japanese, Javanese, and Vietnamese dance sources. Thomas Adès’s Catch…purported to be a confrontation between the clarinet and piano trio, has the knottiest phrasing. French composer Philippe Hurel’s…à mesure…is a glittering constellation of notes that range from spiky, high velocity maneuvers to static patterns…this is a well-crafted, well-played, entertaining divertissment. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Vivien Schweitzer
The New York Times, December 2012

The Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012

The adventurous ensemble Eighth Blackbird has entranced listeners in recent years with its theatrical interpretations of new music. Its performances on disc are equally electric, with dynamic interpretations of works including Philippe Hurel’s kaleidoscopic “…à mesure,” Stephen Hartke’s quirky “Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays” and Philip Glass’s “Music in Similar Motion.” © 2012 The New York Times

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, December 2012

Eighth Blackbird is quickly becoming one of the preeminent new-music chamber ensembles in the United States, and the sextet’s latest album features three works written expressly for them by Stephen Hartke, Missy Mazzoli, and Roshanne Etezady (along with pieces by Philippe Hurel, Philip Glass, and Thomas Adès). By turns spiky (the Hurel piece), whimsical (the Hartke), and trance-inducing (the Glass, of course), the program offers a fine overview of this group’s strengths and of the current compositional scene. © 2012 Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist

Daniel Stephen Johnson
WQXR (New York), October 2012

…Hartke’s mock-Orientalisms are especially rich…eighth blackbird’s best “gimmick”…is their dazzling perfection of ensemble. Thomas Adès’s cartoonishly mercurial Catch and Music in Similar Motion by Philip Glass are both high-wire acts of intonation, timbral blend and rhythmic unison, each for very different reasons.

Gratifying as it is, however, to hear eighth blackbird take on the music of stars like Adès and Glass, one of the greatest thrills offered by this album is the sense of discovery that accompanies pieces by under-recorded composers, such as the quasi-symphonic grandeur of Damaged Goods by Roshanne Etezady—represented here by two movements—and most of all, Philippe Hurel’s dazzling…a mesure. Hurel’s combination of virtuosity with an uncompromising, yet undogmatic sense of focus are a one-to-one match for eighth blackbird’s own strengths as a band. © 2012 WQXR (New York) Read complete review

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