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Kuba Kapsa Ensemble: Vandraught 10 Vol. 1
Denovali Records

American composer Steve Reich must derive no small degree of satisfaction in witnessing both the validation his musical approach has received in the decades since its initial presentation and the profound impact his style has exerted on so many other composers. Though Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1, the debut album by Polish composer Kuba Kapsa, is said to have been inspired by the works of Reich, Stravinsky, Varesè, Górecki, and Wojciech Kilar, it's clearly Reich's influence that dominates. In fact, it would be no exaggeration at all to state that Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1 would not exist in its presented form in the absence of Reich and his music (it's interesting that Michael Torke isn't included in the list of composer names, as echoes of his compositional voice emerge during the recording, though never so strongly as Reich's).

In this first volume of modern classical music (a second is scheduled to follow), four numerically titled settings are performed by a tenet comprised of four violinists, two violists, a cellist, pianist, vibraphonist, and marimbist, instrumentation that alone suggests a Reich-styled ensemble. His influence is evident from the first moment of the recording when it begins with a syncopated vibraphone pattern and builds upon it with layers of marimba and strings. Kapsa's hypnotically pulsing music, while metronomic, swings, and the timbral contrasts between the strings, piano, and percussion instruments help the music sparkle with a clarity that's satisfying to the ear. The musicians plays his luscious compositions with precision but also with an intensity and rhythmic drive that suggests a full engagement with the material. There are fundamental differences in tempo and dynamics between the parts, too, with the third part, for example, slightly slower and more subdued in comparison to the first and fourth.

The obvious knock against Kapsa's recording is that it's so irrefutably derivative of Reich in style; at the same time, it's an accomplished collection, musically speaking, that could easily pass for high-quality material by the American composer. To be precise, the settings on Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1 perhaps most recall Reich's 1980 ECM release Octet Music For A Large Ensemble Violin Phase, the Octet piece in particular given that it features an ensemble of eight musicians as opposed to the eighteen on Music For Eighteen Musicians; Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1 also eschews vocals and samples of the kind Reich included on subsequent works such as The Desert Music and Different Trains. Though it's true that one will be better able to appreciate the Vantdraught 10 project in its complete form when the second volume is available to be heard along with the first, the thirty-nine minutes of music presented on the first volume make for a concise listen that isn't unrewarding.

May 2015