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From the Philip Glass Recording Archive, Vol. III -JENIPAPO

Orchestra conducted by Michael Riesman
Keyboards/Piano: Michael Riesman
Suzanne Vega, voice (in last track)

Orange Mountain Music

This album is one example of why I don’t bother with much Philip Glass anymore. I love his early music. I love his first three operas and most of his first three symphonies. Pretty much everything else from there onwards is at best non-compelling for me, at worst, dreck.

Still, it’s like watching Saturday Night Live; you do it in the hopes that against all odds, it will be exceptional, like it was in the old days. These days, SNL has a better batting average in my home than the music of Philip Glass.

Why am I being so harsh? Perhaps because this album meanders along like a retrospective of every Philip Glass device from the last 25 years. There are the occasional rapid arpegii, which worked so well in music like Music in Twelve Parts and other earlier pieces. There are the syncopated rhythmic figures. There are the chords that date back to his score from The Thin Blue Line. And so on and so forth. But these pleasant snippets just don’t go anywhere. And while some sections are indeed nice to listen to (I have to throw something into this review that’s positive, after all), they’re ruined by intrusions that sound cheap and brutish, all of which make it hard for me to like this album.

Perhaps the music works well in the film. The movie is about an American who writes for a Brazilian newspaper and gets involved in a political and social upheaval. The social message might be very compelling, but the music is a dud. Even the score for Anima Mundi, which overall sounds like something patched together on a deadline, is more interesting than the music for this film. I’m not saying that Glass should keep recycling Koyaanisqatsi. Rather, I wish he wouldn’t keep recycling his trademark ideas by patching them together to create film score a, then film score b (a slight variant of “a”) then c (based on…you got it…”a”), like an infinite series. I realize that he has a lot of demands on his time and writes a minimum quota of pages every morning. I’m impressed by the discipline. But I’d be even more impressed if he wrote less music of higher quality. The Philip Glass I grew up with and loved appears to be no more. I’ll keep listening, just like I keep watching the beginning of SNL, hoping to experience something amazing. Eventually, however, I reach the point where my wife and I look at one another and agree it’s not worth staying up any longer. I’m rapidly reaching the point with Glass’s albums where I might not think it’s worth listening for a minute more.

To end on a positive note, the performance by the unnamed “orchestra” sounds very definitive, and as always, Michael Riesman is an incredible keyboard artist. And if you’re a Glass groupie whose motto is “My Philip Glass, right or wrong,” you’ll buy this album. My advice: spend your money on the Alter Ego 2-CD set of early Philip Glass or, even better, the exquisite album of Early Voice and Another Look at Harmony, Part IV.

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