Another Charlemagne Palestine team-up / collaboration / musical meeting is documented at some length by Sub Rosa on Youuu + Meee = Weeee (SR 367). This time the grand old man of teddy bears, hats, and colourful accoutrements is doing it with Rhys Chatham and the label present the release as the completion of a trilogy of sorts, if you count the previous one between Palestine with the mystical percussionist Z’EV (noted here), and another one with fellow New Yorker Tony Conrad, the numismatic violinist, which we appear to have missed. Charlemagne and Rhys recorded it in 2011 over two days in Brussels and three CDs of continuous non-overdubbed music are the result. When I first dipped into this item I wasn’t very impressed…there seemed to be a serious lack of content and even less interaction, but I was proved conclusively wrong by taking the time to listen more deeply (I had my aides chain me into the listening chair for three hours), and today I’d be ready on any given afternoon to declare this release a credible update on the whole “classic minimalism” thing of the New York school, in particular building on the foundations of Terry Riley’s sacred droning, to arrive at a complex and well-constructed set of statements. On one level it’s just three hours of uneventful drone music, performed with Palestine’s preferred Bösendorfer grand piano or his Yamaha organ (the latter yielding a rather thin and synthetic sound) and Chatham’s electric guitar or his self-taught trumpeting, a sound which we’ve already encountered on recent-ish records like Outdoor Spell and The Bern Project.
The personalities of the two players truly shine forth however. Sometimes it seems we’re not usually encouraged to single out performers’ personas in the context of much classical minimal music, but let’s face it – these two guys both rock! The irrepressible Charlemagne is up to his endearing mischief on the first piece here, adding his Jewish-cantor singing skills and strange nasal moaning to further the ever-increasing complexity of the drone. In short, he’s being both playful and serious. Rhys Chatham may have started his career grounded in serious music (formal electronic music studies, assistant to La Monte Young, playing with Tony Conrad) but he also picked up cool No Wave rock music influences in the 1970s, and while we didn’t get a vinyl record until 1987 (Die Donnergötter, Homestead Records) his work in New York had an influence on both Band Of Susans and Sonic Youth. When he gets into some axe-mangling on these sides, he’s not exactly “punking out” or aiming to rival Sunn O)) in terms of avant-garde stoner-derived guitar noise, but you can still hear traces of that ugly urban discordancy in his restrained and subtle improvisations.
These solid long-form drones thus remain faithful to the tenets of minimalism (if indeed there are any to adhere to), while allowing room for improvisation, self-indulgence, humour, and personality. Freedom to roam within the gigantic landscapes they are proposing, a freedom you wouldn’t always find in the locked-up serial compositions of Glass or Reich, for instance. Good piece of antler-locking by these two heavyweight mooses of the avant-garde. Isabelle Forestier’s cover art seems a bit twee to me (like a softer version of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman), but it does capture something of the warmth of the musical encounter.