At the end of his liner notes for The Julius Eastman Memory Depot, Jace Clayton (also known as DJ/Rupture) writes "I interpret the open-ended irreverent nature of Eastman's legacy as a call to conversation. Reverence can be a form of forgetting." No doubt, but I don't think an excess of reverence is the problem where Julius Eastman's music is concerned - just plain forgetting is more like it. It's easier to forget a gay African-American composer than to do the work of expanding the catalog of avant garde composers to make him fit in.Fact is, with titles like Evil Nigger and Gay Guerrilla, both included here, he may never fit in. But on the basis of Clayton's terrific, powerful album, he certainly belongs in the canon of great New York composers at the very least. Now, anyone familiar with Clayton's multifarious works as DJ/Rupture (and every music lover should be), would not need to read the liner notes to know that he might not play things entirely straight.
So it's no surprise that the blistering and precise pianos of David Friend and Emily Manzo are at times treated like a subtext for electronic processing of all sorts, but it's all so expertly and seamlessly done that it never seems to detract from Eastman's original conception. Also, Clayton's studio skills are evident from the first notes of the album, such does the sound of the piano leap out of the speakers, with a crystalline 3D reality rarely captured on recordings.
Although Eastman employed repeated notes in both the pieces here, there is nothing minimalist about these compositions. In fact, they have as much stormy drama as a late romantic piano sonata. The titles add to that drama - Eastman was a master contextualizer in the mold of Marcel Duchamp - but it is intrinsic to the writing, and the fact that he builds it out of such small increments is remarkable. He also had a wicked sense of humor, naming another of his surviving works If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?
Clayton has his sardonic side as well and lets it fly with the short piece that ends the record, his own composition entitled Callback from the American Society of Eastman Supporters. It takes the form of a rejection letter from the (fictional, as far as I can tell) Society, turning down "James" for a job with the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner. Beautifully spoken and sung by Arooj Aftab, with a sumptuous background of piano phrases and plucked strings, it's a haunting and thought-provoking conclusion. "The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner is an equal opportunity employer," the lyrics tell us, "All candidates will be considered regardless of age, regardless of name, regardless of race, regardless of color, regardless of creed and disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, regardless..."
Jace Clayton's remarkable album, his first under his own name, puts all equal opportunity listeners in the employ of Julius Eastman's memory. I plan to clock the necessary hours for this new job and my first task will be to tell you not to stop here. Read up on Eastman's remarkable life and then head over to Spotify to listen to Unjust Malaise, a comprehensive overview of his works, recorded at various concerts under his direction. Trust me, it won't feel like work.
This Just In (sort of): Like everyone else, I get behind on my podcasts and was sorry to learn that DJ/Rupture's last Mudd Up show on WFMU was this past February. Each episode showcases a phantasmagorical array of music from around the world, ranging from electronica, both abstract and dance oriented, to Cumbia, African and Carribean sounds from all nations, and cutting edge sonics from Brooklyn and beyond. Rupture and his regular compatriots Chief Boima and Lamine Fofana are not content to sit around waiting to hear what the record labels send them - they are often in the field, buying CD-R's from cabdrivers and scouring markets and clubs for something new. Listen to a few shows and you too will get chills when you hear the words "Another Mudd Up exclusive." The episodes never fail to educate and fascinate and I save almost all of them. Mudd Up was no ordinary radio show and it leaves an absence in our airwaves that is not likely to be filled. The only benefit is that now I'll have a chance to catch up on all the episodes filling up my iTunes and Clayton will have more time to make records like the one reviewed above.