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A Quarter-Century Of Banging, And Still As Fresh As Ever

Members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars playing in Shanghai in 2009. (courtesy of the artists)

Here at Deceptive Cadence, we hope the music we share most Tuesdays — what's piqued our interest and pricked up our ears — will urge you towards discovering new sounds in a flash. But today's review has even more of a time-stamp than usual.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bang on a Can (BoaC) — the New York-based new music composers' collective/presenting organization/teaching institution/record label — is giving a double album away, but only through tomorrow, Jan. 25. When you visit their website, just share a little memory or feeling about the group. And if you're a newcomer, that's fine, too.

Despite its anniversary tie-in, Big Beautiful Dark And Scary isn't a retrospective, though it does gesture at some basic BoaC tenets. There's music by all three of the group's founding composers: Julia Wolfe's throbbing title work, David Lang's delicate and then driving sunray and Michael Gordon's haunting and nearly apocalyptic elegy For Madeline, with particularly arresting klezmer-style clarinet wailing.

Other compositions reflect the BoaC stalwarts' wide-open ears and admirable disdain for genre divides. There's three movements from clarinetist and composer Evan Ziporyn's graceful, gamelan-shaded Shadowbang, not to mention three short works by David Longstreth, better known in most corners as a member of The Dirty Projectors.

It's a bit odd that music by Conlon Nancarrow, who was born exactly a century ago, still qualifies as "new" music, but BoaC's arrangements of his player piano studies are as happily demented and wildly fun as ever — as you can hear in Ziporyn's take on Study 3a for the Bang on a Can All-Stars:

There's also a generational shift, as evidenced by the presence of Louis Andriessen's four-part Life (which, on the CD version, includes films by Marijke van Warmerdam). It's followed immediately by Ridgeway, a piece by one of Andriessen's students, Kate Moore. Bang on a Can may have become a venerable institution over the past 25 years, but as this release shows, they're still kicking down doors.

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