Album Reviews

Steve Reich – Double Sextet 2×5

(Nonesuch) UK release date: 13 September 2010

The music of Steve Reich proves difficult to judge on the basis of title alone, with this latest release pairing two more functional sounding works in Double Sextet and 2×5.

Regular listeners to Reich’s music will know that often acts as a subterfuge for the busy mind of the composer, with small clumps of harmony and short melodies running in to each other, developing as they move in and out of phase.

The rate of development in Double Sextet is quick, keeping the listener’s musical ear to the ground as it runs through a succession of rich chords that wouldn’t be out of place in the music of John Coltrane or Miles Davis. Reich being Reich, of course, these chords take on more percussive elements, making the foot tap but still evading a conventional time signature.

Melodically, however, this is not one of the composer’s most memorable pieces; admiration is reserved for the syncopations and motivic shifting, with the final cadence and end section coming and going a bit too soon, lacking the inevitability of some of his other works.

2×5 undergoes a similar development process, but broadens its instrumentation to include a warm keyboard sound and conventional drum kit – itself an unconventional Reich tactic.

Oddly enough the kit sounds a bit stilted and out of place, at odds with the composer’s more familiar percussion of marimba or xylophone, but it does bring a march-like quality to the piece. Again the rhythmic pulses trump the melodic snippets, but the momentum stays strong through to the finish.

Both pieces are superbly performed by Bang On A Can, regular collaborators with the composer, and show Reich perhaps looking over his shoulder towards his beloved bebop music, updating elements of it for his own. It proves satisfying listening, if not perhaps as focused or rewarding as his very best work.

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More on Steve Reich
Steve Reich – Radio Rewrite
Steve Reich/Kronos Quartet – WTC 9/11
Steve Reich: “Instrumentation is my instrumentation!” – Interview
Reverberations: The Influence Of Steve Reich @ Barbican, London
Steve Reich – Double Sextet 2×5