Rational Melodies by Tom Johnson (2010, New World Records)
Essayist, journalist and composer born in 1939 in Colorado and long lived in Paris, Tom Johnson shows another way to American minimalism, bringing the idea of a “music process” to its extremes by the intensive use of logical / mathematical structures.
In this sense, the twenty compositions which are part of his “Rational Melodies” represent several headlines of his compositional thinking: here the musical structure is quite clear, completely exposed and not hidden by any musical form, reaching a maximum level of fusion between appearance , function and form itself.
As you can see in the score of Rational Melody No. 1 enclosed to the booklet that accompains the cd, it’s a simple piece, based on repetition and possible permutations and variations of four notes, organized in carefully arranged rhythmic structures: 1 + 5, 2 + 4 , 3 + 3 4 + 2, 5 + 1, 6. All these forms create a first sentence which ends with the initial note, after which they are repeated starting from a new note, eventually forming almost a loop, a kind of game that clarifies itself during its course. The “game’s concept” is definitely an important meaning for understanding the poetics underlying these short pieces: the contrast between the rational concepts and the melody (almost an oxymoron) is the basis of these rigorous musical structures, short yet intense and hypnotic thanks to their apparent simplicity.
The Ensemble Dedalus led by guitarist Didier Aschour plays a significant role in the interpretation of these individual melodies integrating them into a more complex whole.
Their remarkable instrumental skills seems to join an empathic ability to merge together their instruments in the music’s mathematical rigor, giving them at the same time the essential and icy form that it seem to require.
It’s a rigorous cd, essential but at the same time ironic, I can imagine that its live performance can be definitely impressive.