Michael Finnissy supplies his own liner note for this collection of small-scale solo and ensemble pieces from the late 1970s and 1980s; every sentence is a gem, and could keep Pseuds Corner supplied with material for quite a while. The music is less pretentious, and sometimes boldly projected. The triptych of Dilok, Delal and Kulamen Dilan combines percussion with various reed instruments and derives its internal processes from Arabic music, while the source for Keroiylu is Azerbaijani folk music. Two other tracks, Runnin’ Wild and Moon’s Goin’ Down, are instrumental solos inflected with quarter tones that are very well negotiated by the oboist Christopher Redgate.
My first encounter with Michael Finnissy’s uncompromising music was via the pianist Rolf Hind’s recital for Tony Wilson’s regrettably short-lived Factory Classical imprint. Even alongside Bartók and early James MacMillan, English Country-Tunes seemed anything but what my received wisdom of what that title might signify (certainly no cowpats around!) and engendered a certain degree of trepidation on approaching the present disc. However, this is very much not a recital grounded in the abstract. A fair proportion of it is given over to pieces influenced by the music of ethnic groups which have suffered as a result of so-called “ethnic cleansing”. In this case the reference is to the Kurds and the people of Azerbaijan. This links neatly to the title and obvious theme of the main work: Lost Lands. The remaining works, again made patently obvious by their titles, are influenced by blues music. All in all this is a very interesting listen, not easy but certainly not by any means impenetrable. The first three pieces, in which Julian Warburton’s excellent percussion underpins the reedsmen’s hypnotic and near-improvisatory utterances, are Kurdish in inspiration.
The composer’s honest and informative notes place them in a wider context of Arabic/Islamic, Ancient Greek and Karnatic musical traditions, with more contemporary nods to Xenakis and Messiaen. Keroiylu also inhabits similar musical territories, influenced by the folk music of the Caucasus, with oboe and bassoon providing a particularly dense but engaging framework. None of this music can be validly experienced in a casual way but it should present little difficulty to anyone in any way engaged with modern European jazz (as exemplified by certain releases on ECM for instance). Even the “blues” pieces, unique on the disc in that they are for oboe alone, require concentration to appreciate fully but couldn’t truly be described as hermetic. Lost Lands itself, nearly 25 minutes in length, perhaps could, yet I found it a very grateful listening experience, recalling (in feeling, if not necessarily form) wonderful music like George Benjamin’s classic Eliot inspiration Ringed by the Flat Horizon. Unsurprisingly, given my previous comment (Benjamin was a pupil of the great Frenchman), I also sense a great Messiaen influence, here more than in the composer’s direct acknowledgement (see above). Whatever, this is a fascinating disc all round and nowhere near as difficult as Finnissy’s previous press might indicate. Give it a go!