Composer and arranger Nico Muhly returns with a new solo album jointly released by his old pals at the Icelandic Bedroom Community label and Decca Classics. The previous five years or so saw Muhly collaborating with the likes of Bjork, Grizzly Bear, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Jonsi, Antony & The Johnsons and Philip Glass gaining a formidable reputation on the international stage as a composerr in his own right. I Drink The Air Before Me
is a score for the Stephen Petronio dance piece of the same name. In his liner notes, Muhly speaks of this music's relationship with the weather, and how he intended the various instruments to take on their own characters: "I wanted the ensemble to be a little quirky community of people living by the edge of the sea: a busybody flute, a wise viola, and the masculine, workmanlike bassoon, trombone and upright bass. The piano acts as an agitator, an unwelcome visitor, bearing with it aggressive electronic noises and rhythmic interruptions."
In terms of creative ambition and all-round mastery of his art, Muhly's music is leagues above the vast majority of contemporary indie-classical artists. There's no room for schmaltz or string ensemble tearjerking here; I Drink The Air Before Me
engages with far more challenging and modernist concerns. Many of the classical recordings that come our way tend to be derived from dance pieces, yet this is one of the relatively few to truly engage with rhythm in a fresh and visceral manner. With the interlocking, overlapping intricacy of "Music Under Pressure 1 - Flute" and the panicked, clashing polyrhythms of "First Storm", Muhly plots a complex course, yet he still makes room for reflective tones when te time comes: the commanding, stop-start horn swells of "Music For Boys" prove to be more elegantly melodic, while the bookending pieces ("Fire Down Below" and "One Day Tells Its Tale To Another") make good use of a very melancholy sounding children's choir. A hugely rewarding album - one of the finest modern classical releases of 2010.
Look out also for Nico Muhly's simultaneous release, A Good Understanding