Sentieri Selvaggi, Sentieri Selvaggi Plays Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 01.18.11 in Reviews

Sentieri Selvaggi is an Italian new music ensemble who have quickly allied themselves with New York's Bang On A Can organization (founded by "downtown" composer Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and Pulitzer-winning David Lang). This EP, issued on BoaC's Cantaloupe Music label, features two lovely works by composers of the previous generation. Philip Glass's "Facades" hardly needs an introduction at this point — for an outtake, it's become something of a hit. Originally written for a scene in the cult film Koyaanisqatsi, "Facades" was orphaned when the scene was cut from the movie. But Glass then released a version himself on his mid-1980s record "Glassworks," and this reverie for flute and gently rolling strings has become one of his most played works. It has proven itself to be adaptable to almost any combination of winds and strings, and Sentieri Selvaggi chooses to give the melody to both a flute and a clarinet — not an unexpected combo, but one that works uncommonly well.

A cutting-edge new-music ensemble does well by two giants of modern classical

Gavin Bryars, the English composer, specializes in moody works that have a dark, rich texture — his well-known piece "The Sinking Of The Titanic" has, for example, actual audio clips from Titanic survivors buried deep within the mix of acoustic instruments and slowly shifting electric tones. In "Sub Rosa," another work from the mid-'80s, Bryars took as his starting point a work by the American electric guitar genius Bill Frisell, slowed the melody down, and then essentially wrote his own piece on top of it. A bass player himself, Bryars has always been drawn to the nether regions of the instrumental spectrum, but by using higher-pitched instruments like recorder and violin, and not filling in everything in between (there is no viola or cello between the violin and bass, for example), he creates a work with a sense of space and light. The bowed vibes add to the ethereal sound of a piece that has been too long between recordings.