The centerpiece of this album is of course the title track, “WTC 9/11,” written for the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Reich lived for decades in an apartment just three blocks from the World Trade Center, and on the morning of 9/11, Reich’s son was living in the apartment with his family. The ominous opening of “WTC 9/11″ — the sound of a telephone busy signal — is a sound Reich was spared as his son was able to stay on the line before being safely evacuated. Given Reich’s personal connection to the event, “WTC 9/11″ might seem a surprisingly dispassionate piece. Voice samples of NORAD air controllers, and local residents and eyewitnesses (including the unmistakable voice of fellow Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, who was walking his kids to a nearby school that September morning), form the basis for the score, and as with his earlier masterpiece “Different Trains,” the Kronos Quartet layers string parts built around the implied melodies of the spoken clips. But Reich’s almost-journalistic approach yields dividends, especially in the work’s third and final section, built around the sounds of women who sat with the bodies and remains of the attack’s victims, following an old Jewish custom of chanting psalms and prayers over the dead until they could be buried. Shorn of obvious emotion or drama, “WTC 9/11″ ends up being a darkly dramatic and quietly unsettling work that ends with a sense of calm acceptance.
The album also includes the gifted quartet known as So Percussion playing Reich’s “Mallet Quartet,” a 2009 piece that is classic Reich in its use of interlocking rhythm parts to create a kind of ecstatic stasis, but which has a surprise of its own in its almost translucent slow movement. And the album is rounded out by the short, jovial “Dance Patterns,” also in a propulsive, rhythmic musical language that will be familiar to Reich’s fans.