AMN Reviews: Wild Up – Julius Eastman Vol. 2: Joy Boy (2022; New Amsterdam Records)

New music ensemble Wild Up continues its series of Julius Eastman releases with Joy Boy. Eastman is a tragic and underappreciated figure in modern classical music whose works are just starting to get recognized over three decades from his death. Not unlike last year’s Femenine, on Joy Boy Wild Up reconstructs Eastman’s compositional framework from scores, notes, word of mouth, and likely a fair amount of interpretation. Each piece involves a subset of the group’s broad instrumentation, including guitar, cello, violin, viola, bass, trumpet, trombone, sax, flute, bassoon, organ, percussion, and voice.

The title track is an example of Eastman’s jagged minimalism, with flute, horns, strings, acoustic guitar, and voices providing floating staccato bursts of repeating or similar themes. The vocal contributions are extensive and complex while remaining largely wordless. The result is a shimmering mass of sounds that ebb and flow for 10 minutes.

Buddha appears in two pieces, Buddha (Field) and Buddha (Path), both based on a one-page graphical score with scribbled notation. The former is a slow-moving and majestic set of layered drones, relying heavily on bassoon, organ, horns, and strings. The latter is a rather discordant reading with sax and trombone supporting strings that explore upper registers. The individual instruments stand out more clearly and elicit a form of sadness approaching darker thoughts through a deliberately-paced baritone sax solo.

Touch Him When, is also split across two tracks. In contrast to the other efforts on this release, it consists largely of electric guitar and baritone guitar. Touch Him When (Light) is sparse with long-held notes and chords, featuring these instruments without distortion or effects. The playing varies between being gentle and short bursts of assertiveness. Touch Him When (Heavy) relies on similar underlying structures, but with overdriven chording, harsh tones, and Frippertronics. In fact, the approach resembles drone metal at times, with walls of distortion setting the context for dissonant motifs.

Stay On It wraps up the album by returning to a more clearly classical form. A large-scale piece with minimalistic influences, the entire ensemble appears to be involved including vocals repetitively chanting the title. While lilting and catchy, Stay On It also represents Eastman’s penchant for not allowing listener complacency. The softer melodies are accompanied by bursts of discord, with outside sax solos and instrumental wails. Indeed, the track seems to tear itself apart a few times, breaking down into chaos before returning to its main theme. But the chaos is ultimately victorious, reducing said main theme to a quiet piano outro.

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