Alvin Curran

Endangered Species
New World Records 80804-2

By Ken Waxman

Famed as a member of Musica Elettronica Viva, the pioneering improvising electro-acoustic ensemble is American composer Alvin Curran. Yet in his 80th year he has revived his primary musical experiences, playing American Songbook standards. But since this is Curran and this is the 21st Century, this two-CD set of classic tunes arrives with a twist. Besides his subtle piano improvisations that impressively re-imagine the tunes, he employs a Yamaha Disklavier. Resembling a grand piano, but actually a blend of acoustic keyboard, player piano and digital computer, the Disklavier allows him to append any manner of previously recorded sounds to the tracks.

Take the nearly 17-minute rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. As Curran works his way through the familiar melody with aplomb, all manner of inharmonious and grating noises are interjected and then vanish, including whistles, yodels, bel canto arias, wolf calls, marching feet, erotic moans and duck calls. Incorporating these disruptions, he alters the melody at points to work in blues tonality and formal recital inferences, culminating in a thoroughly original re-creation.

Each of the 18 compositions goes through a similar transformation, whether it’s 1896’s “Red River Valley” or 1955’s “Arriverderci Roma”. While most include a humorous palimpsest of the original, only “Arriverderci Roma” with its sonic overlay of crying infants, street noises and snatches of Italian language conversations, add a hint of seriousness to the familiar light-hearted melody since Curran has lived and taught in Rome since the early 1960s.

-for The Whole Note March 2019