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MUSIC REVIEWS : Zeitgeist Quartet at County Museum

December 10, 1987|GREGG WAGER

The German philosopher Hegel used the word Zeitgeist --which roughly translates into English as "spirit of the time"--in an effort to pin down the most significant thinking of his era. Today's spirit of the time, according to the Minnesota new-music quartet, whose members call themselves Zeitgeist, is best represented through Minimalist and New Age musics--though, of course, some might choose to challenge their assessment.

The latest installment of Monday Evening Concerts at Bing Theater, County Museum of Art, presented four Minimalist/New Age works performed by Zeitgeist: Joe Holmquist and Jay Johnson, mallet instruments, Bob Samarotto, woodwinds and Tom Linker, keyboards. The informal presentation, which found a few of the performers even cracking jokes between pieces, consisted of music that was almost exclusively tonal, melodic, repetitive and written specifically for Zeitgeist.

Terry Riley's, "In Winter They Buried the Cocktail Pianist" (1987), emerged as the best part of the evening. About 30 minutes long, this latest Riley piece makes use of syncopation, imitation and a carefully constructed chord progression throughout several different sections composed intuitively.

The program notes refer to Riley's experiences in cocktail lounges, where he sees the the piano player as ". . . a sort of medicine man at the ever present altaric piano surrounded by his boosey (sic) tribe sipping sacraments in the circle of common misery."

The first three pieces of "Susquehannas" (1985), an eclectic collection of short works by Eric Stokes, make use of a variety of styles from Harry Partch to chase music from a TV detective show. Indecipherable subtitles describe mythical monsters and secret formulas, suggesting a resistable influence from Dungeons and Dragons.

In general, Zeitgeist performs with reserve, avoiding flashy gimmicks. The group's unlimited battery of instruments never overwhelms, and a sense of intimacy is always preserved.

Also on the program were spirited performances of Frederic Rzewski's toe-tapping "Wails" (1984)--performed in Los Angeles last year by Zeitgeist--and Tristan Fuentes' "Risas de Los Incas" (1986)--several repeated choruses of a simple Bolivian folk tune preceded by a long section of quiet drones without metric pulse.

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