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PERFORMING ARTS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, DANCE, OPERA | RECORDINGS

*** 1/2 CHRIS BURN: "Music for Three Rivers" (Victo)

September 28, 1997|Josef Woodard

When John Cage began attaching objects to his piano's strings, snubbing conventional techniques and inventing the "prepared piano," it was only a beginning. British pianist Chris Burn all but burrows inside his instrument, striking, scraping and sometimes using a slide on the strings.

The result, as heard on this ear-opening album, is less an act of defiance than of expanded opportunities, as he coaxes a dizzying array of sounds from an acoustic piano. To that he adds an inspired improvisational voice that owes little to jazz--the typical departure point for improvisors.

Despite the appeal of this recording, the truism that music is best heard live is particularly relevant here, partly for theatrical reasons. Seen at Quebec's new music-oriented Victoriaville Festival in 1996 (four of these tracks are live recordings from that appearance), Burn was at once methodical and abandoned.

He meticulously prepared the piano, and wielded manipulation tools like a mad musical doctor. Live or recorded, the music heeds a free-ranging course suggesting Giacinto Scelsi, Conlon Nancarrow and Cecil Taylor, yet ultimately defining Burn's own unique sound world, like a form of aleatoric folk music.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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