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Old 11-24-2008, 08:07 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Brisbane
Posts: 608
Default Gavin Bryars - Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet

The minimalism movement in modern Classical music has been an influential style. Gavin Bryars has been noted for some major compositions within the movement. Anyone who has the very good Aphex Twin album 26 Mixes For Cash should be aware of the 2nd track, Raising The Titanic that is a remix of the Bryars song of the same name.

Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a piece of challenging minimalism that fans of Bryars have rated for a long time. The version I review here is of some controversy as the original was recorded for Brian Eno's Obscure label in 1975. This album is a re-recorded version from 1993 and contains 6 pieces.
1. Tramp with Orchestra (string quartet)
2. Tramp with Orchestra (low strings)
3. Tramp with Orchestra (no strings)
4. Tramp with Orchestra (full strings)
5. Tramp and Tom Waits with full Orchestra
6. Coda: Tom Waits with High Strings

The title of each track speaks for itself in terms of orchestration. The extensive sleeve notes explain the piece. The title is of a recording made by Bryars in 1971 of a tramp in Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station singing this line from a hymn. The voice of the tramp is of an old man sweetly singing and is looped over and over again. Through each piece there is a subtle change in texture to the music hence String Quartet on piece one through to Full Orchestra on piece 5.

The sleeve notes claim that Waits considered this his "favourite recording" and Bryars consequently asked him to sing the lyric for the final 2 pieces, the 5th in unison with the tramp and the 6th solo.

The controversy in some areas is that the original was shorter and had an almost spiritual feel that was uplifting. This recording is long, well over 70 minutes in total, and there are complaints that this has taken away the charm and spiritualism of the original.

So how would the individual who has no experience of minimalism react if they heard this for the first time? With some difficulty I would suggest. I would imagine that the subtle changes in style in each piece would be no more effective than those that were attempted in Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed. The constant looping of the tramp could be repetitive for some in the extreme. But for the committed minimalist it has some endearing qualities. I have found that after the first piece the 27.05 minute Tramp with Orchestra (string quartet) the 2nd piece the 15.16 minute Tramp with Orchestra (low strings) has a certain soothing and relaxing quality that is appreciated through headphones. Of interest to most would be Waits vocal. What to say other than Waits vocal is the usual gravel and smoke voice.

So is this recommended? Maybe. If you are a keen minimalist such as myself you will be rewarded. If you are a fan of light classical then I would ere on the side of conservatism and give it a miss.

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