Jack Body

Best Classical Album 2002 NZ Music Awards

Jack Body is a composer who has travelled to remote locations to experience his musical sources first hand. Obsessively recording, collecting, and transcribing, he has set out in an instinctive and overt way to recreate his experiences in a new musical context.

RAT-D009 (May, 2001)


Melodies for Orchestra  (14.00)
Campur Sari  (14.01)
African Strings:
   Kora: Chedo  
   Valiha II: Samy Faly  (4.05)
Three Transcriptions:
   Long-ge  (4.07)
   Ramandriana  (4.40)
   Ratshenitsa  (3.09)
Pulse  (18.00)

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young
New Zealand String Quartet
Budi Putra (gamelan instruments and voice)
Norio Sato and Kei Koh (guitars)


(all from commercial/radio recordings except where stated)

Horos Serra  (D.Ionnidis, Greece, 1973)
Singgalang  (Lenggang Gayo, Indonesia, 1976)
Untitled  (Indian Street Band - field recording by Jack Body, 1978)
Long-ge  (Jiha Yueyue, China, no date available)
Ramandriana  (Mororazana, Madagascar, 1982)
Ratschenitsa  (Varna Folk Dance Ensemble, Bulgaria, no date available)
Chedo  (Foday Musa Suso, West Africa, no date available)
Samy Faly  (Rakotozafy, Madagascar, 1982)
Baining Fire Dance  (Baining Fire Dance Bamboo Ensemble, East New Britain - field recording by Jack Body, 1980)


Review pf Pulse by Neil Horner for World Web International, 2002
Rattle's most recent release and winner of the NZ 2002 Classical Album of the Year, is named after its most extended piece (Pulse), and provides an excellent and definitive introduction to the pioneering work of Jack Body, in thoroughly idiomatic performances. It makes explicit Body's debt to the musics of various (not only pacific rim) native cultures and, innovatively, also includes the source materials for the transcriptions on a bonus disc. Imagine the impact of this happy and inspired idea on releases of folk-derived/inspired music by, say, Bartók or Vaughan Williams. Prior to obtaining this disc, I had only encountered Body on the Kronos Quartet's Ancient Music miscellany (Long-ge) and a disc of solo cello compositions by NZ/Australian composers (Aeolian Harp) but my appetite had certainly been whetted. Although the source materials are drawn from as far away as Bulgaria, Greece and Madagascar, it seems reasonable to emphasise the Asia-Pacific influences in particular (Rattle's publicity material credits Body with "practically single-handedly introducing new Zealand audiences to the sound" of that region), while acknowledging that he does have antecedents, however fleeting, in this department (Debussy and Ravel's "orientalist" works are well enough known but there has also been Britten (e.g Prince of the Pagodas), the Canadian Colin McPhee and even Hindemith in his gamelan inspired Sonata for Two Pianos. More recently the brilliant Californian composer Lou Harrison has produced a substantial body of music, e.g. Concerto In Slendro, heavily indebted to the music of south-east Asia (albeit interwoven with medieval and minimalist strands) not forgetting, of course, there his celebrated collaborator John Cage. Anyway, I would say that Body's colourful music is, in general, of a more accessible nature than anything listed above (Debussy, Ravel and Harrison aside).


The Three Melodies for Orchestra link pieces inspired by Greek, Indonesian and Indian folk music. Interestingly, they meld together rather well. The Greek first section, like the third of the Three Transcriptions (of Bulgarian origin) for string quartet, is not a million miles removed from the frantic but very listenable soundworld of, say, Bartók's east European folk derived pieces. Artists like Norway's Jan Garbarek have long since been convincing us of the musical connections between the Indian subcontinent and the music of Asia Minor (as was!) so it is not that surprising to find common elements between the first and third pieces. The central section (based on a West Sumatran flute solo) forms a subtle but telling contrast. Throughout the piece as a whole, Body achieves a high degree of success in his stated intention of using orchestration to "build coherence and continuity" around the source materials which he has transcribed in such a way as to make them "as literal as I could". Whatever the technicalities, the spontaneity of the music makes for an eminently listenable fourteen minutes.

Campur Sari ("mixed essence") attempts, successfully, to blend Western string quartet writing with Indonesian gamelan instrumentation and vocals, resulting in a haunting sequence, initiated by metalaphone, which builds to a more intense climax in which drums, strings and vocals all play a part.

The three pieces that comprise African Strings provide a somewhat gentler listening experience. Only the latter two are included in this version (as the first, Ramandrana, also appears in Three Transcriptions) but they are expertly played by the Japanese guitar duo and represent a centre of relative tranquillity in what is an often intense, if tuneful sequence of works. Anyone especially captivated by the combination of the West African kora (lute harp) and "classical" traditions in Chedo might like to seek out a copy of Tunde Jegede's underrated Lamentation CD which makes similar musical connections.

Long-ge kicks off the Three Transcriptions and the NZ Quartet's version stands up well against that of the celebrated Kronos Quartet, with the Chinese folk music base slightly more apparent in this version. The Madagascan bamboo zither inspired the central movement and an off kilter Balkan dance completes the sequence. Once again, Body makes clear the similarities between apparently unconnected folk cultures while placing them in the context of a more universal musical language.

Pulse itself is based on the Bainang Fire Dance of East New Britain. This piece is a tour de force that not only brings the spectacle of the ceremony that inspired it vividly to life but also manages to involve Beethoven, Berlioz and Stravinsky, as keepers of the rhythmic musical flame at various stages in (relatively) recent "western" musical tradition. By turns primal and highly entertaining, this work demonstrates, beyond doubt, Jack Body's various abilities as orchestrator, melodicist and, I suppose, it has to be said, iconoclast. There is, however, it should be stated, absolutely nothing difficult or unapproachable about any of the music on this disc. Anyone who has any interest in Antipodean/pacific rim music ought to hear it (Body's work is no less important than that of Peter Sculthorpe) and, for that matter, anyone who professes an interest in contemporary music (including those for whom "melody" and "folk music" represent, wrongly in my opinion, outdated notions!). In addition to the composers already mentioned, I would expect admirers of the Kevin Volans of, say, White Man Sleeps and Leo Brouwer's orchestral pieces (especially his marvellously eclectic Concerto di Toronto) to find a great deal to interest them here. Performances and production are of a high standard and the booklet notes are informative without being over-detailed or over-technical. It is useful and indeed illuminating to have the disc of source materials, although personally I am unlikely to listen to it as often as the main disc. Recommended.