Terry Riley - synths, composer, singer, lyricist; Krishna Bhatt - sitar, tabla; Brian Crittenden - bass; George Brooks - soprano sax, flute
Considered one of the pioneers (along with colleague LaMonte Young) of the minimalist movement, pianist-composer Terry Riley introduced the concept of endless repetition into Western music motifs in pieces like 1963's Music for the Gift (among the first pieces to employ tape looping) and his 1964 landmark In C, which was constructed of 53 separate interlocking patterns. His1967's swirling A Rainbow in Curved Air inspired Pete Townshend's repetitive synthesizer parts on the intros of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley." Riley's pioneering work in minimalism also influenced composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass, who are both credited with bringing minimalism to a wider audience through their acclaimed works in the 1970s and 1980s.
On this 1983 performance of "Song from the Old County" at the Great American Music Hall, Riley shows the influence of the Hindustani singer and teacher Prandit Pran Nath, whom he first studied with in India in 1970, and collaborated with through the '70s. Incorporating Hindustani vocals and the sitar and tabla work of Krishna Bhatt into the mix, Riley affects a mesmerizing, meditative vibe with this marathon minimalist work. Bassist Brian Crittenden, also a disciple of Prandit Pran Nath, and saxophonist George Brooks, a leading American voice in Indo-jazz fusion (currently with his quartet Summit and with the Raga Bop Trio), add to the mind-altering proceedings here.
Essentially divided into two parts, "Song of the Old Country" is a monumental work that dates back to 1978. Riley handles the keyboards while also singing the cryptic lyrics on the trance-like first raga, which develops gradually and remains in a zen-like state over the course of 43 minutes. Part II begins in more kinetic, uptempo fashion with Riley creating interlocking, pulsating patterns on his arsenal of keyboards and delays. Bhatt follows suit by delving into some exhilarating passages on sitar, as Brooks soars over the top on soprano sax and Crittenden bows his bass underneath. This feeling of runaway train intensity comes to a sudden climax after seven minutes.
Now 75 years old and still performing, Riley was born on June 24, 1935, in Colfax, California, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He studied composition at San Francisco State University while also working as a jazz pianist at Bay Area clubs. By 1960, while attending UC Berkeley, he created "Mescalin Mix," a musique concrète piece for the Ann Halprin Dance Company which consisted of loops made by splicing different pieces of magnetic tape. After graduating from Berkeley in 1961, he got involved with Fluxus 'anti-art' movement before moving to Europe. In Paris, he continued his experiments with two tape recorders, which resulted in the composition "The Gift," which he created for a play. After returning to San Francisco in 1964, his work with repetitive forms led to his breakthrough piece, In C and to collaborations with LaMonte Young the following year. Following his triumph with 1967s A Rainbow in Curved Air, he also collaborated with the Velvet Underground's John Cale under the name the Church of Anthrax.
Following his studies in New Delhi with Prandit Pran Nath, Riley returned to California in 1972, and began teaching North Indian music at Mills College, where he remained for eight years. This period marked the beginning of his association with Kronos Quartet violinist David Harrington, which would lead to several collaborations with the string quartet over the next three decades, including 1988's Cadenza on the Night Plain, 1989's Grammy-nominated Salome Dances for Peace, 2001's Requiem for Adam, and 2006's The Cusp of Magic (a piece commissioned by the Kronos Quartet on the occasion of Riley's 70th birthday). Riley also appears as a guest on the Kronos Quartet's 2009 release, Floodplain, playing tambur (a long-necked fretted string instrument from the Middle East). He is currently at work on a set of 24 pieces for guitar and guitar ensemble called The Book of Abbeyozzud and has been recently seen performing riveting duet concerts with his guitar-playing son Gyan at places like (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York and Yoshi's in Oakland. (Milkowski)