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Steve Reich Pulse / Quartet Nonesuch

When minimalist composer Steve Reich wrote Quartet in 2013, he felt as if he needed to create a piece of music in reaction to it. As it happens, this point of contrast came about through Reich’s writing of Pulse in 2015, which is similar in its use of instrumentation to Reich’s 1987 Electric Counterpoint for Pat Metheny, with both pieces being carried by a warm, propulsive electric bass. On this new release, both previously performed pieces are positioned against each other.

The name Pulse itself refers to the musical feature which underlies all of Steve Reich’s compositions – the fixed pulse – and here it is warm, inviting and gentle. On the contrary, this album’s second piece Quartet is distinctly stark, hesitant, frantic – it captures a sense of a complex, populated urban space. There’s a jazziness across Quartet that traces Reich’s own personal influences as a composer, small glimpses of his love for John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass and Miles Davis.

Unlike Pulse, which is harmonically stable, Quartet jumps frequently and frantically between keys, making it a disorientating listen at times. Its second and third movements are particularly startling, with the pianos and vibraphones clouding the movement with a dramatic natural reverb. The percussive interplay between these two instruments is a particularly exciting feature, showing not only once again Reich’s interest in jazz but also in non-Western rhythms. Sat next to each other on this release, Pulse and Quartet seems to serve Reich’s desired effect – their differences helping to magnify each other’s individual qualities.