Eric Salzman: Composer, Author, Music Theater Innovator


FAME (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange) review of “Civilization & Its Discontents”

Civilization and its Discontents

Michael Sahl / Eric Salzman

Labor Records – LAB7089
Available from CD Universe.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
Eric Salzman may be the more well known of the pair here, having been among the klatsch of prodigal pioneers who arose during the glorious Nonesuch electronic experimental era—just after the Pleistocene, if memory serves—but Michael Sahl ain’t no slouch either, Jeeter, and distinguished himself not only through his own efforts but by the company he kept as well: Milton Babbitt, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and etc. before going to work with Judy Collins, Chris Stein (Blondie), and others. The range alone of that set of associations indicates well what Civilization and its Discontents is all about.
Salzman issued his famed Nude Paper Sermon in 1969 (perhaps 1970—hard to tell from my old LP), a surreal blend of opera, incidentalism, noise, and neoclassicalism that stood as a gem among the too small stream of precious discs being issued by Erb, Wuorinen, Subotnick, and a host of others who yet stand unrivalled in the field. This collaboration, however, is far more lucid, reflecting the off-off-Broadway nature of its 1978 appearance (originally issued on Nonesuch in ’81, it’s been 31 years until this re-issue!), a satire on the time’s shifting youth culture as it progressed from hippies to disco days amid increasingly plastic interpersonal facades. At first stream of consciousness, the narrative resolves into coherent conflicts and alliances between several characters as it progresses, all the while exposing clichés and artificial cool for what both really were.
Thematically, the hybrid Civilization is somewhat a prefiguration of the Tubes’ rock and rolling Remote Control but also a blend of demented soap melodrama, morphing stage opera somewhat a la Erling Wold, and cabaret, all MCed by Carlos Archnid (Karl Patrick Krause) and anchored by a recurring “If it feels good, do it!” tagline sardonically japing the backscatter. The liner notes are likewise amusing, self-deprecating, wry, and pointed. After all, anyone who claims that “opera is an elaborate, high-cultural entertainment which is expensive, dead, and foreign” isn’t above an incisive honesty salt-rimmed with biting acerbity. If, like me, you have the original vinyl tucked away in a vault for safekeeping, you need this issuance for the new artwork, excellent 20-page liner, and cleaned up acoustics. But if you’re new to Salzman and this type of heady experimentalism, hoo boy!, are you ever in for a treat.

Date Posted // May 29, 2012
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, Music Theater, Recordings, Reviews



Media Alert: Civilization And It’s Disconnections Labor Records

The last time I received a recording for review that referred to itself as an amalgam of anything was a poorly thought out solo piano work trying to be passed off as some sort of blue grass, jazz and classical influence so naturally as a critic if the description is longer than the title of the work in question then I get nervous. Deciding to avoid potential issues and to see if this was a release that would fit the more obvious direction this site is heading, I ran across a review stating “…a brilliant amalgam of jazz, pop, blues and classical forms.” The word hodgepodge immediately came to mind but with the Monty Python like disc cover my curiosity got the better of me.

To say Civilizations And It’s Discontents sidesteps strict categorization is the understatement of the year. Pop, swing and somehow the vibrant New York avant garde element take over and carry the listener on an open ended lyrical excursion to the destination of their choosing. Reviewing the music to what is essentially a theatrical presentation does lend itself to the traditional review. So what is there to say about Civilizations And It’s Discontents?

For an off-off Broadway production originally aired on N.P.R roughly 33 years ago the sound quality is excellent which should not come as a tremendous shock when it comes to anything released on the Naxos or affiliated labels. There is a delightful mix of jazz, pop and classical but what makes the release work is not so much the variety of genres made available but the virtually seamless transition made to each piece of this musical puzzle throughout the rather eclectic presentation but then again – this is musical theatre. The fans of musical theatre will be enthralled with the eclectic and incredibly original presentation that while originally aired in the fall of 1978 could easily be aired as a new work this week. This is Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman taken to the next level. The N.P.R. audience should eat this up with a spoon!

Tracks: Club Bide-A-Wee; Jill’s Apartment, Club Bide-A-Wee.

Personnel: ( Musicians ) Michael Sahl: keyboards ( piano & organ ); Cleve Pozar: drums, percussion.

For More Information:

Review By
Brent Black

There’s another review in Fanfare <> by a critic who seems to be very ambivalent about the work; he wants to say that  it’s dated but then he keeps getting drawn back to it! Hmmmmmm.