MACKEY:  Tuck and Roll.  Lost and Found.  Eating Greens.
Steven Mackey, electric guitar; New World Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.

BMG 63826 (F) (DDD) TT:  62:11
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The Miami-based New World Symphony has been training young musicians on a three-year fellowship program since 1987 under its founder Michael Tilson Thomas. A fine group the NWS has proved to be, too, on most of its seven prior recordings for Argo/Decca and BMG/Red Seal. Surely finer than its crass deployment here in—what to call it, crossover claptrap? That's my PG-13 epithet; I have R- and N-rated ones, too, but none that matches my contempt for BMG's expenditure of resources on an hour of wool-gathering by an electric guitarist whom MTT (his marketing logo in SF) has called "wacky...on more than occasion." These are the composer's words, in ever-so-cute program notes for music that makes Michael Torke sound like the Holy Ghost of Honegger.

In the post-Vietnam era we've had a few of Mackey's snarky stripe pop up (Todd Levin is the most recent name I remember), only to disappear as quickly, thereby reinforcing one's belief in a Deity. It's not that Mackey is an autodidact or technically deficien—quite the opposite. It's that he doesn't say anything beyond the first few moments of MTT's downbeat. His product is derivative, eclectic, without formal coherence—:wacky,: I'm sorry, the wrong word. Try doodly, or "scattershot"(like the four-year who finds a loaded gun in daddy's bedside table), or that word again, cute. As if smirky were enough to interest anyone except, presumably, MTT and others on the San Andreas coast who have embraced his music until the next wacko pops up.

Tuck and Roll is the title of an electric guitar concerto whose parts are "Anthem," "Dark Caprice," "Intrigue" and "Puffe." Most of it sounds like an olio of carnival fragments. Next come six-plus minutes of Lost and Found, before the pi╦ce etre resistance—a three-part kettleful named Eating Greens. Part One is subtitled "religion, food, art" (with movements labeled "(Lethargical) Reformation," "Waffling," and "Whim and Rigor (Homage to Henri Matisse)" Part 2—a.k.a. "loose ends"—is comprised of "The Title is Almost as Long as the Piece Itself" and "Ouija (wee-gee) Baby." Part Three is "five chords" in two parts—"Bread and Wine," and "Drunk Monk (Homage to Thelonious Monk)." See what I mean by cute? Why, though, didn't he call the Matisse-piece "Whim and Ragout," or the penultimate section of Eating Greens "Brood and Whine"?

If this dreck (there, I've said it) is supposed to prepare young musicians in MTT's NWS for the Real World of symphony-orchestra performance, then the Real World has become "good" music's Ground Zero. Jay David Saks, a veteran RCA/Live from Lincoln Center producer with no signature to call his own, encoded these antic 62 minutes during two days in April Y2K. The venue was Fort Lauderdale's Broward County Center for the Performing Arts, which could be Studio One at Abbey Road, or an M-G-M soundstage three decades ago—a conflation of characterlessness and clarity, a little on the dry side. The front covers have photos of MTT and "Wacky" Mackey. Outside, in pale colors the latter could pass for Ethan Hawke. Black & white inside, MTT's makeup rather resembles Michael Jackson's (minus the signature spitcurl or smotherly Elizabeth Taylor in the foreground).

Ye gods, this was going to be a quickie...like a quick barf during a Walpurgisnacht revel.

R.D.(Sept. 2001)