Besides being declared International Woman’s Year by the United Nations and providing the premiere of Wheel of Fortune, 1975 was also a significant year for music. Okay, granting IWY’s agenda to eliminate discrimination could arguably claim to have influenced the gender politics of future music, in all seriousness, it was the year Keith Jarret played the remarkable Köln concert, whose recording has outsold all other solo albums in jazz history. Oh, wait, and it was also the year C. Spencer Yeh was born. That event, of course, eventually resulted in some of the finest peripheral music of the past decade; ‘peripheral’ on the basis that Yeh’s music is occasionally classified distinctly — by those who wish to distinguish — as ‘sound art,’ which, despite eschewing a definition of music as precisely ‘the art of sound in time,’ does do something to highlight the outsider aesthetic more often associated with Yeh’s music and consistent with 1975.
Moreover, like The Köln Concert, Yeh has made an appreciable impact on the course of improvised music in particular, largely through celebrated collaborations with the likes of Chris Corsano, Nate Wooley, Okkyung Lee, and Tony Conrad. In a recent interview with TMT, however, Yeh acknowledges that improvisation in 1975 is more an ingredient than a lead and can be tasted “a bit more in some parts than in others.” He suggests that the two tracks entitled “Two Guitars” are closer to what would typically be defined as improvised music, despite involving “a bit of setup and studio manipulation.”
Thereupon 1975 departs from what has been released, until now, as Yeh’s output; indeed, most divergent material has been attributed to Yeh’s microtonal, electronic alter ego Burning Star Core as a means of separating different trajectories as they developed. 1975, for all that, straddles the fences that separate these already trodden paths, and in doing so is both pleasantly distinctive and peculiarly unfamiliar. The textures presented here are somewhat proverbial, but there is an audible caution in the assembly, a welcome side-effect of time that is diminished in Yeh’s spontaneous compositions.
Believe it or not, 1975 is C. Spencer Yeh’s debut solo LP, and the title is indicative of its especially personal demeanor. The first five tracks — fittingly titled “Drone” and “Voice” — alternate between deep celestial whirs and highly involved weaves of phonic manipulations. All three instances of the former effectively demonstrate that music need not be loaded with activity in order to be engaging, while the latter present a favorable extension of the vocal improv that is routine to Yeh’s live sets. Only the last two tracks — respectively “Au Revoir…” and “…Et Bonne Nuit” — escape explicit titles and, in accordance, it is these that stimulate the imagination to the greater extent, capably bridging the gap from experiment to full-fledged form.
Interestingly, 1975 does feel like three or so discrete endeavors congregating under the aegis of one, but the numbers are thoughtfully organized in a manner that plays out with an air of composure. The result is a catalog of approximately 37 years of growth — be it as C. Spencer Yeh, Burning Star Core, or otherwise — that is highly idiosyncratic.