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Icebreaker: Extraction

Icebreaker is an English chamber ensemble with accordion, saxes, vibes and electric bass and guitar, which is a clue that they don’t exactly play Brahms. Rather, the three pieces on Extraction are harmonically enlightened, and chipper tempos, summery sounds and all-around vitality characterize the group’s approach. It’s new classical music that cops a lot from other musics.

The best composition, Damian le Gassick’s “Mad Legs in a Sack,” is jazzy enough to be called third stream, with irregular-shaped piano phrases, saxes playing in jazz sonorities and, in the third movement, walking-bass tempos that double, redouble and divide. Most of this work is built up from twin pianos, over which the many combinations of saxes and two flutes, and their many responses, melodies and countermelodies keep the music active and alive.

While “Mad Legs” is jazzy, “The Baby Bear’s Bed” by Gordon McPherson starts rocky: a heavy-metal guitar assaults with lengthy, repeated noodling around a single note. Slowly other instruments enter; eventually, ostinatos, minimalist repetitions, gradual variations occur. For much of the piece, all these things happen simultaneously. It’s an exhaustingly energetic work-now and then there are nicely climactic conjunctions of lines, yet a lack of variety results from the thick textures, noodling lines and single, unyielding uptempo. “Goldylox” by Mel (no last name) is a remix of “The Baby Bear’s Bed” with long, held electronic sounds in the foreground and snatches of the ensemble that fade in and out like they’re coming across the water, from the other side of the lake-or like Charles Ives, as in “Decoration Day.”

Originally Published