This wonderful four-disc, 105-track box of postwar Afro-American gospel releases from the 1940s and 1950s was compiled by record collector and gospel historian Opal Louis Nations, and it perfectly captures what was surely a golden age for black gospel. Gospel as we now know it emerged in the South in the early '30s, an outgrowth of the right to assemble and the advent of gospel songwriters like Thomas A. Dorsey (who had sung previously in the secular arena as Georgia Tom), who brought the blues to church, tossed in some ragtime piano rhythms, and almost single-handedly created the genre to the point that his compositions were simply known as "Dorseys.
With Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, the Bang on a Can All-Stars show off their blazing speed, polyrhythmic virtuosity and all-world versatility in a return to the core Bang on a Can sound - an uncategorizable supermix of classical and electric instruments that is part classical ensemble, part rock band, and part jazz sextet. The album is the first in a decade that features the All-Stars exclusively, rather than as part of a collaborative project. Each of the pieces on the double-CD calls upon a different kind of virtuosity, demonstrating the range of musical abilities and experiences arguably unique to this ensemble. Recorded in New York City, all of the music on Big Beautiful Dark and Scary (including the arrangements of the works by Conlon Nancarrow) were written for and premiered by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.