This ambitious and beautifully produced two-CD set includes nearly all of Iannis Xenakis' chamber music for strings, piano, and strings and piano combined. Chamber music constituted a small part of the composer's output, since large ensembles and large forms were vehicles more commensurate with the aesthetic of his monumental, granitic music. There are no small pieces here, though; in each of these works, ranging from solos to a quintet for piano and strings, Xenakis was able to express his uncompromising vision no less ferociously than in his orchestral works. While all of the pieces have an elemental character, many with a visceral punch, the actual sound of the music is surprisingly varied, and the individual works have distinctive and individual characters. In spite of the weightiness and rigor of the music, the tone is not necessarily heavy, and some pieces, like Evryali for piano and Dikhthas for violin and piano, have moments of what could almost be described as whimsicality.
Essentially collaborative ventures the two albums collected on this Prestige two-fer are not only vehicles for McDuff but also, as the title denotes the Soul-injected percussion of Joe Dukes. Both sessions are heavy on grooves, but each suffers from the clichés of the soul jazz idiom despite the dynamic drum play at the core of the group. Broken record boogaloos often relegate all but Dukes to supportive riffing and the glut of incessant vamping behind the drummer’s frequent breaks often flirts dangerously with tedium. Several of the opening tracks are stymied by this problem with track lengths outdistancing the relative creativity of their content.