JL Adams

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Cold Blue Music
WORKS: The Wind in High Places; Canticles of the Sky; Dream of the Canyon Wren
PERFORMER: JACK Quartet; Northwestern University Cello Ensemble/Hans Jørgen Jensen


The first recording of John Luther Adams’s magnificent, meditative single-movement work Become Ocean proved a much-justified sensation in 2014. This disc of mostly chamber works is quite different in scale, featuring compositions for string quartet and cello ‘choir’, and offers a more intimate account of the composer’s affinity with the natural world.

The disc’s title work, The Wind in High Places – a spare and beautiful three-movement piece for string quartet (performed by the outstanding JACK quartet) – feels almost aleatoric in its casual intricacy of texture. Based on the idea of aeolian harps played solely by the sway of breeze, Adams conceives of the quartet as a single ‘16-stringed harp’, where every tone is produced by open string or natural harmonics and the musicians’ fingertips ‘never once touch the fingerboards of the instruments’.

Four Canticles of the Sky features the impressive Northwestern University Cello Ensemble. This densely-scored work for some 45 cellos features Adam’s signature hyper-complex homophony, creating series of harmonic ‘masses’ in its four evocations of the sky from the Arctic to Arizona.

The closing work Dream of the Canyon Wren for string quartet is an earthy meditation, capturing the vaulting call of the songbird as it whoops across every reach of the ensemble, and is a fitting close to this vivid, imaginative disc.


Kate Wakeling