On the Leopard Altar   CB0022

The music

On the Leopard Altar, with its multiple vocal, keyboard and wineglass parts, haunting neo-romantic melodies, sparkling timbres, and unusual additive and subtractive structures, is a remarkable collection. Lentz’s music inhabits what he terms a musical “state of becoming,” where both new and reappearing musical and textual fragments are fused through complex layering processes. However, the real basis of his seductive music may be the dreamy impressionism of Debussy and the lyrical voice and keyboard interaction of Schubert’s lieder.” — John Schaefer, host of WNYC’s New Sounds

The composer writes about the album’s music:

“The form and flow of Is It Love? is determined by that of the text/lyric. Unlike much of my music-with-text work, it does not use an additive process. Rather, it uses a subtractive one. The voices begin each line with the nearly simultaneous sounding of all the phonemes of all of the words. As the work progresses, phonemes and notes are taken away until a finished line emerges.

Lascaux is scored for wineglasses, sixteen of which are rubbed and nine of which are struck. Other than reverb, no effects have been added to the natural sounds of the glasses.

On the Leopard Altar consists of six songs, each of which is heard alone and in combination with those that preceded it. Each text line makes its own kind of sense, which will change when combined with other lines from which phonemes are borrowed in order to make different words and new lines. For example, “May-an” is formed from the words “my” and “sun” (dropping the “s”). And, to add textual variety, tucked into this wordplay are homonyms, e.g., “reign” and “rain.” Jessica Karraker is the featured singer.

In Wolf Is Dead… each line of text is joined by a phonetic link to the line following it, creating a word chain (e.g., “you died” overlapping with “you did”). This concept is the basis for the musical structure as well, with each chord overlapping and fusing with the one that preceded it.

“Requiem attempts to capture the experience of hearing a lone singer in a large, empty cathedral. While this occurs, and from an entirely different space, one hears big, resonant “church bells” producing a rich array of overtones that seem to form melodies of their own. Jessica Karraker is the featured singer.”

With this release, On the Leopard Altar makes its first appearance as a CD. In 1984, it was released on vinyl by the short-lived label ICON Records.

The composer

Daniel Lentz’s works have been commissioned and performed by noted ensembles and soloists around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Zeitgeist, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. A prolific composer whose music is often characterized by intricate musical processes, a bit of theater, and an interest in the human voice, Lentz has written large- and small-scale works for most common instrumental combinations, many unique ones, and the many ensembles (usually consisting of multiple keyboards, singers, and electronics) with which he has toured his music throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan since the early 1970s. Lentz has been the recipient of many awards and grants, including five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Video presentations of his work have been seen on Alive From Off Center (PBS), the Preview Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, BC, NHK-TV in Japan, NOS-TV in Holland, BBC-TV in England, West German Television, Czech Television, and many local television stations in the U.S. and abroad. Recordings of his music have been released on the New Albion, Angel/EMI, Cold Blue, Fontec, Aoede, Les Disques du Crepuscule, Gyroscope/Caroline, Icon, Materiali Sonori, and ABC labels. 

“When it comes to attempts at musical seduction, Daniel Lentz’s music is way out in front.” —Kyle Gann, Village Voice

“By intriguing his listeners at the same time he wreathes them in smiles, Lentz always comes up with something listenable and worthwhile.” — Arved Ashby, Gramophone

“Daniel Lentz’s work, with its sparkle and pulse…a glossy, Pop Art-Southern California palette of colors…seems to reveal new facets with each encounter.” —Dusted magazine

“Lentz’s works, in their spirited interaction between human performers and products of technology, reaffirm that today, as always in the past, man and machine can make vital music together.” —H. Wiley Hitchcock, Music in the United States, 3rd edition

“Lentz’s work ‘chortles’ in ways both sensual and intellectual.” —Los Angeles Reader

The performers

Arlene Dunlap has been a member of various performance ensembles organized by Daniel Lentz since the early 1970s. As pianist and multi-keyboard performer, vocalist, and conductor, she has recorded Lentz’s music for seven albums and has appeared as soloist in U.S. and European tours of his music. Music has been written specifically for her by Daniel Lentz, Harold Budd, Garry Eister, Jim Fox, Michael John Fink, Steve Dickman, and others. She has presented performances at The Kitchen, P.S.1, Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New Music America, Acadamie der Kunst, Cafe Einstein, National Gallery (Berlin), Belgium Radio and Television, Radio France. When not performing, she composes music for film, video, and dance.

Brad Ellis studied piano with Johanna Harris and composition with Henri Lazarof. As a performer, his career includes both concert performances and studio recording. For more than 20 years, he has played keyboards for the Daniel Lentz Group, with which he has toured the U.S., Europe, and Japan. As featured soloist, he performed the world premiere of Lentz’s An American in Los Angeles, a concerto for keyboard and orchestra, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He may be heard performing Lentz’s music on recordings on the Angel/EMI, New Albion, and Cold Blue labels. Ellis is an expert keyboard programmer and orchestral conductor and arranger who works regularly in those capacities for film and television composers Michael Hoenig, J. Peter Robinson, Joseph Vitarelli, Paul Buckmaster, Snuffy Walden, and others. His work with the late Oscar-winning composer Jack Nitzsche on Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot brought him into the studio to work with Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker; and Ellis worked extensively with guitarist David Lyndley on Nitzsche’s soundtrack for Sean Penn’s Indian Runner.

Susan James, an accomplished singer/composer/guitarist who studied ethnomusicology and voice at UCLA, has performed her music and that of others around the world. Her first recording was funded by Apple Computer’s founders, who became fans of her music when she performed in a Palo Alto club. On tours throughout the U.S. and Europe, she has opened for Richard Thompson, Daniel Lanois, Billy Bragg, Jim Carroll, Rufus Wainright, Richard Buckner, Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman, Lindsay Buckingham, Jack Logan, and many others. Four albums of her songs and instrumental pieces have been released in the U.S. and Europe. The Los Angeles Times has called her ” a master at exploring the emotional and sonic possibilities of the voice and guitar creating an entire world of sounds and moods.”

Jessica Karraker sang in the Daniel Lentz Group for numerous tours of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, including performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group and the Baltimore Symphony. She is the featured performer on a number of Lentz recordings and premiered many of his works. She has also premiered music by Michael Torke and Yoshihiro Kanno. Now active as a songwriter, Karraker currently is a Rocky Mountain National Park-sponsored artist.

David Kuehn, who trained as a classical pianist at UCLA, spent 20 years in the music business, a career that culminated with the position of Vice President of International Sales and Marketing for RCA Red Seal, where he managed teams on all continents. He has worked with many stars, including Leontyne Price, Van Cliburn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Denyce Graves, Dawn Upshaw, and the Boston Pops. Now retired, he lives on Cape Cod.

Paul MacKey studied voice with Marietta Dean and Bonnie McCollough and took master classes with Marcel Marceau and the Pilobolus Dance Troupe. Primarily a performer in musicals, his summer stock experience includes The Music Man, Brigadoon, Bye Bye Birdie, Funny Girl and Kismet, and he has had featured roles in the LA-area productions of Phantom of the Opera, Carousel, and Oliver!

Dennis Parnell, tenor/counter-tenor, studied voice with Louis Graveure, William Feuerstein, and Seth Riggs; conducting with Gregg Smith, Noah Greenberg, Steven “Lucky” Mosko; and composition with Morton Subotnik, and Mel Powell. He has performed in the premieres of numerous contemporary works, including R. Murray Shafer’s The Black Theater of Hermes Trismegistos (a part specifically written for Parnell), Morton Subotnik’s Double Life of the Amphibians, and Lloyd Rodgers’ Orpheus. He has been music director for a half-dozen LA-area churches, and cantor at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. As a composer, he has scored documentary and industrial films and television pilots. On the radio, he has hosted a number of programs, including the award-winning Global Village (KFAC), The New Global Village, and Our American Musical Heritage (KFAC). He has taught voice at CalArts, Pierce College, and Santa Monica College.


On the Leopard Altar presents a ravishing suite of compositions created from keyboards, voices, and wineglasses…. [O]ne doesn’t merely listen but rather surrenders to its seductive pull. Well-considered pacing and stylistic contrasts are a significant part of its appeal: the first and fourth pieces surge with rush hour-like intensity, while the others are more meditative and less densely arranged. The spectacular opening piece Is It Love? recalls the mid-80s style of classical minimalism with vocal sounds seemingly kin to the solfege style of Einstein On The Beach. Closer listening, however, reveals that Lentz’s much different composition unfolds subtractively: after voices begin each line by sounding all of the words’ phonemes, those same phonemes and notes are removed until a finished line emerges. Throughout the exuberant work, lush vocal weaves breezily sail over intricate lattices of staccato keyboard patterns. Similarly spirited is the sleek roller-coaster ride Wolf Is Dead… Conversely, the languorous adagio of crystalline tones that Lentz conjures in Lascaux from sixteen rubbed and struck wineglasses is remarkable, while the album’s sparest yet most affecting work is its central title piece, a rapturous lullaby (actually six songs, each heard alone and in combination with those preceding it) featuring a glorious vocal performance by Jessica Karraker. And the most amazing thing of all? Though it sounds entirely fresh and wholly current, On the Leopard Altar was first released in 1984 on vinyl and is only now making its first appearance on CD.” —Ron Schepper, Signal to Noise magazine and Textura

“Out of print for more than two decades, Daniel Lentz’s 1984 album On the Leopard Altar was, until its recent reissue on the Cold Blue label, a lost gem of the high minimalist era in American art music. On Leopard Altar, Lentz mostly worked with the usual tools of the minimalist composer—a gamelan-influenced phased and staggered repetition of rhythmic and melodic materials; metallic, mallet instrument-derived keyboard tonalities—but his music almost always sounded different from that of others working within the genre. While earlier works of Riley, Glass, and Reich explored various aspects of trance-inducing and non-western extended forms, and the more contemporaneous compositions of John Adams brought minimalist ideas to western classical structures, Lentz was unique in the way he applied a similar vocabulary of pulse and timbre to an aesthetic that seemed rooted in the sensuous, seductive values of post-1950s popular song.… On the Leopard Altar points to the unique place the female voice can occupy in Lentz’s work. Over sparse, slow, and dreamy keyboard textures, Jessica Karraker’s intimate vocals intone a haunting, enigmatic song-poem. The mood is arresting and hypnotic, at once intellectual and seductive, perhaps even a bit redolent of beatnik-era jazz. Karraker is also at the center of Requiem, where, bathed in deep cathedral reverb and surrounded by tolling, chiming keyboards, her husky, warm-toned voice sings an eerie, slightly dissonant nocturne, creating a slightly gothic, sacred, noir-ish mood.… Lentz brings a very different palette of tonal colors to Lascaux, a slow-moving piece for tuned wine-glasses, rubbed and struck . Resonant and spacious, the piece is simply beautiful: a meditation on the amazing ringing and sustained tones that can be unlocked from vibrating crystal.… Wolf Is Dead is the album’s tour-de-force. With keyboard ensemble and vocal quartet in full minimalist interlock and pulse mode, Lentz presents a kaleidoscopic shifting and cycling of melodic and lyrical material in which musical and verbal meaning are eventually focused and dove-tailed with a wit and imagination reminiscent of Renaissance madrigal.… Like much of On the Leopard Altar, Wolf Is Dead offers elements not often found in art music: catchy melodic hooks; a pop music-influenced attention to mood, mix and detail, to the sensuous aspects of vocal timbre. Indeed, the whole album is paced like a good pop record, with peaks and valleys and a satisfying sense of dynamics. Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why it retains a decidedly non-academic freshness and immediacy—maybe even a timelessness—all these years after the minimalist tide has receded.” —Kevin Macneil Brown, Dusted magazine

“Daniel Lentz’s On the Leopard Altar features compositions for voice, keyboards and wineglasses and is an aural delight with its overtones, reverb and evocation of song space.” —Rupert Loydell, Tangents magazine (UK)

“On this album, which is nicely performed…is a good mix of short pieces. The two sections that really grabbed me are Is It Love? and Wolf Is Dead. Both set text in interesting ways, with a focus on individual phonemes that are manipulated in a formal process.” —David Toub, Sequenza 21

“This record came out first in 1984 on Icon records then quickly went out of print to my dismay. It got good notices then and I have to say it was well worth the wait. Five early compositions by Lentz are here. In Is It Love? the voices chant texts in hypnotic, subtractive patterns. It makes you think of early Glass only it’s more informal and hotwired. Lascaux for wineglass ensemble makes sound wave reverberation a positive virtue. Lentz is the champion and master of the under-appreciated wineglass. Here, as in so much of his career, he fully embraces beauty, which is almost as reckless today as it was in 1984. That’s other folks’ loss. The work is as gorgeous as all get-out, so bleak modernists were being given notice. On the Leopard Altar is mesmerizingly attractive, even lush, and the ensemble here, as on every track on this record, performs excellently. The voices are partly Glassian, but much more erotic than anything the sober Glass was coming up with. Wolf Is Dead has plenty of repetitive playfulness and is very light on its feet. Requiem takes words from a Latin Mass and might be the soundtrack for a Catholic David Lynch movie. This is one of the very best Cold Blues. Enthusiastically recommended.” —Richard Grooms, The Improvisor

“Happy days are here again. In fact, I’m sort of surprised by how happy I am that Daniel Lentz’s On the Leopard Altar is finally getting released on CD. (Has it really been over 20 years since this originally came out? Boy, does that makes me feel old…but still happy.).… Daniel Lentz emerged at a strange and exciting time for new music. For some reason, in the mid-1980s, it was hip to be pretty again…and On the Leopard Altar is one of the best documents of this unique cultural moment. Its composer, Daniel Lentz, is one of the neglected stepchildren of Minimalism—a damn shame because his…music is so sincere, unpretentious, appealing, and, well, pretty.… Vibrato-less vocals intone cryptic yet accessible texts over churning synthesizer patterns…. Clichés about love, death, and reincarnation are somehow transformed into toe-tapping confections…. A chorus of wineglasses mysteriously emanates echoing audio cathedrals…. And sometimes—I swear—it even swings! Yes, I’m happy to say that On the Leopard Altar is still as infectious and fresh as ever, effortlessly bubbling and shimmering with levity, wit, and style. It’s all so audaciously pleasant, genial, and—there’s no better word for it—lovable…. Thank you, Cold Blue, for rescuing this (almost) lost classic from obscurity.”—Stephen V. Funk, Blogcritics.org

On the Leopard Altar…[is] playful, inventive, engaging music.” —Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb (UK)

“The panting pulse of the four voices added to the four keyboards in Is it Love? is delightful, just like the phonetic games of Wolf is Dead, featuring a similar line-up. Lascaux draws its deep harmonies from a glass harmonica—wine glasses, specifically. Simple and delicate, the voice in On the Leopard Altar is meant to be lightweight and dreamy, and the same thing applies to the more ritual voices in Requiem resonating with the electric piano’s celestial reverb.” —Classica-Repertoire (France)

“Lentz is obviously a hopeless romantic—or perhaps hopelessly ecstatic. His music attains flight very quickly, and with little excess baggage.… it’s possessed of such joyful abandon that despite the paucity of sonic events at play (the drone canopies of Lascaux) the whole enterprise comes off as one elegaic noise.… Frugal, footloose and fancy-free.” —Darren Bergstein, e/i magazine

“He’s a mature musician, already very active in the seventies, experimenting in sunny and nonconformist California with early loops and tape-delay with a subversive drive and a healthy dose of irony.…writing music that encompasses everythin—multiple vocalists, keyboards, sonic effects, romantic melodies and forms structured in a very ariose and seductive style….. A post-modern suite, still disenchanted and meaningful, open to multiple levels of meaning.”—Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural (Italy)

“Daniel Lentz, one of the better known of the lesser known composers, gives us a good, varied look at his music in On the Leopard Altar…. Is it Love? creates out of keys and a small vocal ensemble a fascinating mix. The keys play a series of patterns in a constant interplay of continuously sounded staccato eighth notes. The vocalists form a choir of ever differing staccato patterns through a process of subtraction (according to the liners) produced in hocket style. Wolf Is Dead has a similar trajectory, but the vocal parts are less dense and hocket less used in favor of at times a contrapuntal approach. It may not perhaps be as striking as the first piece, but has much about it that keeps the attention focused. Lascaux is to me the most interesting of the more soundscaped works included here. It uses wineglasses and keyboards to create a very beautiful panorama that shimmers with overtones like ever-reverberating bells in a dream. On the Leopard Altar has a singular vocal line sung by first one soprano, then several to the accompaniment of keys. This one too has a dreamy sound but with more of a leider quality to it. There is a very lyrical side to Lentz when he wants to go that way and this is a great example. The final, short Requiem work combines bell-like sounds with a vocal part that sounds as if a single voice is singing in the middle of a great cathedral and you the listener are experiencing the sound of the voice and the resonance of the cathedral in equal proportions. So Daniel Lentz gives us two pattern pieces and three pieces more in the through-composed, soundscaped, radical tonality vein. Those latter three have great lyrical beauty. The pattern pieces remind us that Lentz makes his own way through the Reich-Glass influence so prevalent in the minimalist genre and sounds out a personal path with its own route through the thickets. It’s a captivating set of pieces that I certainly find of real interest. You may gravitate to them as well…. Recommended.”—Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review