Although violinist Arun Ramamurthy has extensive training in Indian carnatic music, he’s also a jazz guy. He’s got a lively, intriguing, cross-pollinating new album, Jazz Carnatica,streaming at Bandcamp. It’s an attempt to radically reinvent ragas with his trio, Perry Wortman on bass and Sameer Gupta – leader of Indian jazz band Namaskar, who reinvent old Bollywood themes – on drums. What does this music sound like? Because all but one of the tracks are based on classic ragas, it’s Indian classical music first and foremost. But the rhythms are lithe and dancing and full of pulsing energy, and far more terse than the frequently expansive, slowly unwinding themes of sitar music. If you’ve got friends who might confide something like, “Sure, I like Indian music ok, but it’s so meeeelllllllloooooowwwwww…” play this the next time you see them and they’ll have a change of heart. The trio are playing the album release show on Nov 1 at 8 PM at at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the West Village; cover is $15.
As much as Ramamurthy’s violin moves around, and it’s always in motion, even when he’s at his most energetic he doesn’t stray far from a central tone. That tension fuels a lot of understated mystery here. The opening track starts out surprisingly funky, with a catchy turnaround and a very cleverly implied two-chord (or two-mode, if you must) vamp. The elegant intro of the second number quickly gives way to a dancing but hypnotic theme, which the band vamps on – Wortman often doubles Ramamurthy’s lines, providing a staccato contrast to Ramamurthy’s lingering sustain.
Marc Cary – who also plays with Gupta in Namaskar – guests on the album’s three central tracks. The first also features another cross-pollinating violinist, Trina Basu – it’s the closest thing here to a psychedelically rustic, Ravi Shankar-style raga, but built around a riff that’s pure blues. The second has Cary adding a little calypso jazz flair and the most traditional jazz vernacular of the tracks here.
The next two tracks build out of moody atmospherics to more lively interplay. Likewise, the seventh track – the one Ramamurthy original, and the best of them all – expands outward from a broodingly chromatic tune to a bouncy bass solo. As the album goes along, Ramamurthy goes deeper into the microtones, his rather severe, intense tone contrasting with Wortman’s bubbly bass on the eight number here. The final one is the closest to the kind of modal jazz that Gupta plays in Namaskar, Ramamurthy choosing his spots. All of the tracks clock in at more than five minutes, sometimes considerably more. Onstage, they’ll probably take them out even further into more psychedelic territory. This is an album that will grab a lot of people: Indian music fans in search of a shot of adrenaline, and jazz fans who thrive on the space between the notes.
Paul Dresher‘s Double Duo made a stop at Roulette last night that included a shattering world premiere played by Twosense, and the New York debut of a couple of brand-new instruments. Joel Davel played the marimba lumina – a digital marimba whose library of samples includes a full symphonic percussion section, and is enabled to mix and match a vast number of timbres beyond the instrument’s typical acoustic range. Dresher and Davel aired out the epic sonic capabilities of the quadrachord, which is basically a giant (i.e. twenty-foot) bass lapsteel. The results spanned the emotional spectrum, from nerve-wracking angst to joyous musical acrobatics, It was one of the best New York concerts of the year, without a doubt.
Variations on an eerie theme circled uneasily and then gave pianist Lisa Moore the opportunity to deliver the gamelanesque loops of Dresher’s Double Ikat, Part II with a Bach-like precision, joined in tight choreography with Davel on the marimba lumina and Karen Bentley Pollick‘s alternately dancing and atmospheric violin. A pervasive Philip Glass influence became clear as the trio took it down from an insistent peak to an elegaic outro, Pollick low and affectingly austere.
Dresher’s Glimpsed from Afar paired the composer on the quadrachord with Davel’s marimba lumina. It was sort of a demo of everything the instruments can do together – swoops and dives, sustained sheets of sound, shivery dynamic shifts, ghostly lulls, sly oscillations, joyous percussion samples bursting from the marimba lumina, pointillistic loops and finally a tightly percussive yet deliriously jaunty outro with both players on the quadrachord hammering away on mallets, a cymbal and other percussion objects placed under the strings. Hypnotic yet explosive, much of it sounded like a more concise take on what Michael Gordon did with Timber, his longscale work for amplified sawhorses, a few years back.
The highlight of the concert was Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate playing the world premiere of Dresher’s triptych Family Matters. Packed with dark chromatics and ominous passing tones, it was a study in contrasts, all of which eventually took on an aspect that ranged from funereal to downright macabre. The duo built subtly out of a dancing theme to a lively but equally agitated series of rises and falls throughout the first part. Then it fell to Moore to keep the steady, almost baroque rhythms going as the piece slowed down, Bathgate employing a viscerally aching vibrato and a chilling sense of longing and loss as its morose dance wound down. Moore took Mood Swings, a harrowing dirge, to a menacing, modal minuet at its peak, then Bathgate brought back a relentless, inconsolable angst with starkly resonant, stygian, sometimes microtonally-tinged lines that were nothing short of harrowing.
The concert wound up with Martin Bresnick’s Fantasia on a Theme of Willie Dixon, which turned out to be simply the minor third interval on which his song Spoonful is based. You know it: Howlin’ Wolf did the original; the Allman Brothers made it famous. Dresher’s hovering electric guitar lines mingles with Moore’s impressionistic piano and Pollick’s jaunty cadenzas and simmering sustain while Davel served as a one-man percussion section on the marimba lumina. It was like early ELO with more challenging tonalities, Moore delivering its most unsettlingly delicious, glimmering interludes
Saturday night’s celebration of traditional Korean music and dance staged by Sue Yeon Park of the Korean Performing Arts Center at Symphony Space featured sounds that were as cutting-edge as they were rustic. Korean pansori singing, and much of Korean singing in general, employs microtones and trills and downwardly bent notes that would baffle an awful lot of western musicians. In her gritty, expressive contralto, like something of a Korean mountain-music counterpart to Tina Turner, iconic pansori chanteuse Shin Young-Hee made it look easy throughout a rather macabre-tinged excerpt from the 19th century love epic Chunhyung-ga. Famous Korean percussionist Lee Kwang-Soo – a gregarious and engaging guy with an edgy sense of humor – led a drum troupe through a thunderously hypnotic, subtly polyrhythmic benediction of sorts. Virtuoso Gee-Sook Baek teamed up with drummer Soung-Jae Cho, who spurred her on through a rivetingly spacious, suspenseful performance on the gayageum, a twelve-string lute that throws off otherworldly tremoloing tones and seems like it could be a predecessor of the sitar. Meanwhile, the night’s emcee, a musicologist from Seoul, reminded the crowd that all this music dated from an era when there was no distinction between performer and audience: participation is pretty much mandatory. All this did nothing to discourage the commonly held notion that Koreans are the 24-hour party people of Asia.
There was plenty of drumming, notably a skull-pounding interlude to open the second half of the concert by the Rutgers Korean Cultural Group, to rival the kind of explosively shamanistic Brazilian sounds produced by BatalaNYC. There was also dancing, lots of it. Park herself took a solo, a graceful number that saw her practically disappear into the stage, facedown, at the end, the folds of her silken costume edging closer and closer downward. It’s one thing to do the splits, Chuck Berry style – it’s another to hold that position in place. Park was doing that twenty years ago and clearly hasn’t lost any athleticism in the ensuing two decades, no small achievement.
A bevy of women swayed and gently exchanged places throughout a stately fan dance, serenaded by the band offstage. Several of the drummers wore ribbons on a swivel affixed to the rear of their uniform helmets, which they spun by moving their heads quickly, side to side – how they managed to keep their footing, keep the ribbons swirling, and keep time, without losing their balance or running headfirst into the the back wall of the stage, was impressive, to say the least. One of them finally made a circle of the stage, spinning faster and faster, leaning in toward the center in a more explosive take on what Turkish dervishes will do at the peak of a musical number. The night’s final performances brought a full musical ensemble together with the dance/drumming contingent (there was a lot of overlap among them, the night’s organizer included); tersely intense geomungo (six-string zither) player Mi Jin Park being a standout among them.
The Korean Peforming Arts Center and their house ensemble, Sounds of Korea, stage frequent outdoor concerts during the warmer months, from Lincoln Center to Little Korea just south of 34th Street and points further south as well; bookmark theirwebpage if sounds as sophisticated yet ancient as these are your thing.
“Just about every piece of music that we can play is a song,” pianist Alexandra Joan nonchalantly told the audience at her luminous performance Thursday night at Bargemusic. That pretty much explains everything you need to know about her. Matter-of-factly and meticulously, she built a dynamically rich program with lyrical, cantabile, highly individualistic interpretations of a diverse program. from Bach to early Modernism, most of the works taken from her new album Dances and Songs.
She explained to the crowd that while not everything on the album is a dance per se, the material on it shares a kinetic character. She began the evening with a suite of Chopin mazurkas that aren’t on the album, but they turned out to make an apt opening salvo, Joan giving the audience a sort of guided tour via ample but judicious amounts of rubato, as if to say, “Watch this, here comes a really good one!”
Her take of Bach’s English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808 was especially gripping, not only because it’s an interesting piece of music, but because of how she accented the work’s rigorous and challenging ornamentation, awash in grace notes and trills. That made Bach’s tight rhythm all the more of a suspenseful contrast – and the plaintiveness of the second movement all the more affecting. Likewise, the high point of the night was Liszt’s solo piano arrangement from Schubert’s Der Doppelganger, vividly giving voice to a guy who can’t figure out if he’s himself or someone else and is completely lost as a result.
The program lightened from there, but just a little, with an edgy, acerbic run through Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, drawing a straight line back to the Schubert suite that inspired them even if the tonalities were from a completely different idiom (and radical enough in Ravel’s day to get him slammed by the critics). Joan ended the night on a celebratory note with the “champagne bubbles” of a couple of lighthearted if cruelly challenging Liszt pieces, the Valse Impromptu and then his whirling arrangement of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Which in turn made her careful, plaintive Debussy encore all the more astringently gripping. Joan is also an impresario, so the idea of going from Bach to Romantic to Modern and linking it all together is less unlikely (and less ostentatious) for her than it would be for a lot of other pianists. She’s appearing next with the fantastic Grneta Ensemble performing Gerald Cohen’s Sea of Reeds at le Poisson Rouge on Nov 11 at 6 PM; advance tix are $15 and very highly recommended.
There are some ominously intriguing Halloween shows coming up toward the end of the week. On Halloween, there’s a doublebill with doom-obsessed, gale-force singer Jessi Robertson and murder ballad purveyor Kelley Swindall at the American Folk Art Museum at 5. Trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band are doing their creepy big band jazz at a street fair in Ft. Greene starting around 6; pianist Michael Riesman is playing Philip Glass’ score to the remake of Dracula to accompany a screening of the original 1931 film at the Morgan Library at 7; and the Jalopy is putting on an all-murder ballad night at 8 with a cast of familiar Americana faces. But the creepiest show of the week might well be the night before, Oct 30 at 8 PM at Merkin Concert Hall where the American Modern Ensemble, with guest conductor David Alan Miller, play George Crumb’s disquieting Music for a Summer Evening, David Del Tredici’s Dracula and a trio of macabre Robert Paterson pieces about dead soldiers, poltergeists and a full-blown nightmare. And the concert is free, but you need to rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org
Paterson, the world-class marimbist who directs the AME, has great talent for creepy cinematics. His most recent album, Winter Songs – streaming at Spotify – has a somewhat more subtle, muted unease. Although the album has impassioned performances by a crew of well-known singers, the star here turns out to be pianist Blair McMillen, who anchors the songs with a gravitas and a nimbly insistent attack to counterbalance the surrealism of several of the pieces. For example, baritone Jesse Blumberg sings a brief cycle of songs with lyrics taken completely from captchas: he and McMillen manage to keep everything dead serious even as the text gets stranger and sillier.
Wispy winter winds from the strings and woodwind section filter through McMillen’s icicle piano and Paterson’s own marimba in a theme and variations utilizing six texts by Wallace Stevens and others, sung by with an apt austerity by bass-baritone David Neal. Baritone Robert Gardner sings the viciously hilarious Eating Variations, a parody of food fixations and fads, with lyrics by Ron Singer. Like the captcha cycle, it’s all the more funny for the completely deadpan vocals even as the music grows more cartoonish.
The comedy hits a peak as soprano Nancy Allan Lundy gives voice to voicemail messages with varying degrees of absurdity and mischegas. The album winds up with tenor Dimitri Pittas singing Paterson’s cycle Batter’s Box, which imagines a rather trying day on the ballfield as experienced by former Mets allstar catcher Mike Piazza. Try and guess the pitcher and batter – one can’t find the plate with his breaking ball and the other can’t hit it – that Paterson alludes to!
Wednesday night the Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola rescued an otherwise gloomy and dismal evening with warmth and epic grandeur at their sonically superb home base, via an animated performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 and then Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. Music Director K. Scott Warren had a jaunty confidence on the podium, conducting the Haydn through its many dynamic shifts between instrumental voices, with lively, conversational counterpoint. From its precise cantabile opening, to a surprising and welcome gravitas in the second movement, the swaying dance of the third and a long series of clever, practically conspiratorial exchanges as it wound out, Warren and the ensemble spotlighted all the most entertaining moments. It’s not a heavy piece of music – it made for a well-received contrast with the storm gusting outside.
Like his Requiem, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor is unfinished. It may or may not have been performed in his lifetime. It has far more to do with operatic flair than gothic gravitas: watching the choir pulsing through its waves and cadenzas, it was easy to imagine a group from Mozart’s day reveling in how much fun church had become with this composer writing the score! Was this a vehicle for the talented choirgirl who would become his wife? Quite possibly. And she had to be talented because the lead soprano role is brutally challenging, but Martha Guth embraced the hair-raising demands of its roller-coaster dips and swells and meticulous ornamentation and left the audience stunned.
Soprano Marguerite Krull also brought a sparkling clarity to her parts, often paired off with New York Polyphony‘s Stephen Caldicott Wilson and his far more stern, measured tenor (and impressive low range as well). Wilson’s choirmate Christopher Dylan Herbert was required to do less, but added an extra layer of heft in the final sections. Because Mozart never finished the mass, Warren had to choose from many versions fleshed out by others, over the centuries; settling on a 20th century version by Mozart’s fellow Austrian Helmut Eder was respectful of the original in limiting its scope to the parts of the score finished by the composer himself. Joy, and passion, and lustrous timbres from the top to the bottom of what the human voice is capable of delivering, abounded throughout the group’s dynamic and rousing interpretation. The next concert here is a fascinating program of original arrangements by organist David Enlow on Nov 2 at 3 PM; the Choir and Orchestra return on Nov 30 at 3 with a celebration of Advent.
Lots of vivid, frequently edgy, tuneful straight-up New York portraiture on alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker‘s new Posi-Tone album Action City – streaming at Spotify - with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 29 at 8 PM at the brand new Room 53, 314 W 53rd St. between 8th and 9th Aves.
Everything here centers around a tight piano/sax/bass/drums pulse. The first tune, Times Square is an interesting one – it seems to offer some shelter from the bustling rush hour crowd outside, Eckroth spinning an intricately enticing web away from the driving latin groove until Shanker brings it back with a similarly swirling but more angst-fueled intensity. It paints a good picture, albeit without the sketchy life-size Hello Kittys.
Another Morning is all about urbane chillout swing, Shanker’s carefree vibrato sailing over Eckroth’s precise, purposeful chords and spacious tradeoffs with the drums. This seems to portray the kind of stainless steel counter place where they break out the martinis starting at around noon.
Summer Siesta is a deliciously catchy, biting cha-cha, and not the least bit sleepy. The title track is a brisk stroll, everybody in the band occasionally stepping out of time as we do from time to time on a busy sidewalk: Eckroth’s bluesy, stride-inspired solo is especially choice. Punch isn’t the smackdown you might expect, but a very attractive slow soul groove, Eckroth firing off some tasty blues/gospel licks. Donald Fagen would kill to have written this.
Eckroth stays in the spotlight through the spacious, stately, neoromantically marching Prelude, which gives way to Shadow Dance, a cool jazz waltz where the sax does exactly that to the piano. The most striking track here is Midnight, crescendoing on the wings of some blue-flame eights from Shanker until Eckroth takes it back into the back of the bar where everybody’s still hanging after closing time. Marble Hill offers a no-nonsense but warmly congenial, nocturnal North Bronx tableau – it would have made a good nostalgic tv theme back in the 70s. Tortoise & the Hare scampers along as Shanker and Abe flurry and bob, a contrast with the balmy boudoir ballad Riverbank at Dawn: hey, outdoors is cooler in the summer. Interestingly, Shanker winds up the album with a catchy, dynamically-charged Philly soul groove titled Snow Paws. You don’t have to be a New Yorker (Shanker’s not) to appreciate this. But it helps.
As obscure subgenres go, accordion swing is pretty close to the top of the list. Accordionist Richard Galliano tackles that methodically and animatedly on his latest album, Sentimentale. He’s celebrating the release with a four-night stand leading a quintet at the Jazz Standard,Oct 23-26, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30; cover is $25, $30 on the weekend, Galliano is known for his ability to effortlessly leapfrog between idioms, from the baroque to tango to Romany jazz without missing a beat. This time out, he leads a pretty straight-ahead jazz session with Tamir Hendelman (the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra pianist, who wrote most of the arrangements), guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Carlos del Puerto and drummer Mauricio Zotarrelli.
Much of it is a 21st century update on how French and Belgian musicians were mashing up American jazz with their own vaudeville and barroom folk sounds back in the 20s and 30s, notably the opening track, Chick Corea’s Armando’s Rumba, which puts a continental spin on a song that was already a bit outside the Afro-Cuban tradition. The group immediately brings it down from there, adding an organic touch to Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour’s Canto Invierno, then tackling Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood with a lilting rhythm yet also with a similarly distant pensiveness – the accordion is one of the alltime wistful/bittersweet instruments, and Galliano owns that feeling when he chooses to go there.
Galliano’s take of Horace Silver’s The Jody Grind draws less on the original than Dee Dee Bridgewater’s boisterous version; likewise, the Broadway ballad Why Did I Choose You follows Bill Evans’ coloristic reharmonizations. There are two originals here, the jazz waltz Balade Pour Marion and the closing cut, Lili, a tender ballad dedicted to Galliano’s granddaughter and done as a guitar-accordion duo. Hendelman’s arrangements are remarkably contiguous, more than just a platform for soloing, which there isn’t a lot of here.
The group gently bounce their way through The Island and Verbos de Amor, adding some bulk to the songs’ tropical balminess, then pair hard-charging swing with more pensiveness on Plus Fort Que Nous. They do the Coltrane classic Naima as surprisingly weird psychedelia with a guitar sitar (?!?), then go back to the tropics with Mantiqueira. All this is a good indication of what the band will sound like here, maybe allowing for a little more guitar, which won’t be a bad idea since Peter Bernstein will be filling that spot.
For the past few years, Brooklyn Rider have pushed the envelope pretty much as far as a string quartet can go, and in the process have raised the bar for other groups: they transcend any preconception about what serious composed music is all about. Their latest album, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac – streaming at Spotify - is their most ambitious effort yet, and may well be the one that most accurately captures what the group is all about. They draw on a wide composer base, including their own members, an A-list of mostly New York-based players and writers across the musical spectrum, from indie classical to Americana to rock and now even jazz.
It’s also a dance album in many respects – pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn‘s similarly eclectic Dances of the World Chamber Orchestra also comes to mind. Beyond the rhythms – everything from funky grooves to waltzes and struts and the hint of a reel or a stately English dance – dynamics are everything here. The pieces rise and fall and shift shape, often with a cinematic arc. The first track is Rubin Kodheli‘s Necessary Henry!, the group – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – establishing an ominous/dancing dichotomy out of a stormy intro. It may have originally been written for Kodheli’s snarlingly majestic cello metal band Blues in Space.
Maintenance Music, by Dana Lyn shifts from a lustrous fog with distant echoes of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to a slow waltz and then a chase scene – it’s the most cinematic piece here. Simpson’s Gap, by Clogs‘ Padma Newsome makes a good segue, an Appalachian ballad given bulk and heft with fluttering echoes, as if bouncing off the mountain walls and down into the valley below.
The Haring Escape, by saxophonist Daniel Cords veers from swaying, echoing funk, to slowly shifting resonance, to an aggressive march. Aoife O’Donovan’s Show Me is akin to something Dvorak would have pieced together out of a gentle Hudson Valley dance. Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer‘s Dig the Say gives the quartet a theme and variations to work, a study in counterrythms, funky vamps bookending a resonantly atmospheric interlude.
There are two pieces by indie rock drummers here. Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier – most recently witnessed trying his best to demolish the house kit at Glasslands a couple of weeks ago – contributes the most minimalist piece here, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche’s Ping Poing Fumble Thaw being more pointillistic. The album continues on a kinetic path from here until the very end, through Ethan Iverson‘s Morris Dance – which blends contrastingly furtive and calm themes – then Colin Jacobsen’s Exit, with Shara Worden on vocals, a triumphantly balletesque, swirling, rather Reichian piece. The most rhythmically emphatic number here is by Gonazlo Grau, leader of explosive psychedelic salsa band La Clave Secreta. After Christina Courtin’s raptly atmospheric Tralala, the quartet ends with a warmly measured, aptly pastoral take of John Steinbeck, by Bill Frisell.
Kojiro Umezaki‘s axe is the shakuhachi, the rustic Japanese wood flute, an instantly recognizable instrument that can deliver both ghostly overtones and moody, misty high midrange sonics. Umezaki’s background spans the world of folk music and indie classical – he’s a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble -and is a frequent collaborator with groundbreaking string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Umezaki also has an album, Cycles, out from that group’s violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s maverick label In a Circle Records and streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of originals along with reinvented themes from folk and classical music. As you might imagine, most of it is quiet, thoughtful and often otherworldly, a good rainy-day listen.
The opening track, (Cycles) America reimagines a theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony as a solo percussion piece for Joseph Gramley, who opens it on drums with hints of majestic grandeur, then provides loopily resonant vibraphone. The album’s thoughtfully spacious second track, 108 is where Umezaki makes his entrance, joined after a terse, slowly crescendoing intro by Dong-Wan Kim on janggo drum and Faraz Minooei on santoor. It builds to a swaying and then rather jauntily dancing groove with hints of South Indian classical music as Umezaki chooses his spots.
The traditional Japanese lullaby that follows is as gentle – and ghostly – as you might expect from a melody that could be a thousand years old, a graceful solo performance. Umezaki then delivers a circular, uneasily looping piece modeled after a famous 1923 post-earthquake work by Japanese composer Nakao Tozan, bringing it into the present day as a tense, distantly angst-ridden contemplation of a post-3/11 world.
On For Zero, Gramley plays lingering vibraphone interspersed with the occasional emphatic cymbal crash or fuzzy wash of low-register synth. The album’s final track is a new version of a collaboration with Brooklyn Rider that originally appeared on the quartet’s 2010 album Dominant Curve, alternating between raptly inmersive atmospherics and edgy interplay between the quartet and the wood flute, a shakuhachi concerto of sorts.
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