Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vivid String-and-Piano Tableaux From Drum and Lace

Drum and Lace a.k.a. film composer Sofia Hultquist’s tantalizingly short album Semi Songs – streaming at her music page– comprises a quartet of bracingly tuneful, often hypnotically circling instrumentals for violin, two cellos and piano. You could call it minimalism, or new classical music: however you categorize it, this brief, verdant release leaves you wanting more.

The album begins and ends with a diptych, Outsider Complex. The first part opens with a burst of strings followed by some furious, machete-chop sixteenth notes. The piano joins the frenzy, then recedes with a brooding elegance; the strings follow as the song calms before a final volley. As terse and minimalistic as this is at heart, it takes serious chops to play. To wind it up, the piano rises to a loopy insistence, strings leading to a moody lull and tantalizing hints of what will eventually be a deliciously ominous return to tightly orchestrated savagery.

There are two other tracks. The swaying, summery Parhelion begins with a loopy contrast between stark, insistent cello and hazy violin; then the two switch roles as the harmonic web grows more complex, a rondo of sorts. Coyly bouncy piano suddenly leaps in; it ends brightly.

The epic, fourteen-minute Gardenia has a slower, more pensive sway, spacious piano chords and a steady, lullaby-like melody that begins to sound completely improvised. A light, echoey electronic drone moves toward the forefront as the strings echo each other; the piano kicks off the first of several successive rounds of circular riffs. Composer Matt McBane’s ensemble Build comes to mind, although Drum and Lace’s music is more springlike, closer in spirit if not in sound to Vivaldi than, say, Bach.

March 20, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rapturous, Innovative String Music All Over Midtown

When she first formed the Momenta Quartet, violist Stephanie Griffin probably had no idea of how many hundreds of premieres the group would play, a list that continues to blossom. That same fascination with brilliant obscurities and new ideas has informed her work outside the classical world, as one of the few conservatory-trained players who’s just as comfortable and acerbic in jazz improvisation (some would call that “creative music,” but all good music is creative). Her next scheduled New York gig was scheduled for March 20 on a killer triplebill that starts at 7:30 PM at Metro Baptist Church at 410 W 40th St. past 9th Ave.) but is now cancelled. Jazz guitarist Amanda Monaco, who lately has been exploring klezmer infuences, was slated to open the night with her trio, followed by flutist Cheryl Pyle‘s Musique Libre trio, and then Griffin with a chamber jazz quartet, along with pianist Gordon Beeferman playing the world premiere of her first-ever work for solo piano.

One of Griffin’s most interesting recent New York performances was last month, as a member of the Argento Ensemble, on a characteristically diverse, edgy program featuring works by Schoenberg and Erin Gee. It was more than a little embarrassing to get to the show almost an hour late, but the friendly folks at the Austrian Cultural Forum had saved a seat, even though the show was sold out: thanks, guys! And fortuitously, there was still time to catch the group playing a deliciously dynamic, sometimes velvety, occasionally chilling version of Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht as well as the world premiere of Gee’s Mouthpiece 29b.

Throughout the former, the sense of the composer aching to break free of late 19th century conventions was visceral. Contrasts between starkness and lushness, Debussyesque bittersweetness and the strange new world that Schoenberg would open the floodgates for were consistently striking. The sting of Mari Lee’s violin was a standout, from the work’s almost frantically volleying crescendos, to the somber lullaby at the end. The rest of the group, which along with Griffin also included violinist Doori Na, violist Jocelin Pan, cellists Michael Katz and Serafim Smigelsky and bassist Tristen Kasten-Krause, dug in just as deeply.

Gee explained to the crowd that she’d written her playful, dauntingly innovative piece in the International Phonetic Alphabet rather than in any extant language. Just witnessing her command of flittingly crisp, almost backward-masked syllables as the ensemble echoed her with sepulchral wisps and glissandos was breathtaking. It’s a very entertaining piece of music, just as challenging for the strings as for Gee, involving both singing and occasional whistling from what seemed to be most of the group. Gee’s surreal, individualistic sound world is like no other on this planet because there isn’t one, other than maybe Meredith Monk’s, as a point of comparison.

Argento’s next scheduled performance is April 18 at the Tenri Institute, with works by Bethany Younge, Yotam Haber and Alma Mahler; cover is $tba.

March 16, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Familiar NYC Jazz Presence Keeps Cranking Out Catchy Albums

Since the mid-zeros, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser has methodically if not exactly quietly built an increasingly vast body of catchy, hard-swinging jukebox jazz. Brisk tempos and hooks that a talented group can take out on plenty of tangents are his thing: most of the tunes in his ever-expanding book are done in less than five minutes. Lately he’s been playing a mostly-Friday night residency at the Django, where he’ll be tomorrow night, March 13 at 7 PM; it’s $15 at the bar.

For those interested in checking out the show, there are many albums to choose from. The most recent one that made it to the hard drive here (there have been others released since – Fowser works fast) is Don’t Look Down, a 2018 release and one of his best, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. It kicks off with Maker’s Marc, a fast, tiptoeing swing tune that may be a shout-out to producer and Posi-Tone honcho Marc Free, working a familiar golden-age trope. The bandleader and  trumpeter Josh Bruneau hit the big riff head-on but then don’t really revisit it until the second verse, pianist Rick Germanson working increasingly gorgeous chordal clusters and a marionettish solo alongside bassist Paul Gill and drummer Joe Strasser.

Coming Up Shorter – a Wayne Shorter salute – shifts between broodingly syncopated modalities and a steady swing, Fowser adding shivery microtones and terse curlicues, Germanson taking a more majestic direction. The band completely shift gears with the Rhodes-driven bossa You’re Better Than That, a vehicle for lyricism from Bruneau. Then they go back to hard-hitting, gritty mode with the darkly bluesy Fall Back, and more shadowy understatement from Fowser.

The album’s title track is a moodily muted, latin-tinged gem, followed by the more balmy Divided State. Gemanson’s beautifully glittery opening solo kicks off I’ll Take It From Here, with its Ellingtonian gravitas, misty midrange Fowser work. stately muted Bruneu solo and a more wryly romping one from Gill.

Queens is a brightly bustling swing tune, possibly a portrait of the New York borough that superseded Brooklyn in coolness a long time ago. Top To Bottom is Monk taking a side trip to New Orleans, while Inversions is a weird blend of almost-frantically uneasy, racewalking postbop with a Rhodes echoing through the mix. The band wind up the record with From Six To Midnight, a sage wee-hours waltz and a strong example of the new depths Fowser’s compositions have reached in the recent past.

March 12, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hall of Fame Lineups From the New England Conservatory at the Jazz Standard on March 19 and 20.

THIS CONCERT IS CANCELLED

Every so often the New England Conservatory – Boston’s counterpart to Juilliard – rounds up some of the formidable talent who’ve passed through their jazz program, arguably the first at one established at any major American music school. This year the celebration is at the Jazz Standard on March 18 and 19.

The NEC All-Stars quintet is bound to generate a lot of fireworks. The two-sax frontline of Miguel Zenon on alto and Donny McCaslin on tenor is incendiary by itself. Fred Hersch, one of the great lyrical pianists of the past couple of decades is joined by Jorge Roeder – who’s as at home with tango or other latin sounds as he is postbop – on bass, and Richie Barshay, drummer for the Klezmatics. It’s seldom that you get to see such vast stylistic influences on the same stage; cover is $30.

Then on the 20th there’s a rare New York performance by singer Dominique Eade, whose work with noir piano icon Ran Blake is spine-tingling (and often bone-chilling). Hersch is the rare extrovert pianist who absolutely loves playing with singers, so this is a serendipitous pairing. As with the show on the 19th, they’re less likely to play their own stuff than, say, Monk and other mutual favorites, but you never know. Cover is steep for this one, $35, but remember, at the Jazz Standard there’s no minimum.

For anybody looking for material to spin (virtually or otherwise) in advance of the show, how about Hersch’s most recent release, a six-disc retrospective streaming at Spotify and comprising his long-running trio’s most recent releases, from Whirl, to Alive at the Vanguard. Hersch has gotten into the habit of releasing anything he happens to have in the can which sounds good (which is A LOT). Several of these records, including Sunday Night at the Vanguard and Live in Europe have been covered here over the years.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hard-Swinging, Seriously Woke New Album amd a Jazz Standard Release Show by Trumpeter Josh Lawrence

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS CONCERT IS CANCELLED

It takes guts to open your new album with a joyous, lyrical jazz waltz, but that’s what trumpeter Josh Lawrence does on his latest release Triptych, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. He’s playing the album release show on March 13 at the Jazz Standard with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30.

The record’s title reflects its three suites. The first one, a threesome of love songs, is interspersed among the other tracks. The second, Lost Works, draws on the Nazis’ confiscation and eventual destruction of three priceless Kandinsky paintings during World War II, a parable for late Trump-era fascism. The third, simply titled Earth Wind Fire, takes inspiration from the mighty funk legends along with Miles Davis, Terence Blanchard and Ahmad Jamal.

The three numbers in Lost Works are untitled. Composition #1 is a big, lickety-split swing tune with bright, ebullient trumpet from Lawrence in tandem with alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis. Pianist Zaccai Curtis (no relation) hits hard and incisively alongside his bassist brother Luques Curtis and drummer Anwar Marshall, who caps it off with a colorfully tumbling solo.

Composition #2 is a gorgeously nocturnal Twin Peaks jazz ballad with lustrous horns, twistedly glimmering lounge piano and a rather furtive bass solo, echoing  Miles as much as Pharaoh Sanders. Lawrence reaches a conclusion by mashing up the drive of the opening segment with the unease of the second.

Part two of the love trilogy, Sugar Hill Stroll opens with a cheery trumpet-bass duet, then the rhythm section kick in and build a jubilant Louis Armstrong flair. The mini-suite winds up toward the end of the record with the slow samba tune Sunset in Santa Barbara, a welcome if considerably more balmy return to David Lynch soundtrack ambience with enigmatic piano glitter and some tasty, spare muted work from the bandleader.

Earth Wind Fire slowly comes together on the ground as a polythythmic, tribal tableau, piano pulling the band from their separate corners, Marshall’s clave a frequent but not omnipresent grounding influence. From there they breeze into a deliciously shimmery, syncopated soul vamp, sparsely shiny piano anchoring similarly spacious solos from the horns. The suite achieves total combustion in the final movement with forceful, McCoy Tyner-tinged piano (RIP, damn) and tightly clustering horns over Marshall’s artfully shapeshifting drive. Lawrence closes the album with the EWF classic That’s the Way of the World – yow! Jazz versions of 70s radio pop hits are usually a recipe for disaster, but the band get plenty of help courtesy of guest Brian Charette’s churchy organ, working a low-key arrangement that sticks pretty close to the original.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dusky, Enveloping Ambience and a West Village Album Release Show by Cellist Clarice Jensen

Clarice Jensen has been one of the prime movers of the New York scene in new classical music for over a decade, both as a cellist and as artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. But she’s also a composer. Her long awaited, atmospheric solo debut album, For This From That Will Be Filled is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing the release show with a typically stellar cast this Friday night, March 13 at 8 PM at the Tenri Institute; cover is $25.

The album’s ten-minute opening epic, BC, is a co-write with the late film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Its slowly shifting, hypnotic series of tectonic sheets and simple chords drifts through the sonic picture, sometimes with subtle doppler, backward-masked or pitch-shifting effects. The encroaching unease of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s work comes to mind.

Awash in low, sitar-like drones, keening harmonics, pulsing echo effects and circling oscillations, Cello Constellations, by Michael Harrison comes across as a more stately take on Brian Jones-style loopmusic – or Brian Eno in darkly enigmatic mode. The unexpected coda packs such a punch that it’s too good to give away.

The opening echoes and textures of Jensen’s title diptych – a Dag Hammarskjold reference – are much more icily otherworldly. Here she begins to sound more like a one-woman orchestra. In the second part, Jensen blends Eno-esque layers amid a gathering storm that recalls Gebhard Ullmann‘s rumbling multi-bass adventures in ambient music as much as it does Bach cello suites. Those who gravitate toward both the calmer and more psychedelic fringes of the new music world have a lot to savor here.

March 10, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smashing Debut by Percussion Ensemble Pathos Trio

It takes a lot of nerve for a group to play four world premieres at their first-ever concert together. Friday night at Arete Gallery, Pathos Trio validated both their confidence in choice of composers as well as their mutual talents, making a debut to remember. That may be all the more impressive in that they didn’t even have all their regular members. Peter White, playing vibraphone, bells and a vanload of other bangable objects, subbed manfully for percussionist Marcelina Suchocka.

This may be a new ensemble, but each of the members has extensive credits in the world of new music. The three opened with Alyssa Weinberg‘s dynamically churning Delirious Phenomena, a surreal portrait of a factory haunted by mischievous ghosts, or so it seemed. White, Felix Reyes and Alan Hankers worked the guts of a meticulously prepared piano, using mallets for murk and looming swells, then piano wires wrapped around individual strings inside for timbres that ranged from keening, to whispery, to a spot-on facsimile of a french horn. Hypnotically circling patterns and atmospheric washes rose and fell, up to a sudden, coy ending.

Thundering bursts from bass drum and gongs contrasted with eerily tinny resonance emanating from bowed bells, vibraphone and spare piano in Finola Merivale‘s Oblivious Oblivion, a macabre, apocalyptic global warming tableau. A long, cruelly crushing study in wave motion and long, ineluctable upward trajectories, it also ended suddenly, but 180 degrees from where Weinberg’s piece had landed. It was the showstopper of the night.

Evan Chapman‘s Fiction of Light came across as the kind of piece a group can have fun playing, but that didn’t translate to the audience. Reyes and White really got a workout keeping its machinegunning sixteenth notes on the rails, but ultimately this loopy triptych didn’t cohere despite a rather compelling, minimalist rainy-day piano interlude midway through.

The three closed by employing the entirety of their gear throughout Alison Yun-Fei Jiang‘s spacious, vivid Prayer Variations, an increasingly majestic depiction of the vastness of cathedrals the composer’s been visiting lately. As with Merivale’s work, the group nimbly developed its series of long, meticulously interwoven crescendos, from White’s rippling, gamelanesque vibraphone, to Hankers’ tersely plaintive piano, to Reyes’ triumphant accents on the drums and cymbals.

Over the past ten years or so, New York has become a hotbed of good percussion ensembles who’ve drawn the attention of similarly innovative, ambitous composers. With just one show under their respective belts, Pathos Trio have elevated themselves into those elite ranks alongside Yarn/Wire, So Percussion, Tigue, Iktus and Ensemble Et Al. Pathos Trio’s next show is a free concert at 7 PM on March 16 at the New World Center, 500 17th St, in Miami Beach.

March 2, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Chilling, Furious Musical Response to Trump-Era Fascism by Elsa Nilsson

Elsa Nilsson isn’t the only artist who was so pissed off by the 2016 Presidential election and the encroaching fascism afterward that she wrote a whole album about it. But that release, Hindsight – which hasn’t hit the web yet – is one of the most hauntingly illustrative of all the protest jazz records released over the past four years. The flutist participated in the first Women’s March on Washington: she draws the rhythms of each of the album’s tracks from chants of the protestors there, as well as from demonstrators across the country in the months and years afterward. Nilsson’s wary, often raging melodies and relentless gallows humor pack a mighty wallop, speaking truth to power run amok.

The opening track, Changed in Mid Air reflects on Trump’s infamous travel ban, Nilsson’s sudden, shocked downward cascade contrasting with Alex Minier’s grimly distorted, fat bass, guitarist Jeff McLaughlin’s icy chords and drummer Cody Rahn’s increasingly emphatic drive depicting the institutionalized terror faced by immigrants.

The diptych Worth the Risk/Maria references both a refugee’s leap of faith as well as Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico. Nilsson shifts between eerie airiness and tortured phrasing through an envelope pedal, over a spacious, brooding backdrop. McLaughlin’s steely, clanging solo is one of the album’s high points; a frantic guitar/flute exchange follows as the hurricane hits.

The forlornly strolling Will Help Come vividly reflects Puerto Ricans’ diminishing hopes for aid from the Trumpies in the aftermath of the storm, with a crushingly allusive concluding solo from the bandleader. Enough Is Enough begins with an austere, chantlike, looped phrase and rises with an increasingly horrified crescendo, Nilsson’s flute fluttering and leaping all over the place over McLaughlin’s stately, lingering chords. It goes on for six minutes twenty seconds, the time it took for the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to complete his hateful mission.

The quartet open the album’s title track with a fiery, allusively Balkan-tinged intensity and careen anthemically from there, Rahn hitting a hardcore pulse at one point. What Can I Do, based on the rhythm of the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” is the most enigmatic track on the album, a study in eleven-tone scales and an acknowledgment of how people of color are so often denied subjectivity (that’s an academic way of saying the only time you see black people on tv is when they’re dead or in handcuffs).

Trickle Down, a portrait of relentless struggle, has snarky opening cascades and snarling, skronky guitar over a loopy, funky groove. I Believe You – Nilsson’s reaction to Christine Blasey Ford’s shocking testimony at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings – has an austere gravitas and vivid air of disbelief at the circus that ensued.

Fill The Courts, a reflection on the sinister effects of the past three decades’ drive to pack the courts with Republicans, brings back the relentlessness and ominous contrasts of the opening track. Nilsson closes this chilling cycle with We Show Up, a moodily lingering shout-out to the millions raising our voices and getting out in the streets: McLaughln’s Keith Levene-esque lines are among the most memorable ones here. Count this as one of the best albums of the past several months in any style of music. Nilsson and band play the album release show on April 10 at 9:30 PM at the Cutting Room; cover is $15.

February 28, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twin Peaks Chorales and a Mysterious Ritual From Mary Prescott at Roulette

A jubilant howl emanated from the dressing room last night at Roulette seconds before the nine members of Mary Prescott’s ensemble took the stage for her hauntingly immersive performance piece Loup Lunaire. It began rather coyly but quickly took a much darker turn. Part choral suite, part dance performance, the choreography was every bit as compelling yet as enigmatic as the music, to the point where it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the plot. Inspired by the wolf mother archetype – depicted here as responsible yet more or less alone – along with behavioral cycles in nature, the piece is a precursor to another work, Mother Me, which Prescott and Cara Search will perform on May 6 as part of a semi-monthly Roulette residency.

Luisa Muhr was the first to let loose a howl onstage, but it wasn’t long before the responding round of wolven voices from the rest of the group – Prescott herself stage left, joined by Search, Noa Fort, Ariadne Greif, Joy Havens, Nina Dante and the lone man in the cast, Chanan Ben Simon – had reached a peak and then scattered downward.

Prescott’s strikingly translucent, distamtly disquieting themes gave the singers plenty of room to join in increasingly intricate webs of counterpoint, and sometimes back from there. The compositions evoked styles as diverse as rapturous Hildegard hymns, wistful Appalachian folk, Caroline Shaw’s maze-like work with Roomful of Teeth, Angelo Badelamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtracks, and Indian canatic music. What was consistent was a pervasive unease, amplified by how surealistically one segment would overlap into another.

Meanwhile, onstage behind the dancers, guitarist David Torn added extra levels of angst, or menace, or outright dread, with airy washes of sound as well as several long, majestically mournful Pink Floyd interludes. Nobody does David Gilmour in lingering cumulo-nimbus mode better than this guy.

The series of narratives among the dancers were similarly somber, much of the action in elegant slo-mo. Their buoyantly simple, flowing costumes were sometimes augmented by a little onstage dressup – Prescott’s expression as she was tidied and prepared for the next stage was priceless, and too good to give away. Purification, or at least forgiveness for some unnamed (or unnamable) sin seems to be part of the picture – no spoilers. It’s impossible to find fault with this piece. The dancers are all strong singers, individual role-playing was sharp, choreography briskly executed, lighting a thoughtful enhancement, and the guitar was as vivid as the vocals. Roulette hit a bullseye in commissioning this.

February 27, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, dance, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Melody Fader Channels the Deepest Side of Chopin and More in Manhattan and Brooklyn

Pianist Melody Fader’s favorite composer is Chopin. And it shows. The audience at her intimate, solo Soho Silk Series show last month gave her a standing ovation that went on and on, after she’d ended the program with a characteristically intuitive take of the composer’s famous Fantasie-Impromptu op. 66. Maybe that’s because she didn’t play it as if it was the Minute Waltz, as certain hotshot players tend to do.

Instead, revealingly, she took her time, letting the gritty Romany chromatics of those daunting cascades gleam, rather than just leaving momentary flickers behind in a race to the finish line. That was just one of the concert’s innumerable gorgeous details. On one hand, that’s to be expected on a program of music by a classical icon or two; still, Fader seems especially dedicated to finding those delicious bits and spotlighting them. She’s a pioneer of the house concert circuit (not to be confused with the evil and intrusive Groupmuse); her next Soho loft show is Feb 25 in a duo set with Momenta Quartet violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron playing  music of Ravel, Brahms and Schumann. You can rsvp for location and deets; for the Brooklyn posse, they’re repeating the program (from their forthcoming album) the following night, Feb 26 at 7 PM at Spectrum for a modest $15 cover.

The rest of the January bill was just as much of a revelation. It’s impossible to remember anyone playing more emotionally attuned versions of the E Minor and B Minor preludes. They’re standard repertoire, they don’t require virtuoso technique, but what a difference Fader’s subtle rubato and resoluteness in the face of sheer devastation meant to the former. Same with her crisp but muted arpeggios, bringing out all the longing in the latter. The dynamics in the rest of the first eight of Chopin’s preludes were just as vivid, from the warm cantabile she brought to the C major prelude, to the catacomb phantasmagoria of the one in A minor and a welcome suspense in A major later on.

From there, there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of depth, and gravitas, but also in many places unselfconscious joy. Fader averred that as a kid, she didn’t like Bach: she found his music mechanical. These days, she’s done a 180, validating that with a dazzling, harpsichord-like precision but also fierce ornamentation throughout a rousing take of his French Suite in E, no. 6.

Kaija Saariaho is also a big Bach fan, so following with her Ballade was a great segue, even if the rhythms tended toward the tango Fader had found lurking inside the early part. The stygian boogie and jaunty cascades afterward were just as intense.

The wary, muted melancholy as she launched into the Chopin Ballade no. 2 in F major was a feature that sometimes gets lost in more ostentatious hands. By contrast, she pulled out an almost grand guignol attack for the Andante Spianato op. 22, yet pulled back with a guardedly hopeful understatement afterward. Amd the glittery tumbles of the Etude op. 25 no. 1 got the same kind of articulacy she’d given the Bach. By the time this was all over, pretty much everybody was out of breath.

February 23, 2020 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment