Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Adrenaline for the Soul: The Greenwich Village Orchestra in Concert 11/18/07

It’s hard to believe that this world-class orchestra has somehow managed to fly so far below the radar. For a $15 donation, classical music fans can see reliably good, frequently exhilarating performances of both popular and obscure works, discover new composers and watch some of the best up-and-coming talent at the top of their game. Shows as good as this afternoon’s spiritually-themed program by the Greenwich Village Orchestra usually cost a hundred dollars or more at the Midtown concert halls. Plainly and simply, there is no better music value in New York.

While the afternoon’s theme (this orchestra LOVES theme programs) was spirituality, it would have been better put as a celebration of everything that makes life worth living, a frequently riveting, exuberant, passionate performance. They began slowly with two orchestral arrangements of Bruckner motets, the first a pretty generic, post-baroque melody, the second slightly more interesting but ultimately nothing more than a standard pre-Romantic Northern European piece, nothing Mendelssohn didn’t do a hundred times better.

But they brought out every bit of drama in the next piece, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Overture. It’s a celebration of the Resurrection, opening all quiet and suspenseful but building quickly to a fiery, galloping, gypsyish folk dance in three movements. On the podium, Barbara Yahr spurred the orchestra to play with wild abandon, and they delivered.

In keeping with the spiritual theme, three representatives of New York spiritual communities each delivered a short introduction to a particular piece of music. Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah impressed the most by quoting influential civil rights crusader Rabbi Abraham Heschel on how prayer is by definition transgressive, that one’s spiritual life necessarily works against the status quo in seeking higher ground. It was an apt way to kick off Max Bruch’s heart-tugging Kol Nidrei, based on the prayer invoked the night before the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur. Guest soloist Eric Jacobsen played his part on the cello from memory with an intensity that made it look as if he was about to break strings. He’s a rising star, and for good reason, with a seemingly effortless vibrato and a sense of dynamics that doesn’t stop at fortissimo. His blazing interpretation burned away any trace of sentimentality that could have insinuated itself into this highly emotional composition.

The following work was a world premiere, young Hong Kong-born Angel Lam’s Her Thousand Year Dance. If this piece is typical of her other material, it instantly establishes her as a first-rate composer, blending the windswept, pastoral beauty of traditional Chinese classical music with western tonalities. Beginning abruptly with a few bursts from special guest Kojiro Umezaki’s shakuhachi (an oversize Japanese wood flute), it rose to an ethereal, atmospheric yet rhythmically difficult altitude and pretty much stayed there for the duration, aside from a couple of breaks with light percussion. That the afternoon’s final piece, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, would be anticlimactic speaks volumes about what preceded it. Yahr led the ensemble through a highly idiosyncratic yet extremely successful reading. Although there are no breaks written in the music, Strauss wrote this ultimately triumphant chronicle of struggle and redemption in four distinct parts. While the piece is frequently played with an emphasis on overall ambience, Yahr spelled out the dynamics in capital letters, putting teeth in both the ebbs and swells, an unexpected thrill ride to close what had to be the most exciting classical bill anywhere in town this week.

The media typically holds classical musicians to a higher standard than rock or jazz players (which is grossly unfair: everybody, even the greatest virtuosos, make mistakes). If there were any technical flaws in this afternoon’s performance, it would be the sluggishness of the horns early on in the Bruckner and some general weirdness (tuning issues?) in the violins early during the Lam. Otherwise, Yahr steered this careening unit directly into high winds and stormy seas and then brought everyone back into port unscathed, the crowd (on the docks, if you want to bring the metaphor full circle) all on their feet, roaring their approval. The GVO’s next concert is December 16, billed as a kid-friendly show featuring Saint-Saens’ witty, interesting, multi-part Carnival of the Animals (which gets pegged as a children’s piece even though it’s quite sophisticated), along with pieces by Mozart and Mendelssohn.The GVO’s best deal is their series subscription, especially considering what lies in store: in addition to the December 16, the remainder of the season features works by Shostakovich, Bach, Brahms and others. The concerts continue to be held at Washington Irving High School auditorium as they’ve been for several years, considering the room’s excellent sonics (it seems to date from the 19th century and at one time even housed a concert organ, whose pipes still stand to the left and right of the stage).

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November 19, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Demolition String Band CD Release Show at Rodeo Bar, NYC 11/16/07

If you want to buy something substantial, say, a car or a guitar, you want to take it for a spin. You want to hear what it sounds like. Likewise, it makes no sense to buy a cd sight unseen: no matter who’s putting it out, you need to know if it’s worth it. One surefire way is to hear the songs live: anybody can fix mistakes in the studio, overdub guitars or vocals til the cows come home, but how do the songs stand up without any added embellishments? If this show is any indication, Demolition String Band’s new one Different Kinds of Love completely and totally kicks ass.

X would be the closest comparison for this band. Although Demolition String Band aren’t punk by any stretch, they share the legendary LA band’s love for both American roots music and sheer guitar volume. In an age where rock has actually taken over country radio, this album is particularly well-timed. Tonight they mixed up a bunch of catchy, twangy country tunes with a couple of blazing straight-up rock songs and some dazzlingly played bluegrass.

They opened on the rock tip with Hurt So Bad, featuring a Stonesy Keith Richards-esque intro from Telecaster master Boo Reiners and followed that with the best song of the night. Written by frontwoman Elena Skye – who’s been on something of a tear lately coming up with new material – it rocked all the way through its ominous minor-key intro until they reprised it at the end. Then they invited their friend Rina (Did we spell it right?) to sub the backing vocal part that Mary from Southern Culture on the Skids did on the recorded version of the pretty, traditional country tune I Wanna Wear White.

The band blazed through their reliably crowd-pleasing cover of Madonna’s Like a Prayer – “See, Madonna can write a great country song, she just doesn’t know it,” Skye told the audience – and then returned to their originals with a fast, backbeat-driven song inspired by Skye’s daughter, and then the twangy, midtempo Baby Won’t You Come Home on which Skye switched to mandolin. Reiners took over lead vocals on another relatively new Skye song, the fast, electric bluegrass number Thinking About Drinking, then thry brought it down again with a slow ballad on which Reiners played his heart out with a long solo.

Their cover of the Ola Belle Reed classic Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow rocked hard, crescendoing with a bluesy 70s rock guitar solo. On the tune after that, Reiners left his wah-wah pedal (or was it a flange?) wide open during another long solo, letting his tone phase in and out and the way he made the melody work with it was as impressive as it was amusing. After a fast bluegrass instrumental followed by their excellent new song Drinking Whiskey (a tribute to bootleggers, it seems, carefully explaining how “you got your selling, and your drinking whiskey”) they closed their long, exuberant first set with the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies. As if to check to see how hard the crowd was listening, Reiners threw in several sly Beatles quotes, then they sped it up almost doublespeed, finally wrapping it up as he played the big hook from Hendrix’ Little Wing. Party music doesn’t get much more clever or entertaining than this. Lookout Nashville, here they come. CDs are currently available online for pre-order or at shows (Demolition String Band usually play Rodeo Bar at least once a month when they’re not on the road playing with SCOTS or some other good country touring band).

November 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Erin Regan and Randi Russo at Sidewalk, NYC 11/17/07

As if we need more proof of how New York has gone to hell, a girl playing onstage early here tonight did a pro-gentrification song. It used to go without saying that at least you could count on the music community here to stand up against the destruction of working-class and minority neighborhoods. Not anymore. Maybe the girl likes having a Starbucks on every corner, or she can’t wait to push that Humvee stroller straight down the middle of the sidewalk, scattering less fortunate people left and right. Or maybe her song was a thank-you card to mom for buying her that $3 million condo in Park Slope.

As inauspiciously as the night began, Erin Regan turned everything around in a matter of seconds. If you saw Ghost World and instantly wanted the Thora Burch character for your best friend, Regan is for you. She doesn’t do the movie’s almost over-the-top personification of clinical depression – she actually smiled and joked a little with the audience. But her songs would do Enid proud. Regan’s vocal delivery is deadpan and sullen, with an icy dismissiveness. Whatever wounds she’s sustained still seem fresh (probably a simple case of having grown up as a cool kid surrounded by morons – it’s a common injury, but it can take years before it’s safe to look back and just laugh). Her stage persona may say stay the hell away from me, but her bleak, outsider chronicles are welcoming and inclusive, and will resonate hard with any other cool kids who’ve been liberated (or long to be liberated) from a stifling environment. She made a great segue with Randi Russo. Her best number was a snide, bitter look back at a wasted youth spent bumming cigarettes from older kids and stealing things: if only things were simple then, she mused sarcastically. But they’re not. It might have been just Regan and her acoustic guitar onstage tonight, but she packed a wallop. Add her to your must-see list.

Russo and her band are too loud and too popular for a room this size. Credit Somer the soundwoman for keeping their sonic onslaught at a listenable level. Since returning from her solo European tour this past summer, she’s been working the band out a lot more than she was earlier this year and they’ve benefited from it, two blazing electric guitars (Russo being one of them) and a pummeling rhythm section who have really pulled it together. Nobody writes a more potent outsider anthem than Russo, and tonight she and her supporting cast played a bunch of them. After opening with the stomping, Velvets-esque One Track Mind (“Stay true to the one,” she admonished the audience: don’t sell out, don’t let the bastards wear you down), she led the band through the pretty, backbeat-driven escape ballad Get Me Over, the fiery, slightly funky workday alienation number Battle on the Periphery, the towering, sarcastic epic Wonderland (which has become something of a signature song for her) and the stomping That Corpse, which sounds completely macabre until you listen closely and then it’s obvious that it’s a joke, like something the Cramps would do. The high point of the set was new one, a 3-section partita that begins with a relentless, driving drum and bassline, eventually morphing into a blistering, guitar-fueled outro where the bass eventually picks up on a recurrent Middle Eastern riff. “Keep your head high while you lie low,” Russo intoned over the maelstrom. They closed with the uncharacteristically sunny, optimistic, ambient Ceiling Fire, with lead guitarist Lenny Molotov playing gorgeous, Byrds-like jangle melody on the choruses. The sound woman then took over the stage, playing solo through a big amp. From what we could tell, she had good energy, but the place was clearing out and we had places to go and things to do.

November 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments