Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Karine Poghosyan at the Piano at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 4/11/09

The barge, tethered at the old Brooklyn Heights Fulton Ferry landing had pretty much stopped swaying by the time Karine Poghosyan settled in at the keys: for awhile, it looked like it was going to be a rocky ride. Instead, it was as if the waves parted and gave the Armenian-American virtuoso clear passage through a brutally challenging, frequently exhilarating performance. She warmed up with Haydn’s warmly consonant Piano Sonata No. 38 in F Major, Hob XVI: 23 and then tackled Chopin’s Four Mazurkas, Op. 67, beginning with a remarkably understated take on the famous first one in G. Other pianists schmaltz this up: she didn’t. The haunting G Minor Mazurka – as well as the more upbeat, gypsy-inflected C Minor and A Minor Mazurkas – were extraordinary, Poghosyan pushing to the absolute limits of rubato, bringing out every microtone of longing and drama.

 

Then she launched into Liszt’s knotty, spectacular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C Sharp Minor, the first of two show-stoppers. She took its hammering staccato chords, spectacular lefthand leaps from the lowest to highest registers and scurrying sixteenth-note runs down the scale in the right and while she didn’t make them look effortless, she had such command that she was able to pull out all the stops and blast her way through them without ever losing her footing. That she was able to shift gears after that, with a poignant, impeccably sensitive rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Elegie in E Flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1 was perhaps just as impressive. Then she ratcheted the intensity up to redline again and stayed there for the entirety of Stravinsky’s 1921 piano arrangement of three movements from Petrouchka: the gypsyish Danse Russse, evoking the Chopin earlier in the program; an utterly macabre, resoundingly successful romp through Chez Petrouchka and ending with La Semaine Grasse, a revelation, vastly more powerful than the ballet’s original orchestral score. Anyone with the desire to get to the root of the composer’s paradigm-shifting, deathly tonalities would do well to discover this version.  

 

Poghosyan’s next recital is a trio performance on April 17 at 7 PM with Bela Horvath, violin and John Popham, cello at the Yamaha Piano Salon, 689 Fifth Avenue (at 54th Street), followed by a solo show on April 27 at 7 PM at Steinway Hall, 109 West 57th Street featuring works by Mozart, Chopin, De Falla, Sirota, and Stravinsky.

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April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Gregg August Large Ensemble at the Jazz Gallery, NYC 4/10/09

This year the Jazz Gallery has been commissioning big band projects. More musicians should do what bassist/composer Gregg August (whose powerfully melodic contributions appear on the latest JD Allen Trio cd, reviewed here recently) did with his. Leading a ten-piece all-star ensemble on Friday night, August proved every bit as potent a composer as an instrumentalist, playing a thematic series of pieces inspired by and frequently including poems that explore race relations. Interpreting the texts both literally and thematically, August’s richly melodic, aptly relevant compositions created a program that screams out to be recorded.

 

August’s arrangements maximized the ensemble’s diverse talents: Jaleel Shaw’s ecstatically fiery alto sax flights, Sam Newsome’s rapidfire fluidity on soprano, JD Allen’s darkly direct terseness on tenor and pianist Luis Perdomo’s vividly bittersweet, concise chordal work along with his own straightforwardly melodic, sometimes latin-inflected lines, many of them echoing horn voicings. Drummer Donald Edwards’ strategy shaded toward darkness with innumerable well-placed cymbal accents and flourishes. The night opened on an auspicious note with an interpretation of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Shaw building his final solo to screaming, gritty overtones illustrating the exasperation of confinement over the rhythm section’s staggered beat. Sweet Words, based on a sacastic Langston Hughes poem about (what else) bigotry proved to be a pretty straightforward, tuneful ensemble piece highlighted by a relentlessly intense, expansive Perdomo solo.

 

A New Orleans tableau, Sky, based on poet Richard Katrovas’s encounter with a possibly homeless young black man painted a stark picture of a balmy morning tinged with misunderstanding and regret, Allen’s lyrical tenor opening against pensively crescendoing piano and bowed bass, the group pulsing through a funereal arrangement colored by rubato drums. Perhaps the high point of the night was Your Only Child, a literal illustration of Marilyn Nelson’s poem A Wreath for Emmett Till, a recording of Till’s mother describing her murdered son’s mutilated body playing over the ominous atmosphere of the intro, singer Miles Griffith echoing the song’s theme and ending with a fervent evocation of sobbing agony.

 

The second set maintained the captivating intensity of the first, opening with the slinky, insistent I Rise (a musical translation of the famous Maya Angelou poem) highlighted by a joyous solo from Shaw followed by a characteristically thoughtful, matter-of-fact one from Allen. The lushly orchestrated, Mingus-inflected I Sang in the Sun (from the Carolyn Kizer poem) brought back the vocals, lowlit by some marvelously succinct shading by Thomas. A Cornelius Eady poem about an encounter with a racist in an ice cream parlor provided a solid platform for a slyly bluesy trombone solo and some funky work by August. The night wound up with Letter to America (on a Francisco Alarcon poem), impassioned vocals echoed by John Bailey’s blazing, bluesy trumpet and yet another uncompromisingly confrontational solo by Allen building to a casually intense coda. In a year of some extraordinary live jazz, a packed house got to witness what has to be one of the highlights of the year so far.

 

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club – Adventures

Rigorously cerebral yet imbued with a clever, carefree humor, this is an album that adventurous jazz fans will find as entertaining as it is cutting-edge. Recorded in 2007, it’s been out for awhile but since it just came over the transom here (thanks guys!) it made sense to give it a spin and, voila, it struck a nerve. Like his mentor Roswell Rudd, saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase pushes the envelope. The septet’s main shtick is that they have two drummers, Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis (whose mightily intelligent, straightforward playing anchors Gypsy Schaeffer’s excellent new cd, just reviewed here). Here, drums as often as not serve as a tonal rather than a rhythmic instrument, rhythm being passed around between Kohlhase’s and Matt Langley’s saxes, Jeff Galindo’s trombone, Eric Hofbauer’s guitar or to Jef Charland’s tastefully tuneful, understated bass. This is a concept album of sorts, playfully riffing on several comic book superhero themes. Superhero Beatdown starts out with starkly strummed guitar and multiple horn conversations, building up to the point where total bedlam ensues: the hero in question no doubt ends up in the emergency room. Then there’s Utensor, out to save the world with ovesize kitchen implements, moving from a satirical opening to a dialogue between logical bass and peeved tenor, the rest of the band eventually joining the argument as the drums rumble ominously underneath: could that be someone doing the dishes?

 

The Alarm Clock Is My Only Kryptonite will resonate wryly with anyone dreading the dawn of a workday, the pain of waking up vividly illustrated in five alternately tortuous and amusing minutes, trombone taking a completely ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny muted solo over the band’s woozy atmospherics. The amusingly titled Thryllkyll on the Schuyllkyll kicks off with a faux detective theme, baritone sax climbing to a repetitive, Coltrane-esque riff eventually passed to the guitar while the band encircles it ever more tightly. There are also a couple of John Tchicai compositions written specifically for a two-drummer ensemble, the first a diverse exercise in call-and-response dialogues, the second featuring some mighty, somewhat martial ensemble work from the two drummers. The two most accessible cuts here are a tongue-in-cheek stab at a ballad by Charland and the strikingly straightforward James Brown homage that winds up the album. If you’re interested in where jazz is going, or where it’s going to be in ten years, this is for you, as well as for more mainstream listeners looking to broaden their sonic horizons. Don’t let the phrase “post-bop” scare you away – this stuff is fun. All the players here maintain active live schedules, watch this space for New York dates.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #472:

Otis Rush – All Your Love

Arguably the greatest Chicago blues guitarist, Rush is lefthanded. Perhaps partly for that reason, like Hendrix, Albert King and Randi Russo, his playing has a distinctively dark feel. In Rush’s case, it’s a combination of screaming, tortured bent chords and ominous passing tones that mingle in his flights up and down the scale, giving his sound a special eeriness. If you’re a blues fan, you know this one, scary intro and outro making a somewhat jarring segue with the upbeat boogie in the middle. Mp3s are everywhere. Like all the best blues guys, Rush is at his best live: the 1975 Live in Japan version is choice, but there are other equally good versions (Chicago Blues, NYC, 2001, for example) floating around in bootleg-land. The link above is a characteristically expansive live take.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment