Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Anne-Marie McDermott Plays Haydn, Wuorinen and Assad at Town Hall, NYC 5/31/09

Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott gets plenty of accolades for chops and versatility and this study in extreme contrasts validated pretty much anything good that’s been said about her. After the intermission at her recital Sunday evening at Town Hall, she told the audience that despite the different of two centuries and several generations of musical evolution, she found a great deal of similarity between Haydn and Wuorinen because their compositions are literally all over the place, an insight that is less obvious than it seems. She opened with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Hob XVI: 40, warm and predictably playful and then taking off with a presto section that McDermott milked for all the laughs she could get: it’s quite silly, and the crowd was warmly appreciative. Another sonata, the C Minor, Hob XVI: 20 was even more of an exercise in judicious dynamics and phrasing, McDermott turning what could have been mere wistfulness into real poignancy throughout its andante section.

Then she switched gears (or teleported to another dimension, you could easily say) with the world premiere of Charles Wuorinen’s Fourth Piano Sonata – if anyone in the house recorded it, please let us know! With what seemed a total absence of time signature and a call for complete reckless abandon (and even percussion on the body of the piano itself), it revealed itself as an angry, almost relentlessly railing piece that when it finally calmed down went straight to despair and then back to rage again. The herky-jerky first movement was deliberately dissonant and ugly, a feel only slightly obscured with vaguely Asian tinges on the second movement, going absolutely morose and nocturnal with the third, andante passage before reverting to insistent crashing and banging with Sabre Dance echoes that despite all McDernmott’s energy was anticlimactic compared to the powerful evocation of clinical depression of what had just preceded it.

After another dynamically superb take on another Haydn sonata (E flat Minor, HoB XVI: 52), she closed with the New York premiere of Clarice Assad’s When Art Showed Up. Art, whoever he may be, is a lot of fun but also a sort of crazymaker. The opening theme was warmly romantic without a single hint of the festivities to come, all kinds of vivid appositions across the registers and a coda straight out of Cuba, 1935. The crowd wouldn’t let McDermott go without an encore, so she indulged them with a showy, Flight of the Bumblebee-esque segment of another Haydn sonata.

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June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Couple Bars’ Worth of Sunday’s Bang on a Can Marathon

This year’s Bang on a Can Marathon promised to be one of the best ever, in terms of sheer talent if not ambience. Lately this sprawling festival has lacked the freewheeling, anarchic spirit of earlier years, but the performers on the bill just get better and better. The deck is typically stacked with the biggest name acts playing later, this year’s being a criminally good list of performers: Ars Nova Copenhagen playing one composer after another, pipa innovator Wu Man, Missy Mazzoli’s haunting ensemble Victoire, the astonishing string quartet Brooklyn Rider, Tortoise and of course the Bang on a Can All-Stars. But the afternoon’s acts were just as good. To those who might rail against the boomy acoustics and sterile ambience of the World Financial Center Winter Garden, it’s at least a lot easier to negotiate than some of the other spaces BOAC has used.

Cognoscenti who were there at the opening bell raved about Andy Akiho’s psychedelic piece, Alloy, played by the Foundry Steel Pan Ensemble. BOAC co-founder Michael Gordon’s Trance, played by the jazz orchestra SIGNAL, went on for almost an hour. Some said for too long, but to these ears the tension of the band in lockstep with a series of looped vocal fragments and drum machine served well to illustrate a struggle for freedom. They went up, then down, running the same phrase much as the loop they kept in step with, finally crescendoing as the loop faded and disappeared, the band adding a sense of triumph while maintaining the tense, metronomic feel of the first 45 minutes or so. It was very redemptive: man vs. machine, man finally winning out.

Guitar quartet DITHER, augmented by seven ringers on a mix of Fenders and Gibsons did one of Eric km Clark’s deprivation pieces, each guitarist given earplugs and headphones so as to deliberately throw off their timing (doesn’t work: we’re used to bad monitor mixes, being unable to hear a thing onstage, feeling for the drums and playing what’s in our fingers!). Echoes swirling around underneath the big skylight, the effect was akin to a church organ piece, maybe something especially weird from the Jehan Alain songbook with a lot of echo. It ended cold with a single guitarist tossing off a playfully tongue-in-cheek, random metal phrase.

The Todd Reynolds Quartet followed with Meredith Monk’s lone string quartet, Stringsongs, in four bracingly captivating sections. The first, Cliff Light was a hypnotically polyrhythmic, astringent dance, introducing a stillness at the end that carried over to the second part, Tendrils, austere and plaintive but growing warmer and prettier, brief phrases flowing in and out of the arrangement, often repeating. Part three, Obsidian was more dawn than darkness; Phantom Strings, the final segment was practically a live loop, its circular motifs growing more insistent and percussive, the group seizing every dynamic inch the score would allow them.

The daylight hours’ highlight was, of course, Bill Frisell. The preeminent jazz guitarist of our time turned in a characteristically thoughtful, deliberately paced, absolutely brilliantly constructed series of three solo pieces, the first one of his typical western themes spiced with harmonics and drenched in reverb, a welcoming, friendly, comfortable way to ease into what would quickly become more difficult terrain. The clouds came in quickly with his second instrumental, eerie and minimalistically noir. Finally, Frisell hit his distortion pedal and upped the ante, bending and twisting the notes, adding glissandos and hitting his loop pedal in places where he’d found one that would resonate beneath the methodically Gilmouresque menace. One of those loops made a sturdy underpinning for a brief segue into a bright, optimistic, latin-tinged theme that quickly morphed into a common 4-chord soul motif and it was then that Frisell pulled out a little shimmery vibrato to wind it up on a warmly optimistic note.

One of the maddening things about Bang on a Can is that somebody like Frisell will give you chills, and then the next act will leave you scowling and wondering why anyone on earth thinks they belong onstage. This time the culprits were Your Bad Self playing a trio of Ted Hearne compositions, the first a straight-up noir rock ballad in 6/8, the singer setting off a crazy, screaming crescendo on the second verse that lingered after they’d brought it down again. Too bad the best he could do was scream, because he was off-key and positively lame on the next two numbers, a fractured, frantic musette with a jazzy trumpet fanfare and a moodier tune. This is what happens when classically trained people who don’t know rock but think they do anyway try to incorporate it in their music. Or maybe they do, but they don’t know soul from affectation, at least when it comes to vocals. At least the band was good. After that, the UK’s Smith Quartet launched into a Kevin Volans piece with which they’re supposedly associated – too bad, because it didn’t leave a mark. Then it was time to go uptown. But all that was a small price to pay for a free set by Frisell, not to mention the early afternoon’s program.

Only one complaint: where were the kids? Most of the crowd was older than the performers. New music is for young people! Maybe because we don’t have money, we don’t get invited these days? For those missing out on the evening’s festivities, Feast of Music was there to provide some insight.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 5/30/09

In addition to being a great songwriter, Amy Allison is also one of the funniest performers around. Once she gets going it pretty much steamrolls from there, but this time out, playing solo for most of the show, she basically stuck to the set list without a lot of interplay with the crowd. Instead, it was a night of masterfully crafted, minute inflections that packed a wallop: she can say more with the careful twist of a phrase than most singers can in an album’s worth of songs. Most of the set was from her forthcoming, career-best cd Sheffield Streets (look for a review here toward the end of June when it comes out), including the title track. Allison lived in Sheffield, UK for a time when she was married, this particular number cataloguing some of the more amusing street names in the area: Spittle Hill and so forth. The song also sets up a joke, in that there are so many of them that they’re hard to remember. This time around (cheat sheet? – it was hard to see, there were so many people in the bar) she got through without a hitch.

Otherwise, it was a mix of styles: the rootsy, snidely cheery pop of Hate at First Sight; the gorgeously swaying country ballad Thank God for the Wine (what an appropriate song for the evening, from this perspective, anyway); an older tune, the catchy Everybody Ought to Know By Now, which she’d re-recorded for the new album as a duet with Dave Alvin, although she said wryly  that in retrospect, “It doesn’t work as a duet.”

 Toward the end of the set guitarist Rich Hinman of the Madison Square Gardeners, an occasional Allison sideman, came through the front door and immediately Allison did a doubletake. He’d been at one gig, he was about to play another, unbeknownst to the both of them, so he immediately plugged in his Telecaster, both she and the crowd immediately appreciative of his incisively thoughtful fills and a couple of brief solos. They ended with an audience request (Allison is always deluged with more than there’s time to play), her signature song, The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter, and with at least one member of her old band the Maudlins looking on, it was as fresh and funny as when she’d first debuted it some fifteen years ago. Watch this space for news of a cd release show somewhere.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 5/29/09

Sign of the times or what: even with the implosion of the major labels, with most of the indie labels a step behind them, it’s hard to believe that a band like the Disclaimers, with not one but two telegenic, charismatic frontwomen and as many great songs as they have, would not be famous. Friday night they ran through a characteristically tuneful, varied set of jangly rock and sultry soul, emphasis on the latter. Unveiling at least three new songs (they sometimes rearrange some of their older tunes), violinist/trombonist Naa Koshie Mills traded off her signature breathy yet nuanced vocals with Kate Thomason’s full-throttle wail. As usual, one of the set’s high points was a snarling, snide version of the propulsive janglerock anthem Tiptoe (an unreleased gem that ranked high on our Top 100 Songs of 2008 list), Dylan Keeler and Dan Sullivan’s guitars slamming their way through with casual, even offhand intensity. Thomason brought down the house as usual with that big summertime soul ballad she always does (it’s unreleased, and this band doesn’t often announce song titles). Mills also took a particularly gripping star turn on a slinky new one, and a duet with drummer Phil McDonald who in his own casual way is as good a singer as anyone else in this band. And you could tell because the sound mix, like it always is at this place, was so pristine. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/1/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. The Jazz Funeral – Goodnight (Is How I Say Goodbye)

Gentrification and greed as metaphor for the end of a relationship in this fiery janglerock masterpiece – the political as very personal. They’re at Ace of Clubs on 6/6 at 8.

 

2. Edison Woods – Praises & Scrutiny

The latest single from the forthcoming Wishbook Singles cd by the world’s best 6/8 band, lush and haunting as usual

 

3. Tessa Souter – You Don’t Have to Believe

Dark jazz siren with eerie Middle Eastern and flamenco tinges. She’s at 55 Bar at 6 on 6/12.  

 

4. Marni Rice – Priere

Noir accordionist/chanteuse. Haunting, with a string quartet. She’s at Small Beast at the Delancey on 6/25 around 10.

 

5. Black Sea Hotel – Dimjaninka

Haunting hypnotic Bulgarian folk tune arranged for four voices by Brooklyn’s own Bulgarian vocal choir. They’re at Union Pool at 9 on 6/4

 

6. Jo Williamson – Sheepish

Tuneful bittersweet and soulful, like Cat Power without the vocal pretensions.

 

7. Veveritse Brass Band – Samirov Cocek

Typically blistering Balkan madness. They’re at Union Pool on 6/4

 

8. Barbara Dennerlein with Emily RemlerStormy Monday

Scroll down to the middle of the page for this amazing clip from German tv, 1986. Dennerlein – maybe the greatest organist of our time – is her usual amazing self but it’s the late Emily Remler’s offhandedly savage yet obviously opiated solo that makes it.

 

9. Mattison – Yver

Beautiful electric piano triphop tune, Greta Gertler meets Bee & Flower. They’re at Duck Duck, 161 Montrose btw Graham & Humboldt at 5 PM on 6/7 for Bushwick open studios.

 

10. The Courtesy Tier – Set Things Right

Blistering, noisy bluespunk from this guitar/drums duo. They’re at the Rockwood on 6/4 and the Delancey on 6/6

June 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/2/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #421:

Steve Wynn – Invisible

The ultimate wee hours walk home song, bars all closed, sun coming up, and you’re feeling completely bulletproof:

 

I’m alone but I’m surrounded by predators and prey

They all turn to butter by the light of day

Nobody sees me as I spread their remains

On my toast in the morning

 

From the 1999 Pick of the Litter cd. By the way, Wynn and his band the Miracle 3 play the classic Dream Syndicate album The Medicine Show all the way through at the Bell House on 6/27 at 7:30 PM.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment