Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/21/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #831:

The Wallflowers’ first album

While this list is devoted to brilliant obscurities, we also aim to include albums that are underrated, and this is a classic case. Jakob Dylan has always been a magnet for haters, not only because he writes so much like his famous dad, but because of the perception that his dad got him the record deal along with everything that came before and after. But his dad didn’t call up and ask us to put this album on this list: it earned this spot on its own merits. Fact of the matter is that the kid is a chip off the old block, in the best possible way: and not only is he a way better singer, he’s actually a very soulful one. And a sharp, sardonic lyricist, and a first-rate tunesmith…just like his dad. This one dates from 1992, when Jakob refused to answer interview questions about the old man, and seemed especially determined to avoid the inevitable comparisons: the weight of the family legacy seems to have spurred him to take his game to the highest level. The radio hit (the one thing that money bought here, in this case major label payola) was Shy of the Moon, which was sleepy on the album but really rocked out live. There’s also the seductively catchy, sly Sugarfoot; the vintage Springsteen-ish Sidewalk Annie; the individualist anthem Be Your Own Girl; the lyrical folk-rocker Asleep at the Wheel; the brooding, intense Another One in the Dark; the snide, scathingly epic Hollywood (a repudiation of any past that might come back to haunt him, it seems) and the absolutely vicious, towering Somebody Else’s Money. Behind him, the band play smart, edgy, blues and Americana-flavored rock, anchored by Ramee Jaffee’s fluid Hammond organ and Tobi Miller’s incisive lead guitar. Although the Wallflowers would do other good songs (the classic Sixth Avenue Heartache) and good albums (the vastly underrated Breach and Red Letter Days), they’d never string as many good ones together as they did here. Here’s a random torrent.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chiara String Quartet Scheme for the Future

It’s hard to imagine a more ambitious advocate for new music than the Chiara String Quartet. They may have made a name for themselves playing Brahms and Beethoven – last time we caught them, they played a brilliantly insightful survey of Beethoven quartets from early to late – but they have their sights set on blazing trails for newer composers. They call their latest project Creator/Curator: the concept is to commission a work and have its composer pick the accompanying pieces on the program, debut it in a small venue and then move it to “more traditional classical venues” next season around. You can see the wheels turning: tonight le Poisson Rouge, tomorrow Lincoln Center. If Sunday night’s performance at LPR is any indication, they have their fingers on an important vein.

This particular program was chosen by Gabriela Lena Frank, an important and eclectic voice who, for what it’s worth, won a latin Grammy last year. The first piece on the bill was Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20, which the Quartet tackled with equal parts passion and rigor. Cellist Gregory Beaver propelled the fiery staccato of its “allegro violento e agitato” first movement with relish. Violinist Rebecca Fischer’s gentle, fluidly meticulous glissandos lit up its more ambient, delicate second movement. Artfully playing off the open notes in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E), the third movement was delivered with a steely suspense behind Beaver’s incisive pizzicato work and Jonah Sirota’s plaintive viola lines. They wound up the “allegramente rustico” final movement spiritedly with the flavor of a Nordic hardanger dance.

Chou Wen-chung, composer of the following work, Clouds, was present. But rather than establishing a nebulous atmosphere, these clouds take specific shapes. How they morph into other configurations is what makes the piece compelling, from the understated, Asian-inflected drama of the pizzicato opening and closing motifs, to its constantly shapeshifting series of rondo-lets, simple and memorable circular themes bouncing off each other nimbly and playfully to a surprisingly intense, brooding conclusion.

Sirota explained that Frank’s eight-part suite, Milagritos (making its New York premiere) was an exposition of mestizaje, a recurrent theme which for her means celebrating an individual identity drawing from diverse sources – which makes perfect sense in light of her Peruvian-Jewish heritage. Her program notes explained the pieces as illustrations of Peruvian cultural iconography that might seem mundane to others but to her, they’re small miracles. Shrines to accident victims along serpentine mountain roads were portrayed by Julie Yoon’s surprisingly blithe violin against fluttery disquiet, while a stroll alongside Lake Titicaca became a delightfully macabre Bernard Herrmann-esque stalker tableau. Eerie cello cadenzas punctuated stillness in a depiction of pre-Inca panpipe ceremonies; likewise, the jungles were portrayed as impenetrable but with considerable activity lurking just out of range. The suite concluded on a richly haunting, practically stygian note, another roadside shrine scene, Fischer’s long, surgically precise solo passage a vivid contrast with the murky tritone ending. The standing-room-only crowd roared their approval boisterously: if this bill is any indication, the Chiaras’ upcoming concerts in this series will be a treat for the lucky crowds who catch them the first time around in cozy, comfortable confines like these.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crista Miller Excels at the Modern and the Pre-Baroque at St. Thomas

In the first year of this site, when we were first trying to carve out a space for ourselves, weighing whether or not running a New York blog dedicated to meaningful music would be worth the effort, we set an agenda. Our initial focus was on events and scenes that were underappreciated or underrated. One of them continues to be the free, 5:15 PM Sunday evening concerts at St. Thomas Church at 53rd St. and 5th Ave. We spent a lot of time there that fall because the performances were a guaranteed source of good copy (this was before the PR world discovered us and the deluge of press releases and concert invites followed). Three years later, that series remains as vital as ever: we are remiss in not attending this fall until this past Sunday, when Crista Miller, organist at Houston’s Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, dazzled the crowd with a mix of pre-baroque and modern material.

Like so many of the performers at this series, Miller is a genuine star on the organ circuit, a rare American invited to play the Odense competition (they take their organ music even more seriously in Denmark than we do here – Buxtehude, anybody?) and a leading advocate of Franco-Lebanese composer Naji Hakim (with whom she studied, and who seems to be a mentor). She played his well-known Te Deum last, opening fanfare blazing from the trumpet stops in the church ceiling, its swirling, physically taxing low pedal riffage giving way to marvelously articulated ripples versus sustained ambience and a big blustery conclusion that was every bit the showstopper it was designed to be.

That was on the front organ, the old hybrid Aeolian-Skinner monster that according to the church fathers is difficult to play and beyond the point of restoration (although it didn’t sound like that). Miller also got the the church’s more recent organ, located over the entryway to the sanctuary, to sing with a surprising gusto. She literally pulled out all the stops for Nicholas Bruhns’ seventeenth-century Praeludium in E Minor, a strikingly complex, modern-sounding piece for its time, meticulously precise staccato righthand passages shifting to powerful chordal swells. Sweelinck’s organ version of the old Dutch folk song Under the Linden Tree, a series of increasingly difficult permutations on a very simple, catchy hook, took on the feel of a dizzying round. After a matter-of-fact sprint through the endless eight-note runs of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major (BWV 532), she gave Georg Bohm’s version of the Vater Unser im Himmelreich theme a marvelously nocturnal feel, using the low flute stops. It was as much a display of imagination as visceral power. The series here continues through the end of May of next year, with breaks for holidays.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/20/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #832:

Little Milton – Grits Ain’t Groceries

Milton Campbell’s 1969 second album, a mix of live and studio tracks, perfectly capsulizes the point where the blues had evolved to include elements of 60s soul and funk. Little Milton’s growling, charismatic presence here owes more to singers like B.B. King, but the songs sprawl out with long vamps and intros like Lou Rawls and his contemporaries were doing in the mid-60s. Little Milton was always better known as a frontman than a guitarist, but here he reminds how underrated he was, with a bite and a precision similar to Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, or what Buddy Guy was doing early in his career. They open it slowly with Let Me Down Easy and follow that with the blustery, iconic title track: “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.” Subsequent controversies over who Mona Lisa really was only enhance the drama. There’s also a fervently stretched-out cover of B.B.’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, the sultry blues ballad That’s What Love Will Make You Do and the haunting, epic Blind Man and Walking the Streets and Crying that ends the album. Although he never quite hit this hard again, pretty much everything Little Milton ever recorded is worth owning, even the crooner albums from his Malaco Records period later in his career. After a life on the road, vital to the end, Little Milton died suddenly of a stroke in 2005. Here’s a random torrent.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment