Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/20/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #801:

Maldita Vecindad – El Circo

Mexican band Maldita Vecindad (translated roughly as “Bad Neighborhood”) made their debut with a pleasantly skittish funk cd which foreshadowed absolutely nothing of this powerful, eerie, Middle Eastern-tinged 1991 album. Widely considered one of the great moments in rock en Espanol, it’s been an influence on innumerable psychedelic rock, skaragga and metal cumbia bands south of the border. Phantasmagorical and carnivalesque, it’s a trippy, sometimes snide romp through a diverse collection of styles, from the swaying hit Pachuco to the swinging, horn-driven Un Poco de Sangre, foreshadowing their late 90s future as a ska-punk band. There’s also the hypnotically Moroccan-tinged Solin, the slinky nocturne Kumbala (another big hit), the brisk punk norteno dance Pata de Perro and the artsy ballad Querida to end it on a surprisingly balmy note. Everything this band did – especially their mid-90s eps – is worth owning, and you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate it. Here’s a random torrent.

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November 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT Live 11/19/10

We’re liveblogging from New York’s Symphony Space tonight. Latest updates at the bottom of the page.

In a minute or two, what looks like a roughly fifteen-piece ensemble of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert will open this fall’s first concert of their new music series CONTACT that began so auspiciously last year. First piece on the bill is a world premiere by the NY Phil’s composer-in-residence, Magnus Lindberg titled Souvenir (In Memoriam Gerard Grisey). They’ll follow that with Grisey’s final work, the suite Quatre Chants Pour Franchir le Seuil, featuring soprano Barbara Hannigan. 

Lindberg studied with Grisey, so there’s a personal connection here dating from 1981 until Grisey’s death unexpectedly in 1998.

For those of you on twitter, you can tweet to @nyphilcontact. 

This concert being recorded and will air on Q2 on 11/24 and 11/27 at 8 PM EST and then on 11/30 at 4 PM EST.

Grisey was one of the titans of serial music – airy, atmospheric, horizontal stuff that makes frequent (in this guy’s case, constant) use of microtones. John Schaefer’s emceeing a brief pre-concert conversation with Gilbert and Lindberg. The term “otherworldly” arose early, and that ought to be one way of describing what’s going to happen. Off we go…

Drama right off the bat – a muted crash on the gong, and another – it’s a funeral march, wandering and weaving. The occasional low register accents from the piano anchor the cello and now the bassoon – it’s more melodic, and Romantically tinged, and just plain interesting than one might assume a Grisey homage might be…dark, stately drama, a flourish of the vibraphone, a stormy rise up the scale, the hint of a fanfare – Gilbert is like a kid in a candy store up there but judicious about it…

Piano and cello bustle…staccato violin, and was that just a Sacre de Printemps quote?! Wary woodwind trills…a pause…a somewhat cinematic string-led crescendo…what an interesting person Grisey must have been…

The winds take over, a brass flourish, drums cap the swell, vibes take it down and more mysterious…reminds of a Bill Evans score, and a good one. Drive it home, low brass! Nope. First movement ends quietly and unresolved – as if there would be a resolution…

Second movement – a mournful horn call, the ensemble rises warily – it’s austerity versus bubbles with the harp and the vibes…big swell, vibes kick in with a bang at the top, down a bit – is anybody else hearing Stravinsky here? Moonlight piano breezes, cold ones – colder, beautifully twinkling…a bass drum pulse grows beneath rising uneasy atmospherics, a shift and a downshift…and now the funeral procession has come together. Maybe it’s just running up here in the cold with just a suit jacket on, but this really captures an atmosphere. And the strings rustle, everybody knows what time it is, nobody wants to go to the grave, everybody just wants to start drinking…but that won’t happen. This is magnificent.

The low brass weigh in lugubriously, the strings and those vibes again, they’re all nerves, searching for a frivolous note to hold reality at bay…but the tritone won’t let them. Nice. Still and sad out.

Fluttering and dark and chillly intro to the third movement. And more percussive drama – why did this have to happen? Shostakovian swell, a mini-rondo with the vibes and the strings and a gentle little Gallic dance – remember the Debussy string quartet? – a little like that…descending into the depths with whacks of the woodblock, down we go…such an autumnal ambience…and a big practically joyous swell as if to say “thanks for the memories.” Unexpected. The crowd are on their feet…check back with us in about fifteen minutes for the Grisey.

A very nice couple in the back here were distracted by all this typing during the performance. They had every right to be hostile, but they were diplomatic. Same thing happened while liveblogging here last time. The most obvious solution would be to do this oldschool style: record it and listen back, or take some notes and then work up a review from there afterward. Grisey’s music isn’t exactly thunderous. But since we’re halfway through – and we promised you the whole show – we’ll finish it this time.

Grisey’s songs are titled The Death of the Angel, The Death of Civilization, The Death of the Voice and The Death of Humanity. Upbeat and cheery – not. The ensemble for this is slightly smaller – no piano, but twin harps. More pre-performance chatter with John Schaefer – Lindberg credits Grisey as the most philosophical composer of his era. “You have to submerge yourself in this piece,” explains Gilbert, equating it to the drama in watching drops of water. Stephen Jay Gould’s description of evolution as “punctuated equilibrium,” catastrophism rather than a slow, steady rate of change as an analogy – stillness punctuated by drama (hmmm…that’s Wagner, isn’t it?).

Pianissimo white noise into muffled , terse, atonal descending progressions; Barbara Hannigan interjects a couple moments of staccato operatic angst…hearing this live for the first time, it’s surprisingly tight, much more of an ensemble piece than the way others have interpreted it…translation from the French: “Like an angel, I owe it to myself to die.” Offcenter vibraphone tones provide a ghostly gamelan tinge…and speaking of a gamelan, there goes the big bass gong…airy stillness over distantly boomy percussion…would “Ballardian soundscape” be completely over-the-top?

All these low yodel-like melismas into dramatic octave-plus jumps for Hannigan are incredibly tough and she’s absolutely nailing them…and a low rumble out. The Black Angel’s Death Song?

No, that might be La Mort de la Civilisation, though: brooding quiet chromatics and a narration taken from Egyptian mummy cases: “destroyed…almost completely destroyed…” etc. Profound stillness beneath plaintive vocals, marvelously done. They get this music. Big vocal leaps against slightly sharp tones (i.e. sharp versus flat)…it could have ended pretty much anywhere, which is where it did.

Now the voice succumbs…oh no it doesn’t. Scary scrapy violin, the rumble of the gong and bass clarinet and is that a contrabassoon – more of a study in contrasts than anything up to this point. When there’s so much stillness, the temptation is to seize on the dramatic moments, few and far between as they are here – but they’re building this, and it’s not looking optimistic…

So let’s kill off all of humanity now. Ominous low swells into a fluttery helicoptering of a snare drum, or two, mechanically acoustic Alan Parsons ambience…this is based on the Epic of Gilgamesh – footsteps, and a rise, and Hannigan sends a shudder down everybody’s spine with a couple of hair-raising out-of-the-blue wails…angst against the dying of the light…what a chilling set of compositions to go out with! Grisey died shortly after completing these, maybe he sensed his time was short…pianississimo, a last glimmer of life in the distance…pregnant pause…decaying overtonal overture…airy and bell-like, a soft-focus apocalypse…they march it with surprising lack of rage as it winds out…

The reaction is slow – now the trance is over, the stunned crowd reacts. Time for a drink now!!

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Uncategorizably Fun Triplebill at Littlefield

Sunday night concerts are a bitch. The trains are still messed up from the weekend and most everybody who’s not unemployed yet is dreading the work week ahead. But clubs still book shows, antipating a handful of the brave souls who aren’t daunted the prospect of Monday’s exhaustion along with a probably larger crowd who don’t have that problem because their parents’ or their parents’ parents’ money has assured that they never will. From the looks of it, this triplebill drew the braver contingent.

With trombone, trumpet, bass clarinet and vocals, quartet Loadbang loosened up the crowd with a series of jokey little Nick Didkovsky pieces with a skronky free jazz flavor, a couple of improvisations and then a genuinely disconcerting, strung-out version of David Lang’s arrangment of I’m Waiting for My Man, their singer’s anxious vocals channeling the dread of a dope jones far more vividly than Lou Reed ever did.

Loud third-stream rock unit Kayo Dot followed, intelligently aggressive. With violin, alto and tenor sax, keys, bass or guitar (or with the enhancement of a pedal or two and a few tuning modifications, sometimes both) and drums, they shifted tempos and dynamics incessantly. Bandleader Toby Driver’s compositions changed shape dramatically from pounding, inexorably crescendoing passages, to still violin atmospherics. Textures shifted just as much as the dynamics, intricately woven lines passed from one instrument to another. One tricky, fusionesque groove coalesced and morphed into a festive if astringent dance with an Ethiopian feel. Until a plaintively swaying, rather majestic art-rock guitar song with an obvious Radiohead influence emerged, they’d avoided any kind of rock-oriented sense of resolution or hint of where a central tonality might be lurking. So when that moment arrived, it was on the heels of over a half hour of tension and it was a welcome respite. Their last piece seemed at first to be a series of dramatic endings, which went on past the point of overkill to where it started to make sense as a Groundhog Day of sorts, an endless series of calamities ending in some kind of blunt trauma. The crowd wanted more, but after that, there wasn’t anywhere higher the band could have gone.

Newspeak were celebrating the release of their potent new album Sweet Light Crude, an equally diverse mix of politically-charged music by an A-list of rising composers. Early on, they followed the album sequence. On the cd, the opening cut, B&E (with Aggravated Assault), by Oscar Bettison takes on a blustery, Mingus-esque tone; here, it swung mightily, stampeding percussively to the end in a cloud of dust. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To contrasted plaintively, a subtle tribute to civil disobedience, cello and violin mingling with singer Mellissa Hughes’ vocalese. The title track, a cautionary tale about the perils of addiction (in this case to oil), emphasized volume and texture rather than the tongue-in-cheek disco pulse of the recorded version, amped to the point of crunchy rockness. Likewise, they took Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This to a swirl of intricately inseparable counterthemes that grew from wounded and damaged to a dizzying series of crazed crescendos. The angst went up another level on Caleb Burhans’ requiem for the padlocked GM plant in his depressed hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, a sort of harder-rocking Twin Peaks theme driven by guitarist Taylor Levine’s twangy, ominous, reverb-toned southwestern gothic lines. Then they threw all caution aside, with a savagely punked-out cover of Taking Back Sunday’s If You See Something Say Something – a raised middle finger at gentrifier paranoia – and then a full-length, pretty much note-for-note cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, Burhans’ violin delivering all Tony Iommi’s showiest fills with lightning precision as Hughes alternated between a sneer and a smirk. It was better than the original and probably more in touch with its molten-metal antiwar core.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/19/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Today’s album is #802:

Phil Kline – Unsilent Night

You’re on this album. That’s right. You’re part of it. Arguably the first interactive album ever made, avant garde composer Kline’s eerie, gamelanesque 1992 electronic “boombox symphony” began as a protest of the first Gulf War and grew into an annual event that millions have participated in over the years. If you haven’t, now’s your chance. Go to http://www.unsilentnight.com. There you can find out where and where the event is happening in your part of the world. Every year during the holiday season, there are processions of people carring boomboxes, laptops, ipod decks and amplified walkmans, all blasting Unsilent Night in semi-unison to show their support for world peace. The longer the procession, the greater the doppler effect, and the cooler it sounds. For maximum eeriness, if you have the technology, record this onto a cassette instead of burning a cd: if your boombox has a cassette player, it’s probably pretty old, and if the motor flutters, so much the better. You may only hear this album once, but you’ll always have happy memories of it. This year’s New York area Unsilent Night procession takes place on December 18, leaving at 7 PM from the arch at Washington Square Park and marching to Tompkins Square Park. Arrival by about 6:40 PM is advised. Here’s a random torrent.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment