Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The AME’s Star Crossing – Film Noir for the Ears

You know the “ping” moment in a horror or suspense movie where suddenly everything that had been going smoothly suddenly hits a bump…and then it’s obvious that at some point, terror will set in? This is a whole album of those moments. The American Modern Ensemble’s new album Star Crossing: Music of Robert Paterson is a noir film for the ears: for fans of dark, suspenseful music, this is heaven. Paterson is a percussionist, so it’s no surprise that bells, crotales and other brightly ringing instruments are featured here along with flutes and clarinets, piano and cello working contrasts in the lower registers.

The opening mini-suite, Sextet, traces the trail of a criminal on the run – even in his dreams. As expected, it doesn’t end well. Through volleys of furtive footsteps, hallucinatory nightmare sequences, frozen moments of sheer terror and endlessly echoing, apprehensive flute cadenzas, the poor guy doesn’t have a prayer. The Thin Ice of Your Fragile Mind is hypnotic, warm and starlit, tantalizing bits of Romantic melody – and even a jaunty dance – interwoven with eerie bell tones. It’s something akin to the familiar comfort of a radio fading in and out in the midst of a wasteland. The title track is an offhandedly dazzling display of creepy, chilly Hitchcockian ambience, sepulchral woodwind flourishes and simple, seemingly random piano motifs against disembodied ringing tonalities. Although it’s meant to evoke an otherworldly, outer-space milieu, the tension is relentless. Embracing the Wind, an attempt to evoke various sonics created by air currents, has an uneasy, allusive Romanticism in the same vein as the second track here, but considerably creepier.

It’s only fitting that this album should include a requiem. Elegy for Two Bassoons and Piano is a homage to bassoonist Charles McCracken’s cellist father, drawing liberally from one of his favorite pieces, Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite. Like its ancestor, it has a murky poignancy, but it’s also unexpectedly lively. Skylights, an attempt to make airy music with dark-toned instruments, magnificently evokes noir dread througout its nine-plus minutes: somebody kill that light before somebody gets killed! Paterson plays marimba (using both mallet heads and handles simultaneously) on the final work, Quintus, a bubbly, polyrhythmic maze that eventually takes on a grim boogie-woogie tinge. The album as a whole features lively and acerbic playing by Sato Moughalian on flutes; Meighan Stoops on clarinets; Robin Zeh on violin; Robert Burkhart on cello; Matthew Ward on percussion; Blair McMillen, Elizabeth DiFelice and Stephen Gosling on piano; Danielle Farina on viola; Jacqueline Kerrod on harp, and Gilbert Dejean and Charles McCracken on bassoons. Count this among the half-dozen best releases of 2011 so far, in any style of music.

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July 11, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/11/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #568:

Sally Norvell – Choking Victim

Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic Tunefulness from Nick Hempton

File this one under melodic jazz composition – really, really good, interesting tunes and tasteful playing, classic late 50s/early 60s style. On saxophonist Nick Hempton’s new album The Business, the blues is always lurking somewhere, if not always centerstage, one reason why the hooks are so strong. Hempton goes for a clean, uncluttered tone and favors melody over ostentatious blowing. The first-class band on this session includes Art Hirahara on piano, Yotam Silberstein (who also appears on Jordan Young’s excellent new quartet album) on guitar, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums. Hempton has a thing for minor keys – his tunes often have a sardonic wit and a refreshing unpredictability, and the band rises to the occasion.

The first track is titled Flapjacks in Belo, samba-tinged with a long Hempton solo, Hirahara in late-night expansive mood, with a trick ending (something that will recur here, very enjoyably). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek Art Is in the Groove is a brisk retro swing tune seen through the prism of the early 70s, Hirahara delivering a period-perfect Joe Sample-ish solo on Rhodes, letting those reverb tones ring out for all they’re worth. One of only two covers here, Don Redman’s Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You gets going reaaaal slow, Hempton stays low and cool but then crescendos almost imperceptibly. The other, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s From Bechet, Byas and Fats is a real blast: it’s got a bass solo that’s almost a banjo tune, a lickety-split, sly Hirahara solo at doublespeed and a deliciously dark, bluesily climactic outro. It’s obviously a live showstopper for these guys.

Another real stunner here is the offhandedly moody Press One for Bupkis, Hirahara’s crescendo hitting the spot very satisfyingly, Hempton taking his time winding it out with suspenseful ambiguity. Likewise, the brooding jazz waltz The Wading Game has Panascia carrying its weight with an unexpected grace, Hirahara going out into the dark and coming back joyously, Hempton ratcheting up the intensity with a vividly bittersweet solo. The pensive ballad Encounter in E artfully works variations on a subtly modal bass theme up to a slinky bounce, Panascia’s matter-of-factly wary solo one of the album’s high points. With its casual sway, Cold Spring Fever is a showcase for both Silberstein’s rhythm playing (he goes into staggered ska for a bit underneath Hempton’s hazily acidic melody) as well as a nimble solo. The catchy, playful Not Here for a Haircut alternates between scurrying shuffle and straight-up swing – Hirahara once again can’t wait to get in on the fun and flip the script on the listener. The album ends on a jaunty note with the pretty self-explanatory Carry on up the Blues. Yet another winner from the Posi-Tone label, who are really on a roll this year.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment