The SONIC Festival, a weeklong marathon of indie classical/new music performances, continues through this Saturday, winding up with a free performance by the American Composers Orchestra at the World Financial Center at around 7:30. Last night at the Americas Society, Brazilian new music ensemble Camerata Aberta treated a sold-out audience to a challenging, eclectic program that may well have been the highlight of the entire festival. If the Brazilian composers represented on this bill are typical of the new-music scene there, it’s time for American fans of this stuff to pay attention.
The show began on a jaunty note with Carlos Freitas on trombone and Pedro Gadelha on bass, playing the world premiere of Igor Leao Maia’s Caminantes III. A comedic piece that evoked the ordeal of trying to start a car with a rapidly dying battery, its unfinished swoops and dives and “fail” motifs were thoroughly amusing. Pianist Lidia Bazarian played Tatiana Catanzaro’s Kristallklavierexplosionschattenspliter (say that three times fast), contrasting icy, minimalist upper-register incisions with drones and roars created by striking or brushing the piano strings. On one hand, it was something any kid could have done…if that kid had remarkable patience and an ear for getting the max out of long sustained notes.
Joao Victor Bota’s Zenite, performed solo by violist Peter Pas, made vivid use of harmonics as it began bracingly atonal, then more rhythmically and consonantly and then back and forth, with the hint of a dance and more than one tongue-in-cheek joke. Marcilio Onofre’s powerfully evocative Estudo Sobre Os Arrependimentos de Valasquez was inspired by the famous painter’s brush-over technique, where he’d correct his mistakes, only to have those mistakes reappear as the repair work faded over the centuries. Charles Augusto held the center with potently dramatic percussion, whether on marimba, kettledrum or otherwise while the full ensemble took turns adding incisive accents, sometimes with a brooding, furtive call-and-response, against a drone or sustained drum tone. Frequently, the effect was organic versus mechanical, bucolic versus urban, as if to say, maybe those mistakes should have been left as is.
The most transcendent piece on the bill was another world premiere, Lan, by Valeria Bonafe, featuring all but the viola and percussion. Building from a somber bass/piano intro, it crescendoed with a creepy inevitability and highly sophisticated architecture, timbral contrasts, and an absolutely noir, circular motif that Bazarian grabbed solidly and imbued with a lurid neon glitter flecked with major-on-minor menace. It’s a suspense film theme – opening and closing credits included – waiting to happen.
The American composers on the program did not fare quite as well. A Matthias Pintscher solo trumpet tune played by Adenilson Telles had the misfortune of following the Bonafe, leaving the listener pondering questions like when it would end, or what jazz rhythm section might have been able to elevate its halfhearted, hastily minimalist bop-isms to the level of something meaningful (maybe Art Blakey and Jaco Pastorius, who might have bludgeoned it into something even less recognizable?). And while Clint Needham’s Color Study – a New York premiere, played by the whole ensemble plus Ken Thomson on alto sax – got off to a slow start with warped New Orleans jazz allusions, it eventually picked up steam and morphed into smartly counterintuitive variations on bustling, noirish motifs that the group passed among themselves with considerable relish.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #471:
Sielun Veljet – Live
Sielun Veljet (Finnish for “Soul Brothers”) are iconic in their native land. Their earliest songs set eardrum-peeling, trebly PiL-style noise guitar over catchy, growling, snappy bass and roaring punk vocals. The Finnish lyrics are surreal and assaultive as well. This scorching 1983 concert recording takes most of the songs off their first album and rips them to shreds. The best of these is Turvaa (Saved), with its ominous, chromatics and catchy, burning bassline. There’s also Emil Zatopek, a hoarse, breathless tribute to the long-distance runner; the primal, tribal Haisa Vittu; the surprisingly ornate Karjalan Kunnaila; the spooky epic Yö Erottaa Pojasta Miehen; Politikkaa, a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic noise-funk tune; and the most traditionally punk number, Huda Huda (basically Finnish for “Yay, yay” – the sarcasm transcends any language barrier). Because of the album title (not to mention that it was never released outside Finland), it’s awfully hard to find online; in lieu of this, here’s a random torrent for their first album.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #472:
Jenifer Jackson – Slowly Bright
This 1999 release was Jackson’s quantum leap: it established her as one of the world’s most astonishingly diverse, intelligent songwriters. Her vocals here are memorably hushed and gentle: since then, she’s diversified as a singer as well. The songwriting blends Beatlesque psychedelia with bossa nova, with the occasional hint of trip-hop or ambient music. Every track here is solid; the real stunner that resonates after all these years is When You Looked At Me, with its understated Ticket to Ride beat, swirling atmospherics and crescendoing chorus where Jackson goes way, way up to the top of her range. The title track, Anything Can Happen and the vividly imagistic Yesterday My Heart Was Free have a psychedelic tropicalia feel; Whole Wide World, Burned Down Summer and I’ll Be Back Soon are gorgeous janglerock hits; So Hard to Believe balances tenderness against dread. The catchiest track here may be the unexpectedly optimistic, soul-infused Look Down; the album closes with the lush, hypnotic, blithely swaying Dream. And believe it or not, this classic is nowhere to be found in the blogosphere or the other usual sources for music, although it’s still available from cdbaby. Her forthcoming one, The Day Happiness Found Me is every bit as good, maybe better; it comes out in December.