Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gregory Spears’ Requiem: Beautiful Simplicity

It’s been a good year for requiems. The latest, by Gregory Spears, works permutations on a theme of the utmost simplicity, a series of spacious, allusively creepy intervals against a central note, creating a more surprisingly varied emotional palette than is usually found in somber works of this type. Yet overall, it is a serious, brooding, often considerably intense suite. The composer conducts a choir here which includes Ruth Cunningham and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek of Anonymous 4, Ryland Angel, John Olund and Lawrence Lipnik, accompanied by Jacqueline Kerrod on pedal harp, tenor Christopher Williams on troubadour harp, bass Kurt-Owen Richards on chimes, Daniel Thomas Davis on electric organ and Elizabeth Weinfield on viola. The themes are actually quite surreal and divided into two parts, Swans and Witches. Perhaps most unexpectedly, the music here was originally commissioned for a dance project: while the tempos are slow, with frequent counterrythms, there’s an understated grace to this music.

The opening prelude sets the tone for the rest of the work. Recorded at New York’s Corpus Christi Church in August of last year, the sonics are marvelously suited to the music: the natural reverb on the two harps gives them the incisive presence of a piano, but muted just enough to enhance the murky ambience. The voices enter in counterpoint, with an unexpectedly agitated, clustering, seemingly argumentative crescendo, the last thing one would expect to hear in a “Requiem Aeternam:” it’s jarring, to say the least, and it packs a wallop. The music begins to take on the feel of a baroque-era European folk song, followed by the contrasting modernism of the hypnotic Agnus Dei passage, a stately harp processional eventually giving way to the womens’ ethereal, otherworldly voices against a high viola drone.

That’s the dead swan. As with the bird, the dead witches get a simple, jewel-like broken chord for the choir to expand on, which then moves in the other direction, lower, then speeds up and takes on a distantly imploring tone: other than the big dispute earlier, this is as harrowing as it gets here. Like many works of this type, it ends on a more hopeful, more warmly consonant note (the final movement is available as a free download). It’s out now on New Amsterdam Records.

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November 12, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dead Cat Bounce’s Chance Episodes Work Out Better Than Just OK

With their four-saxophone frontline, Dead Cat Bounce create the kind of music that sends toy soldiers sinking fast into a mug of hot chocolate – ok, that’s the most surreal of the cd booklet images, but it’s a good one. Their latest album Chance Episodes dispels any demons you can imagine. Who knew that a commission from Chamber Music America could yield such amusing and entertaining results? With their eclecticism, relentlessly droll, usually spot-on sense of humor and counterintuitive charts, the obvious comparison is the Microscopic Septet. When composer/bandleader Matt Steckler is in a more straight-ahead mood, some of the material here evokes the World Saxophone Quartet. But their sound is completely original and often absolutely delightful. The group also includes Jared Sims, Terry Goss and Charlie Kohlhase on saxes and other reeds along with Dave Ambrosio on bass and Bill Carbone on drums. As a Cuneiform Records band, they’re playing their label’s two-week extravaganza at the Stone on Nov 25 at 10 PM.

As you would expect from a band this irreverent, the song titles match the music. Take the opening track, Food Blogger: this guy is a madman! Steckler’s arrangements are meticulous, and pretty hilarious, all helter-skelter scurrying and big sarcastic crescendos with Goss gone OCD, Kohlhase (one of the great wits in jazz) climbing wryly and knowingly with his baritone before Steckler scurries and tiptoes on soprano sax.

Tourvan Confessional goes in an even more wry direction, its funky/bluesy charts lit up by cheery Kohlhase accents. A bright, bustling rush-hour scenario, Far From the Matty Crowd highlights Ambrosio’s hard-hitting, tuneful bass, Carbone’s out-of-nowhere bursts and then a completely unanticipated descent into hallucinatory quietness where Carbone once again gets to play ham and makes the most of it.

Likewise, Salon Sound Journal shifts from funky to swinging and then to an austere, semi-fugal wind ensemble passage. Bio Dyno Man – a mellow superhero who sounds like a Kohlhase creation – has Steckler’s soprano defiantly resisting any kind of resolution, an unexpected whirlwind with the whole ensemble and then Ambrosio matter-of-factly bringing back the slink. A cinematic mini-suite, Silent Movie, Russia 1995 morps from staggered march, to bolero, then to clave, with a laid-back Sims tenor solo with a playful Dexter Gordon quote. Watkins Glen – a racetrack, so those alto accents might be car horns – gives Ambrosio, who’s the secret star of this thing, a chance to air out his classical side, Steckler’s flute rising in contrast.

A blithely swaying, latin-inflected number, Salvation and Doubt evokes the western hemisphere of Either/Orchestra with Gil Evans-inflected swells and some deviously unfocused alto from Goss. There’s also Township Jive Revisited, a lively mbaqanga-flavored tune that eventually brings in a genially pulsing New Orleans vibe; Madame Bonsilene, contrasting astringent atonalities with Kohlhase’s solid, strolling underpinning; and Living the Dream, a funk song with a long, intricately joyous crescendo to take the album out on a high note.

Another cool thing about this record: the cd back cover includes credits for solos. That’s not an ego thing – it makes a lot easier for a listener to figure out who’s playing what, and how.

November 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tony Jones Puts Out a Fascinating, Hypnotic New Album

Tenor saxophonist Tony Jones has a new album out, prosaically titled Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness. It’s a clinic in how fascinating, and listenable, and intelligent free jazz can be. Jones’ co-conspirators in pitch, rhythm and consciousness – accent on the consciousness – are Charlie Burnham on violin and Kenny Wollesen, the latter of whom employs every inch of his drum kit and other various percussion instruments in some mysteriously ingenious ways. Available only as a vinyl record and a download, the album cover shows a high-rise building – the Marcy Houses in south Williamsburg, Brooklyn, maybe? – at night. It’s a simple yet quintessentially urban and metaphorically loaded image that makes a good fit with the quiet, thoughtful tunes here. Most of these still, suspenseful, frequently magical pieces have a nocturnal feel, casually exploring brief, memorable riffs and ideas. Most of them don’t go on for more than about four minutes apiece.

The first track, Dear Toy kicks off with a noir understatement, Burnham’s violin taking on an acidic, harmonica-like tone against Jones’ up-and-down flutters, Wollesen beginning with a rattle and bringing up the closing, reverberating crescendo with what sounds like a gong. The second cut is basically a violin solo, suspenseful and tense, working minute shades against a central drone note. A car horn motif introduces a casual duel between sax and violin and ends on a ghostly tone. As with most of the other works here, there’s no central rhythm, although individual members often will latch onto a consistent pulse as Burnham does early on in this one.

Wollesen gets his cymbals shimmering with a minute, masterful focus on the third track as Jones builds to a distant hint of swing: as close-miked as this obviously is, it feels as if you’re inside the drum kit. The fourth, Bits, is a conversational study between sax and violin, gingerly working its way up to an animated crescendo as Wollesen rattles around, Burnham finally taking it up to a fluttering, somewhat anguished fast staccato as Jones prowls underneath.

Howlin Wolf doesn’t offer much if any resemblance to the great bluesman, building from honking and insistent to spacious tradeoffs between Jones and Wollesen. The only number here where the volume raises above conversational is Billie, Burnham shifting artfully from pizzicato, to apprehensively ambient, to finally a series of deftly tangoish drumlike motifs as Jones anchors the conversation and Wollesen works otherworldly overtones from his cymbals. Division and Kent – a south Williamsburg intersection which is usually deserted, but could be a setting for potential conflict – is a study in contrasts, Wollesen’s drumhead whooshes panning back and forth for an ominous stereo effect, Burnham sounding various alarms while Jones plays his usual calm, collected role.

Finally, on the eight track, Wollesen gets a slinky groove going – with what sounds like a gong or tubular bells. Who knew they could be so funky! Casually, almost secretively, both Burnham and Jones join in the steady parade. The final track, Four Nights, wobbles and whispers and finally joins the sax and violin together in a dark chromatic melody over a keening cymbal overtone. Those are the mechanics of what’s happening: what those dreamy, occasionally nightmarish sonics evoke is left to your own imagination. Even for those who don’t leap at the chance to hear jazz improvisation, this is worth a listen. As a bonus, the sonic quality of the download is remarkably good: one can only imagine what the vinyl sounds like. Count this as a dark horse contender among the best jazz records of the year.

November 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment