Lucid Culture


Trio Tritticali’s Issue #1 – One of 2011’s Best Albums

Brooklyn string ensemble Trio Tritticali have just released their new Issue # 1, one of the most gripping, intelligent, richly eclectic albums of recent years. Drawing on elements as diverse as Egyptian dance vamps, the baroque, bossa nova, tango and European Romantic chamber music, they blend those styles together seamlessly and imaginatively for a bracingly intricate sound that’s uniquely their own. The chemistry between violinist Helen Yee, violist Leanne Darling and cellist Loren Dempster is intuitively playful. As the songs slowly unwind, the band exchanges thematic variations, converses, intertwines and occasionally locks horns, individual voices often disappearing or reappearing when least expected: they may be a trio, but there are surprisingly many moments when it’s only two or even one of them. They love minor keys, and have a thing for chromatics, no surprise considering that Darling also jams with the Near East River Ensemble. Yee also plays yangqin dulcimer in Music from China; Dempster also performs with the avant-garde Dan Joseph Ensemble and with well-known dance ensembles.

Which makes a lot of sense: Dempster’s rhythmic, often funky edge is key to this group, right from the title track, which alternates stark, dark funk, then goes quiet and mysterious, then finally explodes in a blaze of chamber metal. It’s the most dramatic moment on the album. They follow that with a bracing tango, La Yumba, which takes a detour into early Beethoven with a cello solo that rises imperceptibly until it’s sailing over the lushness of the other strings. The dynamic shifts in this one are especially yummy.

A long, suspensefully crescendoing Middle Eastern piece, Azizah begins with a casually ominous series of taqsims (individual improvisations), shifting methodically from tone poem to processional to triumphant swing, voices constantly shifting and handing off ideas to each other. By contrast, Corcovado is a nostalgic bossa ballad that takes a turn in a more wistful direction, Dempster’s brooding solo leading to an intricate, stately thicket of violin and viola. A jazz-pop song in disguise that goes unexpectedly dark, Stolen Moments is a showcase for Dempster’s walking basslines, pensively swinging lines and bluesy accents. The sarcastically titled Ditty is actually one of the album’s most stunning compositions, another long detour into the Middle East with a funky modal edge, a memorably apprehensive Darling solo and an equally memorable lead-in from Yee, who comes in buzzing like a mosquito with an off-kilter, swoopy edge while the cello and viola lock in an intense, chordally pulsing bassline.

The seventh track, Who Knows Yet is a gorgeous, starkly wary waltz with a series of artful rhythmic shifts and a series of bitingly bluesy variations – it reminds a bit of Rasputina in an especially reflective moment. Psychedelic and very clever, Sakura is a diptych: an austere tone poem with the cello mimicking a koto, then a pensive, minor-key 5/4 funk theme with yet more deliciously unexpected tradeoffs between instruments. The concluding tone poem, Heart Lake, evokes Brooklyn Rider’s adventures in Asian music, viola and violin trading atmospherics over Dempster’s hypnotic, circular bassline – it’s like Copal at their most ambient, with distantly Asian motifs. This is one of those albums where every time you listen to it, you’ll discover something new – you can get lost in this music. With compositions like this, it won’t be long before Trio Tritticali will be playing big stages like Symphony Space; for the moment, you can catch them at low-key Brooklyn brunch spot Linger Cafe (533 Atlantic Ave. between 3rd and 4th Aves) on frequent Sundays – the next one is December 10 – starting around 1 PM.


November 24, 2011 Posted by | classical music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thin Air Tango – Spacious and Sometimes Spooky

Thin Air Tango is Jeff Covell on piano and Ed Fiorenza on saxophones, playing compositions and improvisations on outer space themes. Their new album is out now on Original Copy Records. Covell’s graceful short works lean toward third-stream minimalism: Fiorenza’s crystalline tone memorably enhances Covell’s steady but distant, intriguingly off-center walks and chordal clusters. The opening Nebula Suite is aptly titled, a suite of nocturnes that move from spacious, simple, matter-of-fact solo piano, embellish it rhythmically and then finally bring in soprano sax, casually coalescing a couple of intriguing verse/chorus patterns before bringing it to an end. This could have gone longer and still maintained interest – and maybe it does, when the two play it live.

The Sakura Suite begins with Elegy for Joe Viola, mostly just vividly wistful soprano sax, Covell adding a somewhat ominous, murky chordal undercurrent as the piece winds out. Tango di Callisto is sort of a tango in outer space, avoiding resolution, the casual chill of Fiorenza’s nebulously acidic lines vivid against Covell’s increasingly insistent, magnetic piano. Sakura, Sakura begins absolutely inaudibly, to the point where the question of whether the cd is still playing arises. But then stately piano and Fiorenza’s elegaic lines join together in an absolutely gorgeous, plaintive rendition of the Japanese folk song with a handful of clever quotes that work marvelously.

Named after one of the moons of Jupiter, the Europa Suite, a free improvisation, picks up the pace. It’s long, almost forty minutes, and as intense as it gets, the warm camaraderie between the two musicians remains strong. Covell intimates danger with his solo intro, then the two exploring a dark, Ran Blake-esque gospel-tinged theme that Covell expands with a furtive intensity as Fiorenza’s tenor sax holds the center while matter-of-factly reaching for higher velocity and tonal contrasts. The sax takes over the eerie chromatics for awhile, Covell leapfrogging them judiciously before taking it into viscerally icy terrain with a macabre, David Lynchian edge. All in all, this makes for great late-night listening: kill the lights and set your sonic sights on Jupiter.

November 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment