Cordis’ Edgy NYC Debut Goes Over As Expected
It’s hard to believe it wasn’t until this past Thursday that pioneering cimbalom-led new music ensemble Cordis would finally make their New York City debut. Unsurprisingly, the crowd at le Poisson Rouge – young, edgy, and distinctly downtown – loved them. For those unfamiliar with the cimbalom, it’s sort of a larger santoor or qanun, i.e. a zither played with mallets. Frontman Richard Grimes took care to explain that it’s the national instrument of Hungary; he took considerably more relish in explaining that his is customized, with two humbucking guitar pickups that he runs through a vintage 1960s Vox tube amp. Sonically, sometimes it sounds like a piano, especially when he uses a sustain pedal; otherwise, it has the quick “ping” of a tack piano or qanun but with more resonance. It’s a subtle, rustically austere tone that mingled within keyboardist Brian O’Neill’s elegant piano arpeggios and organ swells alongside the plaintive tones of Jeremy Harman’s cello and a million percussion textures, from marimba to woodblocks to a full rock drumkit played with meticulous precision but also plenty of fire by Andrew Beall.
Much as their methodical, slow-to-midtempo material tends to embrace a warmly engaging minimalism, it can also be surprisingly anthemic, especially when the percussion is going full swing, perfectly exemplified by the suite Fifteen Minutes in Four Parts. They built the nonchalantly shapeshifting, intricately arranged piece from what was essentially a four-chord rock anthem anchored by a creepy Wurlitzer organ patch, through numerous dynamic and tempo shifts, to end on a wintry, nocturnal note: by then O’Neill had switched back to piano. They opened with a piece for cello, piano and drums that worked a dreamy/intense dichotomy before Grimes joined them for a rippling, dramatically rising and falling number lit up by some high-voltage, viola-like sustained lines from the cellist, who’d switched to a five-string model with a high “A” and an electric guitar headstock. This, along with a couple of other originals, brought to mind the Wharton Tiers Ensemble in particularly dreamy yet rumbling mode. Another subtly crescendoing original blended angst-fueled anthemicism in the same vein as the Jayhawks with an insistence much like a New York-based, minimalistic avant supergroup, Build.
Since there’s essentially no repertoire for this particular lineup other than the group’s own original material, they sometimes come up with new arrangements of works from an eclectic range of composers. They reinvented sections of Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis Suite, contrasting rippling piano arpeggios with stately sheets of sustain and a little later gave it a hypnotic, gamelanesque quality fueled by waves echoing from Beall’s marimba. Then they gave Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms – originally written for brass and voice – a Mingus-like bustle. At the end of the set, O’Neill picked up a bright red Gibson SG guitar and capped off the final piece with a vibrato-laden majesty: a snazzy stadium rock touch to send everybody home on a literally high note.
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