Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ethel’s Latest Album Is Worth the Wait

Extrovert violinist Todd Reynolds may have left adventurous string quartet Ethel to pursue his solo career, but the group continues on with Mary Rowell filling his place. And the group’s long-awaited new album, Heavy – out from Innova in a charmingly vintage, oversize package – proves to be worth that wait. The title is a little misleading: the moods evoked here run the gamut from raw, unleashed menace to playful and fun. The centerpiece is an early Julia Wolfe composition, Early That Summer. It’s classic Wolfe: driven by a cruelly emphatic, incessant staccato rhythm that the ensemble never wavers from, it begins with creepy, tritone-fueled exchanges of machinegun fire between the ensemble with intricate dynamic shifts. Cellist Dorothy Lawson is the star of this one early on over the suspenseful ambience of the higher strings, Rowell plus violist Ralph Farris and violinist Neil Duffalo. Disjointed Giant Steps phrases bring on more relentless staccato and increasingly unsettling microtones, growing more stately and then fading. Like so much of Wolfe’s work, it takes your breath away – it might be the most viscerally intense piece of music released this year in any style of music.

John Halle’s Sphere [‘]s developes a summery plantation soul ambience, its rustic charm underpinning subtly alternating voices with bluesy allusions, trainwhistle slides, and variations that crescendo with an elegant spiritual feel. John King’s pensively bucolic No Nickel Blues moves from quavery off-pitch ambience to slow, soulful, judicious variations, steady over a tricky tempo. Another standout track, Raz Mesinai’s La Citadelle takes a swooping, diving gypsy dance and expands on it, alternately minimalist and cinematic – this particular citadel is as active as a busy airport, and fraught with chromatically-charged tension. By contrast, David Lang’s pensive, rather horizontal Wed works subtle variations on simple, memorable sostenuto motifs.

Kenji Bunch joins the ensemble for a lively take on his String Circle, blending Celtic and bluegrass motifs into its shapeshifting architecture colored by subtle microtonal shades and an intricate divergence of voices. As it builds, it becomes more classical than bluegrass, developing a warmly balmy, cantabile pulse. The album’s final track, Marcelo Zarvos’ Rounds ends the album on a resonantly cantabile note, a pretty, Britfolk-inflected song without words exchanging hypnotic, circular pizzicato passages with a swelling, cantabile pulse. There’s also a string quartet by Don Byron that opens the album and which you will probably want to leave off your phone, or your machine, whatever that may be, when you upload this. Otherwise, this is a rich and rewarding mix that ought to appeal to rock fans as well as those with a taste for more challenging sonics.

August 14, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deliciously Cool Reinterpretations from Mark Sherman

Vibraphonist Mark Sherman’s latest album The LA Sessions – out now on the Miles High label -has a visceral West Coast cool to it, occasionally to the point of being Twin Peaks music. Which is especially interesting considering that Sherman is a real powerhouse: his 2010 DVD recorded at the old Sweet Rhythm in Manhattan presents him in showstopper hard-bop mode. Tempos here are upbeat for the most part, but with playing that’s restrained and tightly focused, Sherman blending timbres with Bill Cunliffe’s B3 organ for a lusciously chilly sound and a seamless chemistry with veteran guitarist John Chiodini and drummer Charles Ruggiero. Sherman’s style here has a rippling, straightforward insistence, Cunliffe alternating between sostenuto scamper, lush washes of chords and frequent hard-bop runs over tirelessly swinging pedal lines. As is usually the case on a session like this, Ruggiero doesn’t get many opportunities to be ostentatious, but makes the most of them, whether signaling an unexpected shift or, in the case of the slinky opening track – an icily intriguing take of Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n You – trading artful and counterintuitive bars with each of his bandmates in turn.

Other than Sherman’s Far Away, an unexpectedly dreamy lullaby, the album puts an original spin on a collection of standards. Counting the bonus tracks, there are actually a couple of takes of Woody ‘n You, along with Bud Powell’s Celia – each of those done with a remarkably terse bounce, muting the creepy edges of the original – and Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo, in both instances swinging with a coy suspense. Even when Cunliffe cuts loose with a lickety-split, spiraling attack, there’s no crescendo per se other than the sheer velocity of the notes.

It Could Happen to You works its way out of a maze of syncopation to a brisk swing and a tersely memorable series of handoffs from guitar, to organ, to vibes. The version of Benny Golson’s Whisper Not ventures into noir territory, Chiodini’s casually bluesy solo providing contrasting brightness. From there they transform Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice into chicken shack bop. The longest cut here, Milt Jackson’s Bag’s Groove morphs matter-of-factly from pensive soul to a swinging, gospel-tinged blues before going back to its shadowy beginnings: in its own air-conditioned way, it more than does justice to the more raw but equally brooding original. And Miles Davis’ Serpent’s Tooth has Chiodini’s biting chordal attack setting up yet another direct yet expansive Sherman solo. All this sets a mood and pretty much doesn’t waver. Can we get another couple martinis over here? It’s still happy hour, isn’t it?

August 14, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment