Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Grand Band’s Simeon Ten Holt Tribute Is a Big Hit

Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt died this past November, leaving an avid cult following and a career that was sadly still going pretty much full steam. His vibrant and utterly original body of work came to wholeheartedly embrace improvisation, grappled with the 12-tone system and ultimately rejected it in favor of a blend of minimalism and good oldfashioned tunesmithing. For a prominent member of the late 20th century avant garde, ten Holt could be mighty catchy. Last night at the Poisson Rouge, all-star six-piano ensemble Grand Band paid homage to this maverick with a lushly starlit, seamlessly rippling performance of ten Holt’s best-known work, Canto Ostinato. This epic has echoes of the subtly shifting loops of Philip Glass and the insistent, bell-like tones of Louis Andriessen but also an unexpectedly comfortable, transparent neoromanticism a la Gabriel Faure.

As bandleader David Friend took care to mention before the roughly hourlong performance, ten Holt wrote the work for keyboards, not specifically for the piano. If somehow it had been possible to maneuver six grand pianos (as the ensemble played this past summer at Bang on a Can) into the downstairs space, the impressively big crowd who’d come out to see this terse yet lavish masterpiece would have had a hard time squeezing themselves in. Like many of Glass’ early works, this piece allows for variously sized ensembles and leaves the duration and positioning of a minutely intricate series of interludes up to the individual players. Although dreamy, hypnotically twinkling passages recurred again and again throughout the performance, they were always cut off before they could become tiresome.

There was a great deal of interplay involved, lots of friendly nods and “take it away”‘ moments between Friend and Vicky Chow, Paul Kerekes, Blair McMillen, Lisa Moore and Isabelle O’Connell. Moore kicked it off with a mechanical, loopy phrase that must have been murder to play precisely after about a minute, and ended it on a surprise note. While there were dynamic swells and ebbs, for the most part the work took on a nocturnal atmosphere: moments where the entire crew was playing were far outnumbered by passages carried by three or four of the fullsize electric pianos the group chose to employ for this particular concert.

Casually and methodically, the piece grew more elaborate, moving from a basis of two-chord, then three- and four-chord vamps and then finally a fullscale overture that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Robert Schumann songbook (having heard Evelyn Ulex play Schumann the previous night might have colored that observation). Eerie close harmonies (ten Holt LOVED tritones) encroached, serrated the melody and then receded. Witty ragtime allusions (like the lick that Elton John worked to death in Honky Cat) and variations on a repetitive motif that reminded of All Along the Watchtower entered and then departed. As the piece wound its way out, the individual players’ precision and perfect, Bach-like tempo never wavered. A performance this good deserves an encore: let’s hope this fascinating and unique band gets the chance to stage it again.

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January 16, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Transatlantic Ensemble Gives Their New Album a Mighty Launch

Monday night the Transatlantic Ensemble Imani Winds clarinetist Mariam Adam and German pianist Evelyn Ulex – teamed up with nuevo tango bandoneon virtuoso J.P. Jofre for one of those semi-private concerts that are all the rage now (it wasn’t closed to the public, but you either had to know someone or get on the guest list). As you would expect from musicians of this quality, much of it was transcendent. Jofre and Adam shared a fondness for bittersweet ambered tonalities, and there were plenty of those, each of the artists at the top of their game. This was the album release show for the ensemble’s new one and if this performance was any indication, it must be superb.

The concert opened auspiciously with a series of pieces for clarinet and piano, beginning with Adam’s french hornist bandmate Jeff Scott’s Toccata. Ulex drove it into increasingly stormy, dancing, Piazzolla-influenced territory with a distantly bluesy undercurrent, Adam shifting in a split second from a crystalline pensiveness to bright, lively upper-register cascades. The first of three Paquito D’Rivera numbers, Invitation al Danzon, was exactly as Adam termed it, “a wonderful, hipswinging kind of piece,” juxtaposing increasingly brooding cantabile balladry with jaunty clarinet flourishes.

Ulex then delivered a comfortably expansive, satisfyingly nocturnal Schumann diptych, Fantasietucke, Op. 73. By contrast, her take of Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato – a real workout written for a piano competition, replete with wryly rapidfire etude-like interludes – was a battle, one that gave her innumerable opportunities to emerge triumphant with her fingers still intact.

Jofre joined the duo for the night’s most gripping moments, first with a rather epic, hauntingly memorable, angst-fueled mini-suite full of noir bustle, electric dynamic shifts, a long, suspensefully carnivalesque bandoneon solo and finally a sense of closure with a surprisingly still, calm ending, something completely unexpected in the wake of all the fireworks. The trio then romped through Jofre’s Primavera, an insistently rhythmic, appropriately vernal song without words. Adam and Ulex closed with two selections from D’Rivera’s Cape Cod Files (a commission from a festival there), an anxiously elegaic Piazzolla elegy and then a lighthearted but surprisingly sophisticated, modernist Benny Goodman homage full of tongue-in-cheek swing and boogie-woogie japes.

January 16, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment