Lucid Culture


Resonant Nocturnes and Lively Solo Pieces from Matt Herskowitz

Pianist Matt Herskowitz’ new solo concert album, Upstairs, captures a November, 2011 gig at Montreal’s popular Upstairs Bar & Grill. It has a similar lyricism and gleam as Fred Hersch’s Alone at the Vanguard album from a couple of years ago, albeit with more of a third-stream flavor. It’s a mix of nocturnes and energetic, upbeat material imbued with equal parts classical precision and Herskowitz’ signature improvisational flair and humor.

Amid the crepuscular glimmer and the hjinks here are two showstoppers. The first is a meticulously nuanced solo piano arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s  Dzienkuye, a standout track from the late third stream icon’s Jazz Impressions of Eurasia album. Somberly neoromantic, Herskowitz takes it up on a lively and lushly dancing note before a rapt, starlit interlude and then a triumphant outro – it’s no surprise that Brubeck gave Herskowitz the thumbs-up for this.

The quiet, Satie-esque surrealism of Waltz in Moscow builds more eerily and bluesily, veering between those idioms with a vividly pervasive unease. By contrast, Michel Pettruciani’s Cantabile juxtaposes jaunty, often rapidfire ragtime with a middle interlude that more accurately reflects the title. Herskowitz’ dreamy take of  Schumann’s Traumerei reminds that he’s just as good at classical as jazz, while an instrumental version of Bella’s Lament – from the the play Bella, the Colour of Love, about Marc Chagall and his wife – reverts to a familiar trajectory from brooding neoromanticism toward a more upbeat narrative.

Herskowitz plays his famous Bach a la Jazz (from the film Les Triplettes de Belleville) like the lark it was to begin with, when he sent the playful knockoff of Bach’s C Minor Prelude from the Well-Tempered Klavier along with a lot more serious stuff to the film’s musical director. The album ends with rousing, impressively hard-hitting, expansive takes on Gershwin’s But Not for Me and I’ve Got Rhythm. It’s out now on Justin Time.

January 19, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting, Icy Mood Pieces from Yelena Eckemoff

Russian-American pianist Yelena Eckemoff has made a career out of icily resonant, otherworldly themes that unwind at a glacial pace. Anyone who might hear her new album Glass Song and think “Windham Hill” isn’t listening closely enough. As brooding mood pieces go, this is just about as good as it gets: that the album’s catchiest and most upbeat track is titled Elegy pretty much says it all. The opening track, Melting Ice is characteristic. It begins so imperceptibly it’s almost unnoticeable, and then Eckemoff immediately engages Arild Andersen’s bass in a slow, prophetic conversation before the thaw sets in and the blues makes its way in through the cracks. Then they do it again, and again. What emerges is an uneasy blend of morose Satie-esque chromatics and casually bluesy tonalities.

The title track is even slower and more minimalist, Andersen’s wispy, keening overtones and tersely swooping accents mingling with the glimmer behind him as Eckemoff builds to a distantly imploring ambience that reminds of the Joy Division classic The Eternal. Throughout the album, drummer Peter Erskine adds the subtlest shades of grey, and occasional swashes of black. As any drummer will tell you, music this slow and spare can be murder to play. Here he introduces a whispered clave beat in the last place where you would expect to find anything tropical – and it works like a charm.

Cloud Break, laced with more of those deliciously creepy chromatics, follows a similar path out of a slow, suspenseful shuffle that Eckemoff ornaments with Lynchian lounge-isms as the bass and drums work hypnotic polyrhythms. Polarity grows from minimalistic otherworodly bass/piano interchanges to a plaintively deliberate, syncopated sway, as close to the hint of a bounce as there is here.

Dripping Icicles is a deceptively simple, surprisingly lively noir blues livened with Erskine’s masterfully suspenseful snare and Eckemoff’s refusenik ripples, reaching tantalizingly toward a resolution that’s always just out of reach. Sweet Dreams seems to be a rather sarcastic title: the ballad is as memorably dark as everything that precedes it.

Whistle Song takes the creepiness up a couple of octaves, yet the mood never wavers. Sunny Day in the Woods is more summery, but even this is a nocturne, Eckemoff juxtaposing lingering phrases against insistent upper-register raindroplets that mingle with the bass. This long, practically hour-and-a-quarter length album ends where it began with March Rain, which keeps the pace going, but with the bass rather than the piano, which remains mostly in a distant, desolate, reserved seat in the shadows. Although marketed as jazz – which this certainly could be called- another crowd this should resonate mightily with is fans of indie classical composers like Michael Gordon and Kirsten Broberg.

January 19, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment