Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Intriguing, Diverse New Album from Percussionist Justin DeHart

Who would be interested in an album of solo percussion, other than a fellow percussionist or composer? Justin DeHart’s new album Strange Paths addresses that question with a playful and virtuosic mix of contemporary and 20th century works, just out on Innova. Steadily and ambidextrously, DeHart builds a sonic spectrum ranging from hypnotically soothing, to suspenseful, with many shades in between: it rises to the challenge of entertaining a jaded listener who might not ordinarily gravitate to music made on things meant to be hit with a stick of some kind, over and over..

The opening number, Michael Gordon‘s XY is insistent and has a hard-hitting, subtly polyrhythmic, mechanical aspect, yet the way it’s done here, it’s more of a peaceful drummers-in-the-park tableau than annoy-your-neighbors assault. It sounds easy but in reality is cruelly difficult, requiring a Bach-like precision and an attention to minute detail that overcomes the work’s hypnotically echoing aspect. DeHart is up to the task.

Iannis Xenakis’ Psappha, the best-known of the pieces here, empowers DeHart to become a one-man orchestra via tuned drums in all sorts of timbres, up and down the register,  precisely marching yet lively, playing intricate variations on and off a series of polyrhythms, some bracing, some very subtle, particularly on the more emphatic, lower notes. The space between increased to the point of suspense and then comedy, a musical Waiting for Godot. Breathy cymbals add a syncopation that, when written in 1975, foreshadowed the loping groove of hip-hop.

Brian Ferneyhough’s Bone Alphabet, perhaps predictably, has a more skeletal feel and a thicket of constantly changing sonics, some woody and hollow, some metallic and booming, a restless prowl through a junkyard of the mind. The final track here, Stuart Saunders Smith’s four-part vibraphone suite They Looked Like Strangers draws on a memory of childhood humiliation, a small boy realizing how far estranged he’s become from his family as they ridicule him for a slip and a fall into the lake: he vows  not to let this disrespect slide. A slow, gingerly hazy summery ambience builds to eerie music-box ambience; wiith its lingering, otherworldly resonances, it draws a straight line back to Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock film scores. Then, casually and methodically, DeHart takes it into full-blown, resonant Lynchian menace. It’s a creepy piece of music in every sense of the word.

March 2, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby Avey’s New Solo Album: Dark Riveting Intensity

Bobby Avey’s new album Be Not So Long to Speak takes his game to the next level with a majesty and intensity he more than hinted at on his 2010 debut, A New Face. Since then the pianist has created Authority Melts From Me, a multimedia project exploring the slave rebellion that fueled the 18th century Haitian Revolution, and now this raw, sometimes crushingly powerful, glimmering solo album. It’s a mix of clenched-teeth articulacy and brooding pools of moonlit, swampy menace, setting an unwaveringly creepy tone. Whether you consider this jazz, or indie classical, or both, it’s a lock for one of 2013’s best albums..

Our Fortune Is Running Out of Breath, the opening track, is a brooding tone poem, murkily resonant close harmonies lowlit by eerily glittering upper-register ripples. In Ten Years has waterfalling midrange clusters interspersed with casual jackhammer pedalpoint, retreating to a resonant shadowy gleam and then back. The epic Late November, a surreal, altered boogie, rises, falls and dances, hinting at a Steve Reich-ish circularity and then retreating to dark minimalism.

A quietly elegaic, bell-like pulse underpins the somberly haunting, Satie-tinged Gravity and Stillness. As it turns out, the allusive, slightly herky-jerky P.Y.T. is a cover of a song first recorded by Michael Jackson, redone to the point of unrecognizabilty: it doesn’t seem to be an attempt to connect with the audience that likes that kind of processed cheese.  Isolation of Rain and its picturesque drizzling builds a rather morose ambience despite its rapidfire energy, the shadow of Debussy lingering in the background.

Barefoot raises the angst to judiciously spacious, dynamically-charged Satie-esque proportions, picking up with a hard-hitting acidity reminiscent of Louis Andriessen. Time Unfolding grows darker even as it leaps and bounds; the album closes with a version of Stardust that skirts the original with a characteristic resistance to opening the door and taking a few tentative steps out of the icebox. Avey’s next gig is at the Cornelia St. Cafe on March 15 at 9:30 with his quartet including Chris Speed on saxes, Thompson Kneeland on bass  and Jordan Perlson on drums.

March 2, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Richly Tuneful Middle Eastern Jazz from Jussi Reijonen

These days, with the web having demolished pretty much every musical boundary, it’s no more surprising to discover an inspired Finnish oud player like Jussi Reijonen than it would be to happen upon an Egyptian playing perfectly traditionalist Finnish fiddle music. Reijonen also plays guitar; his new album Un is one of the most deliciously eclectic, interesting releases in recent months, equal parts jazz and Middle Eastern music. Much of this is up at his youtube channel.

The album opens with Serpentine, a lithely intertwining levantine groove that wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcel Khalife catalog. Utar Artun‘s elegant piano solo is followed by a spiky oud/bass duel that reaches toward skronk for a bit, picking up with a clenched-teeth intensity before winding down to a rapt misterioso interlude, then up again. Playing fretless guitar, Reijonen transforms Coltraine’s Naima into a spacious wide-open-skies theme over Bruno Raberg’s majestically minimalist bass pulse, lowlit by Artun’s otherworldly, chromatically-fueled glimmer.

Reijonen’s oud mingles with Ali Amr‘s spikily resonant qanun on the gorgeously shapeshfifting Bayatiful. A trickily rhythmic intro, metric shifts and sweepingly cinematic, bittersweetly Egyptian-flavored motifs wind their way to an eerily twinkling chromatic piano solo, handing off to a long, rapturously rippling one from the qanun. A spaciously reflective piece for guitar and Tareq Rantisi’s percussion follows, with echoes of Malian desert blues.

Reijonen’s sitar-like fretless guitar duets with the bass on Nuku Sie, evocative of Dave Fiuczynski’s recent work. The album closes with Kaiku, the twin-percussion groove of Rantisi and Sergio Martinez underpinning a nebulously haunting theme lit up by chanteuse Eva Louhivuori’s bracingly crystalline vocalese.

March 2, 2013 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ACME Unearths Rare Early 60s Sonics

Composer Joseph Byrd is best known for his work in film, and for his role as leader of pioneering chamber pop/psychedelic band the United States of America in the late 60s. But the wildly eclectic guy responsible for the CBS Evening News theme got his start in the avant garde, palling around with Yoko Ono and her minions in New York in the early part of the decade. Byrd’s quirky, hypnotically minimalist early works have recently been resurrected on a playful album by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble a.k.a. ACME and released by Brooklyn’s New World Records. Wispy and skeletal as many of these pieces are, there’s also a subtle humor here. This was music made for and quite possibly by people who were smoking pot and laughing a lot: it was the 60s, after all.

The first tracks have a deadpan, winking mechanical feel, a clockwork arrythmia. Clarice Jensen’s hypnotic cello bassline blends with the distant piledriver of Timothy Andres‘ prepared piano, the coy accents of Caleb Burhans‘ and Caroline Shaw’s violins and Nadia Sirota’s viola, with an unexpectedly agitated pots-and-pans interlude from Chihiro Shibayama’s marimba and Chris Thompson’s vibraphone, both instruments muted for a strangely muffled effect.

Loops and Sequences mirrors what Luciano Berio was doing around the same time, a study in negative space. A tantalizing hint of melody bobs to the suface in a couple of piano miniatures, followed by a long-tone piece with the viola at its peaceful center, interrupted by the occasional wry blip, evocative of the later work of Eleanor Hovda (subject of an often rapturously still retrospective from Innova that came out a couple of years ago, the enhanced cd’s including both scores and exhaustive liner notes).

Byrd’s String Trio employs keening overtones and spaciously swooping, doppler-like motifs. The most captivating piece here, Water Music, sets percussionist Alan Zimmerman’s  gamelanesque phrases and cymbal ambience over a low tape drone, gradually building to an unexpectedly uneasy nebulosity.

As often happens with oddities from the 60s, there’s some bizarro randomness here as well: a dadaist spoken-word collage and a party joke involving the slow deflation of rubber balloons which made its dubious debut at one of Yoko’s loft extravaganzas and was assuredly never meant to be repeated: one suspects that the original cast didn’t tone down the flatulence as the ensemble does here. Who is the audience for this? Beyond fans of vintage esoterica, anyone with a taste for quiet, calming sounds. This album has become a favorite at naptime here at Lucid Culture HQ – to put that in context, other albums that work well in that capacity are Brooklyn Rider’s set of Philip Glass quartets, a bootleg concert recording of Renaissance choir Stile Antico, and the recent BassX3 album for two basses and bass clarinet.

March 2, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment