This October 24 at 7:30 PM, there’s a phenomenal lineup of global musical talent at the Town Hall. Philip Glass serves as artistic director and will play this concert, in addition to the great Turkish-American composer/performer Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, ghazal ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali, early music choral group Pomerium, and Gambian kora player/griot Foday Musa Suso. $35 tickets are still available as of today. The concert, titled In the Spirit (click for artist videos and info), is a benefit for the Hudson Valley-based Garrison Institute, which works in the fields of climate change, education and trauma .
The concert will include:
* Songs of Milarepa, a work by Philip Glass set to the poems of Milarepa (1052-1135), one of Tibet’s most famous saints and poets. This NYC premiere will be performed by baritone Gregory Purnhagen and pianist Nelson Padgett, members of the Philip Glass Ensemble.
* The Pomerium vocal ensemble, under the director of founder/conductor Alexander Blachly, performs early Christian music. Noted for its luminous sound, the ensemble has been described as the “most venerable of New York’s early music vocal ensembles (Wall Street Journal), “the standard by which early music vocal groups are measured” (New York Times), and “a driving force for performances of Renaissance polyphony” (Washington Post).
* Riyaaz Qawwali performs the ecstatic improvisational Sufi vocal tradition made famous in the West by the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This multi-sectarian group is composed of Muslims and Hindus who perform in Khan’s Punjabi style
* Foday Musa Suso, a renowned Gambian griot or jali (oral historian/praise singer), is a master of the 21-stringed kora harp-lute. He is known for his hypnotic performances of traditional Mandingo music, as well as for his collaborations with Herbie Hancock, Philip Glass, Jack DeJohnette, and the Kronos Quartet.
* Omar Faruk Tekbilek is one of the finest Turkish musicians performing on the ney (bamboo flute) and a versatile artist who has collaborated with oud virtuoso Simon Shaheen, Don Cherry, and Glen Velez, among others. Singing and playing ney, he will perform mystical Sufi music of the Middle East with accompaniment on frame drum by his son Murat Tekbilek.
* Wu Man, the celebrated Chinese pipa virtuoso and interpreter of the traditional Chinese repertoire and contemporary pipa music, has been acclaimed for “her consummate musicality and brilliant technique” (New York Times). She will perform with the Scorchio Quartet, a cutting-edge string quartet that has been the “house quartet” of the Tibet House Benefit Concerts produced by Philip Glass.
“When we did this at the Museum of Modern Art a couple of months ago, they put us over in the corner,” John Zorn said with a smirk to the crowd massed in the Abstract Expressionism gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier today. “Here, they put us right in front of the Pollock.” Sure enough, right behind Zorn and his bandmate Milford Graves was Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (No. 30).
Zorn had already gotten a foot in the door as a composer in the downtown scene during a time when the idea of a Pollock painting at the Met would have raised some eyebrows, not to mention a free jazz saxophonist and drummer squalling and rumbling in front of it. Has uptown finally caught up with downtown? As Dylan said, maybe everything’s a little upside down in New York right now, Zorn being feted at the Met for his antiestablishment antics and vast body of often strangely beautiful work while down in his old Lower East Side digs, it’s mostly Jeff Koons and Miley Cyrus wannabes strutting their stuff in the galleries and onstage. That someone who sounds anything like John Zorn wouldn’t be likely to get a gig in that neighborhood anywhere other than the Stone – Zorn’s own hangout – speaks to the LES’s death by gentrification more powerfully than just about anything else.
But Zorn was at home here and he played to the crowd. An alto saxophonist for the better part of four, maybe five decades, his chops have never been more razor-sharp. This duo improvisation was a roller-coaster ride, a sizzling display of extended technique peaking midway through with an endless series of trills delivered via circular breathing as Zorn slowly and very emphatically made his way up the chromatic scale over Graves’ crepuscular rumble. As intense as Zorn’s music can be, people sometimes forget what a great wit he is, and there was plenty of that here as well: a trick ending, a squonk or two that Graves slapped back at with a cymbal crash, and puckish pauses when least expected. Graves may be best known for his groundbreaking work in cardiac medicine, music history and acoustic science, but at 72 he’s absolutely undiminished behind the kit. And this one was considerably unorthodox: three floor toms, kick drum, ride cymbal and hi-hat, with two snares of differing sizes situated in the very front, Graves leaning on his central tom with his left elbow when he went for the very occasional higher timbre. That persistent low, matter-of-fact approach was the perfect complement to Zorn’s upper-register whirls and shrieks sprinkled with the occasional terse, pensive, chromatic phrase.
Elsewhere throughout the museum, small ensembles performed works from throughout Zorn’s career. In a Halloween-themed room in the American wing, a trio comprised of violinist Chris Otto, violist Dave Fulmer and cellist Jay Campbell had fun with Zorn’s spritely All Hallows Eve. They made it a warily suspenseful game of hide and seek, closer to an alternately lively and wispy Walpurgisnacht among the cicadas than, say, the John Carpenter movie. A quintet of Jane Seddon, Sarah Brailey, Abby Fischer, Mellissa Hughes and Kirsten Sollek sang the alternately rapt and assaultive antiphons of Zorn’s Holy Visions in the considerably more spacious medieval sculpture hall downstairs. Cellist Erik Friedlander treated the crowd packed into a room in the Assyrian section to a judicious, meticulously phrased solo take of Volac, a poignantly pleading partita from Zorn’s Masada: Book of Angels. The highlight of the morning was at the Temple of Dendur, where guitarist Bill Frisell, vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen and harpist Carol Emmanuel delivered a lushly gentle but incisively echoing version of the Gnostic Preludes and its warmly enveloping, hypnotic but anthemically interwoven, bell-like harmonies. And the museum opened with a sextet of trumpeters – Nate Botts, Wayne DuMaine, Gareth Flowers, Josh Frank, Stephanie Richards and Tim Leopold – premiering the brand-new Antiphonal Fanfare and its subtly crescendoingly, triumphant variations on a simple phrase a la Philip Glass. The reputedly prickly Zorn seemed anything but and during this piece was moved almost to the point of tears.
There were other performances later in the day for percussion, choir, oud, violin and finally the man himself at the museum’s venerable 1830 Appleton organ. What was all this like? After standing for five hours, with constant distractions from several millennia worth of fascinating stuff on the walls, it was time to call it a day. As the day went on, the crowds grew and everyone had their cameras out; there should be a ton of video out there if those people were generous enough to share it.
Last June, pianist Karine Poghosyan played an insightful, fascinating, emotionally gripping program of rarely-played works by her Armenian compatriot Aram Khachaturian at what’s become her more-or-less New York home base, the sonically superb St. Vartan’s Cathedral in Murray Hill. Poghosyan has such technical skill that the question of how she would tackle any program is reduced to that one word: how? She’s a passionate advocate of Khachaturian’s music, and shone just as much light this time out on a bill focusing on inner journeys and struggles from composers considerably better known here.
She played from memory, opening with a liquid, legato version of Liszt’s solo piano arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria. In her hands, it became a love song, a glimmering lullaby of sorts as she caressed its gently lingering tonalities. For the second piece, Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D Major, she was joined by the sensationally precise, inspired ten-piece string ensemble the St. Vartan Chamber Orchestra (Annette Homann, Sabina Torosjan, Gabriel Giles, Muneyoshi Takahashi and Roan Ma on violins; Kristina Giles and Catherine Wynder on violas; Seulki Lee and Edward Kim on cellos and Bradley Lovelace on bass) for a kinetic, equally attuned performance. This interpretation of Bach didn’t necessarily swing but, wow, they made it dance. And early on it was a danse macabre, bristling with minor-key chromatics through the opening allegro and what became a matter-of-factly wrenching adagio that followed. And yet the ensemble seemed to be having a great time with it. Poghosyan isn’t the kind of pianist who keeps her cards close to her vest: throughout the triptych, there were what seemed dozens of “yessssss” moments flickering across her face and between the group members, which all paid off with the concluding allegro movement and its indomitable sense of triumph. That she’d put this piece at the center of the program speaks for how thoughtfully put together it was.
Poghosyan went back to contemplative mode for Liszt’s Spolizio, from his Years of Pilgrimage suite, following its winding but methodical trajectory from rapt to heroic, and back and forth: the push-pull of the dynamics became a cinematic song without words. She closed with Liszt’s “Dante Sonata,” and maybe surprisingly, maybe not so surprisingly, she eschewed the temptation to follow its demonic chromatics and crushingly difficult block chords into grand guignol. Instead, this journey through hell and heaven was a travelogue, Poghosyan sometimes seeming to prefer illuminating its more obscure spirals and vistas rather than the obvious themes. And this approach worked like a charm because it gave her what amounted to unlimited headroom when she finally dug in and roared through the coda. It’s rare to hear Liszt played with such sensitivity. These concerts at St. Vartans are not frequent, but when the church has them, they’re excellent. There’s an intriguing program on November 20 at 7:30 PM with violinist Nune Melikian and pianist Raisa Kargamonova playing works by Babadjanian, Khachaturian, Markov and Kreisler; there’s also an as-yet unnamed “superstar” organist playing the high-powered digital organ here on March 26 of next year at the same time.
John Zorn‘s improvisation on the magnificent vintage Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University last night was one of the most sonically delicious concerts in New York in recent memory. It was also exhilarating, assaultive, witty, carefully considered and raptly contemplative, in roughly chronological order. Zorn isn’t known as an organist, but the instrument was his first love. This concert was originally scheduled for last year, but the hurricane put an end to that idea, and with all the celebrations of Zorn’s sixtieth birthday going on throughout 2013, this was likely the earliest it could be rescheduled. Fans of the irascible eclecticist composer who might be kicking themselves that they missed this concert have even rarer opportunity to see Zorn play the 1830 Appleton organ in the gallery of the musical instruments section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this Saturday, Sept 28 at around 7:30 PM. That performance caps off a daylong celebration of Zorn’s music which begins with his new trumpet fanfare when the museum opens and features a slate of familiar Zorn bandmates from over the years playing works from throughout Zorn’s career in various parts of the museum; all these are free with museum admission.
This improvisation began with an ominous sustained motif. Then the fireworks started, Zorn literally pulling out all the stops. It seemed as if he was using his entire forearm to hold down most of the keys in the upper midrange, creating a vicious, continuous blast punctuated by explosions from the low pedals. Zorn nimbly switched between registers, blending tones with an endlessly alternating series of brass and woodwind timbres. Finally the vortex cleared, Zorn introducing a single minor chord, but then the descent into the maelstrom continued. He took a pause, then built a tone poem with even more meticulously shifting timbres, something akin to Messiaen in dub. Zorn followed with a triptych of sorts based on simple, pedaled chords embellished with an even greater delicacy before a sudden and viscerally shocking return to the fire and brimstone. Yet, when it seemed that he was going to take the concert out on a screaming, abrasive note, he took another pause, then contrasted extreme low and high frequencies and methodically built a hypnotic, meditative ambience. And suddenly it was over. The audience, stunned, took their time rising for a standing ovation: everybody wanted an encore, but Zorn had clearly said everything he wanted to. The organ at the Met isn’t as powerful as this one, but the acoustics there are rich with natural reverb, a very good omen for Saturday’s performance.
There’s also a three-night program of Zorn works at Columbia’s Miller Theatre, Sept 25-27. The first features orchestral works, the second chamber works; the final night includes his improvisationally-based Game Pieces.
Guitarist Peter Leitch‘s Off the Books: A Jazz Life is not your usual jazz autobiography. Every time the narrative threatens to get bogged down in a litany of tour dates or recording sessions, Leitch zings you. This is one hilarious memoir. Leitch’s withering cynicism is matched by a caustically insightful intelligence: he’s a big-picture guy, and his coping mechanism is gallows humor. Here’s one typically acerbic passage: “It was so wonderful to play with superb bassists like ‘Bookie’ [Walter Booker] and Ray Drummond, especially in an era where there were so many bassists whose technical proficiency superseded their intelligence, and whose playing ignored the bass function. Yes, there was a lot of cocaine around in those days.”
There’s an argument that outsiders make the best artists because they have an objectivity that comes from not having a horse in the race. They tell the truth because they have nothing to lose. Leitch grew up in the 1950s as an English speaker in Francophone Montreal, so he was an outsider from day one. From time to time, throughout this disarmingly honest narrative, he wistfully ponders how he might get out of the “guitar ghetto,” as he calls it. Of course, his fellow guitarists and fans of guitar jazz don’t see it as a ghetto at all: to them, Leitch is a cult hero with a body of work on the level of Jim Hall and Joe Pass, two fellow icons whom Leitch frequently resembles. At this point in his career, Leitch is now close to seventy but playing at the peak of his subtle, eclectic, purist power. A recent Sunday night gig at Walker’s in Tribeca, where he’s had a weekly residency for years, saw him moving from plaintive to animated to absolutely rapt, in a conversational duo performance with bassist Dwayne Burno, playing a mix of originals, a lively Strayhorn medley and an absolutely chilling, Lynchian take of Kenny Burrell’s Moonflower.
The book’s title is telling: from his early years as a schoolboy outcast, Leitch sees himself on the fringes of society, yet this isn’t a pity trip. Largely self-taught, he downplays the difficulty in honing his craft as a jazz-addicted teenager, playing along with and transcribing from vinyl albums at 16 RPM instead of 33 in order to figure out the most difficult passages. Touring some of Canada’s vacation backwater with both jazz and R&B bands back in the 60s was a colorful way to make a living, and Leitch has some cruelly funny stories from that era as well. After a brief, frustrating stop in Toronto, Leitch arrived in New York in 1982, which has been his home base ever since.
Perhaps owing somewhat to his Canadianness, Leitch is candidly critical of many aspects of American society. His take on the often unspoken racism that still oozes poison throughout both the the jazz world and the country at large is telling, influenced by the insights of the great pianist John Hicks, with whom Leitch shared a long association. Having been in New York and witnessed the events of the morning of 9/11, he has some particularly savage observations on post-9/11 American paranoia and the Bush-era assaults on human rights. Leitch has nothing but contempt for the music business, quick to acknowledge the many supportive venue owners he’s known while saving some of his most side-splitting commentary for record labels: his take on the widely hyped young would-be major label jazz stars of the early 90s is priceless. Likewise, the critics don’t get off easy: “Musicians should take their own poll of critics and journalists. You could give out awards in various categories such as ‘Most consistent misuse of musical terminology’ and ‘Best regurgitation of a major label press release’ and ‘Best autobiographical essay in the guise of a review,’ etc. The awards themselves could consist of dog shit or broken glass.”
Drugs – especially opiates, but also coke and opioids – make frequent appearances here, along with plenty of booze. Leitch cops to a regular if not incapacitating dope habit in the 70s, which he acknowledges he was lucky to be able to quit. Surprisingly, there’s less about his actual music here than there are anedcotes about Leitch’s long career playing and interacting with luminaries including Oscar Peterson, Pepper Adams and Jaki Byard, although there are frequent and often unselfconsciously profound insights into composition, phrasing, touring and simply being a good bandmate. The result is a complete lack of jazz-insider cliches: no laundry lists of influences, no pseudo-spiritual musings, no self-aggrandizing. If anything, Leitch doesn’t give himself enough credit as either a player or photographer (much of the latter portion of the book deals with his mid-career side gig as an art photographer with a noir streak a mile long). Along the way, we get a fascinating look at the vibrant 1950s and 60s Montreal jazz scene; a thoughtful and ceaselessly amusing tour of New York as gentrification takes its toll; a panoramic view of how the jazz scene here changed, with the waves of recent music school grads edging out much of the old guard, and the sad demise of venues like Bradley’s (which for Leitch, like so many in the jazz community in the 80s and 90s was home away from home) and Sweet Basil.
Leitch also has a new album, California Concert, a live bootleg of sorts recorded at a Fresno festival in 1999 with both Leitch and Hicks at the top of their game alongside bassist David Williams and drummer Billy Higgins throughout an expansive mix of Ellington tunes plus Hicks and Leitch originals.
Forget for a minute that Juan Garcia Esquivel wasn’t the world’s most memorable composer, or that a lot of his stuff sounds like Lawrence Welk on acid. This evening at Pace University downtown, polymath percussionist Brian O’Neill’s big band version of his sometime Esquivel tribute project Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica played an irresistibly fun show that emphasized Esquivel the satirist, one of only a small handful of occasions that Esquivel’s big band music has been presented in concert in this country by a large ensemble. Along with the vaudevillian cartoonishness in Esquivel’s music, there’s a sense that everything is fair game for a spoof, especially American standards from the 30s through the 50s. Over-the-top as Esquivel generally is, there’s a subtly defiant reconquista going on if you listen closely.
Which O’Neill has done, to an extreme: virtually everything the 22-piece ensemble played, he’d transcribed by hand from the original albums. O’Neill has had a ball with this group, and his enthusiasm turned out to be contagious, boiling over into the band and the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. Recreating charts by ear for instruments as seemingly ill-paired as pedal steel, chimes, pandeiro, Hammond organ and a vintage synthesizer that basically doesn’t exist anymore might seem like a thankless task, but O’Neill loves his job: having to figure out, for example, whether a phrase buried in the mix is either the Hammond, or four alto saxes in harmony.
Esquivel’s main shtick became a familiar trope after just a few songs. The juxtaposition of extreme lows versus extreme highs, bass trombone and vibraphone, gong and flute, served as a comedic device as much as it showcased the wide-angle stereo sound he helped pioneer at RCA Studios back in the mid-50s. It’s also psychedelic to the extreme. Watching this show without being stoned was a trip: it’s hard to envision Esquivel in the studio without a haze of Acapulco Gold or whatever primo bud Mexicans were smoking back then drifting from the control room. The version of Take the A Train that the band played evoked a scene where one guy passes the joint to Esquivel and then suggests, “Why don’t make it sound like a real train?” Many giggles later, the choo-choo theme, complete with steam-valve vocalizations from the four vocalists onstage, made its way around the room.
As conductor, O’Neill took advantage of the chance to show off his chops on piano, vibraphone and various percussion instruments, including a LMAO two-monkeys-faking-each-other-out duel on cajon with bongo player Wilson Torres. The leader of the three-piece trumpet section, Bryan Davis, had been chosen for his ability to hit Esquivel’s cruelly difficult high notes, and he made it look easy. Bass trombonist Chris Beaudry got plenty of punch lines early on; as the concert went on, steel player Tim Obetz, organist/pianist Rusty Scott and then the vocalists got momentary cameos to swoop and dive and get impossibly surreal. Yolanda Scott’s stratospheric, crystalline wail paired against murky percussion on the intro to Esquivel’s version of Harlem Nocturne was wickedly adrenalizing…and then the song turned into a red-eyed grin of a cha-cha. The same vibe appeared in Boulevard of Broken Dreams, as if to say, “You Americans can’t really take this gloomy stuff seriously, can you?”
The rest of the show wavered between biting and ticklish. A slinky bolero from the 70s fueled by unexpectedly moody guitar from Tev Stevig evoked the dark side of Chicha Libre, and the closing cha-cha, Ye-Yo, got a drive from drummer Gary Seligson that the group picked up on in a split-second, as if everybody was hell-bent on getting some of that stuff. By contrast, Esquivel’s most famous song, Mucha Muchacha spun off sparks around the ensemble as they grinningly vamped it up to a surreal linguistic exchange between the vocalists. There were too many other bright and amusing moments to count from the rest of the crew, including trumpeters Paul Perfetti and Mark Sanchez, trombonist Dan Linden, horn player Ken Pope, flutist/saxists Sean Berry, Marenglem Skendo, Alec Spiegelman and Russ Gershon (of the mighty Either/Orchestra), singers Jennifer O’Neill, Kristina Vaskys and Paul Pampinella, bassist Jason Davis, and percussionist Jeremy Lang.
The loss of Dave Brubeck left a void the size of an ocean in the world of third stream piano jazz, but thankfully we have others who keep pushing the envelope in that sphere, and one of that style’s finest, most eclectic exponents continues to be Bill Mays. His latest album, Life’s a Movie, with his Inventions Trio (Marvin Stamm on trumpet and Alisa Horn on cello) is a richly tuneful, purposeful collection that bookends a characteristically cinematic Mays suite with fresh takes on old classics.
They open with a quartet of Bill Evans pieces. My Bells gets a matter-of-fact, glistening, all-too-brief take, followed by Interplay, a through-composed/through-improvised blues. Before recording it, Mays said to Horn he wished she could play both the original Jim Hall guitar part along with Percy Heath’s bassline, to which she replied that she could do both at once. And she does – it’s a terse, pulsing treat. simultaneously and she tells him she can. The cello-fueled dirge Turn Out the Stars has Mays edging toward Ran Blake noir under Horn’s mournful austerity. A bittersweet Watz for Debby with balmy flugelhorn above the glimmer concludes the mini-suite.
Mays’ own Life’s a Movie: 4 Cues in Search of a Theme balances a pensive, often poignant narrative with considerable wit, drawing on Mays’ prolific career in film music. The long, expansive Main Title theme is grounded by Horn’s ambered, sustained lines, Stamm’s clear, terse passages and livened with Mays’ increasingly lively leaps and bounds – this isn’t a horror movie. Love Theme Bittersweet is true to its name, beginning as a spacious, starlit, rather avant garde tone poem and then reaching toward an angst-fueled neoromantic swing. A similarly swinging chase scene develops with a surrealistic twelve-tone acidity; the main title is reprised as a genial nocturne that takes on a Brazilian-tinged pulse fueled by Stamm’s animated, spiraling phrases.
They follow a brief, rapt take of Joaquin Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez theme with an upbeat, swinging romp through Chick Corea’s Spain, an apt segue. A trio of familiar Monk classics wraps up the album tersely: Trinkle Tinkle, with some nonchalantly arresting harmonies from the trumpet and cello; a gentle, almost pastoral take of Pannonica; and Straight, No Chaser, Horn offering an affectionately lithe, bluesy nod to Miles Davis. In its own unselfconsciously soulful way, this is one of the best jazz albums of the year.
There was no need for the parade of musicians on the bill this evening at Subculture to do anything more than phone in their performances. After all, they were only there to give a by-invite-only audience of media and a few friends an idea of how both amplified and unamplified acts sound in the newly renovated space. But they did far more than that: if the quality of most of these artists is an indication of what the venue will be booking in the coming months, that’s something to look forward to. And the sonics here are exquisite, to rival the Village Vanguard and Carnegie Hall: Subculture has quietly vaulted to the ranks of Manhattan’s top-tier listening rooms.
On the unamplified side, a-cappella quartet New York Polyphony – Christopher Dylan Herbert, Craig Phillips, Geoffrey Williams and Steven Caldicott Wilson – blended voices richly and intricately in pre-baroque Palestrina motets and then with a slyly joyous new arrangement of Rosie the Riveter. The up-and-coming ACJW String Quartet – Grace Park, Clara Lyon, John Stulz and Hannah Collins – made energetic work of a Philip Glass excerpt and then took what could have been Schubert’s String Quartet No. 12 – if Schubert had finished writing it – to the next level. The famous nocturnal theme became a suspenseful springboard for animated, even explosive cadenzas, a mystery unfolding with an increasing sense of triumph. Student ensembles can be erratic, but they also bring fresh ears and ideas to a performance and this was a prime example of that kind of confluence.
On the more groove-oriented side, pianist/chanteuse Laila Biali sang her driving, playful new arrangement of This Could Be the Start of Something New with Joel Frahm on tenor sax, Ike Sturm on bass and Jared Schonig on drums. The highlight of the night, unsurprisingly, was pianist Fred Hersch, who delivered an understatedly bittersweet, strolling blend of ragtime-tinged pastoral shades on Down Home, his homage to Bill Frisell (with whom he collaborated memorably about fifteen years ago), a standout track from Hersch’s new live album, Flying Free, with guitarist Julian Lage. Singer Jo Lawry then joined Hersch and over lush, glimmering, Debussy-esque cascades, delivered a biting, half-sung, half-narrated reflection on clueless parades of tourists in the Louvre crowding around to take pics and videos of the Mona Lisa – and then moving on. The two wound up their brief set, joined by Richie Barshay on hand drum, for an electrically dancing, animatedly conversational take of the new album’s bossa-flavored title track, an Egberto Gismonti tribute.
Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii‘s previous album with their Gato Libre quartet, Shiro, incorporated elements of flamenco, Middle Eastern, Romany and rock music within an improvisational context. The group’s most recent and final album, Forever, often more closely resembles Fujii and Tamura’s Ma-Do ensemble, which uses traditional Japanese melodies as a stepping-off point. This one is sadly notable for being one of the last recordings made by the group’s late bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and for whatever reason has a considerably more subdued, moody ambience. As before, Fujii plays accordion rather than piano here, alongside her trumpeter husband plus acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura.
Much of this is a theme and variations set to slow, rubatoesque tempos; the quartet moving forward methodically if not necessarily with a specific meter. Tamura kicks off the opening number, Moor with a stately, anthemic theme over sheets of accordion and plucking from the guitar and bass, rising more rhythmically and then receding, a portentous overture. Court, the second track, follows the same trajectory to a brooding bass vamp withi eerily, distantly lingering accordion. Hokkaido is a cinematic mini-suite, pastoral accordion handing off to more energetic trumpet and then a flamenco-tinged guitar solo. Moseda follows a warmly bucolic, almost Beatlesque theme and then shifts unexpectedly into darkness with an absolutely delicious, chromatically bristling bass solo – it’s the closest thing here to the material on the previous album.
Nishiogi is another catchy one, pensive accordion over nimbly precise bass and fingerpicked guitar, with a long, expansive but purposeful bass solo. Japan is portrated as nebulous and dreamy but with an elegaic bittersweetness (Tamura and Fujii would soon leave their native land for Germany, perhaps explaining that mood) over a sober, marchlike rhythm. A more nostalgic tone poem, World, follows that, another moody bass solo giving way to flamencoesque guitar. The title track moves back and forth from waltz time, up and down, maintaining the nostalgic feel. It’s a memorable way for both the group and Koreyasu to bow out.
Along with the recent explosion in Romany music and Romany-flavored rock, there’s been a resurgence in interest in Italian folk music, which can be just as wild and feral. Italian folk revivalists Newpoli‘s debut album Tempo Antico goes in the other direction. There are a handful of tarantellas, but even those are more elegant than they are a desperate attempt to whirl and sweat out the lethal spider’s bite. Rather, the concept is to find commonalities throughout some pretty diverse styles of Italian music, and the results are eye-opening. Most of the ancient songs here are from around Naples and Puglia. There are also medieval classical pieces that very vividly pilfer folk themes (validating the composer’s adage that if a hook is too catchy, it must be from a folk tune). The 20th century is also represented, but with nothing like the cheesy Italian songs you might hear at a baseball stadium (specifically, before or during New York Mets games). The recording, made at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, Massachusetts adds a tantalizing natural reverb to the sonics. The ensemble features Angela Rossi and Carmen Marsico on vocals, Bjorn Wennas on classical guitar, Roberto Cassan on accordion, Fabio Pirozzollo on percussion, Daniel Meyers on reeds, Megumi Sataaki on violin, Sean Farias on bass and guest John LaBarbera on acoustic guitar, mandola and mandolin.
The opening track contrasts lively vocals with a careful proto-baroque pulse – so this is where Albinoni and Corelli got their ideas! – and then morphs into a joyously circling dance, accordion handing off to Meyers’ searing, overtone-charged clarinet. The second track sounds like an English sailors’ hornpipe dance, the third an elegant, rustic pavan of sorts from 1545. The ensemble draws a vivid line back to ancient tarantella grooves with a 1957 noir cabaret-tinged pop song, then return to the roots of the baroque.
They follow a slightly arioso, crescendoing 1916 song with a tongue-twisting rondo credited to the great pre-baroque choral composer Orlando de Lassus. The most haunting passages here come at the beginning of a Pugliese tarantella that reminds of noir Mexican revivalists Las Rubias Del Norte; then the band picks it up and it becomes another one of those quasi-hornpipes. Then they explore the trope again: stately intro, boisterous dance, like a Jewish hora in different scales.
A brooding guitar/accordion tune from 1930 closely resembles the Romany-influenced French and Belgian musettes of that era. They follow that with one of the most eye-opening numbers here, another Lassus antiphon with Bulgarian-tinged, melismatic vocals: what kind of cross-pollination was going on back then? Or is this the band putting a neat Balkan spin on early Italian classical music? They keep that vibe going with a medieval Pugliese love song and close with an unexpectedly carefree tarantella, maybe a post-extermination dance.