Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Caroline Goulding and Michael Brown Wake Up Lincoln Center

Did violinist Caroline Goulding and pianist Michael Brown stay up all night before their concert at Lincoln Center on Sunday? They played as if they had, and during the latter part of the performance, as if it was still Halloween. Goulding told the late-morning crowd that an intricate Bach sonata and a shattering one by Bartok were the ideal way to start a Sunday, and from how vividly and passionately she and Brown tackled those pieces, she may not have been kidding. Both musicians are rising stars, have victories in major competitions and a conversational repartee in concert: they make a good team.

Bach was busy in his years in Leipzig, Germany; along with running a demanding church music program, he also booked a venue, not to mention writing and performing at the weekly program there. His Sonata No. 3 in E, BVW 1016 dates from that fertile period. At this point in history, for a composer to engage both performers in a duo piece is expected, but  that wasn’t the case in Bach’s time. If liberating the piano from the role of playing rhythm for a lead instrument wasn’t actually a Bach invention, it was definitely an innovation. With this particular piece, he hides a lament in the middle of artfully interwoven, upbeat concert music. The duo brought a sense of suspense to the pensive opening, Brown animating the second movement with a marvelous light staccato touch, as if to say, “In case you’re wondering, this was written for harpsichord.” Sometimes this work calls for role reversals, poignancy from the piano and atmosphere from the violin; both musicians remained closely attuned to those demands through slow, expressive middle passages and then a triumphant waltz out.

The piece de resistance was Bartok’s Sonata No. 1 for Piano and Violin. On one hand, this 1921 work, with its modernist tonalities, proto gypsy-rock and minimalist passages, is completely in the here and now. On the other, it captures its era, the composer and most of Europe still piecing themselves back together in the aftershock of World War I and much that preceded it. From Brown’s first creepy, upwardly cascading motif, there was no doubt that the pyrotechnics afterward would be harrowing. The two performers went deep into it for a rendition that was both horror-stricken and elegaic. Brown’s alternately moody reflecting-pool sostenuto and menacing, low lefthand slasher chords anchored Goulding’s elegantly anxious, sky-searching washes of sound that contrasted later with gnashing, rapidfire cadenzas. The two worked a cinematic exchange of voices through variations on a muted, funereal bell tone from the depths of the piano; a bit later, Goulding hit an imploring, pedaled motif where it looked like her hand was going to cramp up as it stretched up the fingerboard, or that she was about to break her bow.

The final movement began with a fiery Romany dance twisted cruelly out of shape, more maimed than threatening – a metaphor for what happened to Bartok’s home turf? Brown’s Hungarian stalker boogie held the violin’s danse macabre to the ground, shifting to ancient, otherworldly ancient folk harmonies, to an anguished bustle out. The duo encored with a handful of Bartok’s Hungarian Dances, Goulding delivering the second with legato high harmonics so silken it was as if she was playing a theremin. In a morning full of dazzling displays of technique, this was the most stunning, justifying the price of admission all by itself.

Who was in the crowd at this hour? Retirees from the neighborhood, for the most part, although there was a noticeably younger contingent as well. Not only are these morning concerts at the Walter Reade Theatre a bargain at $20, they also come with a coffee reception with the artists afterward. And you can choose your seat at the box office. While there were plenty of concertgoers at the ticket window beforehand, many more had already reserved theirs, which seems the safer option considering that by the time the show started, the theatre appeared to be sold out. The next one of these  is at 10:30 AM on December 15 with pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung playing Stravinsky’s Petrouschka plus works by Astor Piazzolla.

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November 11, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sachal Studios Orchestra Bring Their Titanic Pakistani Reinterpretations to JALC

[originally published at Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily]

The Sachal Studios Orchestra‘s latest album Jazz and All That is more all that than it is jazz – and it is all that, most definitely. The Pakistani orchestral ensemble plays Bollywood-style versions of popular Western themes with a titanic, epic Mahlerian/Spector-esque power, driven mainly by a massive string section. Their shtick is to substitute South Asian instruments like sitar, sarangi, wood flute and tabla in place of piano, sax or drum kit when it comes time for solos. They also prove perfectly competent at playing styles from around the world in their original idioms, without any distinguishable Pakistani/Indian flavor, demonstrated here via a vividly Celtic-tinged version of Morning Has Broken and a lavish, string-driven cover of Jobim’s iconic bossa nova hit, Wave. They’re at Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center at 8 PM on Nov 22 and 23, where they’ll be collaborating with Wynton Marsalis’ JALC Orchestra. It’s hard to imagine a more potentially explosive cross-cultural orchestral collaboration on any New York stage in recent memory.

The album opens with a full-throttle vamp through Stevie Wonder’s You’ve Got It Bad Girl, with sitar, flute and harmonium over a Bacharach-esque groove. The French chanson favorite If You Go Away (Si Tu Dois Partir) is as much art-rock as it is cinematic theme, a long, sweeping crescendo building as the thicket of percussion grows denser, handing off to terse vibraphone and then piano solos. Moonlight in Vermont opens with a conversation between sitar and fiddle, then a slide guitar, a hypnotically tricky, rhythmic but aptly dreamy reinterpretation that may well be the best version of this old chesnut ever recorded.

Monsoon, by Wazir Afzal, a trip-hop song, is the most hypnotic number here, flavored with moody harmonica, a long trumpet solo handing off to the sitar. The orchestra’s version of the Pink Panther theme is oldschool Bollywood as S.D. Burman would have done it; they wait til the fourth time through the verse to go completely over-the-top with the sitar. The comedy continues with Ponteio, by Edu Lobo, redone as Pakistani disco with a jawharp intro, bass flute and then harmonica adding gravitas to this otherwise airy vamp. And to the orchestra’s massive credit – pun intended – they manage not only to not butcher Eleanor Rigby, but to beef up the original’s macabre surrealism with a barrage of strings which actually push the delicately nuanced sitar line out of the sonic picture.

The worst song on the album is the weepy early 90s REM hit Everybody Hurts…but by eliminating the vocals and doing it as a stunningly simple Americana waltz, albeit with stark traditional fiddle and harmonium, it’s completely transformed into a catchy lullaby. The best and longest song on the album is the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays tune To the End of the World, which they reinvent as an uneasily glimmering Isaac Hayes-style crime-jazz theme, bluesy piano and dancing bass paired off against the sitar over a black velvet groove. The Dave Brubeck classic Blue Rondo a la Turk is the closest thing to the original here: lavish as it is, the sitar lead sticks very close to Brubeck’s piano line.  And Kafi Jazz (Five Rivers), by Baqir Abbas has the sitar leading a lush, uneasy bossa groove, the tsunami of strings again subsuming the lead instruments, nimble acoustic guitar and then a sitar/guitar exchange brightening the mist. Fans of all of the above artists will find this anything from exhilarating to maddeningly weird to LMAO funny, all of which seem to be the point of this irrepressible large ensemble.

November 11, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment