Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Potential Fireworks at the Jazz Gallery This Wednesday

This Wednesday night, Aug 1 there’s an especially auspicious show at the Jazz Gallery for people who like adventurous but purposefully tuneful improvisation. Pianist Mara Rosenbloom, whose aptly titled trio album Prairie Burn ranked high among the best jazz albums of 2016, leads an unusual trio with singer/percussionist Anais Maviel and bassist Adam Lane. It’s an especially interesting lineup considering that Rosenbloom’s work, prior to that incendiary release, leaned toward Sylvie Courvoisier-esque elegance. Maviel is a similarly purposeful improviser and shares that low-key sensibility: contrasts in styles may create some memorable fireworks at this gig. They’ll be exploring themes inspired by Adrienne Rich poetry. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $15.

Maviel’s latest album, spelled hOUle, is streaming at Bandcamp. The song titles are in the multilingual Maviel’s native French. Much of the music sounds ancient, although it may be completely improvised. There’s a shamanic, hypnotic quality to her spare, blues-infused melodies, just wordless vocals and percussion. It’s a more direct and somewhat darker counterpart to Sofia Rei’s playful adventures in vocalese.

The first track, Animots contrasts Maviel’s blithe, blippy scat-like delivery with a boomy, staggered, gnawa-esque beat. She begins the almost thirteen-minute epic Blues Feraille with nuanced variations on a simple minor-key riff with echoes of 19th century African-American gospel. From there she subtly shifts to uneasy chromatics as the rhythm coalesces, then goes in a sunnier but similarly hypnotic direction before bringing the music full circle with a muted suspense.

Bois, Or (Wood, Gold) #2, for vocals, bell and frame drum is quieter, more spacious, veering in and out of hypnotic rhythms. Scat-style vocals also take centerstage in the more spare, kinetic variations of the next track, Bois, Or #1. Le Vent (The Wind), a bodymusic piece, has a leaping, Nordic-tinged melody.

The album’s most trancey number is Gens de la Mer (Sea People) #1. Gens de la Mer #3, the album’s closing cut, features some neat implied melody and Maviel’s most dynamically varied delivery: it’s less watery than a series of sea breezes. This is good rainy-day chillout album.

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July 30, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The All-Female NYChillharmonic Raises the Bar For Epic Big Band Grandeur

Finding eighteen musicians capable of doing justice to singer/keyboardist Sara McDonald’s kinetic, stormy, intricately epic compositions is an achievement all by itself. Finding a night when they’re all available for a show in Gowanus raises that challenge exponentially. Now imagine leading that band on a broken foot.

That’s what McDonald had to contend with fronting her ensemble the NYChillharmonic back in May at Littlefield. Visibly in pain and steaming that she had to be helped onstage, she rallied and transcended the situation, singing with greater purr and wail than ever as the music rose and fell and turned kaleidoscopically behind her. Adrenaline can do that to you. She’s presumably in better shape now, and will be leading the group at Brooklyn’s best-sounding venue, National Sawdust, on Aug 2 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $20.

Unlike typical big band jazz, this unit is not a vehicle for long solos. Throughout the night, those moments tended to be cameos, an instrumentalst backed by just the rhythm section – Madgalena Abrego’s incisive guitar, Danae Greenfield’s spare piano, Adi Meyerson’s spring-loaded bass and Mareike Weining’s tersely inventive drumming. While much of the rhythm followed a slinky, swaying 4/4, sudden flares would erupt when least expected, sending the tempo and often the melody every which way. Occasionally these would take the form of clever, false endings McDonald loves so much.

The Radiohead influence that was so pervasive in McDonald’s earlier work is still there, intricately voiced, looping phrases and permutations filtering through every section of the orchestra. Yet throughout the set, from the tight sunburst pulses of Surface Tension through the mighty, cinematic closing number, Easy Comes the Ghost, the harmonies remained vastly more translucent than opaque. McDonald reached back for extra power in the gusting, crescendoing Blumen, in contrast with the smoldering lustre that peppered To Covet a Quiet Mind. With jazz inventiveness and spontaneity but also rock drive and raw power, McDonald’s music is its own genre.

McDonald didn’t address the issue that this was an all-female edition of the band until late in the set. “They’re great musicians,” she said, nonchalant and succinct, and left it at that. The lineup was a mix of established artists – notably Jenny Hill on tenor sax, Rachel Therrien on trumpet and Kaila Vandever on trombone – and rising star talent. The rest of the group, clearly amped to be playing this material, included Alden Hellmuth and Erena Terakubo  on alto sax, Emily Pecoraro on tenor and Mercedes Beckman on baritone with Leah Garber, Rebecca Steinberg and Kathleen Doran on trumpets; Nicole Connelly and Erin Reifler on trombones; Gina Benalcazar on bass trombone; and a string quartet comprising violinists Audrey Hayes and Kiho Yutaka, violist Dora Kim and cellist Jillian Blythe.

And a big shout-out to the sound guy. The latest Littlefield space is nothing like the old one: it’s a barewalled rock club, about the same size as the Footlight. Miking so many instruments with highs bouncing all over the place was a daunting task to say the least. That the guy managed to give the group as much clarity as he did was impressive all by itself, let alone without all sorts of nasty feedback. In the pristine sonics at National Sawdust next Thursday that won’t be an issue.

July 27, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Music Luminary Richard Egarr Makes a Long-Awaited Mostly Mozart Festival Debut

Fans of classical music may find it hard to believe that harpsichord virtuoso Richard Egarr is finally making his Mostly Mozart Festival debut at Lincoln Center this July 27 and 28 at 7:30 PM. The tireless leader of the Academy of Ancient Music records and tours relentlessly – one can only imagine that it’s his grueling schedule that’s kept him from being part of the festival until now. This time out he’ll join the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and flute soloist Jasmine Choi in a program that includes Handel’s Concerto Grosso and Sonata à Cinque plus portions of his iconic Water Music suite. There’ll also be iconic Bach on the bill: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, plus his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. As a bonus for those who can get to Lincoln Center early, guitarist Jiji opens the night at 6:30, playing works by Albeniz, Paganini, Marais and Bach. You can get in for $35.

Egarr plays with masterful baroque precision but also High Romantic ferocity. Those attributes are far from incompatible considering that the repertoire he’s so passionate about was radical in its day. To get a sense of his approach, give a spin to his epic double-cd recording of the Bach Partitas, BWV 825-830, streaming at Spotify. From the spiky curlicues of the ornamentation of the prelude that opens the first partita, to the majestic mathematics of the finale of the sixth, the way Egarr make the harpsichord sparkle and then whir is breathtaking. But Egarr doesn’t merely content himself with working up a storm on the keys. He’s gone inside the music to find the secret codes that the composer loved so much.

The most dramatic is the passion play in the sixth partita. As Egarr explains with considerable relish in the liner notes – after all, he’s solved the puzzle – Bach’s first clue is to provide the time signature as “perfect time” rather than a prosaic 4/4. The harpsichordist explains how the composer creates numerological Biblical imagery to illustrate a familiar tale that’s usually a very grim one – this ends with a triumphant flourish.

Within these bejewelled mazes of harmony, Egarr doesn’t limit himself to standard, metronomic rhythm, either, as you’ll hear in the lilting sarabande on the way to that big payoff. Although it’s less noticeable, he takes his time getting into the mighty anthem that opens the second partita before it goes scampering and brightens somewhat. And in the same vein as a jazz player providing a bonus outtake that was too hot to leave off the album, he offers two versions of the pouncing finale to the third partita. On the surface, a lot of this looks back to Bach’s mentor, Buxtehude, but the harmonic and rhythmic innovations are vastly more complex. For those with the cash, this weekend’s Mostly Mozart Festival program offers a real trip in time back to what was once  the world’s cutting edge in serious concert music.

July 23, 2018 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Faces Bring Their Cutting-Edge Postbop Party to the Jazz Standard

Every so often a record label puts together a house band that actually works. Willie Dixon, Otis Spann and Fred Below made Chess what they were in the 50s – and got virtually nothing for it Twenty years later, Fania threw all their solo acts together into one mighty, sprawling salsa orchestra. These days, there’s the Mack Avenue Super Band, and most recently, Posi-Tone Records’ New Faces, a serendipitously edgy lineup of rising star New York jazz talent. Tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss just released The Future Is Female, a brooding broadside that might be the best jazz album of 2018. Vinnie Sperrazza, who could be the best New York jazz drummer not named Rudy Royston, holds fort behind the kit in tandem with ubiquitous bassist Peter Brendler. The reliably ambitious Behn Gillece plays vibraphone, joined by Theo Hill on piano and Josh Lawrence on trumpet. They’re playing the album release show for their aptly titled debut, Straight Forward – streaming at Posi-Tone – at the Jazz Standard this July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $25.

Wtth two exceptions, the compositions are all by members of the Posi-Tone family. The group open with Jon Davis’ bitingly swinging Happy Juice, setting the stage with only slightly restrained jubilance amid harmonic dualities between vibes and piano and also the horns. Lots of contrast between upbeat solos and a darker undercurrent.

Gillece contributes three tunes. The first, Down the Pike is truth in advertising, a briskly shuffling motorway theme lit up by sparkling vibes and piano, judicious sax and trumpet spirals. Vortex has a lustre that rises from the writer’s subdued, lingering intro with hints of Brazil, both Coss and Gillece maintaining an enigmatic edge throughout expansive solos. The last number, Follow Suit is a platform for scurrying soloing in turn over Sperrazza’s counterintuitive charge.

Lawrence is represented by two numbers. He infuses the briskly pulsing Hush Puppy with volleys and glissandos, playing with a mute, echoed by the rest of the band. Frederico, a coyly shadowy cha-cha, is the album’s funnest track: the relaxed/uptight tension between Gillece and Hill is a hoot.

Brian Charette’s West Village is a comfortable, tourist-free stroll – a wish song, maybe? – with wistful muted work from Lawrence and nimble pointillisms from Gillece. With Lawrence in cozily jubilant mode, I’m OK, by Art Hirahara has the feel of a late Louis Armstrong number. Preachin’, by Jared Gold – who like Charette has really developed a brand-new vernacular for the organ – has a laid-back gospel-inspired swing. It’s the big hum-along here.

No matter how many distractions the soloists provide in a rather cinematic take of Herbie Hancock’s King Cobra, Hill’s piano is relentless. And Edwing’s Delilah Was a Libra offers a vampy platform for solos as well. If you missed the days when jazz was urban America’s default party music – and most of us did – this is for you.

July 22, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Future of Jazz Is Female Too

Saxophonist Roxy Coss’ latest album The Future Is Female is a catchy, hard-swinging mix of postbop jazz tunes. It’s also a fierce political statement, an important part of a protest jaza tradition of protest jazz that goes back to icons like Charles Mingus and Abbey Lincoln. Besides her own career as a bandleader, Coss is part of a postbop supergroup of sorts, the New Faces, assembled by her label Posi-Tone Records with with  trumpeter Josh Lawrence, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. They’re playing the album release for their new one on July 25, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard. Cover is $25.

The song titles on Coss’ new album – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – speak to both female empowerment and universal struggle, from a millennial point of view. The concept for the album coalesced in the wake of her participation in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. The opening track, Nevertheless, She Persisted is a biting illustration of women artists’ struggles to be recognized, a moody latin-tinged groove with spare harmonies between Coss’ tenor, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Miki Yamanaka’s piano. Much as the music wants to swing, hard, Coss always pulls it back toward the shadows.

Little Did She Know, an early tune from Coss’ college days, reflects on breaking free from the conformity imposed on women, alternating between a scamper and a bit of a waltz driven by Rick Rosato’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums. The towering ballad She Needed A Hero, So That’s What She Became is a return to brooding ambience, a launching pad for solos. Yamanaka glitters magnificently through Macbride’s silvery cymbal mist; Coss wafts uneasily on soprano and Wintz takes a turn toward Memphis,

Females Are Strong As Hell has hard-charging, bluesy grit fueled by Yamanaka’s mighty lefthand, Wintz’s incisive attack and the bandleader’s terse hooks over Macbride’s rumble

Like so much of the rest of the world, Coss was in mourning in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. “What do we do when we realize what has been there all along: a society built on misogyny, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, fear, hate, greed, and lies? If we elected this person to be our leader, what does that say about us? This tune reveals my vision of the presidency: an over-the-top facade of happiness and progress, vacillating between despair and hilarity, ultimately giving way to destruction and collapse,” Coss explains in the album liner notes for Mr. President. The band bookend sotto-voce, sarcastic swing with a macabre march: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly compelling track.

#MeToo illustrates womens’ long journey through cruelty and repression toward triumph, Coss offering hope on bass clarinet over a muted, syncopated pulse, pushed along by Yamanaka’s insistence, setting the stage for Wintz’s screaming crescendo

In Choices, Coss underscores that a woman’s right to choose extends across all boundaries, beyond simple reproductive freedom: for her, it’s a matter of choosing music over more traditional, conformist expectations. As the mutedly wounded song makes clear, it can be a tortuous path.

With its withering, winking sarcasm and bluesy flair, the album’s funniest track is Feminist AF, weighing the absurdity of feminism and equal rights being considered controversial in a so-called democracy. Nasty Women Grab Back  comes across as a sardonic rewrite of a latin-infused jazz classic, Coss wailing on soprano and echoed by Wintz’s spirals and bounds. The album’s final cut is Ode to a Generation, Coss’ tenor trading tersely with guest Lucas Pino’s bass clarinet. Clearly, the darkly soul-inspired anthem’s clenched-teeth modalities are as much indictment as guarded triumph: we still have a whole lot of work ahead of us.

In a year that’s seen an explosion of relevant, politically-inspired jazz, this dark broadside might just be the best jazz album of 2018.

July 21, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Live in Europe: Lyrical Piano Icon Fred Hersch’s Funnest Album Ever?

Fred Hersch’s latest album Live in Europe is the new paradigm. The pianist and his long-running trio didn’t even know that their live radio broadcast from Brussels last November had been recorded until the tour was over. When he found out that there was a recording, Hersch listened back and was validated that the band had killed it just as he’d remembered. Instant album! It’s streaming at Spotify; Hersch, bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson kick off a weeklong stand at the Vanguard on July 24, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30.

This is a very fun, playful, even quirky set. Beyond the fact that these three musicians are one of the rare groups in jazz who’ve been together long enough to develop near-telepathic communication, they’re in an exceptionally good mood and the result is contagious. The fact that they were just going out and having a good time onstage rather than officially making a record probably has something to do with that.

Hersch is one of the greatest – maybe the greatest – current interpreter of Monk on the piano, and the way he takes the opening number, We See’s riffs dancing further and further outside, up to a series of ridiculously good jokes, makes for a hell of an opening. Jousting, deadpan straight-up swing and some clever rhythmic shifts beneath the pianist’s increasingly marionettish pulse take it out.

The group work their way animatedly into Snape Matings with hints of a ballad that never coalesces – the fun is leaving that carrot in front of the audience. McPherson’s subtle vaudevillian touches and Hebert’s suggestion of dropping everything for a mighty charge are the icing on the cake. Scuttlers, which follows, is more of an improvisation on a similarly carnivalesque, Frank Carlberg-ish theme, followed by the aptly titled Skipping and its rhythmic shifts, the group reaching toward a jaunty, ragtime-tinged swing.

Bristol Fog -a shout-out to the late British pianist John Taylor – is a plaintively elegaic, lustrous rainy-day jazz waltz and arguably the album’s most affecting track, with a long, mutedly clustering bass solo at the center. Then the group pulse into Newklypso – a Sonny Rollins dedication – Hersch’s lithe righthand and McPherson’s irrepressible offbeat accents held together by Hebert’s funky elasticity.

The Big Easy, a balmy, slowly swaying nocturne, has Ellingtonian gravitas but also the flickering playfulness of the beginning of the show. There’s also a little wry Donald Fagen in there too, which comes further to the forefront and then recedes in favor of fondly regal yet relaxed phrasing in Herbie Hancock’s Miyako.

The group take their time giving Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile a similarly considered launch and then swing it by the tail. Hersch brings the concert full circle with a solo take of Blue Monk as the encore, pulling strings all the way. Bands who have as much sheer fun onstage rarely have this much tightness, let alone the kind of chops these three guys were showing off in Belgium that night.

July 17, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whirlwind Improvisation and Smashing Tunefulness from Jane Ira Bloom at NYU

This past week, NYU held a little jazz festival of their own, featuring some top-tier talent. Saxophonist Tom Scott and the Rich Shemaria Big Band recorded a live album at the cozy Provincetown Playhouse amphitheatre on Saturday night. Pianist Shemaria’s colorful, hefty new charts brought some welcome gravitas to some of Scott’s biggest solo and LA Express hits, notably a rather torchy take of the love theme from Taxi Driver and a bustling, surprisingly un-dixielandish reinvention of the Paul McCartney single Listen to What the Man Says. Among his many wry between-song anecdotes, Scott revealed that McCartney had summoned him to an afternoon session, on no notice, to play soprano on that one – and that the scratch track, which Scott had no idea was being recorded, was what eventually ended up in the song. You’ll be able to hear all of that and more sooner than later.

Much as it would have been fun to catch another individualist saxophonist, Dave Pietro and his group in that same space later in the week, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom turned in a spectacular, whirlwind set a couple of days beween those shows, leading a trio with bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte. It was a great way to cap off a week of listening on loop to that newly discovered 1963 John Coltrane session that everybody’s been talking about.

While it wouldn’t be accurate to make any close comparison between this rhythm section and Coltrane’s, there were similarities between how both Helias and Jimmy Garrison would hold the center as Previte or Elvin Jones chewed the scenery. The three veterans onstage sandwiched volley after volley of inspired camaraderie and conversation between Bloom’s signature, fiercely tuneful, acerbic riffs. Helias started a game of whiffle ball, Previte flicking back his responses harder and harder until he hit on an altered clave. Likewise, the bassist’s looming, low-register bowing gave Previte a comfortable launching pad for his pummeling toms and pinballing romps along his hardware.

Stage right, Bloom was a spring-loaded presence, weaving and pouncing, whipping her horn in a semicircle for a flange effect, spiraling through achingly intense, rapidfire trills and Coltrane-esque glissandos. The winner of the 2018 DownBeat Critics Poll for soprano sax aired out a lot of recent material from her trio album, Early Americans, with these guys. Several of the numbers looked to Emily Dickinson’s work for inspiration: Bloom seems committed to helping rescue the poet from the posthumous branding which cast her as a wallflower when in fact she was puckish and engaging.

Was the best song of the set Dangerous Times, Helias’ brooding bowing giving way to the bandleader’s uneasy bustle and eventually a turbulently thrashing coda? Maybe. Previte’s coy pointillisms and then a pretty successful attempt at getting a simple triangle to evoke epic majesty were some of the night’s funniest moments, as Singing the Triangle got underway. And Bloom painted a Van Gogh wheatfield of sound in Cornets of Paradise, a more triumphantly crescendoing tableau.

The NYU festival may be over, and Bloom doesn’t seem to have any other gigs coming up at the moment, but there is a brass festival with a program TBA at the Provincetown Playhouse – on Washington Square South west of W 3rd St – at 7 PM on July 27.

July 15, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Far Cry Play a Demanding, Witheringly Relevant Program in Withering Heat in Central Park

It’s already an achievement when all eighteen members of a string orchestra can be on the same page and get everything right in the comfortable confines of a concert hall. It’s another thing entirely to do that in ninety-plus degree heat, facing a Manhattan sunset. Tuesday night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, A Far Cry really worked up a sweat doing a whole lot more in a brilliantly programmed mix of mostly dark works with potent resonance for the pre-impeachment Trump era. 

The highlight could have been Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3, from 1994. Managing to negotiate the thicket of hypnotic, often ominous circular riffage that foreshadowed Glass’ Dracula soundtrack from five years later was impressive enough. Yet the group dug in for both the jokes – the trick ending at the end of the first movement and the “who, me?” exchanges of pizzicato in the final one – – along with relentless macabre understatement. From the muted, wounded whispers of the introduction, dynamics were ripe to rise with a pulse just short of bloodcurdling. Much as the second movement is on the slow side, it’s also very percussive, and the ensemble were on that as well, bassists Erik Higgins and Karl Doty exchanging fanged serpentine phrases beneath circling cloudbanks of melody.

It’s one of Glass’ most Lynchian works, and it set the stage lusciously well for an even more dynamically bristling interpretation of Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra. WQXR’s Elliott Forrest, the night’s emcee, explained that the composer had written it in 1939 before escaping the encroaching fascism in his native Hungary. The ensemble kept their cards close to the vest through the straightforwardly strutting phony pageantry that opens the triptych but then got their claws out for the anguished, jaggedly slashing danse macabre afterward. Likewise, the contrast between the sense of depletion and loss in the second movement and the defiantly jaunty coda was breathtaking. As a musical hail-Mary pass (and raised middle finger at the Nazis and their enablers), it’s akin to Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel cheating the hangman.  

The group closed with Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae, rising from stillness to aching, Glass-ine echo effects and then an elegaic processional, a brooding conclusion to an often haunting evening.

The warmup piece – in every sense of the word – was Mozart’s Divertimento in F, K.138, a prescient student work written when he was 15 that lacks the colorful voicings he’d develop just a few years later, but its coy hooks still pop up in movies and on NPR all the time. As one of the band members mused to the crowd, who knew that this piece would ever be played in such a major city, let alone to a full house. Mozart would no doubt be plenty proud of himself.

And a special shout-out to the pretty blonde woman in the black sundress who shared an entire bag of walnut-banana crunch  – a high-class take on Fiddle Faddle – with the hungry blog proprietor seated behind her. If you see this, be in touch – reciprocity is due.

A Far Cry’s next performance is a program including Moussorgsky’s Pictures At an Exhibition plus a Jessica Meyer world premiere and works by Bernstein and Respighi at 3 PM on September 8 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The next concert at the Naumburg Bandshell is this coming Tuesday, July 17 at 7:30 PM with popular indie classical orchestra the Knights playing works by Anna Clyne along with Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and works by Armenian icon Komitas Vardapet. Get there early if you want a seat. 

July 14, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Johnny Gandelsman’s Album of Solo Bach Works for Violin: A Revelatory Magnum Opus

Johnny Gandelsman is the first violinist of one of the world’s most consistently interesting string quartets, Brooklyn Rider, advocates for some of this era’s most individualistic composers. As buyers of classical albums are probably aware, Gandelsman’s epic solo recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas – streaming at Bandcamp  topped the classical charts earlier this year, a more substantial feat than most people might realize. While the vinyl renaissance keeps gaining traction, it’s impossible to know just how many units are being moved since artists don’t typically report them. And keep in mind that the bestselling album of two years ago among all styles of music was a Mozart box set.  

For those who haven’t heard Gandelsman’s magnum opus, it’s everything anybody could want from a number one record. It’s arguably the most cantabile performance of these pieces ever recorded. Gandelsman approaches the material as a singer would, not only segment by segment – which run the length of the emotional spectrum – but seemingly line by line.

The secret to his technique is his legato. You can hear it in his work with Brookyn Rider, most strikingly in the group’s hauntingly lustrous take of Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No. 14 in C# Minor, Op. 131, from their 2012 Seven Steps album.

Most musicians who play Bach tend to drift toward a mechanical rhythm. Then there’s a small contingent who decide that Bach’s steady note values don’t count for anything, and play rubato, with predictably befuddling results. Gandelsman doesn’t do either. Much of Bach has an inner swing – often, a shuffle rhythm – and he finds that wherever it exists. Other times, he lets the ornamentation serve as contrast to rhythmic steadfastness. And when he digs in with a razor’s edge staccato, as in the biting, leaping seventh movement of the Partita No. 1, the contrast is breathtaking.

This isn’t an album you can hear once and completely grasp. The more you hear it, the more of an ode to joy it turns out to be – but if the best you can do is play this in the background during dinner, you’re missing the point. What Gandelsman is going for here, beyond technical dazzle, is close emotional attunement. Bach loved stories, and secret codes – this is as close to a skeleton key as exists for this often wildly dynamic music.

It would be overkill to dissect each suite segment by segment. But there are innumerable interludes to get lost in (and if there’s any composer you can get completely lost in, it’s Bach). The way Gandelsman weaves through the ornamentation to introduce the opening adagio of the very first Sonata is as playful as it is stately – “charmingly antique” might explain how someone else would do it.

There are some dances here, but they don’t necessarily leap and bound. More likely than not, they flow gracefully, whether with the muted bittersweetness of the second movement of the first Partita, or the almost conspiratorial pulse of its presto finale. And even in the quasi-Vivaldi of the fourth movement, Gandelsman wrings as much sheer sound out of those volleys of eighth notes as any human not armed with an organ could possibly obtain.

Gandelsman parses the Sonata No. 1 from forlorn, to brooding, then determined and finally slithery – what a transformation! The build-down from suspense to partial resolution in Sonata No. 3 is also revelatory. The storm that rips at the chaconne that closes Partita No. 2 might be the both the album’s most technically challenging and adrenalizing moment.

Gandelsman doesn’t have any solo shows coming up, but popular young-ish orchestra the Knights, who often share band members with Brooklyn Rider, are playing the Naumburg Bandshell on July 17 at 7:30 PM with a program of works by Anna Clyne, Brahms and Armenian icon Komitas Vardapet. Get there early if you want a seat.

July 12, 2018 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thumbscrew Put Their Signature Twist on Popular Standards and Obscurities

If you count guitarist Mary Halvorson’s latest ferociously good album Code Girl, she and the Thumbscrew rhythm section – bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara – have put out three albums in about the past six months. That’s a Guided By Voices pace. It’s not likely that they’ll pass the Ohioans in terms of mammoth output, but by any standard, the trio collective are on a rare creative tear. They have two brand-new albums out – the first, a collection of originals simply titled Ours, is streaming at Cuneiform Records and got the full treatment on this page a couple of days ago. Today’s installment focuses on the second of those releases, Theirs, a covers collection also up at Cuneiform. The band will be airing out all of those tunes at their upcoming stand at the Vanguard, with sets at 8:30 and 10ish starting on July 17.

Every good musician knows that if you’re going to cover somebody else’s song, you either have to do it completely differently, or do it better than the original. And if a song’s worth covering at all, that can be a tall order. What’s most surprising about this playlist is how trad it is. You might think that these three veterans of the New York progressive jazz scene might use an opportunity like this to bigup one of their pals like Kris Davis, or do one of Tom Rainey’s crazy charts. Nope. Instead, this is three of the most formidable players in all of jazz at the top of their game, putting a characteristically individualistic, often iconoclastic spin on a mix of well-known and somewhat more obscure material.

The main difference between the originals and covers albums is night and day – more or less. The covers are shorter and funnier, and Halvorson more often than not plays them with a cleaner tone. The first is Stablemates, by Benny Golson: both Halvorson and Formanek get their offkilter EFX going for a space lounge feel as Fujiwara gives it a low-key, peppery swing.

Halvorson plays tiptoeing serial killer, making jaunty noir out of Benzinho, a Jacob Do Bandolim samba. The guitarist lets the chromatics of Herbie Nichols’ House Party Starting linger a little more over the rhythm section’s muted swing: Fujiwara’s terse breaks and sardonically skipping phrasing elevate this kind of material far beyond its dancefloor origins without losing that groove.

A gazillion bands have tackled Jimmy Rowles’ brooding classic The Peacocks; Thumbscrew’s downcast dirge might be the best of all of them, Halvorson parsing the melody sparsely over Formanek’s similarly judicious accents and Fujiwara’s misty brushwork. After that masterpiece, they blow off some steam with a frantic, messy leap into a loose, highly improvised take of East of the Sun.

Their remake of the schlocky waltz Scarlet Ribbons has a brushy, straight-up 4/4 Fujiwara beat, Halvorson leaving her warpy envelope pedal on for maximum surrealism: it’s actually quite pretty despite itself. Buen Amigo, by Argentine composer Julio De Caro gets a sparse Big Lazy tango noir treatment: Fujiwara’s offcenter accents here are one of the album’s high points.

The group’s choice of Dance Cadaverous as a Wayne Shorter cover makes a lot of sense in context: it’s more expansive than the original, both rhythmically and melodically, Helvorson gently tremolo-picking her way into an increasingly thorny thicket. The album’s last two tracks are waltzes. Stanley Cowell’s Effi is the album’s most trad cut, with just enough warpy guitar sonics to add a little disquiet. Weer is een dag voorbij (Stormy Day), by the clown prince of Dutch jazz, Instant Composers Pool founder Misha Mengelberg, is the album’s enigmatic, bittersweet conclusion, Halvorson and then Formanek quietly reveling in its subtle shift into the shadows over Fujiwara’s snowy brushwork. Overall, these may not be quite as darkly magical as Thumbscrew’s new originals, but they’re pretty close.

July 11, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , | Leave a comment