Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dynamic, Intense String Themes From One-Man Orchestra Christopher Tignor

Violinist Christopher Tignor occupies a unique place in the New York music scene, where the worlds of new classical music, improvisation and ambient psychedelia intersect. For a guy who plays a lot of brooding, overcast music, he’s a very entertaining performer, often doing the one-man band thing with a kickdrum and his trusty loop pedal. His latest album A Light Below is streaming at Bandcamp.

What’s new about this is that it’s hardly all grey skies and moody atmospherics. The first number, Flood Cycles has warmly drifting, coccoony sheets of sound, Tignoer gradually brightening the picture

Loopy, shivery strings and a dramatic, thumping beat make their entrance in Your Slowly Moving Shadow, My Inevitable Night: the majesty and drama rise as Tignor overdubs himself into a one-man symphonic ensemble.

Known By Heart is closer to his earlier work, alternating between hazy unease and ominously crescendoing cumulo-nimbus ambience: imagine a Noveller piece for string orchestra instead of guitar loops. Tignor builds A Mirrored Reliquary from steady, spare overlays to an elegant, plaintive, baroque-tinged theme and arresting swirls – and then brings it back down.

I, Autocorrelations (that’s the title) is a bracingly lush, loopily syncopated dance in 12/4 time. The dancing pulse continues, for awhile at least, in the album’s most epic track, The Resonance Canons, a partita. Echoey pizzicato loops leap beneath shimmery metal gongs, then an enveloping atmosphere return, followed by an oscillating, gamelanesque interlude. Tignor runs an otherworldly, pinging, microtone-spiced riff over organ textures as the looming lows rise; the ending is unexpected.

He winds up the album with the only slightly less expansive What You Must Make of Me, an increasingly disorienting web of simple, translucent motives mingling over a muted piledriver beat; then they filter out, leaving the most anthemic ones in place. The coda seems to be a guarded benediction. Good to see this rugged individualist expanding his sound into new terrain.

April 30, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

A Mesmerizingly Eclectic Debut Album From Singer Aubrey Johnson

Singer Aubrey Johnson has been a rivetingly individualistic part of the fabric of the New York jazz scene, with both large and small ensembles as well as John Zorn’s Mycale choir, for the better part of a decade. So it’s hard to believe that she’s only now releasing her debut album as a bandleader. That record, Unraveled, is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a chance to hear her arrestingly clear, crystalline voice delivering her own material as well as a few vastly multistylistic covers: it was worth the wait. Johnson has newfound gravitas in her lower registers as well as a little Americana rusticity further up the scale, bolstering an already formidable stylistic arsenal.

Herer she’s joined by by pianist Chris Ziemba, drummer Jeremy Noller and bassist Matt Aronoff, along with austere violin from  Tomoko Omura. The band launch into a straight-up trip-hop groove to kick off the album with the understatedly angst-ridden twists and turns of No More I Love Yous, written by obscore 80s new wave duoThe Lover Speaks: “I used to have demons in my room at night,” Johnson confides.

She switches to Portuguese for an expansively spare take of the Jobim standard Dindi, Michael Sachs adding graceful clarinet. The duet between Johnson and Aronoff is tantalizingly brief; her spiraling vocalese before she sings the final verse in English wil give you goosebumps.

She leaps around, over fluttery bass clarinet, Ziemba’s insistent minimalism and Noller’s altered trip-hop beat in Happy to Stay, a souped-up chamber pop tune that sounds like Gretchen Parlato on steroids. Karate is a coyly funny, blippily wordless remake of a famous Egberto Gismonti theme that echoes Johnson’s Mycale bandmate Sofia Rei‘s most playful work.

“The dawn is calling your name,” Johnson intones soberly in the moodily syncopated ballad Lie in Wait, “Are we just hanging on to prove everybody wrong?” Sachs and Omura add judiciously energetic solos as the band go scampering. Ripples from Ziemba and the bass clarinet permeate Love Again, Johnson’s voice rising and dipping from daunting heights as the beat grows funkier.

Her take of Jimmy Rowles’ noir jazz classic The Peacocks, with a bracing solo from Sachs,, is especially spare and cinematic: the rapport with Ziemba’s icy backdrop brings to mind Sara Serpa‘s similarly chilling work with Ran Blake. These Days is not the Joy Division postpunk classic but a poignantly energetic, rainy-day original, Johnson working her entire range as the violin sails, Ziemba’s piano rages and then backs away.

Untitled is a song for our time, a portrait of dissociation and alienation: over a shifting modal groove, Johnson asks for anything that would generate some kind of emotional response. Alice Lee‘s most adventurous jazz work comes to mind. And Johnson reaches back to the tropics again with the jauntily lilting, matter-of-fact Voice Is Magic, through a stunningly phantasmagorical midsection. Admittedly, there haven’t been many albums released in the last few weeks, but this is still the frontrunner for best vocal jazz release of 2020.

April 28, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poignant French Late Romantic Music and a Brilliant Obscurity From Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien

Today’s album is about poignancy and brooding contemplation – and is also a rare recording of a great obscurity from the French Late Romantic era. The violin-piano duo of Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien released their record of music by Eugene Ysaye, Cesar Franck, Louis Vierne and Lili Boulanger last year; it’s streaming at Spotify. There’s considerable emotional depth here.

The first piece is Ysaye’s relatively well-known, Romeo and Juliet themed Poeme Elegiaque. The two play it with straightforward restraint: they don’t languish in its lulls. Ibragimova quickly finds a clenched-teeth focus in its gritty upward climbs; likewise, Tiberghien lets the chilly desolation in his chords speak for itself, matched by the violin’s stark, midrange resonance. As the narrative hits an anguished, allusively chromatic peak midway through, the contrast is nonchalantly breathtaking.

Franck’s Violin Sonata in A was a wedding present for Ysaye, one of his era’s great violinists. For whatever reason, there seems to be more wistfulness and longing than romantic joy in the swaying, spare first movement. The two approach the delicate second movement with a vivid tenderness that also seems wounded, but then the piano signals a charge upwards toward redemption. There’s considerable contrast between quiet, tense hesitancy and several “yes!”crescendos throughout the third movement, Ibragimova using a lot of shivery vibrato. Likewise, there’s unexpectedly uneasy glitter intermingled with the warmly triumphant phrasing of the conclusion.

Beyond his virtuosity at the organ, Vierne was also an awardwinning violinist. He may be best known as a writer of turbulent, ferocious organ symphonies, but his rarely performed music for strings is sublime. Case in point: his Violin Sonata in G Minor, which the duo here leap into with a Romany-tinged, brittle, wintry attack that quickly warms and grows more expansively anthemic. So when the two return to this biting quasi-tarantella, the effect packs a punch.

The second movement follows the same trajectory as Franck’s piece: slow, with lots of expressive midrange from the violin and more of a steady nocturnal gleam. Vierne brings the tarantella back for movement three, but as more of a flamenco-tinged ballet theme.  Ibragimova and Tiberghien wind it up with serene contemplation rising in a long series of waves, and serious gravitas in the dance variations.

A rising star just over a hundred years ago among French composers, Lili Boulanger died tragically at 25; she wrote her Nocturne for Violin and Piano at 18 in 1911. It’s akin to a prelude, an inviting moonrise tableau with a wry Debussy quote at the end.

April 26, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Brilliantly Edgy, Uneasy New Album From Saxophonist Amanda Gardier

Are you vaccilating between being glued to the news and the endless online scuttlebutt about the coronavirus crisis…and just wanting to dive into the most escapist thing possible (that a person can do without going within six feet of anybody else)? Alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier‘s album Flyover Country – streaming at Spotify – is a profoundly rewarding listen for anyone who might feel that way. With her fiery, intense compositions, picturesque sensibility and wry sense of humor, she reminds that there’s a whole big world out beyond our cabin fever dreams.

The opening track is titled Midwestern Gothic: bristling with uneasy chromatics and understatedly dramatic crescendos, it’s an unselfconsciously dark showstopper. Gardier sticks with those chromatics tersely and bitingly over similar piano from Ellie Pruneau and the rhythm section’s brisk, tight swing throughout the second track, Boss Lady: you don’t want to mess with this chick! Pruneau’s phantasmagorically clustering solo adds highwire intensity, up to an almost gleefully crushing insistence from the whole band.

Built around a warily catchy, stairstepping two-note phrase, Void is the album’s first ballad, Gardier’s airy, resonant lines over Pruneau’s fanged, glistening chords and drummer Carrington Clinton’s emphatic cymbals, bassist Brendan Keller-Tuberg taking over the melody with a subtle, darkly balletesque pulse.

Bubbly has a slow, funky sway: you expect to hear a Rhodes but the piano remains. Gardier matter-of-factly but enigmatically expands on what in lesser hands would be a generic soul groove, up to another mighty, clenched-teeth crescendo. As you might expect, 40 Tattoos opens with circling, gothic piano, Gardier calm amid the phantasmagoria. Then it gets very funny. Is this a revenge song, maybe?

Gardier floats and sails uneasily over steady, shady circles from the bass in Hidden, a duet. She brings the band back for the persistent shifts of Redheaded Uncle, Pruneau careening from one side of the fence to the other. Just when you think the dude is a blithe spirit, Gardier shifts the syncopation toward disquiet: nice guy but don’t mess with him.

The loose-limbed rhythm of the album’s title track belies a serious, purposeful focus, more succinctly than the previous number, with variations on a simple rising bassline, Gardier switching to soprano for extra clarity and bite. She closes the record with the balmy but unsettled Sea Day, opening with a slow forghorn-and-bell motif over the cymbals’ waves, Pruneau adding a spare, bittersweet solo echoed by Gardier. This could be one of the best jazz albums of the year.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Quietly Harrowing Holocaust-Themed Debut Album From Dana Sandler

Singer Dana Sandler is releasing her debut album I Never Saw Another Butterfly today in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a poignant, individualistic, searingly relevant record – streaming at youtube – inspired by the 1959 book of the same name, a collection of art and poetry by children imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis in the Terezin concentration camp. Sandler likes disquieting modes: some of her songs bring to mind 80s rock band the Police, others the klezmer music she’s immersed herself in beyond her usual jazz idiom.

Each of the album’s sections is dedicated to poets in captivity there whose names we know – Pavel Friedmann, Franta Bass, and Alena Synkova-Munkova, one of the fewer than one hundred out of fifteen thousand children to survive the camp – as well as two other young poets whose names we don’t.

The first track, Dear Pavel is a brooding feature for Peter Kenagy’s flugelhorn over Carmen Staaf’s piano, Jorge Roeder’s bass and Sandler’s husband Austin McMahon’s drums. Sandler’s setting of Friedmann’s poem Butterfly, which inspired the book title, is a rippling, klezmer-tinged art-song, swaying on the wings of Staaf’s piano. “It went away, I’m sure because it wished to kiss the world goodbye,” Sandler sings wistfully: who wouldn’t do the same under the circumstances.

A brief, moody duet between clarinetist Rick Stone and Roeder introduce the diptych Home/The Old House, a setting of Bass texts beginning with an overcast intensity and lightening with the prospect of a possible return home – after all, many of the victims in the camps had no idea of the kind of horrors that lay in store. Sandler’s toddler daughter supplies the ending and bravely hits all the notes. After that, The Garden, a spare vocal-piano duet, is all the more hauntingly elegaic for its simplicity.

Kenagy’s flugelhorn returns to take centerstage in Dear Alena, another grey-sky theme. Synkova-Munkova was a fighter, and that defiance is visceral throughout the lyrics and Staaf’s tightly wound, kinetically precise riffs. The band follow with the tensely modal, swinging I’d Like to Go Alone, which has two ominous, richly resonant clarinet solos: Stone takes the first, Sandler’s old bandmate Michael Winograd the second, utilizing the melody of Ani Ma’amin, an imploring klezmer tune no doubt written out frantically by composer Azriel David Fastag in a cattle car on his way to Treblinka.

Tears, the last of the Synkova-Munkova poems, gets an especially tender interpretation from Sandler and a hopeful, low-key solo from Roeder over Staaf’s plaintive, lingering chords. With Sandler maintaining her modal unease with horns over clustering piano, Dear Anonymous  speaks for itself.

Staaf’s glittering rivulets and Stone’s sailing alto sax solo reflect the escape metaphors implicit in On a Sunny Evening. The band close the album on a hopeful note with Birdsong/Butterfly Reprise. The heroic spirit of those would-be escapees is something to consider as we tackle a considerably less lethal crisis here at home.

April 21, 2020 Posted by | folk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Live Recording of Louis Armstrong at the Top of His Game in Europe

Today we celebrate 4/20 with the stoner king of jazz trumpet, Louis Armstrong. Satchmo was by all accounts a Snoop Dogg-class smoker who always carried the finest mezz. How stoned does he sound on the recently discovered Armstrong in Europe – streaming at Spotify – a live set recorded at the 1948 Nice International Jazz Festival,, leading a quintet with pianist Earl Hines, trombonist Jack Teagarden, bassist Arvell Shaw, drummer Sid Catlett and clarinetist Barney Bigard?

Not at all, actually. If anybody seems high, it’s the other guys in the band. After the intros – Hines noodling away behind them – the group racewalk through a brief couple of verses of the dixieland-flavored Muskrat Ramble. Armstrong and Teagarden then share sly vocals on the slow blues Rocking Chair, the trombonist’s blip of a solo followed by a flare of a trumpet coda from Satchmo.

The rest of the record is a lot like that. This is a boisterously entertaining party album in rustic mono sound that varies from track to track, up and down volumewise: audience applause is kept to a minimum for the most part. On the mic, Armstrong teases the rhythm but he is all business when he picks up his horn.

They follow with Rose Room, a briskly tiptoeing platform for spiraling, crystalline, drolly ostentatious clarinet accented by the bandleader. Royal Garden Blues has some neatly triangulated conversations between the horns, Hines adding vaudevillian flourishes.

Hines imbues Panama with ragtime sparkle alongside the animatedly intertwined horns. Armstrong’s strutting take of On the Sunny Side of the Street gets more winkingly genial as it goes along: the audience loves that. His ambered, straightforward playing on the gospel-infused Mahogany Hall is one of the high points of the show; the band mess with the audience via a series of false endings as they careen their way out.

The midtempo drag Black and Blue has a similar, circumspect soulfulness: “My only sin is in my skin” packs a nonchalant wallop. From there the band scamper through Them There Eyes and back away for a more wrly somber take of This Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.

They keep the Big Easy vibe going tightly with Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, then offer a nod to the crowd with Coquette, Hines and Teagarden taking centerstage. Guest chanteuse Velma Middleton takes over on a slightly more low-key Lover Come Back to Me; then, on Can Anyone Explain she has to summon the bandleader to the mic for a dirty joke that these Francophones completely miss.

Tin Roof Blues, the quietest song of the set, is ironically a lauching pad for the most compelling solos of the night. The group close counterintuitively with the slow, lushly nocturnal A Kiss to Build a Dream On. At the time this recording was made, jazz was the western world’s default dance and party music, to a large extent because of these guys onstage.

April 20, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Breathtaking, Hall of Fame Jazz Summit with Kenny Barron, Dave Holland and Johnathan Blake

The album cover image says “The Kenny Barron-Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake.” The new record, Without Deception – streaming at youtube – is going to draw innumerable obvious comparisons to the classic Barron trio of the 90s with Ron Carter on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, but this is a completely different animal. That group’s brilliance notwithstanding, it’s rare that you encounter a meeting of the minds this smart, or downright exciting, a real cross-generational summit.

This is the kind of record that you hear and ask yourself, why did I take so damn long to listen to this? Barron tends to be more about simmer than blaze here, but that’s where his bandmates step in.

That’s obvious right off the bat with Porto Alegri, a bossa. Blake is more of an extrovert than Nash and does his best work in a trio setting, whether his own or others. Case in point: his wry cymbal flashes to open the song, not to mention that rolling-thunder soundscape over Barron’s eerily muted vamp afterward. The pianist also doesn’t waste any time ceding the spotlight to Holland’s dancing solo.

The band veer in and out of a casual stroll in the aptly titled, wary Second Thoughts. Blake is exceptional on this – a single muted tom hit for shock, a press roll to surprise, and a pervasive cymbal mist are just part of his game. So is Holland, voicing an airy midrange horn line and then chugging back into the lows.

Barron establishes a similarly regal, modal disquiet and then goes shuffling toward wry Mose Allison territory in the album’s title track. The three revert to rather majestic bossa territory with Until Then, Blake never breaking the clave despite all the elegant boom and crash. They scamper through Speed Trap, Barron’s Monkish disquiet matched by Holland’s bobbing bass, Blake bringing the storm.

The jazz waltz Secret Places is far more pervasively dark and bluesily anthemic: in a surprisingly understated way, it’s the album’s high point. Blake begins Pass It On with a resolute centercourt solo, waiting for his bandmates to get in the paint and take it to deep, bluesy New Orleans. Then Barron brings a raptly lingering, spacious soulfulness to the Ellington nocturne Warm Valley,

The group balance gravitas with a tropical lilt in the album’s most expansive number, I Remember When, lit up with edgy cascades from Barron, a brooding bounce from Holland and all sorts of fleet-fingered touches from Blake. The trio end the album with the tropicalized yet enigmatic Worry Later. A clinic in tunesmithing and teamwork from three of this era’s best.

April 20, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughtful, Lyrical Songs Without Words From Pianist Lara Driscoll

Pianist Lara Driscoll isn’t out to blow people away with explosive chops, or perplex listeners with gnomic, too-cool-for-school harmonizations for all the the jazz bean-counters. Instead, she takes a painterly approach to her music. Bill Evans is an obvious comparison, but Fred Hersch‘s mature work is a better one. Her vivid new album Woven Dreams is streaming at Bandcamp.

She and her trio ease their way into the album with a cautiously exploratory, rather wary take of Autumn in New York, skirting the melody as bassist Paul Rushka and drummer Dave Laing supply a lithe, gentle bounce, through an outro full of disquiet. There’s relief in this particular fall, but there’s also peril: this is New York, after all.

Terse high-low contrasts and lyricism ripple over a similarly supple, tropical groove in Siblings, with a smart, tightly clustering drum solo for a coda. Airport Limbo begins with an expected tension, hits a genial bossa-tinted swing and returns to a Monkish intensity: looks like this plane made it off the runway after all.

Forgiving – Black Dog Skirts Away, a triptych, begins with a brooding, troubled tableau, Laing rumbling underneath unti Driscoll finally introduces some closure. The centerpiece shifts from a moody, Ellingtonian, darkly blues-infused sway to a reflectively contented shuffle. A fleeting conclusion reminds that these memories still haunt.

O Morro Nao Tern Vez (Favela) gets a precise interpretation in the same vein as the album’s first track. Driscoll builds an even more pensive atmosphere in Mamy Adieu, a wistful, elegantly elegaic piece, shifting in and out of waltz time. Bass and drums figure more playfully in the jaunty interweave of Trespassers.

Driscoll’s spacious, regal understatement in her solo version of Ellington’s Isfahan is breathtaking: she really likes those flickering upper-register flourishes that Marc Cary uses a lot. Then she and the band make a motoring rumba out of Just One of Those Things before swinging it briskly.

After a moody intro, Driscoll brings disquieitng Monk echoes out in ECMT: with its balletesque, allusively chromatic bass solo, it could be the album’s darkest number. She closes with the title track and its expansive, wee-hours feel, a pervasive restlessness beneath all the lustre. You will be seeing this album on a lot of best-of lists at the end of the year.

April 19, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kronos Quartet Explore Spare, Haunting Iranian Themes with Singers Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat

Today’s album is Placeless, by the Kronos Quartet with singers Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a frequently austere, often haunting Farsi-language song cycle exploring themes of displacement and alienation. It’s an inventive blend of Iranian, Indian and western classical sounds utilizing texts by Rumi, Hafez and more contemporary poets.

On the album’s first few tracks, the vocals are front and center, strings a little further back in the mix, rising up in the later numbers. The title track has a dramatic, melismatic crescendo bookended by tense, shivering ambience. My Ruthless Companion has spare, dancing, catchy looped phrases over a jaunty, strolling groove. With its achingly gorgeous resonance, My Tresses in the Wind is a ghazal, more or less, and the high point of the record.

Spiky, marching pizzicato and unsettled, hazy washes of sound alternate in I Was Dead, up to a cold, mysterious ending. Cellist Sunny Yang and violist Hank Dutt’s spare, plaintive lines rise and dip amid violinists David Harrington and John Sherba’s airy textures in the woundedly anthemic, Russian-tinged ballad Endless Embrace.

Misled Fate is a completely unexpected, steady, minimal theme with echoes of both Appalachian folk and new wave music. The Sun Rises has spare, ambient strings behind the two singers’ starkly brooding conversation, vocals panned left and right in the mix, their voices finally handing off to the quartet’s similarly plaintive, slightly baroque harmonies at the end.

Likewise, Vanishing Lines, a lush, striking waltz, comes across as a mix of elegantly medieval European and moody Iranian sounds. The Might of Love has a dancing pulse underneath one of the album’s sultriest vocals. The singers and strings return to uneasy, close-harmonied atmospherics in Far Away Glance and raise the unsettled intensity in the crescendos of Leyli’s Nightingale.

The ensemble alternate between occasional emphatic chords, shifting washes of sound and unexpected pauses in The Color of Moonlight. Angst-fueled, acidic swirls from the strings contrast with the often tenderly impassioned, anthemic vocals of Lover Go Mad. They close the album with Eternal Meadow, an allusively majestic, modal melody awash in disquieting echo effects. The Kronos Quartet have put out an awful lot of good albums, going back almost fifty years; this is one of the best.

April 14, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Contemplating a Burnt-Out Shell of a World

What’s more desolate than an increasingly empty world slowly burning to a crisp? That’s the implication of John Luther Adams’ Become Desert, the follow-up to his vast, turbulent super-epic symphonic work Become Ocean. As you would expect, where that piece is awash in churning rhythms and a vast interweave of voices, Become Desert is more airy and expansive. The world after global warming takes its toll is one lonely place!

The Seattle Symphony‘s world premiere recording of the work, with Ludovic Morlot on the podium, is streaming at Spotify. Beyond a distant wariness and a deceptively soothing calm, this isn’t horrific music: the composer gives us a wide canvas to contemplate and fill in the grisly details ourselves.

It’s Adams’ most ambient, spectral work to date. Bells slowly rise over a whisper of winds and strings, an arid breeze across the sands. Slowly, a rhythm emerges, akin to the clock chimes that introduce Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, at a tenth the speed. Keening overtones filter through the expanse of sound, the bells offering a subtle elegy amid the swells, fades and relentless glare. Brass and muted timpani thunder offer ghostly evidence that there was once activity here – or is that simply a thunderstorm, a wake-up call in the here and now? The orchestra finally begin a long advance in waves, but there’s no water in them. Musical cautionary tales don’t get more allusive, yet more vivid, than this. After the coronavirus crisis is over, we’d better get busy.

April 12, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | Leave a comment