Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Diana Golden and Shawn Chang Resurrect Rare Haitian Gems For Cello and Piano

One of the very few positive developments to come out of the era of western imperialism was the spread of classical music around the globe. One of the most fascinating and lyrical albums of chamber music from over the past several months is cellist Diana Golden and pianist Shawn Chang’s collection of works by Haitiian composers, Tanbou Kache, streaming at Bandcamp.

The title means “hidden drum” in kreyol. Just as the clave is ubiquitous in latin music, the vodou drum rhythm – a similarly African import – persists in much of Haitian music, whether outright or implied. As is the case with many global traditions where the culture has been repressed by tyrannical regimes, Haitian popular song is ripe with signification and subtle political subtext. How much of that translates to the compositions here?

As you might imagine from the instrumentation, much of this is on the somber side. The duo open with early 20th century composer Justin Élie’s Légende Créole, a disquieted neoromantic piece originally for violin and piano with a fleetingly blithe interlude midway through. Golden takes her time expressively with the chromatics and minor-key solemnity of Werner Jaegerhuber’s Petite Suite for Solo Cello. While it’s another early 20th century work, it draws a straight line back to Bach, in terms of melody if not thematic development.

Contemporary composer Julio Racine’s arrangement of 20th century classical guitarist Frantz Casséus’ Suite Haïtienne makes a return to sober, spacious minor-key neoromanticism with dark folk tinges in the opening movement. Golden and Chang wistfully parse the second movement before Chang picks up with a merengue-inspired bounce in the third and in the vigorous conclusion, originally a hit for Harry Belafonte with the composer on guitar.

Carmen Brouard, one of the prime movers in 20th century Haitian composition, died at 96 in 2005. Sadly, it wasn’t until she moved to Montreal that she began to earn recognition beyond the land of her birth. Her Duo Sentimental, a song without words, alternates between a distantly acerbic, dancing anthemic sensibiilty and Brahmsian familiarity.

Julio Racine is represented by his Sonate à Cynthia, written in 2014 and the most recent piece here. The simmering, Piazzolla-esque passion of the opening movement gives Chang a welcome moment to come to the forefront, while Golden’s plaintive phrasing takes over at the end. The second has a broodingly chromatic, anthemic sway; Golden’s trills fuel the coda at the end. It’s arguably the album’s most memorable work.

The duo follow with a moody, minimalist, bluesy Daniel Bernard Roumain miniature and conclude the record with two works by another contemporary composer, Jean “Rudy” Perrault. Still Around, for solo cello has more distant Bach echoes than the first solo cello piece here.

Brother Malcolm… for cello and piano imagines Martin Luther King and Malcolm X discussing Barack Obama’s inauguration via a sternly crescendoing, Romantic trajectory, and what seems like very guarded triumph.

Beyond the sheer emotional impact of the music, this album has enormous historical value. If the rest of the Haitian classical repertoire is anything like this, it should be vastly better known.

December 22, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

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