Lucid Culture


A Lyrical, Eclectic, Politically-Inspired Album From Gregory Tardy

Although saxophonist Gregory Tardy‘s latest album If Time Could Stand Still – streaming at Bandcamp – was recorded well in advance of the lockdown, it’s pretty dark in places. Tardy was clearly fed up with the political situation in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, and that resounds intensely in the record’s more acerbic moments. This is a refreshingly purposeful recording, Tardy relying on several shadowy modes beyond his usual purist blues and gospel influences.

The album’s first track, A Great Cloud of Witnesses opens with drummer Willie Jones III looping a solo Burundian folk riff that could just as easily pass for qawwali, echoed in pianist Keith Brown’s uneasy modalities as bassist Alex Claffy maintains a gently springing groove, the bandleader choosing his spots overhead.

Brown’s darkly ambered incisions are a boxer’s fist in a velvet glove, veering in and out of the blues in Absolute Truth as Tardy harmonizes with trumpeter Alex Norris and then circles skyward over a floating swing. The song title reflects Tardy’s amusement with the concept that there is no absolute truth, which itself is an absolute.

Brown’s phantasmagorical, Monkish curlicues and Tardy’s precise, moody modal lines drive the cynicism and anger of Blind Guides, a broodingly shuffling post 2016 election reflection. The group slow things down considerably for a relaxed, fondly glimmering take of Everything Happens to Me and follow that with the aptly titled I Swing Because I’m Happy, loosely based on the spiritual His Eye is on the Sparrow: Brown’s insistent, gleaming chordal attack is a highlight.

The title track begins as a warmly contented sax/piano duet before Brown shifts it into more warily pensive territory. Norris busts through the clouds over a subtly circling triplet groove in The Message in the Miracle, Brown’s triumphant chords peaking out midway through. They close, aptly, with the catchy, cheery, riff-driven It Is Finished.

March 7, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

A Haunting Solo Piano Perspective on the Dark, Politically Relevant Genius of Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus’ music is so colorful, and often so hard-hitting that you’d think it would translate naturally to solo piano. But there’s also triage involved: his tunes can be so intricate that the harmonic choices available to a pianist are staggering. On the new album of her solo Mingus arrangements. I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag – The White Flag (streaming at Sunnyside Records),, pianist Stephanie Nilles cuts loose with a revelatory set of classics, heavy on the political material, all of which is no less relevant today.

Mingus’ widow Sue was asked several years ago what direction her husband would have gone in, had he lived, and her response that he was most inclined toward what she termed the “third-stream,” embodying elements of jazz along with the classical music he’d been trained in. In that case, it’s hardly a stretch to think he’d dig this album.

The album title is sarcastic, drawing on a Mingus quote about white hegemony, on the eve of being evicted from his Manhattan loft. Nilles doesn’t waste any time getting down to business with an epic, strikingly terse, stride-inflected take of Fables of Faubus, complete with sarcastic vocalizing as she shifts from grim insistence to a stark, minimalist bluesiness as her left hand drops out completely out for awhile. It’s hardly what you’d expect in a song written by a bass player. But If anything, this is arguably even darker than the original anti-racist broadside, especially when Nilles hits that evil, circling music-box phrasing about a third of the way through.

She has pointillistic fun with pentatonics as East Coasting gathers steam, building to a dance that’s just short of a romp and a funny ending that does the composer justice. Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me sounds for a second that Nilles is going to make a slow drag out of it, but she opts for staccato agitation and gallows humor instead.

Nilles’ transcription of Charles McPherson’s sax solo from MIngus’ OP matches its steady, lickety-split ragtime flair. Her version of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is stark and mutedly funereal, with Satie in the lefthand. She finds the ballad hidden deep within the bustling swing of Free Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi USA, but also plenty of unease and chaos: it screams out to you to revisit Mingus playing it and discover what she found there.

Devil Woman comes across as more of an exercise in blues phrasing: this devil only peaks her head through the door down to hell. Peggy’s Blue Skylight has a beautifully evocative, Debussyesque starriness balanced by moody bolero allusions. Pithecanthropus Erectus is the funniest number here, Nilles indulging in some deadpan stumbles in lieu of a stroll and a little cynical freewheeling.

She draws out some subtle echoes of Faubus in Remember Rockefeller at Attica, which otherwise comes across as a brisk Brubeckian walk with some unexpectedly jaunty flourishes.

She closes the album not with Mingus but with a mournfully minimalistic take of Coltrane’s Alabama, with a bit of Nina Simone’s take of the old Scottish folk song Black Is the Colour mixed in.

March 5, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wickedly Catchy, Eclectic Solo Bass From Jorge Roeder

Up until the lockdown, bassist Jorge Roeder was a ubiquitous presence not only in the New York jazz scene but in several other styles from south of the border. The title of his solo album, El Suelo Mío – streaming at Bandcamp – translates loosely as “my turf.” While it’s his salute to the sounds of his native Peru, the compositions here span the vast range of music he typically plays. And it’s incredibly catchy: this isn’t just a big dump from the riff bag.

Roeder doesn’t even pick up a bow until eleven tracks into the album. His style is terse, even spare in places: definitely no wasted notes here. He opens with the title track, building his shout-out to iconic Peruvian chanteuse Chabuca Granda with incisive chords and bends, anchoring the melody with a muted pedalpoint at the same time. Lots of ideas for four-string players here!

Roeder’s anthemic, insistent solo arrangement of another Granda homage, Manuel Alejandro’s Chabuca Limeña, makes a good segue. Solo Juntos is a similarly dancing, catchy number that makes the unlikely connection between Moroccan gnawa and the huaynos of the Peruvian Andes.

He reinvents Peruvian composer Felipe Pinglo Alva’s populist El Plebeyo as a shadowy, chromatically spiced, balletesque anthem. Bounce, true to its title, is sinuous and slinky against a hypnotic pedal note, subtly referencing both Shostakovich and a wry moment of Beatles psychedelic overkill.

Roeder picks up the energy with a scrambling, incisively climbing take of I Remember April – a hot month for this guy, it seems. In the coyly titled, bounding Thing Thing, Roeder deconstructs the standard What Is This Thing Called Love through the prism of a handful of favorite pianists, notably Lennie Tristano.

Roeder dedicates the harplike flurries and spacious angst of Patrona as well as the bittersweet, imaginatively voiced Americana inflections of Santa Rosita to guitarist Julian Lage, a longtime employer and collaborator.

Rambler, a spacious, clustering, rather suspenseful Charlie Haden homage, makes an apt segue with a bristling, not quite desperately bowed take Ornette Coleman‘s Lonely Woman, inspired by a Haden solo intro to that piece. Roeder returns to snaky bends and punchy melody in the early 1900s Brazilian number, Silencio De Uno Minuto. He closes the album with the pensively vamping Les Lapins, spiced with high harmonics and hints of reggae. The fun Roeder is having here is visceral.

March 4, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting, Potently Relevant New Protest Music From the Imani Winds

In French, “bruit” means “noise.” In English, it’s the medical term for a heart murmur caused by a vascular blockage, and pronounced as “brute.” The Imani Winds‘ new album Bruits – streaming at Bandcamp – references both meanings, in terms of access to justice for people of color as well as stirring up a mighty noise about it. New classical music doesn’t get any more relevant than this in 2021.

The group – flutist Brandon Patrick George, oboe player Toyin Spellman-Diaz, clarinetist Mark Dover, horn player Jeff Scott and bassoonist Monica Ellis – open with the title track, a five-part Vijay Iyer suite inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cory Smythe circles ominously on microtonal electric piano as individual wind voices pulse and swirl, darkly tropical Miami bustle giving way to still nocturnal foreshadowing. The second movement has a recitation of the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law – under which Martin’s murderer was acquitted – set to terse, grim piano syncopation.

Low, lingering suspense contrasts with uneasily wafting tones in the third movement; a tense, relentless rhythm returns in the fourth, only to recede to a haze and a grim quote from Georgia congresswoman Lucy McBath, whose own son was murdered less than a year after Martin. Somber and agitated themes conjoin in the conclusion, rising to a cold, fateful stop.

Spellman-Diaz and Ellis exchange Indian-tinged melismas as Reena Esmail’s The Light Is the Same gets underway, its mashup of contrasting raga themes rising to a delicate intertwine. John Whittington Franklin reads the words of his historian dad, John Hope Franklin in Frederic Rzewski’s triptych Sometimes. The first movement has Ellis playing somber variations on Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child behind a characteristically commonsensical observation: “We need a new American Revolution that will create a new ideology of comradeship in the great enterprise of building a society in which every man and woman can face tomorrow, unencumbered by the burdens of the past or the prejudices of the present. This calls for a revolution in the heart and soul of every American. This is what the first American Revolution did not have. This is what the new American Revolution must have.”

The harmonies grow more brooding over a stately pace, then the voices diverge in steady counterpoint before circling back in the second movement. Soprano Janai Brugger sings a Langston Hughes text in the bitterly circling conclusion. Rzewski has never shied away from tackling important political issues, from the Attica massacre onward, and this is one of his most memorable and unselfconsciously vivid works.

March 2, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suspensefully Cinematic, High-Spirited New Classical Works From the CCCC Grossman Ensemble

The Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition’s Grossman Ensemble is the brainchild of Augusta Read Thomas. Her game plan was to create a group which could intensely workshop material with composers rather than simply holding a few rehearsals and then throwing a concert. Their album Fountain of Time – streaming at youtube – is contemporary classical music as entertainment: a dynamic series of new works, many of them with a cinematic suspense and tingly moments of noir. Percussionists Greg Beyer and John Corkill, in particular, have a field day with this.

They open with Shulamit Ran’s picturesque Grand Rounds. Oboe player Andrew Nogal, clarinetist Katherine Schoepflin Jimoh, pianist Daniel Pesca and harpist Ben Melsky get to send a shout-out to Messiaen and then a salute to Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock film scores. Terse accents from horn player Matthew Oliphant and saxophonist Taimur Sullivan mingle with the acerbic textures of the Spektral Quartet: violinists Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Russell Rolen. Furtiveness ensues and then the chase is on! The ending is anything but what you would expect. Told you this was fun!

Anthony Cheung’s triptych Double Allegories begins with sudden strikes amid suspenseful, wafting ambience, heavy on the percussion: Herrmann again comes strongly to mind. The midsection is built around a deliciously otherworldly series of microtonal, stairstepping motives, subtle echo effects and ice-storm ambience. The finale comes across as a series of playful but agitated poltergeist conversations….or intermittent stormy bursts. Or both, Tim Munro’s flute and the percussion front and center.

David Dzubay conducts his new work, PHO, which is not a reference to Vietnamese cuisine: the title stands for Potentially Hazardous Objects. The ensemble work every trick in the suspense film playbook – creepy bongos, shivery swells, tense bustles, pizzicato strings like high heels on concrete, breathy atmospherics and hints of a cynical Mingus-esque boogie – for playfully maximum impact. It’s the album’s most animated and strongest piece.

Tonia Ko‘s Simple Fuel was largely improvised while the ensemble were workshopping it; it retains that spontaneity with all sorts of extended technique, pulsing massed phrasing in an AACM vein, conspiratorial clusters alternating with ominous microtonal haze.

A second triptych, by David “Clay” Mettens, winds up the record. Stain, the first segment, bristles with defiantly unresolved microtones, gremlins in the highs peeking around corners and hints of Indian carnatic riffage. Part two, Bloom/Moon pairs deviously syncopated marimba against slithery strings. The textures and clever interweave in Rain provide the album with a vivid coda. Let’s hope we hear more from this group as larger ensembles begin recording and playing again: day after day, the lockdown is unraveling and the world seems to be returning to normal.

March 1, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment