Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Vibrant, Evocative, Summery Album From the Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra

The Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra’s album Windward Bound – streaming at Bandcamp – opens with a mist of wave splashes and sounds of shorebirds. But those aren’t samples. That’s the band conjuring up remarkable facsimiles of both. It’s a characteristically playful touch for multi-reeedman Kwok’s six-part suite, inspired by sailing on Lake Ontario and the lore of the sea.

The opening theme, The Calling begins as a calm, baroque-influenced prelude for winds, the rest of the nineteeen-piece ensemble sweeping up and in with hints of a sea chantey. It has the same lush, bucolic familiarity as Maria Schneider‘s lake-themed compositions.

Pianist Augustine Yates’ expectant pedalpoint anchors Kwok’s balmy alto sax intro, singer Caity Gyorgy adding lustrous vocalese as Ready, Aye, Ready gets underway. Bassist Jonathan Wielebnowski and drummer Jacob Wutzke drive the orchestra to a triumphant series of peaks, then shift from a funky sway to suspense as the piece ebbs and rises again. There’s a moment where guitarist Aidan Funston takes over the pedalpoint that could be Darcy James Argue in  a foreboding moment…except that this album is generally upbeat and optimistic.

A Flat Boat Is a Fast Boat has driving latin flair, horns bursting above a rapid swing that threatens to get frantic, then the saxes – who include Naomi McCarroll-Butler, Sophia Smith, Brenden Varty, Kyle Tarder-Stoll and Jonathan Lau – battle it out with the brass. The fluttery false ending before Funston’s spiky solo is a cool touch.

The album’s big improvisational epic is The Tempest, beginning with stark low-register foreshadowing from the piano, followed by a series of skeletal accents throughout the ensemble as the bass growls in the distance. Slowly they rise out of muted skronk to an increasingly nebulous but agitated swirl as flute and trombones soar and resonate. The storm recedes quickly with a few fitful flourishes.

The fifth number, Elegy is where the whole group really coalesce with a shadowy power, in variations on a broodingly rising modal piano riff. Kwok’s misty, melancholy lines pack a quiet punch when the music recedes. The lakeside imagery as the upward drive returns is characteristically evocative.

Kwok brings the suite full circle with the final number, Red, Right, Returning, building on the original high-seas theme with carefree sax and a soulful muted trumpet solo. The rest of this inspired crew include trumpeters Megan Jutting, Matt Smith, Paul Callander, Marie Goudy and trombonists Nick Marshall, Andrew Gormley, Charlotte Mcafee-Brunner and Inayat Kassam.

So where the hell was this blog when this album hit the web in 2017? Focusing on the New York live music scene. Concerts: remember those? It won’t be long before we’re all going out again just like we used to. This summer, everybody’s going to bust loose. Lockdowners, you’re surrounded, time to raise the white flag or else.

May 1, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Augusta and Georgina McKay Lodge Unearth Colorful Rarities From 18th Century Germany

Violinist Augusta McKay Lodge and her violist sister Georgina are a throwback to a time when classical musicians were also routinely expected to be good improvisers. Their new album J.G. Graun: Chamber Music from the Court of Frederick the Great – streaming at the violist’s music page – unearths rare baroque treasures for a global audience. What’s most exciting about this recording is that it contains a small handful of world premieres. It’s also noteworthy for including two of the earliest known works for viola as a featured instrument. And in keeping with a mid-eighteenth century Germany esthetic, the ensemble revel in opportunities to add individualistic embellishments, dynamics, and even entire parts. Much as obscure archival works are becoming more and more of a meme, this elegant and often unexpectedly colorful album is a real find. The duo have assembled an all-star cast here which includes Eva Lymenstull on cello and David Schulenberg on harpsichord.

They open with Johann Gottlieb Janitsch’s somberly crescendoing Trio Sonata in G minor For Violin, Viola and Continuo. The pedalpoint of the viola and harpsichord build a hypnotic quality early in the second movement, then waltz through the conclusion. Music for the entitled classes from this era is seldom so dark; needless to say, this is a welcome rediscovery.

Schulenberg reaches for an opulent rubato to open Johann Gottlieb Graun’s Sonata in C minor For Viola and Keyboard, Lodge rising from spare, plaintive phrasing to a long series of biting, lively fugal exchanges with the harpsichord. There are plenty of convention-defying surprises in this piece: kudos to the Lodges for resurrecting it.

Graun’s Sonata in B-flat For Violin and Keyboard is considerably more lighthearted, but this is a vigorous performance, lit up by Lodge’s steely legato, and Schulenberg’s playful ornamentation and pacing. The short phrases of the Sonata in C For Cello and Basso Continuo, by Carl Heinrich Graun, are more predictable, Lymenstull’s shifts in attack and dynamics front and center.

Franz Benda’s Sonata in C minor For Viola and Basso Continuo begins with elegantly wary pacing from Schulenberg behind Lodge’s gorgeously bittersweet resonance and melismas. The brooding counterpoint goes straight back to J.S. Bach and so does the sheer tunefulness: it’s arguably the high point of the album.

The Lodges save their most animated embellishments for the final work here, J. G. Graun’s warmly nocturnal, lilting Trio Sonata in A For Violin, Viola and Basso Continuo, anchored once again by Schulenberg’s uncluttered, nuanced harpsichord parts.

May 1, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment