Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Picturesque, Poignant New Volume From Jazz Violinist Tomoko Omura

This blog called violinist Tomoko Omura‘s 2020 album Branches “refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.” On her newly released second volume – streaming at Bandcamp – she takes both that saturnine ambience and picturesque sensibility to the next level. The band includes pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Pablo Menares, drummer Jay Sawyer and guitarist Jeff Miles. These songs burst with purposeful tunes, ideas and thoughtful solos.

They open with To a Firefly, Omura adding elegant vocal harmonies over a sober, slowly shuffling groove spiced with eerily flickering piano, ominously lingering guitar chords, lilting triplets from the bass, alternately sailing melody and apprehensive harmonics from the violin. The trick ending will take you completely by surprise.

Melancholy of a Crane is a spare, moodily balletesque jazz waltz, Zaleski’s enigmatically resonant chords behind Omura’s slowly unwinding, sustained tones. Little by little, his brightly incisive solo pushes the clouds away for a bit before the bandleader’s spare, subtly chromatic solo brings the unsettled atmosphere back.

To Ryan Se begins as a bracing, trickily rhythmic Balkan dance number and picks up with a racewalking swing. Omura chooses her spots in a biting, energetic, methodically crescendoing solo, Zaleski’s romping lines once again bringing up the lights, Miles shredding a path for a tantalizingly sizzling coda.

A murky bit of a tone poem, a lively series of solo arpeggios and then Zaleski’s somber, funereal chords take centerstage as Bow’s Dance slowly unwinds, Omura again steady and apprehensive overhead: damn, this is an album for our time! But the light-fingered stampede out is a hoot.

Tomie’s Blues is actually a steady, gorgeously lyrical ballad, Menares taking a warmly dancing, mutedly incisive solo over Zaleski’s spare gleam and Sawyer’s whispery brushwork. They wind up the record with the Urashima Suite, unwinding from a tight, spiraling, Terry Riley-ish piano riff to a gracefully bounding, shimmering Zaleski solo, a jagged violin/guitar break, a subtly conversational series of violin and piano variations capped off by a lush Omura solo, and some deliciously unhinged bluesmetal from Miles. Don’t be surprised to see this album on a lot of best-of-2021 lists assuming that those who put them together haven’t collectively taken the needle of death.

June 8, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Entertaining New Mix of Orchestral Works by Women Composers

Since the mid-teens, conductor Reuben Blundell has been unearthing one undiscovered American symphonic treasure after another, first with the Gowanus Arts Ensemble and most recently with the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra. His latest album with the latter, aptly titled American Discoveries, is streaming at Bandcamp. Fortuitously, he and the ensemble managed to wrap up the final recording sessions just a few weeks before the lockdown.

Blundell has been mining the vast archive in the Fleisher Collection of the Philadelphia Free Library for compositions which may not have been played in as much as a hundred years. This album features three women composers: an extremely rare work from 1928, and two better known, more recent pieces.

The orchestra open the album with Priscilla Alden Beach’s City Trees, a tantalizingly brief, triumphantly Romantic overture. The album’s liner notes mention Howard Hansen as a likely influence: Holst and Respighi also come strongly to mind. While Beach worked professionally in music for part of her life, she wore many different hats; tragically, most of her compositions have disappeared.

Linda Robbins Coleman‘s similarly colorful, Romantic 1996 pastorale For a Beautiful Land makes a good segue. Blundell evinces playful hints of birdsong over stillness, the orchestra rising to cheery bustle with hints of a fugue, Dvorakian sentinels amid the strings peeking across the prairie. The percussion section shimmer and shine, kicking off an ebullient, windswept waltz with the group going full tilt: Vaughan Williams is a good point of comparison.

The final piece is Alexandra Pierce’s 1976 Behemoth, an entertaining five-part suite inspired by the Biblical monster, even if it is not particularly monstruous. It’s a bit more modernist than the two preceding works. Portentous lows anchoring hazy strings, and tongue-in-cheek brass and percussion accents rise to heroic levels in the introduction. Puckish percussion flickers amidst alternating sheets of melody in the brief second movement, followed by a resonant, moody interlude, woodwinds and finally Suzanne Ballam’s harp precisely puncturing the amber.

The percussion section – Chris Kulp, Marshall Dugan, David Jamison and Susan Spina – get to indulge themselves in the very funny, fleeting bit of a fourth movement. Basses (Fay Kahmer, Barbara Brophy, Michael Carsley and Kurt Kuechler) take over the wary riffage beneath the lustre, cymbal crashes and blazing brass as the suite peaks out. Let’s hope for more from Blundell and this adventurous crew: Pennsylvanians seem to be getting restless, and the lockdown there looks like it’s on the ropes.

June 8, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment