Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Picturesque Songs Without Words From Trumpeter Rachel Therrien

Trumpeter Rachel Therrien’s latest album Vena – streaming at Bandcamp – is a breath of fresh air, a colorfully eclectic collection of terse, vivid compositions. If you like your jukebox jazz on the thoughtful, picturesque side, with a sense of humor, Therrien’s songs without words are for you.

V For Vena makes a warmly vampy, modally tinged first number, with a tasty, cascading, bluesy Daniel Gassin piano solo, Therrien choosing her spots to tuck and roll. She and the band – which also includes Dario Guibert on bass and Mareike Wiening on drums – shift between crystalline lyricism and encroaching phantasmagoria in Parity, a jazz waltz, Guibert’s calm triplets holding the center as Wiening’s circling riffs peak out. They stick with waltz time and phantasmagoria in Pigalle, but with a wryly dancing, vaudevillian touch instead.

75 Pages of Happiness is the album’s first ballad. The song’s spacious, resonant piano is matched by Therrien’s low-key midrange melody; it ends unresolved. In Assata, the quartet shift between allusions to soukous, jaunty swing and insistent riffage, with more spiraling, bluesy piano.

Therrien joins saxophonist Irving Acao for lilting harmonies over a nimble, funk-tinged groove and Gassin’s circling, wary piano chords in Bilka’s Story, with a a majestic crescendo: lots going on in this tale. Her persistence contrasts with the increasingly agitated individual voices behind her throughout Emilio, followed by Women, a droll, chattering miniature.

Synchronicity isn’t the big faux-African hit by the Police but a lively, punchy, syncopated original. The group go back to ballad territory with This Isn’t Love, Gassin’s balmy, purposefully darkening solo handing off to the bandleader, who takes it in a more forlorn direction. Then they pick up the pace with the lickety-split swing tune Just Playing, the album’s most trad postbop moment.

Bleu Tortue opens with Wiening supplying a mutedly shamanic beat as a springboard for Therrien’s brightly spare riffage. Migration is a final, energetically wistful waltz: something is being left behind, then an insistent expectancy takes centerstage. they close with a brief, playful New Orleans shuffle, Folks Tune. This is jazz for people who prefer entertainment and good stories over ostentatious solos and sourpuss snobbery.

September 30, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Carefully Crafted Recording of the Schubert Octet to Give Us Solace in Troubled Times

Until the lockdown, Franz Schubert’s Octet had been a staple of the classical concert repertoire for more than a century. But it wasn’t popular at the time it was written. Reviews of the 1827 premiere were not positive, and it wasn’t revived in concert until more than thirty years later. Let that endurance inspire us in our own struggles to return all the way back to normal. In the meantime, there’s a meticulous, insightful recording featuring the Modigliani String Quartet streaming at Spotify to inspire us.

As the album liner notes conclude, is the Octet an awakening of “A poetic language, in which exuberance and despair meet?” Until the end, there’s far less outright revelry than courtly conviviality, and a recurrent if distant sense of any attainable happiness slipping away. When he wrote this, Schubert was already battling the illness that would eventually kill him.

He nicks the principal opening theme from his song Der Wanderer, Sabine Meyer’s wistful clarinet signaling the suite’s first shift and then serving as a foil, more or less, to the increasingly warmer, elegantly pulsing atmosphere. Listen closely and you’ll hear a moody tarantella bubble to the surface, and then approximations of a harpsichord from the quartet: violinists Amaury Coetaux and Loic Rio, violist Laurent Marfaing and cellist François Kieffer. Very clever.

This ensemble – which also includes Bruno Schneider on horn, Dag Jensen on bassoon and Knut Erik Sundquist on bass – really bring the lights down for the nocturnal second movement. The third is also on the muted side even as the rhythms pick up. Horn and bassoon move closer to the sonic center amid the lustre of the fourth movement until Meyer returns, unwaveringly in character.

Movement six’s minuet has an especially delicate quality, the strings often stark against the wind instruments rather than simply building luxuriant atmosphere. The rattle of Kieffer’s foreshadowing beneath the wafting, distantly cautionary melody as the conclusion gathers steam is a refreshingly dynamic touch. After teasing the listener with a Beethovenesque series of false endings, the ensemble wrap it up in a cheery ball at the end.

And the quartet also have a new album of Bartok, Mozart and Haydn works.

September 29, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Neglected Russian Romantic Orchestral Treasure From Pianist Irena Portenko

While the heroes of the early days of last year’s lockdown were working long hours at hospitals where staff had been cut by fifty percent in order to engineer the illusion of a crisis, there was a much humbler kind of triage going on at this blog: sorting out the equally imperiled digital part of a constantly growing archive. A brief listen revealed that one album which had slipped through the cracks and didn’t deserve that fate was pianist Irena Portenko‘s 2016 performance of Prokofiev and Tschaikovsky concertos with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko. The recording quality of the album, Versus – streaming at Spotify – is very old-world: for a digital production, the sound is very contiguous, in the spirit of a vinyl record. This is the kind of album that you can listen to over and over again and discover something new every time.

The balmy, Debussyesque introduction to Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 offers no clue where this beast is going to go, Portenko’s emphatic upward cascades against increasing lushness punctuated by an anxious, searching flute. But Prokofiev remains one of the kings of phantasmagoria, and Portenko and the ensemble quickly sink their fangs into a marionettish strut and then a distantly macabre haze before bringing back the Asian diatonics.

That’s just the first half of the first movement. The way she hangs back and lets the increasing unease speak for itself pays off mightily when she slams into the big, grim crescendo afterward, the orchestra circling like a hungry condor. The gusty, stricken second movement is over in a flash; the third, a processional written as a requiem for a friend of the composer who killed himself, is far more sinister in places. The flute and staccato strings in tandem with the piano are creepy to the extreme. Again, the restraint of both soloist and orchestra enhance the mysterious intensity of the concluding movement, Portenko’s sabretoothed ripples and icepick chords finally gaining traction as the orchestra linger and pulse behind her.

They shift gears for Tschaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, one of the most ravishingly beautiful (curmudgeons might say treacly) pieces of classical music ever written. It’s been ripped off by thousands of pop songwriters over the decades. Portenko doesn’t let it go there, with a clenched-teeth attack that raises the drama factor several times over, matched by Sirenko’s lavish touch in front of the orchestra. Yet there’s great subtlety from the ensemble: a bass breaks the surface, then flourishes from the reeds, matched by Portenko’s coy bit of a fugue in the first movement. Her gritty, intricate proto boogie-woogie in the movement’s third part screams out for the repeat button.

The second movement is balletesque yet replete with longing, Portenko rising to the challenge of the composer’s machinegunning rivulets. Starry, starry night! The third movement is where the Ukrainian bandura melody that Tschaikovsky polishes up and rips off throughout this piece really gets a workout: folk-rock, 19th century style. There are passages here that seem breathtakingly fast, compared to other orchestras’ interpretations: they seem to want everybody to hang on and enjoy the ride, up to the warmly familiar coda.

September 28, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ARC Ensemble Continue Their Quest to Resurrect Neglected Jewish Composers

Canadian group the ARC Ensemble are in the midst of a heroic project, resurrecting music by underrated or undeservedly forgotten Jewish composers, Their latest album – streaming at Spotify – is the debut commercial recording of three works by Russian composer Dmitri Klebanov. Like all of his contemporaries in the Soviet era, his themes were circumscribed by Stalinist repression. There’s a sense of an inner modernist longing to cut through the doctrinaire Romanticism, and it’s rewarding to hear that fearlessness unleashed in so many places here.

String Quartet No. 4 opens as a swinging, folksy, wintry theme and variations. The second movement begins as a stark, windswept tableau, anchored by the lingering harmonies of cellist Thomas Wiebe and violist Steven Dann, violinists Erika Raum and Marie Bérard picking up the pace with a graceful counterpoint, growing more insistent, alternately joyous and stern.

Puckish pizzicato cedes to more of an autumnal dance in movement three, which continues and rises to a triumphant coda in the concluding movement. It’s an enjoyable if not particularly substantial piece.

There’s a similarly dancing quality but considerably more gravitas to Klebanov’s Piano Trio No. 2, which actually turns out to be much more of a work for strings. Pianist Kevin Ahfat provides a precise lilt in the first movement as Berard and Wiebe add wistful color, with close echoes of an iconic Rachmaninoff piece throughout. The three musicians light into the sudden, furtive interlude afterward with relish, violin cascades against mutedly assertive, rhythmic piano.

The trio have fun negotiating the tension between Beethovenesque glitter and a jagged Russian dance in the second movement. Movement three is the real stunner here, plaintive strings over tolling, low-key piano, rising to an aching waltz that grows more hypnotically troubled as the rhythm straightens out. Debussy visits Borodin on the steppes as the unsettled conclusion pounces along, somewhat hesitantly, Kudos to the ensemble for unearthing a piece that deserves to be vastly better known.

The four strings return to an assertive, martially-tinged Russian dance theme to introduce Klebanov’s considerably more adventurous String Quartet No. 5, with a meticulous, persistently uneasy counterpoint. It would be an overstatement to call the thematic development demonic, but a gremlin definitely could be involved.

There’s a Bartokian vividness and astringency in the second movement The third and final movement strongly brings to mind Shostakovich’s middle-period quartets, in terms of persistent grey-sky atmosphere and exchanges that darkly wind their way back to Haydn, all the way through the deviously jaunty ending. What a joy it is to discover music like this: it only makes you wonder what else this ensemble have up their collective sleeves.

September 28, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.

September 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Outdoor Show by an East Village Avant Garde Legend

Elliott Sharp began his career as the most formidable guitar shredder on the Lower East Side and eventually became a major composer of modern opera, among other things. What he’s going to play – guitar or sax, on which he also shreds – and who he’s going to have with him at his show at 4 PM on Sept 26 on his old stomping ground, at La Plaza Cultural at Ave C and 9th St., remains to be seen. Whatever it is, this perennially adventurous sage is always worth seeing.

Sharp’s latest opera Filiseti Mekidesi – streaming at Spotify – is characteristically relevant, an aptly dissociative reflection on the terror of the refugee crisis that began before the lockdown. Being driven from one’s native land to a foreign culture is alienating to the extreme, and the music reflects that. Acidic circular themes figure heavily. While the two words in the title are Amharic – meaning “shelter” and “migration” – there are few moments where any distinctive Ethiopian influence surfaces. The fact that none of the vocalists are native English speakers adds to the persistent, troubled sense of unfamiliarity. Palestinian singer Kamilya Jubran takes centerstage in texts by the composer, Tracie Morris and Edwin Torres. Choral ensemble Voxnova Italia also take turns in the spotlight, with chamber orchestra Musikfabrik providing the backdrop.

Massed, disquieted smoke-off-the-battlefield atmospherics rise toward Chinatown New Year chaos, recede and then oscillate as the opera gets underway, setting the stage for much of what’s to come. By contrast, Sharp’s vocal melodies are simple and emphatic, often echoed by soloists from throughout the orchestra. It’s not likely that he’s going to draw on this material, or his other equally provocative operatic work, for the show in the garden, but you never know.

September 23, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

East Village Free Jazz Pioneers Celebrate the Cutting Edge on Their Home Turf

Francisco Mela has been a prime mover in the New York free jazz scene for decades. And free improvisation remains one of the East Village’s most durably entrenched musical demimondes. So it only makes sense that the popular drummer would be part of this year’s LUNGS festival. He’s playing with a killer trio including tenor saxophonists Steve Wirts and George Garzone at 3 PM on Sept 25 at the 11BC Garden on 11th St between Ave. B and C.

Mela’s latest release in a career that only gets more and more prolific is Music Frees Our Souls, a trio set with two longtime collaborators, bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, dedicated to the late, great McCoy Tyner and streaming at Bandcamp.

Mela and Parker quickly build a floating swing for Shipp to color in the epic, twenty-minute first track, Light of Mind, opening with insistent variations around a center. The conversationality of the trio immediately makes itself known when Shipp hits his first big, stabbing peak, and the bass and drums are right there with him. From there the variations range from stern and insistent to scrambles in the upper registers. Shipp limits his emulation of Tyner to frequent stormy lower lefthand intensity. When Mela gets the pot boiling, the other two guys punch in hard with a modal bristle, a feeling that persists in the lulls. Shipp’s stygian, regal exit is spot-on beyond words.

Track two, Dark Light, is much briefer and has more spacious, lingering moments and judicious chordal work from Parker. This being Mela’s session, he opens the last number with an amusing solo that hints at oldschool disco before he expands outward. Who would have expected a salsa woodblock beat over Shipp’s flurries and Parker’s stabbing polyrhythms? The triangulation is a little looser here, everybody on a longer rhythmic leash, although Mela and Parker seemed to be joined closer to the hip. The point where the bass signals a creepily twinkling Twilight Zone transmission from Shipp will give you goosebumps.

Who needs jazz clubs with owners too cowardly and shortsighted to stand up to apartheid orders from the Mayor’s office when we have musicians of this caliber playing outdoors? No doubt somewhere McCoy Tyner is smiling.

September 20, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Free Outdoor Show From Eclectically-Inspired Trumpeter Wayne Tucker

Wayne Tucker is known for his electrifying performances as a lead trumpeter in various jazz situations. And before the lockdown, he got around a lot. For a couple of years, he was the not-so-secret weapon in feral, high-voltage Ethiopian jamband Anbessa Orchestra, whose small-club gigs in Park Slope in the late teens are legendary. This blog’s sister site covered one of them back in 2016, but they played shows after that which were even more spectacular.

For those who’ve seen Tucker raise the rafters, it might come as some surprise that he has a much mellower side. This past spring he was one of the first jazz artists to get back to playing publicly announced gigs, leading a quartet up on a little hill just off Central Park West back in early May. The show was part of photographer Jimmy Katz‘s nonprofit series, which turned out to be a lifesaver for musicians starved for money and for audiences starved for music.

The sky may have been ominous that Sunday afternoon, but the music was balmy. Tucker and the band’s tenor saxophonist played calm, airy exchanges and harmonies over a diverse series of rhythms, with tinges of Afrobeat, salsa and bossa nova. Tucker’s latest album goes in a completely different direction, into trippy, hip hop-inspired corporate urban pop. You can find out which side he wants to have fun with – maybe, all of them – at his gig on Sept 21 at noon at the little pedestrian plaza at Pearl and Willoughby in downtown Brooklyn. It’s about equidistant from the 2/4/R Borough Hall station and the F train at Jay St.

September 19, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Familiar Favorite on the Oldtime Swing Scene Return For an East Village Dance Party

Until the lockdown last year, Baby Soda were one of the busiest bands on the New York oldtimey swing circuit. They’re also one of the most original. Where Svetlana & the Delancey Five began to bring in repertoire from the 40s on forward, along with more outside-the-box arrangements, Baby Soda distinguished themselves as improvisers. What made their shows so much fun is that they didn’t just try to replicate those old 78s: they’d keep the dancers going, with all kinds of wild interplay and solos, for minutes on end. They’re back to their old tricks, with an outdoor show this Sept 24 at about 7 PM to kick off this year’s LUNGS Festival in the East Village at La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez, Ave C and 9th St.

They recorded their live album – streaming at Bandcamp – at their main haunt, Radegast Hall, back in 2011 (sadly, the venue doesn’t have music anymore). There’s been a rotating cast of players filtering through the band over the years. The record has the original core unit of Emily Asher on trombone and vocals, Adrian Cunningham on clarinet and tenor sax, Jared Engel on banjo and Kevin Dorn on drums. Peter Ford plays box bass and Kevin V Louis plays cornet; both sing.

The sound quality is vastly better than you would expect from an outdoor show on a Saturday at a crowded Williamsburg beer garden. The opening number, a boisterous take of the old hokum blues revenge tune You Rascal You, is a red herring: don’t be fooled by the relative brevity of this song because the other numbers here go on for much longer. Ford sings it; guest clarinetist William Reardon Anderson bubbles within a cheery web of dixieland counterpoint.

The rest of the album is more solo-centric. The instrumental Weary Blues is anything but tired: Louis’ moment where he spirals out of the sky draws a roar from the drinkers. The band follow with a New Orleans mardi gras shuffle, a dixieland remake of a hymn, then When You Wore a Tulip with its energetic guy/girl vocals.

Cunningham’s modulated clarinet solo on the midtempo drag Whinnin Boy is another highlight. A deliciously klezmerized take of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho is the best song of the afternoon, with an ecstatic cornet/drums duel.

After a booty-shaking Palm Court Strut, Asher moves to the mic for an undulating take of Sugar and then shows off her signature, devious sense of humor with her horn. Ford must like the mean songs because he takes over on vocals again on Nobody’s Sweetheart Now. They go out in a blaze of Glory Glory. A good choice to open the festival on the 24th.

September 18, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii Finds Strange Magic in Ambient Music

Jazz pianist Satoko Fujii has always had an otherworldly side, but she’s really gone deep into some incredibly mystical sounds in the last few years. The title of her new album, Piano Music – streaming at Bandcamp – is funny because most of it doesn’t sound like piano music at all.

Although Fujii has recorded electroacoustic albums and has used effects and mixers live – laptop percussion pioneer Ikue Mori is a frequent collaborator – this is Fujii’s first venture into ambient music. And it’s a characteristically captivating new chapter in a wildly prolific, individualistic career that shows no sign of slowing down.

Fujii likes playing inside the piano, so on one hand she’s no stranger to evincing echoing, gently droning atmospherics via acoustic techniques like rubbing the strings or bowing them with wire and other materials. Here, she runs a kaleidoscopic series of phrases through a mixer instead.

Her autoharp-like strums and plucks under the lid make for a magically textured contrast with echoing, loopy drones and what could be whale song on the A-side, Shiroku (Japanese for “white”). When she lets the music recede to a series of spare, koto-like microtonal phrases, the effect is just as striking, especially considering where she takes it.

She begins the B-side, Fuwarito (“Softly”) as a soundscape, but hardly a quiet one – those whales are a lively bunch, and Fujii gets a snowstorm out of rubbing those strings. With a phantasmic bell choir, persistently echoey, rhythmic woodblock-like timbres, grinding industrial chords, ghostly pizzicato-like phrases and eventually quite a storm, it becomes her Revolution 9. This isn’t easy listening but it is psychedelic to the extreme, and the fun that Fujii obviously had making it is visceral. She’s gone on record as saying that her raison d’etre is to make music that the world has never heard before, and this definitely qualifies.

September 17, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment