Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Brilliantly Dark, Purposeful Debut From Guitarist Nick Rousseau

Guitarist Nick Rousseau‘s debut full-length album Rest/Unrest – streaming at Bandcamp – is strikingly vivid, often troubled music that reflects the struggles of our time. Rousseau plays purposefully, often sparely, with an uncluttered, slightly reverb-tinged tone and writes darkly translucent themes.

The title track begins spaciously and pensively, guest trumpeter Alex Sipiagin doubling Rousseau’s steady, moody, resonant lines, up to a warily reflective solo. Bassist Sean Hannon, pianist Carlin Lee and drummer Anton Kot provide a smartly lowlit backdrop.

The second number, Lucid Awakening shifts quickly from a dreamy bass-and-guitar introduction to somberly descending chromatics, then the band pick up the pace with incisive piano and guitar solos over Kot’s oceanic forward drive. The outro is spot-on beyond words.

Likewise, in Let Their Voices Sing, the band move quickly from a glittering, neoromantic-tinged intro to a shadowy clave, a flaring guitar solo and then a deliciously messy, heavy metal outro. Deassurance, a wistful ballad, has hints of Scottish folk and early Pat Metheny (without the ubiquitous, watery chorus-pedal ambience). The polyrhythmic interweave between Rousseau and Kot – who was only eighteen when he recorded this – is breathtaking.

Mutedly eerie piano glistens over a sketchy rhythm and dissociative loops in Soul Harvest, an increasingly animated tableau where the reaper seems to be having a feast. Rousseau launches into an ambling, guardedly optimistic theme to kick off Reconstruction, punctuating Lee’s loose-limbed, bluesy piano lines with bright, incisive spires.

Rousseau returns to somber wistfulness in Fall Rebuild, a disconsolately modal ballad: this time it’s Lee’s turn to puncture and color around a looping guitar phrase as Kot builds stormy intensity. The album’s final cut, simply and aptly titled Solemn, is a spacious, pastoral tone poem for solo guitar.

Rousseau also has a brooding, Big Lazy-esque, rather macabre single, Gaslight – good subject matter for an era of lockdowns and lethal injections, huh? – up at his Bandcamp page as a free download.

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

Revisiting an Iconic Moment in the Creepy Classical Canon

Over the course of thirteen years here, you would think that at some point, a recording of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition would have made an appearance. No dice. The Chelsea Symphony‘s performance of that staple of the horror-classical canon got a big thumbs-up...but that was in January of 2016.

Fast forward to 2021: the Chelsea Symphony’s beloved executive director has moved on and the group are as imperiled as any other performing arts organization outside the free world. But there is a very straightforward, energetic 2018 live recording at Spotify by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (both featured here earlier this month) which has plenty of creepy moments.

For those unfamiliar with the suite, the composer wrote it as a requiem for his painter friend Victor Hartmann, inspired by a posthumous retrospective of his work. It’s a wildly successful attempt to bring those paintings to life within the context of a leisurely, pensive gallery tour. In reality, Moussorgsky’s memory of several of the pictures on display was either fuzzy, or he deliberately gave them a much creepier interpretation. The original suite is for solo piano; Maurice Ravel orchestrated it in 1922. That’s what the orchestra are working with here.

The creepiness doesn’t start immediately, Noseda leading the listener into the gallery via a firmly reverential stroll. Ravel’s genius is in highlighting every available bit of phantasmagoria. Case in point: the twinkling second segment, The Gnome, which Noseda picks up boisterously at the end.

Fueled by the low brass and deliciously fluttery, ghostly strings, this broodingly waltzing take of The Old Castle is a keeper for anybody’s Halloween party playlist. Those cattle in the pasture? Definitely up to no good, beneath an increasingly stormy sky.

The Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks is on the goofy, cartoonish side of Halloween music. But Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, the two Jews out for a Shabbat stroll, are definitely keeping an eye out for trouble. Interestingly, Noseda’s interpretation of the catacomb scene is much louder and emphatic – and less haunting – than other conductors usually portray it. Maybe that choice was to set up the distant ominousness of the land of the dead – and then a rise to the bellicose menace of Baba Yaga’s Hut afterward.

The rest of the suite is relatively more lighthearted: proto-ragtime Tuileries, an anxious Limoges market scene and a dynamically rich, stately portrait of the (completely fictitious) Great Gate of Kiev.

This album opens with a similarly dynamic, persistently restless concert recording of Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. The fateful angst and moody balletesque variations of the first movement, moments of gorgeous bittersweetness and torment of the second, unexpectedly carnivalesque touches in the third and boisterous swirl in the conclusion all testify to how sensitively Noseda and the orchestra approach it.

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

Magos Herrera Brings Her Elegant, Genre-Defying, Poignant Songcraft to a Popular Outdoor Queens Spot

Singer Magos Herrera‘s music spans the worlds of jazz, film themes, contemporary classical and many styles from her native Mexico. This blog has witnessed her in a rapturous, intimate duo performance with her longtime collaborator, guitarist Javier Limon, as well as a much more lush and politically-fueled set with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. When live music was criminalized throughout much of the world in 2020, she turned to the web for supporting musicians. The result is Con Alma, the most eclectic album of an amazingly eclectic career, an “operatic tableau on isolation” streaming at Bandcamp. Herrera is back in action in New York, with a 7 PM gig outdoors on Halloween night at Terraza 7, where she’s leading a quintet. The Elmhurst venue is best known for jazz, so that’s probably going to be what Herrera brings to the stage, but knowing her, anything is possible.

The album is a mix of energetic acoustic guitar-driven numbers, imaginative pieces for orchestra and vocals and choral works. As you would expect from an album created during the lockdown, there’s an ever-present apprehension, but also hope. As fascinating as this music is, you will want to skip track seven – a found-sound collage on which Herrera does not appear – which contains PTSD-inducing samples of social engineering run hideously amok, a 2020 artifact best buried forever.

The first track is La Creación de las Aves, Vinicius Gomes’ circling, nimbly fingerpicked  acoustic guitar loop anchored by Jeffrey Zeigler’s sweeping cello and Gonzalo Grau’s lithely understated cajon.

Tree of 40 Fruit begins as an uneasily close-harmonied soundscape, layers of wordless vocals by Constellation Chor‘s Marisa Michelson blended with a little crowd-sourced spoken word on themes of isolation and alienation. She quickly builds it to an anguished series of peaks: the effect of all the multitracks wipes away any sense of loneliness or abandonment.

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joins with guitarist Romero Lubambo for moody but energetic dynamics in Rojo Sol, a bristling, flamenco-tinged ballad. Alma Muerta, a choral collaboration with Ensemble Sjaella rises from a desolate, Gregorian chant-influenced atmosphere to a web of stricken, shocked operatic riffs.

With her broodingly impassioned vocalese, Herrera and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería reinvent the album’s title cut – a Dizzy Gillespie hit – as a shapeshifting mini-suite, moving from cumulo-nimbus orchestration to a delicately bouncy, balletesque rhythm.

Ensemble Sjaella return for Fratres, by Paola Prestini, Herrera and the choir moving uneasily between early Renaissance-flavored ornamentation, grey-sky ambience and tremoloing atmospherics.

The lush treble counterpoint of Prestini’s Thrush Song, sung by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, offers a glimpse of hope. Herrera and her Mexican orchestral colleagues wind up the album with a strikingly stark, gracefully rhythmic take of Cucurrucucú, a longing-infused ballad made famous by Mexican singer Ana María González in 1954.

October 27, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virgil Boutellis-Taft Puts Out One of the Most Darkly Beguiling Classical Albums of Recent Years

One of the most diversely entertaining, dark-themed classical records of recent years is violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft‘s new album Incantation with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, streaming at Spotify. His approach is disarmingly direct and typically understated: overall, this is about mystery far more than the macabre.

He and the ensemble open with an aptly lush, starkly dynamic, moody take of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. Max Bruch was not Jewish, but he liked to plunder Jewish melodies – in this case, the prayer for the dead – rather than reaching for a faux-Romany sound as so many of his contemporaries did when they needed an extra jolt of minor-key intensity.

Tomaso Antonio Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor is one of the great classical mystery stories. We don’t know when it was written, but it was obviously radical for the baroque era. We know next to nothing about the composer and those who first resurrected it. Some investigators have suggested that the piece was deliberately misattributed in order to deflect possible criticism of its strikingly forward-looking chromatics. Boutellis-Taft holds onto the piece’s wicked ornamentation with a vise-grip legato as the orchestra looms and pulses menacingly behind him.

Saint-Saëns’ iconic Danse Macabre has been featured on this page innumerable times. This version of the witchy tarantella is distinguished by Boutellis-Taft’s gleeful vibrato, the forceful presence of the flutes, and an unusually persistent, skittish tension – which makes obvious sense in context. And the reaper doesn’t tiptoe out here – he leaves with a sinister flourish. He’ll be back!

Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique is exactly that, muted but purposeful. As with the Bruch work here, it’s a showcase for Boutellis-Taft’s resonant low midrange expressiveness, but also vigorously colorful attack in the upper registers. He makes a memorable return to Jewish themes with Ernest Bloch’s Nigun, from the Baal Shem suite, lit up by quicksilver ornamentation over an ominously Asian-tinged pentatonic theme. It’s a welcome addition to the classical heavy metal canon – and that’s meant as a compliment.

Ernest Chausson’s Poème pour Violon et Orchestre, op. 25, the longest piece on the program here, launches from an uneasily dreamy woodwind-driven tableau that eventually falls away on the wings of Boutellis-Taft’s wary solo. This is the most lavishly orchestrated yet most subtle performance here, darkly celestial rather than stygian.

Boutellis-Taft closes the album with Yumeji’s Theme, by Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi, a brief, melancholy, marionettishly waltzing recent work from the soundtrack to the film In the Mood for Love.

October 26, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York’s Great Champion of Undeservedly Obscure Classical Repertoire Shares These Treasures at Her Magical Salon Series

Pianist and impresario Yelena Grinberg is New York’s greatest advocate for undiscovered and unorthodox classical repertoire. Her Upper West Side salons, founded in the Fall of 2013 as a monthly soiree, have since expanded to two thematic programs per month, and have become legendary. The Russian music site Etazhi calls them “Musical Salons for the Guinness Book.”

Grinberg graciously took some time away from her rigorous schedule of playing and teaching to give New York Music Daily the inside scoop into a New York phenomenon.

New York Music Daily: You’ve archived the programs going all the way back to Salon #1, where you played rarely-heard music by Charles-Valentine Alkan. Ever since I talked to you, I’ve been listening nonstop to his music. It’s mind-blowing. Now, I have a pretty decent exposure to lesser-known repertoire, and I have my favorite niches too, and I have vague memories of hearing one of Alkan’s organ works once. But hearing his piano music, thanks to you, has been life-changing. He sounds like nobody I’ve ever head before: Chopin and Beethoven mashed up with otherworldly old Jewish melodies, but also a rhythmic sensibility that reminds me of Hovhaness. And from a hundred years earlier! I owe you huge for this! I can’t imagine how much fun it must have been for you to play that program!

Yelena Grinberg: It was a fascinating undertaking to do all the research and perform Alkan’s unjustly neglected music. I was struck by the transcendental difficulty of the keyboard writing as well as the originality and the richness of his musical ideas. I programmed his demonic Grand Duo Concertante in F# minor, whose second movement, is entitled L’enfer  – “Hell”- for a good reason! I also played his epic Sonate de concert in E Major for cello and piano, which is among the most devilishly difficult works in the entire Romantic chamber music repertoire.

For my solo Alkan-inspired program, I performed selections from his evocative 24 Preludes, Esquisses, his enchanting Barcarolle and one of his last wild works, Toccatina. At some point in the future, I would love to program his never-heard Piano Trio.

NYMD: And he’s just one example of the innumerable lesser-known but amazing composers whose work you’ve championed. How did you discover Alkan and what drew you to his music?

YG: I can’t recall if there was one particular inspiration. I do recall that I came across an Alkan CD by Raymond Lewenthal and Marc-Andre Hamelin in the Fall of 2013, when I first began my salons, it marked the 200th anniversary Alkan’s birth, so I made him the focal composer for that season.

NYMD: Long before it became all the rage to resurrect forgotten treasures by, say, black composers, you were unearthing material that hadn’t been played in New York, maybe anywhere in the world, in a hundred years or more. I am amazed by your dedication to the cause. It must take an enormous amount of energy and sleuthing. What is your motivation, what drives you? Is this because you want to be the queen of niche, or that you’re sick of standard repertoire, or that you get bored fast? Or that you’re rewriting history to set the record straight?

YG: I was getting weary of overplayed standard repertoire and wanted to program music that was hard to find and fresh to the ear. Luckily I learn very quickly, which enables me to cover a lot of new repertoire in a short span of time. I typically build each season’s programs around the  anniversary of a celebrated or an unjustly neglected composer’s birth, for example, Charles-Valentin Alkan or Carl Czerny. I like to balance out the program with a work that everyone loves, like Franck’s Violin Sonata, along with lesser-known repertoire.

NYMD: At your salons, you always like to share insights on the material on the program . You seem completely immersed in the lore of classical music, with all the colorful characters and endless drama. With you, it’s a big epic movie. Most artists just get up and play but you seem to have as much fun engaging with the history of the music as the music itself. Is this just a performance shtick – look, Yelena is the pianist who always finds the great stories! – or do you have a more ambitious agenda here?

YG: I especially like to engage with the audience in a lecture-performance format, and I love the Q&A afterward. The majority of the people who come to my salons are not musicians, so they bring their individual interests and professional backgrounds to the conversation. The guests often tell me they appreciate the commentary, the history, they may not know a certain musical term but they enjoy the historical background and find the listening experience richer as a result.

Over the years, I’ve had some fascinating visitors at the salon such as Ruth Slenczynska, the last living pupil of Rachmaninoff, who attended my solo Alkan program back in 2013.

NYMD: As I understand it, your salons started exactly the same way a lot of regular classical series started: friends getting together to read chamber music. That’s how ICE started, how Kettle Corn New Music evolved. At what point did you realize that you were doing something that nobody else was? Was there a moment where you realized that in your own unique way, you were making New York music history?

YG: Initially, I did not expect that my salons would blossom into a regular concert series, and that I would showcase 230-plus salon programs up to this point. The initial salons were attended mostly by a handful of family members and close friends, and by word of mouth, they grew to a much larger audience over the years. I didn’t know how frequently I would end up doing these concerts. I was excited to recreate the refined, European style “hausmusik”, which is how much of this music was meant to be enjoyed in its original conception.

NYMD: Can we talk about where you find your material? For example, your most recent sold-out event featured duo works for piano and guitar. Can I ask you, are you also a fan of classical guitar? How much of this repertoire actually exists? And of the material you discovered, how much of it turned out to be worth playing? Obviously, you discovered a lot!

YG: For the lesser-known repertoire I do more extensive research to see which libraries or stores have it, and a lot of what I find comes from Europe. Thankfully, I have close connections to the music librarians at Columbia University, the Juilliard library, and the Brooklyn College library, who have been very helpful over the years in obtaining rare editions for my research and performance.

Initially, I chose the topic or the focal composer for the entire season. Then, I thoroughly research all the solo and chamber music repertoire by that composer and think of creative interconnections with the composers who were in his or her close circle of friends, pupils, and fellow composers. For instance, this year I am presenting a series inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s belated 250th birthday, and have programmed works by such lesser-known composers as C.P.E. Bach, Ferdinand Ries, Ignaz Moscheles and Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn.

This summer, I presented an Enchanting Evening for Guitar and Piano – the first time I featured a guitar in my series. Turns out, there is very little music originally written for piano and guitar, and a lot of it obviously shines the spotlight on the piano. Aside from rarities like Hummel’s Potpourri for Guitar and Piano and Tedesco’s Fantasia, the majority of other works are arrangements or transcriptions. It turned out to be a kaleidoscopic program and everybody loved it. I designed it to cover 250 years – from Vivaldi to Piazzolla.

In the past, I’ve programmed music by seldom-represented women composers such as Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn, Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, Ethel Smythe and Pauline Viardot.

And over the last few years, every February, I present an Aquarian Genius program featuring three composers born under the sign of Aquarius, namely Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schubert.

NYMD: That makes sense, if anybody understands Aquarian genius, it’s probably you, considering you have the same birthday as Mendelssohn!

YG: Thank you! I’m truly honored to share my birthday with Felix Mendelssohn.

NYMD: OK. Have you ever tried to come up with a program that didn’t get off the drawing board because enough material for it didn’t exist?

YG: I never had that quandary. When I come up with a program, it’s partly analytical and partly intuitive. I do these concerts so frequently, so my mind has to stay focused. I do very extensive research, and I always find enough repertoire to make for what, I hope, is a satisfying salon program.

NYMD: How about commissioning contemporary artists? I don’t see a lot of 20th century, let alone 21st century material on your programs. You’ve played Satie, and Piazzolla, but not much that’s more current. Is that just not your thing?

YG:  My area of interest lies in the music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. I prefer to play the music that I find intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding, that speaks to me and challenges me. That’s not to say that I’m not open to including some works from the 20th century. For instance, I will be including Gyorgy Kurtag’s atmospheric Three Pieces for violin and piano, from 1979, at my November 7 and 10 salons.

My salons are meant to be a throwback to the music of the Enlightenment so it makes sense that the material relates to that time period. I think there’s a certain joy for people to be able to anticipate the sound of a piece from a particular era, even if they don’t know that specific work. There’s a lot to be said for historical context.

NYMD: Let’s talk about your collaborators. You have a duo project with an absolutely brilliant violinist, Emilie-Anne Gendron of the Momenta Quartet. She’s pretty high-profile. Where do you find all these people to play with? Or is this just being part of the classical scene here and having a good sense of who might be a good fit for a particular bill?

YG: It’s a combination of those factors. Either a musician is recommended to me, or it is someone I’ve known and collaborated with from my years at Columbia University and Juilliard. I also consider who might be a good fit for a particular program. Interpersonal chemistry is key. In a sense, playing chamber music together is like being in a relationship. Emilie and I have been playing together since 2003, since we were both students at the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard program.

NYMD: Can we talk about you as an artist, start at square one and work forward? You were born in Moscow, started playing piano at an early age. Your mom plays, right?

YG: Yes, my mother was my first piano teacher. She went to the Gnessin Institute, and I began my professional music study at Moscow’s Gnessin School for Gifted Children at age 5.

NYMD: You had famous teachers at the Gnessin school. You were a sixth grader when you came here. Did you have your sights on being a famous pianist, or were you just a kid who liked playing?

YG: I was studying professionally, and that was probably going to be my professional path, but of course I didn’t know how my life would ultimately play out. I always had great intellectual curiosity, I wanted to expand my horizons and was very social. I knew music would always be my path but I was not sure of what I would do more of, teaching versus performing. Today, I combine both, along with coordinating my salon series…which is nearly a full-time job in and of itself [laughing].

For a long time I was fascinated by biology. I was very keen on becoming a biologist, but between the lab work and music, I chose the latter, which was my true calling. But my love of science definitely informs my salon programming. I’ve adopted a scientific approach to the way I conduct the research for the repertoire and the way that I select my programs, pair the works thematically, etcetera. This intellectually rigorous approach appeals to me much more to me than a purely emotional one.

NYMD: Can we talk about the difference between music education in Russia, and here? Was there anything that struck you immediately when you first got here?

YG: I would say that teachers’ expectations were much higher in Russia, coaches were to be obeyed and greatly admired. In US, the emphasis is much more of consumer-oriented. For instance, a student can request that he or she wants to play the Moonlight Sonata, even though they may not be at that level.. In Russia, teachers typically get more respect, and students are much more obedient. But a lot of that has to do with the political landscape – freedom of speech, for example, which we did not have in Russia.

NYMD: Obviously, you never stopped playing, but I see your undergraduate degree from Columbia is not in music but in English literature. You’re a Shakespeare scholar. Was this a departure from your career path, or were there other reasons involved?

YG: I always enjoyed Shakespeare – the brilliance of his writing, his razor-sharp wit, the wonderful paradoxes in his language, and the universality and timelessness of the characters in his plays. Obviously, English isn’t my first language, but I always enjoyed the subtlety and the witty banter in Shakespeare. Which you find in the music of Haydn, for example, or Schumann: the use of extra-musical narrative, the different fictional characters which remind me a lot of the Shakespearean world, Mendelssohn, of course – the way the music feeds off literature and poetry, and vice versa. I was always drawn much more to Schumann as opposed to Chopin, for example, because of the literary richness and multifaceted humor in Schumann’s music which appeals to my personality. In fact, my doctoral dissertation at Juilliard was on Late Schumann.

NYMD: Have you ever merged those two passions? Say, a Shakespeare-themed program?

YG: I have not yet… but that’s a great idea!

NYMD: Since your Columbia days, you’ve done all the usual career-track things that every other classical pianist wants to do. You studied with even more famous pianists – Richard Goode among them – and you got your doctorate from Juilliard. You played competitions and did well, you played Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and all the usual places. But you followed your own muse, off the beaten path. Was this something that just evolved or did you have a plan?

YG: The way it’s happened with the salons, I guess my path in life has always been kind of off the beaten path. I don’t concertize too much like a lot of other musicians and my home base is here in New York. I strive for balance between stability and variety. I enjoy having my own enterprise, and not having anyone to report to. And I love that I can program whatever composers that suit me for my salons. That would be much different if I had to fill a thousand seats. In an intimate salon setting, I can afford to exercise my creative license when it comes to programming,, etcetera. Luckily in New York, there are a lot of intellectually sophisticated, open-minded individuals who are drawn to the lesser-known repertoire that I present, and they enjoy coming to my salons for the enlightenment and novelty.

NYMD: As you know, I love getting a scoop, covering artists who are underrepresented in the media. I have a thing for rugged individualists. But I also have a larger agenda and that’s much more ambitious – and goes against the current corporate zeitgeist. I’ve always advocated for live performance because it gets people off their screens, back into reality, where real communities are born. I get the sense that the raison d’etre behind your salons dovetails with my agenda, at least to some extent. Am I on to something here?

YG: In a sense, yes. My salons hark back to the old tradition of “hausmusik” since the day of the Enlightenment. I wanted to revive this old and elegant tradition of music-making and thereby create a community on the Upper West Side and beyond, that would go against the current trend of increased robotization and commercialization in our society. The salons enable a lively and stimulating dialogue between the performer and the audience, in an intimate setting that, I think, is highly precious during this day and age.

NYMD: How much, if any audio exists from your salons? Is there an archive? Where can we hear it, or when will we be able to?

YG: Yes, I audio-record each salon for my own personal archive.

NYMD: You are aware that hundreds of years from now, your audio and sheet music libraries will be referred to as the “Grinberg Collection” and will be both a resource and a record of a major achievement in music history, right?

YG: You are too kind.. Should that ever happen, I would be very honored, indeed.

NYMD: Can I ask you, what’s your musical fallback? You have such a wide range of musical interests, wider than just about anybody I know. Who do you play just for you? When nobody else is listening, or for your family, or loved ones? What sets your synapses on fire more than anything else?

YG: Undoubtedly, it would be Bach. I’ve always had a special affinity for Bach’s music, which is sublime and transcendent. That’s not to say I don’t love Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, just to name a few, but Bach for me is No. 1. In the early stages of the lockdown I just kept playing Bach. His music is inspiring, empowering, and therapeutic like that of no other composer. I typically perform an all-Bach program every January. In 2016, I presented an Italian Bach program, featuring his Italian-style works, in 2018, I performed all his French Suites; in 2019, all English Suites, and in 2021, showcased seldom-heard Preludes, Fugues and Fantasies, which I entitled Rare Bach. And I am hoping to get to perform his complete Partitas in January 2022!

NYMD: What do you think the future holds for your salon?

YG: It’s so hard to even think of the future right now. I hope that my salons will continue to bring joy and meaning to people’s lives, and that more people get to discover them!

Yelena Grinberg’s next salon (No. 239), entitled The Leuzer Sonata, is Sunday, November 7 at 5 PM, repeating on Wednesday, November 10 at 6:30 PM. showcasing a colorful program where she’ll be joined by violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron. They’ll be playing Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major for violin and keyboard, BWV 1015, Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Kurtag’s Three Pieces for violin and piano, and the piece de resisteance is Beetehoven’s iconic “Kreutzer” Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin. This not-to-be-missed salon is a short walk from the 1/2/3 train at 96th St. To learn more and to register, email her.

October 24, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Edgy, Highly Improvised Masterpiece From Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina is the rare jazz guitarist who plays a lot of notes, yet manages to find a way not to waste them. His music has always been more about mood and narrative than merely a display of gritty chops on guitar and oud, both of which are scary-good. Since the late teens, he’s been on a wild creative tear, which does not seem to have been adversely affected by the lockdown. He got a solo album out of it, and now also has a richly textured, edgily conversational new quartet record, Klotski, just out and streaming at Bandcamp.

Grdina calls the band Square Peg. Violist Mat Maneri and bassist Shahzad Ismaily play with their typical purpose, choosing their spots. Christian Lillinger is just as much colorist as timekeeper behind the drum kit. The album is a highly improvisational uninterrupted suite of variations on cell-based melodies. The camaraderie is high spirited, matched by a meticulous focus: jazz improvisation is seldom this outright tuneful.

Resolutely unresolved viola wafts around over Lillinger’s rustles on his hardware to introduce the album’s opening number, Impending Discomfort. Then Grdina’s guitar angles in, sparely. Maneri wryly responds in kind to Grdina’s slide licks; a steady, brisk stroll develops, Ismaily playing suspenseful, terse polyrhythms. The fireplace tableau that results pits Maneri’s yellow flames over Grdina’s deep-ember sputter.

Grdina calls the next part Escherian, Maneri in contrast to Lillinger’s black reflecting pool, Grdina running loops beneath Ismaily’s smoky ambience. The Halloweenish drollery the quartet link arms and eventually stroll into is irresistibly funny, especially when you hear where they go with it. A little obvious, maybe, but the fun these guys are having is visceral.

Maneri and Grdina have additional fun exchanging volume knob-style washes over Lillinger’s flutters and Ismaily’s wise, steady, sparse pulse in Bacchic Barge, before the bandleader takes centerstage with a solo that’s more Juno on the prowl than Bacchus falling off the boat. His matter-of-fact contentedness as he switches to oud contrasts with the unexpected wrath Maneri and Ismaily pull from the shadows.

Pitchblende bass, bucolic viola, scrambling oud and rises and falls from the drums permeate Sulfur City, up to a snarling march that Ismaily eventually colors with blippy, harmonium-like synth, finally luring Grdina into the brambles.

The quartet work sagaciously expansive chords out of a simple, well-used blues riff as they move methodically through Kaleidoscope, Maneri’s giddyup phrases and shivery harmonics balanced by a contiguous attack that his bandmates rise and pull away from. A bit of a sepulchral surprise sets up the lively, bubbling segue into Microbian Theory, once again developing out of a familiar minor-key blues lick. The descent into plaintive washes afterward might be the album’s most offhandedly gripping interlude.

Murk and vampy acidity interchange in Sore Spot, a catchy, tolling metal anthem in spiky disguise. Lillinger fuels the suite’s coda, Joy Ride, with a tricky quasi-Balkan circle dance groove, Ismaily’s hypnotic riffage anchoring the bandleader’s increasingly volatile, blues-infused meteor shower. It ends unresolved.

October 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet Bring Their Irrepressibly Entertaining Sound to the South Slope

More than anything, the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet swing. Most sax quartets work in the rarefied and all too frequently abstruse world of contemporary classical music. The Broken Reeds are one of the world’s funniest jazz bands, and the absence of bass and drums doesn’t keep them from bringing the party. Their most recent album, Those Who Were – a 2019 release streaming at their music page – may reference a lot of artists who’ve left us, but alto sax player and bandleader Charley Gerard’s compositions are as irrepressibly upbeat and entertaining as always. The group are bringing their bright, erudite, often comedic, catchy tunes to an outdoor show with special guest singer Tammy Scheffer on Oct 22 at 6:30 PM at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th St south of 6th Ave in South Park Slope. Take the R to Prospect Ave.

The album’s opening number, Something to Remember You By is somewhere between a stroll and a march, with rightly lustrous four-part harmonies, understated dixieland counterpoint and walking bass from baritone saxophonist Dimitri Moderbacher

Gerard leads a series of flutters punctuated by moments of warm resonance built around a catchy, cheery theme in A Long Life: the point seems that if you stick around long enough, you’ll be happy too. Soprano saxophonist Jenny Hill’s tantalizingly brief solo adds unexpected gravitas. She Was Connected to the Earth has more of a dixieland-style intertwine between the horns, while Don’t Forget the Cork Grease has a tightly pulsing hot 20s exuberance, once again capped off by Hill’s quicksilver legato.

A Lot of Living in a Short Amount of Time is an edgy, increasingly wild, Ellingtonian minor-key jump blues with some incisively conversational moments between Hill and tenor saxophonist Justin Flynn. Call Me Jimmy, dedicated to Gerard’s teacher and big inspiration Jimmy Giuffre, is an aptly eclectic mini-suite built around a sternly strolling, 19th century gospel-infused blues: a brilliant guy, but not a particular warm, fuzzy character, if this is any indication

The sixth track is Who Was Father Mckenzie? – gotta love these titles, huh? – and as Gerard sees him, he has a secret latin side. With its sly cha-cha riffage and Gerard reaching for the rafters, the song has absolutely nothing to do with the Beatles.

The group go back to biting minor-key blues in the steady, strutting bursts of Do You Want to Be Ruth. Hmmm…which one could this be? Ruth Brown, maybe? Hill’s solo about three quarters of the way in is one of the album’s most unselfconsciously breathtaking moments.

Gerard airs out his latin side again in Adios A Cuba, a slinky nocturne and one of only two tracks on the album with bass and drums. Goodbye Don, a fond remembrance of a former drummer, shifts from matter-of-fact lustre to a pulse that’s just short of frantic, Gerard’s high-voltage solo saluting a guy who obviously had no shortage of energy.

The group finally reach Keystone Kops scamper, intertwined within a surprisingly shamanic Afro-Cuban groove, in Father Mckenzie’s Cuban Catastrophe, only to end it on a simmering, serious note. They close the record with Ugly Duck Strut, dark and tan Ellingtonian blues filtered through jauntily shifting rhythms. If you were lucky enough to catch Quatre Vingt Neuf onstage in the months before the lockdown when Wade Ripka was frantically writing charts to Leroy Shield’s Little Rascals themes, you’ll love this crew.

October 17, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Counterintuitive World Premiere Organ Recording of a Famous Symphony

Today’s album is an especially colorful piece, organist Thilo Muster‘s world premiere recording of Eberhard Klotz’s transcription of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, streaming at Spotify.

Beginning around two centuries ago and for many decades afterward, it was common for European organists to play music written for symphony orchestra, for audiences in small or rural communities who couldn’t make it to the big city to see the genuine item. But this one is special: it’s arguably better than the original, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Charles Widor catalog. Klotz’s transcription is noteworthy for its translucence: themes never get subsumed in bluster. Muster plays with dynamism amid steady pacing, his registrations taking full advantage of the wide, French-toned palette of the organ at the Eglise St-Martin in Dudelange, Luxembourg. Anton Bruckner, who for years made his living as a church organist and earned a reputation as a brilliant improviser, would no doubt approve.

It’s an unfinished symphony: the composer died three movements in. The first rises to a rather cheery, airily anthemic sway, then at the change to minor, Muster pulls out the stops and the effect is breathtaking. A cuckoo phrase over a gentle march gets spun in stately style through a series of increasingly serious variations, stern peaks, calmer valleys and tidal atmospherics. Muster really takes his time after a full stop as the long upward trajectory continues: this is scenic ride, and he wants everybody to be looking out the window.

Muster masterfully alternates a cheery strut with a big, puffy pulse as the second movement gets underway, up to the mighty, torrential Russian dance coda. He pulls back but keeps a matter-of-fact drive going in movement three – the closest thing we have to a conclusion. It’s more of an energetic stroll than a march; likewise, the volleys of eighth notes at the peak are a swirl rather than a torrent, setting up the descent into calm, wistful reflection.

October 15, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distantly Melancholy, Catchy, Profoundly Relevant New Symphonic Themes From Max Richter

Although pianist and composer Max Richter’s new album Exiles – streaming at Spotify – is built around a suite that reflects on the trans-Mediterranean refugee crisis which reached horror pitch starting in the mid-teens, not all of it is dark. And when it is, it’s distantly melancholic rather than outright morbid. He supplies the piano and keys here, joined with elegance and lushness by the Baltic Sea Philharmonic under the baton of Kristjan Järvi.

Richter’s themes are as translucent as they are lush – he knows that even reduced to most succinct terms, a hook is still a hook and this album is full of hum-alongs. Henryk Gorecki is a persistent influence here, as is Steve Reich in places. Yann Tiersen‘s more ambitious work also comes to mind frequently as well.

The Haunted Ocean serves as a brief curtain-lifter with its ominously atmospheric, shifting sheets. Infra 5 strongly evokes Gorecki’s iconic Symphony No.3, although this comes across as more of a study in wave motion than a cavatina, as the orchestra follow a long upward trajectory. It ends suddenly and completely unresolved – just like the refugee crisis?

Flowers of Herself, written to reflect a Mrs. Dalloway-like bustle, has a brightly circling, Reichian atmosphere. On the Nature of Daylight comes across as a more incisive variation on the album’s second piece, a resolute violin leading an understated, subtle counterpoint.

Richter plays a simple, chiming four-chord sequence to open the album’s title suite, the strings drifting behind him at a much slower pace. Where one refugee goes, so goes the world, just more slowly? Let that sink in for a moment. Calmly and airily, with an increasingly defiant, striding rhythm, Richter does that at symphonic proportions.

October 14, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Restriction-Free Show From One Of New York’s Most Interesting, Individualistic Jazz Reedmen

Until last year’s lockdown, multi-reedman Mike McGinnis was a ubiquitous presence in the New York jazz scene. He’s an eclectic, erudite composer and arranger, as adept on the sax as the clarinet, equally informed by Americana and music from across the European continent. With his lush nine-piece Road Trip Band, he rescued Bill Smith’s picturesque 1956 Concerto for Clarinet from third-stream jazz obscurity. But as serious and straightforward as much of his own work is, he also has a great sense of humor. It’s anybody’s guess who he’s playing with at his gig at 2 PM at Parkside Plaza in Prospect Lefferts Gardens on Oct 17, but it’s bound to be entertaining, especially as there are also dance performances on the bill. The space is at the corner of Parkside and Ocean Avenue, close to the Q stop at Parkside Ave.

One particularly colorful project McGinnis has been involved with for over a decade is the Four Bags. He plays clarinet and bass clarinet in the band alongside trombonist Brian Drye, guitarist Sean Moran and another trombonist, Jacob Garchik, who plays accordion. Their most recent release, Waltz, came out in 2017 and is still up at Bandcamp. The connecting thread is a frequent but hardly omnipresent time signature: they should have called the album The Three-Four Bags.

To set the stage, they put a coy dixieland spin on what could be a Mexican folk tune, El Caballo Bayo, then go fullscale cartoon on you. It’s obvious, but impossible not to laugh.

The joke in the second track, Runaway Waltz is polyrhythms – those, and a baroquely comedic sensibility. Waltz of the Jacobs is a brassy, Belgian-tinged musette, the four taking a couple of increasingly cartoonish detours before Drye and Garchik engage in some calmer, completely deadpan clowning around.

Invisible Waltz is not a John Cage cover but one of the deliciously slow, airy, sinister tunes the group like to throw at you once in awhile. The group go back to jaunty latin sounds with Puerta Del Principe, which also has droll hints at flamenco, unexpectedly stormy gusts and a head-scratchingly exuberant McGinnis clarinet solo.

Vaults Dumb ‘Ore bears a suspicious resemblance to a famously venomous Randy Newman song that Nina Simone covered. The band switch her out for a brooding, bolero-tinged interplay between accordion and guitar, then Drye adds a surprisingly somber extra layer before Moran takes it into increasingly fanged psychedelia. Finally, the jokes kick in, one poker-faced quote after another.

G is for Geezus is a buffoonish New Orleans theme. There are also bits and pieces of variations on Les Valse Des As, the wryly nocturnal closing cut, scattered throughout the album. Fans of funny jazz acts like the Microscopic Septet and Mostly Other People Do the Killing will enjoy this goofy but very seriously assembled stuff.

October 13, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment