Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stunning, Haunting New Compositions by One of New York’s Most Adventurous Bassists

Good bass players are like good singers: they get enlisted for a wider range of projects than most musicians. Bassist Max Johnson is probably as well known for his work in Americana as he is with jazz. He’s playing the latter, leading an intriguing trio with tenor saxophonist Neta Ranaan and drummer Jason Nazary on Jan 28 at 7:30 PM at the Django; cover is $25.

But Johnson has another side, as a composer of new classical music. On his latest album When the Streets Were Quiet – a reference to The Trial, by Kafka – he appears only as a conductor, leading a chamber ensemble of violinist Lauren Cauley, violist Carrie Frey, cellist Maria Hadge, clarinetist Lucy Hatem and pianist Fifi Zhang.

The opening number on the album – streaming at New Focus Recordings – is Minerva, for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. After a spacious introductory reference to Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time, the ensemble work a simple, increasingly emphatic, steadily acidic counterpoint. Quartet for the Beginning of Time, maybe?

Johnson switches out piano for viola for the quartet on the title track. Hatem’s clarinet moves broodingly over an uneasy, close-harmonied, organ-like sustain from the strings. A couple of shivers and subtle swells further indicate that trouble is brewing. Frey leads the strings deeper into otherworldly microtonal territory, as minutely modulated tremolo effects signal the clarinet’s mournful return and a solemn, slowly drifting procession out. Franz Kafka would be proud to have inspired music this spellbinding.

Next up is Johnson’s String Trio for violin, viola and cello. The more somber, sustained moments of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 spring to mind, Cauley leading a slow but ineluctable upward trajectory toward horror. Hadge leads the group into more calming terrain, with distant echoes of what could be a Britfolk ballad mingled within the unease. The trio take their time moving between a jaunty bounce and portentous swells on the way out.

Hatem, Frey and Zhang play the final piece, Echoes of a Memory, again echoing Messiaen at his sparest. Pianissimo highs against stygian lows give way to a cautious, icy pavane of sorts, part Federico Mompou, part Bernard Herrmann. This doesn’t sound anything like what Johnson will likely be playing with the jazz trio on the 28th but it’s often transcendent. Is it fair to be talking about one of the best albums of the year when we’re not even done with January yet?

Advertisement

January 22, 2023 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Playful, Entertaining, Dynamic New Album of Genre-Busting String Music From the PubliQuartet

You could debate whether the PubliQuartet’s latest album What Is American – streaming at Bandcamp – is punk classical, or the avant garde, or string jazz, or oldtimey string band music. You’d be right on all counts. The foursome of violinists Curtis Stewart and Nick Revel, violist Jannina Norpoth and cellist Hamilton Berry have a great time reinventing an iconic classical quartet, a couple of famous jazz numbers, and unveil a handful of world premieres that defy category. The central theme is exploring the many threads that make up what we might call American music. While it’s a lot of fun and eclectic to the extreme, the group also don’t shy away from themes of segregation or discrimination: again, highly relevant in the wake of the March 2020 global takeover attempt.

The group intersperse their own miniatures in between several of the pieces, taking turns narrating an Oliver Wendell Holmes text. “Down, down with the traitor” – powerful words for 2023!

The first work on the album is improvisations on Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, No. 12, Op. 96. Movement one sets the stage: this is punk classical. spiked with slashes, slow drifting tones and percussive extended technique within a straightforward proto-Gershwin march. While the group blend several unembellished themes from the original, their reinterpretation is more brief.

They put a lively pizzicato swing beat to the lento second movement, when they’re not adding flitting, ghostly harmonics to the rustic oldtime gospel theme. Interestingly, the molto vivace third movement is a lot more circumspect and spacious in places. The quartet punch in hard with a march on the final movement, then back away with a hazy, contrapuntal chorale over loopy, jagged harmonics: if they recorded this live, it’s all the more impressive how they handled this polyrhythmic maze.

The ensemble build Rhiannon Giddens‘ At the Purchaser’s Option from stark oldtime blues-flavored trip-hop to a mighty anthem. Likewise, they turn Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose into shivery indie classical and jaunty ragtime, with a voiceover by A’Lelia Bundles. In a diptych of Ornette Coleman’s Law Years, they veer from anthemic intensity to flickering disquiet and jaggedly dissociative blues.

The opening movement of the world premiere of Vijay Iyer‘s relatively brief string quartet Dig the Say is Carry the Ball. a jauntily swaying, riffy theme over hypnotic, rhythmic pedalpoint. The second movement, This Thing Together is equally hypnotic, but in a hazily drifting way. Movement three, Up From the Ground is bouncy and has handclaps; the final movement, To Live Tomorrow wraps it up with a jaggedly opaque edge. Iyer’s milieu may be jazz, and a lot more expansive than this, but this is a triumph of tight, genre-resistant tunesmithing.

Another world premiere, Roscoe Mitchell’s CARDS 11-11-2020 is the most ambient, minimalist and astringent work here, punctuated by echo effects and plucky pizzicato before an unexpectedly lively, acerbic coda.

The ensemble wind up the record with a medley of four covers from the worlds of soul and blues. They reinvent Tina Turner’s Black Coffee as a quasi-spiritual in 6/8 time, then bring a biting blues edge and slithery extended technique to They Say I’m Different, by Betty Davis. The driftiest, most sepulchral piece here is Alice Coltrane’s Er Ra, although the group can’t resist rising with a triumphant if whispery lattice of harmonics. They close by digging triumphantly into a determinedly swinging take of Ida Cox’s Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.

The PubliQuartet don’t have any New York gigs coming up, but Giddens is playing an intriguing show on Jan 12 at 7 PM at the Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she’s joined by pianist Howard Watkins and a cast of singers in a salute to the thirty thousand slaves who escaped captivity prior to the Civil War. You can get in for $35.

January 6, 2023 Posted by | avant garde music, blues music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Edgy New Album and a Deep Brooklyn Gig From the Bergamot Quartet

The all-female Bergamot Quartet specialize in new music and 20th century repertoire. The ensemble – violinists Ledah Finck and Sarah Thomas, violist Amy Huimei Tan and cellist Irène Han – have adventurous taste in both material and where they play it. The program at their next New York gig – on Dec 15 at 8 PM at the Owl – features their own works as well as a collaboration with percussionist Eli Greenhoe. The venue suggests a $12 contribution to the tip bucket.

The group had to go upstate to record their debut full-length album, In the Brink, in 2021. But this dynamic collection of premieres – streaming at New Focus Recordings – was worth the trip. They open with Paul Wiancko’s Ode on a Broken Loom, a verdant, galloping theme with fresh, raw close harmonies and rhythms that range from insistent hints of a waltz to eager syncopation and a calmer, balletesque divergence into and out of counterpoint. The group bounce through some plucky pizzicato and wind up with a steady, emphatic, immersive chordal attack and a devious surprise ending. It’s a strong showcase for their collective skills.

Next up is a Tania León triptych, Esencia. In part one, Agua de Florida, the group shift seamlessly between a lively contrapuntal intro, a steady, acerbically dancing theme, sepulchral flickers over layers of resonance and an insistent return to the dance.

In part 2, Agua de Rosas, the group nimbly negotiate between steady triplet figures, punchy rhythmic accents and sailing atmospherics. The final segment, Agua de Manantial has more of a triumphant pulse juxtaposed with gentle exchanges of reflective calm.

Bracing, insectile figures and wry glissandos permeate Suzanne Farrin‘s Undecim, up to a rising, immersive, allusively chromatic intensity. The album’s final number is the title track, a playfully surreal, rather psychedelic four-part suite by Finck. The first movement, Lost, is a brief, briskly strolling, bustling theme with some deliciously uneasy close harmonies and deadpan vocals throughout the group.

Drummer Terry Sweeney joins the ensemble for the second movement, Flood of Ashes, alternating between a jaunty strut and spare flickers.

As Finck seems to see it, part three, Human Nature is pretty irrepressible and rises from a handful of jokes to a boiling point. Sign of the times, maybe? The quartet close it with sparse, spacious, fleeting riffs, a colorful little waterfall and then a goofy little percussive ping-ponging. “We hold each other in the brink of all our questions,” is the final line; the big coda appropriately leaves a lot unresolved.

December 12, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting a Macabre Little 21st Century Masterpiece by NOW Ensemble

Here’s something this blog missed over several years worth of adjacency to October-long Halloween celebrations of dark music: NOW Ensemble‘s 2019 recording of Yevgeniy Sharlat’s potently picturesque triptych Spare the Rod!, which is still streaming at Bandcamp. The theme is the pervasive child abuse lurking beneath the surface of classic European fables. This particular piece isn’t listed on the bill, but the unorthodox 21st century chamber ensemble are playing what could be equally provocative works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Judd Greenstein, Sean Friar, Patrick Burke, and their own members tomorrow night, Dec 8 at 7 PM at the Brooklyn Public Library Grand Army Plaza branch. The concert is free and there are no restrictions.

The suite’s first part is Rise, which is as classic as horror film scores get and even has a great video. At first there’s a gleefully macabre, disquietingly syncopated intertwine from two custom-made Yuliya Lanina music boxes (ensemble guitarist Mark Dancigers gets credit for cranking them). Then there are brief gusts from the group, anxiously flitting little accents from Michael Mizrahi’s piano and more gremlin-like accents from Alex Sopp’s flute and the recorders played by bassist Logan Coale and clarinetist Alicia Lee.

A flash of dramatic art-rock is over in barely a few bars, then with characteristic wit from Sopp the group segue into part two, Play. The kazoo choir would be funny if it wasn’t so creepy; a brief detour into shrieking recorder glissandos borders on unlistenable. Again, Mizrahi and Dancigers hint at a majestic rock anthem.

The way Sharlat reintroduces the music box theme via Lee’s clarinet is an artful little touch. While the music boxes eventually cede to a zany little polka, it isn’t long before a morose, Messiaenic tidal pool seeps in.

The final sequence, aptly titled Dream, begins as a briskly pulsing canon of sorts, Dancigers’ lingering resonance in contrast with the bubbly interweave of the woodwinds Does the child at the center of this surreal fable – pictured screaming and possibly in tears on the album cover – escape unscathed? No spoilers! This testifies equally to the group’s sense of fun as well as their dead-serious side and makes an appropriate soundtrack for a day when deadly so-called “bivalent boosters” are rubberstamped by the FDA as being appropriate for six-month-olds.

December 7, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Composers Circle Keep the Creative Torch Burning Through Troubled Times

Last night at the cozy little Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street, the New York Composers Circle staged an intriguing performance of five world premieres and a New York premiere that featured a persistent unease as well as moments of puckish humor and considerable outside-the-box imagination.

Pianist Craig Ketter opened the concert with Hubert Howe‘s Moments of Uncertainty, which followed a staggered, increasingly spacious, warily Messiaenic call-and-response through a series of subtle dynamic shifts, some of them increasingly stark and minimalist. In less prosaic terms, a cautious stroll through a briar patch: daunting, but doable with care, as Ketter made sure.

He followed with four preludes and fugues from the second collection that Dary John Mizelle had written to keep himself entertained during the lockdown. Stern blues and oldtime gospel riffs in oddly strolling tempos would disintegrate into atonal ambiguity or push up against a steady, grimly looped walking bassline. A tongue-in-cheek sensibility sometimes percolated to the surface amid the thorns, especially in the baroque gestures of the fugues.

Bill Zito played Richard Brooks‘ Sonata for Guitar, a harmonically biting pavane descending to lithe fingerpicking and back as the first movement warmed with some Elizabethan tinges. The remainder of the work was an acerbic blend of baroque stairstepping with wry jazz phrasing, hints of flamenco and some welcome, recurringly humorous bits.

After the intermission, Ketter returned to the piano for Roger Blanc‘s Fantasy Variations, which the composer described as an attempt to get “maximum bang for buck” out of a seven-note scale. Uneasy close harmonies persisted in the opening stroll, which became more of a hauntingly hypnotic, rising and falling march. Ketter reveled casually in the fanged chromaties of the warily swinging fugue that followed. Blanc invested his buck well here.

Guitarist Oren Fader played Igor Vorobyov’s 2019 piece Elegy in the Old Style, a New York premiere springboarded by the Composers Circle’s ongoing cultural exchange with some of their Moscow colleagues. A call-and-response between spiky harmonics and spare, broodingly resonant chords harked back to Scriabin, an unexpected influence for guitar music. As Fader alternated between steady cascades and a brooding, spacious minimalism, it became a pensive ballad, interrupted.

The final piece on the bill was Consolations, a solo piano partita by Dana Dimitri Richardson. Ketter methodically parsed an increasingly agitated, chromatically-charged ballad for angst and rippling poignancy, then found a missing link between Rachmaninoff and Mompou. The progression from chiming, insistent belltones to High Romantic echoes amid a clenched-teeth, syncopatedly punching drive was the high point of the night.

The third part came across as a somber mid 20th century homage to the Chopin E minor prelude, the fourth a ringing, resounding mashup of a Balkan funeral ballad, Russian romanticism and late-period Ligeti, maybe. It made for a darkly glittering driving coda.

The New York Composers Circle’s next concert is Nov 20 at 2 PM with a program of works-in-progress TBA at the National Opera Center’s 7th floor studio at 333 7th Ave. in midtown. Space is limited and a rsvp is a good idea

November 16, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dynamic, Rewarding Choral Concert at Trinity Church

Two and a half years ago, it was uncertain if choral music in New York that wasn’t clandestine would ever exist again. So it was rewarding to walk into Trinity Church yesterday to see the Downtown Voices and the Novus NY string quartet gathered together onstage, and to see hardly a single surgical mask amid an impressively sizeable crowd who’d assembled in the pews.

Yet it was ironic to the extreme to view the blue-and-gold color scheme – ubiquitously associated with lockdown propaganda in Europe, less so here – projected behind the choir and ensemble, on a day when news of a cryptocurrency ponzi scheme laundering American taxpayer money through Ukraine to the Democratic Party was exploding around the world.

The music was a welcome diversion. Reduced to most basic and prosaic terms, the theme was minimalism in counterpoint. The effect was at times hypnotic, at times entrancing and frequently exhilarating. The highlight of the evening was Ola Gjeilo‘s partita Dark and Luminous Night. Once the quartet had introduced a fleetingly uneasy theme, the choir joined in a series of kinetic peaks and icy lulls, conductor Stephen Sands leading them from just short of a stampede to echoes of dark European folk and heroic Romanticism.

A more quietly captivating if equally dynamic piece was an arrangement of Jessie Montgomery‘s Source Code for choir and string quartet. An anxious chromatic violin theme and variations stood out over a quiet drone, quite a contrast with the orchestral version that A Far Cry played in Central Park last summer. Infused with bluesy cello glissandos over stark sustained chords, the two groups descended to a hazier, more wary ambience and eventual whispery rapture.

The singers and quartet nimbly negotiated the subtle but rhythmically tricky and demandingly spacious, characteristically cell-like development of the concert’s centerpiece, David Lang‘s National Anthems. A soprano soloist who resonated over the methodically staggered pulse of her choirmates added an air of poignancy. Lyrically, this seemed less a celebration of sovereignty than a distantly troubled and disjointed prayer for liberation, a profoundly relevant work for our time.

The concert’s most traditional and briefest moment was a calmly nocturnal Undine Smith Moore arrangement of the spiritual We Shall Walk Through the Valley.

The next concert at Trinity Church is December 4 at 3 PM with Jamaican jazz piano legend Monty Alexander and his trio. Admission is free; it couldn’t hurt to get there about ten minutes early if you want a good seat.

November 14, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enigmatically Ominous Michael Hersch Works for Soprano, Orchestra and Small Ensemble

Michael Hersch might be the most macabre of all contemporary classical composers. While the macabre is one of many themes in his music, it’s hard to think of anyone who goes as deeply into it as he has, from his chilling musical portraits of the inmates of a closed ward in a mental hospital, to the torments of terminal cancer patients. His latest album The Script of Storms – streaming at New Focus Recordings – comprises two suites.

The first is Cortext and Ankle, a setting of texts by the doomed writer Christopher Middleton, sung by soprano Ah Young Hong and backed by innovative chamber group Ensemble Klang. In the second, she sings the words of Fawzi Karim with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tito Muñoz.

There’s horror, and fingertips being torn off, “the dead tangled in a heap,” and an ineluctable end to all things in the initial eleven-part sequence. It’s prime material for prime Hersch, although the music itself is generally more airily portentous than sinister.

The brief overture is the closest thing to traditional film noir music that Hersch has written: an anxious, acidic bustle with furtive percussion flickers. Hong enters with a poignant, wistful resonance, until the group explodes with brassy growl and dramatic intensity behind her, a recurrent and judiciously utilized device. Austere, slowly shifting segments follow in turn. Hersch is known for employing a lot of space, and he does that here.

Anton van Houten’s determined trombone crescendos along with sudden bursts of activity from saxophonists Michiel van Dijk and Erik-Jan de With contrast with Hong’s resolute calm, but she leaps without warning to a full-throttle arioso power. Pianist Saskia Lankhoorn is often required to do the same. Percussionist Joey Marijs gets to contribute occasional surreal, clanking industrial textures, while guitarist Pete Harden’s contributions are even more skeletal.

The nine-part title suite, a grim reflection on the 1958 coup d’etat in Iraq and summary execution of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Said, is closer to Hersch’s earlier work, even as it follows much of the same template as the album’s first piece.

Ominous trombone also features heavily here. Anxious clusters of strings and reeds burst in, only to disappear. Familiar and juicily spine-tingling Bernard Herrmann tropes appear everywhere: shrieking high winds, ghostly slithers, and doppler crescendos. The drifting close harmonies and microtonal mist toward the end of the suite are particularly delicious, if disquiet is your thing. The persistent rhythmic overlays are just as clever as they are effective. As fits the subject matter, this is a horror film for the ears and a mighty effective one. Not for the faint of heart, but Hersch is the rare composer who seems committed to never backing away from any subject matter, no matter how disturbing.

October 27, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magical, Deviously Dynamic, Cutting-Edge Debut Album From Violinist Sarah Bernstein’s Veer Quartet

Violinist Sarah Bernstein inhabits one of the most magically otherworldly and distinctive sound worlds around. She’s the rare composer who can write catchy, riff-based microtonal music, and she’s also a rapturous improviser. One of the most enjoyable concerts anyone at this blog has been at over the past few years was an afternoon with her intricate Veer Quartet in an East Village community garden in the fall of 2019.

Shortly thereafter, she recorded her debut album with the group: of all the releases which were derailed by the 2020 plandemic, this is arguably the best and is up at Bandcamp. It’s more chromatically focused than microtonal, and it’s the high point among Bernstein’s many and often somewhat more jazz-oriented albums. She and her bandmates – violinist Sana Nagano. violist Leonor Falcon and cellist Nick Jozwiak – are playing the album release show this Halloween at 8 PM at the Zurcher Gallery at 33 Bleecker St. off Lafayette. Cover is $20. And Nagano has a show with her louder but similarly otherworldly Atomic Pigeons band on Sept 28 at 8 PM at Mama Tried in Gowanus.

The quartet open the first number on the new record. Frames No.1 with an irresistibly goofy joke, then Jozwiak racewalks a bassline, Falcon climbs and descends with an uneasy calm. The group coalesce, first with stabbing unison motives that expand into spacious washes, gracefully dancing pizzicato and another couple of ridiculous jokes juxtaposed with bracing glissandos and rhythmic accents. All string quartets should be this diversely funny – and not just when they’re playing Beethoven.

There’s a sense of longing and loss in the second cut, News Cycle Progression, a diptych which begins lingering and resonant and shifts to a series of increasingly agitated, incisive flickers; Bernstein makes a palimpsest out of them at the end.

The group open the album’s big epic, Clay Myth as a ballad without words, Bernstein’s wistful melody over a hazy vamp from the rest of the ensemble. An enigmatic, blues-tinged solo from Jozwiak over circular pizzicato eventually cedes for a tantalizingly acerbic variation on the opening theme. The quartet take it out with a bouncy, tightly ornamented, increasingly biting folk-tinged violin theme and a couple of unexpected detours.

Bernstein interpolates stabbing riffage within an uneasy, steadily crescendoing theme in World Warrior, then the individual voices square off. With its paint-peeling, slithery breaks it’s the closest thing to violin metal here.

The ensemble open Nightmorning with a stern heroic theme, Bernstein quickly disassembling and scattering it to the wind across a vast, mostly vacant lot. A shivery, cello-fueled return, simmering fires bobbing up among slides and misty microtonal harmonies follow in turn, with striking hints of a cheery swing jazz tune. Ligeti’s most haunting work from the 1950s comes to mind: it’s the most adventurous and gripping piece here.

There’s a similarly somber, circling, Bartokian sensibility as well as a furtive Bernard Herrmann passage in the final cut, Hidden, a hauntingly insistent coda. Barring the unforeseen, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here at the end of the year.

September 24, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Lost in Cassie Wieland’s Warmly Enveloping Minimalist Sonics

Cassie Wieland‘s music is purposeful to a fault: if there’s any composer working today who doesn’t waste notes, it’s her. Last night at Roulette, she and a shapeshifting cast of ensembles played a series of recent instrumental and vocal pieces that came across as Radiohead at one-tenth speed – or Sigur Ros playing Anna Thorvaldsdottir, maybe. Either way, it was frequently a night to get lost in.

Space is a crucial component of Wieland’s work: she will often leave a whole bar or more in between calm, minimalist motives. The effect is less suspenseful than simply calming and hypnotic, each a persistent quality in her music as well.

Playing brooding organ loops on a mini-synth, she led a string quartet subset of chamber ensemble Desdemona through the night’s central suite, Birthday. Weiland explained to the crowd that this was not a bday celebration since she’s a January baby: this was the rescheduled date for the performance originally planned for last winter. That month was reflected in the hazy, broodingly drifting second segment, where she sang through a vocoder while the strings built a slow crescendo assembled from the sparest of raw materials to either simple, emphatic chords or close harmonies. There were striking textural contrasts in the opening segment, stark harmonics against the sleekness of the organ. Subtle counterpoint developed as the piece wore on, concluding with a warm lullaby atmosphere awash in comforting, accordion-like timbres. That cocooning ambience persisted throughout the matter-of-fact tectonic shifts of the night’s final number, Home.

Pianist Isabelle O’Connell and vibraphonist Adam Holmes teamed up for equally mesmerizing textures in the concluding pieces in the first half of the program: the former with her steady, glacially paced accents, the latter bowing a glistening, humming, harmonium-like backdrop which he artfully ornamented with the occasional percussive flicker. The two brought the music full circle, to Plutonian Radiohead, at the end.

There were a few moments of surprising animation in that work, as well as in the night’s opening performance by the trio Bearthoven. Pianist Karl Larson let Wieland’s judicious, minimalist chords linger while percussionist Matt Evans alternated between atmospherics and the occasional sudden crescendo, bassist Pat Swoboda bringing crackling harmonics up out of a spare, wintry atmosphere.

The next concert at Roulette is on Sept 22 at 8 PM with electronic sound artists Victoria Keddie and Rose Kallal; advance tix are $25. The memorial concert for the late, great trumpeter Tomasz Stanko on the 18th is sold out.

September 16, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fearless Solo Electroacoustic Vocal Explorations with Stephanie Lamprea at Roulette

Nothing takes more bravery in concert than singing a-cappella. Last night at Roulette, soprano Stephanie Lamprea threw caution to the wind, pushing her voice to the far fringes of her formidable technique throughout an eclectic program of relatively short, minimalistic works which were often bracing, sometimes downright scary, other times immersively atmospheric or very funny. And switching to a wireless headset mic to open the night’s second set, she also treated the crowd to an elegantly gliding dance performance.

The night’s first song turned out to be a slow, resonant walk up the scale, with portentous glissandos and diversions into guttural extended vocalese which in places seemed to echo Asian intonations.

Lamprea followed with Lucy Corin‘s Bathing, a semi-spoken word piece about plandemic-era paranoia, with a deliciously snarky ending: sometimes the funniest things are left unsaid. Next up was an Erin Thompson graphic score based on land map images: Lamprea interpreted it with echoey exhalations, goofily processed pointillisms and gentle resonance that she built to sudden swells, enhanced by generous amounts of digital reverb from Alex Van Gils’ mixer

She laughingly telegraphed how closely composer George Gianopoulos had aligned his music to match a florid Edith Wharton text in his diptych An Autumn Sunset. As amusingly over-the-top as it was, it also gave Lamprea a long launching pad for pyrotechnics in her uppermost registers.

She returned to subtler dynamics in James May‘s Flowers for Eurydice, spaciously pacing the ballad’s portrait of its heroine’s post-Orpheus life. The Birds They Stare At Me From the Window, by Melissa Rankin, was one of the more evocatively drifty works, awash in gentle doppler-like effects punctuated by unexpected, increasingly Hitchcockian drama. It was a real workout for Lamprea. Much as you could see the ending coming a mile away, that fleeting moment of horror was worth waiting for.

She moved matter-of-factly and dexterously through baroque solemnity and hazy horizontality to operatic fervor in Mid-Day, a circularly-driven work by Hannah Selin.

Selections from Kurt Rohde‘s nine-song series Water Lilies ranged from distantly spacious and mysterious, to steady and agitated or looming and mystical, floating on a cloud of reverb. Feeding the loop machine while maintaining a smooth continuity (and then competing with fusillades of recorded birdsong) was no easy task, but Lamprea was undeterred. The backdrop of projections on the screen above her was a bonus: some of the imagery, in the context of the world since March of 2020, was crushingly spot-on.

The duo onstage wound up the night with an audiovisual improvisation, Lamprea sirening and inventing new consonants, channeling both outright joy and outrage as Van Gils sent gentle washes and a few pulsing quasars through the ether.

The next concert at Roulette is tomorrow night, Sept 8 at 8 PM with a trio of first-class jazz improvisers: pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen. Cover is $25.

September 7, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment