Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Michael Formanek Plays a Richly Disquieting Brooklyn Album Release Show

Last night at Roulette, bassist Michael Formanek led his Drome Trio with reedman Chet Doxas and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza through two rewardingly acerbic sets to celebrate the release of their new album Were We Where We Were. That title opens up a floodgate of questions: do we romanticize the deeply flawed world we had before the March, 2020 fascist takeover? Are we out of the woods yet? Do Formanek’s stunningly vivid, persistently troubled compositions reflect a present danger? It’s hard to believe that this frequently haunting performance could be as simple as a band merely flexing their chops throughout a set of edgy and unselfconsciously profound new compositions.

Doxas opened the show solo with a simple but spine-tingling series of vaguely Armenian microtonal riffs, Sperrazza quickly rising from a loose-limbed pulse to an increasing storm, Formanek unperturbed at the center, leading the group subtly toward a steady sway as Doxas circled his way through a long, uneasy, Messiaenic passage. Formanek’s allusive solo bubbled and signaled a long, melancholy drift down to a suspenseful handoff to Sperrazza, who then channeled the spirits with a momentary shamanic break. The trio brought everything full circle at several times the energy.

That was just the first 25 minutes or so.

Doxas echoed Formanek’s phantasmagorically-tinged opening solo as Sperrazza’s drizzle gained force in the second number. Wary Jackie McLean-like sax phrases and wispy hints of vaudeville from Sperrazza followed. A coy, wispy sax-drum conversation set off a wistful, spacious solo from Doxas, who’d switched to clarinet. They ended cold.

Pianist Angelica Sanchez then joined them, choosing her spots to bound and ripple with a blithe Monklike swing in the first set’s closing number. Still, a disquiet persisted in her bell-like harmonies. Doxas took over with his muscular tenor lines, Formanek again an anchor with his insistent polyrhythms,

Sanchez opened the second set with an austere, somber solo, elevating to a clenched-teethed, close-harmonied intensity. It seemed she couldn’t wait to lighten the mood somewhat with a series of thorny rivulets. Doxas parsed the lower registers with a sinuous, Charlie Rouse-tinged solo, Formanek taking the song out on a fondly assertive note.

Next, the quartet danced through a catchy, Monkish swing fueled by Sperrazza’s subtle clave and Doxas’ smoky, insistent modal riffage. When he dropped out and Sanchez pulled the curtain back with a catchy if immutably melancholy solo, the effect was viscerally breathtaking.

The number after that made a good segue, with a more brooding chromaticism, through pulses and lulls. A wary mood persisted throughout, even the incisive Monkish riffage and syncopated bounce of the quartet’s concluding tune, with a tremoloing Doxas tenor solo and Sanchez’s eerily lingering incisions. Formanek plays in plenty of groups, but this might be the best of them all. Let’s hope this project continues.

The next jazz concert at Roulette is tomorrow night, Jan 26 at 8 PM, an epic performance where guitarist Joel Harrison leads five different ensembles including his Jazz Orchestra conducted by another fantastic composer, Erica Seguine, plus the New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum, plus the Alta String Quartet. You can get in for $25 in advance.

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January 25, 2023 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organist Gail Archer Delivers a Breathtaking Concert For Peace at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Thursday night at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Gail Archer played what might have been the first organ concert there in almost three years. That’s a crime: the church has some of the richest natural reverb of any building in town, and the Kilgen organ there is a treasure which deserves to be unleashed in all its glory. Archer excels on that instrument, and made an auspicious return with a profoundly relevant program dedicated to peace between Russia and Ukraine, in solidarity with the citizens of both nations.

Lately, Archer has made a career out of exploring specific organ traditions from cultures which aren’t typically associated with the instrument. While even the typical, small European city can be full of old organs, they are conspicuously absent from the remaining churches in Russia and Ukraine. Archer drew her program from material from her two albums featuring repertoire from both countries.

She opened with an electric, aptly majestic take of Glazunov’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 98, making maximum use of the church’s upper-midrange brass and reed stops. Cached within her cyclotron swirl was a steady forward drive which as she recorded it came across more sternly than the triumph she channeled here.

Next on the bill were a couple of preludes by Rachmaninoff nemesis César Cui. His Prelude in G minor had echoes of Mendlessohn balanced by a rather opaque chromatic edge. Archer’s take of his Prelude in Ab major proved to be another opportunity for her to revel in the vast range in the available registers, this time a little further down the scale.

She flawlessly executed the rapidfire phrasing and torrential crescendos of 20th century composer Sergei Slonimsky’s Toccata. The last of the Russian pieces was another 20th century work, Alexander Shaversaschvili’s Prelude and Fugue: again, Archer’s registrations were a feast of dynamic contrasts, through a judicious processional, more muted phantasmagoria and a determined if persistently uneasy drive forward into a fullscale conflagration.

Turning to Ukraine, Archer focused on 20th century and contemporary composers before closing with the High Romantic. The Piece in Five Movements, by Tadeusz Machl showcased the organ’s many colors, from close harmonies in uneasy counterpoint, to more spare and distantly mysterious, to a more insistent, melodically spiky radiance and a stormy interlude fueled by challenging pedal figures.

Archer couldn’t resist unleashing every breath of portentous intensity in Mykola Kolessa’s defiantly disquieted Passacaglia, through some subtle rhythmic shifts. Likewise, the Chaconne, by 21st century composer Svitlana Ostrova came across as a radiant if dissociative mashup of familiar classical tropes and modernist acerbity, with some spine-tingling cascades.

Archer closed the program with Iwan Kryschanowskij’s epically symphonic Fantasie, ranging from a simmering blue-flame fugue, to a long climb with more than an echo of the macabre. A dip to more restrained, swirling resonance was no less intense; Archer worked briskly from there up to a deliciously descending false ending and a surprisingly understated coda.

The next concert at St. Pat’s, on March 9 at 7 PM, is a reprise of the annual series of Irish folk music performances which were interrupted by the lockdown. This one is dedicated to the memory of Mick Moloney, who died suddenly last year and had been a fixture of those shows.

January 24, 2023 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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?

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

An Auspicious Trio Show and a Rewardingly Surreal Album From the Protean Brandon Seabrook

Brandon Seabrook is one of the most fascinatingly mutable guitarists in jazz. He can be competely feral and unhinged one minute – notably with his wryly named Seabrook Power Plant – and then hit the stage and play gorgeously and lyrically in Cecile McLorin Salvant’s band. He’s playing what could be a similarly lyrical gig with the Sexmob rhythm section, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums at Bar Lunatico on Jan 23 at 9 PM.

In keeping with Seabrook’s unpredictable nature, one of his most outside-the-box recent albums is In the Swarm, a trio session with Cooper-Moore on diddley bow and Gerald Cleaver on drums, streaming at Bandcamp. This is the second they’ve done together. Parts of it are a strange and often deliciously noisy theme and variations, sometimes akin to Flowers of Romance-era PiL without the vocals.

They open with the title track. Cleaver lays down a hypnotic, shamanic beat, somebody sends a whistling electronic tone through the mix and Seabrook enters jaggedly on banjo. From there, Cooper-Moore’s loping, muted bassline anchors the forward drive as Cleaver edges outward and the bandleader squirrels around. They take it out on an unexpectedly ambient note.

The second number is Subliminal Gaucheries (Seabrook is good with titles). Spare, sparkling, mobile-like figures linger amid an ambient lustre as Cleaver makes his way in with a quieter, more suspenseful, shamanic pulse. Seabrook dives into orange-flame, distorted skronk and ugly close harmonies before hitting his envelope pedal for an icy warp in Vibrancy Yourself: it wouldn’t be out of place in Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog catalog.

How nocturnal is Crepuscule of Cleaver? It’s not. The rhythm section run a tight but lithe variation on the opening rhythm as Seabrook chooses his spots to squall. The diddley bow is an intriguing texture, somewhere between the growl of an electric bass and the low-midrange pop of a sintir in Adrenaline Charters, Seabrook bowing long sustained tones and then plunking out steady circularities on banjo.

Seething Excitations lives up to its title, Seabrook rising from an ominously distant tremolo to a more cumulo-nimbus attack as Cleaver builds a slowly cantering groove. They wind it out atmospherically.

The album’s big ten-minute epic is Aghastitude, Seabrook flinging out echoes of twangy surf over smoke-off-the-battlefield sonics, then Cleaver gets the waves going with his cymbals as the stringed instruments grow more frenetic. Flickers, skronk and icepick runs from Seabrook figure in from there. They close with a tantalizingly grimy minute-long miniature.

January 21, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Revealing Collection of Rare Polish Organ Music and a Concert for Peace by Gail Archer

Organist Gail Archer gets around. She has an unbounded curiosity for repertoire from around the globe and likes to explore it thematically, country by country. This makes sense especially in light of the vast and sometimes confounding variation in the design of pipe organs from various cultures…meaning that just about every individual instrument presents its own unique challenges.

One of Archer’s most colorful albums, drolly titled An American Idyll, is a salute to the composer-performers who were stars of the organ demimonde in the Eastern United States in the 19th century. Her two most recent albums have focused on rare organ works from Russia and Ukraine, each a country where church organs are a relative rarity. Her latest album Cantius – streaming at Spotify – is a fascinating and often riveting collection of rarely heard works by Polish composers. Archer’s next performance is a free concert for peace on Jan 19 at 7 PM at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, featuring both Russian and Ukrainian works. She plays the cathedral’s mighty Kilgen organ magnificently – if you are in New York and this is your thing, you do not want to miss this one.

Archer takes the album title from St. John Cantius Church, whose sleek, French-voiced 1926 Casavant organ she plays here. She opens with late 19th century composer Mieczyslaw Surzynski’s Improvisation on a Polish Hymn, a pleasant processional which gives her the chance to pull out some juicy upper-midrange stops and engage in a little baroque minimalism. Likewise, the brief Pastorale in F# Minor, by another 19th century composer, Wincenty Rychling begins with a stern hymnal focus but becomes more of a stroll.

20th century Polish-American composer Felix Borowski is represented by his Meditation-Elegie, an attractively workmanlike take on Louis Vierne, which Archer plays with increasingly steely grace. Contemporary composer Pawel Lukaszewski contributes his Triptych for Organ, Archer having fun with the brooding, Messiaenic suspense and  fugal crescendo of the fleeting first movement. She then lingers in the opaque resonance of the Offertorium and brings it full circle with mystical, steadily paced minimalism.

The real find here is a Henryk Gorecki rarity, his Kantata for Organ. Epic, sustained, wide-angle close-harmonied chords dominate the introduction. Then Archer wafts up from the murky lows to oddly incisive syncopation in the second movement, concluding with a rather fervent rhythmic attack that distantly echoes Jehan Alain. Did John Zorn hear this and have an epiphany which would inform his organ improvisations?

20th century composer Felix Nowowiejski’s single-movement Symphony No. 8 is more of a grande pièce symphonique, Archer patiently and dynamically negotiating its Widor-esque shifts from pensive resonance to a more emphatic attack and a mighty, majestic forward drive that opts for suspense over a fullscale anthem. It’s a High Romantic throwback and a real treat.

Grazyna Bacewicz is another standout Polish composer who is not known for organ music, but her Esquisse for Organ is exquisite: first evoking Messiaen in the gloomy introductory pavane and then Vierne in the coyly ebullient water nymphet ballet afterward. Archer winds up the album with a final 20th century work, Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz’s Tryptychon for Organ The steady quasi-march of an introduction reminds of Naji Hakim’s more energetic material, while the Meditation has more of an allusive early 20th century feel – and is considerably more emphatic than you would expect. Archer delivers the concluding Toccata with eerily puffing staccato but also a warm, triumphant pace in its more majestic moments.

January 15, 2023 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conrad Herwig Reinvents Charles Mingus With Some Cuban Spices

Making an album of jazz classics inevitably invites ugly comparisons to the originals. But considering trombonist Conrad Herwig‘s longtime membership in the Mingus Big Band, he had an inside track to recording his latest album The Latin Side of Mingus, streaming at Spotify. Herwig can be an electrifying soloist and has the requisite sense of humor along with the fondness for latin sounds that go hand in hand with his instrument. Considering the formidable lineup he assembled for the record, it’s a fair bet that the septet he’ll have for his upcoming three nights this month at the Django will be just as strong. He’s there on Jan 17, 24 and 31, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25.

This isn’t Herwig’s first adventure into remaking canonical repertoire as latin jazz, but it’s arguably his best. The band – Randy Brecker and Alex Sipiagin on trumpets, Craig Handy on tenor sax, Bill O’Connell on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, Robby Ameen on drums and Camilo Molina on congas – have a lot of fun with a Mingus mix of both iconic and more obscure but equally slashing material.

They don’t waste time reinventing Gunslinging Bird as a sleek, pouncingly direct platform for machinegunning trumpet and trombone solos, O’Connell subtly edging from dissociative postbop into more distinctly Cuban territory. Boogie Stop Shuffle is an interesting choice. It’s hard to top the gleeful noir bustle of the original. But Herwig’s decision to slow it down a bit with a churning congra groove,  simmering trombone and trumpet solos and O’Connell finally reaching escape velocity, makes sense in context.

No Dejes Que Pase Aquí is a remake of Don’t Let It Happen Here, which couldn’t be more relevant considering that it’s based on Pastor Martin Niemoller’s warning about who Nazis come for before they come for you. Ruben Blades delivers Mingus’ voiceover in both the original English and then Spanish: Herwig’s flamenco-noir brass arrangement and phantasmagorical polyrhythms raise the intensity exponentially. Great song!

Herwig’s choice to redo Goodbye Pork Pie Hat with a slinky, altered guaguanco groove results in an aptly wistful but simmering atmosphere, Handy switching to flute for a charanga-flavored break before a scrambling O’Connell solo. Hora Decubitus is considerably more suave than Mingus’ own frantic urban tableau, with solos in a chattering round.

O’Connell plays twinkling Rhodes electric piano behind resonant, mutedly orchestral horns and a tiptoeing clave in Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, Handy anchoring in a grittier edge with his solo. All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother is the big surprise choice here. It’s a lot more expansive and doesn’t have the goofy camaraderie that trumpeter Ted Curson and drummer Dannie Richmond made so memorable in the Mingus quartet version.

The album’s final cut is a lively take of Better Get Hit in Your Soul with the band bookending a New Orleans-flavored chart around a terse Brecker trumpet break.

January 13, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Translucent Album and a NY Piano Festival Appearance From Laszlo Gardony

That recently revived January jazz spinoff of the annual booking agents’ convention has finally reached the point where it has priced and marginalized itself off this blog’s radar. Meanwhile, there have been some interesting alternatives popping up around town lately. One is the NY Jazz Piano Festival, which distinguishes itself by programming mostly solo performances by artists who excel in that setting. It’s on the pricy side – $30 per set – although if you want to make a daylong or even a weekend-plus marathon out of it, you have that option. The lineup on Jan 15 is especially choice, beginning at noon with the Eastern European-inspired and often haunting Laszlo Gardony. Orrin Evans – who despite the many demands on his time is fantastic solo – plays at 3, with symphonic latin jazz player Dayramir Gonzalez at 4:30, world-class improviser Jean-Michel Pilc at 6, and the reliably lyrical and mercurial Marc Cary at 8. It’s all happening at Klavierhaus, a piano showroom frequently utilized for classical music and recently relocated to 790 11th Ave. at 54th St.

Gardony’s latest album is Close Connection, a trio recording with fellow Bostonians John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums, streaming at Bandcamp. Gardony’s melodies are terse and translucent: some of these songs without words remind of early Soft Machine or 70s Morricone film scores, with distant echoes of Bartok’s piano miniatures. The trio open with Irrepressible, built around a catchy, punchy riff-rock theme spiced with incisive blues but also chromatics and uneasy close harmonies that reflect Gardony’s Hungarian heritage.

Bass and drums begin Strong Minds with a simple trip-hop rhythm, then Lockwood builds a muted suspense beneath Gardony’s shifts between emphatic riffage, ripples and occasional phantasmagoria. Gardony peruses the upper registers gently as Sweet Thoughts gets underway, then Israel rises above a piano loop with his misty cymbals and loose-limbed accents.

The group lock in on an insistent vamp in Cedar Tree Dance, Gardony punching into the blues, then backing away for a moonlight half-mile as Lockwood tiptoes and Israel rustles into kicking off a darker dervish dance on the way out. Gardony’s hard-hitting precision remains, aptly, in All That Remains, a moody tone poem of sorts, Lockwood again playing good cop to Gardony’s stern attack.

.Times of Discord – now there’s a theme for 2023, huh? – has a similar, gritty forward drive, Israel taking over the propulsion as Gardony energetically works the brooding passing tones. Then Israel plays kalimba behind Gardony’s melodica in Savanna Sunrise, a goofy, calypso-tinged piece. They reprise it a little later as a subtly gospel-tinged piano number.

Walking in Silence is Gardony at his best, a wintry, somber tune, Lockwood and Israel filling in the edges gingerly over alternately spare and driving close-harmonied piano. Gardony parses some fond, familiar motives with hints of both gospel and calypso in Hopeful Vision, the album’s lone solo tune.

Gardony scampers into tensely syncopated, darkly carnivalesque territory in the aptly titled Night Run: it’s the album’s hardest-charging song. The trio conclude with Cold Earth, a sepulchral tableau where Israel’s flitting, poltergeist flickers mingle with Lockwood’s melancholy bowing and the bandleader’s grim pedalpoint. Fans of melodic European players like Romain Collin and riff-driven improvisers like Rachel Z will love this record.

January 11, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vividly Symphonic, Epic Big Band Album and a Chinatown Gig From Pianist Manuel Valera

Pianist Manuel Valera has been a reliably tuneful fixture on the New York jazz stage, best known for his monthly residency with his New Cuban Express at Terraza 7, which ran for years until live music was criminalized here in 2020. His latest big band album, Distancia, counts as one of the millions which would have been released sometime that year if we all hadn’t been rudely interrupted. The good news is that he managed to finish it – that fall, restrictions be damned – and it’s streaming at Spotify. Valera and his New Cuban Express are at the Django on Jan 10 at 7 PM; cover is $25. For those who want to make a whole night of it, the 10:30 PM act, Sonido Costeno, play fiery guitar-fueled salsa dura and are also a lot of fun.

Like a lot of his countrymen, Valera has both a lyrical neoromantic side and a love for slinky beats, and his arrangements are nothing short of symphonic. Pretty much everything here is past ten minutes or close to it. He opens the record with Expectativas, the percussion answering the trombones to set up a catchy modal piano vamp and some cleverly lush exchanges by massed brass. Soprano saxophonist Charles Pillow ranges from allusive chromatics to a wicked downward spiral in a tantalizingly brief solo; trumpeter Brian Pareschi takes his time choosing his spots, then backing away for a light-fingered Samuel Torres conga solo artfully echoed by drummer Jimmy Macbride with a flick of his cymbals. It sets the stage for the rest of this absolutely brilliant, consistently gorgeous album.

The riffage in the interplay among the brass in the second number, Gemini, is a lot punchier, Valera hinting at a rhythmic shift before the group backs off for a cheery, spaciously paced Pareschi solo matched by baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas. Valera keeps the pulse going with an incisive, rhythmic solo as Macbride shadows him; the band bring the tune full circle, guitarist Alex Goodman tantalizing with his pensive solo out.

Camila Meza’s signature lustrous vocalese mingles within catchy, fugal brass to introduce From Afar, the group developing a slow, orchestral sway, dipping to a spare, somewhat wistful trumpet solo. The way Valera sneaks Meza and the band back up into the mix is as artful as it is unselfconsciously gorgeous. It ends unresolved.

The tradeoffs are faster and lighter in Pathways: it’s a goodnatured joust, up to a meticulously articulated Valera break and a flurrying Michael Thomas alto sax solo. Meza carries the big riff through a fleeting piano/alto conversation. The horns give way to a moody moment as From the Ashes grows into a nimbly orchestrated salsa tune, but without the usual rumble on the low end. Trombonist Matt Macdonald flickers allusively; Valera tumbles and ripples, Macbride firing off a shower of cymbals. Pillow punches in as the forward drive grows funkier; the bandleader’s sudden turn toward the shadows will grab you by surprise. Lots of that on this record.

Impressionistic Romance is intriguingly allusive and tinged with the High Romantic, fueled by Valera’s steady cascades, a hint of a grim march and Bernard Herrmann. Echo effects move into the center as the low brass simmers and punches, Valera following a determined, unresolved tangent that the horns bring back to an uneasy landing.

Valera stays in brooding mode to open the album’s title track, Pillow pushing the group toward a warmer morning theme, then taking a more pensive break. Valera teams up with singer Bogna Kicinska’s resonant vocalese to build a glistening nocturnal tableau on the way out. He winds up the album where he started with the steady counterpoint and implied, vampy salsa groove of Remembere. It’s more straight-up big band jazz than it is traditionally Cuban; whatever the case, this is one of the most delicious big band albums of recent months.

January 7, 2023 Posted by | jazz, latin 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 Dive Into One of the Most Lyrical, Vivid Free Jazz Albums of the Last Few Years

More about that weeklong celebration of Studio Rivbea, which was a focal point in the loft jazz scene in the 70s and 80s. The series of shows in the 24 Bond St. space where Sam Rivers threw one rent party jam after another – now the Gene Frankel Theater – continues through this weekend. The next really tempting lineup is Jan 6 at 7 PM, beginning with saxophonist Isaiah Barr leading a trio, followed at 8:30 by poet Anne Waldman with Devin Waldman on sax and at 9 ubiquitous bassist William Parker with his dancer wife Patricia Nicholson, Ellen Christi on vocals and Jason Kao Hwang on violin. You can get in for a reasonable $25 in advance

The central figure here is Parker, who may have played on more free jazz albums than anybody else. Here’s one of the best of the recent batch: Sparks, with Eri Yamamoto on piano, Chad Fowler on stritch and saxello and Steve Hirsh on drums, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is not a record for people with short attention spans, but if you free your mind, your ears will follow and thank you. Yamamoto edges toward a sagacious, bluesy ballad to introduce the title track, Fowler hanging in retrograde shadow with his blue notes. A lull signals a long, vivid, contented Pharaoh Sanders-ish interlude from Fowler over Yamamoto’s spacious chords, which she gets to take by herself into more insistent terrain before they wind it out with a warm wee-hours vibe.

Fowler works variations on a cheery calypso riff in the second number, In the Garden, the rest of the band building a turbulent whirlpool and eventually pulling him in. Parker’s wary bowed solo is over too soon; Yamamoto’s decision to take a shadowy exit rather than let good cop Fowler take the reins again pays off quietly but mightily. Ultimately, sunshiney energy wins out.

Likewise, the quartet conjure a swing tune out of nowhere, Sam Rivers style in Bob’s Pink Cadillac, Parker taking it doublespeed for a light-fingered but incisively rhythmic Yamamoto solo. Fowler puts a light disguise on an iconic Gershwin quote and then shifts it around as the band flurry and pounce. As is often the case here, the group let a lot more space in and engage in fleeting moments of jousting. As the title indicates, it’s the album’s most playful (i.e. goofiest) number.

Fowler pulls the rest of the group to echo his initial somber oldtime blues riff to get Taiko, the next track, off the ground. Yamamoto’s icy accents linger above Parker’s wounded slow-walk and the two build a cumulo-nimbus intensity while Hirsh stirs up a vortex below. Fowler follows with melismatic gloom as his bandmates team up for muted pointillisms, Parker fueling a more phantasmagorical atmosphere. Yamamoto takes her time getting out, but Hirsh pulls her up and the mood lifts a little. Lots happening on this record!

She introduces the final number, Real World with a plaintive, expectant riff, Fowler reaching for a balmy ballad before shifting to more brooding territory as Parker builds out a back alley lot with his bow. Wry quotes and paraphrases juxtapose with a dark modal simmer; Yamamoto gets a racewalking swing going behind Fowler’s squawks and glissandos, then takes a glistening, neoromantically-tinged solo as Hirsh rattles and ices the windows with his cymbals. Fowler returns to balladeer role, taking the music into a spacious stillness and finally a sly, pianissimo rimshot solo from Hirsh. Yamamoto ushers in a graceful exit. Free jazz doesn’t get any better than this.

It’s also worth mentioning Yamamoto’s poignant album from last year, A Woman With a Purple Wig, where she makes her recorded debut on vocals in response to a vicious anti-Asian attack in the early days of the Covid scam.

January 4, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment