Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Piano Titan Vijay Iyer Scores a Harrowing Multimedia Performance

Last night at National Sawdust, pianist Vijay Iyer joined with bassist Linda May Han Oh and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan to create a somber, stunned, broodingly opaque and occasionally picturesque backdrop for Teju Cole‘s  allusively harrowing spoken word narrative, Blind Spot. Informed by history, portraiture, archaeology and Greek myth, Cole’s vignettes traced decades of humans being inhuman to each other, and how conveniently we forget.

Cole didn’t waste any time making his point. One of the first of the photo projections in his series of vignettes was a snapshot of a simple piece of poster graffiti in a Berlin neighborhood which once housed a gestapo torture complex. The message was simple. In black-and-white English, it said, “Sign here.” Cole related that when he returned a week later, the poster had been replaced by a billboard. “Darkness is lack of information,” he mused later during the performance. Is it ever.

Cole nonchalantly offered that his way of seeing had been radically changed by a blindness scare and then an apparently successful eye operation. The unseen seems to be as central to his work as the visible. An elegaic sensibility wove through his quietly provocative, interconnected narrative. Death – by torture, drowning, car accident, Klansmen and genocide – was a constant and pervasive presence.

The music matched the words and visuals. Iyer set the stage with a simple binary chord, a distant star against an obsidian sky. From time to time, the group improvisation became more programmatic – rushing water imagery and a sudden gust off a Swiss lake, for example. The most harrowing moment was when Cole related visiting the site of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and referenced both McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison’s roles in John Coltrane’s classic elegy for the victims, Alabama. Iyer and then Oh both quoted Coltrane’s pianist and bassist briefly – Oh’s sudden, frantic downward cascade might have been the night’s most stunning moment.

There were many others. Iyer began by working uneasy harmonies against a central tone, raga style, eventually building a Satie-esque menace while Brennan bowed her bells. As the night went on, Oh became more present, whether with an unexpected, circling series of harmonics that evoked Stephan Crump, or spare, emphatic accents moving with a slow but immutable defiance away from the center.

Brennan took the lead when Iyer went into Lynchian soundtrack mode, adding shivery chromatic phrases over macabre piano allusions that Iyer quickly embellished so as to keep the suspense from ever reaching any kind of resolution. The three finally reached toward closure with a concluding requiem, but even there the gloom didn’t lift. Earlier, Cole recalled a medieval painting that depicts Agamemnon offering his daughter as a sacrifice to the gods so that he could start a war with Troy: the anguished tyrant has his back to the viewer, unable to face what he’s just done. These days it looks more and more like the House of Atreus is us.

Iyer plays Tanglewood on July 13 with violinist Jennifer Koh. The next jazz event at National Sawdust – always a pleasure to visit and revel in the exquisite sonics  there – is on August 30 at 7 PM with perennially unpredictable guitar luminary Mary Halvorson; advance tix are $25.

July 9, 2017 Posted by | Art, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, photography, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Corrosively Hilarious New Spoken-Word Album from Anthony Haden-Guest

Back in the early 80s, legendary journalist and gadfly Anthony Haden-Guest ran into Island Records honcho Chris Blackwell at a party in Cannes. Haden-Guest asserted that the hip-hop fad, as he called it, had run its course. That opinion might have been colored by having missed the opportunity to run up to the South Bronx with his buddy Malcolm McLaren to witness the birth of what McLaren called “scratch.”

Whatever the case, Blackwell’s response was, “Anthony, you are absolutely mad.” Thirty-five years later, Haden-Guest has released his debut hip-hop song,.“I always assumed you had to be in a studio up to your neck in hi-tech to do this,” he explains, over a wry faux Wu-Tang synth backdrop assembled by film composer Keith Patchel. “If this won’t kill hip-hop, nothing will.”

That number appears on Haden-Guest’s hilarious new spoken-word album The Further Chronicles of Now, streaming at Bandcamp. When he’s at the top of his game, his relentless, spot-on skewering of the ruling classes ranks with Michael M. Thomas’ Midas Watch, in its glory days in the pre-Jared Kushner era New York Observer. With a total of 24 tracks, a handful of them set to spare, surreal, quietly carnivalesque 80s synthesized organ or piano, Haden-Guest’s commentary is as grim as it is funny.

The apocalypse is a recurrent theme, as is art-world skullduggery. Haden-Guest doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has a bullshit detector set to stun. “So I’m siting in a Starbucks, listening to the blues, sound peculiar enough for you?” he poses early on, in his proper blueblood London accent.

A handful of tracks here were released earlier on Rudely Interrupted, Haden-Guest’s 2012 collaboration with darkly eclectic songwriter Lorraine Leckie. The Everywhere Man revisits the “strangely nihilistic bunch” who made it their job to get past the “clipboard Nazis from outer space” to crash Manhattan parties in the 1970s. Happy City, as Haden-Guest puts it, is his requisite drug song, a step out of character for a guy who “got a bit tipsy at age seven as a kilted pageboy at a wedding, which…unfortunately prefigured much of what was to come.” And Bliss,. the most plainspoken but possibly most harrowing piece here, is as poignant as Leckie’s glimmering remake.

The art world is where Haden-Guest really gets on a roll. The Secret History of Modern Art begins with Gustave Courbet,  “A slap in the face with a fat girl’s bush.” Haden-Guest saves his most venomous critique for Picasso:

Pablo switched styles like a man possessed
As if in some eerie way he’d guessed
The needs and the greed
The hunger he’d feed
Of collectors to come, a predator breed
From Picasso we got the shopping cart
And create a supermarket of art

A Song for Andy, a Seven Days of Christmas rewrite, is just as funny. Even the critics get what’s coming to them here, although “Viveros-Faune cannot be counted on and Roberta Smith should not be tangled with.” The rest are available at the right price – and Haden-Guest names names. And The New Avant-Garde are “the shock troops for developers now.”

The best of the apocalypse scenarios, Yesterday’s Snow is an update on Francois Villon’s famous, elegiac poem:

This may take a little while!
J. Edgar Hoover’s curdled bile
Lee Harvey Oswald’s bulging file
Jayne Mansfield in a speeding motor
Vic Morrow underneath a rotor
Mark Chapman outside the Dakota
Robert Maxwell got a floater…
The way that Enron made that pile
Bernie Madoff’s tiny smile

Frenemies, ex-girlfriends and old colleagues each get what’s coming to them here as well. The Tame Frontier draws its inspiration from a drive back to Manhattan from “an extremely aggressive Hamptons weekend”  where “nobody walks, they cross the street by car, where the city’s a bridge too faraway.” There’s also An Ordinary Day, whose implication is how endless terrorism alerts cry wolf to the point where they’re useless, and A Hymn to Intellectual Property Rights, with its wry allusions to a jazz standard. Now eighty, Haden-Guest shows no sign of slowing down. If there’s anybody who deserves to stay in the game long enough to chronicle the end of the world as it happens, it’s this guy.

Haden-Guest and Leckie celebrate the release of the album tonight, June 8 at around 7 at Anderson Contemporary Art at 180 Maiden Lane in the financial district.

June 8, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, interview, Music, music, concert, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane LeCroy and Bradford Reed Challenge Your Place in the Universe

Jane LeCroy and Bradford Reed‘s kinetically hypnotic, thought-provoking performance last night at Dixon Place was a booster shot to the synapses. Becoming immersed in their performance was like re-reading Steppenwolf, or La Nausée, a gut check to make sure all systems are still working. Reed played not his famous invention, the pencilina, but a thicket of multicolored wires and effects, like something from under the hood of Martin Rev’s earliest synthesizer. Reed activated it by beating out a steady, syncopated groove on a snare and and an ominous-looking, upside-down, jet-black steel chemical drum, then running those beats through the maze of wires and boxes for textures that varied from bleeps and bloops to gentle pulses and washes. The chemistry between the two performers was intuitive, varying the dynamics as the emotional arc of LeCroy’s vocals and poetry rose and fell. Meanwhile, time-lapse footage of boats on the Hudson and cloud formations overhead flitted and shifted shape, projected on a screen above the stage.

LeCroy alternated between a tersely considered spoken-word delivery imbued with a puckish existentialist humor, and hazy, dreamy vocals informed by vintage boudoir soul music. On the night’s most dramatic and intense piece, her voice took on a stern, stark, defiant quality that drew heavily on centuries-old African-American spirituals. Steadily and methodically, she drew the audience in and never let them go. Trying to figure out what was improvised and what was not was a lot of fun. As the music and grooves unwound, it was hard not to get lost in them, but LeCroy’s sometimes gentle, sometimes biting challenges to the audience peppered the reverie and, intentionally or not, jarred the crowd out of their dream state.

The grim progression of time, and by implication, the ravages of age, were recurrent themes. LeCroy offered matter-of-fact cajolement to anyone willing to listen, to exercise their freedom and seize the moment. But her tightly crystallized litany of images and mantras owed far more to Sartre or Kierkegaard than to any new age source. Her funniest stream of consciousness rap involved teeth and what happens to them when they’re neglected. Her final piece was an improvisation based on themes suggested by the audience, which turned out to be kindness and smoke. How she wove those images together into a bigger picture, bringing her calmly determined, angst-fueled contemplation full circle, was as subtly amusing as it was nonchalantly and unselfconsciously profound: LeCroy loves double entendres and subtext and can’t resist employing as much as she can come up with, on the fly, plotting her next move. The experience was as therapeutic as it was challenging.

September 5, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, poetry, review, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Baer Soul

Oliver Baer has been a steady, august presence in the New York underground poetry and music scenes for some time: the Trouble Dolls recently set a series of his poems to music on their most recent album. Baer’s poetry is also juxtaposed with Alexander Berenbeim’s elegantly intriguing black-and-white photography in the book Baer Soul, recently published by Western Indie and available at the usual online sources as well as select independent bookstores and from the author himself.

While the poems don’t follow a chronological path, there are recurrent themes that follow thematic threads, sometimes matter-of-factly, sometimes suspensefully: the tension between desire and reason; an alienated individualist at odds with the herd mentality; order versus chaos, freedom versus security. There’s a discernible stylistic arc: the earliest poems are the most overtly personal and expressive, and often follow a rhyme scheme, while the later works have a broader worldview, innumerable layers of meaning, and a frequently withering cynicism. Simply put, this is a deep book.

It takes awhile to get going. An obsession with a Juno archetype runs its course, the “boy with the goblin glass shard in his heart” trudging through a not-funhouse of mythological imagery and ending up…well, where you would expect someone in this position to end up, “reaction” and “traction” finding a rhyme that is as unexpected as it is wryly spot-on. And just when it seems that there’s nowhere else to go but Maudlinville, Baer quotes Shakespeare at his most blithe and tosses off the funniest poem in the book.

About two-thirds of the way through, an uneasy urban milieu (which could easily be the Lower East Side of New York circa 2001) becomes the backdrop against which angst rises and occasionally falls. Young people form family bonds, only to watch in horror as “the trouble dolls move in” and by the next page the city is enveloped in the ugly, smoldering shadow of Ground Zero a day after 9/11. At this point, the images become more lurid, the Bloombergian future less and less appealing:

Lightning cracked skies and thunderous mad laughs fill my nights.
The echoing orders of the mad tyrant ringing through my days.
As we tromp through the city enforcing his Singaporean law,
The sitcom mentalities proclaim the wonders of order…

An elegaic weariness pervades many of the book’s final poems. The sarcasm in a contemplation of how even Satan must have been born with a clean slate is crushing. Mirrors disappear so as not to be shattered. A mythical castle in the clouds crumbles. The downward trajectory eventually reaches a vividly photorealistic, metaphorically-loaded lakeside milieu and then moves further into wintry terrain. The final poem faces a headshot of Baer flashing a gleefully toothy grin against the somber, Mahmoud Darwish-esque text:

The chair is empty now
A cavity silence eating my background noise
Drilling quiet framed by the dark teething on a dying sun’s rays
Tendrils outlining the presence of absence

Berenbeim’s shadowy, noirish photo tableaux follow a considerably more direct path to a more violent ending, Anthony Rocco playing a raffish role against Kindall Almond’s haunted, black-eyeliner blonde femme fatale.

Baer Soul: Poetry by Oliver Baer; Photography by Alexander Berenbeim; Presented by Anthony Rocco Featuring Kindall Almond, ISBN 9-781935-995005

September 17, 2012 Posted by | Literature, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cross-Pollination at the Gershwin with Inna Faliks

Virtuoso pianist Inna Faliks’ latest installment of her innovative Music/Words series last night was a throwback to the Paris salons of the late 1800s, in the aptly lowlit atmosphere of the back room at the Gershwin Hotel. As she describes it, the concept of the series is to match music with poetry that shares a mood or evokes similar emotions, rather than referring to specific ideas or events. As an attempt to link two worlds that otherwise don’t usually intersect, it’s an admirable idea. Musically, this program was extremely diverse, spanning from classical to late Romantic, with Faliks pulling one of the obscurities she’s so fond of out of the woodwork as well. Lyrically, it was surreal, impactful, and relevant. Poet Tom Thompson doesn’t waste words: he finds the logic in cruel irony, assembles scenes vividly yet economically, and makes connections – like the commonalities in the desires of a child at play and a hungry spider – that might seem farfetched at face value but make perfect sense as he describes them (spiders got a lot of time this time out). “The lake is tired of being a mirror…it closes its one historical eye before we ever get to use it,” he observed bleakly. In an understatedly moving account of his son’s experience with seizures, Thompson coldly acknowledged how in one culture, people who suffer from them get killed, while in another they’re worshipped. A New York water tower became a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the dead leaves that get under the screws that hold it together; people and insects in Central Park shared a fate brought on by their inability to escape their desires. If insightfully ominous, loaded imagery is your thing, Thompson has a couple of collections out from alicejamesbooks that you should investigate.

The music was good too. In between trios of poems, Faliks alternated with pianist Dimitri Dover, who warmed up the performance with the Haydn’s uncharacteristically pensive Sonata in C Minor., Hob. 16:20. A bit later, he played three selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the best being the anxiously stately “Montagues and Capulets” scene followed by Mercutio’s scampering cinematics. He joined Faliks for a perfectly synchronized four-handed take of another uncharacteristic piece, Liszt’s reflective, remarkably terse Symphonic Poem #4: Orpheus, eventually ending the show with three intuitive, energetic Debussy preludes and then a rather stern take on Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31.

Although the program put her on the bill lower than Dover and Thompson, Faliks was still the star of this show, playing with her signature blend of lithe grace and raw power, particularly as she made her way through the nocturnal scenes of Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, and then the composer’s transcription of Paganini’s La Campanella, which she imbued with playful charm and then maintained it all the way through the dance’s knotty, rapidfire thicket of staccato. Her obscurity du jour turned out to be 20th century Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato, a fascinatingly biting, expansively acidic prelude that built from a walking bassline to echoes of Alban Berg and Vincent Persichetti. Faliks’ next program in the Music/Words series, on April 22 at 7:30 PM at the Cornelia Street Cafe with Brazilian pianist Clarice Assad and poet Irina Mashinski promises to be equally intriguing.

February 11, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nicholas Urie’s Big Band Album Explores the Brilliance of Bukowski

Charles Bukowski liked Beethoven, maybe because he recognized a fellow drunken genius, maybe because Beethoven is great drinking music. Would Bukowski have appreciated Nicholas Urie’s new Bukowski-themed big band album, My Garden? Maybe. Urie’s intent here is to honor Bukowski’s legacy by elevating him above his popular image as the poet laureate of fratboy excess. A good guess is that the frequently astringent third-stream atmospherics would have grabbed him, not to mention that all but one of the tracks here illustrates a poem or a Bukowski quote. And the one that doesn’t is ironically right up his alley, booze-wise: “Drinking beer doesn’t make you fat. It makes you lean: against bars, tables, chairs and poles.” Its main character aside, this is a fascinating modern big band album with some delicious charts, clever and even psychedelic production and an A-list of jazz talent, most of them from the New York area.

If you can get past – or don’t mind, or even enjoy – Bukowski’s gimlet-eyed perspective, he was an amazing observer. It’s hard to find someone who can distill an idea to its essence like he could, and usually did. Urie knows this, and takes his cues from there. As much as the arrangements here are lush and rich, there are no wasted notes: the band’s focus is intense. The brief opening track, Winter: 44th Year sees Bukowski feeling suicidal, knife in hand, drunk-dialing some woman and getting her answering service (this was in the days before voicemail), brought to life with moody, swirling atmospherics. Round and Round – the simple phrase “you have my soul and I have your money” – makes an uncharacteristically roundabout way to explain away a dayjob, and the music perfectly captures this, the band’s circular chromatics leading to a careful, soberly disdainful Rhodes solo from Frank Carlberg, up to impatiently circling Kenny Pexton tenor sax and then a labyrinth of vocal overdubs from Christine Correa. John Carlson’s ominous solo trumpet kicks off the title track – “pain is flowers blooming all the time,” vivid rainy day ambience walking steadily with the trumpet and then Alan Ferber’s trombone lifting the downcast atmosphere a bit with wryly bluesy tints as the band swells behind him.

A very cleverly disguised ballad, Weeping Women illustrates Bukowski’s claim that he would have offered women more solace if they hadn’t been so high-maintenance. Awash in shifting segments, Carlson, Douglas Yates on alto and Jeremy Udden on soprano sax alternate voices in a conversation, less weepy than brooding and somewhat conspiratorial. A predictably shrill crescendo is followed by a laugh-out-loud disappointed ending: Bukowski would have liked this! Another circular number, Lioness – “There’s a lioness in the hallway: put on your lion’s mask and wait” is vigorous fun, driven by Carlberg’s unbridled, staccato piano. The arguably strongest track here is Slaughterhouse – “I live in the slaughterhouse and am ill with thriving” –  a feast of tectonic shifts and high/low contrasts, Udden’s soprano sax against Max Siegel’s bass trombone, with a bit of a round and a neat soprano/alto conversation over just the rhythm section. The last track, Finality, illustrates a rather nihilistic portrayal of a crazy Ezra Pound repudiating his life’s work, a moment that ostensibly comes to all of us. Pexton’s tenor rises gravely against Carlberg’s judicious, acidic chords, then Carlson’s trumpet blazes while Rome burns in the distance. The one bit of a letdown here is the number about beer not making you fat, which Correa sings like a wine drinker – or your mother – against the rhythmically tricky playfulness of the chart which then goes completely off the charts when the booze kicks in. Sober, it’s a great album – how does it sound after a few drinks? That’s a question that deserves an answer!

March 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weak Records Get Off to a Strong Start

New Swiss-based label Weak Records don’t use their name sarcastically: from an astrophysical point of view, it is actually the “weak forces” in the universe that hold it together. Their brand is defiantly DIY, angry and completely unwilling to give up on having fun. In other words, late 70s/early 80s punk rock style. Their initial release, the Weak Records Sampler #1 has been assembled to coincide with current Weak artists’ tours, live shows and writing and it makes a great introduction to some people who deserve to be better-known than they are. Weak Records was conceived as a platform for poetry as well as music, and there are a couple of spoken-word tracks here as well. Brett Davidson’s To Do List cynically litanizes a series of mundane and no-so-mundane projects that might be possible with a little respite. Bobby Vacant’s Cancerland savages endless bleak cloned suburban rot over a contrastingly pretty acoustic guitar background.

The music here is upbeat and funny. Mixin’ Bowl, by Riders of the Worm blends echoey, off-center riff-oriented Chrome Cranks garage punk with a late period Man or Astroman feel. I´m Not Your Dog, by Police Bulimia matches snapping bass to trebly percussive punk guitar with an early 80s vibe: “If you try to subjugate I’ll kick you in the head.” All of these are streaming at the links above. Weak Records’ latest live show features Bobby Vacant & the Worn with Brigitte Meier on bass on September 3 at 9 PM at Werkschau Nr. 6, Bahnstrasse 22 in Bern, Switzerland, where Weak Records’ newly launched, cynically amusing oldschool punk rock style fanzine Savage Laundry will also be available.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Literature, Music, music, concert, poetry, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Year’s 10 Best Moments from American Idol

1. The football game goes over time

2. Cut to a commercial

3. A fire truck, ambulance and police car go by outside

4. A fire truck and ambulance go by outside

5. An ambulance goes by outside

6. A garbage truck goes by outside

7. Considerable yelling on the street outside

8. Somebody’s having a party next door, you can hear it through the wall

9. Chinese food has arrived

10. Pee break

May 13, 2008 Posted by | poetry, snark | Leave a comment

The Latest Bushism

This one’s a doozy, Bush at his classy best. Baseball World Champions the Boston Red Sox were recently called to the White House for a meet-and-greet with the man most likely to pardon former Sox and Yankees hurler Roger Clemens. Mercurial, hard-hitting Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez did not attend. He also skipped the Sox’ most recent trip to the White House after their 2004 championship. Referring to the absent slugger, Bush chortled, “I guess his grandmother died again. Just kidding.” 

March 5, 2008 Posted by | poetry, Politics | Leave a comment

With Static and Perception

When a party to your aggression,
We pass it off
As a cocktail hour parfait,
The delicate whipped cream
Accenting a Dijonaise.

When a party to your aggression,
We flinch,
Drawn taut.
We flail
In the peppered afterthought
Of your goose liver pate.

When a party to your aggression,
There is a bangbang
A shot you think is true.
Cutting flesh
Like flesh cuts you.

But these fantasies are just that.
The ghosts of culture
The Gladstone of the Frontier
The historic yearning
For a past without fear.

Our reality
Asks something more.
With static,
And perception
Our peace is here..

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Culture, philosophy, poetry, Politics | Leave a comment