Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Inspiration and Rapture From Harpist Edmar Castaneda in a Sonically Challenging Downtown Space

At his concert today at St. Paul’s Chapel downtown, harpist Edmar Castaneda told the small crowd huddled together in the wintry chill under the balcony organ that he was sick of playing “For computers.” The audience seconded that observation and roared their approval when he’d fire off sparkling cascades, playing brisk melody lines against supple basslines, bending the body of his instrument for a wah-wah effect, or slamming the strings at the end of a song like the inside of a piano to cap off a big coda. But lockdown-era cabin fever aside, at this show Castaneda felt the room’s nature reverb and focused more on rapture and resonance than the pyrotechnics he’s best known for.

His wife, singer Andrea Tierra, marveled at how the Financial District had revitalized itself in the years since she’d walked around the neighborhood during the somber, acrid aftermath of 9/11. “”We always have to fight…New York always has to keep coming back, I think this is a very important message in this part of the city,” she emphasized.

Airing out her understatedly powerful, expressive alto voice, she channeled a distant angst as her husband rose from a suspenseful pulsing, verdant intro to a slow, spiky, bolero-tinged ballad, possibly titled Me Voy Llorando. It was a prime example of the individualistic blend of latin jazz and nueva cancion he’s made a name for himself with – and has played with his wife, whom he instantly fell in love with at a jam session in Queens eighteen years ago.

Tierra introduced a more spare, dancing tune, Cancion Con Todos, as a message of unity for all the people of the Americas, giving voice to citizens struggling for peace, The group – which also included incisive soprano saxophonist Shlomi Cohen and a terse, purposeful drummer – took the song bouncing, doublespeed, with an insistent solo out.

Castaneda played solo on Hecho (“Acts,” a Biblical reference), bringing the atmosphere up from guarded hope to starrier, more rhythmic terrain and a graceful, reflective ending. From there, he brought the rhythm section back to close the set with a wildly flurrying, merengue-flavored tune, Fresh Water, bristling with modal intensity over staggered, strutting syncopation.

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November 29, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smart, Dynamic Debut Album and a Bed-Stuy Show by a Rising Star Saxophonist

It was mid-May, 2021 – eighteen months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. At that point in time, no one in New York knew whether indoor concerts that weren’t clandestine would ever exist in this city again. Fortuitously, photographer Jimmy Katz had been scheduling a series of free outdoor jazz shows in Central Park, moving from one location to another in search of the ideal spot.

One of those locations was a clearing a few blocks north of the 82nd Street entrance on the west side. Mark Turner had played an unselfconsciously gorgeous set with a trio up on the hill to the south the previous afternoon. This particular day, a twentysomething tenor saxophonist with a muscular style was volleying her way through a handful of classic Coltrane tunes, out in front of a chordless quartet. Who was this fiery yet thoughtful player?

As it turned out, it was Julieta Eugenio. Even more serendipitously. she stuck around. She put out an album, Jump – streaming at Spotify – and has a gig coming up on Dec 6 at 9 PM at Bar Lunatico with the rhythm section on the record, Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums.

On the record, Eugenio is more reserved than she is onstage: either way, she doesn’t waste notes. The opening number is titled Efes – a shout-out to the delicious Turkish lager beer, maybe? No Turkish flavor in this one, but sizzling trills, a shout-out to an iconic Paul Desmond riff, and a lot of judicious use of space as Barber reaches for textures and surprise punches from around the kit. Meanwhile, Dwonszyk runs catchy, spring-loaded riffage, holding the center and firing off a wryly colorful solo midway through.

Eugenio opts for a balmy approach in the album’s title track, Barber prowling among the cymbals this time, Dwonszyk again serving as incisive anchor. There’s striking contrast between her spare, reflective lines, Barber’s carnivalesque drive and Dwonszyk’s bounce in La Jungla.

Eugenio stays in misty, even more spacious mode in the fond, vivid ballad For You. Racoon Tune turns out to be a warmly ornamented, latin funk-tinged number and a long launching pad for Eugenio to dance here way up to a percussively burning bass solo.

The version of Flamingo here is a samba, Dwonszyk working a supple, long-limbed pulse over an altered clave as Eugenio clusters and then backs away. She builds brooding, modally-infused resonance over a similar groove in Another Bliss, the album’s most darkly striking number, which the band take down to a mysterious whisper at the end.

Eugenio reinvents Billie Holiday’s Crazy He Calls Me as an opiated, expansive jazz waltz until Dwonszyk breaks the spell with his sober solo out. The group hit a pensive drive with Snowbirds, the bandleader in enigmatic mode again, Barber holding back from chewing the scenery with his boom-and-splash. It’s the best song on the album.

The trio close with the similarly moody Tres: it’s an ambience that suits these three well. Eugenio is really someone to keep your eye on.

November 26, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Viscerally Transcendent New Album and a Bed-Stuy Gig From Pianist Eri Yamamoto

Pianist Eri Yamamoto survived a hideous attack to make a beautiful record. In the early days of the 2020 lockdown, Yamamoto was assaulted on a Brookyn street. Her attacker mistook her for Chinese (she’s Japanese) and accused her of unleashing the Covid virus (which seems to have been manufactured in China, but was invented in a North Carolina bioweapons lab). This is the kind of incident that takes place when a society is divided and conquered, when orange-haired demagogues step to the podium to make divisive anti-Asian statements.

Although Yamamoto is a streetwise New Yorker – she honed her chops back in the 90s at the gritty Avenue B Social Club – the assault left her so shaken that she began wearing a purple wig and shades to hide her features.

But she transcended the attack, to the point where for the first time, she sings on record. Her new album A Woman With a Purple Wig is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Bar Lunatico on Nov 30 at 9 PM.

On the album, Yamamoto reflects on the grimness of 2020, but also offers hope for the future. She opens the first track, Challenge, with a series of biting, brooding arpeggios over the low-key, lithe groove of bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi. With a calm determination, she expands from the center, building almost imperceptibly to a handful of jaunty flourishes. Takeuchi churns around as Yamamoto chooses her spots and then returns with a sober baroque focus before handing off to Ambrosio’s punching, dancing lines.

“One day I bought a wig on the internet, my favorite color,” she sings over a brisk, tightly wound stroll on the album’s title track: “Only twenty bucks…did you know that a purple wig has a special power?” Sarcasm reaches redline until Yamamoto runs the song’s chilling central mantra: it will resonate with anyone who’s been targeted for violence. It’s impossible to think of a more powerful jazz song released this year.

Ends to Start reflects Yamamoto’s hope that we will emerge from the ongoing reign of terror to create a better world, the intricate piano/bass polyrhythms in a tight interweave as Takeuchi shifts subtly between waltz time and a steady clave. Again, Yamamoto’s lines are spacious and reflective, up to a puckish crescendo and an eventual;y restrained majesty following a flurrying bass solo.

She returns to the mic for Colors Are Beautiful, a slow, catchy, allusively gospel-tinged singalong salute to ethnic diversity. Her gentle but bright oldschool soul riffage quickly falls away for a hushed bass solo over misty cymbals as Sounds of Peace gets underway, then she works through a pensive series of gospel-inspired variations.

Track six is titled Shout, a sleekly undulating, blues-infused number with lively extrovert drums. Yamamoto closes the album with Internal Beat, her most complex and animated postbop-style tune here, fueled by Takeuchi’s colorful accents.

November 25, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Mike Holober’s Lavish, Dynamic Song Cycle Offers Optimism and Positivity When We Really Need It

Pianist Mike Holober is best known as a composer of picturesque, often breathtaking big band jazz. But along with his role creating cinematic charts for the NDR Bigband, he’s also a jazz songwriter. Fortuitously, he managed to record his latest album, Don’t Let Go live in concert at Aaron Davis Hall uptown in the fall of 2019, right around the same time that Event 201 was taking place. A project for his Balancing Act septet, it’s a lavish fourteen-part song cycle streaming at Sunnyside Records. Holober is providing an rare, intimate look at how this sausage gets made in a duo set with soprano saxophonist Charles Pillow at Mezzrow on Nov 30, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Needless to say, this symphonically thematic suite seems very prescient considering what’s transpired over the last 32 months. It begins with Breathe Deep, a lustrous dawn theme in the shape of a gently syncopated canon, Holober’s piano slowly taking over from Marvin Stamm’s trumpet, Dick Oatts’ alto sax, Jason Rigby’s tenor sax and Mark Patterson’s trombone. Chanteuse Jamile takes centerstage to introduce the first of the songs, Morning Hope, a challenge to wake up, question, and “clear away the lies.” Holober’s piano foreshadows that promise, handing off to Mike McGuirk’s dancing bass solo over drummer Dennis Mackrel’s lithe, muted rimshots. Bright, balmy trumpet and warmly cantering piano against hazy vocalese fill out an optimistic picture.

Jamile offers wise advice to stay on the side of love in Four-Letter Words, a verdantly swaying, syncopated number, Oatts’ solo outlasting a bit of a storm. He switches to soprano for a blazing intro to Kiss the Ground, a bnrner with circling horn riffage over driving pedalpoint: “It ain’t coming round again,” Jamile warns before Mackrel takes it out unexpectedly.

Burnin’ Daylight begins warily, then brightens with Patterson’s spacious solo over an altered latin groove, Holober returning to an earlier, casually determined theme, Jamile cautioning us to keep our eye on the ball. There’s a similar trajectory from unease to distantly New Orleans-flavored ebullience in A Summer Midnight’s Dream. Necessary, the conclusion, allusively speaks to issues of personal sovereignty over a pouncing, icepick rhythm, with incisive solos from trombone and the saxes

Holober opens the second disc with I Wonder, his judicious, icily Messiaen-tinged solo introducing a slightly more driving variation on the initial cantering theme as Jamile channels her refusal to concede to fear. Although You’re a Long Way from Home has folksy, pastoral tinges, the unease persists despite Patterson’s genial, low-key solo.

Mackrel’s misty brushes underpin Holober’s spacious piano, Jamile tracing a trail of betrayal in You Never Know, Stamm adding a bittersweet, lingering solo as the rhythm subtly shifts into swing. Smile Slow, a summery interlude for Holober and Rigby, sets up Letting Go, a lilting, bossa-tinged ballad with a judicious but opaque soprano sax solo at the center.

Holober weaves the first disc’s jumping final theme into Touch the Sky, with more of a tropical bounce and a lively two-sax conversation: it’s the album’s most entertaining number. The concert ends with Don’t Let Go, Jamile asserting that “Things are better than they seem” and holding out hope over Holober’s tersely undulating melody, Rigby bringing in an inviting, final cloud cover. More jazz artists should make live albums like this one.

November 24, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Frequently Rapturous Brooklyn Celebration of Yuko Fujiyama’s Music

Last night at Roulette an innovative, inspired cast of Japanese and Americana musicians played a fascinating salute to Yuko Fujiyama, concluding a two-night stand in celebration of the composer and pianist’s individualistic work. The dynamic shifts from animated, incisive, typically somewhat minimalist melodies, to hushed rapture and occasional controlled pandemonium, mirrored a distinctly Japanese sensibility more than the tonalities did.

Solo behind the drumkit, Tetsu Nagasawa opened the evening with an elegant hailstorm on the cymbals. Slowly moving to a coyly noirish rattle, he reached toward gale force, lashing the shoreline before descending to a muted rain on the roof that eventually drifted away. Following a steady, rather hypnotic upward trajectory, he then brought the ambience down to a hushed, shamanic ambience spiced with majestic cymbal washes.

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier then joined him, adding a few judicious plucks over a distant rustle before introducing a staggered, minimalist pedalpoint. Eerie clusters alternated with simple, emphatic rhythmic gestures. Nagasawa signaled a detour into a flickering jungle; a good cop/bad cop high-lo dynamic ensued over a circular rumble. Courvoisier pounced and threw elbows, then she coalesced into a climb that mirrored the opening drum solo as it decayed to silence.

After the intermission, a cross-pollinated ensemble of Do Yeon Kim on gayageum (the magical, warptoned Korean zither), Satoshi Takeishi on drums, Ned Rothenberg on reeds and Shoko Nagai on piano took over with an improvisation that began with a little furtive prowling around and grew more agitated, Kim’s circling riffs leading the way up to an insistent, pansori-like vocal attack.

A bit of a blizzard gave way to rapturous deep-space washes fueled by Rothenberg’s desolate clarinet, Nagai adding icily spacious glimmer. Gently skipping piano anchored crystalline clarinet curlicues, Rothenberg and Nagai converging in dark circles as the other two musicians looked on but eventually edged their way in. Trails of sparks flickered off; Nagai, who’d moved to a small synth, hit a backwards loop pedal; the spaceship reappeared and everyone got in but chaos ensued anyway.

Rothenberg’s eventual decision to pick up his shakuhachi brought a return to woodsy mysticism, from which Nagai, back on piano, led the ensemble on a long scramble. A cantering forward drive and an unexpected turn into neoromantic rivulets grew grittier as Nagai brought the music to a forceful coda.

For the night’s concluding number, Fujiyama took over on piano, bolstered by additional flute and trumpet, with Nagai moving to accordion. Yuma Uesaka conducted. A brief, lustrous introduction set up Fujiyama’s judicious, otherworldly, Messiaenic ripples: mournful late 50s Miles Davis came to mind.

Pensive trumpet amid gingerly romping piano and an uneasy haze were followed by Kim’s graceful bends. which introduced an interlude that quickly grew squirrelly and eventually frantic.

Rothenberg’s emergence as voice of reason was temporary. Uesaka stopped the works, then restarted them as more of a proper upward vector, with flutters from the flutes and two drummers. The allusive charge down to a final drift through the clouds made a fittingly magical conclusion.

The next concert at Roulette is November 27 at 8 PM with John Zorn’s New Masada Quintet; you can get in for $35 in advance.

November 22, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Welcome Return For Pianist Max Lifchitz’s Latin-Tinged Chamber Music Series

Monday night at the National Opera Center, pianist Max Lifchitz admitted that he was “a little scared” by the prospect of plunging back into live performance after being sidelined by plandemic restrictions for the past two years. It was a triumphant return to his niche, the terrain where the Second Viennese School meets south-of-the-border sounds. Until the 2020 lockdown, Lifchitz and his various North/South orchestral configurations had been a familiar presence in concert spaces around New York and beyond.

Picking up where he’d been rudely interrupted, he opened with Robert Fleisher’s 6 Little Piano Pieces, a brief Schoenberg-inspired partita: jazz-inflected modalities within a minimalist stroll with little flourishes that leapt to the surface. Robert Martin’s 2 Ancient Pieces, emphatic student works from a half-century ago, were as effective a segue as a reflection of that era’s 12-tone obsessions (with a few winks to sweeten them).

Lifchtitz romped through Ruth Crawford Seeger’s 2 Piano Pieces in Mixed Accents, a final pair of miniatures built around minimalist, cascading eighth-note phrases. With as much power on her low end as the curlicues at the top, soprano Maria Brea took centerstage for an expresssive interpretation of Osvaldo Golijov‘s Lua Descolorida (“Colorless Moon”), a steady, almost marching nocturne with more than a a hint of a ranchera ballad.

Next, mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti took over for Jimmy Kachulis’ Healing Waters of the Amazon. From the opening mantra, “Come on and heal me,” over Lifchitz’s brightly methodical, increasingly bracing chromatic drive, she made it an aptly bittersweet invocation against what the world has had to battle since March of 2020.

Brea returned to sing Odaline de la Martinez’s 4 Afro-Cuban Poems, including a bouncy one about a Cuban guy in love with an American woman whose language he can’t speak, and a shout-out to a girl who does all the hard work around the house. Lifchitz’s own Me Acero y Me Retiro (“I Approach and I Withdraw”) featured both singers in an expansive, dynamically shifting, distantly imploring dialogue and then a harmonically bristling duet after a spaciously climbing, enigmatic piano intro. Lifchitz mirrored that with an arresting, syncopated solo fugue for a coda. It was the highlight of the night.

He closed the program with a trio of brief piano pieces. Venezuelan composer Francisco Zapata-Bello‘s leaping Scherzo Latino perfectly capsulized Lifchitz’s primary focus over the years. William Ortiz‘s Max en Soho Jamming con the Orishas was another of the concert’s high points, a mashup of ragtime and chromatic Scarlatti with a danse macabre at the center. Lifchitz went back to energetic twelve-tone territory for the final piece on the bill, Aurelio de la Vega’s Hamenagem.

November 17, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, 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

Theo Walentiny Takes the Crowd on a Magical Mystery Tour of a Historic Downtown Space

Houses of worship tend to be less than optimal for music that’s fast or percussive. Earlier today, pianist Theo Walentiny and his trio sized up the natural reverb of the late 18th century architecture of St. Paul’s Chapel downtown and turned it into a fourth bandmate in a resonant, immersive performance that was often nothing short of eerie.

Throughout their hour onstage, Walentiny chose his spots for occasional rivulets, cascades or variations on circular clusters over a stygian, resonant lefthand. Until the final number, moments where he picked up the volume were few, and packed a punch when they occurred. Drummer Connor Parks rarely rose above a cymballine mist until the second half of the show while bassist Tyrone Allen matched Walentiny’s moody modalities, sometimes shadowing the piano, sometimes essentially taking over from the drums during the show’s most briskly swinging moments.

They reinvented Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge as a murky kaleidoscope punctuated by a stern, loopy march motif and rainy-day upper register that Walentiny took into icily starry Messiaenic territory. The original after that pulsed with a muted suspense over a racewalking shuffle groove, Walentiny building tension with subtle variations on insistent, judiciously spaced clusters, loosening every so slightly into a more casual if wary stroll with a chilly reflecting-pool piano solo at the center.

From there Walentiny built the next number up from more of those circling clusters (that appears to have really become a thing in jazz conservatories these days), gingerly moving outward from a center to distant echoes of regally pugilistic McCoy Tyner and a quasi Giant Steps interlude with stabbing close harmonies. Parks in particular was masterful on this one, building a tabla-like atmosphere that lingered and left the crowd speechless for several seconds at the end.

From there the group parsed a forlorn, Birmingham-era Coltrane style tone poem of sorts: Walentiny hinted that he might go in a more lively direction but opted against it as Allen’s minute microtones edged upward. They closed with another original, Splattered Current, Parks finally cutting loose with his toms to underpin Walentiny’s stern pedalpoint in contrast to bright but meticulously space righthand accents and a few sizzling flurries. Either way, it was a magical tug-of-war with the sonics bounding and booming off the walls.

The final jazz concert at St. Paul’s Chapel this month is at 1 PM on Nov 22 with harpist Edmar Castaneda and his trio. Admission is free; be aware that you will be asked to empty your pockets as if you were at the airport if you want to get in. So far they don’t make you take your shoes off.

November 15, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, 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

A Picturesque, Darkly Kaleidoscopic Album of New Wendy Griffiths Piano Music

Wendy Griffiths is best known as the primary songwriter, lead singer and one of three keyboardists in brilliantly shapeshifting New York art-rock band Changing Modes. In addition to her eleven records with the band, she’s also a prolific classical composer who’s written ballet music, string quartets and works for piano. The latest album of Griffiths’ instrumental music is Views from the Keyboard, a collection of solo piano pieces played by Elizabeth Rodgers, streaming at youtube.

Unsurprisingly, these short pieces reflect the same outside-the-box sensibility, quirky humor and vividness of Griffiths’ rock songs. Rodgers plays with grace and fluidity throughout a series of often labyrinthine idiomatic twists which flash by in a split second. This is 21st century composition as entertainment, informed by a sensibility that’s sometimes phantasmagorical, at other times irresistibly comedic. The intensity of the music on both sides of the emotional spectrum rises as the album goes along.

Three Views From Mexico has hints of flamenco modalities, ragtime, Webern and a brisk close-harmonied stroll which could be Mompou in a rare high-energy moment. A suite of miniatures, Rogue Taxidermy includes the tiptoeing, playfully sotto-voce Consider the Hortle; the deviously phrased Tortitude; the evocatively kinetic, neoromantic Moth Frog; the delightful Meowl; Lone Wolf, a defiantly individualistic vignette; Lunar Mothfish, a slightly turbulent mini-nocturne; the determined March of the Pengupines and finally, the disquietingly warped Zebra Prawn Blues.

The Sheltering Suite comprises My Corona, a light-fingered romp which is about neither beer nor a vintage Toyota; the self-explanatory Jumping Bean; Climbing the Walls, which is more troublingly self-descriptive; Dream Song, which is essentially a synopsis of the whole album; an opaque Lamentation; and the mutedly strutting Danse Mechanique.

Christmas, 1989 appears to have been less than festive time. Griffiths’ Seven Places in America captures Los Angeles as thisclose to frantic (a recent portrait, maybe?); paints Miami as a danse macabre; and uncovers a sinister poltergeist amid San Francisco fog. In fifty-seven seconds, New York decays from steady forebearance to a somber, unresolved lull, while the picture brightens considerably for Maine’s Isle au Haut and the bluesy solidity of Chicago.

The concluding suite, Four Strong Winds begins with the icy pointillisms and clusters but also the friendlier sway of Boreas. Zephyr hops and skips between blithe and brooding; Eurus comes across as a moody, insistent Balkan dance. Rodgers closes the album with Notos, an early Ligeti-flavored coda. Much like Griffiths’ rock band, this is as charming as it is disconcerting.

Changing Modes are playing Bar Freda, 801 Seneca Ave. in Ridgewood on Nov 13 at 8 PM; cover is $10. Take the M to Seneca Ave.

November 11, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment