Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Dynamic, Riveting Performance by One of the World’s Great Organists

About midway through the concert this past evening at St. Ignatius of Loyola, a sad, rustic Celtic air wafted from the organ console. For fans of Irish folk tunes – many of whom were in the audience – it was a familiar and probably comforting sound. But others were taken by surprise, notwithstanding that the piece was on the program. After all, it’s not every day that you can hear the plaintive microtones and otherworldly drones of uilleann pipes at a performance of classical organ music.

And it wasn’t organist Renee Anne Louprette who was playing those particular pipes. It was Ivan Goff. As his composition To Inishkea slowly built austere, funereal ambience, Louprette added calmly resonant chords whose harmonies were counterintuitive to the point where it seemed that this might have been a joint improvisation. Cornered after the show, she revealed that she’d actually written out her parts. Is she also a Celtic musician? Avidly so – she also plays uilleann pipes, and Goff is her teacher. If she’s a tenth as good as he is, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

That world premiere interlude – which also included a lively if sepulchral Irish air from 1852, a more subdued Swedish waltz and a traditional slide dance – was typical of the poignancy and innovation that Louprette is known for. The big news is that she’ll be premiering a new commission for all those pipes with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and if that we’re lucky, we’ll get her to air out the smaller ones all by herself sometime in the future.

She opened the concert with a confident, ultimately triumphant build through the long upward trajectories of two Bach organ pieces from the Klavierubung. The effect was heroism but not pageantry. At the reception afterward, more than one spectator commented on how Louprette does not let notes die on the vine – she lets them resonate for every millisecond of what the score requires. That issue is a big deal these days among string players, but it also applies to keyboardists.

Louprette’s steadiness and sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic dynamic shifts carried a theme and variations from French composer Nicholas de Grigny’s abbreviated but pioneering Livre d’Orgue. She took that energy to the rafters throughout Ad Wammes’ colorful Myto, from playful motorik rhythms, to what could have been the robust title theme from an action movie – Snowboarding the Matterhorn, maybe? – to sudden blasts of angst.

A transcription of a Nadia Boulanger improvisation made an aptly pensive introduction to the evening’s coda, a transcendent, often harrowing interpretation of Maurice Durufle’s Suite, Op. 5. As with the Bach, she built steam matter-of-factly through an epic with a chilling, stalking opening theme, towering peaks punctuated by clever echo effects, a ghostly dance on the flute stops and a deliciously icy interlude played with the tremolo way up before the mighty gusts began. Durufle was a friend of Jehan Alain, and was profoundly saddened by Alain’s death: the many plaintive quotes from Alain’s music leapt out precisely at the most prominent moments. Or at least that’s how Louprette played them. Beyond sheer chops and emotional attunement to the piece, Louprette knows this organ like the back of her hand, having been at St. Ignatius for several years beginning in the mid-zeros.

Louprette’s new album Une voix françaisee/A French Voice is just out; her next concert is March 18 at 3 PM at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel at Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA  And the slate of organ recitals at St. Ignatius continues on March 21 at 8 PM featuring a lavish program of solo, choral and orchestral works by Bach. $25 tix are available.

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February 18, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lavish, Ambitiously Orchestrated Twinbill at Symphony Space Last Night

“How many of you have been to a classical concert before?” Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner asked the packed house at Symphony Space last night. From the response, it didn’t appear that many had. Which makes sense if you consider that the average age at the big Manhattan classical halls is 65. But what Wasner’s band were playing, bolstered by the Metropolis Ensemble and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, wasn’t the kind of classical you’d typically hear at those venues. It was a brand new kind of music: epic post-minimalist sweep matched to rock edge and attack.

Wasner spoke of being humbled in the presence of eighty other musicians of such a high caliber, but she has fearsome chops herself. She began the show on bass and proved herself more than competent, then moved to guitar and gave a clinic in shiny, emphatic, shimmery phrasing. Drummer Andy Stack pushed this mighty beast with a supple drive, shifting constantly between tricky meters. At one point, Wasner suddenly realized that her bass had gone out of tune, then didn’t miss a beat or a note, hitting her tuner pedal and then fixing everything even as the tempo and syncopation changed in a split second behind her. Tuning while playing is a rare art; it’s a whole other thing to tune and sing at the same time!

Throughout the show, whether singing her own material or William Brittelle’s restless new song cycle Spiritual America, there was considerable contrast between Wasner’s cool, concise, understated vocals and the orchestra’s leaps and bubbles. Guitarist Ben Cassorla added flaring cadenzas and carefully modulated sheets of sustain. frequently playing with an ebow. When Wasner was on bass, Metropolis Ensemble bassist Evan Runyon frequently teamed with her for a pulse that wasn’t thunderous, but close to it. Keyboardist Erika Dohi added warpy, new wave-flavored synth, wafting synthesized strings and on a couple of occasions during Brittelle’s suite, wryly blippy, EDM-tinged flutters.

In a context as orchestrated as this was, Wasner’s songs came across as very similar to Brittelle’s, Both songwriters’ lyrics are pensive, direct and don’t follow either a metric or rhyme scheme. Likewise, they both gravitate to simple, frequently circling phrases that went spiraling or bounding from one section of the ensemble to the next. Brittelle’s big crescendos tended to be more flamboyant, and more evocative of 70s art-rock like Genesis or Gentle Giant, with the occasional reference to coldly bacchanalian dancefloor electronics. Wasner’s tended to be more enigmitically reflective if no less kinetic, and more influenced by 80s new wave pop. Are both fans of Carl Nielsen’s playfully leapfrogging symphonic arrangements? It would seem so. 

The night’s coda, Wasner’s cynical I Know the Law, was a study in the utility of self-deception as well as its pitfalls. As with the rest of the material in the night’s second set, the chorus punctuated the music’s many splashes of color with steady, emphatic, massed polyrhythms and occasional moody ambience. Wasner joked that one of Brittelle’s more nostalgic numbers would be something that these kids would understand in about ten years, which could prove true. What they will remember is being on this stage with a hundred other musicians, and getting a huge standing ovation from an audience of their peers.

Metropolis Ensemble don’t have any upcoming New York concerts for awhile, but their violinist – and Mivos Quartet co-founder – Olivia DePrato is playing the album release show for her auspicious solo debut album, Streya, at 1 Rivington Street on March 13 at 7:30 PM. Tix are $20/$15 stud.

February 17, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laurie Anderson at the Town Hall: Perennially Relevant and Hilarious

Mohammed el Gharani was a teenager when he was captured by Pakistani bandits and then sold to Bush-era army troops for five thousand dollars. His case mirrors many if not all of the prisoners in the American Guantanamo gulag. In 2013, Laurie Anderson beamed his image onto a mammoth, Lincoln Memorial-esque setting at the Park Avenue Armory.

Beyond the complications of a live projection from Chad, where el Gharani returned after Reprieve.org worked to secure his release from prison, what Anderson remembered most vividly from the installation was how audiences reacted. She recounts the story in her new book All the Things I Lost in the Flood, whose release she celebrated with a solo show at the Town Hall last night. In a surveillance state, “Crowds have become very much aware of where the camera is,” she reminded.

Those who moved to the front, where their images would be transmitted back to Chad, were mouthing the words “I’m sorry.” It was the one moment in the performance where Anderson appeared to be close to tears. Considering that the book title references the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy flooding on her basement archive, and also addresses the loss of her husband, Lou Reed, her usual deadpan stoicism in this case carried even more weight than usual.

Anderson’s work has always been intrinsically political, if not in a doctrinaire or sectarian  way. Over and over again, this mostly spoken-word performance reaffirmed that fearless populist sensibility. Her work is also usually outrageously funny, and this greatest hits show of sorts reflected that as well. An archival clip staged in the back of a diner, Anderson musing about the merits of the Star Spangled Banner versus alternative, less stressfully arpeggiated national anthems was as funny as it was back in 1980. More soberingly, she contemplated how Aristophanes’ The Birds might serve as a metaphor for the current administration.

Otherwise, Anderson shared a lot of remarkably candid insight into the nuts and bolts of staging provocative multimedia installations around the world. Homeland Security didn’t waste any time putting a stop to the idea of beaming in images of US prisoners serving life sentences – although the Italian government had given its stamp of approval to that same concept, which eventually springboarded Habeas Corpus, the installation el Gharani appeared in. That’s another typical Anderson trope: more often than not with her, plan B works just as well as plan A.

And she has a way of staying relevant: she allowed herself just a single moment to bask in that, recalling how she’d played her one big radio hit, O Superman, at the Town Hall right after 9/11 and found crowds resonating to it as much as they had during the Iranian hostage crisis twenty years before.

Her musical interludes, played solo on violin with plenty of pitch-shifting effects and layers stashed away digitally, only amounted to about ten uneasily wafting minutes. The stories, one after another, were very revealing, especially for an artist who ultimately doesn’t give much away about herself. As a “burnt-out multimedia artist” in Greece around the turn of the century, she recalled getting up the nerve to ask her Athens guide – a curator at the Parthenon – what happened to the country that invented western civilization. His response? That the Parthenon became so filled with tchotchkes that Athenians took their praying and philosophy private. “You can’t pray in an an art museum,” he explained.

Anderson pondered that and found it shocking. It was just as provocative to be reminded how she’s equated prisons and galleries over the years – both are heavily guarded and meant to keep what’s inside from leaving. On the lighter side, she recalled a late 90s project whose laser-fixated curator staged what could have been “group eye surgery” for extra shock appeal along with the pyrotechnics he’d mastered in the Israeli army.

At the end of the show, she sent out a salute to her husband with a brief tai chi demonstration, reminding how much she missed the banter of 21 years of marriage to a similarly legendary raconteur. One can only hope that if they ever recorded any of that, it survived the flood and future generations might be able to hear it someday.

February 16, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rewarding, Revelatory Visit to Nancy Garniez’s Upper West Side Piano Salon

About four times a month, sometimes more frequently, pianist Nancy Garniez hosts a salon in an Upper West Side studio about three minutes from the train. She’s been doing this for the better part of ten years. Like Pauline Oliveros, Garniez devotes this delightfully informal series to deep listening, Her playing, and her repertoire, take into account that an audience is always an intrinsic part of the performance. That, and her (some would say quixotic) understanding of how the physics of sound applies to the mechanics of the piano.

Asked how the series was going lately, Garniez said earlier this evening that it’s become one of the most rewarding projects she’s ever been involved with – in a career as a concert pianist, organist, chamber musician and educator since the 1960s. She calls her approach Tonal Refraction: she considers the piano a post-tonal instrument. Anyone who disagrees should sit down at one, put the pedal down, play a chord, play another one and then just try to count the number of notes resonating from inside. The closer you listen, the faster you discover that most of them don’t even exist in the western scale.

Garniez’s stunningly legato touch on the keys, and her fondness for letting a note ring out for emphasis when a piece calls for it, are her main distinctions as a player. Geat drummers also know what has become second nature for Garniez: sound is something that you let out of an instrument instead of trying to bang it in.

This past evening’s program was a typically relevatory mix. Garniez began with a small handful of Clementi sonatas, emphasizing how melody isn’t limited to tones: rhythm plays just as important a role. Methodical and carefree, she gave voice to the composer’s artful, sometimes devilishly fun metric variations and expansions. No wonder Beethoven and Brahms held him in such high esteem.

Next on the bill were Chopin mazurkas. In Garniez’s hands, they transcended any peasant dance connotation: these ballads were haunting! As kinetic as the rhythms were, Garniez approached them with economy and understatement: when a particularly emphatic phrase would appear, it was all the more striking.

She closed with a delicious series of Dvorak waltzes and “eclogues,” as he called them. Long before Leif Ove Andsnes released his popular album of Dvorak solo piano works, Garniez was hip to this vastly underrated side of the composer. And it doesn’t have the ornate architecture of his orchestral works – if anything, its transparency is even more striking. “What’s the likelihood – a couple of upbeat country dances wrapped around what sounds like a Bach invention?” one concertgoer marveled.

“I think he was drunk when he wrote it,” Garniez grinned. She might be right – there was a dissociatively cheerful glimmer to that midsection. The rest of the program was as methodically paced, with dynamics so subtle that it would have been a considerable stretch to imagine an audience being able to connect in a huge concert hall. “That ninth chord,” Garniez mused. “That was really something”

And it was – a lingering, bittersweet, muted coda that Garniez let resonate as long as the score would accommodate. Garniez’s next salon is at 4 PM this Sunday, Feb 18; email for location and information. After this performance, there was wine, and eclectic snacks, and passionate conversation – which you would expect after something this rapturously interesting. 

February 14, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

A Revealing, Lavishly Illustrated New Book and a Midtown Release Show by Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson is the world’s best-loved avant garde artist. Yet as much as her forty-plus year career has encompassed music, art, sculpture, film, video, literature and cutting edge technology, ultimately her work boils down to narratives. Ask anyone what they love about Anderson, and inevitably the first thing they’ll mention is her storytelling. And it’s that keen sense of purpose, that inimitable, dry sense of humor, and that unpretentious, matter-of-fact midwestern sensibility that draws an audience in, that succeed in getting us to think outside the box along with her.

You wouldn’t expect a coffee-table book to be much of a revelation, but that’s exactly what Anderson’s new book All the Things I Lost in the Flood is. A lavishly illustrated, self-curated career retrospective, it’s a rare opportunity to explore the nuts and bolts of how Anderson conceives and then brings a work to life. And it’s hardly self-congratulatory, While out of necessity, she devotes a large proportion of the book to her best-known works – Homeland, United States in its many parts, and Habeas Corpus – she spends just as much time on early projects, some of which weren’t fully realized, others which ran into roadblocks. Either way, it’s a feast of ideas for any artist in any discipline.

Anderson’s impetus for the book – and her new album, Landfall, with the Kronos Quartet – was Hurricane Sandy. In salvaging what was left of her basement full of instruments and memorabilia after the storm, she was thrown into revisitation mode. Obviously, if there’s any living artist who deserves a retrospective at, say, the Met or MOMA, it’s Anderson; in the meantime, this will suffice – and you can take it home with you. Anderson is celebrating the release of the book – just out from Skira Rizzoli – on Feb 15 at 8 PM with a performance including many special guests at the Town Hall. Presumably there will an opportunity to get books signed afterward.

Although Anderson’s work is the antithesis of TMI, she’s surprisingly revealing. As a child, she almost drowned her twin younger brothers in a frozen pond whose ice gave way – and then miraculously saved them. Much as she loves “lossy” media – where the limits of technology interfere with the delivery of an image or an idea – she’s always been fascinated by the state of the art. She was using a lo-fi, landline-based prototype for Skype in 1979…and much as she initially resisted virtual reality and computer language, she has recently delved into both, if with a little prodding from fans who were experts in those fields.

What might be most astonishing here is that Anderson had already pretty much concretized her subtly provocative vision by the early 1970s. A violin filled with water; talking statues with loaded messages (who may well be alter egos); convicted murderers beamed into installations, and her interactive piece featuring a survivor of Guantanamo torture hell during the Bush years, are all chronicled here.

The visuals are just as fascinating. The black-and-white photos from 1972 forward say a lot. The young Anderson, it turns out was just as calmly determined as the famous one Americans know much better. There are also all sorts of sketches, diagrams, stage directions and plenty of tour photos. The latter, many of them outlandishly large onstage, don’t translate to the format of the book as well, but the rest are a literal how-to guide for inspired multimedia artists.

And she’s hilarious. Both the anecdotes and the offhand sociological commentary are choice. Having memorized a Japanese translation of one of her spoken-word pieces, she discovers during a Japanese tour that the guy who gave her the cassette to memorize had a bad stutter – which she dutifully copied. Although she’s hardly convinced that her fulfillment of an early 70s grant – playing solo violin, unamplified on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – was any kind of success, there’s a charming photo of some chivalrous gentleman passing the hat for her. Many of the jokes are too good, and still valid after many years, to give away here.

And relevance has always been front and center in her work – from the coy, sardonic questions of her early 70s work, to her hit single O Superman – a cynical look at Jimmy Carter’s failed attempt at a rescue during the Iranian hostage crisis – to the sinister implications of global warming in Landfall.

Much as this is a very funny book, a sobering undercurrent lingers. It’s one thing to lose the record stores that used to sell Anderson’s albums; it’s another to lose the bookstores she had in every city, that she relished visiting between gigs while on tour. She quotes Karl Rove, referencing how fake news has been part of the totalitarian agenda long before the current Presidential administration. And much as she has come to employ new technology, she’s dismayed by social media’s atomizing and alienating effects. Anderson herself is not on Facebook.

February 13, 2018 Posted by | Art, avant garde music, experimental music, Literature, Music, music, concert, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amir ElSaffar Refines His Majestic, Transcendent New Middle Eastern Jazz at NYU

Why would anyone want to see the same band play the same piece more than once? For starters, there are always plenty of surprises when Amir ElSaffar’s Rivers of Sound make their way through Not Two, the visionary multi-instrumentalist/composer’s 2017 suite. From this perspective, was a third time a charm? On one hand, it’s hard to imagine a more transcendent performance of this lavish, titanic work than the album release show in the financial district last June, where they played the whole massive thing. On the other, their show last night at NYU’s Skirball Center was plenty rapturous…and uproariously fun.

Much of the suite is absolutely harrowing, but ElSaffar has a devastating, deadpan wit, and this time out he was in a particularly good mood. A Chicagoan by birth, he was clearly psyched to bring the band back, “Fishtailing all the way,” from a deep-freeze midwestern tour.

What they play is a new kind of music, based on Middle Eastern maqam modes and microtonal scales, but with majestic, sometimes ominous, often stormy group crescendos which draw on the bandleader’s time in Cecil Taylor’s improvisational big band. Although Not Two – whose title speaks to the pitfalls of manichaean thinking – is a fully composed score, ElSaffar will shift gears and call on any number of soloists depending where the seventeen-piece orchestra is going in the moment.

By comparison to the suite’s live debut at Lincoln Center in April of 2015 and then the epic album release show, this one was shorter and seemed more concise. Although much of it is brooding, even shattering, the whole group seemed to be stoked to be off the road and back on their home turf. Maybe as a consequence, solos all around seemed more animated as well – with the exception of tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen’s two long, methodically suspenseful upward tangents while the band coalesced in a somber grey mist behind him.

The crowd gave their most breathless applause for cellist Naseem Alatrash, whose elegaic, mournfully circling solo early in the suite refused to cave in to any kind of easy resolution. Likewise, he and ElSaffar’s violist sister Dena – leader of the similarly paradigm-shifting, somewhat smaller ensemble Salaam – held the audience rapt with their poignant dialogue a little later on.

Percussionist Tim Moore anchored the suite’s most haunting segment, Ya Ibni, Ya Ibni (My Son, My Son) with a chillingly echoing, funereal thump on frame drum as the group slowly swelled in an invocation of longing and loss. On the other side of the emotional equation, it turned out that the title of Penny Explosion looks back to ElSaffar’s childhood, when he and his sister would fill a jar with pennies – and then dump them on a tile floor, to max out the reverb.

Mohamed Saleh was charged with delivering a handful of the evening’s most pensively resonant solos, both on oboe and english horn. To his left, JD Parran took over the lows on bass sax and also joined the hazy ambience on clarinet. Alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal took two of the night’s most acerbic, intense, chromatically slashing solos; guitarist Miles Okazaki remained in even more low-key, terse mode.

Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz reveled in the opportunity to fire off endless volleys of microtones while pianist John Escreet punctuated the rings and ripples with an exploratory precision. Oudists Zafer Tawil and Georges Ziadeh built a devastating rustle, eventually joined by buzuq player Tareq Abboushi and bassist Carlo DeRosa, as the night’s vertigo-inducing final number, Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy, built steam through several surreal variations on themes from throughout the suite. Drummer Adam Cruz, clearly psyched to get the chance to step in, gave the music a spring-loaded swing. Mridangam player Rajna Swaminathan’s stygian bubble was a river of sound all its own, underground.  Driving the highest peaks and most poignant lulls, the composer began with stately ripples on his santoor, rose eventually to blisteringly aching volleys on trumpet and also sang in an impassioned, microtonal baritone.

At the end, they flipped the script with a vaudevillian encore that had everybody laughing out loud: comic relief wasn’t such a bad idea after the intensity. ElSaffar’s next show with this ensemble is on March 3 at 8 PM at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach; cover is $25/$20 stud/srs.

February 11, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Uneasily Stunning Program of Works for Oboe and Piano at the Morgan Library

The repertoire for oboe and piano isn’t as vast as for, say, violin and piano, but there are plenty of gems out there.The duo performance by Olivier Stankiewicz and Jonathan Ware on Tuesday in the magnificent sonics at the Morgan Library was a feast of amusing trick endings, vivid color, stunning clarity and a program that offered a series of salutes, some more subtle than others, to the Ravel Bolero.

References to that work, both oblique and obvious, traced a path straight from Antal Dorati’s Duo Concertante for Oboe and Piano, from 1983, back to Pierre Sancan’s 1957 Sonatine for Oboe and Piano, and finally a late Poulenc work, the 1962 Sonata for Oboe and Piano. Beyond flamenco allusions, eerie Satie-like close harmonies and belltones permeated all three pieces. Ware’s attack on the piano had an emphatic, purposeful drive to match his icepick precision, while Stankiewicz’s oboe rose from striking, perfectly precise spirals and volleys to a stark, burred, woody tone in the closing number: it was almost as if Stankiewicz was playing Poulenc on a duduk, or a Turkish zurla.

A persistent sense of suspense pervaded Sancan’s piece, alternately jaunty and funereal, a Hitchcock film overture of sorts. Dorati’s work was a showcase for Ware’s vigorous clarity and Stankiewicz’s seemingly effortless command of rapidfire trills, matched by long, airy, plaintive phrasing. The Poulenc gave the duo even more of a launching pad for bright contrasts between a neoromantic nocturnal calm and heroic swells with more than a hint of sarcasm…and wry quotes from Ravel and La Vie En Rose. The second movement, with its frequently droll conversational repartee, was particularly entertaining.

They’d opened with Saint-Saens’ Sonata in D Major, a predictably pleasant way to spotlight Stankiewicz;’s lyricism: the piano is a supporting instrument in that one. This concert was staged by Young Concert Artists as part of their ongoing noontime series at the Morgan. Impressively, the house was close to sold out, and while there were plenty of retirees, the audience demographics were unexpectedly diverse:. Clearly, word is out about the series, whether among those in the gig economy or neighborhood folks who may have snuck away from school or the dayjob. The next concert here is Feb 21 at noon with pianist Remi Geniet playing works by Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky; cover is $20.

And YCA’s next concert after that, at Merkin Concert Hall at 8 PM on Feb 28, is especially enticing for those of us who love low-register sonics. Bassist Xavier Foley plays solo works by Bach, Sperger and Franck plus his own compositions; you can get in for as little as $10.

February 9, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Telegraph Quartet Channels a Hundred Years of Vigorous, Dark, Relevant Revelry

In their sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall last night, the Telegraph Quartet took one of the richest sources in the history of music and traced how profoundly it could resonate in the here and now.

They started in the middle, then leapt into the precarious present with the world premiere of Robert Sirota’s harrowing String Quartet No 3: Wave Upon Wave. Closing with Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 1 in D Minor might have been the respectful thing to do – or simply a decision to end the night with equal amounts fun and fire. Either way, the cutting-edge thread that Schoenberg first spun off with that 1905 work gave the group a strong seam from which to weave their magic.

As the night went on, commonalities among the works broke the surface forcefully: tonalities, riffs, humor and sarcasm. All that, and an intuitive camaraderie within the ensemble, as well as the quartet’s close attunement to the music. From the first smoldering cello notes and then the snarling introduction of Leon Kirchner’s riveting String Quartet No. 1, they had come to conquer.

It’s a shattering piece of music, and a showcase for chops, whether the slithery harmonics of violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, Chin’s plaintive tradeoffs with violist Pei-Ling Lin, or cellist Jeremiah Shaw’s deep washes of grimness and sometimes sheer wrath. They made a case that eerie close harmonies, subtly wafting microtones and an elegant roller-coaster ride through its dynamics were to be reveled in rather than shunned for their harshness and relentlessness.

Sirota’s quartet was just as relentless, and drove the vector home – he studied with Kirchner, and Schoenberg was Kirchner’s mentor. Of the three works on the bill, it was the most chillingly cinematic. Terror growing amidst bustling crowds, a sinisterly marching fugue of sorts, lingering funereal ambience and a cruelly reharmonized snippet of a Presidential anthem brought to life Sirota’s search for hope within the human soul in an era “rife with threats of tyranny, environmental catastrophe and the human potential for evil,” as the composer’s liner notes put it. The incessant dynamic push-pull and inventive pairings between voices mirror Kirchner’s work: he would be proud of this. It doesn’t have the sheer terror of Sirota’s unforgettable Triptych, his 9/11-themed first string quartet, but it’s close.

Schoenberg’s quartet came across as a sardonic celebration of a paradigm shift – and maybe an audience being dragged against their will into it. What a crushingly sarcastic piece of music…or at least that’s how the quartet played it. Proto-Shostakovian faux-pageantry and a mockery of a dainty minuet were highlights, but hardly the only moments when the group seemed to be saying, “To hell with these antediluvian conventions: let’s party!” In their hands, even the surprising calm of the final movement seemed tacked on, an afterthought: “After all you’ve been through, ok, you deserve a little lullaby.” The long procession through precise, expertly coordinated contrasts between serene and agitated, stolid placidity and the ache to bust loose more than validated that unlikely payoff. The crowd rewarded them with three standing ovations.

February 7, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

High-Voltage Suspense and State-of-the-Art Big Band Jazz From Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society Uptown Saturday Night

The suspense was relentless throughout Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society’s sold-out concert Saturday night at the Miller Theatre. Although a couple of numbers on the bill had genuinely visceral suspense narratives, there was no central mystery theme. That’s just the way Argue writes. What a thrill!

Throughout the show, four of the composer/conductor’s favorite tropes jumped out over and over again: artful variations on simple, acerbic hooks; circular phrases that widened and sometimes contracted; unexpected pairings between instruments, and high/low contrasts that often took on a sinister quality. Gil Evans did a lot of that, but drawing on vintage swing; Argue does that with just as much symphonic sweep, but more acidic harmonies.

Obviously, with a eighteen-piece big band, there was a whole lot more to the night than just that. They opened the first of their two marathon sets with Phobos, a mighty showstopper from the group’s debut album Infernal Machines, inspired by the moon of Mars which will someday either crash into the planet or shatter under the force of gravity. Drummer Jon Wikan’s first ominously shuffling notes of the night introduced bassist Matt Clohesy’s grim, gothic riffs that bookended the piece, guitarist Sebastian Noelle’s smoldering chords looming behind the steady interweave of brass and reeds. Tenor saxophonist John Ellis’ lyrical solo proved to be a red herring.

They’d revisit that catchy, cinematic ominousness with a pulsing take of Transit, seemingly slower and more portentous than the album version, to close the first set with a mighty, cold ending that nobody but the band could see coming.

Blow-Out Prevention, a shout-out to Argue’s late influence Bob Brookmeyer, juxtaposed bright but astringent brass harmonies against a shifting, lustrous backdrop. All In, a tribute to the late, longtime Secret Society mainstay and “trumpet guru” Laurie Frink, got a Nadje Noordhuis trumpet solo which offered somber homage to her old bandmate, then took a triumphantly spiraling turn and eventually wound down against pianist Adam Birnbaum’s stately, Satie-esque minimalism.

Codebreaker, a salute to Alan Turing, bristled with spy-movie twists and turns but never went over the edge into John Barry-style menace. The second set was a performance of Argue’s recent, mammoth, labyrinthine Tensile Curves, inspired by Ellington’s Crescendo and Diminuendo in Blue. The bandleader, who was in rare form as emcee, explained that he’d decided to assemble the piece – a commission requiring a full forty minutes of music – as a study in subtle rhythmic decelerations. And much as it was a clinic in the use of that effect, it also was packed with innumerable dynamic shifts, a wryly squirrelly Sam Sadigursky clarinet solo, a much longer and eventually wildly churning one from trombonist Ryan Keberle, and a characteristically translucent one from trumpeter Adam O’Farrill – among other things.

Animatedly loopy phrases filtered throughout the ensemble, from a snide, nagging introductory theme through a final comfortable touchdown on the runway. Let’s hope this mighty tour de force makes it to the web – and maybe even a vinyl record – sooner than later. A towering performance for the rest of the crew, including but not limited to saxophonists Dave Pietro and Rob Wilkerson, baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi, trumpeters Seneca Black, Matt Holman and David Smith, trombonists Mike Fahie, Jacob Garchik and George Flynn.

The next show at the Miller Theatre is on Feb 13 at 6 PM with the Mivos Quartet playing new works by  Marisol Jimenez, Jeffrey Mumford, their own Victor Lowrie and Mariel Roberts. It’s one of the wildly popular free concerts here. Get there close to when the doors open at 5:30 and there might be free beer or wine; show up later and there probably won’t be.

February 6, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Brilliant, Mysterious, Richly Tuneful Album and a Stone Residency by Sylvie Courvoisier

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier’s new album D’Agala, with her trio – streaming at Spotify – is a characteristically dark, rich, gorgeously melodic tour de force. Courvoisier has been one of the most vivid tunesmiths in jazz for a long time. Here she takes that translucent sensibility to new levels, along with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle humor, jaunty interplay and extended technique. She’s played as many Stone residencies as any other member of John Zorn’s circle, and she’s got one coming up starting tonight, Feb 6 at 8:30 PM, running through Feb 11. Cover is $20; the full list of ensembles she’s playing with is here. The Feb 8 show, a duo set with her violinist sparring partner Mark Feldman may be the most intense of all of them.

Impish upper righthand fragments peek over a muted, sotto-vocce ba-bump groove amid pregnant pauses as the album’s opening track, Imprint Double – written for her pianist dad Antoine Courvoisier- gets underway. From there she follows a steady, ominously lingering stroll, Janacek’s tortuous overgrown path dotted with Satie-esque belltones. Then she brings back the opening groove, drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Drew Gress matching the playful suspense.

Courvoisier opens Bourgeois’s Spider – dedicated to sculptor Louise Bourgeois – with chiseling inside-the-piano figures, then pedals down a long runway, the rhythm section matching her increasingly gritty intensity all the way. More of those Satie-esque close harmonies give way to starlit peek-a-boo phrases as Wollesen and Gress hang back, steady and distantly relentless.

All of the tracks here are dedications as well. With its loopy riffs, subtly dancing variations and cat-chasing-the-yarn piano, Éclats for Ornette isn’t hard to figure out. Simone (for Simone Veil) has an aptly rapt, mystical sensibility, cached within Courvoisier’s scampering lines and brought to the forefront by Wollesen and Gress’ looming presence.

Similarly, he and Gress swing the icepick Andriessen changes of Pierino Porcospino (for Charlie), the blues hidden away in Courvoisier’s blips, bleeps and circles bringing to mind Myra Melford in a particularly animated moment. The title track – a salute to Geri Allen – pairs Courvoisier’s somber minimalism against the rhythm section’s insectile scrapes and rustles, Gress adding mutedly brooding blues. Courvoisier weighs that gravitas against lighter, more carefree sounds and opts for an elegy: Allen would not doubt appreciate this.

Circumbent (For Martin Puryear) is the album’s most overtly improvisational number, Courvoisier’s disappearing-ink chordlets and staccato accents grounded by a steady, almost trip-hop sway from bass and drums. Fly Whisk (for Courvoisier’s fellow Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer) interchanges judiciously spaced piano clusters amidst Wollesen’s misty ambience, tersely accented by Gress. The ending is too good to give away, and is vintage Courvoisier. She and Gress switch roles, with her shadowing him throughout the album’s concluding cut, South Side Rules (for John Abercrombie), bass punctuating its resonant, immutable unease as Wollesen builds a cumulo-nimbus backdrop. This record’s going to be on a whole lot of people’s best of 2018 lists.

February 6, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment