Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Exhilarating Live Album of Anna Clyne Symphonic Works

It’s criminal how the BBC – until this past spring a fairly reliable source of information that American corporate media would never dare go near – was transformed overnight into just another sycophantic lockdowner fake-news channel. But the BBC Symphony Orchestra are not to blame – in fact, they can’t play right now because of the lockdown, and if Boris Johnson gets his way, they never will again.

Assuming the British wake up and overthrow his fascist regime, we will be able to look forward to more concerts and recordings by this colorful, diverse ensemble. Until then, we have a passionate, exhilarating live album of Anna Clyne works, titled Mythologies and performed under the baton of four separate conductors – and streaming at Spotify – to tide us over.

Marin Alsop leads the group in a concert performance of a swooping, suspenseful, electrifyingly crescendoing short work, Masquerade. Those massed glissandos are best appreciated at loud volume!

Sakari Oramo conducts the similarly brisk and colorful This Midnight Hour. Clyne cites two poems – a Juan Ramón Jiménez depiction of a naked woman running madly through the darkness, along with Baudelaire’s creepy Harmonie du soir. A lithely leaping waltz with echoes of Saint-Saens’ Bacchanal from Samson and Deiliah ends cold; distant boomy bass drums signal a series of tense, mysterious swells. With its brooding, chromatic trumpet solo, the lush neoromantic waltz afterward could be Dvorak.

The Seamstress, an imaginary one-act ballet on themes of loss and absence with vivid Appalachian tinges, is a concerto for violinist Jennifer Koh and also includes Irene Buckley’s voiceover of William Butler Yeats’ poem A Coat. Stark, folksy, leaping figures give way to steady, pizzicato-fueled starriness and then a fleeting Balkan-toned crescendo. Raga-like variations on a twelve-tone row are a clever touch for Koh’s steady hand. She reaches to the heights over the orchestra’s muted cavatina in the concluding movement, which is where Buckley comes in.

Andrew Litton conducts For Night Ferry, for which Clyne also painted a lurid mural. She takes the title from Seamus Heaney’s Elegy for Robert Lowell, the American poet who like Schubert was manic-depressive. Through a long series of gusts, swirls and cascades, the orchestra hit a series of insistent, brassy peaks that alternate with warmly sparkling, nocturnal passages. The cynical dance of death and rollercoaster ride afterward are spine-tingling; the ending is hardly what you would expect.   

André de Ridder takes the podium for the album’s final piece, <<Rewind<<, a wryly microtonal, darkly majestic romp evoking a battered videotape being rewound, glitches and all. This is hands-down one of the half-dozen best classical albums of 2020.

November 13, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intimate Electricity From Joshua Bell

Isn’t it funny how some of the world’s most exciting sounds get lumped into a category with the most boring name? And who would have thought there would be such a mighty upsurge in chamber music in 2020? With established concert venues padlocked and imperiled – outside of places like Sweden, Moscow and Nicagagua anyway – intimate performances largely by and for family and friends have become the new paradigm in classical music, at least until the lockdown is over.

And in keeping with the zeitgeist, some of the biggest names in the field are making intimate recordings. None other than Joshua Bell has made a diverse and often electrifying new live album, At Home with Music, streaming at Spotify. Although virtually all of it is arrangements of standard repertoire, the violinist seems especially amped to play it.

He opens with the famous first movement from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, jauntily trading riffs with pianist Jeremy Denk. The two play it fast: in their most animated moments, the lack of digital separation between the instruments enhances the carefree energy.

Peter Dugan takes over the piano, joining Bell for a much more rubato, Romantic take of Dvořák’s Slavonic Fantasy in B minor. Bell’s rise from silken vibrato to raw, Romany intensity is unselfconsciously electrifying, a real crowd-pleaser.

Next, he teams up with soprano Larisa Martínez and pianist Kamal Khan for a somewhat understatedly lyrical take of Mendelssohn’s “Ah, ritorna, età dell’oro” from the opera Infelice. They return to tackle a Puccini aria later on.

The rare treat here is Wieniawski’s Polonaise de Concert in D Major, Op. 4, with Dugan back on piano, both musicians digging in hard for its anthemic leaps, slashes and devious dips. Their remarkably steady, unvarnished take of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 makes a good segue, quiet as it generally is. And hearing Bell revel in the virtuoso ornamentation of the Jascha Heifetz arrangement of Gershwin’s Summertime is an expected thrill.

Martínez and Khan return for the closer, an alternately bracing and warmly familiar medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. with a triumphant coda.

November 12, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Escape to Paris in the 1930s with Chloe Perrier

The point of chanteuse Chloe Perrier’s new album Petite Fleur, with her French Heart Jazz Band – streaming at Spotify – is that these are dark times, and she wants to give everyone a little escape to a better time and place. Les Deux Magots in the Quartier Latin, smoky and electric…but with sounds far more cross-pollinated than even the musical mecca that was prewar Paris could have conjured at the time.

Over the past couple of years, Perrier and the band have been playing a mix of classic chanson, Romany jazz and American standards, many of them reinvented with counterintuitive panache. Everything on the album has been thoroughly crowd-tested: until the lockdown, Perrier and the group maintained a tough schedule of club and hotel bar gigs. And even though this is an upbeat album, she’s never sung with more depth and gravitas than she does here.

The album’s opening track, Charles Trenet’s Menilmontant, is one that Perrier really excels with. This is a particularly bright, brisk version, with scurrying guitar from Akira Ishiguro and cheery clarinet by guest Jon Hunt over the scampering shuffle of bassist Jim Robertson and colorful drummer Rodrigo Recabarren. Perrier’s clear, unselfconscious, personable vocals are the icing on the cake.

She sings the old klezmer-jazz standard Comes Love in French, with a vivid wistfulness, over a syncopated, bouncy bolero beat, violinist Caroline Bugala adding cosmopolitan flair. The group revisit that milieu later on, in their version of Sway.

Perrier returns to the Trenet songbook for a relatively slow, swinging, Django-and-Stephane-tinged take of Que reste-t-il de nos amours and then follows that by reinventing Helen Merrill’s Just Squeeze Me as the coy Lorsque tu m’embrasses.

Then Perrier pays a jaunty visit to “le pays aux oiseaux” – you could do the same if the 44th Street club immortalized in the song hadn’t been shut down by Il Duce in Albany. She goes deep into the expat subtext of the old Josephine Baker hit J’ai deux amours over a steady shuffle, then she sings Coquette in English as the band leap and bound elegantly behind her.

Guilty, a knowingly enigmatic take on the big hit by British crooner Al Bowlly, was included on the soundtrack to the film Amélie. The inevitable version of La vie en rose here gets redone with a Djangoesque pulse, triumphant energy from Perrier and Bugala.

Ray Ventura’s Je voudrais en savoir d’avantage gets a verdant workout with sailing violin and guitar solos. Perrier and band close the record with an absolutely gorgeous, haunting bolero take of the Sidney Bechet-penned title track. Perrier’s going to cheer up a lot of people in her “deux amours,” on both sides of the pond, with this one.

November 11, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Rider Pair First-Class 21st Century Works with an Iconic String Quartet

Brooklyn Rider are the rare string quartet who seem to have as much fun with the classical canon as they do with the new composers they champion. To violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Michael Nicolas, it’s all just good music. Their latest, lavish double-disc set, Healing Modes – streaming at Bandcamp – interpolates some fascinating new compositions among succesive movements of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15, a mainstay of their performances (before the lockdown, at least). The new repertoire here challenges the group’s extended technique arguably more than any other recording they’ve done, but they rise to its demands. As usual, among the new works, there are connecting threads, notably a constant tension between atmospherics and bustle. And the Beethoven bristles with surprises and erudition, even if you’ve heard it a million times.

The opening piece, Matana Roberts‘ Borderland is a contrast in ghostly and poltergeist sonics. Microtonal haze gives way to insistent, rhythmic phrases, hectic pizzicato, coy glissandos, and then back. There’s also a loaded, allusive spoken word element that packs a wallop at a time when our constitutional rights have been stolen from us by the lockdowners.

Reena Ismail‘s Zeher (Poison) has a similar resonant/rhythmic dichotomy spiced with doublestops and quavery, Indian-influenced ornamentation, shifting to an unexpectedly anthemic conclusion that brings to mind the quartet’s recordings of Philip Glass.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Kanto Kechua #2 has acerbically harmonized, tightly leaping phrases, a round of biting chromatics at the center. The quartet revel in these flurries, which obliquely echo Bernard Herrmann film scores, Peruvian folk music and also the Beethoven here.

The second disc begins with Du Yun‘s I Am My Own Achilles Heel, its shivers, squeals, approximations of arioso vocalese and sharply strutting figures receding down to sepulchral ambience and back again. There may be an improvisational element at work here: beyond an animated, allusively Appalachian circle dance at around the halfway mark or so, and pastoral Asian tinges later, it’s hard to tell.

The take of Caroline Shaw‘s Schisma seems even more amiably plucky and subtly anthemic than the version they played as a New York premiere on the Upper West Side in the spring of 2019.

There seems to be new gravitas but also new vigor in the first movement of the Beethoven, compared to the group’s previous interpretations, although their stunningly legato approach throughout hasn’t wavered over the years. It’s less a nocturne than an anthem. There’s lilting grace and delicacy in unexpected moments of movement two, but with plenty of muscle.

The devious Bach quotes amid the hymnal lustre of the third movement are right up front, and irresistible, as is the lushness of its conclusion. The ensemble play up the drollery in the fleeting bit of a fourth movement as much as the bittersweet, Vivaldiesque grace of the final one. These guys know better than most anyone else that this particular quartet is more symphonic than it is chamber music, a celebration of being snatched from the jaws of death. What does it sound like mixed up amid the new compositions? Full disclosure: this blog tweaked the tracklist to play it contiguously. It’s that addictive.

November 10, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brianna Thomas Takes Her Soulful Sound to the Next Level

Buoyed by an endorsement from Will Friedwald, the guy who wrote the book on jazz singing, Brianna Thomas’ career was in full swing while she was still in college. But she’s always been more than a purist, elegant jazz singer. Anybody who’s ever heard her sing blues or gospel knows how badass, and funny, she can be. Her new album Everybody Knows – streaming at Spotify – is a real change of pace for her, in terms of the jazz, which is heavy on the ballads in addition to other styles beyond the idiom. It’s been a dark year; this is a pretty dark record, and Thomas’ voice will haunt you long after it’s over.

Conun Pappas pulls the sustain bar all the way out on the Rhodes, hovering above guitarist Marvin Sewell’s gritty, circling funk riffage in the album’s opening number, Since I Fell For You. Thomas’ impassioned, insistent vocals match the bite of his bluesmetal solo midway through.

“How deep can a hole in your soul go, how far back can you look to find a clue?” she ponders in How Much Forgiveness, a slowly crescendoing pop ballad, bassist Ryan Berg tiptoeing over Pappas’ shimmery piano chords. Those two players edge their way into the noir-tinged It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie with a similar terseness, Thomas working a mysterious, aching ambience up to a tantalizingly allusive scatting solo; Sewell’s austere, darkly bluesy lines fill out the picture.

She keeps the nocturnal vibe going with a slow, latin soul-tinged, rising and falling take of My Foolish Heart. Once again, Pappas’ starry chords provide a vivid backdrop, building to Thomas’ throaty crescendo.

Fueled by the shifting rhythms of drummer Kyle Poole and percussionist Fernando Saci along with Thomas’ gritty insistence, the band reinvent the old 60s Gerry & the Pacemakers hit Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying as a bustling, defiant anthem. By contrast, I Belong to You is a lusciously Lynchian latin noir mood piece that Sewell hits out of the park with his grim chromatics.

It Had to Be You gets remade as 70s boudoir soul, fueled by Pappas’ twinkly Rhodes and Sewell’s purist Memphis riffs and fills. The hokum blues My Stove’s in Good Condition is irresistibly fun: Sewell goes deep into his hometown Chicago blues riffbag , and the bandleader turns it into what could be the album’s title track. Or maybe one of a pair.

Sewell gets ghostly with his slide in the dirgey take of Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues, a lauching pad for Thomas’ mix of nuance and full-throttle intensity. It’s a shock that more singers haven’t covered the Nina Simone classic Mississippi Goddamn, a protest song which is sadly just as relevant in 2020 as it was during the Civil Rights era. This group’s shapeshifting, crushingly cynical remake, part wah funk, part chilling oldschool soul, will rip your face off.

They close the record on an upbeat note with an impassioned, blues-infused, Allen Toussaint-esque version of The More I See You. History may judge this a career-defining album by one of this era’s most dynamic voices in jazz, and a lot of other styles too.

November 9, 2020 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Kinetic, Ambitiously Orchestrated Album From Trumpeter Emily Kuhn

“Some things are meant to go wrong, forever,” Mercedes Inez Martinez sings, cool and dispassionate, as Roses, the first track on trumpeter Emily Kuhn‘s new album Sky Stories – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway. But that intro is a red herring. From there the group leap into a joyous, soul-inspired jazz waltz and then a brisk bossa, alto saxophonist Max Bessesen choosing his spots over Ben Cruz’s spare guitar and the exuberant rhythm section of bassist Evan Levine and colorful drummer Gustavo Cortiñas. The bandleader solos, steady and triumphant and then turns the song over to a tantalizing break from a string quartet – Myra Hinrichs and Erendira Izguerra on violins, Christine Fliginger on viola and Danny Hoppe on cello.

That’s just the first number.

Things stay just as eclectic and interesting after that. The rhythm sections here (two separate ones) really kill: Kuhn keeps bass and drums out front for extra bounce and boom. With the second track, Horizon, she sticks with a tropical pulse, paring a hypnotically circling, syncopated series of riffs down with a quartet of Joe Suihkonen on second trumpet, Katie Ernst on bass and Nate Friedman on drums.

Kuhn brings back the large ensemble for the lushly orchestrated, pulsing epic Queen for an Hour, Martinez delivering a carpe-diem message with a precise enthusiasm. Cortiñas’ flamenco rhythms about halfway through this mini-suite are a neat touch. Their take of Body and Soul has a slow, steady stroll, lavish, baroque-influenced counterpoint and a spaciously warm solo from the bandleader.

The two-trumpet quartet return for Fit, a study in contrasts between resonant horns and the frenetically growling rhythm section. Their final number here, Anthem is 180 degrees the opposite – this time the drums tumble more spaciously.

The rest of the album is orchestral. Catch Me, a fond jazz waltz, dips for a starkly soaring violin solo and rises with gusts from the strings. Beanstalk has a tense, rhythmic anticipation and divergent voices, sometimes with tightly pinballing polyrhythms, sometimes more loosely improvisational.

Cortiñas’ hip-hop influenced beats underpin a balmy, nocturnal take of Milton Nascimento’s Ponta de Areia spiced with contrapuntal strings, playful drum breaks and an Asian-tinged outro. The group wind up the record with the catchy ballad Jet Trails and Shooting Stars, Levine’s gravelly, circling bass anchoring windswept strings and resonant, lyrical solos from sax and trumpet.

November 7, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magical, Pensively Conversational Improvisations From Josh Sinton’s Latest Project

The trio What Happens in a Year is a serendipitous meeting of minds, three guys who are great listeners and conversationalists. Formidable and incredibly mutable low-register multi-reedman Josh Sinton first brought guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Giacomo Merega into a rehearsal room to whip up some ideas he could flesh out for an album. Their rapport turned out to be so strong that Sinton decided simply to go with the trio’s spontaneous interactions as his first-ever full-length, completely improvised album, Cérémonie/Musique, streaming at Bandcamp.

As you would expect from Merega and Neufeld, the music here tends to be on the quiet side. As you would expect from Sinton, especially, it’s entertaining, not merely a pattern book to inspire other free jazz dudes. In the album’s opening number, La Politique des Auteurs, Sinton plays spare, rather wistful baritone sax phrases, Merega responding with one of his signature devices, spacious chords. Neufeld enters the picture with skeletal motives and lingering, distant menace. A bustle develops beneath Sinton’s airy lines; Merega’s bubbles evince jarring slashes from the guitar.

Sepulchral ambience punctuated by the occasional cry is the central premise of Algernon, a magically austere soundscape. Change of Scene is much the same: lingering bass clarinet from Sinton, spare volume-knob swells and brooding figures from Neufeld and shadowy low end from Merega…all of which hardly telegraph the sotto-voce revelry to come.

The dissociative low-register prowl from Sinton – back on baritone sax – and Merega in Sleepwalk Digest is spot-on, Neufeld adding unexpectedly wary, skronky accents and menacingly steady, slow chordal cascades. The guitarist’s morosely tolling lines take centerstage over his bandmates’ floating, flitting, ghostly presence in Untethered.

The group follow the same pattern, but even more spaciously and skeletally, in Netherland, at first the most haunting yet ultimately the funniest piece here. They close the album with Music From a Locked Room, an extended, triangulated pitch-and-follow scenario. What a beautifully enveloping headphone album: you’ll undoubtedly see this on a lot of best-of lists at the end of the year.

November 6, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Champian Fulton Reinvents Charlie Parker with Her Usual Purist Style and Sense of Humor

Champian Fulton made a mark as a purist, Dinah Washington-influenced singer while still in her teens, but in the years since she’s developed piano chops to match that erudite sensibility. There is no other artist in jazz with as much mastery of both the mic and the 88s. Until the lockdown, she maintained a punishing tour schedule, continuing to release albums at a steady clip. Her latest one, Birdsong – a celebration of the Charlie Parker centennial, streaming at Bandcamp – is a logical step in the career of an artist who approaches jazz as entertainment and never stops pushing herself. It’s a mix of vocal and instrumental numbers, more of them associated with Bird than actual Parker compositions.

As usual, Fulton takes a painterly approach, parsing the lyrics line by line. The take of Just Friends, shifting subtly from a jazz waltz to balmy swing, is a good choice of opener. As silky and expressive as her vocals are, her jaunty Errol Garner-ish piano solo is even more adrenalizing.

Fulton chooses her accomplices well. With his smoky tone and uncluttered melodicism, tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton is a perfect fit, and Fulton’s longtime rhythm section of bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka (no relation) provide an aptly spring-loaded, low-key groove.

Her trumpeter dad Stephen Fulton harmonizes and then offers a mix of carbonation and restraint in a tightly bouncing version of Yardbird Suite. Hamilton matches the frontwoman’s balmy vocals in This Is Always; her droll ornamentation at the keys is irresistibly funny.

Star Eyes is a vehicle for Fulton’s command of a familiar Washington trope, going from mist to bite in barely the space of a syllable. The brightly swinging piano trio version of Quasimodo captures the bandleader in a particularly determined mood and gives the rhythm section a chance to stretch out. Then the three pick up the pace with a breakneck instrumental take of All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm.

Hamilton’s spacious solo makes an apt centerpiece in a midtempo swing version of Dearly Beloved. The decision to approach Out of Nowhere as loose-limbed tropicalia pays off, especially for the rhythm section. The band revert to strolling swing with If I Should Lose You, Hamilton’s most acerbic solo here handing off to the elder Fulton’s Satchmo-influenced lines and a coyly triumphant solo from the younger one.

The best version of My Old Flame may be by Spike Jones: Fulton creates nebulous wee-hours atmosphere with it. The whole band close the record with a comfortably conversational Bluebird. If you like the originals, there’s plenty more entertainment here.

November 6, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lara St. John and Matt Herskowitz Give a Jolt of Energy to a Couple of Old Standards

Violinist Lara St. John and pianist Matt Herskowitz have a delightful, insightful new album, Key of A – streaming at Spotify – which offers a fresh, energetic approach to a couple of iconic A major pieces from the 19th century repertoire as well as Fritz Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin. The two’s reckless abandon is refreshing: this isn’t sedate wine-hour music for the idle classes of Napoleonic Vienna.

The duo approach the first movement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with a sparse, spacious suspense before following an icepick velocity through the volleys that follow, lyricism balanced by lively displays of chops. St. John can be raw and searing one moment, gentle and balletesque another, depending on the passage, and the composition gives her a wide canvas to paint.

Likewise, Herskowitz’s methodical steadiness and almost gleeful baroque ornamentation in the much moodier second movement. The third has the feel of a boisterous country dance, but also a penetrating, Bach-like gothic edge.

Franck’s Sonata in A major turns out to be just as dynamic, and if anything, more lyrical, through the moodily dancing key changes of the first movement through the prowling, often windswept rumble and ripple of the second. They parse the third judiciously, sometimes emphatically, sometimes with remarkable restraint, then cut loose with an unrestrained triumph in the fourth. It’s a considerably more vigorous counterpart to Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien‘s more delicately detailed, recently released take.

St. John and Matt Herskowitz bounce their way through Kreisler’s cheery waltz to close the album. If music that wears its heart on its sleeve is your thing, don’t miss this.

November 5, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Dan Costa Immortalizes a Beautiful Moment From a Better Time

Think of how many musicians were out on the road, trying to earn a living, at the time the lockdowners were trying to seize control of the world under the pretext of a health emergency. The economic damage, not only to those players, but to the venues where they were performing and the people who worked there, is immeasurable – and it’s only getting worse. Brazilian jazz pianist Dan Costa was lucky – his US tour ended just before the lockdown. Serendipitously, he had the presence of mind to record the final concert, on February 29 at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, California. Since then, he’s released it as an album, Live in California, streaming at Spotify.

This gorgeously melodic, meticulously focused set includes a mix of originals and popular Braziian material. Costa plays solo, opening with his lithely energetic, lyrical composition Baião, his understatedly insistent lefthand anchoring a glittering neoromantic tune that strongly brings to mind Egberto Gismonti.

With his second number, simply titled Maracatu, Costa builds Debussy-esque, pentatonic lustre and pointillistic shimmer over a similarly low-key take on that iconic Brazilian rhythm. He approaches that famous and vastly overplayed Jobim hit with a blend of puckish wit and unexpected gravitas. Then he goes back to originals with the more expansively gleaming Sete Enredos, rising to a chiliing, chromatic peak, coloring the ominous resonance with icy upper-register riffs before returning to a pulsing forward drive. It’s the high point of the show.

Aria turns out to be a bounding, High Romantic jazz waltz lit up by Costa’s expansive righthand chords and cascades. Likewise, he adds a cosmopolitan shimmer to the bounce of Roberto Menescal’s O Barquinho.

Tempos Sentidos is another showcase for Costa’s purposeful, economical approach: steady pedalpoint, thoughtfully chosen, emphatic choral work, no wasted notes. He closes the show with a low-key, impressionistic take of Ivan Lins’ Love Dance. How ironic that something so completely unplanned would turn out to be a lock for one of the best jazz albums of 2020.

November 4, 2020 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment