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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Entertaining, Dynamic New Classical Orchestral Works on the Latest Polarities Compilation

The second volume of the Polarities compilations of new orchestral music – streaming at Spotify – came out last summer and is very much worth your time if you like colorful, translucent, robustly performed sounds. To open the album, Pavel Šnajdr conducts the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra in Margaret Brandman‘s Spirit Visions, a “symphonic tone poem.” It’s variations on a catchy, folksy theme straight out of Nashville circa 1972. Brandman sends it goodnaturedly around the orchestra: everybody gets to indulge, especially the brass.

The orchestra’s second contribution here is Kamala Sankaram‘s 91919, playful flourishes contrasting with a nebulous density that no doubt draws on her time working with Anthony Braxton’s large ensembles. Natalia Anikeeva’s terse, astringent viola stands out resolutely against the smoky backdrop and occasional deviously twinkling accent or drumroll. Sankaram’s signature sense of humor comes to the forefront as a goofy march ensues.

The second piece on the album is Beth Mehocic’s Tango Concerto, played in striking high definition by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra under Ivan Josip Skender, with Charlene Farrugia on piano and Franko Božac on accordion and bandoneon, Don’t let the strangely tremoloing strings make you believe that there’s something wrong with the recording: the two keyboardists’ regal introduction quickly brings the first movement down to earth, right up to what could be a sly allusion to a famous Led Zep song.

Movement two has an elegant pas de deux between accordion and piano over increasing deep-sky nocturnal lustre. The muscularly pulsing third movement is where the inevitable Piazzolla comparisons arise, but Mehocic chooses her spots and packs a lot into not much time – around thirteen minutes. It’s inspiring to hear a piece like this that matches the iconic Argentine composer’s outside-the-box sensibility without being imitative.

Stanislav Vavřínek conducts the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra in the album’s three other works. Echo figures filter in over drifting suspense in Larry Wallach’s Species of Motion, rising to a flurrying agitation as the main theme coalesces and winds animatedly through the ensemble. From there the piece is calm without losing brightness. Everybody has a good time with this one – what a fun piece to play!

Does Mel Mobley‘s Labored Breathing allude to a recently ubiquitous divide-and-conquer technique? Probably not, although this ominously colorful piece quickly escalates from brooding resonance to a bellicose intensity that sometimes borders on the macabre. A desolate, fugally-tinged interlude sets the stage for the next skirmish; from there, the suspense doesn’t let up. It’s the most distinctly noirish and most memorable piece on the program.

The final work is Brian Latchem’s picturesque, Dvorakian Suffolk Variations, a relatively brief (ten-minute) viola concerto. A wistful canon sets the stage, soloist Vladimír Bukač following a steady, restrained, baroque-tinged upward trajectory. There’s a rustic, rather lushly dancing passage and then a wry crescendo before the orchestra bring it full circle. Spin this for anyone who might feel daunted finding their way around the new classical scene: it’s as good a place to start as any.

January 12, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Catchy, Entertaining New Orchestral Music Playlist

For the last few years, Navona Records has been advocating for new and contemporary composers with their ongoing series of Prisma compilations. Volume Five – streaming at Spotify – is a characteristically colorful, diverse collection, played with as much of a sense of adventure as attention to detail by the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra under Jiří Petrdlík. Every composer represented here is a first-class tunesmith: this is a very cinematic, translucent mix. Unexpected false endings figure heavily here.

The first work is the opening Adagio, “Of Times and Seasons” from Lawrence Mumford‘s Symphony No. 4, essentially variations on a song without words, with unhurried, warmly puffing phrases and contrasts between cheery high woodwinds and the density of the strings and brass below. There’s a Gershwinesque sense of contentment mixed with moments of bittersweetness and a counterpoint that goes back to Haydn in theory, if not idiomatically. As Petrdlík leads the ensemble upward, there’s a towering, Vaughan Williams-like pastoral solidity.

In Kevin McCarter’s All Along, the group shift between balletesque precision and a similarly verdant lushness. The palindromic architecture around the lull at the center is ingenious. They begin Samantha Sack‘s A Kiss in the Dark dreamily, then the high strings begin circling tightly as the low brass looms in and a hypnotically heroic theme ensues. The false ending is amusing: this, um, incident is just getting started!

Bustling drama mingled within passages of muted furtiveness introduce Bell and Drum Tower, by Alexis Alrich. It’s akin to a 21st century neoromantic take on the 1812 Overture as Angelo Badalamenti might have reimaged it, with an increasingly Asian sensibility fueled by precise piano cascades. The wistful bassoon solo midway through is one of the album’s highlights; from there, the composer’s edgy sense of humor starts to burst out.

There’s a similar, low-key furtiveness and even more of a sense of impending trouble in Nunatak, by Katherine Saxon, complete with an eerie twinkle from the bells amid pillowy strings. From there, Petrdlík shifts the group seamlessly toward more optimistic, envelopingly ambered terrain.

Is Anthony Wilson‘s 3 Flights of the Condor a reference to sinister deep-state meddling in Latin American affairs in the 1970s? Possibly. Sinister low rustles reach further into the lustre above as the tableau unveils. A dip to a moody exchange of low winds and horns rises to a Rimsky-Korsakovian nocturne

The album comes full circle with William Copper‘s This Full Bowl of Roses, Pt. 3, a second set of variations on a song without words, full of tension and release and baroque-tinged counterpoint. It’s a good vehicle for the orchestra to show off the dynamism of their brass section and aptitude for Beethovenesque exchanges.

January 9, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Muom Overtone Singing Choir Explore Vast, Rapturous Sonic Expanses

Few choral groups explore such a vast expanse of sound as the Muom Overtone Singing Choir. Their extended technique is breathtaking in the purest sense of the word. Neither the sepulchrally wispy highs nor the stygian lows they often reach at the same time exist in most music for the human voice, simply because most people can’t hit those notes. The ensemble’s magical new suite Terra – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first in a planned series of four. The late Maurice White would be delighted to know that the next two are explorations of wind and fire, water being the fourth element.

The suite, performed as a contiguous whole, begins with Eter, a single D note sung in unison until some of the choir reach a couple of octaves lower for a guttural anchor. By this point, harmonics are oscillating in the background. From there the group segue into Astral, slowly coalescing into an aptly drifting theme with gentle massed glissandos and long, sustained notes moving through the sonic picture, a graceful deep-space exchange of voices. Rhythm falls away to a cocooning, enveloping, uneasy morass, then the counterpoint rises again.

The group completely flip the script with Ardhi (Swahili for “earth”), with a joyously cantering, percussive west African groove, mens’ lows and spiraling overtones against the triumphant women overhead. They whisper their way out.

There’s a return to rapt, otherworldly stillness in Akasha (Sanskrit for “ether”). The men in the choir open Sa Mantra (sa being Tibetan for “earth”) with a low, growling chant, riffing on a phrase common to carnatic music and vocal warmup exercises. From there, they build a starkly bluesy minor-key theme.

A plaintively expressive solo by one of the men, like a muezzin’s call, takes front and center over allusively chromatic phrasing in the next segment, Ancestral, before the ensemble kick into a rousing, insistently rhythmic drive. Khörzün (“earth” in the Tuvan language) is where Central Asian choral traditions resonate the most here, via echoing layers of harmonics and a galloping trans-Siberian beat.

The choir close with Gea (the Greek earth deity), a starkly circling violin solo by group member Farran Sylvan James introducing a hypnotic downward drift. There hasn’t been any album like this released in the recent past, maybe ever, reason to look forward to whatever other magic the group can conjure in the next installment.

January 4, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Singularly Disquieting Electroacoustic Album From Pianist Peng-Chian Chen

On her latest album Electrocosmia – streaming at Spotify – pianist Peng-Chian Chen explores the intersection of new classical composition with electronics, as well as the many philosophical and real-world implications thereof.

She opens with a set of miniatures, Pierre Charvet’s Neuf Etudes aux Deux Mondes. Enervated motorik bustle, cautious strolls, spare dripping minimalism and a slow ramble through stygian depths are juxtaposed with and sometimes mingled within icy ambience or gritty industrial sonics. There’s sardonic humor as well: a plane crashing at takeoff and the nagging interruption of phone ringtones. Is the point of this that as much as we hate this techy shit, we might as well get used to it since we’re stuck with it? Or that even in the grip of a digital dystopia, there’s beauty in – or guarded hope for – the human element? Maybe both?

Next, Chen tackles Cindy Cox‘s spare, surreal Etude “La Cigüeña” for piano and sampler, its furtive upward flights and uneasy lulls set to a backdrop of what could be whalesong or birdsong. In Elainie Lillios‘ Nostalgic Visions – inspired by a Garcia Lorca childhood reminiscence – Chen throws off dramatic improvisational flourishes, goes under the piano lid for autoharp-like shimmer, chilly minimalism and a murky crush. Some of it gets flung back to her, through a sampler, darkly.

She concludes with Peter Van Zandt Lane‘s electroacoustic partita Studies in Momentum. Steady, glistening, circling phrases mingle with increasingly menancing close harmonies; a devious peek-a-boo theme meets its ghostly counterpart; a tongue-in-cheek, Charlie Chaplinesque march reaches the end at a cold reflecting pool. Chen’s stiletto articulation in the lickety-split, coyly altered third piece is the high point of the record, although the brooding tone poem that follows is just as tantalizingly brief.

December 31, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Fearless, Bristling, Undaunted Solo Album by Cellist Hannah Collins

Hannah Collins is the cellist on the wittily scathing DWB (Driving While Black) soundtrack album. Her new solo record Resonance Lines – streaming at Bandcamp – is a treat for fans of low-register sonics, and high-voltage 20th and 21st century works. She doesn’t mess around: her extended technique will give you chills. There’s an iconic suite as well as a very popular, considerably shorter current-day work. Collins’ loosely interconnecting theme celebrates close collaborations between non-cellist composers and the artists they wrote for.

The famous work here is Britten’s Suite No. 1 for Cello Solo. It’s arguably the composer’s best piece, With a spacious yet incisive attack, Collins digs in and lets the overtones bristle through a fearlessly macabre homage to Bach’s Cello Suites, from sudden, shivery sunbursts, to austere drafts filtering under the door, to a pizzicato horror film. Why didn’t Britten ever write anything as chilling or intense as this ever again? We’ll never know. Mstislav Rostropovich’s premiere interpretation is the model for others brave enough to tackle it, but this is equally memorable.

The popular contemporary classical piece here is Caroline Shaw‘s In Manus Tuas. Again, Collins’ brilliance is her semi-savage attack of the composer’s signature, circling riffage. It’s easy to play this as a rapt homage to a beloved sonic space. Collins seems to want to sneak the keg in and then light a bonfire…before the group meditation, anyway.

She opens the album with a briskly crescendoing take of one of the earliest known works for the cello, 17th century Italian composer Giuseppe Colombi’s Chiacona. Kaija Saariaho’s Dreaming Chaconne, a deviously and dauntingly shivery take on the same theme, is next: Collins is undaunted. And she’s undeterred through the sometimes ghostly, sometimes monstrous flurries and slides of Saariaho’s Sept Papillons.

She closes the record with the world premiere of Thomas Kotcheff’s Cadenza (with or without Haydn), a playful and increasingly wild, electrifying, shreddy new work written as a coda for the Haydn Cello Concerto in C major, It’s an apt way to close an album that invites repeated listening.

December 17, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magically Diverse Solo Harp Improvisations From Jacqueline Kerrod

Jacqueline Kerrod was Robert Paterson’s not-so-secret weapon on his lusciously noir album Star Crossing, and also his contrastingly sparkling Book of Goddesses. But she’s probably better known for her time as the New York City Opera’s principal harpist…and for playing with a rapper who, if his improbable Presidential run had vaulted him into the Oval Office, would be a more lucid presence than what we have at the present moment.

Yet Kerrod’s arguably most foundational collaboration was with Anthony Braxton. Inspired by touring as a duo with the Tri-Centric icon, she made the best of 2020 lockdown time and recorded an often mesmerizing album of solo improvisations, 17 Days in December. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s unlike any other harp record you will ever hear. Jazz harpists are an individualistic bunch to begin with: Zeena Parkins, with her blend of acerbity and atmosphere; Alice Coltrane and her melodic rapture; Dorothy Ashby, who shifted the paradigm by employing everything but harp voicings, and to an extent, Brandee Younger following in her wake. Kerrod is a welcome member of that rare, celestial body.

The chilling, menacing opening tableau, titled Trill to Begin, no doubt reflects the dire circumstances under which Kerrod made it, almost exactly a year ago. It’s a series of eerie modal phrases against a tremolo-picked pedal note, punctuated by low funereal bell accents and otherworldly close harmonies. What a way to kick off the project!

The squiggly web she builds on her electric harp on the second track is 180 degrees from that. She returns to ominous portents, but more spaciously, in a short piece she calls Gentle Jangle. Jazz guitar-like voicings give way to disquietly circling phrases and icy deep-sky sparkle in An Impression, then Kerrod breaks out her electric harp again for the woozily skronky Sugar Up.

Likewise, Glare is a sunbaked, resonant piece that could be mistaken for an ebow guitar soundscape. After that, she assembles an echoey lattice that brings to mind Robert Fripp’s early 80s work. Kerrod employs a glass bowl to enhance the shimmering, steel pan-like microtones in Glassy Fingers. then takes it toward vortical Pink Floyd gloom.

Next, she coalesces toward a warped music-box theme, following with Fluttering Alberti, where she works a hypnotic/spiky dichotomy. Can-Can is not a latin number but a return to steady, sinister mode. In the album’s longest improvisation, Kerrod sprinkles spare incisions over a gritty low drone which she plays with a bow.

The album’s concluding tracks range from playful electronics, to a ghostly National Steel guitar-like miniature, a gently insistent, Debussy-esque interlude and a cheerily ornamented electric harp finale.

December 3, 2021 Posted by | experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beguiling New Sounds From Ancient Instruments

What’s the likelihood that a contemporary composer would write a partita for viola da gamba ensemble? Molly Herron – who plays bass viola da gamba on her new album Through Lines, streaming at Bandcamp – has done exactly that. Although it’s on the minimalist side, it’s very dynamic: sometimes bracing and sober, other times immersive, and unexpectedly funny in places.

Science Ficta’s Loren Ludwig and Zoe Weiss, on standard models, and Kivie Cahn-Lipman on bass viola da gamba, join the composer in this eleven-part suite. Each segment is on the short side, four minutes or sometimes considerably less. The introduction is spacious and on the austere side, rhythmically staggered plucking backed by simple long-tone lines. The dusky tones of gnawa occasionally come to mind.

The quartet follow a study in wafting drones, overtones and fluttering pedal notes with playful, conspiratorial eighth-note phrases, hypnotic flurries and enigmatic close harmonies. Segment four, After Picforth alludes to a stormy anthem, then recedes into atmospherics.

There’s also an overtone-spiced contrast between plucked acerbity and calm ambience; a wry rondo assembled from echo effects; somber, assertive variations on a simple minor chord; and a coy return to the opening theme at the end.

December 2, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hauntingly Immersive, Dystopic Swirl From Resina and Avant Garde Choir 441Hz

Polish cellist and composer Karolina Rec a.k.a. Resina wrote her new album Speechless – streaming at Bandcamp – during the Women’s Strike protests there last year. Plans for the album were nearly derailed by lockdown insanity, but Rec and conductor Anna Wilczewska’s Gdańsk-based choir 441Hz worked fast during brief moments of freedom. The result is a whirling, dystopic, electroacoustic salute to nature before she gets sick of us and kicks us off the planet for good (if we don’t beat nature to the punch with lethal injections and mass sterilization).

Rec likes diptychs, ending in a sonic place completely different from where she begins. Her opening piece here is Mercury Immersion, a ghostly chorale amid a constantly shifting series of increasingly anguished, rising and falling waves. Drummer Mateusz Rychlicki takes the eerie grandeur to a boomy peak at the end.

There’s a sharp, singing quality to Rec’s cello in Horse Tail, her one-woman multitracked string section joined by the choir as they hypnotically pulse along at a quasi-gallop. The creepy electronic effect toward the end is too good to give away, and spot-on for the plandemic era.

Looping, cocooning phrases from the choir contrast with the starkness of the cello and what could be whalesong in Failed Myth Simulation, a diptych; the second half is a motorik theme. The dissociative soundscape Darwin’s Finches features birdsong field recordings by Michał Fojcik, which turn out to be more icily techy than bucolic.

Underneath the gritty textures and sepulchral washes of voices, Unveiling could be a circling Philip Glass etude. Slashes from the cello penetrate calm loopiness as track six, Manic gets underway, Rec building a somberly minimalist theme that she eventually takes in a grim industrial direction. After that, the brief tableau Hajstra makes a good segue.

Rec develops variations on a heroic marching theme in A Crooked God, again veering into industrial roar and clank. The album’s final cut is Recall, a surreal, staggered canon at quarterspeed which eventually collapses in an electronic ice storm. This is a sonic treat for those brave enough to confront it.

November 30, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dark Masterpiece From the Del Sol String Quartet and Guitarist Gyan Riley

The Del Sol String Quartet’s gorgeously brooding, aptly titled Dark Queen Mantra with guitarist Gyan Riley came out in 2016 and is streaming at Spotify. It’s a great album to listen to with the lights out – hypnotic in places, but with a tightly coiling intensity. It contains three debut recordings: Terry Riley’s title triptych and concluding sixteen-minute “waltz,” along with cult favorite microtonal composer Stefano Scodanibbio’s Mas Lugares, inspired by a Monteverdi madrigal.

This music spans several different genres: there are moments that are pure 70s psychedelic art-rock, others that strongly bring to mind Philip Glass at his darkest. As the title track’s first part, Vizcaino begins, the guitar launches into an eerie downward chromatic theme, then variations on a flamencoish riff while the strings pulse in response. Riley calls, they respond, they echo, sometimes all joining together. Eventually they reach a quietly marionettish interlude enhanced by an unusual and welcome amount of reverb for a string quartet recording, the guitar a darkly bubbling presence amid the quartet’s insistence.

Part two, Goya With Wings develops from uneasily disjointed, hazy resonance contrasting with the younger Riley’s lingering, minimalist incisions, to a slowly staggered, pensive ballad that coalesces in the epic third movement after a guitarless bit. Riley’s return signals a moodily circling variation on the simmering opening theme, this time the quartet taking the lead, steady eight-note riffs popping up like evil gremlins in every corner of the sonic picture. Riley’s precise, distorted spirals lead down to a circular Indian carnatic theme; it ends unresolved.

The rest of the album isn’t anywhere near as dark. Scodanibbio’s five-part suite begins with what could be a Nordic dance, steadily pulsing eight-note echo phrases from the quartet’s individual members – violinists Benjamin Kreith and Rick Shinozaki, violist Charlton Lee and cellist Kathryn Bates. It has little if anything in common with Italian Renaissance polyphony, but the other sections do, their surrealistic, metrically tricky paraphrases keening with harmonic overtones. Flight motives and haze alternate in the third movement, with an Iranian tinge.

The quartet open the elder Riley’s Tibetan-inspired Wheel & Mythic Birds Waltz with tense close harmonies, a morning theme punctuated by swoops, plucks and the occasional anthemic riff. Suddenly the birds take flight, with distant Middle Eastern and jazz allusions, Riley was close to eighty when he wrote both works here: the contemporary classical icon and godfather of American minimalism shows no sign of slowing down. Both his son and the quartet revel in the music’s constantly shifting idioms.

November 13, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ieva Jokubaviciute Explores the Color and Disparity of New Nordic Music on Her New Album Northscapes

Musicologists have a history of obsession with the relationship between terrain and musical traditions. Conventional wisdom is that Nordic composers tend to focus on the dark side, considering the length of winter and winter nights there. And yet, in the summer, that same turf becomes the land of the midnight sun. On her new album Northscapes – streaming at Bandcamp – Lithuanian pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute plays a mix of 21st century works by a terrific cast of well-known and more obscure composers from that part of the world, seeking to capture the influences of landscape, and a lowlit or unlit milieu, rather than reaffirming any preconception of Nordic traditions. The record turns out to be much more colorful than you might think.

Case in point: the two works by Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen, which bookend the album. The former, Pristine Light, begins with energetically rolling ripples that give way to steady minimalism punctuated by sparkling figures. Subtly, Jokubaviciute balances rhythm and glittering forward drive as the composer reverses the effect of the two devices

Both pieces are taken from Thoresen’s Four Invocations suite. In the finale, Rising Air, Jokubaviciute has fun contrasting a spacious, reflecting-pool minimalism with a spritely hailstorm of upper-register riffage bristling with thorny accidentals.

In keeping with her signature, vast expanses, Icelander Anna Thorvaldsdottir‘s Scape blends disquieting flickers at either end of the keyboard with long, sustained notes, sometimes enhanced by an ebow guitar effect, at other times by prepared strings. A thimble is also involved.

A trio of pieces from Danish composer Bent Sorensen‘s 12 Nocturnes are next, drawing on the character Mignon from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. Jokubaviciute takes her time developing the distantly Romantic allusions of Mignon and the Sun Goes Down, cuts loose considerably more in the miniature Night River and lets the altered love ballad Midnight with Mignon linger enigmatically.

She follows a dichotomy similar to the one in the Thorvaldsdottir piece, if more elaborately cascading and intertwined, in Kaija Saariaho‘s 2007 Prelude. Jokubaviciute also explores contrasts in the lone late 20th century piece here, Lithuanian composer Raminta Šerkšnytė’s Fantasia, shifting between registers, a rather stern longing, playful leaps and bounds, challenging pointillisms and a coy expectancy. It’s the most entertaining piece here.

Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks‘ Music for a Summer Evening is a picturesquely energetic, shifting, seemingly Satie-influenced sunset prelude. Describing the music, he writes, “Towards the end, a kind of folksong is heard: ‘We have survived the time of tyranny and have kept our identity.’” May we all live to do that and more on summer evenings next year.

September 4, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment