Lucid Culture


Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem: Important and Compelling

Among the many important works inspired by the 9/11 disaster, Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem – recently released on Innova – is one of the most gripping. It’s a Christian mass performed by the Trinity Youth Chorus, augmented in the lower registers by members of the Trinity Choir, conducted by Robert Ridgell. Which is a choice of performers as fitting as it is musically successful; New York’s Trinity Church was the house of worship closest to Ground Zero, its organ destroyed by the avalanche of soot and debris from a couple of blocks away. Here the choir performs with Alexander Hermann at the organ, Jennifer Hoult on harp, and a cello section of Aminda Asher, Veronica Parrales, Sara Wolfe, and Miho Zaitsu. Most of this is very quiet as befits an atmosphere where grief has depleted most all energy, although not all the music is dark: Moran allows some hope for a possible future, particularly on the warm if plaintive theme in the final movement, In Paradisum. The melodies move slowly, gently, often very poignantly: the arrangements themselves change much more than the actual tunes, in the style of Rennaisance choral music but with more of a willingness to embrace the unresolved, a style perfectly capsulized in the Introit, which begins with the suite’s one big organ swell and ends unsettled and somewhat menacing. Somewhat similarly, the spacious, echoey Kyrie gingerly moves away from and then back to a central tone. A calming hymn, a gentle processional that gives way to a baroque waltz (with vivid echoes of the Pachelbel Canon), a distant, somewhat minimalist funeral march and eventually a turn into quiet, otherworldly, mutedly soaring upper-register ambience mark the passage from stunned disbelief to sheer anguish to a slow determination to begin anew. To call it methodical wouldn’t be accurate – coping with death is never like that – but it’s a potently perceptive portrayal of how many of those who survived the disaster, or lost loved ones in it, would respond. When approached to write this, Moran was initially dismayed by the idea of writing a requiem sung mostly by children, but it’s a good thing he didn’t back away from it. This achievement makes a powerful, considerably quieter counterpart to Melora Creager’s angry, betrayed 9/11 suite, and Robert Sirota’s haunting, nightmarish Triptych.

There are three other works on this album, and they make good segues. Seven Sounds Unseen, a John Cage homage performed by choral ensemble Musica Sacra, is considerably more lively but similarly full of intriguingly subtle tonal and timbral shifts, particularly the low, solitary drone that emerges toward the end of the first movement to counterbalance the highs as they reach for a hypnotically celebratory feel. The second is a long, hypnotic round with a surprise interruption, the third a mutedly triumphant outro.

Notturno in Weiss, a subtly apprehensive, slow fugue between the voices of The Esoterics and harpists Alexis Odell and Melissa Walsh is a setting of a Christian Morgenstern poem which contrasts the whiteness of a lily and a tombstone, each keeping its own vigil. The final track is titled Requiem for a Requiem, a seamless Moran “greatest hits” medley assembled by soundsculptor Phillip Blackburn including an excerpt from a more vigorous work as well as long passages that play up the harp versus the choir’s atmospherics.

October 26, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/4/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1.Wednesday’s album is #909:

Nina Nastasia – The Blackened Air

This album was recorded before 9/11, but released shortly thereafter, it made a potent soundtrack for a city, and an era, reeling from the impact and braced for the worst. Conventional wisdom is that Nastasia’s classic album is her 2000 debut, Dogs, and while its songs are wrenchingly vivid, this one’s the counterintuitive choice. Nastasia’s lyrics on Dogs were like a Weegee lens, sardonic portraits of dissolution, disillusion and sometimes despair, perfectly suited to her matter-of-factly plaintive, sometimes biting vocals. Here they tend to observe from a few hundred feet, often achieving a towering angst equal to Pink Floyd or the other great art-rockers. Backed by a brilliant band including Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard on guitar, Dylan Willemsa on viola, Stephen Day on cello, Joshua Carlebach on accordion and Jay Bellerose on drums, Nastasia alternates between starkly bucolic minimalism, eerie miniatures and hypnotic pitchblende atmospherics. She’s never made a bad record: her other albums Run to Ruin and You Follow Me (a 2007 collaboration with Jim White of the Dirty Three) are closer to the vibe of Dogs and very much worth getting to know – ideally with the lights out.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Patty Ocfemia – Heaven’s Best Guest

An astonishingly good, gripping album that instantly vaults to the top of our best debut albums of 2008 list. Patty Ocfemia is one of the great storytellers in music, setting vivid imagery and a vast array of characters to catchy, acoustic-based music. She sings in character, with a strangely beautiful, instantly recognizable voice. It’s sweet and somewhat breathy, but with a quirky edge that lends itself particularly well to the people she portrays. Like many of the best songwriters out there, she has a soft spot for the underdog and the underclass, but she writes with an uncommon subtlety. Ocfemia is a charter member of the “show, not tell” club: she lets her narratives speak for themselves. Producer Robert Burke Warren sets her tasteful guitar fingerpicking to imaginative arrangements occasionally spiced with mandolin, organ, upright bass and even vintage 80s synthesizer in one particularly amusing moment.

The album opens with the bouncy Margarita Sisters, a smartly crafted, funny but empathetic portrait of a small crew of women who always overdo it, told from the point of view of an exasperated bartender in the wee hours. The next cut, Heavyset Man is something akin to a Eudora Welty short story set to music, a rueful conversational tale between friends set to an upbeat, bluesy tune. The absolutely gorgeous, melancholy Barcelona is one of the album’s best cuts, Burke Warren’s soulful electric guitar solo after the bridge mingling with Ocfemia’s dexterous fingerpicking. It’s a song about being stood up on a blind date: the narrator is so convincing (and convinced she has to make excuses for the creep who’s doing it to her), that you just want to slap her. Women beating themselves up over bad choices is something of a recurrent theme in Ocfemia’s writing, as listeners will discover a few tracks later.

Sean Lugano is an equally haunting song, beginning with an ominous guitar intro evocative of the Stones’ Sister Morphine, recounting the sad days of the aftermath of 9/11 in New York, when there was a “missing” poster – in this case, for a NYC firefighter – in apartment house elevators all over town. The album ends on a tremendously powerful note with Ocfemia’s best song, the towering, majestic Misspent Youth. Burke Warren’s organ enters ominously behind the guitar even before the first verse starts in this big, bitter anthem about cutting old losses and starting all over again, a prospect the narrator has decided to embrace, but not without regrets. Ocfemia’s vocals match her lyrics, full of subtlety and nuance, but finally, after a whole album, she pulls out all the stops on the song’s final chorus, flames of rage bursting out from behind the smoke:

Not like old lovers
No permanent scars

No fixed agenda
No calendars
No heavy hand or privileged truth
No guilt or shame for my misspent youth

The last chorus drops down to just voice and Ocfemia’s guitar, followed by a pause, then the mandolin and organ come in and quickly fade. “I’m not giving up, I’m letting go,” Ocfemia asserts with quiet determination. Fans of pantheonic rock lyricists from Elvis Costello to Lucinda Williams to LJ Murphy will love this album. CD’s are available online; we’ll let you know when there’s a cd release show for this one. Like the album, it promises to be pretty intense.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment