Lucid Culture


Luciano Troja Revisits the Understatedly Gorgeous Piano Music of Earl Zindars

In 2010, Italian pianist Luciano Troja made an important contribution to the jazz canon with his album At Home with Zindars, a rare exploration of the music of Earl Zindars, from who Bill Evans drew for some of his more memorable material. Thirteen years later, Troja is back with an even more auspicious recording of even rarer numbers by the undeservedly obscure composer and pianist, whose connection to Evans makes sense in terms of sheer tunefulness. Troja recorded the first half solo, live in concert in 2018 at the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley and finished the record a year later with a suite of his own in the studio in Italy. And the album, To New Life, is finally here for you to enjoy (you can hear parts at Bandcamp for the time being).

What’s most stunning here is how much of a Mompou-esque, eerie upper-register gleam there is in this music, often juxtaposed with moments of unselfconsciously rapt beauty, which Troja parses with care and a steady understatement. Zindars’ heritage was Armenian, and that influence comes through strongly here.

The opening track, Lullaby for Helene is a gorgeously otherworldly waltz, Troja slowly and elegantly moving from Messiaenic glimmer to a fond neoromantic ballad and back. The second number is a mashup of sorts, the ragtime-tinged Sareen Jurer into Zindars’ wife Annig’s Hokees Orrant Ee Var with its stark Armenian tinges.

Troja takes a matter-of-fact, unhurried approach to the subtly fugal tidal shifts in Dreams Are These, which perfectly capsulizes this music’s appeal. Likewise, Elsa, a waltz with some deliciously glistening, romping cadences, which could be retitled “My Favorite Uneasy Things.”

Troja makes a diptych out of Thoughts of Mine, an increasingly troubled, chromatically-fueled 1992 theme composition, and a restrained take of Mother of Earl, the swinging 1957 tune popularized by Evans.

Troja goes back to steady waltz time for Karen’s Mode with its interweave of attractive singalong balladry and thorny chromatics, with an unexpectedly scrambling midsection. Roses for Annig is kaleidoscopic, from wistful to joyously Chopinesque. The last of the concert tracks is the world premiere recording of Wissahickon Walk, a Pennsylvania tableau which Troja begins sparely and gingerly before expanding from wary rainy-day echo figures to a mysterious interlude which also features muted riq frame drum and then a rather stern, martially-tinged segment.

Troja winds up the record with his title suite, his own partita, inspired by a Zindars poem. The introduction, Rain makes an aptly picturesque segue with the Zindars material, followed by Silenced World, a return to solemn, enigmatic bell-like sonics. Part three, titled Wait has a plaintive Angelo Badalementi-esque minimalism, while the conclusion is guardedly celebratory. What an absolutely gorgeous album.


May 11, 2023 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe’s Beethoven Cycle: Spinning New Tales, or Just Wheels?

Conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe have had a relatively intimate Beethoven symphonic cycle set out for awhile now and streaming at Spotify. How does it compare with the gold standard, Jordi Savall and Le Concert Des Nations’ revelatory recording of the first five symphonies?

This is like a missing puzzle piece. It literally fills in the gaps. Savall’s careening yet meticulously detailed (and often rowdy and hilarious) recordings of the core Third, Fourth and Fifth symphonies will have you literally hearing things in otherwise familiar old scores that you have never heard before. The rudimentary, boisterous percussion section in the Fifth is worth the price of the whole collection.

But where Savall goes for rustic – and sometimes the jugular – Nezet-Seguin excels especially with the later symphonies. Reducing them to more manageable proportions pays whopping dividends in terms of clarity and punch. Granted, listeners who think they’re getting any realistic approximation of what Beethoven’s audiences experienced are missing the point because those few who enjoyed that privilege did so as part of a concert audience, not on their own time with earbuds in. But as orchestral sprawl has grown over the last two centuries, details get subsumed in the ether and this cycle is a welcome antidote,

You might think that Beethoven Three, Four and Five would be Nezet-Seguin’s most central focus here, but strangely that isn’t the case. The temporal liberties he takes with Five are a head-scratcher: you simply don’t mess with the most iconic classical riff of alltime. Three and Four are perfectly enjoyable and have plenty of detail to recommend them, but none with the fire that Savall brings.

Instead, it’s Six through Nine where Nezet-Seguin and the orchestra provide a most welcome antidote to the contention that Beethoven was on autopilot by the time he wrote these, and that they’re mere plush entertainment for the era’s mercantile and financier classes. In the Sixth, Nezet-Seguin’s clarity and balance emphasizes a robust foundation of strings, keeping the high winds from floating away on a bubble. The carefree and unhurried courtly dance of a second movement gets a little airy angst to keep the focus sharp. The big shivery rainstorm toward the end of the third is a sudden and rewardingly jarring interlude in contrast to the warm sunset scenery on the way out.

A seriousness comes out in the striding opening movement in Seven, conspicuously absent from most other recordings of the symphony. To Nezet-Seguin’s infinite credit, he sticks with intensity that throughout a wary but insistent second movement. Conversationality typically comes into clearer focus in smaller-scale recordings like this, notably in the fourth movement, which echoes the vigor of the Savall recordings most strongly.

The version of the Eighth Symphony here harks back to the first two, emphasis on frequent individual voices popping up amid the comfortable, Haydnesque nocturnal lustre, with punchy winds in the second movement and momentary stormy shivers in the third as entertaining diversions.

The premise of a chamber orchestra version of Beethoven Nine may be a bit of a stretch: it’s hard to imagine the composer objecting to any attempt to further enrich the layers of this sonic mille-feuille. But Nezet-Seguin and the orchestra validate their choice with a particularly lithe, dynamically understated first movement, richly bracing baroque cadences in the second and vividly fond lyrical balladry in the third before the fireworks kick in.

Obviously, in nine symphonies worth of material from an acclaimed conductor and chamber orchestra, there are other levels of detail too innumerable to fit into a single digestible review. All this is meant to point you in the direction of the most noteworthy pieces of the puzzle, but there are so many more, and most of them are worth seeking out.

May 9, 2023 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Auspiciously Acerbic Debut Collection From Composer Gilbert Galindo

Not only is composer Gilbert Galindo’s debut album Terrestrial Journeys – streaming at Bandcamp – full of color and humor and vivid, edgy ideas: he’s also assembled a fantastic crew of New York new-classical types to play these compositions.

The opening track is Spunk, a lively, coyly dancing tune with tricky tempo changes, bursting staccato, understatedly clever counterpoint and a deft use of space. Dan Lippel‘s guitar adds a tantalizingly biting, gritty, slightly revertoned edge behind Clara Kim’s sailing violin solo. Jeff Hudgins’ crystalline alto sax cedes to a similarly all-too-brief solo from bassist Gregory Chudzik; the long quote as they reach the end is too good to give away.

Kathleen Supové‘s portentous Day in the Life piano chord opens Echoes of the Divine, Clare Monfredo’s distantly Indian-tinged cello joined by high harmonics from violinists Giancarlo Latta and violist Maren Rothfritz. Galindo packs a lot into almost fifteen minutes. Delicately stalactite droplets and the occasional raptured chord from the piano fill out the layered loops and slow, tectonically shifting textures from the strings, for a striking yet hypnotic contrast. Stately swells lead to a fleeting, warmly Romantic hint of a coda from Supové, bittersweet viola over sparse stillness, a moment of agitation and allusions to Messiaen before the composer reaches to complete the circle.

A brief, colorful, suspensefully pulsing overture, Let’s Begin features the Argus Quartet: all of the aforementioned string players minus Chudzik. Latta plays Though Your Footsteps Were Unseen, a brief diptych for solo violin, taking his time with simple, drifting chords and keening atmospheric harmonics when not pouncing through some devious poltergeist riffs.

Virtuoso clarinetist Thomas Piercy takes a rare turn on bass model in Lost in the Caves, a light touch of electronic reverb enhancing his tightly clustering, energetic, wary phrasing, with an animatedly conversational passage but also moments of surprising calm.

The trio of Kim, Monfredo and Supové tackle Imagined Passions, the three voices disengaged sufficiently to fuel a moody, wary, sometimes wispy disconnect with strong Messiaen echoes. This kind of passion could become deadly in a split second. Supové’s balance of lefthand murk beneath an icy stroll is striking, through a frequently disquieting gallery walk that becomes more of a shivery funhouse mirror.

She plays solo in My Soul Waits: this one’s full of some serious suspense and otherworldly, bell-like upper register along with anxious concentric riffs. Iktus Percussion take over for the concluding triptych, Not the Light, But the Fire That Burns, Supové joined by Chris Graham and Sean Statser. That coldly starry piano glitters in tandem with similarly eerie bells and bowed vibraphone throughout part one, The Glow That Flickers. Understatedly savage gongs and lows figure in part two, Deep Blue. The conclusion, Burn! has broodingly romping low-register in ratcheting syncopation from Supové, whiplash metallic drums amid menacingly echoey ambience. This is an unusual and often unselfconsciously profound collection of new classical music: let’s hope we hear more from Galindo sooner than later.

Among the artists on the record, the Argus Quartet have are ahead of everyone else in terms of upcoming concerts. Their next one is with pianist Steven Beck, playing play the New York premieres of Michael Shapiro’s Yiddish Quartet and Piano Quintet at Bargemusic on April 30 at 8 PM. Cover is steep, $35, but word on the street is that Shapiro’s new material is worth it.

April 25, 2023 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Catalyst Quartet Release Another Batch of Delicious Rediscoveries

The Catalyst Quartet are in the midst of a herculean project, resurrecting the work of undeservedly obscure Black American composers. At this point in history, it looks like we’ve finally reached the moment where the racist divide-and-conquer originally conceived to justify the slave trade has been pushed back under the rock from which it crawled. So the time has never been more ripe for rediscoveries like these. While the sinister forces who astroturfed CRT and BLM may be doing their best to weaponize the legacy of artists like Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still and George Walker for a different kind of divide-and-conquer, we mustn’t conflate those schemes with the artists. There are so many breathtaking moments in those composers’ music, and nobody knows that better than violinists Abi Fayette and Karla Donehew Perez, violist Paul Laraia and cellist Karlos Rodriguez.

Their next concert is on April 24 at 7:30 PM as part of the monthly Music Mondays free concert series at Advent Church at 93rd and Broadway on the Upper West Side, where they’re playing works by Florence Price as well as new arrangements of old spirituals, and a new setting of Langston Hughes’s poem, Kids Who Die. It’s a neighborhood institution: get there at least fifteen minutes before showtime if you want a seat.

The quartet’s latest record in their ongoing Uncovered series is the third volume – streaming at Spotify – which opens with Perkinson’s succinct three-movement String Quartet No. 1, “Calvary.” He was an interesting guy: a jazz pianist and one of the first Black American symphony orchestra conductors, who also did some memorable arranging for Marvin Gaye in the late 60s. The quartet launch into the allegro first movement with a steely focus, weaving a counterpoint around a terse oldtime gospel-flavored riff. Diffusely reflective figures, in the same vein as the Debussy string quartet, give way and then mingle with a bouncy forward drive fueled by Rodriguez. Perkinson’s subtle rhythmic shifts, up to an almost aching crescendo from the violins, are a treat.

The gospel allusions grow more distant in the adagio second movement, spiced with delicate pizzicato accents, fleeting pauses and a persistent, wistful reflection drifting on the wings of simple echo phrases. The allegro vivace conclusion is exactly that, with a muted, lilting joy that finally swoops down out of the clouds in a jubilant glissando from Fayette. It’s a translucent, fun piece that should be heard more frequently.

Next up is another terse triptych, William Grant Still’s Lyric Quartet. The use of simple, catchy blues-infused phrases and variations is similar to the album’s first piece, the group picking up with a Dvorakian blend of Americana and Eastern European chromatics in the first movement, an otherwise rather wistful portrait of a plantation – one would assume without slaves!

Movement two, a Peruvian mountainscape, is summery and even more minimalistically crafted. The third movement, presumably a portrait of an American pioneer encampment, captures an optimistic bustle as well as some deliciously fleeting chromatics.

The concluding and most challenging piece is the best-known one here, George Walker’s String Quartet No. 1. There’s a vivid, achingly Bartokian quality in the precise chromatics and sudden swells of the first movement. The molto adagio second – often played as a standalone Lyric For Strings – echoes Samuel Barber and gets a rewardingly meticulous, insightfully dynamic interpretation from the ensemble. Stormy striding motives juxtapose against moments of wary reflection in the concluding movement. Like the first two volumes in the Catalyst Quartet’s series, this has as much historical value as it does as sheer sophisticated entertainment.

April 20, 2023 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Colorful, Relentlessly Entertaining, Linguistically-Inspired New Compositions by Eric Nathan

One of the most deviously entertaining recent projects in new classical music is Eric Nathan‘s epic double album Missing Words, streaming at New Focus Recordings. The composer takes inspiration for this colorful collection of vignettes and longer pieces from Ben Schott‘s Schottenfreude, a philosophical satire of the German propensity for interminable compound nouns. In turn, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Brass Quintet, cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Karp, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Neave Trio and finally, Hub New Music have as much fun playing this stuff as the composer obviously did writing it.

It’s a series of tableaux and character studies which range from the vividly cinematic to occasionally cartoonish. Sirens are a recurrent trope, as are pregnant pauses and trick endings. Some of the more otherworldly harmonies look back to Messiaen; the more circular passages echo Philip Glass. The series of miniatures at the end are more acerbic and somewhat less comedic – other than the obvious but irresistibly mangled Beethoven quotes.

The opening number, Eisenbahnscheinbewegung (Railway-Illusion-Motion) makes colorful use of dopplers and train-whistle sonics. Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen (Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun) has jaunty trombone flourishes echoed by violins. There’s balletesque bustle and a surprise ending in Fingerspitzentanz (Fingertips-Dance) and mini-fanfares grounded by diesel-engine low brass in Missing Words – what’s missing is the operative question.

Nathan spaciously and rather cautiously approaches the strangely intimate acrylic smell of a new car interior, i.e. Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss. Rollschleppe (Escalator-Schlep) is as persistently troubled as you would expect from a portrait of somebody who can’t take the stairs – and yet, the piece has a persistent determination. Life in the slow lane really is where all the action is!

Mundphantom (Mouth-Phantom) is a Scooby Doo conversation. Speaking of ghosts, the Straußmanöver (Ostrich-Maneuver) is performed by a seriously phantasmic bird. Schubladenbrief ((Desk-Drawer-Letter) seems to depict a letter stubbornly resisting an opener, but when the envelope finally get slit, its contents suggest its sender is recounting a wild ride.

Dreiecksumgleichung (Triangle-Reorganization) is built around a flashy violin solo and concludes with a lively flute-driven jig. By contrast, the wry, bracing dawn interlude Tageslichtspielschock (Daylight-Show-Shock) will resonate with any musician dreading a gig at an early hour.

Arguably the funniest piece here, Ludwigssyndrom (Ludwig’s-Syndrome) is a tongue-in-cheek, brief piano concerto with rapidfire, ostentatious cascades and a ridiculously good riff joke that’s too good to give away. The steady upward stride of the piano in Watzmannwahn (Watzmann-Delusion) is also pretty priceless.

The only one of the ensembles on the record who have a New York concert coming up are the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, who are Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall on April 15 at 8 PM, playing works by Andrew Norman, Lei Lang and Lisa Bielawa, the latter with the composer on vocals. The venue says you can get in for $21.

April 8, 2023 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ageless Jazz Vocal Icon Sheila Jordan Makes an Auspicious, Intimate Brooklyn Appearance

That singer Sheila Jordan is still active, and undiminished at 93 years old, is impressive enough. That she has the guts to release a live album is even more so. And she doesn’t restrict herself to Manhattan gigs. She’s playing the album release show for her new one Live at Mezzrow – streaming at Bandcamp – at Bar Bayeux in Crown Heights on April 12, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Not only is she fronting a first- class, similarly lyrical band – Jacob Sacks on piano, David Ambrosio on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums – but this is also a chance for you to see a legend for the price of, say, ten bucks in the tip bucket. Get there early if you’re going.

Jordan’s supporting cast on the live album is also simpatico: Alan Broadbent, with his signature low-key High Romantic style, proves to be an ideal choice of pianist, while her longtime collaborator, bassist Harvie S takes charge of the swing. And Jordan’s banter with the crowd and her bandmates is priceless. They open with a wintry take of Bird Alone: Jordan’s interpretation of the line about “flying over troubled ground” has depth beyond words. Just listen for enlightenment.

She has expert fun with her steady horn voicings as she scats her way through a couple of verses of The Touch of Your Lips Broadbent goes walking through the stygian lows to hold down the fort during a mutedly dancing bass solo.

The two instrumentalists scamper through a precise take of What Is This Thing Called Love until the bass takes the song unexpectedly into the shadows. Jordan then returns to stage for The Bird and Confirmation. The bass-and-vocal duet midway through the Charlie Parker tune, and the way the bandleader holds fast, just a hair behind the beat, gives new meaning to the world “timeless.”

She slows down with Look For the Silver Lining, working a vibrato wide enough to drive a truck through – and those overtones when she goes up the scale will give you chills. There’s another bass-and-vocal duet to open Falling in Love With Love, along with some classic Jordan messing with the beat and a spiraling, lyrical Broadbent solo.

The trio give Baltimore Oriole a shadowy Brecht/Weill swing, then hit a slinky bossa groove for I Concentrate on You: Jordan can still stretch out those melismas like few others. Then the band take Blue and Green by themselves, from a languid, summery atmosphere to an unexpectedly Twin Peaks crescendo to set up Autumn in New York. Which is the high point of the show, Jordan’s shivery, bittersweet delivery and Broadbent’s occasional noir bolero accent giving way to a genuine hope-against-hope and an ending that’s the most unexpected moment of many.

They close the show with an understatedly triumphant take of Lucky to Be Me – the moment where Jordan calls out the guy who’s on his phone is worth the price of the whole record. And if you want to watch the show, there’s a video of the whole thing up at youtube.

April 7, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elsa Nilsson Comes Out of the Woods With a Vivid, Tuneful Album and a Brooklyn Show

Flutist Elsa Nilsson‘s work spans from poignant, intimate ballads to fearless, impassioned protest jazz. She is the consummate high reedwoman: her resonant, expressive melodicism very rarely involves shrieks or screeches. Her latest album Atlas Of Sound – Coast Redwoods (streaming at Bandcamp) was inspired by her first trip to Redwood National Forest. Which makes sense: one would think a woodwind player would take inspiration from wind through the trees. Obviously, the woods struck a chord: her allusively chromatic, translucent, frequently rapt compositions have never been stronger. Nilsson’s next New York gig is April 9 at 8:30 PM at the Owl with her Band of Pulses – pianist Santiago Leibson, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren – playing her new Maya Angelou-themed suite.

The Redwoods album opens with Sunshift Haze, its spare, resonant exchanges of phrases bringing to mind Nilsson’s previous duo album, After Us with pianist Jon Cowherd. Here the trio slowly build a resolutely anthemic midtempo sway: this may be a Pacific Northwest tableau, but there’s a latin buoyancy to it. Nilsson’s full, woody tone, rising to a tantalizing harmonic convergence with Cowherd, adds extra depth.

The second number, Catching Droplets is a picturesque, bouncy, allusively bluesy tune, Nilsson literally wafting through the raindrops. Old Growth is absolutely gorgeous, Cowherd playing steady chords on the beat as Nilsson intones a plaintive, elegaic melody, up to bassist Chris Morrissey’s broodingly reflective, terse solo. Jazz laments have seldom been more memorable.

Cowherd deviously works his way from a winkingly bluesy theme, to puckishly incisive phrases and some jaunty jousting with Nilsson in The Ground Is Its Own. There’s a subtle triangulation between the instruments and a mutedly dancing bass solo over Cowherd’s lingering, glistening chords in Proof of the Unseen.

Nilsson wrote the forest fire tableau Epicormic during the soul-crushing early days of the 2020 lockdown. The trio run simple, distantly wary phrases around each other in the intro, leading up to Nilsson’s birdcall-like phrasing. From there, they work a pulsing, upbeat, vampy guaguanco groove. Morrissey takes it out with a hypnotic, subtly circling solo: the underbrush growing back, slowly and surely.

The way Nilsson weaves sagacious blues and more uneasy, chromatically-tinged phrasing over the introductory danse macabre in The Fairy Rings is a typically artful move. Cowherd opens the next number, Coralie, with an expansive, lyrical solo before Nilsson firmly edges the trio into an increasingly verdant jazz waltz.

The trio hit a loose-limbed, altered clave groove in Molted Steps: it could be a Dave Valentin tune. They close on a hopeful note with Hold on to Each Other, shifting quickly from a bit of an opening fanfare to a quasi-baroque stroll. Melodic jazz doesn’t get any better than this in 2023.

April 5, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two New York Shows and a Gorgeous, Brilliant Recording of Rare Florence Price Compositions From the Catalyst Quartet

One of the most repulsive divide-and-conquer strategies in the DEI agenda is the implication that those who would advocate for undeservedly forgotten black composers are necessarily complicit in spreading WEF and UN2030 propaganda. Certainly neither this blog nor the Catalyst Quartet want you eating bugs, spending your life pilled up on antidepressants with 3D goggles welded to your skull while Bill Gates’ microchip monitors your social credit score. We just like obscure composers!

In 2021, the Catalyst Quartet – violinists Abi Fayette and Karla Donehew Perez, violist Paul Laraia and cellist Karlos Rodriguez – released a riveting collection of little-known works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the black British composer who’s recently enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence and whose output compares favorably with Dvorak. More recently, the group have put out an equally fascinating and historically important album of string quartets by 20th century black American composer Florence Price, streaming at Spotify. They’re playing some of that material on April 7-8, starting at 6 PM at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with three sets in the galleries throughout the museum. In order to catch them, you’ll have to follow the sound.

Then on April 24 at 7:30 PM they’re at Advent Church at 93rd and Broadway on the Upper West Side as part of the monthly Music Mondays free concert series, playing works by Price as well as new arrangements of old spirituals, and a new setting of Langston Hughes’s poem, Kids Who Die. How grimly appropriate for 2023!

Three of the Price quartets on the album are world premiere recordings, as is Price’s Quintet in A minor for Piano and Strings, where the ensemble are joined by pianist Michelle Cann. The five musicians open the record by bursting into the quintet, a dynamic web of blues phrasing mingled within a glittering High Romantic architecture. The quartet’s decision to opt for a stark, emotive interpretation in lieu of pervasive lushness pays mighty dividends, especially where Price’s endings and foreshadowing thereof is concerned: she is unsurpassed at those!

Increasingly triumphant violin motives take centerstage in the first movement; Price’s deft use of implied melody, particularly in the piano parts, will have you humming things that aren’t there. Shivery swells behind terse, often hushed piano cascades create a vivid nocturnal mood in the andante second movement. Movement three comes across as a more regally romping comparison to Gershwin, with a little boogie-woogie and Dvorak thrown into the mix. Emphatic triplets fuel the concluding march to a deliciously unexpected, chromatic peak: this piece alone makes the album worth owning.

Up next are Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet. She reinvents Go Down Moses in broodingly cuisinarted, understatedly slashing fashion. Then the quartet make their way from a stark initial theme to the intricate interweave in Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door. Little David, Play on Your Harp is the most lightheartedly bouncy theme here, followed by a brief, Grieg-ish dance through Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.

The initial, moody moderato movement of Price’s String Quartet in A minor follows a precise, steady web of voices and shows how much melodic impact she could make even while completely eschewing blues phrasing, until well beyond the midpoint where she introduces some subtle echo phrasing. She maintains a stern/hazy contrast in the second movement: the Debussy quartet comes to mind in places.

The group agilely follow the shifts from ragtime cheer to fleeting moments of reflection in Movement three, aptly marked “Juba.” The concluding movement circles along on a fast triplet groove with both subtle Balkan and Indian echoes. Like the other quartets here, this is a major work and deserves a place in standard repertoire.

From here the string quartet move to Price’s Five Folksongs suite. Calvary gets uneasy, airy harmonies before a steady, stern forward drive with an aurora of lightning-fast harmonics overhead, while Price’s variations on Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes stray far from the original theme (her take on My Darling Clementine is a swing-and-miss). The two most straight-up, familiar themes here are Shortnin’ Bread and Swing Low Sweet Chariot, although the latter has plenty of unexpected moments.

Price left her String Quartet in G Major unfinished. The first movement begins with tantalizing hints of blues-infused resolution, along with a seemingly tongue-in-cheek minuet and glistening, increasingly angst-fueled triplet figures. The second has a stately, spiritual atmosphere until descending to a creepy, mutedly marionettish theme and then a welcome return: masterpiece, interrupted.

The full ensemble wind up the album with the Quintet for Piano and Strings in E minor, following another of Price’s series of insistent triplet figures up to a quick piano coda. A starry Romantic waltz and then a lively, tropically-tinged dance follow in turn. This is a must-listen for anyone who loves brilliant rediscoveries.

April 2, 2023 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ty Citerman, Sara Serpa and Judith Berkson Breathe New Life Into Old Jewish Protest Songs

Guitarist Ty Citerman has been using haunting old Jewish themes as a springboard for many different styles, from jagged art-rock to more improvisational situations, for the better part of a quarter century. The latest installment in his Bop Kabbalah+Voices project is The Yiddish Song Cycle Live with singers Sara Serpa and Judith Berkson, recorded live in the studio for a June 2021 webcast and streaming at Bandcamp. As challenging as much of this is, it’s yet another reminder why more arists should make live records. Gordon Grdina‘s harder-edged, most Balkan-tinged electric guitar work is a good point of comparison.

The two women set the stage with the first number, trading lines of an English translation of a prayer by 19th century Russian protest songwriter Avrom Reyzen. From there they work back and forth, building otherworldly, Eastern European close harmonies over Citerman’s spare, lingering phrases.

“Demand bread!” Berkson orders before Citerman enters gingerly and the two singers blend voices in the second song, Geyt Brider Geyt! (Go Brothers, Go!), coalescing into a stern, somber march before expanding with bubbly, staccato vocalese over Citerman’s similarly incisive, sparse, clean-toned riffage. The simmering crescendo afterward is a rewarding payoff.

“Down with you, you executioner, get off the throne, no one believes in you anymore,” Berkson insists in Mit Eyn Hant Hostu Undz Gegebn Di Konstitutsieh (With One Hand You Gave Us the Constitution). Words as appropriate now as they were against the Russian Tsar in 1905! Citerman slowly shifts from troubled ambience to enigmatic, looping phrases behind his bandmates’ creepy chants, to a similarly smoldering coda.

“Stop clinking your chains and let it be a little quiet,” Serpa suggests to introduce Ver Tut Stroyen Movern, Palatsn? (Who Builds Walls, Palaces?) This time the vocals are more tightly interwoven and the guitar is as minimalist as it gets here, underscoring the contrast between Berkson’s assertive delivery and Serpa’s more silken restraint.

“Freedom is moving forward,” Serpa intones with a precise mystery in the fragmented intro to the final number, Es Rirt Zikh, a setting of a 1886 poem by Morris Winchevsky, Citerman scrambling around behind the singers. Berkson takes a stately, sober approach to the original Yiddish lyrics as Serpa sings austere, uneasy harmonies overhead and Citerman loops a skeletal, catchy riff. The vocalists diverge with an increasing wariness as Citerman clusters and sheds a few starry sparks. The little joke at the end is too good to give away.

Neither Citerman nor Berkson have New York shows coming up, but Serpa is leading an intriguing quartet with Ingrid Laubrock on sax, Angelica Sanchez on piano and Erik Friedlander on cello at Seeds at the southern edge of Ft. Greene on April 6 at 8 PM. The space is actually the intimate front porch of a private home; cover is $10.

March 31, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful, Expressive, Minutely Jeweled New Album From Pianist Kariné Poghosyan

Pianist Kariné Poghosyan has received plenty of ink on this page, both for her spectacular technical prowess as well as her sensitivity to content. Her latest album, simply titled Folk Themes and streaming at youtube, is a characteristically eclectic and insightful playlist.

She opens with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s six-part Valse Suite. It’s almost comical to look back to 2019, a time when the African-British composer’s incredibly forward-looking, individualistic work had been largely consigned to the organ demimonde. Let’s hope future generations associate him with the Romantic tradition – Dvorak is a good comparison – rather than the odious CRT fad which ironically may be the reason behind his well-deserved if unlikely resurrection.

Poghosyan begins with a spacious and playful approach to the opening A minor movement  with her usual stunning, crystalline articulacy and a wide dynamic range. Did a later composer steal the Andante in Ab for the jazz ballad These Foolish Things? From Poghosyan’s blend of wistfulness and sheer force, that seems possible.

There’s Rachmaninovian gravitas and surprise in the third quasi-waltz in G minor, while the fourth in D minor gets a rewardingly pouncing interpretation befitting its occasional Near Eastern allusions and blend of sternness and vivacity. No. 5 in Eb is more reflective and Chopinesque; the final piece, in C minor gets restrained savagery in the chordal chromatics and an even greater, fond restraint in the pensive moments. It’s about time these little gems made their way back into the canon: we’re lucky we have Poghosyan reveling in their detail.

Next on the bill are four Grieg Lyric Pieces. To the Spring follows a matter-of-factly triumphant tangent, while March of the Gnomes reveals how much unabashed fun the creepy little guys can have, at least from Poghosyan’s perspective. She mines The Minuet “Vanished Days” for equal parts drama and cheery reflection, then gives the Wedding Day at Troldhaugen a welcome, fleet-footed, verdant atmosphere: these circumstances are anything but pompous.

Poghosyan has always advocated for composers from her Armenian heritage, and includes a couple of alternately stark and lively, chromatically bristling miniatures from Komitas Vardapet’s Six Dances for Piano. She saves the fireworks for last with four big crowd-pleasers by Liszt. The counterintuitive goofiness and carefree, dancing flourishes in the Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 are a revelation but no big surprise considering Poghosyan’s meticulous, line-by-line interpretive skill.

There’s also a lingering delight in her leaps and bounds through Rhapsody No.6: the descending cascades about four minutes in are sublime. And she finds the inner swing in a brisk, animatedly conversational take of Rhapsody No.7. She closes the record with the Rhapsodie Espagnole, ranging between a wide-eyed soberness and fiery, clustered phrasing. It’s been a fun ride keeping up with Poghosyan and her penchant for inhabiting everything she sinks her fast fingers into.

March 26, 2023 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment