Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Underground NYC Jazz Trio Reinvents Bartok

“Beyond category” definitely applies to the new album Book One by Little Worlds, the trio of trombonist Rick Parker (also of noir jazz sensation Beninghove’s Hangmen), guitarist Ryan Mackstaller and eclectic composer/drummer Tim Kuhl. Essentially, this is groove music, not what you might expect from genre-busting new arrangements of Bela Bartok etudes. At their Bandcamp site, where the album is streaming in its entirety, the trio dedicate it to “innovative reinterpretations of the Mikrokosmos collection,” the series of study pieces that Bartok finished in 1939. Others – notably Angela and Jennifer Chun a couple of years ago – have put their own individual spin on the collection, none as radically and bravely as Little Worlds.

The album tracks are as Bartok numbered them. No. 61 is basically a one-chord jam: Mackstaller’s guitar runs a riff that sounds straight out of indie rock as Parker carries the wistful tune over Kuhl’s trip-hop groove and it rises to an intricate web of melody. No. 81 is a brief two-minute exercise in precise counterpoint, Kuhl holding it to the straight and narrow as guitar and trombone diverge just a wee bit, Parker relaxing and somewhat amusingly telegraphing the ending. No. 35 is a triptych of sorts, twin drones morphing into stately harmonies and then a blend of atmospherics and warm melodicism. Beginning as a tone poem of squalling, psychedelically bluesy guitar in tandem with cumulo-nimbus trombone swirls as Kuhl ominously roams the perimeter, No. 48 is the most fascinating track here, Parker’s long, serioso lead eventually giving way and then weaving amidst Mackstaller’s distorted punk-classical lines. The trio close with the triumphant grand guignol of No. 80, done as a blustery march, both guitar and trombone blasting through an increasingly gritty haze of effects and then back with a vengeance. Who knew that etudes could be this much fun!

Would Bartok have approved of this? Without a doubt. Cross-pollination was his game, beginning with his immersion in folk and gypsy music a hundred years ago: if he was alive today, who knows, maybe he’d be writing for these guys. Or playing with them.

January 2, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Angela and Jennifer Chun Build a Captivating Suite from Bartok Etudes

The tendency is to ignore a composer’s practice pieces. Sometimes that’s a mistake. The Bach Clavierubung is a goldmine of obscure treasures, the Schumann etudes transcend the genre as they grow more cruelly difficult – and let’s not forget old Fur Elise. In the early 1930s, at the suggestion of a colleague, Bela Bartok decided to take many of the Eastern European folk themes he’d collected over the years and turn them into a series of etudes. His agenda: to further his own cause and get the kids playing bitonalities, atonalities and the astringencies found here which are often more Bartokian than Balkan. Violinists Angela and Jennifer Chun have artfully assembled them as a suite, making for segues that are literally seamless: most of these brief, barely minute-long miniatures blend together. Likewise, their playing is seamless: the two violins often literally join together as one, which might not seem so remarkable considering that the Chuns are sisters.

The melodies are austere, plaintive and often poignant: for the most part, the violins set a steady pace and keep it going. Dances often sound more like marches; the most memorable of the wedding songs here would make a more appropriate theme for a divorce. The most vivid of the traditional themes here include a deliciously fast, chromatically-fueled Ruthenian dance; a Transylvanian theme which disquietingly shifts from the Arabic hijaz scale to hypnotic major-key ambience; a brief, evocative “mosquito dance,” a rather macabre “counting song,” and an eerie Romanian dance tune that’s more closely related to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring than might seem possible. A whirling bagpipe theme over steady pedalpoint resonates equally well, along with a distantly anguished Hungarian march and a couple of original themes that Bartok snuck in here: a “burlesque” melody that’s more scary than seductive, and a bucolic, atmospheric harvest passage that works as a tone poem (or a tone couplet – it’s over just a handful of bars after it begins). The quieter material here tends to be more brooding and acidic, with the exception of a couple of amusing interludes like one of the “teasing songs” and a handful of blithe dance themes. This one’s out now on Harmonia Mundi.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | classical music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment