Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Some Auspicious Debuts at le Poisson Rouge

“1982 never sounded so good,” says the tagline at the top of yMusic’s site – a reference to Pierre Boulez and IRCAM, maybe? The adventurous chamber unit – Q2/WQXR star Nadia Sirota on viola, Rob Moose on violin and occasionally guitar, CJ Camerieri on trumpet, Hideaki Aomori on clarinet and bass clarinet, Alex Sopp on flute, plus Clarice Jensen on cello this time around – held up impressively through a physically taxing, two-set performance at le Poisson Rouge Monday night, including the cd release show for Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Penelope.

Beautiful Mechanical, by Ryan Lott a.k.a. Son Lux was first on the bill, a series of playfully constructed, lockstep variations moving from a blippy, percussive introduction, to a brisk tongue-in-cheek fanfare and ending on a cheerily bubbly note. It wasn’t particularly deep, but then it obviously wasn’t meant to be. A possibly as-yet-untitled piece by Gabriel Kahane hinted suspensefully at Romanticism but never went there. The New York premiere of Proven Badlands was an eye-opener, revealing its composer Annie Clark as far more diverse than her pensive indie-pop songwriter alter ego St. Vincent. The ensemble clearly reveled in its intricate, interwoven textures as it built from thoughtful bucolicism to intriguing permutations on what was essentially an orchestrated soul riff, Isaac Hayes updated for a new century, martial flute eventually handing off to some big horn cadenzas. Sirota told the audience that the final piece before the intermission, Judd Greenstein’s Clearing, Dawn, Dance (another New York premiere) was going to be substantial, and she wasn’t kidding. A breakneck sprint through a series of interlocking circular, staccato phrases that spun off each other like a tightly packed fleet of carnival bumper cars gone berserk, it was a maze of echo effects all the way through to a lush, sostenuto string interlude that must have been a welcome break for the musicians before the race began again.

Kirkland Snider, along with Greenstein and William Brittelle, is part of new music avatars New Amsterdam Records’ brain trust. Her new suite, Penelope, began as an Odyssey-inspired theatre piece, a view of the Trojan War from the perspective on the home front. More anxious than overtly angst-laden, a disheartened, abandoned Penelope longs for her missing husband, wonders out loud if he’s still alive and vacillates between hope and hopelessness. As an antiwar statement, it’s subtly explosive. The forthcoming album is performed by SIGNAL, conducted by Brad Lubman. Here, Shara Worden, of My Brightest Diamond, joined the ensemble to sing Ellen McLaughlin’s lyrics and was a terrific choice, her finely honed, clear, round intonation matching the nuance of the group behind her. Musically, the suite is all about tension. Very little resolves, and the melodic terrain is limited and claustrophobic, to the point where it becomes clear that Penelope has an odyssey of her own to endure, if a somewhat more interior one, the question being whether or not she can keep herself together until her husband gets back. With the occasional light electronic drone or loop filtering into the mix from time to time, the group made their way matter-of-factly from circular insistence, to understatedly bitter martial passages, to a brief 6/8 art-rock ballad and then swirling atmospherics. A repetitive foghorn motif signals Odysseus’ final return home, but when he shows up, shellshocked and damaged (a Guantanamo parable, maybe?), Penelope has nothing left to look forward to but to tend to the needs of a cripple, reading him passages of his own story that go “forward and backward like the tide.” Much of this was very intense, and tensely performed: it seemed that it would never let up, and it really didn’t. And as a portrayal of one of the often overlooked consequences of war, it was spot-on. After over an hour of this, the roar of the applause at the end seemed as cathartic as it was genuine.

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October 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 6/22/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #401:

Pink Floyd – The Final Cut

The “real” Pink Floyd’s final 1983 studio album remains disavowed by some fans and that’s too bad because it’s arguably Roger Water’s finest hour as a songwriter, a venomous antiwar statement inspired by Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous adventures in the Falklands. This is its centerpiece, a characteristically lush, ornate ballad chronicling the narrator’s descent into despair and suicide…or not?

June 22, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Call the Oxygen Ponies’ second album Love in a Time of Choler. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow an enemy occupation. It’s also a strong contender for best album of 2009 (stay tuned!). Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the obvious comparison is to the great Australian rockers the Church, although sonically and texturally a lot of it is gentler and sometimes more overtly 60s-influenced. Lots of dynamics here, organ and piano floating in and out, backing vocals sometimes adding a gospel choir flavor: it’s a triumph for producer Don Piper. Many of the tracks feature indie rock siren Randi Russo’s velvet vocals adding subtlety and menace. Frontman Paul Megna has always been a formidable lyricist, but here he vaults into the uppermost echelon. The cd’s opening track Love Yr Way begins skeletal, almost Leonard Cohen-esque, before leaping to an ecstatic crescendo at the end:

 

They broke my itchy trigger finger

Scratched an X upon my door

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

The insistent, midtempo Fevered Cyclones pans to a less-than-idyllic outer-borough hell:

 

We live like clones in our suburban homes

Substituting plastic to get by

You got the best, you want the rest

And you don’t think you’re living a lie

 

The War Is Over, a percussive garage rock stomp, throws another elbow at someone a little too perfect to believe:

 

The war is over, the bastards won

Don’t leave home without your lungs

They’ll shoot your mouth off without a pause

Every body has its flaws

But not you…

The war is over

The heroes lost

Cauterize the permafrost

 

The title track somewhat woozily chronicles two curiously named, possibly fictional, possibly pseudonymous women, Harmony Handgrenade and Melody Marzipan and the nasty repercussions their nonconformity brings them. Yet, it ends on a hopeful note. Grab Yr Gun begins slow and pensive, building to a catchy garage-pop chorus and then goes gospel, and satirically so: “Let your gun be your guide.” A big, scorching rocker, Finger Trigger evokes the loudest stuff on the Church’s Priest = Aura album, desperately flailing for some kind of hope, “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” But it’s too late:

 

You and I and everyone waiting for a brighter sun to shine

We’re wasting time…

I can feel the terrorist inside of me

Choking on the apple of your eye

Hurry up, don’t be late, they’re gonna kill you where you sleep

Shut your mouth, shut your eyes and count the bombs in your heartbeat

 

The most indelibly Bush-era cut is the pensive, hypnotic, yet absolutely defiant, Steve Kilbey-esque Villains:

 

All you mystic gurus

Liars thieves and whores

A plague upon your houses

And all your holy wars

All you self defeatists

I call you all to arms

If we stop medicating

Then who will buy the farm

The fuckers in the White House

Hate your family…

We’ve got a long drive home

 

Defiance reaches a peak on the swinging, macabre ragtime tune Smile, shades of the late, great Douce Gimlet. The cd winds up on a somewhat subdued, sardonic note with A Bottle Marked the Enemy: “They’re gonna come for you, when they comfort you.” Like Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins or the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist, this album perfectly captures a time and place, if one that 5.9 billion people would rather forget. There’s undoubtedly a post-Bush era indie film out there that could match up with this much like Garden State did with the Shins. Maybe more than anything else, this is a cautionary tale, a vivid reminder of where complacency got us the last time around.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Sarah Cahill Premieres Antiwar and Peace Music by Rzewski, Kline, Terry Riley and Others at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC 3/12/09

As WNYC host John Schaefer noted, this concert had been given many names by many people: Composers Against the War, Notes on the War, and, eventually, pianist Sarah Cahill’s choice, A Sweeter Music (a MLK quote referring to the sonics of peace). Cahill has become the go-to pianist for adventurous composers of new music; in this case, these were works that she had commissioned during the waning phases of the Bush regime. Virtually all of these were either world premieres or at least being played in this city for the first time, some of them absolutely transcendent, others less so.

 

The most rewarding composition was Phil Kline’s new piano sonata The Long Winter. While far from the only antiwar piece he’s written, it ranks with his best. Originally begun as a collection of fragments, it coalesced right after 9/11, an extremely personal event for Kline, having been jolted from sleep by as the first plane hit Tower Two. The first part set a horrified, repetitive, upper-register staccato motif against crashing, chaotic bass chords, a viscerally intense evocation of the attack, working its way down into a quiet, insistent anguish. In the program notes, Kline explained that in the weeks afterward, he’d realized that he was now living in a city under siege, illustrated by the sonata’s second part, paring the central theme to its most morbid, dread-filled essence. For anyone who breathed the air here during those hellacious first few months, this is essential listening (you’ll be able to hear it on Schaefer’s next New Sounds Live program on March 26).

 

Frederic Rzewski filled Cahill’s request with a series of eight Peace Dances, a marvelously diverse mix of alternately minimalist and melodically rich vignettes. Through the icy call-and-response of the first, the playful yet reflective tone of the third, the Asian-inflected cascades of the seventh and the bouncy, glissando-spiced final piece, Cahill was given the opportunity to use the entirety of her dynamic range and met the challenge with a seeming effortlessness.

 

Another powerfully satisfying work was Kyle Gann’s War Is Just a Racket (whose first working title was George Bush Is an Asshole), Cahill narrating text by 1920s Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and corporate coup whistleblower hero General Smedley Butler against a jarringly percussive, frequently rubato piece with a deliciously sly humor in places, folksy ragtime or deceptive blues coming out nowhere to underscore the text’s most ironic moments. We’ve reprinted the full text below, something of an early version of what John Perkins would confirm in his bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in 2004.

 

The rest of the bill included pieces by young composer Preben Antonsen, the Residents, a particularly sadistic work by Jerome Kitzke and a fascinating, rather biting ragtime suite by Terry Riley replete with all kinds of strikingly counterintuitive accents and dissonances making unexpected appearances within its comfortable architecture.

 

And now over to Gen. Butler:

 

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense of the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

 

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalist-Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulnesss compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile miltary force, the Marine Corps. I served in all comissioned ranks from Second Lieutanant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a ganster for capitalism.

 

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service. I helped make Mexico, expecially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeeing is long. I heped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers [later Brown Brothers Harriman, where Prescott Bush, George Bush Senior’s father, would become Adolf Hitler’s #1 fundraiser in the United States prior to World War II] in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

 

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

March 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Black 47 – Iraq

By turns fierce, fervent, brilliantly lyrical and subtly witty, this is an album that needed to be made and it’s a good thing Black 47 were the ones to do it. To say that this is an ambitious project is an understatement, but it works, brilliantly because frontman Larry Kirwan’s songs tell the story of the war through the eyes of those stuck over there fighting it: the songs here have a ring of desperate authenticity. Whatever the reason for anyone being over there, the inevitable refrain is “just get me out of here alive.” Being an Irish-American rock band that spends most of its time on the road in front of a heavily immigrant, sometimes right-wing audience, Black 47 have heard from both the antiwar and the pro-Bush camps (and until Cindy Sheehan took up the cause of sanity, the band caught considerable flak at live shows for their consistently strong antiwar stance). But there isn’t much editorializing going on here: this album simply recounts the often grisly day-by-day lives of the men and women inadvertently risking their lives for the benefit of the Bush family and Halliburton. The implication – a very subtle but powerful one – is that this is the cost of war profiteering. The characters in the songs on this album didn’t go to Iraq with high and mighty ideals: they either ended up there because they either saw a good payday, or simply some kind of payday, because they couldn’t find one here.

Set to bright, major-key, generally upbeat meat-and-potatoes rock melodies spiced with motifs from traditional Irish music, the songs here paint a bleak picture. Kirwan’s songwriting is typically replete with rousing, crescendoing choruses and plenty of high drama, and within these songs it all works spectacularly well. The album’s opening cut Stars & Stripes appropriates the melody from the old calypso standard Sloop John B., whose chorus – not used here – is “let me go home, please let me go home,” turning the song into a fiery backbeat rocker. “Hey President Bush, what’re you doing to us,” the narrator asks quizzically, as he encourages his dying buddy to hold on, just hold on til the helicopter comes. The big anthem Downtown Baghdad Blues begins with sound of a helicopter fluttering overhead over ebow guitar. “Me I don’t care much about Jesus and Mohammed,” sputters its protagonist, a baseball fan who’d rather be home watching the Padres. “I didn’t wanna come here, I didn’t get to choose,” he adds sarcastically. The following cut, the bluesy, sax-driven Sadr City tells the eerie tale of a GI going out for some R&R guy in all-too-familiar territory: “I’ve got one thing on my mind, I’ve gotta get out of this city alive.”

But all is not so harrowing, in at least such a predictably gruesome fashion, in Sunrise on Brooklyn. “I can’t believe it’s so peaceful…I hope I see the sunrise in your eyes again,” laments a soldier, amazed by the natural beauty of Iraq yet dreading the inevitable attack which could come at any time. The slow, heartwrenching Ballad of Cindy Sheehan paints her dead soldier son as something of a naïf, who would never have believed that the draft dodgers who led this country to war would have ever used false pretenses to do so. The pace picks up with the scorching, sarcastic The Last One to Die, the bridge punctuated by a sample of Bush declaring that “major combat operations are over in Iraq.” The album’s high point, The Battle of Fallujah is a towering 6/8 anthem, something that Black 47 does enviably well: “Don’t let em know that they used ya/ Kicking ass at the battle of Fallujah…if there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.”

The album’s requisite soldier-missing-home ballad Ramadi begins by nicking the acoustic guitar intro from Graham Parker’s Watch the Moon Come Down and builds from there. In Southside Chicago Waltz, a GI discovers to his horror that for the first time, he’s been sent to the one place where even the police and firefighters in his family are powerless to save him. The album closes with an instrumental that mimics the sound of falling bombs. Not just a great rock record, this is an essential piece of history. Every band ought to be doing what Black 47 has done here. What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 is to 2008. A classic. Five stars, without stripes. Available in better record stores, online and at shows. Black 47 next play New York at B.B. King’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

March 7, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment