Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Rare Outdoor Show by an East Village Avant Garde Legend

Elliott Sharp began his career as the most formidable guitar shredder on the Lower East Side and eventually became a major composer of modern opera, among other things. What he’s going to play – guitar or sax, on which he also shreds – and who he’s going to have with him at his show at 4 PM on Sept 26 on his old stomping ground, at La Plaza Cultural at Ave C and 9th St., remains to be seen. Whatever it is, this perennially adventurous sage is always worth seeing.

Sharp’s latest opera Filiseti Mekidesi – streaming at Spotify – is characteristically relevant, an aptly dissociative reflection on the terror of the refugee crisis that began before the lockdown. Being driven from one’s native land to a foreign culture is alienating to the extreme, and the music reflects that. Acidic circular themes figure heavily. While the two words in the title are Amharic – meaning “shelter” and “migration” – there are few moments where any distinctive Ethiopian influence surfaces. The fact that none of the vocalists are native English speakers adds to the persistent, troubled sense of unfamiliarity. Palestinian singer Kamilya Jubran takes centerstage in texts by the composer, Tracie Morris and Edwin Torres. Choral ensemble Voxnova Italia also take turns in the spotlight, with chamber orchestra Musikfabrik providing the backdrop.

Massed, disquieted smoke-off-the-battlefield atmospherics rise toward Chinatown New Year chaos, recede and then oscillate as the opera gets underway, setting the stage for much of what’s to come. By contrast, Sharp’s vocal melodies are simple and emphatic, often echoed by soloists from throughout the orchestra. It’s not likely that he’s going to draw on this material, or his other equally provocative operatic work, for the show in the garden, but you never know.

September 23, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii Finds Strange Magic in Ambient Music

Jazz pianist Satoko Fujii has always had an otherworldly side, but she’s really gone deep into some incredibly mystical sounds in the last few years. The title of her new album, Piano Music – streaming at Bandcamp – is funny because most of it doesn’t sound like piano music at all.

Although Fujii has recorded electroacoustic albums and has used effects and mixers live – laptop percussion pioneer Ikue Mori is a frequent collaborator – this is Fujii’s first venture into ambient music. And it’s a characteristically captivating new chapter in a wildly prolific, individualistic career that shows no sign of slowing down.

Fujii likes playing inside the piano, so on one hand she’s no stranger to evincing echoing, gently droning atmospherics via acoustic techniques like rubbing the strings or bowing them with wire and other materials. Here, she runs a kaleidoscopic series of phrases through a mixer instead.

Her autoharp-like strums and plucks under the lid make for a magically textured contrast with echoing, loopy drones and what could be whale song on the A-side, Shiroku (Japanese for “white”). When she lets the music recede to a series of spare, koto-like microtonal phrases, the effect is just as striking, especially considering where she takes it.

She begins the B-side, Fuwarito (“Softly”) as a soundscape, but hardly a quiet one – those whales are a lively bunch, and Fujii gets a snowstorm out of rubbing those strings. With a phantasmic bell choir, persistently echoey, rhythmic woodblock-like timbres, grinding industrial chords, ghostly pizzicato-like phrases and eventually quite a storm, it becomes her Revolution 9. This isn’t easy listening but it is psychedelic to the extreme, and the fun that Fujii obviously had making it is visceral. She’s gone on record as saying that her raison d’etre is to make music that the world has never heard before, and this definitely qualifies.

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

A Rich, Multi-Layered, Epic New Middle Eastern-Flavored Album From Amir Elsaffar

Amir Elsaffar’s Rivers Of Sound Orchestra play oceanic, tidally shifting soundscapes that blend otherworldly, microtonal Middle Eastern modes, lushly immersive big band jazz improvisation and what could be called symphonic ambient music. Elsaffar has made a name for himself as an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist and composer who has done as much to create a new style of music based on the magical maqams from across the Middle East as anyone alive. His latest epically ambitious, absolutely gorgeous new album The Other Shore is streaming at Bandcamp. Thematically, this is more majestically improvisational than his other large-ensemble work, although he weaves several themes and variations into it. Subtle, occasionally cynical humor typically takes the place of the politically-fueled anger that would often surface on albums like his 2015 Crisis record.

The album’s opening number, Dhuha is a diptych. The seventeen-piece ensemble begin with dense, nebulous, rising and falling tones, with pianist John Escreet, drummer Nasheet Waits, percussionist Tim Moore and mridamgam player Rajna Swaminathan adding stately accents behind Elsaffar’s broodingly chromatic, resonant trumpet. Cellist Naseem Alatrash takes a stark microtonal solo, handing off to Elsaffar’s sister Dena’s bracingly textured joza fiddle as the group rise from a brisk stroll to a churning groove. Echo effects and dramatic vocalese from Elsaffar give way to a thicket of pointillisms from vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, oudists George Ziadeh and Zafer Tawil, and buzuq player Tareq Abboushi. Then the eagle rises again. That’s just the first thirteen minutes of the record, and it sets the stage for what’s in store.

Elsaffar’s soaring, wordless vocals fuel the upward drive in Transformations from a circling, steady stroll. Mohamed Saleh’s oboe shadows a restrained but ebullient trumpet solo, then comes to the forefront as a seemingly tongue-in-cheek Kashmiri groove develops. Saxophonists Ole Mathisen and Fabrizio Cassol work a triumphant triangulation before an elegant descent to the ouds and Miles Okazaki’s spare guitar.

The album’s most orchestral track, Reaching Upward begins with a stately, moody string theme that Elsaffar brightens with a deviously martial trumpet theme which suddenly goes 180 degrees from there. Knowing how Elsaffar works, is he going to take the hypnotic, spiky, circling theme that Okazaki and the percussionists develop and send it spinning into the maelstrom? Not quite. We get a web of concentric circles and an elusive, bracing maqam theme, Elsaffar accompanying himself with rippling santoor. A blazing sax solo backs off for a good facsimile of the Grateful Dead, which morphs into a shivery trumpet theme and eventually falls away for a calm series of waves and a gamelanesque outro. Who else is creating music this wildly and fearlessly diverse?

Ashaa is only slightly less of an epic, and the point where it becomes clear that Escreet is playing a piano in a Middle Eastern tuning. Bassist Carlo DeRosa holds the suspense until the bandleader enters into a regal trumpet passage….and then the band hit a steady, anthemic, tantalizingly chromatic clave theme that goes in a dusky Ethiopian direction. It’s arguably the album’s most wickedly catchy interlude. Syncopated quasi Isaac Hayes psychedelic soul and variations recede for a percolating DeRosa solo, then it’s back to the long road to Addis Ababa.

A bright stairstepping theme introduces the bandleader’s edgy, machinegunning santoor in the next number, Concentric. After that, Lightning Flash has a bit of a cloudburst, a calm, then a spare, biting Abboushi buzuq solo finally replaced by a steady, mechanically pulsing theme that could be Darcy James Argue.

March is all about victory, an Andalucian-tinged update on a famous Ravel tune, with a tantalizingly sizzling violin solo, a sober oud duel mingling with the vibes, the horns ushering in a rapidfire, stabbing Saleh oboe break. Elsaffar wafts uneasily through his most poignantly resonant solo of the night in the final number, Medmi. As usual with Elsaffar, this is a lock for one of the best albums of the year.

September 15, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murky, Dissociative Cinematics From the EFG Trio

Trumpeter Frank London has one of the most immense discographies of any New York musician. He’s on over five hundred records, which date back before his band the Klezmatics springboarded the carnivalesque sound that morphed into circus rock and Romany punk in the 90s. Some of London’s latest adventures have been especially adventurous: jazz poetry, Indian/klezmer mashups, and now a darkly cinematic trio album as part of the EFG Trio with guitarist Eyal Maoz and composer/keyboardist Guy Barash. Their new album Transluminal Rites is streaming at Bandcamp.

Often it’s impossible to figure out who’s doing what here – even the trumpet could be processed beyond the point of recognition, such is the grey disquiet of this morass. Many of the tracke here re brooding miniatures that suddenly rise with industrial abrasiveness, squirrel around, stroll briskly like a spy or offer moments of comic relief, One has a calmly circling, Indian-inspired trumpet melody that gets slowly decentered; its sequel is pure industrial noise

Spectralogy, one of the more epic numbers here, begins as an eerily warping guitarscape with traces of Maoz’s signature, incisively Middle Eastern-tinged sound, then Barash’s electric piano shifts to a much more noirish interlude before everything’s spun through a fuzzy patch. London’s circling, snorting lines rescue everyone from dystopia, more or less.

Winds of ill omen circle around London’s animated curlicues in Polysemia Deluxe, another largescale piece that leaps and bounds, out of focus, towards an abyss, London finally sounding an elephantine warning..

The big idystopic diptych here is titled Eau de Pataphysique: strange rumblings inside the drainpipe, short circuits and wheels going off the axle in the projection room. The concluding largescale piece, Sweet Thanatos is platform for some of London’s most plaintive, chromatically bristling resonance of recent years.

Dark and oppressive sounds for dark and oppressive times: those brave enough to plunge in, especially at the end, will be rewarded.

July 29, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Otherworldly, Drifting Diptych by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green

An eclogue is a pastoral poem. How bucolic is Eclogue, the new album by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green? It’s streaming at Bandcamp – you decide. The trio create a warmly drifting sunrise ambience with subtle textures and minimalist accents, plus the occasional creak or quaver as tectonic sheets of sound make their way slowly through the frame. Overtones and harmonics rule in this comfortably enveloping universe.

Without knowing the instrumentation, you might think that the slow oscillations and echoey blips could be electronic, but they’re actually from O’Connor’s prepared piano, Green’s brushed drumheads and Carbo’s guitar.

There are two tracks here. The first is about fourteen minutes and rises to watery rivulets over a steady calm, echoing a familiar Pink Floyd dynamic originally manufactured using a vintage analog chorus pedal. Rustles from the drums and a single somber, recurrent piano note hint that the forest or faraway galaxy here is about to awaken, and it seems more of a galaxy than a bright, green naturescape as it does.

Keening highs and squirrelly, muted percussive activity contrast as the twenty-minute second half gets underway. Playful figures that could be whale song, or beavers gnawing out the raw materials for a new home, appear amid the stillness. Gentle cymbal washes and that persistent low piano note add a second dichotomy, then the two reverse roles, Erik Satie at quarterspeed. A warped quasi-gamelan ensues, then it’s back to Satie territory to close on an absolutely otherworldly note.

July 24, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew Goodheart & Broken Ghost Consort Build Playful, Entertaining Machine-Shop Ambience

Matthew Goodheart & Broken Ghost Consort’s new album Presences: Mixed Suite For Five Performers and Nine Instruments – streaming at Spotify – is weird but playful music that owes a lot to the AACM as well as Anthony Braxton’s tectonic graphic-score themes. Moments of ambient calm contrast with abrasive industrial sounds, all of them organic. Although the music follows a slowly drifting tangent, it’s also unexpectedly energetic and amusing in places. Nobody plays his instrument as it was intended, and the group – the bandleader on piano, with Georg Wissel on clarinet, Matthias Muche on trombone, Melvyn Poore on tuba and George Cremaschi on bass – indulge in flurries of percussion as much as they employ their usual axes.

The album’s opening number is awash in scrapes, fragments of simulated birdsong and gonglike, metallic washes – the bells of horns and piano strings polished to a ringing, keening harmonic shimmer, maybe?

Clarinet is featured but doesn’t exactly take centerstage until late in the second movement, with a steady, enigmatic, Messiaenic resonance. Trombone, tuba and eventually cheery clarinet engage in a tongue-in-cheek exchange with squirrelly percussive flickers – and a mini-gamelan – from the rest of the ensemble in the thirteen-minute third movement, Impulse Response Variations.

Jawharp-like oscillations, distant buzzsaw sonics, looming trombone and a wryly warbly faux-pansori interlude filter down to the spiraling gears of the vortex in the practically eighteen-minute final movement. This is not for people who need catchy hooks or have short attentions spans but it’s entertaining if you let it pull you under (although the joke in the opening spoken-word sequence is a little much).

July 19, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Slashingly Relevant New Album of New String Quartet Works From Quartet121

When Quartet121 put out a call for string quartet scores, they really scored! The ensemble – violinists Molly Germer and Julia Jung Un Suh, violist Lena Vidulich and cellist Thea Mesirow – are a magnet for world premieres. Their new album, simply titled Call for Scores – streaming at Bandcamp – comprises three acerbic and powerfully relevant new works.

The first piece is Rachel Beja‘s Punti Invisibili di Contatto, with a theme focusing on the tension between individuality and being part of a whole. The group flit through playful exchanges within lots of space, then the harmonies begin. Lots of extended technique is involved: percussive flickers, keening harmonics and slithery glissandos The more the piece coalesces, the more severe the harmonies and gestures become. A wicked slide signals a muted pedalpoint, but the rhythms remain unsettled the rest of the way: this is a posse of rugged individualists! A state anthem for South Dakota, or the freedom fighters in Beja’s native Israel, maybe?

Latvian composer Anna Ķirse’s electroacoustic Mundus Invisibilis, a contemplation of how the microscopic world influences the one we can see without magnification, is next. There’s computer-voiced text about the birth of a mushroom, then sheets of astringency balanced by plucky accents. The dynamics shift to a rhythmic insistence versus haze and brief poltergeist bursts. The mushroom eventually blooms with acidic tremoloing phrases and sharp, short, stabbing motives: not your typical forest-floor presence.

The final work is Mexican composer Rafael Rentería‘s Hashtag Capital Gore, a glitchier electroacoustic piece on themes of violence against women. The score calls for the performers to immerse their feet in buckets of ice while playing. They follow a series of brief crescendos, a forest of shivery tonalities that stops short of sheer horror, then the tension rises with greater intensity. There’s a false ending and a coda that’s too apt to give away. To the group’s credit, if they in fact put their feet into the ice for this, they don’t race to warm up again. As the world wakes up from the media-induced terror and paranoia of the past seventeen months and returns to normal, let’s hope this group continues on a path that’s off to a flying start.

July 11, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DWB: The Most Relevant, Hauntingly Evocative New Chamber Opera in Years

It’s hard to imagine a song cycle more apropos to our era than composer Susan Kander and soprano Roberta Gumbel’s chamber opera DWB (Driving While Black), streaming at Spotify. Gumbel’s lyrics draw on her own experiences and worries as the parent of a black adolescent who’s approaching driving age. Interspersed amid this mom’s reveries are real-life “bulletins” ranging from incidents of mundane everyday racism – Henry Louis Gates arrested for trying to enter his own home – to allusively macabre references to the murders of Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile.

Kander’s dynamic, sometimes kinetic, often haunting series of themes bring to mind Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock movie scores, Gumbel nimbly negotiating their dramatic twists and turns. With tense close harmonies and chiming arrangements, Messiaen and maybe George Crumb seem to be influences. The duo New Morse Code come across as a much larger ensemble: credit percussionist Michael Compitello, who plays a vast variety of instruments, most notably vibraphone and bells, alongside cellist Hannah Collins. Together they shift, often in the span of a few seconds, from a creepy, deep-space twinkle to a stalking, monstrous pulse and all-too-frequent evocations of gunfire.

What hits you right off the bat is that this narrator mom is smart. She frets about putting her infant in a backwards-facing car seat, because he won’t be able to see her, and she won’t be able to offer him a smile to comfort him. We get to watch him grow up: to Gumbel’s immense credit, there’s a lot of humor in the more familial moments, welcome relief from the relentless sinister outside world. The driver’s ed scene is particularly hilarious. Yet this doesn’t turn out to be a trouble-free childhood: Gumbel casts the kid as the son in a single-parent household, reflecting the reality that an inordinate percentage of people of color are forced to cope with.

Most of the numbers are over in less than a couple of minutes, a kaleidoscope of alternately fond and grisly images. A soaring, drifting lullaby, a slinky soul-tinged groove and a plaintive cello solo break up the furtive, often frantic sequences. One of the most chilling interludes involves not a police shooting but a near-miss. In a case of mistaken identity with a rare happy ending, the cops end up dumping the ex-suspect out of the police van in an unfamiliar part of town. He has to walk all the way home from there. Wait til you find out how old he is.

June 9, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plunge Into the Depths With Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz

Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz’s new album Aging – streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of dronescapes. As relentlessly bleak music, it could just as easily be a portrait of the past fourteen months as much as an exploration of what a drag it is to watch the years pile up. Just remember that getting old is a state of mind no matter how many trips you make around the sun.

This is microtonal music. With one exception close to the end of the record, none of these seven long interludes move very far from a sonic center, and it’s frequently impossible to distinguish Ilgenfritz’s bowed bass, abrasively keening harmonics and extended-technique slashes from Vítková’s electronics.

Slowly rising and falling pitchblende resonance is flecked with crumbling fragments of grey noise, clunking loops and ghostly flickers – a deep-space icebreaker clearing the junk from what’s left of the Death Star, maybe. Oscillating scrapes, buzz and boom, achingly unresolved close harmonies, sirening bends and dopplers all filter through the mix. The funereal, tolling chords and darkly contrasting textures of the almost fifteen-minute fifth track are the high point of the album, such that it is. The one after that, a study in high harmonics, more or less, is the most animated.

On one hand, someone with no experience on stringed instruments could probably play this whole thing, or an approximation thereof, after a few tips on bowing. On the other, it really maintains a mood. If you like the lows and the low midrange, this is very enjoyably immersive.

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

Blythe Gaissert Tackles the Concept of Home in an Era of Refugees and Homelessness

What’s become more and more apparent as the lockdowers’ schemes continue to unravel is that a significant portion of the global population managed to keep the lockdown at bay. Yes, entire segments of the economy, most tragically the performing arts, were largely destroyed. But freedom proved too strong to die. We found places to shop and eat where nobody was traced or tracked or expected to be muzzled. When our favorite bars and restaurants were padlocked, we started speakeasies and threw potlucks. A lot of us entertained audiences in our newfound clandestine spaces. And some of us even made albums. One particularly noteworthy and fiercely relevant new release is mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert‘s album Home, streaming at Bandcamp.

Its central theme relates powerfully to the global refugee crisis, although it’s taken on frightening new levels of meaning since the lockdown. Joined by a dynamic, impassioned chamber ensemble, Gaissert has engaged an eclectic cast of composers and lyricists who range beyond the indie classical demimonde with which she is most closely associated.

She opens the album with David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s bracing Archaeology. Over a somber, steadily shifting backdrop from violinists Miho Saegusa and Katie Hyun, violist Jessica Meyer, cellist Andrew Yee and bassist Louis Levitt, Gaissert reaches for the rafters in this allusively ominous tableau: houses keep more secrets than anyone knows.

Gaissert sings in Chinese in Songs From Exile, a leaping yet pulsingly elegant diptych by Rene Orth utilizing an ancient Li Qing Zhao text, an expat’s view of absence and longing. The acidic glissandos from the strings in the second part are particularly disquieting.

Gaissert shifts to French for Nous Deux, Martin Hennessy‘s starkly string-fueled setting of a Paul Eluard text: “We ourselves are the evidence that love is at home with us,” is the crux of it. Laura Kaminsky and Kimberly Reed‘s Carne Barata (Chopped Meat) witheringly quotes immigrant Linda Morales’ cynical account of undocumented employees in the meatpacking industry. Colleen Bernstein’s vibraphone lingers beneath the opacity of the string section and Gaissert’s impassioned duet with baritone Michael Kelly.

She soars over Bradley Moore’s colorfully crescendoing piano in John Glover and Kelley Rourke‘s Home Is Where I Take My Shoes Off. a welcome moment of comic relief. The music calms with Kamala Sankaram‘s gorgeously ambered, wistfully imagistic Ramonanewyorkamsterdam.

The lush sway of Jerry Hammer, by Ricky Ian Gordon, belies the song’s creepy childhood reminiscence of the death of an outcast. Gaissert reaches to the depths of her register in the final composition, Bungalow, a diptych by Mikael Karlsson and Rob Stephenson. Its alternately blustery and seemingly Indian-influenced, nebulously swirling textures build levels of suspense that the lyrics never match. Otherwise, throughout this album, Gaissert has really nailed the angst of an era.

May 11, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment