Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Starkly Relevant New Album and a Governors Island Show by the Very Serious Sirius Quartet

The album cover illustration for the Sirius Quartet‘s latest release, New World – streaming at Spotify – has the Statue of Liberty front and center, against a backdrop that could be a sunset with stormclouds overhead…or smoke from a conflagration. She’s wearing a veil. The record’s centerpiece, New World, Nov. 9, 2016 won the Grand Prize in the the New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative composition competition a couple of years ago. The message could not be more clear. It’s no wonder why the group are so troubled by the events since then: both of their violinists are immigrants.

They’re playing a free concert featuring their own materal plus original arrangements of Radiohead and the Beatles this Sept 7 at the park in the middle of Governors Island, with sets at 1 and 3 PM. You can catch the ferry from either the old Staten Island Ferry terminal at the Battery – to the east of the new one – or from the Brooklyn landing where Bergen Street meets the river.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s Beside the Point opens the album. In between a wistful, trip hop-flavored theme, the group chop their way through a staccato thicket capped off by a big cadenza where the violin finally breaks free, in a depiction of the struggle against discrimination.

Currents, a tone poem by cellist Jeremy Harman has stark, resonant echoes of Irish music and the blues: it could be a shout out to two communities who’ve had to battle bigotry here. The epic title track sarcastically juxtaposes contrasting references to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8: look how far we haven’t come, violinist/composer Gregor Huebner seems to say.

Still, another Huebner composition, is based on Strange Fruit, the grisly chronicle of a lynching and a big Billie Holiday hit. Ron Lawrence’s viola chops at the air along with the cello over an uneasily crescendoing violin haze, the group coalescing somberly up to a horrified, insistent coda. Their version of Eleanor Rigby has a bittersweet, baroque introductory paraphrase and some bluesy soloing, finally hitting the original melody over a propulsive, funky beat. As covers of the song go, it’s one of the few actually listenable ones.

The album’s second epic, More Than We Are rises slowly through allusions to Indian music to a persistently wary, chromatic pulse fueled by Harman’s bassline: you could call parts of it Messiaenic cello metal. To a New Day is even more somber, flickering pizzicato passages alternating with a brooding sway grounded by a hypnotically precise, stabbing rhythm.

The Chinese-inflected 30th Night has a dramatic vocal interlude amid quavering cadenzas as well as phrasing that mimics the warpy tones of a pipa. The album’s second cover, Radiohead’s Knives Out is louder and more jagged than Sybarite5‘s lush take on the Thom Yorke catalog. The group return to the neo-baroque with the album’s rather sentimental closing cut, simply titled Cavatina. Contemporary classical protest music doesn’t get more interesting or hauntingly diverse than this.

September 3, 2019 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

This is the third classic album playfully covered by the all-star New York-based roots reggae crew the Easy Star All-Stars, after Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread. Basically, what they discovered is you can take pretty much anything and make reggae out of it and it’ll sound good. Consider: Shinehead took the odious Seals & Crofts hit Summer Breeze, changed the lyrics, retitled it Collie Weed and…a classic! Thankfully, this album demonstrates far more craftsmanship and subtlety. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s actually better than the original. The band is vastly tighter and the production is far more focused yet brimming with little touches that are often laugh-out-loud funny, much in the same vein as Brian Jonestown Massacre or XTC’s lovingly spot-on parodies of 60s psychedelia, issued under the Dukes of Stratosphear pseudonym a little over 20 years ago.

 

At the end of the opening theme, in lieu of McCartney’s satirical voiceover, a toaster delivers a brief Rasta benediction. From there, the producers have completely mixed up the tracks, but it’s still a fun ride. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has bright, melismatic Frankie Paul loverman vocals with ringing guitar that pays homage to the original. Getting Better features the Mighty Diamonds on vocals, sounding as good as ever, slowing it down from the original’s farcical stomp. The only drawback is that the original’s silliness was its selling point: rearranged this way, it’s a nice poppy reggae song, nothing more.

 

Fixing a Hole features none other than Max Romeo on vocals, a hilariously apt choice considering his notoriously disingenuous claim that his big hit Wet Dream was actually about a leaky roof! This one gets deliciously spacy echoes of vintage Scratch Perry. She’s Leaving Home gets a soulful, rather sultry vocal treatment by a newcomer, Kirsty Rock over a fast rocksteady beat. Without missing a beat, the bass drops out and the reverb kicks in when you least expect it. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite has the English Beat’s Ranking Roger on lead vocals, bringing it up doublespeed from the spacy dub first verse and then back again just as fast.

 

Within You Without You has a sitar and Matisyahu doing his best cantorial impression, and he actually doesn’t embarrass himself, with a vivid string section playing much of the original sitar part. When I’m Sixty-Four begins with a trombone call and goes on for over five minutes, Sugar Minott on vox, a showcase for the excellent horn section featuring the nucleus of the Burning Brass, baritone sax virtuoso Jenny Hill and trumpet goddess Pam Fleming, with an understatedly woozy dub breakdown.

 

Lovely Rita has Bunny Rugs and U-Roy, the latter taking it back to 1972 or so with his best Dread in a Babylon-style off-the-cuff nonsense. Good Morning Good Morning is the weakest track here, Steel Pulse sounding slick and uninspired like they were on their studio albums from the 80s rather than mining the classic, dark, heavy sound they’ve recently rediscovered with a vengeance. Surprisingly, the Sgt. Pepper reprise is next, followed by A Day in the Life. Done with an insistent Ras Michael style riddim, it has Michael Rose of Black Uhuru and Menny More sharing vocals, the band holding perfectly steady as the orchestra rises to a crescendo, the final piano note oscillating dubwise for just as long as George Martin’s fist-on-the-strings. A Little Help from My Friends has Luciano on lead vocals, and it might be the best song he’s ever done, thanks to the band’s inspired performance. Right now the whole album is available for streaming at imeem. Caveat: after the first song, don’t forget to refresh the page, otherwise you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. And make sure your popup blocker is working.

 

Since this crew seem to have dedicated themselves to covering one iconic artist after another, we’d like to suggest a few ideas. Dread at the Apollo would be James Brown covers, preferably recorded live, uptown at the same place – hey, it would be a short train ride for most of the musicians. The Man in Red, Gold and Green would be Johnny Cash songs. And to give the lady performers a chance to flex, how about Fox Confessor Bring de Herb? That would be Neko Case, yeah mon!  

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment