Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hypnotic Beauty from Maya Beiser and Michael Harrison

The shadow of Philip Glass towers over Michael Harrison and Maya Beiser’s collaboration Time Loops – out earlier this year from Cantaloupe -both in the unselfconscious beauty of the melodies and the hypnotically circling rhythms. Harrison, who plays piano, contributes most of the compositions. As the title implies, the central theme here is simple, looped phrases, whether from an elegant Bach invention, an Arvo Part diptych that finally shifts from a lullaby to more pensive tonalities, or the long three-part suite where cellist Beiser becomes an understatedly epic one-woman string section.

The more ornate loop music becomes, the simpler its motifs have to be in order to avoid dissonance, at least if that is the agenda as it is on Harrison’s opening triptych, Just Ancient Loops. Throughout the suite, Beiser gets to multitrack a rich array of timbres, textures and melodies: Indian classical music, blues, drones, Julia Wolfe-style staccato, cantabile nocturnal interludes and subtle shades of pizzicato all blend together into a seamless whole. There’s also a pretty straight-up indie rock tune, distant allusions to Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond and less distant ones to Glass. Counterrythms rise to the point where Beiser’s parts swirl out of the mix, one by one, much in the manner of dub reggae. The overall effect is hypnotic and psychedelic to the extreme: Glass’ later string quartets come very much to mind.

The album’s title track artfully juxtaposes a warm, lyrical cello line with backward masking. Somehow Harrison gets the harmonies to work, and Beiser keeps perfect time with them. They follow that with the Bach, then the Part, then Harrison’s Raga Prelude, a nocturne that’s ultimately far more interesting than either of its predecessors as the duo carry it into rippling ballad territory, then work a stately baroque theme until Harrison’s piano brings in the clouds and Beiser backs away while the chill sets in. All things considered, it’s the most consistently gripping composition here.

The final track is Hijaz, which ought to be the best one here, but it’s not, and that’s because annoying things happen here and there. These days, south Indian takadimi drum language seems to be all the rage, at least in academic circles: sure enough, barely three minutes into Harrison’s subtly otherworldly piano arpeggios – defly employing the just intonation which he’s long championed – the diggity-doo begins and then won’t quit. Compounding the problem is that there’s a whole crowd, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, doing the diggity-doo, at least when they’re not adding a quiet, sostenuto luminosity. The drum language actually has a purpose – in its original vernacular, it’s simply a way to count beats – but here it destroys the genuine hanuting quality of the rest of the work. Those with Protools should upload it and cut out the offending bits; a more oldschool option would be to copy the good parts to a cassette. Live at last year’s Bang on a Can Marathon, the effect was the same: it was like mixing beer and vermouth. A work so darkly majestic and memorable shouldn’t be marred by the vocalese tic-du-jour: it screams out for a new recording that does it justice.

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December 13, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hypnotic, Contemplative New Release from Lisa Moore

Pianist Lisa Moore has recorded an absolutely lovely new diptych by Donnacha Dennehy, titled Stainless Staining, due out momentarily from Cantaloupe Music (the Bang on a Can people). The first part is absolutely hypnotic, very Steve Reich, with perfectly precise, insistently Bach-worthy pedal point interspersed with samples (“played both normally and ‘inside” the piano) that gradually blend together with ringing microtones. The effect, ironically, is an acoustic version of what will happen if you hammer long enough on an upper-register chord on a Fender Rhodes running through an amp with just a tinge of reverb. Just when it seems that – as Mohammed Fairouz recently did, sarcastically – Dennehy is doing the damnedest to avoid any dissonances, some low chromatics emerge just in time to add spice to the overtonal ambience.

The second part was inspired by a video of a person slowly being submerged in water. It’s less ominous than simply murky, as staccato gives way to a sustained bleed of atonalities and finally a surprise ending that’s very effective. The concluding chapter in Moore’s three-ep cycle for Cantaloupe (also featuring works by Don Byron and Annie Gosfield), it’s something that’ll appeal to the Philip Glass crowd as well as anyone who gravitates toward contemplative, atmospherically intriguing music.

July 1, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Intriguing Albums by So Percussion

So Percussion has a couple of enjoyable, extremely diverse new albums out on Cantaloupe (the Bang on a Can peeps). Their first is a performance of Steve Mackey’s 2010 composition It Is Time, an entertaining, often absolutely hypnotic, somewhat minimalist but imaginatively orchestrated 36-minute suite which begins simply with a triplet rhythm commonly used in Malian desert blues. On one hand, this is a playful exercise in counting; on the other, the hypnotic quality of the music makes it tempting to simply leave the timing to the musicians and get lost in it. The concept is to feature each member of the group in turn: Eric Beach is first on metronome, pump organ, bells and china cymbal. From there it branches out cleverly with a series of steel drum interludes played by Josh Quillen, followed by Adam Sliwinski on marimba, both players using bowed and sustain techniques to achieve ambient textures typically not found in music for percussion sometimes atmospherically, sometimes adding a jarring, atonal and eventually microtonal edge laced with overtones. The final segment, played by Jason Treuting on drums, introduces an anthemic element: a rudimentary march, a descending riff on the steel pans which is the most distinctive melody here, gradually winding down to airy, sustained notes. Meant to alter the perception of time, it’s a subtly shifting journey from one rhythm to the next, sometimes utilizing polyrhythms.

The second, with reliably intense, incisive pianist Lisa Moore, is a recording of Martin Bresnick’s Caprichos Enfanticos: Los Desastres de la Guerra. An eight-movement suite meant to illustrate Goya’s satirical antiwar etchings, it follows a similarly caricaturish, sometimes cruelly mocking trajectory. A hypnotic marimba riff runs over and over to introduce it, followed by a twisted formal introduction, a “look who’s here” motif into a distantly flamenco-tinged piano-and-drums march, reaching for but never achieving resolution either melodically or rhythmically. Onward from there: a sarcastic tug-of-war between drums and piano (guess who wins); a bully and his sycophant; what might be a coldhearted bombing mission; an eerie, starlit, strolling piano/vibraphone duet and eventually a children’s dance under fire – or amidst a firefight. As evocative antiwar music, it doesn’t waste notes, literally or figuratively.

The It Is Time album comes with a DVD, which is of interest to anyone sufficiently intrigued in the mechanics of the music, and the considerable demands it makes on the musicians.

November 14, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment