Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dream Zoo Lives Up to Its Name

Dream Zoo’s new album – streaming in its entirety at bandcamp – is crazy fun. Surreal, trippy and eclectic to an extreme, frontwoman/cellist Valerie Kuehne’s stream-of-consciousness narratives leap genres in a split second. The band also includes Lucio Menegon on guitar, Jeff Young on violin and Sean Ali on bass and percussion. Much of this is similar to the work of Amy X Neuburg. For example, consider the album’s most interesting track, The Spell. In almost nine minutes, there’s a nicely apprehensive, atmospheric intro; trippy, theatrical vocals over pizzicato cello and what sounds like sandpaper on the strings; a pensive, minimalist solo cello passage that builds with layers of overtones to a quiet cacaphony, then winds down, then back up again, a chorus of voices growing more and more anguished: “Forget about geometry!” is their mantra. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Who knows.

Kuehne matches her vocals to the lyrics: it’s an acting job, and she pulls it off, especially on The Flight Crew Was Rude, the surrealistically entertaining Paris-Berlin flight narrative that opens the album. Like a lot of the compositions here, it’s mini-suite of sorts, bracing pizzicato cello switching over to jarring astringencies and then to warmly consonant atmospherics which eventually go completely nuts. The bizarre, disjointed Architecture eventually coalesces as a stately, somewhat menacing, insistent art-rock theme (with a chase scene involving a chicken in a kitchen). Likewise, Plane Crash No. 2 alludes to and then finally comes together as artsy folk-rock, with a playfully swoopy guitar outro. Kicking off with baroque echoes, The Chase could be a spoof of classical music for strings. The most “outside” piece here is The Train, a strange pastiche that suddenly becomes claustrophobic and then morphs into variations on a Rasputina-esque cello rock vamp.

In addition to her work as a musician and composer, Kuehne is also an impresario: she books the Super Coda concert series at Bushwick’s Cafe Orwell, an edgy, eclectic, improvisationally-oriented mix of indie classical, jazz, world music and styles that defy categorization.

July 25, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #566:

Rasputina – A Radical Recital

Since the 90s, cellist/songwriter Melora Creager has created an eerily surreal, twistedly lyrical, frequently hilarious, visionary body of work that ranks with any other songwriter or composer’s output during that time. Literally everything she’s ever made is worth owning. This particular edition of Rasputina, from 2005, features three cellos and drums (the drum guy sings a silly English folk song, When I Was a Young Girl, for comic relief from the relentless, dark intensity) plus Creager on vocals doing essentially a greatest hits-live set. It’s a strong if incomplete representation, with the searing chromatics of Saline the Salt Lake Queen; the ferociously sarcastic Howard Hughes; the ethereally sad Sign of the Zodiac and Watch TV; a blistering cover of the old swing tune If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love; the amusing Mama Was an Opium Smoker; the entertainingly vicious anti-Rudy Guiliani broadside The Mayor; the pensive suicide anthem A Quitter, plus tongue-in-cheek chamber rock versions of Led Zep’s Rock & Roll and Barracuda by Heart. The cd is still available at the band’s site; here’s a random torrent.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inbal Segev and Fernardo Otero Kill the Lights at le Poisson Rouge

To play the cello, you have to be comfortable in the dark. Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge, cellist Inbal Segev and her old Juilliard pal, pianist Fernando Otero, treated a sold-out crowd to a performance as deep and intense as they could have possibly delivered. Segev wasted not a single second in setting the tone for the night, digging in mightily with a solo rendition of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011. As the chords opening the initial prelude roared through the club’s PA system, it was clear that she was going to follow this haunted road as far as it led. For awhile, it was heavy metal, 1725 style. And when the fugal second part began, she let its stately nonchalance speak for itself, its long sequence of broken chords dancing on a grave, maybe.

Otero, known for his uncompromising, slashing melodic attack and fearlessly dark lyricism, joined her for a set of five of his pieces. Milonga, the first, was done as a murky modal tableau, basically a one-chord rumble like Cecil Taylor in a long brooding moment. It built to rapidfire lower-register boogie that gradually added an otherworldly deep-space glimmer as he developed it, one hand playing off the other with a staccato that surprisingly wasn’t crushing but very subtly modulated: a heavy piece done with dynamics that its mighty wallop overshadowed. Segev got the chance to accent the boogie with a savage staccato and lit into it with relish. The two musicians seem to be kindred spirits, with an easy chemistry that contrasted with the unease and sometimes outright anguish of the material. A song without words artfully contrasted Segev’s apprehensive precision against Otero’s minutely jeweled, otherworldly glimmering righthand clusters; they closed with a diptych with echoes of Satie, Chopin’s E Minor Prelude and ELO, rivulets playing wildly against Segev’s stoicism followed by an animated chase scene that ended on a disconcertingly ambiguous note.

Segev closed with a stunning solo rendition of Kodaly’s Sonata, Op. 9 for Solo Cello. It’s a genuinely phenomenal piece of music, decades ahead of its time. Segev shared some of the highlights beforehand with the crowd, noting that it dates from the same year – 1917 – as the famous Debussy Cello Sonata, and offered a taste of some of the highlights, which utilize a lot of pizzicato and some delicious chordal slipsliding late in the piece. But all the pyrotechnics paled next to the chilling, proto-Shostakovian, stygian mourning of the adagio movement. Opening with some jarring juxtapositions leading into plenty of suspense, it becomes a relentless, crushing dirge before finally reaching for a somewhat macabrely charged energy in the third movement, a thicket of extremely difficult passages simultaneously bowed and plucked (Segev had it down cold) lit up with numerous quotes from Hungarian folk dances. Kodaly, like Bartok, did some serious research in the countryside before embarking on this dangerous journey. The crowd screamed for an encore and Segev rewarded them with a lickety-split, doublestop-driven, perfectly precise version of a sizzling bluegrass theme by fellow cellist Sean Grissom.

June 4, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Thoughtful, Pensive Collaboration from Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal

An elegant collection of mostly duo performances, the aptly titled Chamber Music by Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and enterprising French cellist Vincent Segal is a thoughtfully paced, generous collaboration. It is most likely composed all the way through, yet has a quietly inspired improvisational feel, as the two musicians trade off themes, lead melodies and basslines. Sometimes a bright kora theme will be transposed to the cello’s lower registers, other times they’ll switch a pizzicato cello bassline to the kora. The motifs here are very terse: Sissoko plays nimble, intricately twining lines rather than indulging in lickety-split displays of speed, while the cello is employed more frequently for rhythm than for atmospherics. With the lead lines mostly carried by the kora, this has much more of a Malian feel than a European one, although a couple of Segal compositions – particularly the marvelously pensive Histoire de Molly, with its eerie cello arpeggios – introduce elements of the baroque. This is an excellent headphone album, equally effective as late-night wind-down music.

The title track is a sort of synopsis of the whole album, a stately, swaying groove where both musicians echo each other, the kora introduces a dance and then turns it over to the cello – and then Sissoko’s solo, rather than being a crescendo, brings it down again. The next track is hypnotic and circular – imagine this as played by an electric band and you’d have Afrobeat. The following composition, by Sissoko, is basically a canon, featuring a rippling, twinkling balafon solo from Fassery Diabate. The album concludes with a wistful, 6/8 ballad, a suspensefully cinematic theme that kicks off with Indian raga influences, and a long, pensive, dynamically-charged overture. Throughout the album, the subtle, conversational interplay between the two musicians is full of unexpected twists and turns, a seemingly endless series of gently surprising ideas.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last True Small Beast?

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, creator of the Small Beast concert series at the Delancey – New York’s most cutting-edge, exciting and important rock event – played his final set at the club Monday night, since he’s moving to host another Small Beast in Dortmund, Germany. Sharing a characteristically rich bill with Wallfisch were ”cemetery and western” crooner Mark Sinnis, cello rockers Blues in Space and Wallfisch’s longtime co-conspirator Little Annie Bandez.

All of these acts get a lot of ink here. Sinnis played a terse duo show on acoustic guitar, backed by the reliably extraordinary Susan Mitchell on gypsy-tinged violin. His trademark Nashville gothic material went over as well with the crowd gathered at the bar as the blast of air conditioning flowing from the back of the upstairs space did. The two mixed up creepily quiet and more upbeat songs from Sinnis’ new album The Night’s Last Tomorrow along with older ones like the hypnotic, vintage Carl Perkins-flavored That’s Why I Won’t Love You.

Blues in Space featured composer/frontman Rubin Kodheli playing electric cello, accompanied by eight-string guitar and drums. Hearing their swirling, chromatically charged, metal-spiced instrumentals up close (the band set up on the floor in front of the stage) was like being inside a cyclotron, witnessing the dawn and decay of one new element after another. And yet the compositions were lushly melodic, especially an unselfconsciously catchy new one which was basically just a good pop song arranged for dark chamber-rock trio. Kodheli fretted afterward that he wanted to take special care not to sound “bombastic,” something he shouldn’t worry about. A little bombast actually wouldn’t have hurt.

After Blues in Space, Wallfisch made the long wait for his set worthwhile. Small Beast is his baby, and as much passion as he put into it, it obviously wasn’t easy to let it go. As much as he didn’t hold back – the guy is one of the most charismatic frontmen in any style of music – he also didn’t go over the top, letting his songs speak for themselves. And they spoke volumes: his glimmering solo piano arrangement of the Paul Bowles poem Etiquette, and his closing number, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, equal parts seduction and anguish. “One and a half years, it seems like a lifetime ago,” he mused, which makes sense: in that short span of time, Small Beast in its own way took its place in the history of music in New York alongside CBGB, Minton’s and Carnegie Hall.

In between, Little Annie joined him for flickering, torchy, regret-steeped versions of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away (interrupted by a posse of drunken tourists barreling down the stairs and past the stage, oblivious to the moment), the reliably amusing anti-trendoid anthem Cutesy Bootsies, a genuinely wrenching requiem for a suicide titled Dear John, and an apt encore of It Was a Very Good Year. Annie is reliably hilarious; tonight she was just as preoccupied. And who can blame her (she goes on tour with Baby Dee in late summer/early fall).

As for the future of Small Beast, the Delancey’s Dana McDonald has committed her ongoing support (she’s no dummy – being known for running a club that books smart music is always a plus, no matter how much more moronic the world of corporate and indie rock gets). Vera Beren – a rare bandleader who can match Wallfisch pound for pound in terms of charisma – hosts next week’s Beast on July 12, featuring her band along with ambient, minimalist synth goths Sullen Serenade and ornate, artsy Italian/New York 80s-style goth band the Spiritual Bat.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Emily Hope Price at the Delancey, NYC 5/17/10

“I’m in a band called Pearl and the Beard,” cellist Emily Hope Price told the crowd at Small Beast last night.

“Which one are you?” host Paul Wallfisch asked, completely deadpan (his Big Small Beast extravaganza, maybe the best NYC rock show of the year, takes place on Friday at the Orensanz Center – tickets still available as of Monday night).

Price thought about it. “I’m the ‘and’.” And followed with a set of casually quirky art-rock that was as fun as it was virtuosically brilliant. Swaying on her feet instead of sitting down, she started out by building a series of loops – first a bouncy beat, then a cleverly plucked groove, then embellishments, building to ferocious, roaring cello metal – and then a cold ending. She varied her vocals from song to song, moving from a full, plaintive, soul-tinged delivery to one a lot more tongue-in-cheek and more than a little creepy on an oldschool country-style number that she played on tenor guitar. She explained that she’d just toured the south for the first time and gotten the inspiration for it from all the “Jesus Saves” billboards down there. “They don’t have a phone number – you know how billboards have phone numbers?”

Price is in the midst of a 365 project, writing a song a day for a year, ambitious to say the least, and she played a couple of what must be very recent creations, one a slinky cello groove number propelled along by fast broken chords, the other a mini-suite of sorts called War that began sparse and reflectively with judiciously dynamic textures and then grew to a fullscale roar. The audience demanded an encore: she rewarded them with the closest thing to a pop song she did all night. Price somehow finds the time to play frequent solo shows like this as well as gigs with her band, in addition to her daily compositions. Pearl and the Beard’s next NYC-area gig is at Maxwell’s on June 23.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amy X Neuburg & the Cello ChiXtet – The Secret Life of Subways

Bay area avant chanteuse Amy X Neuburg’s new album the Secret Life of Subways (picked up by the boundary-busting Starkland label for distribution) is disjointed, it’s rhythmically pretty much impossible to follow and for that matter pretty much impossible to follow at all unless you have headphones on. It’s also funny, and it tells a story. It’s a very ambitious, dizzying ride with a distinctly 80s feel, evocative of the first years when the avant garde was trying on a punk ethos and the line between new wave and experimental got fuzzier and fuzzier. “I’m a Vaseline lens girl,” Neuburg announces, and she’s not kidding. She may sing with a dramatic, operatic delivery but it’s never clear where she’s going – which is part of the fun.  Backed by the Cello ChiXtet – Jessica Ivry, Elaine Kreston and Elizabeth Vandervennet – she creates a loosely thematic series of surreal, theatrical, Bowie-esque vignettes and epics, some harsh and aggressive, others ambient and atmospheric to the point of wooziness.The music matches the lyrics, often in an extreme fashion, accentuating the weirdness or unease of the storyline – although just as frequently it can be comedic.

“I can’t spill this one because everybody would drown,” Neuburg states emphatically as the story begins, alternately ambient and insistently staccato. “Do not lean on the doors or you might lose your focus,” which more than telegraphs the plot, if you’re paying attention. “Too many brokers in here, too many deals on the line.” The cellos grow menacing, and Neuburg hits her octave pedal for a horror movie effect.

“Everyone knows that beautiful is the opposite of smart,” she rails cynically as the strings rise to meet her on the third track, the understatedly titled, Kate Bush-inflected Difficult. The story continues with the apprehensively scurrying, disassociative Someone Else’s Sleep and then follows a crescendo to a catchy, somewhat haunting circular theme on The Gooseneck, a series of cynical stream-of-consciousness observations on conspicuous consumption. She hits a stunning faux-Broadway vocal coda on This Loud, brings things down for the baroque-themed Be Careful and then carefully enunciates the menace and exasperation of Body Parts, a requiem that works on several levels. The somewhat self-explanatory Dada Exhibit is actually more coherent than it would seem, a study in sudden rhythmic shifts with a vividly cinematic string interlude and a funny pun at the end. The cd closes with its centerpiece, Shrapnel, a deliberately out-of-focus eulogy for a dead relationship floating on layers of vocals and an eerie choir of processed, disembodied voices at the end. There’s a sort of bonus track here, an imaginative, absolutely spot-on cover of Back in NYC by Genesis which while it resembles Rasputina far more than Peter Gabriel, maintains and even heightens the nonplussed, confrontational vibe of the original. It’s an apt choice, because fans of prime-era art-rock like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway ought to go for this album as much as the Bang on a Can crowd will. Watch this space for NYC dates.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Valerie Kuehne, System Noise, Black Sea Hotel, Lenny Kaye and Paul Wallfisch 12/14/09

The last Beast of the decade (for us, anyway) was one of the best. That such a ridiculously spectacular display of talent doesn’t instantly leap to the top of our Best New York Concerts of 2009 list speaks to how good, and how essential, Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast concert at the Delancey has become. It’s like this every week.

This one was characteristic in that it ran the gamut from the avant garde to noise-rock (a welcome if unrelated excursion to the downstairs room) to Bulgarian choral music to powerpop to sinister gypsy rock played solo on piano: eclectic to the extreme. New music composer Valerie Kuehne opened the show on cello and vocals, backed by violin, upright bass, electric guitar and drums. Her shapeshifting songs stopped as fast as they started, went doublespeed, lept abruptly and then crept quietly, sometimes in the span of what seemed a few seconds. She sings with the wide-open belt of a classically trained singer, her vocals typically impatient and uneasy. “Do you believe in patterns? Patterns? Patterns?” she inquired accusatively, early on. Her second number, Now We Know set eerie tremolo guitar against jagged, disjointed rhythms that evolved out of the song’s initial stately 6/8 sway. She closed her brief set with a study in abrupt hard/soft contrasts with the vocals and also the stringed instruments. Not exactly easy listening, but then it wasn’t meant to be.

The next act had cancelled, so there was a long lull, long enough to head downstairs where art/punk/funk/noise rockers System Noise had launched into their own magnificent set, unrelated to what was going on upstairs, but it made a perfect segue (and because the next Small Beast act didn’t want to start early and be done by the time their fans had turned up, there was plenty of time to catch this one). Known for their assaultive, roaring guitar and vocal attack, they’ve never been more catchy and accessible, even if it’s a savage, cynical accessibility. A new one, Blame It on the Rain ran an absurdly catchy funk/blues phrase over a slinky groove while frontwoman Sarah Mucho gave it a characteristic sultry ominousness. Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) followed in a similar vein; the best song of the entire night was another new one, a magnificently morbid epic that grew from apprehensive David Gilmour-inflected guitar arpeggios to an almost punk chorus, ending with a dramatic, classically infused buildup that would have been perfectly at home in the Procol Harum catalog. The even more punk number after that maintained the ornate intensity. It’s too bad that the band has since gone on what turned out to be a long-anticipated hiatus: what a run they’ve had, five years at least as one of New York’s best bands.

Upstairs, the four women of Black Sea Hotel assembled onstage. Their claim to fame – beyond having four of the most amazing voices of any New York group, in any style – is their innovative arrangements of traditional Bulgarian choral and folk music. Sometimes they’ll scale down a big, lavish chart to four-part harmony, other times they’ll embellish a folk song’s original single vocal line. Either way, the songs in their repertoire are hypnotic, otherworldly and haunting, but they’re also funny, ironic and sometimes completely absurd, and the crowd clearly got as much of a kick out of hearing the meaning of the Bulgarian lyrics as much as the band did relating them. A woman defiantly tells her guy that even if she’s wearing his clothes, he still can’t have her body; a (probably drunken) guy leaves home dressed in the garb of both his male and female relatives; a hot-to-trot single guy can’t make up his mind whether he’ll continue to court the women of his hometown or try his luck (not so good, so far) elsewhere.

Yet another advantage of Small Beast is that you get to watch the bands up close. Black Sea Hotel’s debut cd (look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list) is gorgeous and swirling, but it’s impossible to know who’s singing what. Seeing them here, it was a lot of fun to discover that of the four, Corinna Snyder takes the biggest risks and the highest leaps, jumping octaves with split-second precision and losing nothing in pitch or power. Joy Radish is the smallest member of the group but sings with the most power. Willa Roberts has a stunning clarity and precision, and got to deliver the evening’s single most captivating moment,  ending a song about a soldier gone off to war with a final, poignant verse in English. Sarah Small, meanwhile, achieved the impossible by being simultaneously raw and intense yet hypnotically atmospheric, and this time out she was the one who got to add the striking, strange ornamentation that Bulgarian vocal music is best known for. The audience was awestruck. The group have a reputation for being a sort of punk rock version of le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – they’ll sing anywhere – but where they really ought to be is Carnegie Hall.

Putting legendary Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye next on the bill was a smart move – it completely changed the vibe yet maintained it, at least as far as smart songwriting is concerned. Kaye’s stock in trade has always been his guitar playing, but he’s also a formidable songwriter, a first-class powerpop tunesmith. Playing most of the show solo on Strat, occasionally joined by his old 80s bandmate Paul Dugan (of Big Lazy) on upright bass, he ran through a catchy, hook-laden set of mostly original tunes with lyrics ranging from sardonic to fearlessly political. In Style casually dismissed a tourist on the Lower East Side: “You must like that Def Leppard, I know you do.” A rueful garage pop ballad, and another big anthem, were dead ringers for Willie Nile tunes. A jangly ballad by the Weather Prophets – whom Kaye had produced in the 80s – was compelling and pretty, while The Things You Leave Behind – a dedication to Jim Carroll – managed to be both ominously wistful and sarcastic. The duo closed with a sizzling, completely off-the-cuff version of Gloria, Kaye finally cutting loose with a couple of leads, the first going over the edge into noise-rock (this is the guy who basically invented the style, on Radio Ethiopia) before bringing it back to a delirious audience singalong. The crowd wouldn’t let him leave, so he rewarded them with a nasty, sarcastic cover of Jesse’s Girl and then a dark, subdued, jangly meditation on distance and absence, Telltale Heart.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch usually opens these shows – the series started as just a way for him to work out new material in front of live audience – but this time he closed it. Because we’ve reviewed so many of these shows this past year, he’s gotten more ink here than anybody else, but it wouldn’t be fair to neglect to mention how intense his own set was. Shira and Sofia is a swinging, noir cabaret-infused Botanica number about two WWII whores – essentially, its theme is make love, not war. When Wallfisch got to the part of the lyric where one of the hookers can “suck your dick,” he screamed it as if was the last thing he’d ever say and the crowd didn’t know whether to completely crack up (it was hilarious, actually) or do something else. He also played a tango, a waltz, a couple of soul numbers, a whiplash version of his collaboration with Little Annie, Because You’re Gone, and an absolutely morbid, Satie-esque rearrangement of Nature Boy (retitled Nature Girl). And had the crowd dancing to pretty much all of it. Small Beast will be off for a couple of weeks and then back on January 10.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir and Alexandra Joan at Trinity Church, NYC 12/10/09

Cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir and pianist Alexandra Joan wrapped up this year’s chamber music series here on a note that began fluidly and warmly and ended with riveting intensity, a performance that managed to be both cutting-edge and true to the spirit of the compositions, no small achievement. Throughout the hourlong concert, they displayed a remarkable chemistry, each musician clearly tuned in to the other. After a heartfelt, coloristic take of Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, their keen sense of interplay became most evident on the show’s middle number, Beethoven’s Sonata in A, Op. 69. It’s something of throwback to the baroque, a trio suite loaded with call-and-response that seems straight out of Haydn. When a boisterous pizzicato passage arrived for Thorsteinsdottir, she attacked it with a raw, percussive abandon that threatened to snap the strings on her 1790 cello. It was a lot more punk rock than early Romantic, and the fiery treble tonalities she achieved were marvelously effective. Alexandra Joan provided vivid, sustained rivulets alongside her, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness, even gravitas in her style and at the end of the allegro vivace that concludes the sonata, she let loose an insistent, impatient staccato, as if to say, bring on the night. And when the night came she made it her own.

And so did Thorsteinsdottir. Messiaenesque, defiantly neither major nor minor, unwilling to offer resolution and utterly inconsolable, Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C, Op. 65 was bone-chilling and utterly impossible to turn away from, cello again slamming out against the darkness, particularly during the pizzicato scherzo that comprises the second movement. The duo encored with the second movement of the Janacek cello sonata, meant to evoke the occult, and it was a powerfully apt choice, maintaining the darkness but raising the energy level to the point where the crowd could exit under their own power. That’s how effective their rendition of the Britten was.  

Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir’s next New York concert is with the ACJW Ensemble on January 19 at Paul Hall at Juilliard, a Romantic bill featuring both Schumanns, Robert and Clara; one can also wish for a reunion with Alexandra Joan, playing something similar.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Julia Kent and Carol Lipnik at the Delancey, NYC 10/12/09

Monday night was typical Small Beast – gauche as it may seem to review the same event week after week, the simple fact is that this is the best regular rock night in New York. Maybe the world. And it’s free. As usual (last week was an exception), Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch opened the night solo on piano. He’s the kind of player who is frequently at his best as a response to some kind of adversity, in other words, when he has something to transcend. Last night, by contrast, he was clearly in a good mood, a welcome opportunity for the crowd of cognoscenti to hear some of his warmer, slightly more carefree, gospel-flavored material: the title track to Botanica’s forthcoming album; the hypnotic Beauty Is; a version of the Paul Bowles lyric Etiquette, which he’d set to an aptly pensive tune; a noir cabaret number by Baby Dee; a typically jaunty version of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man and an absolutely psychedelic Ray Davies cover on which he was joined by the evening’s next act, cellist Julia Kent.

Yet another reason why Small Beast is so cool is how effortlessly it’s balanced in terms of gender: women have been the stars lately and this evening continued that trend. Kent – who did time in Rasputina and has an exhaustive symphony orchestra and chamber music background – is a first-class composer in her own right, playing a hypnotic set of expansive originals. Typically, she’d pluck out a playful bassline and then loop it, adding layer after layer of frequently haunting ambience over it much as the Quavers do live. To do this is far more complicated than it seems – your timing has to be spot-on, and Kent’s was. The effect was riveting and frequently cinematic. Moving from trippy, echoey and atmospheric to stark and haunting, she evoked composers as diverse as Jenny Scheinman and Shostakovich. The best piece of the night grew strikingly darker as its second movement kicked in; her final number layered squalling insistence over swaying, casually pretty arpeggios.

Then Carol Lipnik and her longtime cohort, pianist Dred Scott – whose Tuesday midnight shows at Rockwood Music Hall have become the stuff of legend – took the stage and took the volume up a notch. With her spectacular four-octave range, Lipnik barely requires amplification, and this time out she’d brought along a reverb pedal that she used to give her big crescendos even more firepower. As expected, the audience was rapt. Scott didn’t waste a note as he moved from the noir swing of The Last Dance, through the macabre tango pulse of When I Was a Mermaid, the playfully minimalist psychedelicism of You’re My Firefly and the hauntingly plainspoken sympathy-for-the-freak narrative Two-Headed Cow. Lipnik moved and swayed effortlessly from a wail to a devious smirk to what sounded like a wildly phasing human theremin. As one knowledgeable member of the crowd was quick to discern, wherever Lipnik was, she was invariably in the moment. Lipnik’s collaborations with Scott and also with John Kelly are ongoing – watch this space for updates. It would have been fun to stick around and see what the next act, violinist Rebecca Cherry and her nine-piece band had up their collective sleeves, but the F train was about to turn into a pumpkin and that’s no way to get home.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment