Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

ACME Thrive on Routine – Seriously

For over  a decade, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble have relentlessly championed American composers, and the New York indie classical scene in particular. Since the mid-zeros, this semi-rotating chamber group – many of whose members are composers themselves – have recorded music as diverse as noir film themes, works for dance and a New York Mets themed song cycle (go Mets in 2017!).  The group are playing the album release show for their latest one, Thrive on Routine – streaming at WQXR – at 8 PM on Feb 13 at Roulette; $20 advance tix are still available as of today.

ACME member and violist Caleb Burhans’ string piece Jahrzeit, which opens the album, has an uneasy, lustrous haze that shifts through a series of changing meters. A requiem for his father, it comes across as a search to capture an image lost forever, a longing for a return to focus. Just as that clarity seems to be within reach, the music becomes more loopy and hypnotic.

Clarice Jensen plays the first of two Caroline Shaw pieces, In Manus Tuas, solo on cello. Inspired by a particular striking moment in a Thomas Tallis motet, the lingering mini-suite is a surreal mashup of a single, imaginary Elizabethan choral line and echoey, insistent minimalism, a pleasant Groundhog Day of sorts. Shaw is a singer, and a good one: there’s a strong, resonantly cantabile quality that’s often strikingly subsumed in a wash of overtones.

Timo Andres plays a second and similarly hypnotic Shaw piece, Gustave le Gray, solo on piano. Although the composer took her inspiration from Chopin’s A Minor Mazurka, the obvious comparison is the famous E Minor prelude. When it suddenly becomes untethered from an aching insistence, the effect is stunning.

Burhans, Jensen and violinists Yuki Numata Resnick and Ben Russell play the title track, an Andres string quartet inspired by Charles Ives’ predawn gardening and Bach obsession. It’s funny: tweety birds waking up in stillnes, a dazed man with a hoe, a bustling rush hour scene, oblique references to the venerable American transcendentalist and to Philip Glass eventually all make an appearance.

The final piece is John Luther Adams’ desolate and ultimately macabre tableau In a Treeless Place, Only Snow, the string quartet and Andres’ piano bolstered by Peter Dugan on celesta and the twin vibraphones of Chris Thompson and Chihiro Shibayama. Its starry stillness brings to mind the vibraphone nocturnes of Robert Paterson. And its allusive themes of eco-disaster – and maybe eco-revenge – speak as strongly as his global warming-themed suite Become Ocean.

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February 12, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeously Tuneful Debut from Old Time Musketry

If you’ve been waiting patiently for the Best Jazz Albuns of 2012 page here, don’t worry, it’s coming. One of the reasons we wait til the end of the year is to catch gems like Old Time Musketry’s first album, Different Times: it’s this year’s best jazz debut by a country mile. Melodic contemporary sounds don’t get any more interesting, or downright catchy, than this.

The album ha a distinct northern New England flavor, no surprise considering that the group’s composers, multi-reedman Adam Schneit and multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch grew up there. Each contributes a blend of warm and wintry, bucolic and often wistful themes interspersed with boisterous freely improvised interludes and a handful of jaunty romps. As the music blog Step Tempest was quick to observe, the obvious comparison is saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s Plainville (an album whose influence is vastly underrrated). There are echoes of Bill Frisell here as well. The group is propelled by the terse bass work of Phil Rowan and drummer Max Goldman, whose blend of New Orleans and Balkan rhythms is a breath of fresh air and adds welcome voltage to the slower material.

The opening track, Star Insignia, is akin to Udden doing the Velvets. Beginning as an accordion march and rising to a nocturnally pulsing overture, it’s the catchiest of the nine tracks. Playing alto sax, Schneit takes his time reaching from elegant legato to aching grit over Goldman’s hypnotically insistent cymbals, Schlegelmilch anchoring them with a stygian swirl. Parade sets an easygoing New Orleans piano shuffle under Schneit’s uneasy Udden-esque changes, Goldman reaching almost into tumbling vaudevillian territory in contrast to the gravitas of Rowan’s solo. The title track teases with a syncopated bounce bookending a free interlude highlighted by cleverly divergent tangents from Schlegelmilch’s piano and Schneit’s alto.

There’s a persisent if distant sadness to Cadets, another march, its autumnal Charles Ives colors possibly alluding to those kids’ ultimate destination, maybe: cannon fodder? The most stunning track here, Hope for Something More justaposes Schlegelmilch’s creepy piano lines – half Ran Blake, half Floyd Cramer – against Schneit’s morose clarinet, with keening funeral organ and echoey Omnichord building otherworldly ambience. Then they find the inner Serbian in Henry Cowell’s Anger Dance, improvising a march in the middle that’s as disquieting as it is nonchalant.

Highly Questionable reminds of the work of the great Macedonian accordionist Jordan Kostov, with its sudden shifts from bouncy to apprehensive and a nebulous, misterioso Schlegelmilch accordion solo. Likewise, Underwater Volcano mixes New Orleans and eastern European elements into a funky, echoey Rhodes piano tune. The album ends with the most Udden-influenced track here, Floating Vision, a slowly swaying ballad with hints of dub from multitracked keys.

Old Time Musketry play the album release show on Jan 27 at 8 PM at  the Firehouse Space, just around the corner from Pete’s at 246 Frost St. in Williamsburg.

December 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

High Energy and World Premieres from the American Composers Orchestra

American Composers Orchestra honcho Michael Geller has gone on record as saying that producing good concerts isn’t the organization’s main focus: they’re more of a vehicle for new composers to develop fungible, orchestra-ready repertoire. That’s a hefty agenda, but along the way the ACO manages to put out albums and play concerts that are often spectacularly entertaining, not just because of the diversity of the composers whose work they thrash into shape. Carnegie Hall last night was a launching pad for some of that: two world premieres, an American premiere and a familiar crowd-pleaser from an earlier era conducted robustly by guest Jose Serebrier.

Narong Prangcharoen’s The Migration of Lost Souls, inspired by the temple bell music of his native Thailand opened the show dramatically and intensely, essentially a suspenseful, serialistic tone poem punctuated by breathless, often terrorized bursts of agitation. Sepulchral washes of airy strings built to bustling, rapidfire cascades, often utilizing the entire orchestra but also making vivid use of the xylophone to mimic the lickety-split phrasing of northern Thai mor lan music. The carnival of souls finally found peace at the end in the gamelan-like resonance of bells and a boomy bass gong.

Milica Paranosic’s The Tiger’s Wife: Prologue, utilizing texts from the popular Tea Obreht novel, went for similar dramatics with mixed results. It’s a powerful and vivid piece of music, a diptych of sorts, beginning with a tense, niftily orchestrated, suspensefully rhythmic tone poem and ending with a blazing, gypsy-tinged overture. Unfortunately, an inspired performance by the orchestra threatened to be subsumed in a deluge of bells and whistles. Singer Lori Cotler delivered the lyrics with an aptly biting edge, but a lot of that got lost in a tumble of south Indian takadimi drum language. It’s a device she employs with spectacular dexterity and not a little wit in a radically different context, as part of the playful Takadimi Duo. But all the diggity-doo was as out of place here as rosewater on a burek – or in more prosaic terms, like ketchup on ice cream. There were also electronics, which added nothing: Cotler’s vocals were strong, and the orchestra was going full force. Meanwhile, a high-definition vacation video of sorts played on a screen overhead and proved far less interesting than the orchestra. Was this an attempt to connect with a youtube generation that ostensibly can’t relate to anything without visuals? In terms the youtube generation knows well: epic fail.

Some of Charles Ives’ work was paradigm-shifting; his Symphony No. 3 wasn’t. But this performance was hardly boring, the orchestra taking a briskly energetic, sometimes even romping journey through its often folksy “Camp Meeting” cinematics. The boisterous, rhythmic energy wound up with the American premiere of the conductor’s Flute Concerto with Tango. Its tango rhythm is syncopated bracingly in the beginning – it’s missing the heavy, defining third beat – so a recognizable tango per se doesn’t appear until the concluding movement. Along the way, flutist Sharon Bezaly negotiated thicket after thicket of knotty, lickety-split rivulets and a long, taqsim-like, mostly solo interlude on alto flute, all the way through to a dancing coda.

Not only do the ACO premiere their composers’ works, they also workshop them live, which can be a treat to witness for serious listeners and students of the style. The next one is at Mannes College Auditorium on the upper west side on Nov 13 at 2 PM.

October 27, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Transcendent Song Cycles by Phil Kline at BAM

Thursday night at BAM’s Next Wave Festival was one of those magical evenings that sends you spilling out into the street afterward, every synapse invigorated, glad to be alive. It was the world premiere of Phil Kline’s lush new arrangement of his iconic Zippo Songs, plus an intoxicatingly enveloping new cycle, Out Cold, played and sung luminously by ACME with crooner Theo Bleckmann at the absolute top of his evocative game. The new Fisher Space black-box theatre was either sold out or close to it. The final performance is tonight, and it isn’t sold out as of this writing (early affernoon). If transcendence is what you’re looking for, get over to BAM by 7 or so. The show starts at 7:30; the space is not on Lafayette Avenue but on that short street that runs perpendicular to it up to the Atlantic Avenue mall.

The program began with three Rumsfeld Songs, three quotes from “the comic evil spirit, if there ever was one,” to quote Kline’s program notes. The dark levity started with the famous pseudo-ontological one about “known knowns” and “known unknowns,” set to a deadpan, mechanically circular tune that gave Bleckmann a platform for just a tinge of Teutonic grandiosity, making for cruelly delicious satire. The second song was a march, the third more restrained, leaving the Iraq war villain’s long-winded, disingenuous disavowal of mass murder to linger. They made a good setup for the Zippo Songs, Kline’s musical setting of aphorisms and poems inscribed on cigarette lighters by American combatants during the Vietnam War.

These songs hadn’t been staged in New York in eight years. The sparseness of the originals played up the cruel irony, bitterness and sheer horror of the soldiers’ words; the new arrangements turned out to be far more rich and sweeping than expected, yet without subsuming any of the lyrical content. The genius of Kline’s craft is simplicity: like his great influence Charles Ives, he pushes the envelope, but he knows a catchy motif when he hears it. Hide a hook in a haystack, turn Kline loose, and he will find it. Which is why the new charts worked as well as they did; ironically, the richer the orchestration, the more memorable the melodies became. Pianist Timothy Andres and vibraphonist Chris Thompson got the choicest intervals, as Kline’s tensely straightforward, gleaming phrases reached the top of their arcs, over pillowy, sustained, shifting sheets held aloft by violinists Caleb Burhans, Ben Russell and Keats Dieffenbach, yMusic violist Nadia Sirota, cellist Clarice Jensen, oboeist Michelle Farah, bassist Logan Coale and flutist Alex Sopp. As with the original versions, the music does not disavow the darkness of the lyrics, instead providing a distantly apprehensive backdrop.

The airiest of these, appropriately enough, was the first one, voicing the soldiers whose goal it was to stay high all the time. The most haunting was the warily pulsing fourth in the series: “If I had a farm in Vietnam and a home in hell, I’d sell my farm and go home,” Bleckmann intoned. The most pensive, atmospheric segment was the most disillusioned: “We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful.” Emma Griffin’s stage direction had Bleckmann nonchalantly changing costumes and assuming roles to go with them: somehow he was able to hold a perfectly unmodulated, resonant legato through a quick series of pushups and situps that would have had most people panting.

The trippy bossa beat of that song foreshadowed what was to come with Out Cold. Taking his cue from Schubert’s Kafka-esque Winterreise suite as well as the ethereal 1950s “suicide song” collaboration between Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, Kline brought the broodingly hypnotic lushness up several notches and so did the ensemble and singer. Beginning with a low, raspy wash of strings and throat-singing and ending on a wistful, aptly elegaic note, these were torch songs for a new generation, blending the best of several previous decades’ worth. The bossa nova pulse returned memorably a couple of times, fueled by suspenseful woodblock, vibes and piano; the suite reached a high-point, volumewise with its most rocking number, Million Dollar Bill, noir Orbison chamber pop taken to understated heights of angst, tinkly David Lynch piano contrasting with the blue velvet wash underneath.

Bleckmann shuffled between tables in a darkened bar – One for My Baby in 3D – drinking from random half-empty glassses in A Final Toast, its insistent low strings reminding of Julia Wolfe in a particular intense mood. Where’s the Rest of Me, a creepily dreamy waltz, was followed by the slightly vaudevillian The Season Is Over, which grew dark fast and made a potent segue with To the Night, its noir lustre punctuated by uneasy close harmonies from the ensemble. In its own elegant way, the suite is as evocative a portrayal of loneliness and alienation as Joy Division. Kline has been writing eclectic, relevant music since the 80s; once again, he’s embraced a new genre and made it indelibly his own.

October 27, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dollshot Has Creepy Fun with Classical Art-Song

This is a Halloween album. New York ensemble Dollshot’s M.O. is to take hundred-year-old classical “art songs,” do a verse or a chorus absolutely straight-up and then matter-of-factly and methodically mangle them – which might explain the “shot” in “Dollshot.” Usually the effect is menacing, sometimes downright macabre, but just as often they’re very funny: this group has a great sense of humor. Pigeonholing them as “punk classical” works in a sense because that’s what they’re doing to the songs, but they also venture into free jazz. And all this works as stunningly well as it does because they’re so good at doing the songs as written before they get all sarcastic. Frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan’s otherworldly beautiful, crystalline high soprano, which she colors with a rapidfire vibrato in places, makes a perfectly deadpan vehicle for this material. Pianist Wes Matthews circles and stabs with a coroner’s precision in the upper registers for a chilly, frequently chilling moonlit ambience. In the band’s most punk moments, tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan is the ringleader: when he goes off key and starts mocking the melodies, it’s LOL funny. Bassist Giacomo Merega alternates between precise accents and booming atmospherics that rise apprehensively from the depths below.

The three strongest tracks are all originals. The Trees, written by Matthews, sets nonchalantly ominous, quiet vocals over a hypnotic, circular melody with bass and off-kilter prepared piano that hints at a resolution before finally turning into a catchy rock song at the end. “The trees are falling…the trees are choking…the pail is falling…” Surreal, and strange, and also possibly funny – it perfectly capsulizes the appeal of this band. Noah Kaplan’s Fear of Clouds is the most stunningly eerie piece here, ghost girl vocalese over starlit piano and then an agitated crescendo with bass pairing off against quavery saxophone terror – it would make a great horror movie theme. And the closing cut, Postlude, layers sepulchral sax overtones over a damaged yet catchy hook that refuses to die.

The covers are more lighthearted. Woozy sax pokes holes in an otherwise dead-serious and absolutely spot-on version of Arnold Schoenberg’s Galathea and his twisted little waltz, Der Genugsame Liebhaber, which by itself already seems something of a parody. Poulenc gets off a little easier: the band adds add murky apprehension to La Reine de Coeur and leaves the gorgeously ominous Lune d’Avril pretty much alone other than adding some sepulchral atmospherics at the end. Bouncing gently on some completely off-center, synthy prepared piano tones, Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here Comes That Rainy Day is reinvented as art-song with a comic wink, yet while bringing the lyrics into sharper focus than most jazz acts do. And a Charles Ives medley of The Cage, Maple Leaves and Evening makes a launching pad for the unexpected power in Rosalie Kaplan’s stratospheric upper registers, as well as Matthews’ mountains-of-the-moon piano and an unexpected minimalist, ambient interlude that only enhances the nocturnal vibe. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of 2011 at the end of the year.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knights Segue Through the Ages

As the Knights’ previous album Live from New York affirmed, the orchestra transcend any kind of “indie classical” label – they’re as much at home with Shostakovich as they are with Jimi Hendrix. Their first studio recording, New Worlds, artfully takes a characteristically diverse and ambitious selection of works from the Romantic era through the present day and casts them as a suite: the tracks basically segue into each other. As dissimilar as these compositions are, that the idea works at all is an achievement: that it works so well is a triumph worth celebrating. Conductor Eric Jacobsen (who’s also the cellist in another first-rate new music ensemble, the celebrated string quartet Brooklyn Rider) leads this adventurous crew with flair and gusto yet with an almost obsessive focus on minutiae: dynamics are everything here, and they are everywhere. For example, the apprehension of the trumpet motif rising out of Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, the opening track here – and its single, fleeting, cinematic cadenza that rises up and disappears like a ghost. Or the second movement of Latin Grammy winner Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas – An Andean Walkabout. It’s a game of hide-and-seek, pizzicato string accents amid stillness like woodland sprites. And then a spritely dance, with distant echoes of The Rites of Spring. It’s supposed to be evocative of native Andean instruments, but the Knights give them personalities.

And they breathe new life into an old chestnut. Dvorak’s Silent Woods swings and sways, with cellist Jan Vogler the soloist. These woods are very robustly alive – it’s a romp all the way through the trick ending. So the segue into Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round, a memorably bristling, staccato string homage to Piazzolla, works like a charm. Credit Golijov, as well for the counterintuitivity of the funereal second movement, whose counterpoint could almost pass for Brahms.

And that’s when the album ends, for us at least. The ensemble have a special fondness for Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, as they were playing it throughout the Obama campaign’s ascendancy up to the historic 2008 election. We’ll leave it to fans of that piece to contemplate where the Knights’ version stands alongside other recordings. The Knights’ next New York performance is on August 3 at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park – take the 72nd St. entrance on the east side, circle round the south side of Summerstage, go down the steps and it’ll be on your right.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment