Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Yet Another Great Noir Album and a Rare NYC Show from Punk Jazz Legends Iconoclast

New York punk jazz group Iconoclast’s latest album Naked Rapture is a masterpiece of noir, a sound they’ve been mining since the 80s. Much of it is a cleverly assembled theme and variations based on a brooding, utterly abandoned Julie Joslyn alto sax theme, interspersed among short pieces as diverse as a stripped-down reimagining of Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia, a jazzed-out version of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude (the only two covers among 25 tracks) and a deliciously acerbic sendup of takadimi drum language. Saxophonist/violinist Joslyn‘s evocation of the quintessential solitary busker, back up against a midtown brickwall sometime after midnight, serenading herself with a rapt, bittersweet beauty (heavier on the bitter than the sweet) is picture-perfect, unselfconsciously plaintive and worth the price of admission alone. She and her conspirator, drummer/pianist Leo Ciesa are playing a rare New York show this Friday, Oct 17 at 7 PM at Michiko Studios, 149 W 46th St.

Joslyn, for the most part, maintains a stiletto clarity on the sax, occasionally diverging to a haphazard wail, or creepily cold and techy when she hits her pedalboard. She plays violin less here than on other Iconoclast albums, using the instrument more for atmospherics or assaultiveness than for melody. Ciesa is a similarly nuanced player, even though he may be best known for his ability to summon the thunder (he also plays in long-running art/noise band Dr. Nerve). In addition, he provides alternately moody, resonant, Satie-esque or rippling, hammering Louis Andriessesn-ish piano and keyboard loops here and there.

The album is best appreciated as a suite, a single, raindrenched, wee-hours urban mood piece rather than a series of discrete tracks. Dancing, furtively stalking motives hand off to more austere, poignant passages. Ciesa leaps and bounds through the more jaunty parts, but he’s always there with a muted roll of the toms or a skull-cracking thud to signal a return to the mystery. There are also occasional moments of humor, a death-obsessed, Burroughsian jazz-poetry piece, and a hint of gamelanesque mayhem. It’s a Sam Fuller film (or Manfred Kirchheimer doc) for the ears. Now where can you hear this sonic treat? Right now, live, all the more reason to check out the show if dark cinematic sounds are your thing. There’s also plenty of audio and video documentation of the band’s career at their webpage.

Ciesa also has a solo drum album out that on face value might only be of interest to his fellow drummers – which it assuredly is, but is also a must-own for anyone who records music. Can’t afford to hire Ciesa for a record date? No problem. There are so many good, swinging beats here, from the simple and relatively four-on-the-floor to more complex and thought-provoking, perfectly suitable for innumerable projects across many genres.

October 16, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Survey of the Ages by Pianist Mackenzie Melemed

It’s always a good sign when a pianist’s best-performed pieces onstage are by Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Last night at the sonically superb auditorium at Temple Emanu-El just off Central Park, Mackenzie Melemed played a diverse program spanning from baroque to modern and excelled at all of it. There are other good eighteen-year-old pianists out there; what distinguishes Melemed from his peers is how attuned he is to emotional content. That, and blazing technique.

Melemed bookended the highly ornamented animation of Bach’s Aria Variata alla Maniera Italiana, BWV 989 with opening and concluding statements that were downright elegaic. After making his way through the alternately elegant and torrentially waltzing initial movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 26, Melemed sensed the proto-Chopin in the murky third movement and brought that plaintive foreshadowing into the dirge. And he gave a saturnine, deeply felt reading to Brahms’ Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119. These are late works, in fact the last that the composer wrote for solo piano, a bittersweet over-the-shoulder narrative that finally reaches to a heroic overture, giving Melemed a chance to air out a blazing fortissimo. Obviously, there are dynamics in all but the Bach that suggest specific emotions. But Melemed clearly didn’t just have those works in his fingers (he played from memory); they were in his head.

A brisk, precise take of a Scarlatti sonata was the curtain-lifter. Melemed established a similar upward trajectory after the intermission with a matter-of-factly crescendoing and eventually wrenching, emphatic take on Liszt’s Funerailles, then four Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableaux. These little preludes are brief but extremely challenging: Melemed charged through diabolically difficult, lightning-fast chromatics, a vivid two-handed conversation or two, stygian spaciousness versus twilit glitter and seemed to be having a ball – you would too, if you had the technique to play them. He wound up the concert with similarly acrobatic romps through Avner Dorman’s recent, equally knotty, picturesque Three Etudes. Melemed speed-painted Sundrops Over Windy Water, let the spacious, jazz-tinged block chords of the Funeral March linger and concluded with Snakes and Ladders, a showstopper with its rumbling low lefthand, crazily dancing motives and machinegunning chromatics. Sensing that the need for more fireworks was in order, he encored with a magnificent, express-train coda, Chopin’s famous Winter Wind Etude, Op. 25, No. 11.

The Sunday concert series here features a lot of similar first-rate, up-and-coming talent. The next concert is January 19 at 3 PM with pianist Hannah Sun.

December 16, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Afghan Youth Orchestra Shifts the Paradigm at Carnegie Hall

With a nod and a grin to Astor Piazzolla and Ravi Shankar, last night the Afghan Youth Orchestra mixed and mingled canonical western classics with material from their native land which, evidenced by the thunderous response from the expat contingent of what appeared to be a sold-out Carnegie Hall crowd, is equally iconic where they come from. The highlight of their US debut was William Harvey’s mashup of Vivaldi with traditional Afghani themes. As he did throughout the concert, Harvey conducted his jaunty, irresistibly iconoclastic arangement, The Four Seasons of Afghanistan, from memory. Any untightness – this was a student performance, after all – was rendered meaningless by the sheer fun the ensemble had with it. Voicing the opening parts of the suite in turn on rubab and tanbur lutes and ghichak fiddle added both surrealism and humor, balanced by alternately rousing and rapt Afghani folk interludes, most of them brief and succinct with the exception of an interminable sitar improvisation midway through. A buzz of excitement was in the air: who was going to get the next introduction or carry the next famous motif? Trumpeter James Herzog wowed the crowd by unleashing a long, sustained pedal note via circular breathing; percussionist Norma Ferreira spun perfect cut-glass ripples from her xylophone, getting some of the juiciest passages. And the sight of young Afghani women onstage playing instruments, their faces unveiled, was even more delightfully radical than the music.

It wasn’t long ago that what they were doing here would have earned them a death sentence back home (and to be truthful, still might in more backwater areas). But to see how far the Kabul-based Afghan National Institute of Music’s showcase group has come in the years since the organization’s revival in 2001, following years of inactivity and Taliban persecution, was heartwarming to the extreme. Pianist Said Elham Fanous teamed up with violinist Mikail Simonyan for an almost nonchalantly fluid, unselfconsciously haunting take of a Chopin nocturne. A litte bit later, the whole ensemble, joined by members of the Scarsdale High School Orchestra, romped through the Ravel Bolero, lutes and native fiddles and sitar and sarod joining in the fun just as with the Vivaldi as Harvey took it higher and higher.

Pioneering third-stream Afghani composer Salim Sarmast’s arrangement of the catchy, pulsing folk song Shakoko Jan, which served as both closer and encore, was one example of how ably this group and its leaders – including Ahmad Sarmast, the composer’s son – are able to merge traditions which differ in virtually all aspects including the scales employed by the instruments. The concert’s pensively anthemic opening theme – another Salim Sarmast chart – quickly established a visceral sense of teamwork and camaraderie among the ensemble. There were also brief interludes of folk themes, including a mini-raga highlighting sitar and sarod. Other instances revealed the interpolation of non-western modes to be a work in progress. As the arabesques built toward the conclusion of the Bolero, this worked like a charm. There were also places where the overtones of the sitars or the microtones of the ghichaks contrasted jarringly against western intervals. Sometimes it seemed to be intentional, a hair-raisingly effective device; elsewhere, it just sounded out of tune. Anyone who’s tried to bridge the gap between two dissimilar musical cultures has to grapple with the often minute distinction between paradigm shift and pitfall. This concert revealed this talented young ensemble to be as well-suited to such a challenge as anyone could possibly want.

February 13, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jenny Q Chai Captures a Moment in New York History

In a mighty stroke of coincidence, or the kind of luck that an artist would never wish on an audience, Jenny Q Chai sure picked the right program for her Poisson Rouge debut last night. In the low lights of the downstairs space, less than 48 hours after it reopened in the wake of the hurricane, the pianist went into Lynchian mode and stayed there for pretty much the duration of her concert. Maybe the effect was enhanced by having just come from Zirzamin around the corner – a Twin Peaks room if there ever was one – but all of downtown has been in a surreal, uneasy mood since the storm. Chai captured it perfectly, a mix of ambitious contemporary solo works along with some unexpected relief that blended in seamlessly even as it contrasted with the rest of the program. This wasn’t about pyrotechnics: it was about the mist afterward.

Chai began with Satie’s Three Gymnopedies, whose ghoulish nuances are as difficult to capture as the notes themselves are easy to play. She took the easy route with them, straightforwardly hinting at waltz time. Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstücke, Op.11 made a perfect segue, ramping up the chilly, surreal nocturnal ambience. Another Klavierstücke, this one by Stockhausen, was next on the bill, but instead, an attractively fugal melody wafted from the piano. Did Stockhausen ever go for baroque and comedic? It wouldn’t have been outside the realm of possibility, but it became clear from a glance at the program that these were in fact genuine Scarlatti pieces. True to form, Chai did the two sonatas totally straight-up without any kind of dancing lilt. What happened to Stockhausen? Turns out that Chai had nixed the work since there was already plenty of heavy stuff on the bill.

The rest of the program was nocturnes, more or less. Marco Stroppa’s Innnige Cavatina utilized muted notes and plucking inside the piano to enhance the otherworldly lunar ambience; Chai reverted to the same atmosphere a bit later with Andre Bouchorechliev’s Orion III. Nils Vigeland’s Barcarolle, from Life Sketches, etched a more spacious and suspenseful deep-space tableau with its muxic box tonalities and muted low lefthand notes creating a sound like a Fender bass: for a minute or two, Chai was a one-woman band. She closed with the Chopin Barcarolle, which is as far from Twin Peaks as this city is. But even this lullaby got a cautious understatement, perhaps a conscious allusion to the moment’s persistent unease, perhaps not. The audience – larger than expected under the circumstances – refused to let Chai leave without an encore, so she sang them Victoria Jordanova’s Prayer, a simple and vividly anxious piece with lyrics in several languages, and then sent everyone home on a peaceful note with Child Falling Asleep, from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

November 5, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Quiet Knockout from Bruce Levingston

Pianist Brue Levingston’s new Still Sound is a gorgeously conceptual album of nocturnes that follows a concert-like trajectory. It would be simplistic to reduce it to the mechanics of stately lefthand and glimmering upper righthand, although that’s a fairly accurate description of the most traditionally nocturnal pieces here. Intriguingly, Erik Satie is the connecting link, a brave move considering how specifique Satie is.  Levingston doesn’t take any chances with the famous Gymnopedie No. 2, but he does with Gnossiennes No. 2 and 3, and there his whispery, lento interpretation is a knockout, a welcome change from how most players shy away from anything more than letting Satie’s creepy, otherworldly angst speak for itself. Augusta Gross’ Dance of the Spirits makes a great segue: derivative yet inspired, it could be the long-lost Gnossienne #7.

The spaciousness of the Satie is aptly foreshadowed in Levington’s choices of openers, Arvo Part’s minimalist Fur Alina and the more rhythmic Variationen zur gesundung von Arinuschka. Gross, who serves as a parallel connecting element here, is first represented by the quietly macabre allusions of a brief diptych, Venturing Forth Anew. The brisk twinkles and ripples of Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 9, No. 4 make another tremendously successful segue; Levingston takes full advantage of the opportunity to hit it harder as it moves along and darkens before bringing back the opening ambience. Chopin’s distantly uneasy Chopin Nocturne in B flat, Op. 9, No. 1 leaves no doubt what Satie’s stepping-off point was. The album’s concluding tracks include William Bolcom’s New York Lights, which gets a wistful reading, Levingston’s lefthand mimicking the sonics of an upright bass feeling for steady ground around a central tone, and then a steadily gleaming take on Gross’ Reflections on Air. Out now on Sono Luminus, it’s a quietly powerful reminder of why Levingston has become the go-to pianist for many of this era’s most intriguing composers.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Is What We Lose If We Lose Japan

Watching Japanese pianists Miwa Onodera and then Hikaru Nakajo play the piano expertly, and soufully, at Pro Piano’s benefit for Japan in their wonderfully low-key recital space on Jane Street in the West Village Sunday afternoon was surreal to the extreme. Had they already been fatally poisoned by radiation from the Fukushima plant? Would they (hopefully!!!) find a place here in the US? We can talk clinically or cynically about an “extinction event,” but when we look at the individuals impacted by this catastrophe, a chilling reality sinks in. The corporate media, under instructions from the richest one tenth of one percent of the population, wilfully fail to acknowledge the reality of the situation lest there be a Grapes of Wrath in reverse, a mass exodus from the West Coast, as there should be. Forget for a minute that the water in Tokyo is undrinkable and the air there is unbreathable. Radioactive iodine a thousand times more lethal than governmentally approved “safe” levels has been found in drinking water in British Columbia; the organic milk in San Francisco is not far behind. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy, who accompanied Onodera virtuosically and intensely with a riveting, crystalline tone, went to Japan a couple of days after this concert. Pray for him if you believe in prayer.

The concert was beautiful, and austere, and also passionate, every emotion you would try to evoke if you might be playing your last show. One can only hope for composer Tsuboi Ippo, whose preludes Nakajo and Onodera played. The most hauntingly beautiful moment of the night was a duo performance by Piercy and Onodera, a poignant, elegaic Chopinesque Ippo nocturne whose sadness translated even more vividly in light of the past three weeks’ events. They also played a casually crescendoing, absolutely brilliant version of Piazzolla’s Grand Tango, Onodera holding back until the end when she crashed in with a triumphant majesty, and a couple of Gershwin pieces, a nonchalantly sly It Ain’t Necessarily So and an inventively hazy take on Summertime.

Nakajo played a series of Ippo preludes that ranged from suspenseful Chopinesque Romanticism to acidic modernism; Onodera followed with more, ending with a very smartly understatedly version of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 – where other pianists would have gone for the jugular with this showstopper, she made it a clinic in judicious dynamics. One can only wonder how many others like her won’t make it to New York in the coming months.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Young Concert Artists Take Over Symphony Space

Where the hell was everyone? Symphony Space’s annual “wall to wall” concert marathons vary widely from the transcendent to the absurd, but the last couple of years have been solidly in the former camp, and a view of the afternoon portion of Saturday’s reaffirmed its potential for transcendence. This year’s theme tied into the Young Concert Artists mentoring system, with both graduates of the program, up-and-coming performers and mentors delivering some sensational performances. We missed the hour of Bach that began at the cruel hour of eleven in the morning: due to the demands of his day job, Bach may have become a morning person, but this generation of musicians are not. By half past noon, the shlep up to 96th St. looked like a good choice. And where were the locals? Usually, by noon, these marathons are impossible to get into. Was it the swirling winds, foreshadowing a future tornado along Broadway? It certainly wasn’t a lack of starpower. Among the performers hastily gathered for this marathon: pianists Emanuel Ax and Jeremy Denk, the Borromeo and Jasper String Quartets.

At half past noon, violinist Juliette Kang and cellist Efe Baltacigil were wrapping up a closely attentive, intense version of Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello. Denk was supposed to play Bach but reverted to a piece he said he knew well, enjoyed and played recently, a Gyorgy Ligeti suite, which proved irresistibly powerful, from its uninhibited crashing and banging in the first movement, to hypnotic, circular 20th century ambience to a reversion to fiery atonal staccato. It’s a rigorously intense, richly arrranged and practically impossible work to do as fast as he did it, but Denk made it seem if he’d grown up with it.

A Schubert hour saw Emmanuel Ax deliver a confidently rippling Impromptu followed by the Trout Quintet played with inspired intensity by a succession of pianists along with violinist Benny Kim, violist Barry Shiffman, cellist Robert Martin and bassist DaXun Zhang. Then it was time for a break for the world’s best garlic knots (La Famiglia Pizza, 96th and Amsterdam, serves them with barely cooked, crushed garlic, a healing ritual for anyone who dares ingest them). And after that, was the space sold out? No. Easy come, easy go. Was it the tornado-like gusts outside? The lack of global warming temperatures? What is up with you guys? Oh, did we mention, the show was free?

The 2 PM hour concluded with Tschaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, by a talented pickup band, and then a hypnotic, lush, otherworldly hour of Chopin played by a succession of Young Concert Artists players: Wendy Chen, Sergei Edelman and others (the program didn’t gibe with the parade of musicians onstage).

February 21, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ana Milosavljevic’s New Reflections Album: Into a Pool Darkly

Serbian-American violinist/composer Ana Milosavljevic’s new album Reflections is a fascinating, austerely gripping collection of recent works by women composers, most of them of Eastern European origin. The strongest piece here is her own Reflections, a brooding, Satie-esque prelude of sorts featuring the matter-of-fact piano of Terezija Cukrov. It’s meant to be bittersweet, which it unquestionably is: as the melody shifts ever so subtly, it’s an unaffectedly wrenching chronicle of struggle that leaves some possibility for redemption at the end, on the horizon: hope doesn’t get any closer than that. The Spell III, by Aleksandra Vrebalov illustrates a folk tale about a fairy losing her powers after falling in love with a human. It’s a still, mostly horizontal piece, a handful of swooping violin accents eventually taking centerstage against the ebb and flow of the atmospherics with just a hint of disquiet. A tone poem, White City by Katarina Miljkovic portrays Belgrade as it wakes and starts to bustle with activity, briefly echoing phrases moving through the frame against a hypnotic, somewhat astringently droning ambience.

Meant to evoke a threatening, possibly apocalyptic milieu, Undertow, by Margaret Fairlie-Kennedy has the feel of a horror film score, rumbling low-register piano alternating with eerily sailing violin up to an ominously sustained interlude, the violin emerging wounded and limping. Milosavljevic’s own Untitled is a Balkan-tinged dance performance piece, austerely graceful motifs amid stillness or silence. Eve Beglarian’s Wolf Chaser, a heavily processed electroacoustic number, oscillates interminably until finally a catchy violin loop emerges about nine minutes into it. The album concludes with Svjetlana Bukvich-Nichols’ Before and After the Tekke, a memorably gypsyish mini-suite that evokes the hypnotic swirl of trip-hop string band Copal as well as Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score. It’s a valuable and compelling look at several composers who deserve to be better known than they are – one can only imagine how many others there are out there who deserve the kind of inspired performance that Milosavljevic offers here.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYU’s Repertory Orchestra: Ready for Prime Time

We were sussed to this one via an email from the extraordinary violist/composer/bandleader Ljova Zhurbin, who’s had a good year writing film and ballet scores (his eclectic Russian/gypsy/tango string group the Kontraband plays live for Aszure Barton’s Busk dance performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Ctr., 450 W. 37th St., – tickets are still available for one of the four remaining performances, 12/18 at 3 PM). Student orchestras have their ups and downs, which is understandable, but this year’s edition of the NYU Repertory Orchestra is Carnegie Hall-caliber. This performance was an unexpected treat, and it might have something to do with the fact that Zhurbin’s cellist pal Eric Jacobsen (from cutting-edge string quartet Brooklyn Rider and their sister orchestra the Knights) conducts the ensemble. It wasn’t just a matter of getting the notes and dynamics right: there were both chemistry and soul in the two pieces we managed to catch Friday night along with an obvious, high-spirited camaraderie between conductor and orchestra. They’re obviously psyched to have him out in front; he’s obviously psyched to have his finger on the pulse of this much up-and-coming talent. Some of these players will be filling the seats at Lincoln Center in a couple of years.

The Ljova composition Garmoshka (Russian for “button accordion”) was first on the bill, a characteristically wry, bittersweet waltz originally written for accordion and viola and lushly rearranged to air out a series of jaunty but wary motifs jeweled with tricky twists and turns as they alternate between various sections of the orchestra. It got warmer as it went along; it had a happy ending (it made its premiere at a wedding). The trickiest passages fell to the winds, who absolutely nailed them: Ashley Williams and SooA Kim on flutes; Matthew Brady and Andrew Policastro on oboes; Charles Furlong and Catherine Kim on clarinets and Sean Huston and Jordana Schacht-Levine on bassoons. And Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto (the first one he wrote, actually) wasn’t merely a case of the orchestra proving themselves able to follow the keyboard melody: they formed a seamless whole with Kiyomi Kimura’s ecstatic yet fluidly ripping fingerwork. As much as the program notes alluded to the fact that some listeners consider the piece overwrought, much of it is unselfsconsciously moving, particularly the final allegro vivace movement, which was given a vivid sense of longing and displacement. Pieces by Phillip Glass and Schubert were next after the intermission, but by then it was time (or so we thought) to go over the bridge to hear a bunch of noise-rock bands.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/25/10

Happy birthday Rama!

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #857:

Chopin – 24 Preludes – Walter Klien, Piano

We began this countdown last month not with single album but with a page full of obvious choices: Dark Side of the Moon, London Calling, Sketches of Spain and a whole slew of iconic, well-known ones that we figured needed no explanation. This one doesn’t need much of that either. There are a million Chopin preludes collections out there; we chose this one out of familiarity (admittedly, not a very good reason), the quality of the pieces (one classic after another) and the fact that Klien’s 1960 recording is truly excellent. For anyone who might be new to his music, pianist and composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was the godfather of gypsy rock, a paradigm shifter and the guy most responsible for jumpstarting the Romantic era (following the Classical era, of Haydn and Mozart) in western instrumental music. Much of his work is wrenchingly intense, dark, brooding and unselfconsciously anguished, as are many of these, notably the dirgelike C Minor Prelude and the otherwordly E Minor one, both of which have been in a million movies and which you will instantly recognize if you don’t already know them. More effectively than any other composer, he blended the austere, bitter minor key chromatics of eastern Europe with the simpler majors and minors of the west. Without Chopin, it’s hard to imagine Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff or for that matter Gogol Bordello. As popular as this particular album was, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything promising, probably because search engines mistake Klien’s name for “klein.” So here’s one for a well-known, solidly good Maurizio Pollini collection.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment