Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Warmly Enveloping Sound Pictures from Doug Wieselman

Solo albums made on instruments that typically don’t play more than a single pitch at a time are usually of interest only to people who play those instruments. Doug Wieselman‘s warmly ambient, thoughtful, vinyl-only new solo album From Water is the exception to that rule. It’s a minimalist mix of loopmusic played on both clarinet and bass clarinet, occasionally flashing the dry, puckish wit that is one of Wieselman’s signature traits. The other is lyricism, which explains why he’s been one of New York’s most in-demand reedmen for well over a decade with acts from the legendary Kamikaze Ground Crew to Lou Reed and the Dimestore Dance Band. The longtime denizen of the original Knitting Factory/Tonic/Stone scene is playing the album release show for this one, presumably solo, on Feb 4 at 10:30 PM at the Poisson Rouge for $10.

The compositions’ unifying theme is melody influenced by the sound of water and wind, a close listen to the sounds of the earth and what they might imply and an elegantly shifting counterpart to what Handel did over 200 years ago. A handful of the works here are miniatures, the rest of them fairly brief, around five minutes or less. The opening piece sets long, layered tones over a quietly looping traintrack rhythm, Wieselman developing a rather plaintive melody with a clear, crystalline sostenuto. On a couple of other tracks, Wieselman’s pulsing, corkscrew loops evoke bagpipes, especially where he utilizes close harmonies, spinning them back through the mix with a kaleidoscopic swirl. In many of these numbers, he deftly orchestrates a calm/animated dichotomy, with spirals, trills and tersely melismatic motives set against a drone or a calmly circular phrase. Jazz is rarely if ever referenced here, the blues only distantly, although there are several nostalgic, folksy interludes and a long vamp with more than a hint of vintage 60s soul music.

There’s a pastorale where you might pull off your headphones to see if a certain sound is coming from your radiator, and also a choral version of that work, seemingly an arrangement for two voices recorded live. While there are a handful of passages where Wieselman utilizes his vaunted technique for some lickety-split arpeggios and trills, the album’s overall effect is soothing and contemplative. Turn on, drop the needle in the groove, you know the rest.

January 15, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tom Piercy’s Richly Diverse Program of Japanese and American Music Comes to Spectrum This June

Saturday at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, clarinetist Tom Piercy joined forces with pianist Mika Tanaka and special guest shakuhachi player Elizabeth Brown for a fascinatingly eclectic, virtuosic program of new chamber works which contrast Japanese composers’ views of New York with their New York counterparts’ views of Japan. Those who missed the show have a second chance to catch it this coming June 2 at 3 PM at Spectrum on Ludlow Street.  Although most of the works are relatively short, assembling a bill comprising 22 composers – several of whom were in attendance at Saturday’s show – was no small feat, and the ensemble tackled the music’s wide range of demands with verve, insight and sensitivity.

Piercy has made a name for himself as a first-rate interpreter of nuevo tango and Astor Piazzolla, but another specialty of his is contemporary Japanese music. He had commissioned several of the works on the bill, and it’s no wonder that so many composers jumped at the opportunity. While Piercy is not a showy player, his extended technique is subtly spectacular: thoughout the concert, he exhibited misty overtones, eerie polytonalities, perfectly sinuous glissandos and command of the lows and highs beyond the reach of most clarinetists. Likewise, Tanaka varied her approach from warm neoromanticism to jaggedly percussive on some of the more atonal, harsher numbers, while Brown vividly evoked the nuances of birdsong, particularly during a solo piece of her own toward the end of the bill.

Piercy began the program solo on a small but lower-register Japanese wood flute, with a resonant but ghostly solo piece of his own. The trio closed with the American premiere of Hifumi Shimoyama’s Alamgam-A, a theme and variations that hypnotically morphed between airy traditional Japanese folk themes and more austere, modern tonalities voice mainly by the piano. Tanaka got to diversify herself on the starlit, distantly Satie-influenced Toro Nagashi, by Masatora Goya, as well as with Kento Iwasaki’s Autumn Festival, which shifted abruptly from a jaunty tango-flavored celebration to bittersweet neoromanticism, and the apprehensively crescendoing mood swings of Ippei Inoue’s Nostalgia.

A series of miniatures followed a lingering solo piece by Brown. Highlights included an otherworldly, microtonal dance by Daniel J. Thompson; Armando Ayala’s Sakana, which packed a sonata’s worth of ideas into barely a minute; brief pastoral tableaux from Greg Bartholomew and Andrew Davis; and resonant, spacious austerity from Andy Cohen and Michael Frazier.

The most gripping work might have been Tanaka’s own somber, plaintive, unexpectedly gritty In the Garden. Surprisingly, the majority of the program for the most part eschewed traditional Asian scales, save for Yohei Kurihara’s Yuu. A bit later, a rapidfire, tongue-in-cheek piee incorporating droll spoken-word interludes by Yuichi Matsumoto gave Piercy a workout, poking fun at the annoying and usually unncessary interruptions the online world makes in our daily lives. Not only was this a diverse and entertaining introduction to up-and-coming composers, it also made for a rare opportunity to hear works seldom played outside Japan. That becomes all the more important in a post-3/11 world – other than playing great music, Piercy is doing crucial cultural preservation work here.

May 20, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, 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

Seamlessness and Contrast at Trinity Church

Thursday at Trinity Church clarinetist Maksim Shtrykov and pianist Alina Kiryayeva delivered a terrifically enjoyable show of some lesser-known pieces for the two instruments. Shtrykov has a clarity that’s viscerally breathtaking. His quicksilver legato made the streams and frequent torrents of notes seem absolutely effortless even though much of the program was considerably demanding. The only giveaway that he was working hard was how he swayed along with the music at the edge of the stage. Kiryayeva, by contrast, didn’t hold back. As comfortably fluid as her approach was, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to call it an attack, which brought a welcome energy to the bill. Their seamlessness together undoubtedly stems from having worked together since the middle of the previous decade.

Up first was Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for Piano, Op. 70. It worked as an opener, perfectly pleasant and far more challenging for the performers than the listeners. The piece de resistance was Saint-Saens’ Sonata in E Flat for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 167, an absolutely delicious four-part suite. It’s got Saint-Saens’ signature humor, but also his signature plaintiveness, and it was here where Kiryayeva dug in and found the intensity in every unexpected dynamic shift, especially in the second, allegro animato movement while Shtrykov mined the poignancy in the pensive, lento third movement as well as the counterintuitively misty end of the final allegro. They closed with Weber’s Grand Duo Concertante, Op. 48 which is sort of the classical equivalent of garage rock: an endless series of call-and-response, you can see the changes and ideas coming a mile away, but playing them is another story! Even in the andante con moto second movement, the cascades come in endless waves and the duo met the challenge head on and walked away victoriously after another seemingly endless series of false endings. These works – and these performers – deserve to be better-known.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Thomas Piercy and Vilian Ivantchev’s Cafe Album

A collection of brilliant segues. For a casual listener, this is the perfect rainy day album, pleasantly pensive with a balance of melancholy and more upbeat material, especially toward the end. For more adventurous fans, it’s a smartly innovative concept that works all the way through. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy and acoustic guitarist Vilian Ivantchev link fourteen pieces together as a suite, beginning with the French late Romantics, taking a detour into the German baroque before following the gypsy path to Brazil and from there to Argentina, where the trail ends on a note that threatens to jump out of its shoes with joy. It’s a very subtly fun ride.

Having worked with both Leonard Bernstein and KRS-One, Piercy is diversely talented. He’s as strong in his upper register, with a buoyant, flute-like presence on Telemann’s A Minor Sonata, or soaring with bandoneon textures on the Piazzolla pieces here that close the album, as he is mining the darker sonorities of Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances suite, or Erik Satie’s Gnossienne or Gymnopedie No. 1. Ivantchev displays almost superhuman discipline, restraining himself to terse, rock-solid chordal work or precise arpeggios, with the exception of the Piazzolla where he gets to cut loose a little more – but not much. Ultimately, this album is all about connections, and the duo make them everywhere. Debussy’s Le Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (The Blonde Girl) follows so seamlessly out of Satie that it could practically be the same piece. Likewise, following the last of Bartok’s gypsy dance transcriptions with Villa-Lobos’ Modinha is so logical that it’s almost funny when you think about it. The duo close the album with two brief arrangements of songs by vintage Argentinan tanguero Carlos Gardel (Mi Manita Pampa and Sus Ojos Se Cerraron) into a stripped-down yet melodically rich version of Piazzolla’s four-part suite Histoire du Tango and then, seemingly as an encore, Jacinto Chiclana which ends the album on a note equally balmy and bracing. Piercy’s viscerally intuitive feel for the tension-and-release of tango lets the guitar hold things together this time, giving him a chance to launch into some quiet rejoicing. Piercy plays the cd release show for this album at Caffe Vivaldi on June 19 at 8:15 PM with his trio: live, they are considerably more boisterous.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Grneta Duo+ at Bechstein Hall, NYC 5/27/10

The concert was billed as something of a wild and crazy night, but it was as much about the strength and intelligence of the playing and the compositions as it was about raw excitement. The Grneta Duo+ dedicate themselves to preserving the dual clarinet tradition, which isn’t as uncommon as it might seem, particularly in eastern Europe. Clarinetist Vasko Dukovski won first prize at the International Woodwind Competition at Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, which in the clarinet world is sort of the equivalent of being named guitarist of the year at jambase. His fellow reedman and Juilliard pal Ismail Lumanovski is one of the world’s foremost improvisers in any style of music, perhaps most notably with the New York Gypsy All-Stars. The “+” in the group is pianist Alexandra Joan, a perfect addition with her edgy intensity, confidently wide-ranging virtuosity and also a degree of gravitas. It’s not hard to imagine her in rehearsal: “C’mon, guys, let’s get serious.” As much as this was an evening of sophisticatedly tongue-in-cheek fun, there were just as many moments of flat-out, riveting power.

The trio opened with Bartok’s Romanian Dances, a suite of fairly simple themes that gave the clarinets plenty of opportunity to playfully blend and bend their tones. Dukovski and Joan would revisit a similar suite, Pablo de Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs later on, Dukovski airing out his upper register boisterously over Joan’s cantabile glimmer. The first of two world premieres, Gerald Cohen’s Grneta Variations very cleverly worked permutations of a cantorial theme (without any particular liturgical connotation, the composer explained beforehand). A recurrent fanfare with the clarinets grew with increasing degrees of disquiet, juxtaposed against a series of increasingly more comedic motifs; Joan handled her score’s tricky rhythms with a nimble aplomb worthy of Dave Brubeck.

Night at the Kafana, by Nicholas Csicsko was premiered by Lumanovski at Carnegie Hall last year. Interpolating several famous Balkan folk themes within a sometimes bracing, sometimes otherworldly architecture, it hinted at a dance, morphed into a big ballad and then a matter-of-factly nail-biting rondo that the duo of Lumanovski and Joan approached with a nonchalantly singleminded intensity.

Lumanovski then went off-program, leading Dukovski in an improvisation that awed the crowd: both clarinetists are Macedonian, so Dukovski was instantly, seemingly intuitively in on his bandmate’s sizzling, rhythmically dizzying flights, eventually moving from providing a pulse to join in the whirlwind of savage chromatic fun. The last two pieces were a study in contasts, Mohammed Fairouz’ Ughiat Mariam (another world premiere) stoically, stately and soulfully expanded on an understatedly brooding Arabic theme, while Serbian clarinetist/composer Ante Grgin’s Hameum Suite became a delightfully counterintuitive dialogue between two very distinct clarinet voices, Dukovski following Lumanovski’s most brilliantly blazing passage of the night with a suave deviousness, as if to say, “uh uh, that’s not how it’s done” and then picking up with the same lightning attack when least expected while Joan anchored the work with an unaffected plaintiveness. She’s a leading advocate of the music of George Enesco, and that influence could be felt strongly here.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ken Peplowski – Noir Blue

Most of what we like to spread the word about here is pretty edgy and intense. This is neither. In fact, veteran jazz reedman Ken Peplowski’s new album is about as far from noir as you can get and not particularly blue either. But it’s very smart – and the obvious fun the band had recording it is absolutely irresistible if you’re into this kind of stuff. Peplowski did his first gigs in a polka band in his native Cleveland, got his start in big band jazz as as teenager in the Tommy Dorsey Band, and was hired by Benny Goodman on tenor sax when Goodman came out of retirement in 1984. Since then he’s put out thirty albums as a bandleader – as he intimates in the liner notes to this one, he’s come to the point where he only does an album when he feels like it, not just because he owes one to the label, so this was inspired right from the git-go. The band on this one is oldschool: Shelley Berg on piano, bassist to the stars Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe La Barbera have a wise yet joyous chemistry that jumps out, track after track.

The album kicks off with a briskly shuffling swing version of Irving Berlin’s The Best Thing for You Is Me, scurrying piano cascades echoed by Peplowski’s boisterously fluid clarinet. A casually sunny take of Berg’s catchy Home with You hints at bossa nova, Peplowski blowing nimble clusters into a genial, laid-back Berg solo. Three of the tracks here come out of the Strayhorn/Ellington archive: Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies breezes along with a staggered tango beat on the pulse of La Barbera’s mallets; Multi-Colored Blue swings comfortably for over eight minutes and then comes up rousingly at the end, the title track the album’s standout number with its brooding, pensive piano matched by Peplowski’s blue-grey waves.

Hoagy Carmichael’s Riverboat Shuffle is reinvented as a sly slinkathon with a buoyant Leonhart solo, the first-call bassist for seemingly every A-list jazz singer out there showing off characteristic terseness but also also a propulsive drive that he doesn’t always get a chance to kick into on all those ballads. Love Locked Out by Ray Noble is a gently bluesy wee-hours ballad with Georgia on My Mind echoes. La Barbera’s If Not for You fits right in with its warmly catchy hook and bright solos from Leonhart and Berg and a briefly boisterous one from its composer, a formula followed on a romping take of Jerome Kern’s Nobody Else but Me. The album winds up on a high note with the considerably contrasting, rousing Peplowski original, Little Dogs driven by some strikingly uneasy tenor sax work. The whole thing makes for upbeat, fun listening for late nights and relaxing Sunday afternoons – if someone you know subjects you to elevator jazz, turn them on to this, they won’t know the difference and you won’t have to suffer anymore. It’s out now on Capri Records.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Piazzolla in New York?

Always a hotly debatable question. On Monday afternoon, there couldn’t have been anything better. Should anyone claim that Argentinan bandoneon player and bandleader Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) wasn’t one of the greatest composers of alltime, the trio of Thomas Piercy (clarinet), Masataka Odaka (upright bass) and Claudine Hickman (piano) reaffirmed that brilliantly throughout their afternoon performance at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Throughout his career, Piazzolla was torn between two worlds, classical and traditional Argentinian tango. While living in New York as a boy he took piano lessons and discovered the joys and pleasures of Bach; later, in the 1940s, having returned to Argentina and established himself as a player and songwriter, he ventured deeply into jazz, incorporating that as well into his own unique vision. Perhaps because he had one foot in what was then considered pop culture, and the other in the all-so-serious world of classical music, Piazzolla’s music is stormy, often downright anguished. Most of his greatest works are in dark minor keys replete with tense, riveting crescendos and all sorts of drama, the ominous, flamenco-inspired beat always driving it on. The trio of Piercy, Odaka and Hickman brought out all of this but also the sunnier, jazzier side of the great composer in what was essentially an impressively inclusive overview of Piazzolla’s career.

Because Piazzolla was such a genre-bender, his music has been arranged for all different types of configurations, from rock bands (notably Big Lazy) to full orchestra to fusion jazz. Piercy’s often mournful clarinet, flying over Hickman’s tasteful, understated piano and Odaka’s insistent, pulsing bass brought out every bit of melody in the program. Because Piazzolla liked a big, lush sound, playing his bandoneon – a German accordion – with a full orchestra roaring behind him, tunes were occasionally subsumed beneath lavish arrangements. The opposite was the case here. The trio ran through the angst-driven, somewhat death-obsessed Oblivion, the misnamed Tango del Diablo (which begins with a big eerie cadenza before quieting down and building very subtly), Le Grand Tango (a beautiful, overtly classical mini-suite from late in Piazzolla’s career) and one of Piazzolla’s most popular and catchy compositions, Solitude, with confidence and sensitivity to even minute emotional shifts. They closed the almost hourlong program with his 1960s composition, the darkly and somewhat modernistic Tango Six, the somewhat wistful, classically-inflected Angel’s Tango and finally the surprisingly optimistic, jazzy Invierno Porteno (Winter in Buenos Aires). The crowd – a mix of retirees and office workers on their lunch break – were spellbound. If Piercy’s planned upcoming recording of Piazzolla works is anything like this, it’ll be amazing.

April 3, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments