Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Magically Haunting Creative Jazz on the Lower East Side

Over the past couple of months, there’s been an intriguing series of concerts, simply called Art in Gardens., featuring some of New York’s best creative jazz artists rotating through three community gardens on the Lower East Side. Saturday afternoon’s concluding concert at the Children’s Magical Garden, a leafy little Stanton Street oasis, was rapturously fun. Although guitarist Ava Mendoza seemed to be the ringleader, this was definitely a democratic performance, bassist Shayna Dulberger, tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and Daniel Carter, who began the set on trumpet but then switched to tenor as well, exchanged ideas and musical banter and frequently sizzling riffage with a remarkably singleminded commitment to keeping a garden full of jazz fans entertained.

Free jazz gets a bad rap for being self-indulgent because it so often is: this was anything but. How did this crew keep it so focused? By sticking close to a central note, maintaining a lot of resonant, sustained lines rather than disembodied, herky-jerky notes, and keeping solos terse and thoughtful.

When she wasn’t punching out catchy, looping basslines, including one deviously extended interlude that finally veered away from 7/8 time, Dulberger used her bow for pitchblende washes that drew the music into deep, dark terrain. And the one time she hit a bubbly phrase and the rest of the crew resisted, she backed away, letting the music find its own natural flow.

Carter alternated between airy, sustained notes, methodical rises and falls and one particularly sage, saturnine, deep blues interlude where the band pulled back to let that majesty stand out. Lewis played what might have been the afternoon’s most gorgeous solo – such that there there were any solos at all – with a biting, Middle Eastern-tinged poignancy. Alternating between trebly distortion and lingering, sunbaked, bluesy minimalism, Mendoza managed to make her menacing chromatics and macabre tritones work seamlessly within this unsettled but less overtly dark context.

Finally, she cut loose with a nonchalantly savage series of tremolo-picked upper-register chords, then looped them with a pedal and added even more ominous low harmonies. That was the signal to the rest of the band to cut loose, but even there, the steady lattice of notes between the saxes along with Dulberger’s snaky, circular phrasing didn’t go completely nuts: this storm was headed in a very specific direction, straight to the endorphin center of the brain.

The Art in Gardens series may be over, but the organizers are still booking shows all over town, including an excellent “un-Columbus Day” three-day festival opening on Oct 11 at El Taller Latinoamericano at 215 E 99th St.

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October 7, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Music Duo andPlay and Cello Rocker Meaghan Burke Put on a Serious Party at the Edge of Chinatown

How do violin/viola duo andPlay manage to create such otherworldly, quietly phantasmagorical textures? Beyond their adventurous choice of repertoire, they use weird alternate tunings. Folk and rock guitarists have been doing that since forever, but unorthodox tunings are a relatively new phenomenon in the chamber music world. At the release party for their new album Playlist at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. last night, violist Hannah Levinson and violinist Maya Bennardo – with some help from their Rhythm Method buds Meaghan Burke and Leah Asher, on harmonica and melodica, respectively – evoked a ghost world that was as playful and bracing as it was envelopingly sepulchral. Anybody who might mistakenly believe that all 21st century serious concert music is stuffy or wilfully abstruse needs to check out the programming here.

The party was in full effect before the music started. A sold-out crowd pregamed with bourbon punch and grapefruit shots. As the performance began, Levinson sent a big bucket of fresh saltwater taffy around the audience, seated in the round. The charismatic Burke opened with a brief solo set of characteristically biting, entertainingly lyrical cello-rock songs. Calmly and methodically, she shifted between catchy, emphatic basslines, tersely slashing riffs, starry pizzicato and hypnotic, loopy minimalism. The highlights included Hysteria, a witheringly funny commentary on medieval (and much more recent) patriarchal attempts to control womens’ sexual lives, along with a wry, guardedly optimistic, brand-new number contemplating the hope tbat today’s kids will retain the ability to see with fresh eyes.

Dressed in coyly embroidered, matching bespoke denim jumpsuits, andPlay wasted no time introducing the album’s persistently uneasy, close harmonies  with a piece that’s not on it, Adam Roberts‘ new Diptych. Contrasting nebulous ambience with tricky polyrhythmic counterpoint, the duo rode its dynamic shfits confidently through exchanges of incisive pizzicato with muted austerity, to a particularly tasty, acerbic, tantalizingly brief coda.

Clara Ionatta’s partita Limun, Levinson explained, was inspired by the Italian concept of lemon as a panacea. Playful sparring between the duo subtly morphed into slowly drifting tectonic sheets, finally reaching a warmer, more consonant sense of closure that was knocked off its axis by a sudden, cold ending.

The laptop loops of composer David Bird‘s live remix of his epic Apochrypha threatened to completely subsume the strings, but that quasar pulse happily receded to the background. It’s the album’s most distinctly microtonal track, Bennardo and Levinson quietly reveling in both its sharp, short, flickeringly agitated riffs and misty stillness.

The next concert at the space at 1 Rivington is on Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with composer Molly Herron and the Argus Quartet celebrating the release of their new album “with music and poetry that explore history and transformation.” Cover is $20/$10 stud.

October 5, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thrills and Chills with Organist Jeremy Filsell at St. Thomas Church

“What an extraordinary time to arrive here,” organist and new St. Thomas Church music director Jeremy Filsell reflected during his extensive opening remarks Friday night to kick off this year’s Grand Organ Series there. Considering that he gets to spend more time than anyone else at the church’s new Miller-Scott organ, he’s in an enviable position. This mighty instrument is even louder and more colorful than the old hybrid Aeolian-Skinner model it replaced – and that machine was a beast.

Filsell also spoke of standing on the shoulders of giants. Gerre Hancock, who served as music director here for over thirty years, was one of them, one of the world’s great organ improvisers and a first-class composer as well. Filsell played one of his works, Trumpet Flourishes for Christmas, airing out the fiery trumpet stops located in the ceiling with a playfully triumphant dialogue bookending a swirling joie de vivre over long, resonant tones. Having had the good fortune to hear Dr. Hancock play the piece during the holiday season, over twenty years ago, it’s safe to say he would have approved.

The other illustrious prececessor Filsell was referring to, of course, was John Scott, who succeeded Hancock and tragically did not live to play the organ he had so much of a hand in designing. Scott reveled in utilizing every color and every texture he could find, and Filsell seems cut from the same cloth. He opened the show with a solo transcription of Julian Wachner’s showy, chuffing Angelus, originally conceived as a concerto for organ and orchestra. It gave the organist a prime opportunity to show off the various sections of the new instrument, without spending much time in any one place, all the way through to a coy wisp of an ending that had the crowd chuckling.

Jean-Jacques Grunenwald’s Diptyque Liturgique, from 1956, provided Filsell with more terse, purposeful passages utilizing the organ’s bright, French colors, both with calm Widor-esque atmospherics and more opaque, Alain-like passages, starriness contrasting with a long, portentous crescendo.

Calvin Hampton’s In Praise of Humanity was more playful yet unsettled, Filsell nimbly negotiating its tricky 5/8 metrics, echo phrasing and nymphlike clusters, primarily utilizing the organ’s many flute stops. The piece de resistance was Marcel Dupre’s embittered, vastly symphonic triptych, Evocation, Op. 37. Written in 1941, after the composer had whisked his organist father away from the imperiled Rouen cathedral, only to see him die enroute, the piece is riddled with vindictive anti-Nazi imagery. Filsell played up the variations on a cannon-fire motif along with the Shostakovian sarcasm of a pompous march, a stuffy waltz and a phony fanfare or two.

An exquisitely tender solo on what Dupre would have called the cromorne stop was arguably the highlight of the concert. Fisell also went deeply into the suite’s minute details and expansive dynamic shifts, from distant, airy unease, to grim, resounding chords and defiantly conspiratorial flurries, all the way through to a masterfully spaced yet ineluctably savage ending. What a thrill, and what a relevant piece for our time.

The next concert in the Grand Organ Concert series here is on October 19 at 3 PM featuring Christophe Mantoux playing a sizzling all-French program of works by Messiaen, Durufle, Tournemire, Vierne and Franck. Cover is $20.

October 2, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amir ElSaffar Brings Middle Eastern, Slavic and Jazz Sounds to Otherworldly New Places at Lincoln Center

The annual Jazztopad Festival in Poland is one of Europe’s major jazz events. They advocate fiercely for Polish artists worldwide and commission scores of new works, focusing on blending jazz and contemporary classical sounds. They’ve also been staging events here in New York for the past several years, ostensibly to entice Americans to make the trip over. It’s smart marketing

To open this year’s Manhattan edition at Lincoln Center last night, multi-instrumentalist Amir ElSaffar led a group including Wacław Zimpel on bass clarinet, Ksawery Wójciński on bass and the strings of the Lutosławski Quartet through the Amerrican premiere of his raptly enveloping Awhaal for String Quartet. Seated at the santoor, ElSaffar opened the piece with a bright, enticing riff and slowly unwinding, rippling variations, much like a muezzin’s call or a phrase on his primary instrument, the trumpet.

ElSaffar – one of the most distinctive and unselfconsciously brilliant composers in jazz or anywhere else these days – has made a career blending maqam music from across the Arabic-speaking world with both large and smallscale improvisation, and this performance was typically celestial. Slowly and majestically, the music rose, fluttering violins over portentous, low modalities from the cello and bass: the work of Kurdish compoer Kayhan Kalhor came strongly to mind.

Zimpel added a simple, emphatic fanfare; the strings descended uneasily, micrtonally, ElSaffar singing soulful vocalese in his resonant, melismatic baritone. With the santoor just a hair off, tonally, from the strings, this was where the otherworldly magic really started to kick in. The strings fueled a lilting dance that grew more somber as the volume rose and Wójciński’s off-kilter yet hypnotic rhythm dug in, Zimpel wailing on his clarinet.

The second movement was much more kinetic, with ElSaffar on trumpet, spiky, circular pizzicato from the violins blending with an austere, Egyptian-tinged phrase which became more lush and enveloping over a swaying 6/8 groove. Together the group developed a series of lively echo phrases, part Afrobeat, part Philip Glass.

Using his mute, the bandleader drew the music into a deliciously suspenseful, hypnotically pulsing snakecharmer theme, capped off by a shivery, spine-tingling microtonal cadenza. The group opened the third movement with a bubbling, Appalachian-tinged theme and shifted toward acidic, insistent, blustery Moroccan jajouka, drawing a raucous round of applause from what had been a silent, rapt crowd.

The tension grew toward breaking point as the fourth movement and its overlays from the strings gathered steam, the drifting tonalities taking on more of an Indian edge. A hazy pastoral recede and rise evoked the tone poems of Rachmaninoff as much as Hindustani ghazals, ending hushed and prayerful. Obviously, with the amount of improvisation going on, one can only wonder what the piece will sound like next time out.

ElSaffar’s next gig playing this material is a free performance tomorrow, Saturday, Sept 28 at 11 PM at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in his hometown Chicago. In Poland, festivities begin at the Jazztopad Festival on Nov 15. And the next free show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Thurs, Oct 3 at 7:30 PM with Chadian electronic group Afrotronix and electrifying Palestinian hip-hop/reggae/habibi pop band 47soul. If you’re going, get there as early as you can becuuse this one will sell out fast

September 27, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Riveting, Eclectic Creative Music This Fall in an Unexpected Chinatown Space

One of this year’s most fascinating and eclectic ongoing free concert series is happening right now at the James Cohan Gallery at 48 Walker St, west of Broadway, in Chinatown. Through mid-October, a parade of improvisers, from Middle Eastern and Indian music to postbop and the furthest reaches of free jazz, are playing solo shows in the midst of Josiah McElheny’s futuristic, outer space-themed exhibit Observations at Night. There’s not much seating but there is plenty of standing room.

Last week’s performance by pedal steel legend Susan Alcorn was rapturous, and haunting, and revealingly intimate. Although she used plenty of extended technique – plucking out flickers of harmonics up by the bridge, generating smudgy whirs by rubbing the strings and, for a couple of crescendos, getting the whole rig resonating like at the end of A Day in the Life – she didn’t use a lot of effects, just a touch of reverb from her amp.

She opened the show like a sitar player, building subtle shades off a dark blues phrase, finally flitting and pinging across the strings to contrast with the stygian buildup. Throughout the night, she talked to the crowd more than usual. She explained that the first of many epiphanies that drew her from her original style, country music, to more harmonically complex styles was when, on the way to a gig, she heard Messiaen’s requiem for war victims and was so blown away that she had to pull off the road to listen to it. She was late to that gig, and it took her over a year to tackle the mail-ordered sheet music for the piece, but it was a life-changing event.

Then she played her own original, which she’d written as a requiem in a more general sense for victims of fascism. The Messiaen influence was striking, right from the stern, chillingly chromatic series of opening chords, but from there she went from eerie close-harmonied minimalism to sudden, horrified leaps and bounds, back to mournful stillness.

She explained that she’d always tried to keep music and politics separate, but that the current climate has made that impossible. From there, she shared her horror at how the ugliness of past decades has returned, on a global scale, particularly in Trumpie xenophobia and anti-refugee hostility here at home. With that, she segued from an austere, unexpectedly rhythmic take of Victor Jara song made famous by Violeta Parra, to a brief, longing coda of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom.

On a similarly outside-the-box if less harrowing note, she made her way methodically from the old countrypolitan ballad I’m Your Toy – which Elvis Costello covered on his Almost Blue album – and then couldn’t resist a verse or two of Almost Blue itself. The man himself couldn’t have been more clever. From there she built reflecting-pool Monk echoes, reveling in the lingering tritones. She closed with an austere, guardedly hopeful take of Song  of the Birds, the moody Catalon folk tune that Pablo Casals would close his infrequent concerts with after he’d gone into exile.

The next show at the gallery is on Sept 25 at 6:30 PM with intense free jazz alto saxophonist Makoto Kawashima.

September 23, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Riveting New Sounds and Old Crowd-Pleasers From the Claremont Trio

If the Claremont Trio’s forthcoming album is anything like their concert last week to open this year’s Music Mondays series on the Upper West Side, it’s going to be amazing.

The program was typical of this venue, a mix of rapturously interesting 21st century works along with a couple of old warhorses. The three musicians – violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andea Lam – offered some gleefully phantastmagorical Halloween foreshadowing with four folk song variations by Gabriela Lena Frank. Careful, wary long-tone overlays between the musicians quickly gave way to a devious, ghostly game of peek-a-boo, carnivalesque pirouettes and wary, lingering, Messiaenic chords.

Helen Grime‘s Three Whistler Miniatures – inspired by an exhibit at the Gardner Museum in Boston – were more austere and ominously resonant: rich washes of cello, mordantly assertive piano and slithery violin all figured into the mini-suite’s striking dynamic shifts and desolate reflecting-pool chill at the end.

The two warhorses were Dvorak’s Dumky Trio and Brahms’ final trio, No. 3 in C Minor. The former was a Slavic soul party, fueled as much by the violin’s elegantly leaping Romany-flavored cadenzas as much as by Lam’s alternately romping and unexpectedly muted attack. The three women played up the music’s pensive side, leaving a lot of headroom for the composer’s series of triumphant codas.

Where they pulled back on the Dvorak for the sake of emotional attunement and contrast, they did the opposite with the Brahms, Lam in particular adding extra vigor, which paid off particularly well in the andante third movement as she added a degree of gravitas. Otherwise, there wasn’t much the Trio could enhance: the music was lovely, and predictable, party music for the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of 19th century Germany. As proto-ELO, it wasn’t up to Jeff Lynne level.

Music Mondays continues on October 7 at 7:30 PM at Avent Church at the corner of 93rd St. and Broadway with the Aizuri String Quarte playing works by Haydn, Hildegard von Bingen, Brahms and Caroline Shaw. Admission is free, but you’ll have to get there at least least fifteen minutes early if you really want a seat at what has become one of Manhattan’s favorite classical spots.

September 22, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thrills and Chills From Major Contemporary Composers at the Miller Theatre

If you could see the world premiere of a major new John Zorn suite for free, would you make the shlep up to 116th St.? A whole lot of people did that last week to watch pianist Steven Gosling navigate the thorny harmonies, Messiaenic poignancy and vast dynamic expanse of the composer’s 18 Studies from the Later Sketchbooks of JMW Turner.

For obvious reasons, Turner’s sketches aren’t exhibited frequently since they rarely if ever hint at the epic proportions of his oil paintings. Zorn’s suite matched the raw, translucent essence of those works while occasionally reaching for epic grandeur as well. There were innumerable moments where it gave Gosling a real workout, yet its central themes were strikingly straightforward:.

An enigmatically clustering lefthand motif and variations, plaintive belltones that strongly evoked Messiaen and Mompou, and grittily intricate caterpillar-tractor interweave contrasted with moments of pure freakout. It wasn’t clear whether that was simply Gosling blooping and blipping on his own, or whether Zorn had actually bothered to write all that down.

Considering how rigorous and sometimes abrasive Zorn’s work is, he doesn’t get enough credit for his sense of humor, and this piece had some devastatingly funny moments. The first was a simple, repetitive chord with a descending and then rising bass, a cliche that’s been used ad nauseum over the years by singer-songwriters and emos. Zorn employed it as a stepping-off point for some increasingly sardonic riffage. The second was a surreal, hammering, chattering series of close harmonies, a crowd of twistoids who wouldn’t shut up and grew increasingly sinister.

Those moments weren’t even the most difficult ones. Gosling faced the greatest challenges of the evening with Zorn’s long sequence of righthand suspended chords where the inner notes shifted around like a three-card monte dealer on meth, and managed to pull them off with stunningly clear articulation. The incessant stylistic shifts, between quasi Second Viennese School acidity, moodily opaque minimalism and crazed, hyperactive kitten-on-the-keys moments weren’t easy to shift between either, but Gosling made it all seem contiguous, no easy feat.

The Miller Theatre has long been one of Manhattan’s focal points for some of the most interesting and invigorating developments in new music. Director Melissa Smey, who described herself this particular night as the “president of the John Zorn fan club,” was hip to both Missy Mazzoli and Anna Thorvaldsdottir before they were all the rage, but she also brings in plenty of longstanding pillars of the avant garde for her ongoing “composer portrait” series. The next one, on Sept 25 at 8 PM features Anthony Braxton music played by the Jack Quartet and indie classical chamber group Either/Or. You can get in for $20, at least as of today.

September 20, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

String Jazz Magic at This Year’s Art in Gardens Series

This year’s free outdoor summer concert series are pretty much over at this point, but there’s another going on in three Lower East Side community gardens through the first weekend of October. The organizers call it Art in Gardens. What’s most exciting is that it’s dedicated to jazz improvisation: right now, it’s the only series of its kind anywhere in town. As you’ll see from the schedule, the lineup is a mix of veterans – some of them admittedly on the self-indulgent/Vision Fest side – but there’s plenty of new blood, and new reasons to chill with neighborhood greenery.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s lineup in the garden on 6th Street between Avenues A and B was Sarah Bernstein‘s mesmerizing Veer Quartet with violinist Sana Nagano, violist Leonor Falcón and cellist Nick Jozwiak. While Bernstein never allows herself to be fenced in by the western scale, it seemed that about eighty percent of her compositions on this particular bill were in those familiar tones.

The music was so fresh that it seemed largely improvised, although the group were all reading from scores. The first number featured a series of exchanges of short, punchy, leaping phrases between individual voices. As the show went on, there was considerable contrast between restless, slowly shifting sustained notes and what has become Bernstein’s signature catchy, rhythmic riffage. As evening drew closer, the tonalties drifted further outside: the most recognizable microtonal piece also managed to have the catchiest twelve-tone phrases bouncing around over achingly tense, often rapturously suspenseful washes of harmony.

There wasn’t much soloing until Jozwiak cut loose with a sizzling downward cadenza and then a fleeting rise afterward, an unexpected jolt of very high voltage. Toward the end of the set, there was finally a furious thicket of bowing and a slowly ascending firestorm in its wake. Otherwise, elegance and sheer tunefulness were the order of the day. There were many moments where only one or two individual instruments were playing, and when the whole group were engaged, Jozwiak would often be plucking out a bassline while one or more of the violins offered keening, sepulchral harmonics far overhead.

Pretty much everything seemed through-composed: verses and choruses didn’t come around a second time, except in later numbers: much of the material would have made sense as a suite. Bernstein’s next gig with this crew is Sept 15 at 7 PM at Spectrum; cover is $15. The next Art in Gardens show features poetry and dance in addition to music: the lineup starts at 1:30 this Saturday afternoon, Sept 14 with Rob Brown on alto sax and Juan Pablo Carletti on drums. At 3:30 Val Jeanty plays percussion, backing dancer Patricia Nicholson and at 4:30 drummer Michael Wimberly teams up with trumpeter Waldron Ricks and bassist Larry Roland at the Children’s Magical Garden, 129 Stanton St, just east of Essex. Can’t vouch for the insect factor at this spot, but on an overcast day the bugs were out in full effect on 6th St.; you might want to slather on some Deep Woods Off or the equivalent.

September 13, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering the Horrors of 9/11 and the Hope Against Hope Afterward at Lincoln Center

Yesterday morning a somber crowd of several hundred people lined the plaza at Lincoln Center to watch choreographer Jaqulyn Buglisi‘s lavish, hauntingly vivid 9/11 commemoration, The Table of Silence Project. The white-clad, roughly 190-member troupe of women and men fluttered brightly out of the grove in back, summoned by the crash of a gong and a simple, emphatic four-note riff signaled by Hazmat Modine trumpeter Pam Fleming and Mulebone flutist John Ragusa. Many of the dancers – assembled from several New York companies – had their faces smudged or made up to reflect some sort of injury. Quickly, hectic anticipation turned to awestruck horror: a few lay on the ground, contorted; others mimed taking photos, fighting off clouds of dust or debris, or searching in vain for loved ones as concentric circles of dancers whirled around them. The choir of women’s wordless voices raised the anguish factor several decibels.

A sudden martial thump shifted the group into lockstep, echoing how the murderous attack on the Twin Towers was used as a pretext for two even more deadly wars of aggression. Yet, even as the ensemble moved in formation, slow and stoic, the dancers’ hands fought against and eventually threw off their invisible shackles. This crew was not going to be force-marched to do anything against their will, in a striking moment of triumph amidst terror.

Each dancer’s costume had cleverly been designed to conceal a white porcelain plate. After a massed series of crouching, thrusting poses, the group moving inward toward the fountain, as if everyone was on an individual axle, then sat crosslegged with their plates in the center of the plaza. What was Buglisi referencing: the bitter harvest of blowback after years of murderous incursions in the Middle East? A hope for some kind of emotional sustenance from above? All that and more, maybe?

At 8:46, the dancers froze in positions, arms to the sky for a minute of silence to commemorate the moment when the first plane hit. As the music -a collaboration between Andrea Ceccomori, Libby Larsen and Paula Jeanine Bennett – returned, harmony was introduced, the forlorn, distant riffs beginning to intertwine along with the dancers. Slowly, soberly, they formed a line and retreated to the grove. Left behind on the plaza, the remaining two women were a contrast. To the north of the fountain, one moved delicately and prayerfully. To the south, the other remained motionless on a riser, a human statue with an upraised bell, announcing the final percussive salvo with a single bright ring. From the perspective of having been three blocks away from Tower Two at the moment it was detonated eighteen years ago, it was impossible not to be moved. The whole video is here.

And beyond the terrrorists who murdered the passengers on the planes and the workers on the towers’ upper floors, we still don’t know for certain who was responsible for the demolitions that killed thousands more. But there’s good news: a lawsuit spearheaded by a group of architects and forensic scientists seeking to reopen the official 9/11 investigation is underway.

September 12, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, dance, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Visionary, Sardonically Hilarious, Grimly Dystopic New Opera Looking at You Debuts in the West Village

Kamala Sankaram and Rob Handel’s new opera Looking at You is as funny as it is dystopic – and it’s extremely dystopic, and just as visionary. George Orwell predicted that people would become so enamored of technology that they’d willingly let it enslave them, and so far western society seems to be on the express track. The premise of this outlandish multimedia extravaganza extrapolates from that observation, and although it’s a grimly familiar story, it keeps the audience guessing, adding layer upon layer of meaning until the inevitable, crushing coda. The New York premiere was last night; the show continues at Here, 145 Sixth Ave. south of Spring, and west of the park in the middle of the block, tomorrow night, Sept 8 at 4 PM and then Sept 11-14 and 17-21 at 8:30 PM. Cover is $25

Billed as a mashup of the Edward Snowden affair and Casablanca, this satire of Silicon Valley technosupremacists falling for their own bullshit is ruthlessly spot-on, right from the first few seconds. The first of many levels of meta occurs as the audience becomes the crowd at a breathless product launch for the app to kill all other apps. See, it connects not only your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder, ad nauseum, but also your phone camera, Amazon Alexa, the spycams outside your door, inside your apartment and your bathroom…and presumably every other spycam in existence. Access is universal: the miracle of face recognition technology gives you unlimited data on everyone, and vice versa. Full disclosure: as an April Fool joke several years ago, this blog published a spoof which reached the same conclusion that Sankaram and Handel do here.

The Snowden stand-in (Brandon Snook) sees where all this is leading and decided to spill the beans. His ex-girlfriend (Blythe Gaissert) isn’t convinced: her refrain, heard over and over from several voices throughout the show, is “But I’ve got nothing to hide!”A brief media circus ensues – Kristin Marting’s haunting backdrop leaves no doubt what’s behind those cold, flickering screens – followed by a long cat-and-mouse game with Homeland Security.

In a delicious stroke of irony, Gaissert’s get-out-of-jail-free card turns out to be the enterprise’s crown jewel: it erases every electronic footprint you’ve ever left (mirroring the the real-life Silicon Valley cynicism of how it’s considered bad form to give children screen time until they reach school age), This little gizmo is bestowed on Gaissert by her wide-eyed, relentlessly exuberant, boundaryless boss, played with relish by Paul An. His supporting cast – Adrienne Danrich, Eric McKeever and Mikki Sodergren, in multiple roles – are just as cluelessly dedicated to the cult of Big Data, spouting ditzy homilies about how benign it all is in perfect techno-speak.

Snook imbues the Snowden standin with a steely determination: he seems less interested in reigniting the relationship with his careerist girlfriend than simply persuading her to come over from the dark side. Beyond the acting, we get to watch their affair unravel – in reverse, via text message. An aborted clandestine meeting between Snook and a reporter brings Homeland Security in for the first time; the black-jacketed team’s interview technique stops short of torture but is eerily accurate.

Meanwhile, at many intervals throughout the narrative, Instagram photos and Facebook posts made by audience members play on several screens behind the stage. In a brief Q&A after the performance, the directorial crew explained that they promise not to show anything embarrassing they discover about those in attendance. As an incentive to share your “socials,” you get a free drink for signing into the system operating from the tablet at your table. It takes about an hour to datamine everything available on a given individual, legally, the opera company’s head spy explained. If you don’t want your mug and your stupid pix and who knows what else up onscreen for everyone to see, show up on the night of the show and pay cash like a sensible person.

Beyond the suspense involving the characters, we all know how this is going to end. It’s been said that humankind’s ability to reason is what differentiates us from animals, but in this tale it’s denial that makes us unique among the species. Although the dialogue doesn’t address it, the computer-generated alerts flashing across the many screens reinforce, over and over, how the most seemingly innocuous online or social media interaction has sinister consequences. After all, there’s no human reason involved with this dystopia’s magic algorithm. As Gaissert finally screams, contemptuously, “It’s a fucking computer!”

Trouble is, that computer was programmed by people with a very specific agenda. Big Data was not devised to exonerate anyone. It’s a snare. And as Sankaram and Handel remind, again and again, it’s working better than ever. More than anything, Looking at You reaffirms how its creators’ bleak vision is as vast and shattering as Sankaram’s five-octave vocal range.

Her original score, played by a diversely talented ensemble of keyboardist Mila Henry with saxophonists Jeff Hudgins, Ed RosenBerg, and Josh Sinton, is fantastic, from the cartoonish faux-techno of the opening scene, through ominous noir tableaux, snarky pageantry and brooding neoromantic interludes. It isn’t until the end that Sankaram draws on the Indian raga themes that she mashes up with cumbia when leading her slinky, surfy rock band Bombay Rickey. Even Kate Fry’s costumes are priceless: these true believers sport shimmery pseudo-lab outfits with circuitboards embedded in the fabric. And while the quasi-disguise that Snook wears in the next-to-last act is hardly subtle, it might be the opera’s cruellest and best joke.

September 7, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, drama, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment