Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Transcendence and Turbulence with the Vijay Iyer Sextet at the Vanguard

Pianist Vijay Iyer and his sextet’s sold-out opening set of a weeklong stand at the Vanguard last night was an energetic yet saturnine suite – or a darkly glimmering jazz sonata. Iyer is not an ostentatious pianist: he makes his point, has some fun and then gets out, just like Thelonious Monk and Ellington before him would do. It’s a little early to enshrine Iyer alongside those two, but the esthetic is the same. His band provided alternately blustery and plaintive intensity throughout well over an hour and a half onstage. He’s back at the Vanguard tonight, July 17 through the 21st, with sets at 8:30 and around 10; cover is $35.

Other than band introductions, Iyer barely spoke to the audience, beyond asserting that he and the band stand against Trump’s bigotry and white supremacy, encouraging the crowd to keep fighting, since “The fight is far from over.” That’s the title of Iyer’s album with this crew, and he reminded everybody that it’s just as true today as when he released it back in 2017.

His gritty, sometimes grim modal focus contrasted with the turbulence of the horns. Tenor player Mark Shim began and ended the night crossing simmering, smoky terrain; in between, he soared and spiraled and chuffed in tandem with drummer Jeremy Dutton, the group’s junior member. A constantly recurring trope, the pairings of individual horns with  the full rhythm section, contrasted with Iyer’s relentlessness, sharply focused rhythm and hard-edged, often distantly latin-inflected melodicism.

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman built increasingly complex layers of hardbop, bouncing and even pogoing in place while Dutton distingushed himself as a connoisseur of New Orleans funk grooves. Graham Haynes played mournful wide-angle flugelhorn, switching to cornet for his more kinetic moments. Bassist Stephan Crump pulsed in tandem with Iyer, or, in one of the night’s most rapturous interludes, bowed sepulchral midrange wisps against the bandleader’s eerie belltone variations.

It was a night of innumerable transcendent moments, immersed in the sobering context of the here and now, where we have a bridge-and-tunnel ranter in the Oval Office whose hysterical antics only obscure the ongoing unraveling of the Constitution. The most rapturous of those musical moments was when Iyer worked extreme lows against extreme highs while Haynes built a shivery, Twin Peaks microtonal interlude on his flugelhorn. Likewise, Iyer’s clever shifts from refusenik low-register pedalpoint to increasingly tense, stabbing close harmonies while the horns blew clouds of steam. Every number segued into an other, Iyer seamlessly bridging the chasms between hard-swinging funk and distantly sinister majesty. As the pianist intimated, there’s no telling where the next set is going to go: they’re all different. And yet, they’ll all have singalong (or at least humalong) tunefulness balancing a persistent unease. No wonder the guy’s so popular.

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July 17, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epically Tuneful, Colorfully Cinematic Jazz from Linda May Han Oh and Her Killer Band at the Vanguard This Week

There was a point about midway through the first song of of bassist Linda May Han Oh’s first set last night at the Vanguard where tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel broke into a wide-mouthed grin, staring to his left. At that moment, guitarist Matt Stevens was perusing a gritty, spacious solo punctuated by several judicious pauses. What was he doing between phrases that had goosed Wendel so hard?

As it turned out, it was drummer Obed Calvaire’s long, leapfrogging, crescendoing polyrhythms that had grabbed him – and soon, pretty much everybody else within earshot. There were innumerable other “this is why we love jazz” moments throughout the night. She’s back there tonight, July 3 through 7, with sets at 8:30 and a little after 10; cover is $35 and worth it.

Oh has made waves in the past couple of years as sidewoman to the stars, but her own work is often her best, and this show was characteristic. When a band is having fun, that translates to the audience. Oh gives her crew – which also included her significant other, pianist Fabian Almazan, the not-so-secret weapon in this quintet – plenty to sink their teeth into. Like the best film and classical composers, she starts with the simplest materials – sometimes just a single-note rhythm – and subtly introduces variations that often go in completely unanticipated directions.

The most vivid showstopper of the night was a piece from a forthcoming film, portraying the moment when a young Brazilian woman is kidnapped into the sex trade. Oh’s wistful, insistent opening solo became considerably more plaintive the second time around, Almazan’s glittering chords elevated the constantly shifting ground to majestic heights, and the tropical milieu quickly took a backseat to a fond goodbye to happiness. As Oh saw it, this could have happened to anyone, anywhere.

The group opened with Blue Over Gold, a Rothko shout-out that built from a warily insistent, percussive bass phrase to a recurrent four-chord cluster punctuated by Wendel’s hardbop and finally Calvaire’s rumbling attack. Yoda, which Oh dedicated to her mentor of a sister (“She’s a lot prettier,” the composer grinned) began with even more tightly wound, syncopated, minimalist bass and rose to punchy heights on the waves of Almazan’s piano.

While she played most of the set on her usual upright model, Oh also pulled a beautiful, full tone from her Fender on a couple of numbers, especially when playing chords. It was a welcome change from the legions of slap-happy funkpapa cliche-heads playing Weather Report covers and such a few blocks south on Bleecker. It was also rewarding to see how much more she’s singing: her soaring vocalese compares with another rising star string player, guitarist Camila Meza.

The night’s funniest tune was Speech Impediment, a winsomely persistent portrait of a stuttering dude who nonetheless finds a way to get the girl. Wendel got the funniest arrythmic bits, but both the bandleader and Calvaire were close behind, with a deadpan wit that brought to mind the Dutch clown prince of jazz, Misha Mengelberg. They returned to close the set on a more acerbically kinetic note. Oh has grown significantly as a writer over the past few years, to become one of the most consistently interesting bassist-composers around; you should see her.

July 3, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

¿Que Vola? Put a New Spin on an Ancient Party Tradition at Lincoln Center

Saturday night, Lincoln Center was hopping with Afro-Latin sounds. Out back in the park, Los Hacheros said the hell with the threat of rain and gave the dancers a fiery launching pad for some serious moves. A couple of blocks to the south, winding up their debut US tour at Dizzy’s Club, ¿Que Vola? offered another direction for those ancient beats.

They’re a big, brassy newschool jazz group turbocharged by the whirlwind rhythms of three percussionists from Cuban ensemble the Osain del Monte Orchestra. One suspects that the trio are equally skilled at a brain-warping number of beats; at this show, their roles seemed clearly defined. Adonis Panter Calderon, seated in the middle, was the Secretary of Entertainment with his machinegunning flurries and live-wire crescendos, getting up at the end of the set to do a ritual dance as a shout-out to ancient spirits from the African motherland. To his left, Ramon Tamayo Martinez came across as the salsa maestro; to his right, Barbaro Crespo Richard served as a sort of bass player, holding down the center when things got crazy. And they did.

That didn’t seem to be the case as the group opened with massed, minimalist horns over a subtly shapeshifting intertwine of grooves. Until the individual voices loosened and solos began to appear, the sound was closer to indie classical than jazz. The rest of the night ranged between loosely contiguous Afrobeat and what sounded like boisterous old Yoruba shout-and-response chants transcribed for jazz instrumentation.

The biggest hits with the crowd were the percussion interludes. The three beatmasters played mostly on congas, shifting to the double-barreled bata for extra boom during one lengthy number. Martinez also had a cajon which he used sparingly. Meanwhile, bassist Thibaud Soulas played with the punch and stamina of a percussionist, running circular phrases over and over and taking the occasional stairstepping climb. Drummer Elie Duris was also having a great time using his rims and hardware for extra click and crash amid the booming torrent.

Alto saxophonist Benjamin Dousteyssier – one of several members associated with the French Orchestre National de Jazz – dazzled the crowd with his silvery, slithery glissandos and arpeggios. Tenor player Hugues Mayot and trumpeter Aymeric Avice shifted between incisive postbop and sometimes airy, sometimes turbulent Afrobeat. Behind them, electric pianist Bruno Rude’s Rhodes bubbled and rippled like a vibraphonist. With so many tightly interwoven rhythms bursting out from every corner of the band, it only made sense that he’d want to join the party.

July 3, 2019 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mise-En Festival; Arguably 2019’s Best New Music Marathon

There are several annual festivals dedicated to new orchestral and chamber music in New York, but no organization casts a wider net than Ensemble Mise-En. Over the past few years, they’ve championed some of the best obscure composers from around the world and resurrected others whose work has been undeservedly forgotten. Last night at Scandinavia House, an expanded edition of the group played a marathon conclusion to their annual festival. The first half was a characteristically rare treat.

The first piece of the night was the world premiere of João Quinteiro‘s Energeia, with Yoon Jae Lee conducting an octet of strings, winds and percussion. Assembled from a vast series of flitting, momentary motives, it became all but impossible to figure out who was playing what, Just when an idea hinted that it would coalesce, it was gone. The two percussionists, Josh Perry and Chris Graham, had a blast, their whirs and buzzes and a momentary, thunderous boom from a large collection of strikable items punctuating a dancing, flickering parade of fragmentary imagery. That put everyody in a good mood.

The night’s piece de resistance was the American premiere of Seoul-based Yie Eun Chun‘s Urban Symphony, Lee conducting a fifteen-piece ensemble throughout its striking, cinematic, whirlwind cinematic shifts. A portrait of the composer’s home turf, it evoked the noir bustle of Charles Mingus, the persistent unease of Messiaen, a little circular Steve Reich in the background along with Miho Hazama at her most majestic. Insistent, kinetic riffage that rose to frantic levels and a creepy chase scene midway through contrasted with tense, minimalist call-and-response over a pulse that began on the cowbell and then made its way through less comedically evocative instruments. It flickered out calmly at the end: peace had finally come to the city. It’s hard to imagine a more consistently thrilling new orchestral work played anywhere in this city this year: it deserves a vast audience.

Another consistently gripping if somewhat quieter composition was another American premiere, Peder Barratt-due‘s microtonal duet ldfleur. Violists Anna Heflin and Hannah Levinson brought its spare, determined unresolve into sharp, sometimes disquieting, sometimes jaunty focus with their dynamic interplay, down to whispery harmonics and then back.

The coda of the first half of the marathon – which was scheduled to run late into the night – was the world premiere of Martin Loridan‘s Concerto pour Piano et Ensemble. Windy, toneless gusts filtered in from the winds and horns, to the violins – watching Marina Im and Sabina Torosjan blow into their instruments was ridiculously funny, considering how meticulously they would articulate the composer’s calm, hovering lines afterward. Pianist Yumi Suehiro’s grim, fanged, revolving phrases, both on the keys and inside the piano, contrasted with that hazy sustain, first from the strings and then the rest of the full ensemble. If Reich had ever wanted to write theme music for a Halloween haunted house, this could have been it.

This was it for the Mise-En Festival, but the group maintains a year-round schedule, both at their home digs in Bushwick and points further from the dreaded L train.

June 30, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks Get the Party Started at This Year’s Lincoln Center Midsummer Night Swing Festival

Smoky grey clouds trailed across the river from New Jersey amid spots of sun, a blanket of crushing humidity over Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center last night. Hardly optimum conditions for the opening of this year’s Midsummer Night Swing festival – but people came anyway. Who goes to these things? Millennials. And old people – Gen X and most of Gen Y seemed to be missing. Which in a way is strange, because it was Gen X who suppported the first wave of the oldtimey swing revival in New York back in the 90s.

Appropriately, New York’s kings of retro swing, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, were chosen to play opening night. The multi-instrumentalist bandleader recalled how his orchestra had played the festival thirty years ago, at a time when their main haunt was a lively (and long since vanished) cajun boite in Chelsea. In the years since, Giordano has become Hollywood’s go-to guy for all swing-related things: the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack is just one of many recent achievements.

The band didn’t seem the least phased by the heat. For Giordano,“We’re going to slow things down now” means midtempo; this was a dance party after all. On the other hand, the group’s vividness and attention to detail is astronishing, especially when you consider that a lot of the material in their first set was standards they’ve played over and over again. Maybe the change of venue, from the cozier confines of the Iguana, where they’ve held down a Monday-Tuesday residency for several years now, was a factor.

And Giordano is as much if not more committed to lost treasures as he is to standards. The set was a mix of both. With its tricky syncopation and klezmer echoes, Puttin’ On the Ritz was a big hit with the crowd. Moving from Detroit, to Kansas City, to Harlem and the south, the group painted a vast and eclectic panorama of the music that rose from the shadiest parts of town to become America’s default party soundtrack for decades.

They opened with Fletcher Henderson’s boisterous 1920s hit Stampede – which actually didn’t hit quite that velocity – and closed with the caffeinated dixieland of Rhythm Is Our Business, from about five years later. In between, they went into the Ellington catalog for a brisk early 30s obscurity as well as The Mooche, which Giordano called “highly seductive.” With its luscious, hazily lustrous chromatics, it was the high point of the set.

Throughout the orchestra, solos were incisive and tantalizingly brief – which they have to be if a band is limited to a single side of a 78 RPM record. Trumpeter Jon Kellso kicked off a relatively austere yet triumphant take of King Oliver’s West End Blues with a restraint that foreshadowed the song’s unexpected suspenseful quality: this was a night full of unexpected dynamics. On the more buoyant tip, Maurice Chavalier’s Isn’t It Romantic gave the group a chance to go full-steam symphonic. A simmering version of Moonlight Serenade later on also reached toward those mighty proportions.

Giordano’s residency at the Iguana continues next week; Midsummer Night Swing returns on June 29 at 7:30 PM with the fiery horn and electric tres textures of salsa group Los Hacheros. It’s free to get into the park, $18 in advance for the dancefloor.

June 26, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof: More Relevant Than Ever

Believe everything you’ve heard about the Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene‘s production is fresh, the acting and singing are strong, the casting is smart and the music is both extremely dynamic and classy. Potentially vaudevillian moments are muted in favor of a gravitas that’s sometimes lush and sweeping, at other times austere and plaintive. At a time when people from Syria to Colombia are being forced from their homes to seek refuge thousands of miles asway, and when Jews from Pittsburgh to Poway, California are being murdered, this familiar old story has never been more relevant. And the fact that the narrative concerns daughters breaking free from patriarchal domination shouldn’t be overlooked either.

While the ongoing Manhattan run at Stage 42 marks the Yiddish version’s first American series of performances, Shraga Friedman’s Yiddish translation from the original English is not new: the Polish-Israeli actor and director debuted it in Israel in 1966. However, it is probably safe to say that despite the huge revival of Yiddish as a spoken language, the vernacular probably hasn’t changed much since then.

This is a long production, over three hours including a brief intermission, but it flies by. For non-Yiddish speakers (or those of us who only know terms of endearment and curse words), there are English and Russian supertitles – and some actual Russian sprinkled into the dialogue when the cossacks enter to stir up trouble. The entire cast seem at ease with the language throughout both the narrative and the musical numbers. Friedman’s translation not only rhymes but also pretty much matches the meter of the original songs, although a close listen reveals many instances where both the Yiddish and Russian take some clever poetic license.

As Cencral patriarch Tevye, Steven Skybell brings a curmudgeonly charisma but also an unselfconscious vulnerability to a role that in other productions all too frequently is done completely over the top. As his long-suffering wife Golde, Jennifer Babiak plays her cynicism as survival skill – and also gets to thrill the crowd with her vast, minutely nuanced, operatic vocal range. In a neat bit of casting, Tevye’s oldest daughter, Tsaytl (Rachel Zatcoff) towers over her shy, nebbishy would-be fiance Motl (Ben Liebert). The rest of the cast – notably Jackie Hoffman, as barely tolerated busybody matchmaker Yente, and Joanne Borts, as Tsayt’s namesake ghost of a grandmother – bring as much resonance as sardonic humor to what are in many cases multiple roles.

The music is rich and often symphonic in scope. Andrew Wheeler conducted the orchestra with remarkable restraint and attention to detail. The group only cut completely loose in the klezmer dance numbers, which were as boisterously chaotic as anyone would want. Clarinet wizard D. Zisl Slepovitch snuck from behind the curtain to the corner of the stage where he bopped and fired off an all-too-brief series of biting chromatic riffs. As the eponymous Fiddler, Lauren Jeanne Thomas sometimes mimes and sometimes plays, but either way her timing and dynamics are perfectly precise.

At last night’s performance, the two best numbers were the tantalizingly brief, rustically ambered Sabbath Prayer – a momentary showstopper for Bobiak – and a sweeping, lingering version of the bittersweet, saturnine ballad Sunrise, Sunset. If I Were a Rich Man gets translated as Ven ikh bin a Rotschild, along with some sly wordplay that’s not in the original. Hannah Temple’s accordion along with the trumpets of Clyde Daley and Jordan Hirsch, and Daniel Linden’s trombone, brought equal parts fire and poignancy to the traditional tunes, especially at the end.

Beowulf Borritt’s stark, minimalist set design creates a striking milieu for the people of Anatevka and the never-ending succession of trouble they have to face. In one of many subtle strokes of staging, a fabric backdrop seems to be repaired, between acts, in a way that would befit one of the central characters. And the simple change of language helps immeasurably in creating a defamiliarizing effect. So you think you’ve seen Fiddler? You should see this one. Shows are Tues-Sun, generally at 8 PM with matinees as well. While the performances have been selling out for months, discount rush tickets are sometimes available.

June 22, 2019 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, theatre, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Da Capo Chamber Players Unveil a Stunningly Diverse, Global Mix of Sounds at Merkin Concert Hall

The Da Capo Chamber Players have an enviable track record performing a vast stylistic range of lesser-known works that deserve to be heard on a much wider scale. Wednesday night at Merkin Concert Hall, the theme was global.

The coda was a richly noir, relentlessly shifting narrative that frequently resembled Bernard Herrmann’s best work. But Reinaldo Moya‘s Cronica de una Muerta Anunciada was much more of a horror soundtrack than a suspense theme. The full ensemble – Steven Beck on piano, Chris Gross on cello, Curtis Macomber on violin, Patricia Spencer on flute, Nuno Antunes on bass clarinet and clarinet, and Michael Lipsey on vibraphone and percussion – reveled as much as  a group can revel in a story about a grisly murder. Fleeting quotes from a couple of familiar wedding themes appeared early on. before a couple of chase scenes and a sharp, stomping finale illustrating the savage public stabbing immortalized in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Aptly, a recurring, dancing riff for the violin and piano spelled out the name of the murder victim, Santiago Nasar, who’d been the illicit lover of a young woman in a rural Colombian village.

The opening piece – for cello, violin, flute and piano – was Chinary Ung‘s Child Song, interpolating several Asian modes around a lively pentatonic theme based on a surrealistic Cambodian nursery rhyme. The quartet wove a series of graceful exchanges punctuated by sudden dramatic bursts and a moody cello solo as the tonalities cleverly drifted further into western territory. Historically, this 1985 piece was a triumphant return to composition for Ung, who’d spent much of the previous ten years simply trying to stay alive in his native Cambodia while so many of his colleagues were murdered.

While Chou Wen-chung‘s Ode to Eternal Pine celebrates a Korean longevity archetype , it’s written in a western idiom. The ensemble rose from spacious, spare exchanges to a serene majesty in tribute to rugged mountaintop greenery, mysetrious ambience alternating with echo phrases and a sudden, striking coda.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s four-part suite Cuatro Bosquejos sent a shout out to now-vanished civilizations on the Peruvian and Colombian coast. Gross’ cello, in particular, stood out through acerbic chromatic passages in lively, shapeshifting depictions of an ancient, insistent group of flutists, the contrasting cascades in a portrait of a pre-Colombian man-bird, seaside calls into a desert wind, and a methodical disassembly of a panpipe-influenced tune.

Also on the bill were also a brief, elegant partita for solo flute by Noel Da Costa, and a persistently unsettled, steady, occasionally noirish Second Viennnese School trio for clarinet, violin and piano by Pablo Ortiz.

June 9, 2019 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charenee Wade Brings Her Souful Depth and Powerful Vocals Back to a Favorite Uptown Spot

Charenee Wade is a rarity, a consummate jazz musician and improviser whose instrument just happens to be vocals. She’s also a major interpreter of Gil Scott-Heron: on her 2015 album Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, she reinvented an intriguing mix of mostly relatively obscure songs by the iconic hip-hop godfather and political firebrand. Onstage. she isn’t just a lead singer in front of a backing unit: her voice is an integral part of a central focal point where she and the members of her excellent quartet converge – and sometimes diverge. She’s playing Ginny’s Supper Club on June 22 with sets at 7 and 9 PM. You can get a seat at the bar for $20.

Her late set there back in mid-February had everything you could want from a concert: smart interplay, fiery solos, strong tunes and dynamic vocals. Wade will hover just a hair above or below a note a la Dinah Washington, but with a much more powerful low register. And yet, Wade also showed off similar power, way up the scale, using her vibrato sparingly when she wanted to add some purr to a phrase.

Pianist Oscar Perez fired off several sabretoothed solos, adding unexpected flash during a handful of fleeting crescendos that made up a much bigger picture as a song, and ultimately the set itself, followed an upward tangent. Bassist Paul Beaudry stuck to walking the changes, holding the center with a purist pulse as drummer Darrell Green colored the music with some unexpected charges of his own, including a rapturously intense take on African talking drums.

After a swinging instrumental intro, Wade began the set with a long, uneasily atmospheric, Alice Coltrane-esque tableau. The highlight of the night was an expansive, harrowing take of the Gil Scott-Heron classic Home Is Where the Hatred Is. But Wade didn’t just do the obvious and scat on the “kick it, quiit it” vamp at the end: she brought a knowing desperation to the verses, a searing portrait of someone driven to addiction rather than simply falling into the trap.

It was Singles Appreciation Night, she told the crowd, so her standards and ballads had a sardonic undercurrent that was sometimes subtle, as in her delicate take of You Taught My Heart to Sing, and then much more overtly cynical as the set picked up steam. They brought a misty, mystical ambience back with a late-70s Scott-Heron tune referencing African spirits blowing on the breeze, Green supplying a dusky, mysterious, shamanistic intro. They finally closed the set with a brief, emphatic segment from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It’s a good bet Wade and her band will mix up the classic and the cutting edge this time around too.

June 8, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Philharmonic Premiere David Lang’s Chillingly Relevant New Opera

David Lang has more contempt for a police state than he does for capital letters. That’s a lot. A sold-out audience last night were treated to the New York Philharmonic‘s world premiere of his sometimes allusively haunting, sometimes horrifyingly realistic new opera “enemy of the state” [all lowercase, as is the style throughout his catalog]. It’s easy to read Lang’s new take on the theme Beethoven followed in his lone opera, Fidelio, as a Julian Assange parable. Although with the iconic Wikileaks founder reportedly near death from mysterious causes in a British prison, he doesn’t seem to have anyone as willing amd able to spring him as the central prisoner’s wife is in Lang’s new magnum opus. It’s an important work for our time: $34 tickets are still available for tonight and tomorrow night’s 8 PM performances. You should see it.

Lang has always been an anomaly, a brilliant tunesmith in a field too often dominated by both pigheaded obscurantism and twee amateurishness. The music of this new work (Lang also wrote the lyrics) resembles the Hindustani-influenced art-rock of singer Peter Gabriel, the late 70s recordings of the rock band King Crimson at their most purposeful, and the anthemic, artsy side of 80s new wave, more than it recalls Beethoven. Strings and percussion dominate throughout. Late in the narrative, a trumpeter perched on one of the balconies will sound a particularly sardonic variation on an already cynical fanfare. The sheer gorgeousness of the vocal overlays and harmonies of singers Julie Mathevet, Eric Owens and Alan Oke offer cruelly sarcastic contrast with a relentlessly grim, profoundly philosophical narrative that quotes Arendt and Macchiavelli and coldly references Bentham on what the ideal prison should be.

How did maestro Jaap van Zweden tackle the music? Bouncing on his heels as he pulled subtle variations on Lang’s tersely expanding, cellular, Glass-ine themes from the orchestra, he validated every claim about his dedication to new music. Lang’s metrics are challenging, to say the least, and the conductor had those rhythms in his pocket. He was having as much fun as anyone can have leading an orchestra, choir and soloists through the story of a potentially averted execution (you will not find out here how it ends).

The acting is as strong as the singing. Mathevet’s tantalizingly brief flights upward are matched by a resolute presence (as in Fidelio, we are expected to believe that in costume she can pass for a boy, a real stretch). Owens is almost as imperturbable as a would-be Eichmann, just doing his job, but not 100% completely devoid of humanity. Oke, as prison honcho, exudes pure evil as coldblooded sociopath and executioner.

We never even get to see the titular Prisoner, played with depleted, almost-out-of-gas determination by Jarrett Ott, until the third movement. Nor do we ever learn why he’s behind bars – although, as the Jailer avers, he probably has powerful enemies. The difference between life behind bars and outside, as the Prisoner puts it, is that inside, you can see the bars. In this Hobbesian terror state, ruled by greed, corruption and (allusively) Instagram, the jailers are as much prisoners as those they watch over. And somebody’s always watching.

Behind the scenes, Donald Nally matched van Zweden for mastery of uncanny rhythms, leading the orange-clad prisoner choir personfiied by the many men of the Concert Chorale of New York. Elkhannah Pulitzer’s direction sets the stage aptly, with imaginative use of projections and a Guantanamo-like set. When van Zweden emerged from an unexpected entry point, he set off the lone flicker of laughter in this otherwise chillingly relevant retelling of an all-too-familiar story.;

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

The Latest Chapter in the PRISM Quartet’s Crusade to Establish Four-Sax Repertoire

Are a saxophone quartet a brass band? Not really. A wind ensemble? Strictly speaking, yes, but the PRISM Quartet are different. “New music superstars,” is how composer Emily Cooley – who’d discovered them as a kid at summer camp at Interlochen, the Juilliard of the midwest – characterized them. She was one of four composers whose works the group gave world premieres to Monday night in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

They opened with Nina C. Young‘s Tarnish, a playful evocation of how oxidation changes the surface of metal yet also acts as a sealant for what’s underneath. Brief tectonic shifts between pairs of instruments and then the full ensemble – Timothy McAllister on soprano sax, Zachary Shemon on alto, Matthew Levy on tenor and the New Thread Quartet‘s Geoffrey Landman, subbing for Taimur Sullivan and adding welcome growl and purr on baritone – led to a series of circular themes with a nod to Steve Reich, a trope that would dominate the rest of the program. They wound it up with unexpectedly coy cheer.

Jacob TV‘s The Waves drew its inspiration not from Virginia Woolf but from the medieval Japanese poet Dogen. A study in the passage (and ultimately, ravages) of time, in addition to the minutiae of attack and decay of individual notes, its calm, lustrous slowly mutating riffs built a baroque-tinged quasi-canon. Philip Glass also came to mind frequently.

Young composer Francesca Hellerman drew a round of chuckles from the audience, explaining how she’d come up with what turned out to be a very apt title for From Here to There, a commission from the ensemble in a long, long line of new repertoire for sax quartet dating back to the group’s inception. Its quirky charm, developing variations on a couple of catchy, lithe riffs, made a good pairing with Young’s work.

Cooley’s Dissolve went in the opposite direction, a meticulous interweave slowly distilled to its underlying essence. Counterintuitively, she ended the first part of the diptych on a jaunty, upbeat note. The second half was awash in airy, sustained phrases, ending soberly and matter-of-factly in the same vein as Jacob TV’s composition

There was another piece on the program which posed more questions than it answered. To what extent does it make sense to try to control chaos? How possible is it to orchestrate genuine chaos if you begin with a specific game plan? Music may ultimately be all math, but to what degree, if at all, can an audience realistically be engaged by a severe, dispassionate depiction of what sounds like an interminably abstruse equation – especially if it’s the longest number on the bill?

June 6, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment