Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Especially Epic, Dynamically Conversational New Suite From Nate Wooley

Trumpeter Nate Wooley has put out a toweringly ambitious amount of largescale, highly improvisational work lately, notably his increasingly dark Seven Storey Mountain series. His latest album, Mutual Aid Music – streaming at Bandcamp – continues in that vein, but with a lyricism and often minimalist focus that may take recent listeners by surprise. Wooley asserts himself more melodically here than he’s done in recent years on album. The AACM influence on this epic double-disc set is vast, more so than in practically anything Wooley has written, both in terms of shifting ambience and room for group improvisation. Much as there’s new transparency in this music, it’s for people with long attention spans: every track clocks in at around ten minutes, sometimes more.

As usual, he has a killer supporting cast here: saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, violinist Joshua Modney, cellist Mariel Roberts, pianists Sylvie Courvoisier and Cory Smythe, vibraphonist Matt Moran and percussionist Russell Greenberg,

Wooley’s bracingly haphazard microtones to open the first disc are a false alarm: his resonance, and sputters, and even the occasional squalling peak build a warm lyricism as the group linger and flit in and out of the background, vibraphone and piano piercing the veil. Rapt stillness descends at times, with Modney, Roberts and the piano throwing sparks above the haze, the bandleader exerting a final calm.

Spacious, Wadada Leo Smith-esque call-and-response grows more lively between Wooley and Laubrock as the second number gets underway. Moran is the eerie elephant in this room for awhile, the piano kicking off a galumphing, loopy drive that recedes and then returns with more of a wink and a Brian Jones-style circle of tinkling echoes. That’s got to be Courvoisier at the keys.

Moran and the piano introduce segment number three with a plaintive spaciousness, the horns dragging the rest of the group into a noir morass: this swamp is cold and forbidding and bodies are buried here. The twisted mobile fluttering in the breeze toward the end is the album’s most chilling interlude.

Massed flutters and coy faux backward masked riffs congeal uneasily as piano and sax resist in segment four, and there’s more wry humor in Courvoisier’s under-the-lid rustles and Modney’s sarcastic harmonics. Yet the activity on the high end, notably Moran and Modney, shifts to a a poltergeist atmosphere as the group wind it out.

The second disc opens with a big hit on the gong, Modney shredding, Roberts a whale at play, as a Terry Riley-ish study in hypnotically pulsing highs develops. From there, vast wave-motion surrealism contrasts with squirrelly flickers and thickets overhead.

Part two begins as a music box in a haunted attic, then gremlins – Roberts and the piano – take over, ceding to an echoey shimmer before a more agitated return. Part three shifts from solo neoromantic piano gloom to distant-nebula atmosphere splashed by Greenberg’s gongs, adrift between stars and their dust. The conclusion is about a quarter hour of increasingly dizzying polyrhythmic webs, Wooley a lone sentry as the mist moves in, Modney leaking astringency amid funhouse mirrors, and bustle receding to rapture as it winds out. Even all this is a only a capsule account of the strikingly dynamic, expertly conversational, raptly captivating interplay at work here.

April 17, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Things Come in Twos on Ingrid Laubrock’s Haunting, Massive New Double Album

Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s epic new double album Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt – streaming at Bandcamp – has a novel concept: a single set of compositions performed by a jazz quartet plus chamber orchestra, then a completely different jazz quintet. The difference between the large and small-ensemble versions is stunning, to the point where one version is unrecognizable compared to the other.

Laubrock has worked with large improvising ensembles before, but this is her most ambitious and darkest project to date. There’s more going on here than anyone could possibly capsulize in a digestible album review: dive in for yourself and experience this strange and wonderful creation. Although it was recorded before the lockdown, the occasional shriek through the mist foreshadows the horror that would be the year 2020.

The first disc features the bandleader on tenor and soprano sax, joined by Cory Smythe on piano and quartertone electric piano, Robert Landfermann on bass and Tom Rainey on drums, along with the EOS Chamber Orchestra conducted by Susanne Blumenthal. They open with the title track, Laubrock’s upbeat, energetic solo seemingly wrenching the group along with her. Smythe quickly switches to eerie microtonal accents as Laubrock grows more casual, the strings looming back in with a similarly magical microtonality. Slides, dopplers and various echo effects, growly processed bass over shimmery ambience, and a plaintive bit of a viola theme all factor into the album’s first ten minutes. That sets the stage for the rest of the record.

Snorkel Cows has a bubbling, circling drive, rippling microtonal piano, strings like an agitated flock of birds, massed glissandos, echoey ambience and striking, resonant high/low contrasts plus a long, pensive interlude from Laubrock over disquieting, pulsing atmospherics. As strange as the tonalities are, the music isn’t far from what you might hear from an ambitiously tuneful current-day big band like Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge.

The album’s most symphonic number is Drilling, the first version clocking in at almost nineteen minutes of troubled haze punctuated by belltones, foghorns over a sad harbor, Hitchcockian moment of panic, trolls under a bridge and a triumphantly weird crescendo.

Never Liked That Guy has a playful light/dark dichotomy early on over shivery massed orchestration, rivulets of microtonal piano desencending and a relentlessly ominous backdrop for a surprisingly animated Laubrock soprano sax solo. The final cut, Down the Mountain, Down the Mountain is a Dvorkian orchestral cautionary tale  with looming low brass and keening strings taking the place of the indians out on the prairie, disintegrating to what seems to be an inevitable battle .

The quintet versions of the material are more pensive, as can be expected. Laubrock’s energy in the quintet version of Snorkel Cows commands centerstage, whether blippy or calm over the ensemble of Smythe, electric harpist Zeena Parkins, accordionist Adam Matlock and Momenta Quartet violinist Josh Modney. This time the drilling in the wall keeps up, but nobody seems to be paying any mind.

Speaking of Drilling, the quintet version is a thicket of stabbing burnt-plastic electronic interruptions finally redeemed by Matlock’s pulsing chords and a plaintive Laubrock solo over raindrop-and-mist sonics. Smythe’s jackhammering attack and Laubrock’s breathlessly jumping soprano sax substitutes for the orchestra in the take of I Never Liked That Guy

Modney’s severe, slashing microtonal riffs are matched by Laubrock’s masterful in-between harmonies and Matlock’s resolute resonance in Down the Mountain, Down the Mountain.

There’s also an electronic component throughout the album, typically in the background and mostly confined to tweaking textures, adding echoes and loops.

December 16, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Strange, Disquieting Album For Disquieting Times

Pianist Cory Smythe has carved out an individualistic place between the worlds of indie classical, jazz improvisation and the avant garde. The strange and often disquieting sonics of his new album Accelerate Every Voice – streaming at Bandcamp – are created by a sampler which plays quartertones triggered by his phrases on the piano keys, a creepy bell-like device that brings to mind Vijay Iyer‘s collaborations with Hafez Modirzadeh as well as Aruan Ortiz‘s work with Amir ElSaffar.

The opening track, Northern Cities Vowel Shift sets the stage, the pianist joined by a vocal quintet interweaving leaps and bounds amid the uneasy chimes. Smythe explains that the unorthodox lineup of singers he asssembled – Kyoko Kitamura, Michael Mayo, Raquel Acevedo Klein and a vocal rhythm section of Steven Hrycalak on “vocal bass” and Kari Francis on “vocal percussion” – are often meant to evoke the kind of blithe optimism of a collegiate choir: “Maybe a complicated kind of optimism, a poisoned-by-whiteness American kind of optimism.”

The Andrew Hill and James Weldon Johnson inspirations for the blippy, distantly hip-hop tinged title track don’t really come through, although Smythe’s lithe ripples and runs make a sharp contrast with the vocalists’ poltergeist flickers.

Track three, Marl Every Voice rises and falls with a distant, chilly menace and an occasional hint of gospel. There are two Kinetic Whirlwind Sculptures here, the first keening and oscillating with washes from inside the piano and what sounds like electronically enabled throat-singing. The second is much simpler and loopier; it sounds like a bunch of monks lowered a carillon to the bottom of a well.

Vehemently has a jaunty, bouncy lattice of vocals and spare piano accents, but also a persistent, unsettled ambience. The miniature Knot Every Voice comes across as a cuisinarted vocal warmup exercise. There’s a more devious, Meredith Monk-like comedic sensibility to Weatherproof Song (a snide reference to the famous Yale ditty, with its pompous lyrics by the king of jungle imperialism, Rudyard Kipling)

The album winds up with the epic Piano and Ocean Waves for Deep Relaxation, written as a follow-up to Annea Lockwood’s global warming-era parable Southern Exposure, where a piano goes out with the rising tide. It works equally well as subtle spoof of new age nature soundscapes, Satoko Fujii-esque extended-technique tone poem and ghostly Brian Eno-style tableau.

Beyond that cocoon of a conclusion, this isn’t easy listening; then again, these aren’t exactly easy times. Fans of intrepid avant garde singers like Ted Hearne and Sofia Rei will love this record.

July 18, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rivetingly Relevant New Album and a West Village Release Show from Individualistic Composer Zosha Di Castri

Zosha Di Castri is one of the most fascinating and distinctive composers to emerge from the New York indie classical demimonde in the last decade or so. She loves contrasts, paradoxes and disquieting timbres, and doesn’t shy away from darkness or social relevance. She also has a refreshing sense of humor and a healthy distrust of technology. She and a series of ensembles are playing the album release show for her brilliantly thematic new one, Tachitipo (streaming at Bandcamp and named after an 18th century typewriter) at the Tenri Institute this evening, Nov 17 at 6 PM. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs and includes a copy of the album.

It opens on a creepy note with The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, a creepy choral setting of a Nicole Sealey text sung by the ensemble Ekmeles in haunted-house counterpoint balanced by ghostly resonance. Imagine Pauline Oliveros at her most allusively disturbing.”Tell me I am not the point at which all light converges…blistering wood on the pyre,” one of the guys in the choir coldly intones.

Likewise, Cortège – a processional for chamber orchestra – juxtaposes frantic, Bernard Herrmann-esque terror with steadier motives and suspenseful atmospherics, drawing on the ancient Roman wartime siege narrative that inspired Leonard Cohen’s song Alexandra Lost. It’s a stunning, troubled piece: the whole procession lurches on, as if they have recovered.

The Jack Quartet blister and bluster through Di Castri’s String Quartet No. 1, fleeting moments of poignancy often subsumed by what the composer calls “squeaky insectile chatter, zips, squeals, ricochets, and lightning-speed hocketing glissandi.” It calls for ridiculous extended technique: the quartet dig in and make strange magic out of it, all the way to a welcome, calmly horizontal interlude before the frenzy returns.

Pianist Julia Den Boer plays Dux (latin for “leader”), a cynical diptych reflecting “polarizing juxtapositions” in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. Much of it is update on an old Rachmaninoff trope, crushing lefthand stomping the life out of any hope offered by the right (politically, the reverse would apply). As with the previous two numbers, calm when it occurs is only momentary, Den Boer returning to breathlessly shifts between frantic scampering and cold crush.

Lorraine Vaillancourt conducts a quintet of flutist Emi Ferguson, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, pianist Cory Smythe, violinist Joshua Modney and cellist Mosa Tsay in La Forma Dello Spazio. Inspired by Bontecou and Calder mobiles, it begins as a coyly amusing study in keening, sustained/fleeting contrasts enabled by extended technique but winds up as an icily starry deep-space tableau.

Piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire play the album’s title track, which seeks to reclaim the heritage of the typewriter from its role in keeping an emergent pink-collar class in their place. DiCastri also touches on how technology ostensibly meant to empower us often has the opposite effect. “I believe we create art in the hopes of transcending the everyday, to connect with others, to reach towards moments of opening, clarity or understanding, and yet the tools we’ve invented to facilitate this pursuit can result in isolating us even further, curling the body back in, onto itself,” she explains. The rest of her extensive album liner notes have a similarly rare eloquence.

The piece itself comes across as a sardonic mashup of mechanical Louis Andriessen-style satire, lingering, gamelanesque noir set piece and irresistibly sly sonic cartoon. As its emerging vistas grow more desolate, the effect packs a wallop. Look for this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the decade. We don’t have far to go.

November 17, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment