Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Technology in Music: Sometimes the Enemy, Sometimes Not

In the simpering, twee world of indie rock, technology is a crutch to be employed whenever possible: after all, what could be more lame than using a crutch whether it’s needed or not? Wednesday night at the World Financial Center, WNYC New Sounds Live host John Schaefer asked Victoire bandleader Missy Mazzoli if  electronics were now an essential part of a composer’s arsenal. Not at all, Mazzoli replied, explaining that she simply chose to use them because they were well-suited to her swirling, atmospheric compositional style. And the way she works them into her music, they are, adding subtle colors and textures to her signature gossamer sheen. Yet as much as Mazzoli’s music, especially with this band, is in the here-and-now, the intricacy of her counterpoint and harmonies draws a straight line back to the baroque. Scarlatti would have been mesmerized by what he heard from this group.

They opened with the title track to their 2010 album Cathedral City, Olivia De Prato’s swirling, plaintive violin contrasting with the echoey wishing pool below, mingling with vocals from Caroline Shaw and Mellissa Hughes and Eleonore Oppenheim’s tersely sustained bass. The second song built from nebulously pulsing atmospherics, rising with Eileen Mack’s clarinet, then elegantly handing off to the violin, the exchange of textures pulling tensely away from the center. Meanwhile, keyboardist Lorna Krier got to sink her fingers into some of the night’s juiciest textures: a warped tone not unlike a Hawaiian steel guitar, ominously oscillating organ and reverb-toned electric piano. She also switched back and forth between her keyboard and a mixer, with split-second timing, and made it look easy. Meanwhile, Mazzoli held to stately, terse counterrythms at the keys of her Nord Electro. They closed their short set with A Song for Mick Kelly, imagining how the heroine of Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter might have written as a woman in 1930s Georgia. It wasn’t what you’d expect, echoey violin over an atmospheric drone, eventually building to understatedly apprehensive swirls and flurries made all the more dramatic in the absence of the screaming electric guitar part on the album. The contrast between Hughes’ soaring resonance and Shaw’s plaintive timbre enhanced the song’s distant longing.

You have to hand it to Schaefer. As wide a net as he’s cast over the decades, his coverage can be erratic, compounded by the fact that most of the trust-funded dilettantes who would have set up shop in the lofts of experimental music thirty years ago now make indie rock their luxury condo. But few people other than Schaefer would make the connection between Victoire and the evening’s headline act, Vijay Iyer – it was a segue worthy of Bill Graham. Iyer wrapped up the night – scheduled to air sometime in the near future on WNYC – with an epic, menacing version of Accelerando, the title track from his latest album with his long-running trio, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

You could call it the Halloween remix – and that’s how it started, the staggered ipod beat that opens the version on the album (which famously won all those awards earlier this year) high in the mix to the point where in the early going it drowned out Gilmore’s judicious accents. And Gilmore soon fell out of sync with it – whether this was intentional, as if to say, we don’t need this garbage, or simply because he couldn’t hear it onstage, it was a case where technology was very much the enemy. But it was gone quickly. The rest of the song was an eerie, glimmering feast of ominous chromatics and rich sustain. Iyer is extraordinarily perceptive of his surroundings, and within fifteen seconds of the song’s opening, he’d begun hitting the high notes hard to get the piano resonating and echoing in the atrium’s boomy sonics. Crump danced and somersaulted, trading off pushing the rhythm with Iyer as Gilmore added subtle color with his cymbals – he, too, was feeling the room. Rising and falling, they finally went up to the point where Iyer blasted a macabre seven-note riff over and over and then finally wound it down gracefully at the end. And then the show was over. Which might explain why the performance hadn’t drawn every jazz fan in town: knowing that this would be rebroadcast, they made what ultimately might have been the smart move and decided to wait to hear it in the comfort of home.

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October 26, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Victoire’s Debut Album Beckons from the Shadows

Cathedral City, the debut album by all-female chamber-rock group Victoire is a sometimes lush, sometimes austere, otherworldly beautiful suite of nocturnes. Hypnotic, psychedelic, often casually seductive, keyboardist/composer Missy Mazzoli’s songs blend simple, memorable rock melodies with elements of minimalism, horizontal music and classical music from the baroque to the Romantic to the avant garde. Despite the complexity of some of the arrangements here, she doesn’t waste a note: the casual solidity of her melodies gives the jungle of textures swaying overhead a solid foundation. As heavily processed and produced as this music obviously is, it retains a totally organic feel: there’s none of the rote mechanical coldness that you find in, say, Radiohead. The electronic keyboards of Mazzoli and Lorna Krier blend with Olivia De Prato’s violin, Eileen Mack’s clarinet and Eleonore Oppenheim’s upright bass to the point where the playing, and the arrangements, are perfectly seamless: the individual parts often become one.

The album opens with the aptly titled, darkly alluring Door into the Dark, solo Wurlitzer giving way to violin, casually noir menace shifting to warmer, soul-inflected ambience. It segues into the second track, I Am Coming for My Things, which like many of the cuts here has a disconcerting ambiguity: is it supposed to be funny? Plaintive? Menacing? All of the above? Over slowly unwinding atmospherics, a voicemail sample gradually reveals that someone’s coming for her things and she doesn’t have any money: electric piano and strings rise and fall, first with a jazzy riff, then stately with distant echoes of ELO. The title track evokes Stereolab at their most minimal, with some marvelously emphatic, brooding bass work by Oppenheim and a distantly towering vocalese antiphon.

The suspenseful, cinematic Like a Diver masterfully builds a series of slow crescendos, swirly Wurly pitted eventually against the violin, a playful dance emerging amidst the drama before it subsides again. A Song for Mick Kelly is anthemically elegaic, guest guitarist Bryce Dessner (of the National) providing menacing, reverb-drenched guitar that eventually grows to a fullscale roar, natural overtones shrieking from his amp. The album closes with the catchy trip-hop of A Song for Arthur Russell, referencing the late cellist and disco-era cult figure, and then India Whiskey, shifting suddenly and dramatically from out-of-focus, late-night wooziness to a joyous dance and a majestic, triumphant swell with the whole band going full-tilt – as full-tilt as a slow song can go, anyway. When the deadpan male voice reciting a series of numbers (a Philip Glass quote, maybe?) reaches zero, it’s over. There is so much more on this album that it’s impossible to mention all of it: in its own ethereal, methodical way, it’s a blast to listen to with the lights out. Victoire play the cd release show for Cathedral City at Joe’s Pub on October 2 at 7 PM; Mazzoli is also at Galapagos on October 5 for the world premiere of her string quartet Death Valley Junction.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cutting-Edge Contrasts in Brooklyn Heights

Guitar quartet Dither perched themselves high in the organ loft at Brooklyn Heights’ First Presbyterian Church last night. It was a dramatic move and it made perfect sense sonically, as loud as they got at times. Strikingly, they played a raw, stripped-down show rich with dynamic shifts. While everyone in the group brought his pedalboard, they didn’t often reach for the cyclotron swirl of their recently released debut album. Appropriately, they opened with an Arvo Part organ piece, an austere, minimalistically chilly four-bar phrase that repeated over and over again. Their tic-tac-toe arrangement was perfectly paced; it sounded like a miniature from an early Cure album, and it went on long beyond where it could have made any additional impact. Strat player James Moore switched to bass for a Ches Smith composition which they turned into round-robin music-box skronk, a showcase for Taylor Levine’s jaggedly incisive riffage, building to an assaultive, Kowalski/Einsturzende Neubauten crescendo of industrial crunch and then a surprisingly catchy, circular concluding riff.

A composition by guitarist Joshua Lopes was next, a brightly proggy dance with echoes of English folk, Steve Hackett and Weather Report. Their other Strat player, David Linaburg took it down and out elegantly with phrasing that reminded of Jerry Garcia (in “on” mode). Lisa R. Coons’ Cross-Sections, a cut from the new album, was stripped to its inner dread, jarring twin ascending progressions using adjacent notes and a concluding section where the guitars took on a staccato cello attack to maximize its disquiet. The last number, Telegraph, by First Presbyterian impresario and organist Wil Smith, was the icing on the cake, Lopes switching to bass this time. Opening with an echoey, staccato, U2 style pulse, it grew to majestic, otherworldly, Messiaenic proportions, atmospherics punctuated by percussive punches and eventually a magnificent, anguished noiserock gallop, Iron Maiden as played by Mogwai, maybe. It was stunning, and impossible to turn away from.

Accompanied by an eight-piece ensemble including four violins, two trumpets, bowed bass and bassoon, Canadian composer Kyle Bobby Dunn led them on guitar and keyboards (and echoey effects) from the lectern at the back of the church with the lights down low. Beginning with the long, hypnotic drone that would continue almost nonstop throughout the practically hourlong, horizontal work, the nocturne shifted shape almost imperceptibly, with trumpet, violin or the guitar/keys (it became next to impossible to tell which was which) moving a note or five, at the most, from the center. When Dunn added a throbbing pulse to the drone about fifteen minutes in, it was something akin to a long night ride through a Saskatchewan of the mind in an old Cadillac with a bad muffler, sinking comfortably into one of its big, cozy seats, the big shocks of the old gas-guzzler cushioning every impact the road might deliver, V8 rumbling low, warm and irresistibly soothing somewhere outside. Yet it was anything but a trip back to the womb; its judicious shifts in timbre and pitch, and its slow crescendos, evoked a distant anguish. A cautionary tale about the perils of complacency? Maybe. It concluded with what seemed to be a random scan of the radio dial: snippets of a baroque piece, a lush, sleepy wash of strings from a symphonic work (which the violins played along with, gently) and then the intro from She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult, cut off abruptly. In its own deliberate, understated way, it was every bit as intense and gripping as the withering, assaultive conclusion delivered by Dither.

The monthly series of cutting-edge concerts at First Presbyterian Church continues on October 8 at 8 PM with Eleonore Oppenheim.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment