Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Brooklyn Rider at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 12/10/08

Playing to a standing-room crowd in the back room of a Brooklyn bar, innovative string quartet Brooklyn Rider delivered a riveting, intense performance of some impressively eclectic material ranging from traditional Iranian and Armenian folksongs to classical and contemporary compositions. As visceral and intense as most of the set was, and as ever-present as the temptation to simply cut loose and go for the jugular must have been, the quartet managed to stay within themselves, maintaining a remarkable restraint and an uncannily subtle sense of dynamics. This made the crescendos – and there were a whole lot of them – all the more exhilarating.


They began with Ascending Bird, a traditional Persian tune from their innovative and sensationally good new cd Silent City, a collaboration with noted kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor. The melody illustrates a sort of Icarus myth and was as rousingly fiery and stormy as the recorded version, violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen dexterously blending textures, whether plucking or playing wild sheets of melody. They followed with a set of their own arrangements of Armenian folksongs from their debut cd Passport. Most of these were very dark, including a couple of sad waltzes, one of them highlighted by some eerily emphatic doublestops from violist Nicholas Cords.


They then tackled Bartok’s Second String Quartet. Those sitting closest to the band had no choice but to confront the demons: this is an unabashedly violent, angry and strange work, a brave and marvelously affecting selection. Seizing on the typically Bartokian atonalities and a series of jarring ninth intervals, they built to a big, insistent devil’s choir of tritones, cellist Eric Jacobsen bringing a percussive, fiery attack to the low frequencies. As the second movement began, they brought out every bit of knowing suspicion in the opening theme, climbing to a mocking crescendo as the disonnances grew, all the way to a sarcastic, faux-Beethoven four-note coda: the end, goodbye. By contrast, the third movement was exhausted, mournful, defeated, a study in clinical depression. Bartok from a distance may seem offputting and weird; Bartok in this group’s hands became impossible to look away from. The audience didn’t know how to respond.


Composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, leader of another sensationally good string band, Ljova and the Kontraband was in the audience and at this point interjected some welcome, characteristic humor: the seat next to him was empty, so, echoing Rod Blagojevich, he announced that he was auctioning it off to the highest bidder. The band rewarded him for his participation with a stirringly slinky version of a Finnish tango that he’d arranged, remarkable in its evocation of Piazzolla. The group further demonstrated their versatility on a Norwegian folksong that alternated between big-sky ambience and a rousing dance, the lush, hypnotic Ljova partita Plume (also from Passport) and closed with an intriguing cover of the Cafe Tacuba hit La Muerte Chiquita, Jacobsen’s subtle, deftly placed slides and accents enhancing its eerie ambience. For anyone wishing for another rare chance to see this group literally up close and personal, they’re playing Nublu on Ave. C on Dec 17 at 9.

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider – Silent City

Kayhan Kalhor is having a hard time doing anything wrong right now: pretty much everything the renowned Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) player touches turns into something magical. Like most of his contemporaries, Kalhor delights in cross-cultural collaboration, and this latest cd, created with inventive string quartet Brooklyn Rider is typical. Brisk, bracing, exhilarating and often wrenchingly haunting, it’s a spectacularly successful achievement. It’s less an attempt to blend East and West than simply a collaboration between friends. Kalhor – founder of the Dastan Ensemble, Ghazal Ensemble and Masters of Persian Music –  has two lengthy compositions here, playing kamancheh and also santur (a four-string lute) on his own darkly rustling retelling of the Persian flight myth, Parvaz. Fascinatingly arranged by maverick violist/composer Ljova, its recurrent refrains slowly builds, inexorably gaining intensity..


The cd opens with a vividly evocative traditional piece, Ascending Bird, an imaginative musical rendition of the same myth that Kalhor explores in Parvaz. The piece begins with the strings bristling with anticipation and urgency before taking flight over the rapidfire strumming of guest setarist Siamak Aghaei. At this point, for all intents and purposes, it becomes a rapidly, fascinatingly shapeshifting acoustic rock song. The album’s centerpiece is its title track, a Kalhor composition, perhaps the most intense and emotionally wrenching work he’s written to date. It’s a dead-accurate portrayal of the aftereffects of shock on the human psyche. An evocation of Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Hallabjah, it begins almost inaudible with a faint hum that only gradually grows into a wash of numb atmospherics. Slowly, the city’s residents make their way back, piecing together whatever may be left of their families, their lives and their memories. Running their instruments through a delay effect, both individually and in unison, the group create a hypnotic, echoey, otherworldly ambience that goes on for minutes on end: this is a long piece, clocking in at around thirty minutes. Only at the end does the melody erupt in raw outrage, and when it does, it ranks with Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 49th Psalm or Elvis Costello at his most excoriating as a potent expression of despair followed by fury. Even if it is much quieter.


The cd’s final piece Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged begins stately and atmospherically before growing to a lively dance with what could be an attractively major-key pre-baroque English folk melody rearranged for strings: Henry Purcell, anyone? Based on a 16th century verse by the Turkish poet Fuzuli, its theme is crazy love: interestingly, while the players attack the melody with considerable abandon, it never gets completely out of control.


Perhaps because of the diversity of the performers’ backgrounds, this cd sounds neither particularly Middle Eastern nor American. Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider just might have created a a new genre here: dark ambient modernist Persian-American classical, for lack of a better term. It’s accessible enough to appeal to mainstream classical fans, although more adventurous listeners will undoubtedly spin this over and over. To completely appreciate it, headphones are an absolute necessity. Without a doubt, one of the most enjoyably pioneering cds of the decade.

September 9, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment