Lucid Culture


An Electrifying, Entertaining, Amusing Magnum Opus From Multi-Reedwoman Anna Webber

Damn, this is a funny record. Multi-reedwoman Anna Webber‘s mammoth new double album Idiom – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most ambitious yet. She’s no stranger to large-ensemble work, most memorably with her Webber/Morris Big Band album from a couple of years ago. The loosely connecting thread here is extended technique, something Webber has plenty of and uses liberally but not gratuitously. The jokes are relentless and irresistible. Webber gets extra props for having the nerve – and the optimism – to put out another big band record at a time when big band performances in New York have been criminalized. Hopefully for no longer than it takes for a Cuomo impeachment!

There’s also an opening disc, Webber joined by her long-running Simple Trio. The first number is a creepy, circling flute and piano theme and variations, with sudden dynamic and rhythmic shifts. It’s closer to Terry Riley than jazz. Drummer John Hollenbeck adds flickering color to the steady sway, pianist Matt Mitchell setting off a lake of ripples from the lows upward. Furtiveness becomes spritely, then the hypnotic spiral returns.

The second of these Idiom pieces has even more of an air of mystery in the beginning, its spaciously wispy minimalism growing more herky-jerky, up to a clever piano-sax conversation over Hollenbeck’s funky drive. Forgotten Best is a great track, beginning as a very allusive, rhythmically resistant take on hauntingly majestic Civil Rights Coltrane, then hitting a triumphant, quasi-anthemic drive. The trio follow with a coyly comedic, hypnotically circular, flute-driven march.

Webber subtly employs her pitch pedal for sax duotones and microtones in the third of the Idiom series over Hollenbeck’s straight-ahead funk and Mitchell’s surgical staccato, then clusters wildly over the pianist’s various vortices. The drummer’s persistent gremlin at the door signals a shivery shift.

The twelve-piece large ensemble play an epic, largely improvisational seven-track suite on the second disc. Emphatic swats over a murmuring background, with a wryly funny low/high exchange, pervade the opening movement. One assume that’s the bandleader’s distant squall that sets off a racewalking pace. Sounds like somebody’s using a EWI for those Marshall Allen-style blips and squiggles.

An airy, increasingly suspenseful interlude introduces movement two, Webber back on flute, fluttering in tandem with Yuma Uesaka’s clarinet over the tiptoeing Frankenstein of the rhythm section – Nick Dunston on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. A swinging fugue follows, the rest of the horns – Nathaniel Morgan on alto sax, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, David Byrd-Marrow on horn and Jacob Garchik on trombone joined by the string trio of violinist Erica Dicker, violist Joanna Mattrey and cellist Mariel Roberts. Webber’s mealy-mouthed meandering, picked off by the trombone, is another deviously amusing moment.

O’Farrill punctures the mist of the second interlude and then wafts optimistically, a goofy faux-takadimi duel between horn and trumpet finally disappearing into a chuffing shuffle; ersatz qawwali has seldom been so amusing. Everybody gets to make a Casper the Friendly Ghost episode out of the fourth movement. Movement five slowly coalesces out of looming mystery, O’Farrill playfully nudging everybody up, Webber’s acidic multiphonics over a slinky quasi-tropical syncopation and an ending that’s predictably ridiculous.

The group rise out of the ether a final time to impersonate a gamelan for awhile the string section leading the ramshackle parade this time. It’s as if Webber is daring us to go out and have half as much fun as she did making this album.

May 29, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Acerbic, Darkly Allusive New String Quartet Album and an Upper East Side Gig from Viola Titan Jessica Pavone

Jessica Pavone is one of this city’s most formidable violists. Her work as a bandleader spans from moody, allusive art-rock – her 2012 album Hope Dawson Is Missing is a classic of its kind – to the scary reaches of improvisation. Her latest release, Brick and Mortar, with her two-violin, two-viola String Ensemble is streaming at Bandcamp and arguably her most rapturously minimalist release yet. Her next New York gig is a solo set on Sept 15 at 7 PM with two other intense improvisers: pianist Cat Toren,and saxophonist Catherine Sikora at the ground-floor El Barrio Art Space at 215 E. 99th St (between Second and Third Ave.). It’s not clear what the order of the musicians is, but each is worth hearing; cover is $20.

The new album opens wth Hurtle and Hurdle, a catchy, hypnotic, acerbic tableau with long, resonant notes soaring and eventually hitting a series of wary cadenzas over a Philip Glass-like backdrop of echo phrases. The group are seamless to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what – Pavone and Joanna Mattrey on violas, Erica Dicker and Angela Morris on violins. They take it out with a strolling pizzicato riff.

With simple, acidically harmonic sustained tones over a pulsing, repetitive G note and a keening forest of variations, Lullaby and Goodnight is the album’s most minimalistic track. The players’ slow attack and subtly shaded echo effects are a cool enhancement: Glenn Branca’s symphonic work seems to be an influence. The drone picks up without the rhythm in the title cut, its layered shadings creating an effect like a parking lot full of cars with their horns all more or less stuck, combining to play a seventh chord. The punchline is too good to give away.

Sooner or Later is a diptych: a series of hypnotic, cell-like variations like Caroline Shaw through a funhouse mirror at halfspeed, then a surreal reel. The final number is By and Large, its fleeting echoes and doppler effects growing lusher and more disquieting as the individual voices close harmonies branch out. Play loud to max out the increasingly rich wash of overtones.

September 9, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Till by Turning Plays Katherine Young’s Shattering, Messiaen-Inspired Four Chambered Heart

As a coda to their performance of Katherine Young‘s Four Chambered Heart this evening at the Music First series in downtown Brooklyn, quartet Till by Turning employed a trope that was once employed more often than it is now. It wouldn’t be fair to spoil the surprise, but it was effective to the extreme: this is one dark, riveting, transcendent piece of music. The composer played bassoon in this eight-part suite inspired by Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time alongside violist Amy Cimini, violinist Erica Dicker and pianist Emily Manzo.

Messiaen wrote his famous Quartet – for piano, cello, violin and clarinet – in a Nazi prison camp. Although much of it is haunting minutiae and ominously anguished, slow, practically interminable passages, it’s also a quietly defiant, resolute middle finger raised at the Nazis. Although it ends as eerily as any piece of music ever written, it’s far from pessimistic, with an unforgettably furtive escape sequence. While the architecture of Young’s suite echoes the Messiaen Quartet to a degree, it doesn’t pilfer Messiaen motives or themes. Instead, it turned out to be a dynamically bristling, mysterious series of shifts between elegantly rhythmic, occasionally dancing mimimalism, otherworldly, spectral sheets of sound and some of the Reichian circularity that continues to be all the rage in indie classical circles. Young’s background in the noisier, more atmospheric side of jazz – her album on Brooklyn label Prom Night got the thumbs-up here last year – and her work as a member of Anthony Braxton‘s ensemble were evident in both her playing and composition.

A handful of distantly menacing flourishes from Manzo grounded the graceful pizzicato of the first movement, followed by a viola-piano duo that built to creepy, tritone-laced, looped phrases. Other composers might well have simply used a loop pedal or a phrase on a laptop, but Young’s decision to play all of this live paid off massively in terms of maintaining suspense. As they did with several of the other movements, the ensembled stripped it down to its bare bones over Manzo’s graceful, precisely emphatic phrasing.

Young began the third movement low and austere and then sound coalesced with the entire ensemble – was this resilience in the face of fascism, maybe? Brooding piano chords wound it down as Young blew dark winds through a delay pedal that sent stygian waves echoing through the church. From there the strings matter-of-factly disassembled the theme and then hit an insistent, nonchalantly murderous, Julia Wolfe-esque, minimaliist rhythm.

If that wasn’t the evening’s peak moment, it was a little later when Manzo hit a single glimmering, resonant chord and then handed off to Dicker, who responded with a series of perfectly modulated, ghostly flickers. Or when the host First Presbyterian Church’s organist, Wil Smith, slowly built an oscillating drone that took on all sorts of overtones against Young’s pitchblende washes in the seventh movement. The work ended with a solo segment from Young, which quickly grew troubled and stormy as she worked her pedalboard, and then wound down to its most basic elements, matter-of-fact yet enigmatic, with an over-the-shoulder nod to Messiaen. The crowd was stunned. The only thing missing from this performance was what could have been more amplification on Manzo’s vocals during one of the early movements – her calm mezzo-soprano added a welcome warmth to the blend of textures, but it would have been even more interesting to hear the lyrics.

When Messiaen’s work first premiered in France after the composer had been sprung from captivity, was anyone in the audience stricken with the thought that the piece might not be performed again? The instrumentation is unorthodox for a quartet, as Young’s is, and Young’s piece in many ways is just as hauntingly memorable as Messiaen’s. What a rare treat it would be to hear both on the same bill.

September 6, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment