Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Eunhye Jeong and Her Quartet Make Haunting Improvisational Music Out of Otherworldly Korean Pansori Themes

Pianist Eunhye Jeong‘s CHI-DA quartet’s live album The Colliding Beings – streaming at Bandcamp – is like nothing else you’ll hear this year. With an otherworldly intensity true to the spirit of the epic Korean pansori tradition, the group reinvent those stark, dramatic themes as jazz improvisation. What’s most striking is that Jeong brings in the great pansori singer Il-dong Bae, whose stern, melismatic vocals shed eerie microtones and soar over the instrumentalists in more muted moments, and interact with them when the music grows more stormy. The greatest pansori singers are known for their individualistic interpretations, so there’s always been an element of improvisation in the tradition, and Jeong seizes that mightily here, with a relentless unease and a fondness for lower registers. This is dark music.

The concert is a series of longscale works that conclude with a relatively brief, six-minute number. The group – which also includes cellist Ji Park and colorful drummer Soo Jin Suh – open with the almost eighteen-minute Jeogori, based on a historical song popular among diasporic Korean schoolchildren in Japan. There’s a lot of stark conversationality throughout this performance, beginning with murky resonance and quickly giving way to a little leaping around. The drums introduce a suspensefully muted backbeat as the cello scrapes the lows and Jeong colors the music with enigmatic close harmonies and sudden bursts. Bae’s gruffly impassioned intensity eventually recedes for a persistently flurrying, funereal Atrocity Exhibition beat contrasting with all the agitation overhead; then the vocals take over the rhythm. Mysterious lulls and gritty declamations serve as a contrasting backdrops for spare, rather bleak accents from the band.

The ghostly, anguished Return to Life begins with snowbanks of white noise from Suh’s drumheads punctuated by icy piano droplets, shards and wisps of sound from the cello as Jeong goes to stygian lows. A flickering franticness that recalls the macabre compositions of Michael Hersch develops, rises and falls, Jeong using every texture available, both inside and outside the piano, from a menacing drone to furtive scrambles and fragmented, circularly percussive phrases, Bae lingering like a spectre outside the window.

The centerpiece of the concert is The Hope Landed. In about twenty-six minutes, Bae is an often anguished, desolate voice in the wilderness, Jeong a persistently restless presence, Park and Suh the shadows lingering behind. There’s infinitely more going on: dynamically shifting variations on an insistently troubled, stairstepping Messiaenic passage; a long, aching vocal interlude with atmospheric, lurking cello and leapfrogging piano; chilly, ambient dips to stillness; surreal handoffs and echo effects; heavy, severe block chords from Jeong; and a hint of a ballad at the end.

The Sacrifice is dedicated to the victims of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. Calm/acerbic contrasts between cello and piano build tension, then back away elegantly for Bae’s mournful intonations: this music transcends any linguistic limitation. The grim crescendo midway through, seemingly where the overcrowded boat capsizes and everything goes flying, is arguably the most intense point of the show. They bring it full circle, elegaically.

They close the concert with Curtain Call, a return to contrasts between shamanistic beats and poltergeist piano blurts, and shivers from the rest of the ensemble. Even if free jazz is a little outside for you, the roles are so clearly defined and the playing so focused here that fans of dark sounds in general should check this out.

March 29, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii Just Keeps Reinventing Herself

From this blog’s perspective, one of the great things about pianist Satoko Fujii coming to town more frequently these days is that it’s an excuse to listen to another one of her records: she puts them out at an astonishing pace matched only by the astonishingly consistent quality of the music. Her next New York gig is at 8 PM this Feb 11 at Roulette with her Kaze quartet; advance tix are $18 and available there on shownights.

Of the new albums, what’s a good one to spin in advance of the show? There are so many: she put out an album a month in 2018. Why not try Triad, her trio record with bassist Joe Fonda and soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is Fujii at her most outside-the-box: there doesn’t even seem to be a piano on the record until a couple of minutes into the airy opening number, when it becomes clear that she’s getting the strings inside it to resonate with a few deft punches as Mimmo floats and Fonda goes way up the scale for harmonics you hardly expect from a bass.

The album’s centerpiece is the forty-plus minute improvisation Birthday Girl (the album was recorded on her birthday in 2018). Mimmo gives her a lively shout-out; Fujii’s own entrance is much more austere, echoed by Fonda. With his chords and steady pulse, he holds the center as she clusters tightly, Mimmo in imperturbable good-cop role. Fujii’s icy, Messiaenic insistence, grim low-register riffage, lingering unease and momentary divergences into chaos are typical and classic for her. The hazy sax/bass duet midway through is an unexpected departure.

The remaining three tracks seem like miniatures by comparison. Accidental Partner has a similar carefree/foreboding contrast between sax and piano. No More Bugs is amusingly picturesque and aptly titled. The three close with Joe Melts the Water Boiler, Mimmo finally picking up on Fonda’s sly boogie hints as Fujii plays kitten on the keys.

February 8, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lea Bertucci Brings Her Otherworldly Sonic Cocoon to Downtown Brooklyn

Sound artist Lea Bertucci‘s magically enveloping ep Resonant Field materialized here back in May and is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing on a great twinbill on Oct 22 at 8:30 PM at Issue Project Room in a duo set with alternately feral and meticulous singer Amirtha Kidambi  opening for improvisational Japanese noise band Asa-Chang & Junray in their US debut. Cover is $15/$12 stud/srs.

The first track on the album is Wind Piece, a desolately drifting tableau with creepy microtones, close-harmonied resonances and stealthy, squiggly accents filtering through the mix. Finally, at the end, Robbie Lee fires off (or more likely, loops) a series of triumphant riffs on baroque flute.

The second track, Warp & Weft comes across as what might happen if the reeds around the low A key on an accordion decided to all meditate themselves into a vast poppy field populated by the occasional slug or wandering bee, eventually taking shelter as a gentle rain moves in. Bassist James Ilgenfritz’s increasingly unhinged, tremoloing, heavily processed lines as the piece winds out raises the adrenaline factor exponentially.

Bertucci layers drones, slowly rising sheets of sound and uneasy, wavering phrases in the even more epic, practically eighteen-minute title track. A multi-layered, ghostly, gently echoing, dynamically shifting, Pink Floydian rainscape ensues.

Bertucci closes the recording with Deliquescence, its flickers and then eerie, concentric upper-register circles over omious brown noise wafting in the background, You are returning to the primordial ooze that spawned you and still loves you after many thousands of years, so dive in.

October 20, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Irresistible Avant Garde Punk Cello Fun with Okkyung Lee

Over the past year, impresarios Blank Forms have been booking some of the most interesting, individualistic improvisationally-inclined performers in town into some serendipitously unlikely spaces. One of the most entertaining ones, a solo performance by cellist Okkyung Lee, took place ast week, late in the series they’d staged at the James Cohan Gallery in Chinatown,  She tends to push the limits of tonality and uses a lot of extended technique, and this brief set – over in twenty-two minutes – was typical.

And especially funny. Setting up in the back of the gallery, she adjusted her chair. It was a heavy chair, and its metal coasters squeaked and shrieked on the stone floor. Was she going to make that part of her performance? Most definitely – but for just a playful twenty seconds or so, midway through.

She began with a furtive, muted, rustling exchange, a conversation that grew more animated and agitated and then gave way to calm, spacious, flitting motives. The only discernible melody was when she played subtly baroque-tinged if defiantly microtonal variations on a series of fifth intervals on open strings. Otherwise, the show was more about timbre and attack and rhythm – and playful narrative – rather than pitch.

She ended it with a very amusing, extended series of call-and-response riffs, pushing her cello on its stand directly into the crowd. By now, the gallery’s rear room was full, and everybody in the middle of the floor was sitting. Was she going to move around anyone? No way. She took her time, firing off bursts and snippets of sound in various audience members’ faces; a few people found this irresistibly funny, but if anyone else was in on the joke, they didn’t give anything away..

Lee didn’t stop going when she’d made her way all the way through the audience, continuing to the front door, then retracing her steps, walking backwards. She didn’t look over her shoulder once, completely deadpan, Moses in reverse as the crowd on the floor parted once more. And then she was done.

Blank Forms’ next concert, on Nov 23 at 7 PM features trumpeter Nate Wooley and ensemble playing his new suite Seven Storey Mountain at St Peter’s Church, 346 W 20th St.; cover is $10

October 16, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magically Haunting Creative Jazz on the Lower East Side

Over the past couple of months, there’s been an intriguing series of concerts, simply called Art in Gardens., featuring some of New York’s best creative jazz artists rotating through three community gardens on the Lower East Side. Saturday afternoon’s concluding concert at the Children’s Magical Garden, a leafy little Stanton Street oasis, was rapturously fun. Although guitarist Ava Mendoza seemed to be the ringleader, this was definitely a democratic performance, bassist Shayna Dulberger, tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and Daniel Carter, who began the set on trumpet but then switched to tenor as well, exchanged ideas and musical banter and frequently sizzling riffage with a remarkably singleminded commitment to keeping a garden full of jazz fans entertained.

Free jazz gets a bad rap for being self-indulgent because it so often is: this was anything but. How did this crew keep it so focused? By sticking close to a central note, maintaining a lot of resonant, sustained lines rather than disembodied, herky-jerky notes, and keeping solos terse and thoughtful.

When she wasn’t punching out catchy, looping basslines, including one deviously extended interlude that finally veered away from 7/8 time, Dulberger used her bow for pitchblende washes that drew the music into deep, dark terrain. And the one time she hit a bubbly phrase and the rest of the crew resisted, she backed away, letting the music find its own natural flow.

Carter alternated between airy, sustained notes, methodical rises and falls and one particularly sage, saturnine, deep blues interlude where the band pulled back to let that majesty stand out. Lewis played what might have been the afternoon’s most gorgeous solo – such that there there were any solos at all – with a biting, Middle Eastern-tinged poignancy. Alternating between trebly distortion and lingering, sunbaked, bluesy minimalism, Mendoza managed to make her menacing chromatics and macabre tritones work seamlessly within this unsettled but less overtly dark context.

Finally, she cut loose with a nonchalantly savage series of tremolo-picked upper-register chords, then looped them with a pedal and added even more ominous low harmonies. That was the signal to the rest of the band to cut loose, but even there, the steady lattice of notes between the saxes along with Dulberger’s snaky, circular phrasing didn’t go completely nuts: this storm was headed in a very specific direction, straight to the endorphin center of the brain.

The Art in Gardens series may be over, but the organizers are still booking shows all over town, including an excellent “un-Columbus Day” three-day festival opening on Oct 11 at El Taller Latinoamericano at 215 E 99th St.

October 7, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

String Jazz Magic at This Year’s Art in Gardens Series

This year’s free outdoor summer concert series are pretty much over at this point, but there’s another going on in three Lower East Side community gardens through the first weekend of October. The organizers call it Art in Gardens. What’s most exciting is that it’s dedicated to jazz improvisation: right now, it’s the only series of its kind anywhere in town. As you’ll see from the schedule, the lineup is a mix of veterans – some of them admittedly on the self-indulgent/Vision Fest side – but there’s plenty of new blood, and new reasons to chill with neighborhood greenery.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s lineup in the garden on 6th Street between Avenues A and B was Sarah Bernstein‘s mesmerizing Veer Quartet with violinist Sana Nagano, violist Leonor Falcón and cellist Nick Jozwiak. While Bernstein never allows herself to be fenced in by the western scale, it seemed that about eighty percent of her compositions on this particular bill were in those familiar tones.

The music was so fresh that it seemed largely improvised, although the group were all reading from scores. The first number featured a series of exchanges of short, punchy, leaping phrases between individual voices. As the show went on, there was considerable contrast between restless, slowly shifting sustained notes and what has become Bernstein’s signature catchy, rhythmic riffage. As evening drew closer, the tonalties drifted further outside: the most recognizable microtonal piece also managed to have the catchiest twelve-tone phrases bouncing around over achingly tense, often rapturously suspenseful washes of harmony.

There wasn’t much soloing until Jozwiak cut loose with a sizzling downward cadenza and then a fleeting rise afterward, an unexpected jolt of very high voltage. Toward the end of the set, there was finally a furious thicket of bowing and a slowly ascending firestorm in its wake. Otherwise, elegance and sheer tunefulness were the order of the day. There were many moments where only one or two individual instruments were playing, and when the whole group were engaged, Jozwiak would often be plucking out a bassline while one or more of the violins offered keening, sepulchral harmonics far overhead.

Pretty much everything seemed through-composed: verses and choruses didn’t come around a second time, except in later numbers: much of the material would have made sense as a suite. Bernstein’s next gig with this crew is Sept 15 at 7 PM at Spectrum; cover is $15. The next Art in Gardens show features poetry and dance in addition to music: the lineup starts at 1:30 this Saturday afternoon, Sept 14 with Rob Brown on alto sax and Juan Pablo Carletti on drums. At 3:30 Val Jeanty plays percussion, backing dancer Patricia Nicholson and at 4:30 drummer Michael Wimberly teams up with trumpeter Waldron Ricks and bassist Larry Roland at the Children’s Magical Garden, 129 Stanton St, just east of Essex. Can’t vouch for the insect factor at this spot, but on an overcast day the bugs were out in full effect on 6th St.; you might want to slather on some Deep Woods Off or the equivalent.

September 13, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz Icons Salute a Fallen Hero at Roulette

Composer and saxophonist Joseph Jarman was one of the most important forces in serious improvised concert music over the past fifty years. A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (better known as the AACM) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Jarman would go on to a second and similarly acclaimed career teaching and running an aikido martial arts studo in Brooklyn during the latter part of his life. An allstar lineup from both of those careers saluted him with a frequently rapturous, haunting performance Saturday night at Roulette.

His longtime bandmate, drummer Thurman Barker, offered a revealing insight into how Jarman wrote: his long-toned, slowly unfolding compositions wouldn’t have such fiuid beauty if they’d been faster, or caught in a steady rhythm. And Barker was right: Jarman wrote many of the AACM’s best-known tunes. Barker spiced a couple of largescale Jarman numbers with all sorts of rattling flourishes, echoed by many of the other members of the Lifetime Visions Orchestra, playing a small museum’s worth of rattles from Jarman’s personal collection just as he would have done when not playing sax. Or reading his poetry, or acting out some kind of surreal performance art: he was a renaissance guy.

In keeping with the compositions, the band kept their lines precise and bittersweet: some of the highlights were an allusively modal one from acoustic guitarist John Ehlis, a fond fanfare from saxophonist Douglas Ewart, a more emphatic one from saxophonist Jessica Jones and some meticulously misty atmospherics from drummer Rob Garcia.

A trio which included Ewart and pianist Bernadette Speach offered a smaller-scale take on similarly pensive, heartfelt themes. Saxophonist Oliver Lake and drummer Pheeroan akLaff picked up the pace with some welcome rolling thunder, while trumpet icon Wadada Leo Smith led a trio through more spare, otherworldly territory. Roscoe Mitchell was ailing and couldn’t make it to the show, so a quartet of saxophonist Henry Threadgill, drummer Reggie Nicholson, organist Amina Claudine Myers and guitarist Brandon Ross closed the night with an achingly gorgeous series of waves. Threadgill slashed and jabbed while Myers built calm, sometimes gospel-inflected swaths; Ross’ angst-fueled, David Gilmour-esque leads were arguably the nigth’s most beautiful moments out of many.

Roulette has all sorts of similarly good jazz coming up next month, beginning on June 4 at 8 PM with bassist Nick Dunston premiering his new suite La Operación for soprano voice, two alto saxes, two basses and two percussionists. cover is $18 in advance. It’s also worth giving a shout-out to the venue for not being cashless – remember, #cashless=apartheid – you can get an advance ticket at the box office for cash on show nights.

May 29, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Psychedelic Middle Eastern-Flavored Improvisation and a Brooklyn Show by Nadah El Shazly

Multi-instrumentalist singer Nadah El Shazly isn’t the only musician to explore the connection between highly improvisational, classic Egyptian music and American free jazz, but she’s one of the most purposeful and distinctive. El Shazly’s latest release Carte Blanche – streaming at Bandcamp – is an ep featuring Lebanese improvisational ensemble Karkhana. She’s headlinng an intriguing twinbill on April 24 at around 9 at Brooklyn Music School at 126 St Felix St, up the block and around the corner from BAM. Stefan Tcherepnin and Taketo Shimada’s dirgey duo project Afuma open the night at 8. Cover is $20; be aware that if you’re coming from outside the neighborhood, the closest train, the G, is not running, but the Atlantic Ave. station is just around the corner.

The album opens with the allusively creepy Prends-moi un Photo Pendant Que Je Pleure (French for “Take a Picture of Me While I’m Crying”), a blend of loopy, high, bubbling textures with gamelanesque ripples and pings. In between, El Shazly’s otherworldly, tectonic vocalese and stark, surreal oud spike the midrange. The second track – whose title translates roughly as “Lift the Sidewalk, I Can’t Figure Out Where to Go From Here” – begins with a gentle, deft series of exchanges – more of that gamelesque twinkle, plus elegant guitar clang, buzzy synth, and a backward masking effect. From there, it grows more emphatically percussive and surreal. Imagine Carol Lipnik, tied and muzzled, in a Cairo funhouse mirror.

The English translation of the title of the final cut is In My Mouth, Another Mouth, an electroacoustic trip-hop number with disembodied vocals and pulsing, insectile layers arranged around a simple, echoey sample. While there’s nothing distinctly Middle Eastern about the melody, such that there is one, remember that trip-hop is a rai beat that originated in Tunisia. El Shazly, an erudite oudist with a passion for early 20th century Egyptian improvisation, would probably want something like that to be acknowledged.

April 22, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uneasy Atmospheres and a Park Slope Gig by Trumpeter Nate Wooley

Trumpeter Nate Wooley has been on the front lines of the New York avant garde for almost twenty years. His latest album Columbia Icefield – streaming at Bandcamp – includes three tracks, two of them about twenty minutes long, a mix of the hypnoic and confrontational, the subdued and the dynamic. His next gig is an enticingly intimate one, at the Old Stone House in Park Slope tomorrow night, April 18 at 8 PM. Cover is $10

The album’s first number, Lionel Trilling begins with an overlapping series of contrastingly calm and agitated loops, spiced here and there with uneasy close harmonies. Ripsnorting textures intrude and then recede; finally a series of recognizable, spare, resonant, Wadada Leo Smith-like trumpet variations move to the center of the sonic picture. Mary Halvorson’s coldly clanging, loopy guitar, Susan Alcorn’s minutely textured pedal steel and Ryan Sawyer’s drum riffs linger and echo in the distance. From there it’s back to loops and then more rhythmic variations: just when the music seems about to drift off into the ether, something unexpected happens.

Seven in the Woods coalesces quickly into a moody dirge, desolate trumpet over lingering guitar jangle. Once the stringed instruments fade out, it grows more rhythmic and warmer, the second part with a lustrous, ambered brass interlude. Spacy bubbles from the guitar push it away; a momentary return once again is interrupted, this time by wailing, randomly shreddy fretwork as the drums tumble. The band bring it elegaically full circle at the end.

With Condolences is the album’s most spare, spacious, Wadada Leo Smith-inflected number, individual voices loosening and diverging, up to a moodily atmospheric series of tectonic shifts as the bandleader intones a nebulously regretful vocal interlude. The return to lustre and then a sense of mourning is unselfconsciously poignant: we’re in deep trouble when all the polar ice is gone. Wadada Leo Smith fans will love this record.

April 17, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murky Noir Classics and Devious Jousting from Baritone Sax Titan Josh Sinton

Gritty lows, epic solos, smoky riffage, paint-peeling extended-technique freakout: baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton does it all. He’s played on some of the most memorable big band gigs in New York in recent years, but he’s also a mainstay in the far reaches of improvisational music. That’s why his latest project, Phantasos – a Morphine cover band – might be a surprise, considering how straightforward it is. But for anyone who misses that iconic noir trio, Sinton channels Dana Colley’s blend of murk and lyricism while a rotating rhythm section adds a little extra slink. Nobody in the band is using a two-string bass, as Mark Sandman did, but the group’s debut at Barbes a week ago is the next best thing. Phantasos are back at Barbes every Saturday evening at 6 PM this month, tonight included.

Sinton’s latest album with his Predicate Trio – cellist Chris Hoffman and drummer Tom Rainey – is completely different, and streaming at Bandcamp. So much jazz improvisation is awkward and spastic: this is all about conversations, and good jokes, and spontaneous entertainment. Sinton opens it with a sepulchral solo miniature, the ghosts of baritone saxophonists past wafting and keening up through the valves.

Tellingly, there’s more than a hint of Morphine in the epic second number, Sinton pulling away from the catchy theme, up to a burning cello-and-bass interlude with Hoffman’s chords pulsing over Rainey’s colorful, textured syncopation. The sly humor and subtle drift back toward the theme in the jam at the end are characteristically erudite.

The staccato, rhythmic triangulation in Taiga is much the same, after the wry cat-on-the-steppes-in-midwinter interlude that opens it. A Dance is elegant and rather somber, from Hoffman’s long, terse solo intro, through hypnotically catchy, circling riffs, a divergent interlude contrasting Sinton’s carefree accents against Rainey’s majestic tom-tom resonance and an unexpectedly calm resolution.

After an amusing, improvisational rondo of sorts, the group stray even further outside in Unreliable Mirrors, with its rustles and flutters and a coy quasi-march, Rainey coloring the exchange with every timbre he can coax from the depths of his kit, finally rising to a chuffing crescendo.

Sinton and Hoffman growl in tandem as the aptly titled Propulsive steams aong,; then the volcano boils over with a memorable squall. Hoffman hints at a stroll in the improvisation after that, shadowed by fleeting sax and drums. Sinton brings the album full circle with a sly squawk.

February 9, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment