Lucid Culture


A Starkly Relevant New Album and a Governors Island Show by the Very Serious Sirius Quartet

The album cover illustration for the Sirius Quartet‘s latest release, New World – streaming at Spotify – has the Statue of Liberty front and center, against a backdrop that could be a sunset with stormclouds overhead…or smoke from a conflagration. She’s wearing a veil. The record’s centerpiece, New World, Nov. 9, 2016 won the Grand Prize in the the New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative composition competition a couple of years ago. The message could not be more clear. It’s no wonder why the group are so troubled by the events since then: both of their violinists are immigrants.

They’re playing a free concert featuring their own materal plus original arrangements of Radiohead and the Beatles this Sept 7 at the park in the middle of Governors Island, with sets at 1 and 3 PM. You can catch the ferry from either the old Staten Island Ferry terminal at the Battery – to the east of the new one – or from the Brooklyn landing where Bergen Street meets the river.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s Beside the Point opens the album. In between a wistful, trip hop-flavored theme, the group chop their way through a staccato thicket capped off by a big cadenza where the violin finally breaks free, in a depiction of the struggle against discrimination.

Currents, a tone poem by cellist Jeremy Harman has stark, resonant echoes of Irish music and the blues: it could be a shout out to two communities who’ve had to battle bigotry here. The epic title track sarcastically juxtaposes contrasting references to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8: look how far we haven’t come, violinist/composer Gregor Huebner seems to say.

Still, another Huebner composition, is based on Strange Fruit, the grisly chronicle of a lynching and a big Billie Holiday hit. Ron Lawrence’s viola chops at the air along with the cello over an uneasily crescendoing violin haze, the group coalescing somberly up to a horrified, insistent coda. Their version of Eleanor Rigby has a bittersweet, baroque introductory paraphrase and some bluesy soloing, finally hitting the original melody over a propulsive, funky beat. As covers of the song go, it’s one of the few actually listenable ones.

The album’s second epic, More Than We Are rises slowly through allusions to Indian music to a persistently wary, chromatic pulse fueled by Harman’s bassline: you could call parts of it Messiaenic cello metal. To a New Day is even more somber, flickering pizzicato passages alternating with a brooding sway grounded by a hypnotically precise, stabbing rhythm.

The Chinese-inflected 30th Night has a dramatic vocal interlude amid quavering cadenzas as well as phrasing that mimics the warpy tones of a pipa. The album’s second cover, Radiohead’s Knives Out is louder and more jagged than Sybarite5‘s lush take on the Thom Yorke catalog. The group return to the neo-baroque with the album’s rather sentimental closing cut, simply titled Cavatina. Contemporary classical protest music doesn’t get more interesting or hauntingly diverse than this.


September 3, 2019 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Manning’s Quintet Airs Out a Great Album’s Worth of Tunes at I-Beam

When she was invited up to the McDowell Colony last year to compose, alto saxophonist Sarah Manning was not in a good place, she alluded between songs at her show Saturday night at I-Beam. But her time in the New Hampshire woods turned out to be exactly what she needed to reboot, and she showed off several of the kinetic, sometimes achingly intense compositions she’d come up with there, taken from her brilliant new album Harmonious Creature. Onstage, Manning’s tone is less brassy and more nuanced than it tends to be in the studio; attackwise, she went from a wail to a wisp and often back up again, precise and purposeful. For whatever reason, maybe because she has an album release show coming up at 8:30 PM on Feb 20 at Cornelia St. Cafe, this gig was more about tunes than pyrotechnics or jousting.

Bassist Rene Hart’s hypnotic, pulsing circular lines often held the center as drummer Allison Miller ornamented the songs with a misterioso, John Hollenbeck-like pointillism. What’s it like to watch Miller play quietly? Infrequent, let’s say – but she finally hit a long cyclotron rumble which was just plain classic, and worth the price of admission all by itself. Meanwhile, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and violist Fung Chern Hwei alternated between resonant atmospherics and incisive solo passages. Goldberger used his sustain pedals for almost clarinet-like tone that built with the viola to a magical, enveloping mist on the night’s elegantly waltzing opening number, Copland on Cornelia St. Then Manning led the band with a hypercaffeinated drive through the bitingly catchy Don’t Answer to the Question.

Grey Dawn Red Fox worked a similar dynamic, Miller’s insistent implied clave paired with Manning’s dancing lines against a lingering grey-sky backdrop. Tune of Cats saw Manning airing out her lower register, Miller matching her unease, throwing elbows everywhere versus the rest of the band’s resolute calm. They worked a tight push-pull on the acerbic Radish Spirit and then backed away through a considerably more acidic reworking of Neil Young’s On the Beach. The enigmatic, brooding Three Chords for Jessica was a highlight, as was the second set’s closing number, What the Blues Left Behind. Manning explained it as an illustration of the flush of contentment – hopefully without your ears ringing too hard – that you get after a good set or a good night watching somebody play one. The long series of false endings at the end wound up this eclectic and intriguing evening on an aptly reflective note.

January 25, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment