Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lush, Lively, Inventive Cuban String Sounds From the Toomai String Quintet

Last night at Symphony Space, the Toomai String Quintet played an irrepressibly dancing album release show for their new one, Cuerdas Cubanas, which would have made Ernesto Lecuona proud. The “Cuban Gershwin,” as bandleader and bassist Andrew Roitstein aptly characterized him, is well represented on the record and likewise in the concert program, a mix of elegantly serpentine themes with the Cuban composer’s signature blend of European classical, flamenco, Romany and indigenous sounds.

Cellist Hamilton Berry grinningly told the crowd that Roitstein’s new arrangements, many of them based on material originally written for piano or orchestra, were pretty awesome, and he wasn’t kidding. Roitstein has an obvious affinity for Lecuona’s work, and his bandmates  – who also include violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Fortes and violist Erin Wight – reveled in his nifty exchanges of phrases and contrapuntal voicings.

You might not think that a singer who’s made a career in opera, as Roitstein’s sister Alina has, would necessarily be suited to singing salsa, but she also obviously gravitates toward this music. A magnetic presence in front of the band, swinging her hips and negotiating the lyrics in impressively fluent Spanish, she delivered cheery and frequently coy versions of hits made famous by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and others.

A slinky, loopy bass and cello interweave set up Gendron’s plaintive vibrato in the night’s lilting, opening instrumental, La Comparsa. True to its title, Zamba Gitana had emphatic Romany riffage and some neat handoffs between the two violinists. The exchanges between band members were even more incisive in the phantasmagorical Gitanerias, which the group began as a real danse macabre.

There were also plenty of lighthearted moments in the set, including but hardly limited to a jaunty santeria dance, an animated thicket of pizzicato in Lecuona’s En Tres Por Cuatro, and the balmy nocturnal ambience of Manuel Ponce’s Plenilunio. There was also an interlude where a small battalion of young string players who’d been workshopping Cuban music with the quintet joined them and added extra ballast to the Israel “Cachao” Lopez hit A Gozar Con Mi Combo. Solos are still a work in progress for these kids, but when they played along with the rest of the band, the music was absolutely seamless.

The quintet encored with Lecuona’s Andalucia, shifting from uneasily acerbic Arabic-flavored chromatics to an indomitable, triumphant sway. It’s hard to think of a more perfect way to close such an eclectically enjoyable show. The Toomai String Quintet have a weekly Saturday 6 PM residency at Barbes coming up this September, where you will undoubtedly get many opportunities to hear a lot of this material.

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June 11, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Brooding, Wounded Masterpiece from Jane Antonia Cornish

Composer Jane Antonia Cornish has scored some big hits (pun intended) with her film music. Her signature style tends to be reflective and atmospheric, meticulous to a fault: a wasted note would be a serious crime in her universe. Her latest album, Continuum opens with Nocturne 1, a starkly minimalist, Lynchian series of very subtle variations on a very simple motif for strings that Angelo Badalamenti would no doubt approve of. As it grows darker and louder, bringing to mind Philip Glass’ Dracula soundtrack, the ghosts of the deep, robust roots of the trees whose wood became cellos and violins begin to flicker, their microtones dancing across the bows of the string ensemble Decoda. Composers tend to write best for their own instruments, and Cornish being a violinist, that strikes particularly true here. For that matter, the whole album – out from Innova and streaming this week at WQXR – is as starkly gripping as its opening track.

Nocturne II opens with such precision and clarity that its sonorities could be produced by winds instead of strings – and then that macabre theme kicks in! The third and final Nocturne is an achingly crescendoing grey-sky tone poem. Again, the cello quintet achieves such a crystalline timbre that they could be french horns.

Cornish’s cinematic prowess stretches across the horizon on Continuum 1, a spacious, moody Great Plains tableau of sorts – it’s tempting to say that it reaches Spielbergian heights. The second movement refers obliquely to the Glassine pulse of the opening Nocturne, with a series of wavelike echo effects as hypnotic as anything Glass ever wrote. The solo cello piece that follows offers a fond nod back to the Bach cello sonatas, adding both Cornish’s signature spaciousness and minutely honed sense of tasty string overtones. The album winds up with Tides, a vivid illustration of waves and echoes. A thousand electronic composers have used machines to follow similar tangents, but Cornish’s triumph is one of echoing nature exactly as it exists rather than through the bottom of a laptop.

And it wouldn’t be fair to end without mentioning the rapturously precise and inspired solo performance by Decoda cellist Hamilton Berry at the album launch party last month at Chambers Fine Art in Chelsea, where he gave voice to an austerely poignant Cornish sonata as well as a colorful solo pastorale by George Crumb that required considerable split-second extended technique.

September 18, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment