Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Exciting New Harp Music from Duo Scorpio

Much as the harp has been celebrated for its angelic sound, it’s also been a staple of horror movies. The rather ominously named Duo Scorpio transcend any preconceptions about harp music, whether heavenly or horrible (they are capable of both and everything in between) on their debut album. Virtuosos Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade share a birthday, November 5 (hence the ensemble name), a vivid chemistry and a strong attunement to emotional content throughout an exciting, diverse mix of new and recent compositions that push the limits of what can be done with the instrument. With its ambitious scope, energy and extended technique (percussive effects, rubbed and muted strings and more), it often evokes the similarly pioneering work of Bridget Kibbey.

Bernard Andrès is represented by two tracks here. Le Jardin des Paons, which opens the album, is a lush triptych with Asian allusions, alternately dancing and severe, bringing to mind both Bernard Herrmann and Erik Satie with its moody insistence before ending on a warmer, more verdant note, glissandos paired off against brightly attractive, incisive motifs. The album closes with Parvis, an otherworldly, tango-flavored piece with a long, understatedly Lynchian crescendo over velvety swells.

A triptych commission from Robert Paterson, Scorpion Tales is the centerpiece here. Terse noirisms, creepy syncopation and divergent, Andriessen-esque bell-like tones span the entirety of the harps’ sonic capabilities in the opening segment. In the middle section, an eerie twinkling gives way to a courtly, anthemic waltz lowlit by coyly baroque harmonies. It concludes with The Tale of Orion, a rhythmically playful, Brazilian-tinged narrative bookended by starlit austerity.

Caroline Lizotte’s Raga builds increasingly catchy, hypnotically circling variations out of minimalist atmospherics, while Sebastian Currier‘s Crossfade, the most nebulous piece here, pushes toward and then retreats from clenched-teeth suspense with artfully shifting polyrhythms. The most challenging and jazz-oriented work here, Stephen Taylor’s Unfurl employs what seems to be alternate tunings and gritty low overtones, shifting from menacingly exploratory ripples to a bit of a dance and then back. You might not expect a recording for harp to be as much of a fun ride as this one is.

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March 10, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keziah Thomas Sparkles With Her Harp

Today at Trinity Church Keziah Thomas proved to be a passionate advocate for her instrument’s repertoire, not to mention a keenly insightful raconteur with a clever sense of irony. Her axe is the concert harp. Playing solo, she offered a nod to St. David’s Day with a program devoted to composers from England and Wales from over the centuries. Thomas’ ease with the demands of the strings and pedals downplayed the crisp athleticism and wide dynamic expanse she brings to the instrument.

She launched comfortably into the program with warm, stately counterpoint of the allegro from British baroque composer John Parry’s  Sonata No. 1 in D Major. Contemporary Welsh composer Sally Beamish’s Awuya blended percussion on the harp’s soundboard with fervent glissandos, tricky African tempos, and a spiky, kora-like arrangement that came full circle with a lullaby theme at the end. The centerpiece of the program was Britten’s five-part Suite for Harp, Op. 83. Its moody, surreal, suspenseful thickets of glissandos shifting to tensely spacious, pensively minimalistic passages, crescendoing, warily Middle Eastern allusions and finally an elegantly ebullient Welsh hymn, it was a mystery movie for the ears. Close behind was 20th century Welsh composer Grace Williams’ Hiraeth (Welsh for “longing”), a vividly plaintive anthem without words.

Thomas went back in time again for Elias Parish Alvars’ Introduction et Variations sur des airs de La Norma (the Bellini opera) dating from the Victorian era. Known as the “Liszt of the harp,” Alvars’ arrangement was as showoff-y as Thomas said it would be. It’s mostly rapidfire, rippling piano voicings meant to mimic arias and big orchestral swells, with a conclusion that’s as physically challenging as it is predictable. Thomas nailed it.

She followed with a rather sweeping, lushly anthemic John Thomas (no relation – he was Queen Victoria’s court harpist) arrangement of the old Welsh folk song Watching the Wheat and concluded the program with a work she’d commissioned herself,  Andy Scott’s Crossing Waves, inspired by Roz Savage’s 2005 solo transatlantic voyage in a rowboat. A triptych, the piece shifts from apprehensive, often jarringly rhythmic, chromatically fueled pre-voyage anxiety, to a raptly glistening, hypnotically steady passage depicting calm waters and then a buoyant, bouncy, utterly triumphant outro as the adventurer revels in the the ride home after finally reaching dry land. Thomas recalled with considerable amusement how Savage came to the premiere of the work and said emphatically afterward how there hadn’t been a minute of calm during the entire voyage. Therefore, explained Thomas with a wry grin, “This isn’t the approved version.”

March 1, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Contrasting Albums of High Notes

The American Modern Ensemble’s recording of Robert Paterson’s Star Crossing was one of last year’s most enjoyable albums, a noir film for the ears. Right now the eclectic composer/percussionist is about to unleash a suite about former New York Mets star and suspected steroid juicer Mike Piazza. Sandwiched between those two works is the Book of Goddesses, which is essentially his Pictures at an Exhibition, a bright, rippling, generally upbeat theme and variations which takes its inspiration from illustrator Kris Waldherr’s Book of Goddesses. Rather than being a depiction of female archetypes, Paterson’s intent here is to employ a vast palette of motifs from all over the globe to breathe sonic life into a series of pictures from the book. Eclectic concert harpist Jacqueline Kerrod is the central performer here, whether in the trio Maya, with Sato Moughalian on flutes and John Hadfield on percussion; the duo Clockwise, with violinist Marc Uys; or the American Modern Ensemble, with Moughalian plus violist Danielle Farina. The compositions are more rambunctious, less delicate than this instrumentation might imply, a series of interwoven variations on themes reflecting the origin of the goddesses themselves – or not. For example, the Chinese fertility goddess Xi Wang Mu, if this is to be believed, has some Bollywood in her – and santeria goddess Oya is smartly introduced by a bolero. Maybe by design, maybe not, the composer whose work this collection most closely resembles is Bollywood legend S.D. Burman.

The opening overture is titled Sarasvati – the Hindu goddess of knowledge, whose portrait is included in the album’s lavish cd booklet along with the rest of Waldherr’s pantheon. Rippling Chinese-inflected ambience gives way to a Bollywood theme which then goes north again, followed by Aphrodite, which is essentially an acoustic take on Greek psychedelic rock (think Annabouboula or Magges) – not exactly what you’d expect from a chamber music trio, with a rhythmic pulse and catchy melodicism that has become Paterson’s trademark. A swirling Irish reel named after the Celtic goddess Brigit is followed by cleverly polyrhythmic interpolations of previous themes, dreamy ethereality, bouncy Mexican folkloric inflections, that Nigerian bolero, and a balletesque, vividly contrasting number titled Yemaya, where the percussion comes to the forefront against Moughalian’s graceful flute.

There are also two companion pieces here. Freya’s Tears is a triptych building from pensive spaciousness, to mysterioso ripples, to echoes of a baroque minuet and then delicate Middle Eastern allusions. The concluding work, Embracing the Wind, a portrait of a runner who seems more of a fugitive than an athlete, harks back to the ominous unease of Star Crossing. On one hand, there’s a “look, ma, I’m writing Indian music now” feel to some of this, but it’s less showoff-y than simply diverse: clearly, Paterson listens widely and has a passion for the global styles he’s so enthusiastically embraced. Play this loud and it becomes party music: play it softly and it makes for good late-night ambience

Where the Book of Goddesses is lively and animated, Due East’s Drawn Only Once: The Music of John Supko is often blissfully dreamy and nocturnal. Flutist Erin Lesser and percussionist Greg Beyer join forces to create a frequently mesmerizing, intricate upper-register sonic web. There are two works here. Littoral, a lush, balmy, minutely nuanced seaside scene (including two spoken-word narrations comfortably back enough in the mix that they intrigue rather than drowning out the music) reaches symphonic length and sweep. Crescendoing almost imperceptibly, the flute flutters and then builds playful clusters over long, sustained, hypnotic tones and elegant vibraphone, becomes a dance and then a gamelan anthem that slowly and warmly winds down, a comfortable shoreline at dusk.

The second work, This Window Makes Me Feel, also rises with a slow, hypnotic elegance, growing closer and closer and finally achieving an optimistic resolution, with pianist David Broome and soprano Hai-Ting Chinn adding subtle textures to the mix. It’s a terrific late-night album and comes with an accompanying DVD, not viewed at press time.

February 24, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edmar Castaneda Beats the Heat

Wednesday night at Madison Square Park, Colombian jazz  harpist Edmar Castaneda didn’t let the crushing heat and humidity phase him, playing a breathtaking show with Andrea Tierra on vocals, Dave Silliman on drums and Shlomi Cohen on soprano sax. Castaneda is the kind of musician who absolutely blows you away with his intensity and his chops, a hyperkinetic figure playing rapidfire piano voicings, intricate folk melodies, furious volleys of staccato notes and anchoring all of this with nimble, funky basslines that he played on a series of low strings that seemed to be amped separately from the rest of his harp. Wow! Castaneda more than once referred to Silliman as “the man with four hands,” but it might as well have been himself.

The trio of Castaneda, Silliman and Cohen opened with an expansive, slowly crescendoing version of Roomful of Colors (that’s the English translation of a track from his latest album), Silliman artfully weaving between Castaneda’s polyrhythms as Cohen brought the heat up even further with eerie Balkan and klezmer-inflected trills and modal passages. The title cut, Between the Strings was less allusion than head-on intensity, anchored by a vivid, insistent descending progression, Castaneda hammering out plaintive chordal motifs as Silliman and Cohen nimbly rode the composition’s rises and falls. Castaneda held the crowd rapt with a solo rendition of  the epic, anguished but ultimately triumpant Jesus of Nazareth, a showcase for every technique in his book. Then they brought up Tierra (Castaneda’s wife) for a jazzed-up version of a poignant Colombian folk song: with a powerful, mysterious lower register, she introduced a nocturnal ambience that grew dramatic and then plaintive. They closed with a long, animated tribute to Tierra and Castaneda’s native Colombia, a potently effective advertisement for the beauty and appeal of the country, Tierra’s deep-river contralto a powerful contrast with Cohen’s soaring, knife-edge flights. Clearly, their connection to the country is tight, complex and not without considerable longing to return there. Castaneda typically plays the Jazz Standard when he’s in town; watch this space for future NYC dates.

And while we’re at it, a big shout-out to trombonist Art Baron, who played a killer mix of standards and grooves with Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar at St. Marks Park yesterday: hearing Pizzarelli methodically fire off one delicious chordal cluster after another while Baron, tenor player Steve Elson and others took flight overhead was a real treat, especially during their inspired closing number, Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. Pizzarelli is at Rockefeller Park on 7/13 at 7 PM with a bunch of other jazzcats playing a Jonathan Schwartz tribute.

July 8, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Janus Gets You Coming and Going

Like the mythical character, indie classical trio Janus looks in two directions, forward and backward. Backward, with a genuinely lovely, often baroque-tinged sense of melody; forward, with a compellingly hypnotic edge occasionally embellished by light electronic touches. This is an album of circular music, motifs that repeat again and again as they slowly and subtly shift shape, textures sometimes floating mysteriously through the mix, occasionally leaping in for a sudden change of atmosphere. Many of the melodies are loops, some obviously played live, others possibly running over and over again through an electronic effect. Either way, it’s not easy to follow flutist Amanda Baker, violist/banjoist Beth Meyers and harpist Nuiko Wadden as they negotiate the twists and turns of several relatively brief compositions by an all-New York cast of emerging composers. A series of minimalist miniatures by Jason Treuting of So Percussion – some pensive, some Asian-tinged – begin, end and punctuate the album, concluding on a tersely gamelanesque note.

Keymaster, by Caleb Burhans (of Janus’ stunningly intense labelmates Newspeak) is a wistful cinematic theme that shifts to stark midway through, then lets Baker add balmy contrast against the viola’s brooding staccato. Drawings for Mayoko by Angelica Negron adds disembodied vocalese, quietly crunching percussion and a drone that separates a warmly shapeshifting, circular lullaby methodically making its way around the instruments. Cameron Britt’s Gossamer Albatross weaves a clever call-and-response element into its absolutely hypnotic theme, a series of brief movements that begin fluttery and grow to include a jazz flavor courtesy of some sultry low flute work by Baker. There’s also the similarly trancelike Beward Of, by Anna Clyne, with its gently warped series of backward masked accents and scurrying flurry of a crescendo, and Ryan Brown’s Under the Rug, which builds matter-of-factly from sparse harp and banjo to a series of crystalline crescendos with the viola. Gently psychedelic, warmly atmospheric and captivating, it’s a great ipod album. It’s out now on New Amsterdam Records.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/26/10

OK, we’re a little behind with this but we have not been idle: new NYC concert calendar coming August 1, the 1000 best albums of all time, not to mention 72 albums and two concerts to review. At least. In the meantime here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. Every link here will take you to the song. As always, the #1 song of the week is guaranteed a spot on this year’s best 100 songs list at the end of December.

1. The Larch – Sub-Orbital Getaway

A masterpiece of catchy paisley underground rock dressed up in a skinny tie and striped suit. From the Brooklyn band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. Devi – When It Comes Down

The psychedelic rockers are giving away this live showstopper as a free download. Doesn’t get any more generous than this!

3. People You Know – Glamour in the Hearts of Many

Go Gos soundalike from the fun, quirky Toronto trio.

4. Wormburner – The Interstate

Long, literate highway epic: it’s all about escape. What you’d expect from a good band from New Jersey (they tore up Hipster Demolition Night this month).

5. The Fumes – Cuddle Up the Devil

Not the Queens ska-rock crew but an Australian band very good at hypnotic pounding Mississippi hill country blues a la RL Burnside or Will Scott. They’re at the Rockwood 8/26-27

6. The Alpha Rays – Guide to Androids

Ziggy-era Bowie epic warped into an early 80s artpop vein from these lyrical London rockers.

7. Fela Original Cast – Water No Get Enemy

A Fela classic redone brilliantly, from the Broadway show soundtrack – then again, it’s what you’d expect from Antibalas.

8. Iron Maiden – God of Darkness

This is the first Iron Maiden – bluesy British metal from 1969!

9. Darker My Love – Dear Author

Faux psychedelic Beatles – funny in a Dukes of Stratosphear vein. Free download.

10. Megan McCullough Li – Blood in the Water

Solo harp and vocals – creepy!

July 29, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katie Brennan – Slowly

Her breakthrough album, a quantum leap for multi-instrumentalist/singer Katie Brennan, who is equally adept at the concert harp as at the piano. That’s right; the concert harp, instrument of the angels. But this album doesn’t remotely resemble anything Joanna Newsom has ever done. Instead, it’s a richly melodic collection of lushly arranged, sometimes country-inflected ballads, a terrific effort that instantly vaults Brennan into the upper echelon of current sirens like Eleni Mandell, Rachelle Garniez and Neko Case. The recurrent theme throughout many of the songs is breaking away and starting anew, reflected in Brennan’s voice: many of these songs have a rain-drenched, nocturnal feel to them. Since her first album with her indie rock band the Holy Bones, her vocals have taken on considerable gravitas and nuance: she can still be playful and funny, she still has that soaring range, but she’s reined in that big vibrato that you used to be able to drive a truck through (metaphorically speaking, anyway). The result is an instrument finely attuned to the most minute subtleties in emotion. Credit producer Itamar Ben-zakay (who also plays drums and guitar here) for putting Brennan front and center amidst the often sweeping arrangements.

The album opens with the unabashedly romantic, aptly named title track, Brennan’s piano meticulous against her harp work. The album’s second cut, My Piano picks up the pace a little, with a decidedly defiant, even triumphant feel – the narrator, spinning her wheels in the big city, has made up her mind that it’s time to go back to the country. Grandpa’s Boat follows, its insistent beat reinforcing the lyric, a tribute to resourcefulness.

The best song on the album is the swaying 3/4 ballad La Casa Rosada, spiced with tasteful, incisive acoustic slide guitar accents and a gorgeous acoustic solo from Ben-zakay, with trumpet soaring in the distance:

Forget her and the arms of your loved ones
They don’t belong to the daylight
You have guided yourself much too long
To get lost in the halls of the past

Other standout cuts among the album’s eleven tracks include On His Own, a dead ringer for something from Meddle-era Pink Floyd, with guest dobro and lapsteel player Lenny Molotov’s shimmering, bluesy slide work; the cheery, upbeat Cherry Pie, which could be vintage, 1960s Dolly Parton backed by Gilmour and company; and the big 6/8 anthem If We Were Whiskeys, Molotov again providing gorgeously terse fills throughout. The album concludes with the authentically rustic, oldtimey Drunkard’s Prayer.

As of this writing Brennan – who’s done most of her music here in New York over the past few years – will shortly be returning to her native Seattle. Their gain, our loss. At least we have this great album (and hopefully a return engagement or two) for the memories. The cd is available online and at shows; Katie Brennan plays the cd release show for Slowly at Jimmy’s no. 43 on 7th street between 2nd and 3rd Aves., 9 PM on Friday, May 2.

April 12, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment