Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Poignancy, Unease and Playful Improvisation from Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman are one of the most consistently vivid, often hauntingly melodic groups to emerge from the often noisy, acidic New York downtown jazz scene over the past couple of decades. It might seem strange to call a duo a group, but they’ve crystallized a unique and often strikingly poignant sound. Their latest release, Time Gone Out – streaming at Bandcamp – is ironically both their most succinct and expansively ambitious release ttogether They don’t have any duo shows lined up currently, although Courvoisier is playing duo sets this weekend, June 14 and 15 at 8 PM at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery with a similarly edgy sparring partner, guitarist Mary Halvorson. Cover is $20.

Feldman opens the new album’s first track, Homesick for Another World, with a steady, allusively chromatic solo passage, then Courvoisier’s harplike brushing under the piano lid signals a shift to misty stillness. The jaunty call-and-response and variations throughout Eclats for Ornette echo Jean-Luc Ponty’s most bop-oriented 60s work, with hints of Stephane Grappelli thrown around while Courvoisier pounces and clusters, up to a bracing, chiming coda.

Limits of the Useful is a playfully crescendoing tone poem, Feldman whirling, sliding and then providing airy ambience for Courvoisier’s unsettling upward stroll; then the two switch roles. They work the same dynamic for Blindspot, but with much more energetic riffage and a droll uh-oh-here-come-the-cops interlude.

From its whirling intro, the album’s epic title track shifts expansively between creepy stillness and the remnants of a cuisinarted bolero. Feldman’s momentary, blazing cadenzas contrast with Courvoisier’s glittering gloom and gravitas as the two rise, fall and then slowly shift toward brightly animated leaps, bounds and glissandos. But all this bustling doesn’t last: is this autobiographical, or a potrait of a thriving scene now scattered by the real estate bubble blitzkrieg?

Crytoporticus has similar Spanish-tinged flourishes, but considerably more flitting ones mingled amid a hazy calm, Courvoisier going under the lid again for dusky flickers. Her haunted Debussyesqe music box interlude midway through is the album’s most arresting moment.

The most striking study in contrasts here is Not a Song, Other Songs, Courvoisier’s stern, stygian lows versus Feldman’s puckish good cheer, although he manages to pull her out of the murk for an unexpectedly carefree, scampering middle section.

The album’s final and most improvisational cut is Blue Pearl, Feldman’s terse phrases holding the center as Courvoisier’s staccato leaps and stabs cover the entire span of the keys. You’re going to see this on a whole bunch of best-of lists at the end of the year.

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June 10, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trumpeter Steph Richards Brings Sardonic Humor and Allusive Relevance to Crown Heights Friday Night

Steph Richards represents the most imaginative contingent of the new generation of trumpeters. Her compositions shift back and forth between idioms and leave a lot of room for improvisation, enabled by her prowess as a master of subtle segues. She also has a great sense of humor. Her previous album was cinematic and deviously fun. Her latest release, Take the Neon Lights – streaming at Bandcamp – is far darker, alluding to some of the grim developments in real estate bubble-era New York. Her next gig is at the Owl on June 7 at around 9 PM. Be aware that there’s no Brooklyn-bound service to the nearest subway station, President St., so you’ll have to get off at Franklin and walk from there – it’s about fifteen minutes on foot. There is Manhattan-bound service on the way back.

She opens the album with the title track. James Carney’s piano hints at lingering Steely Dan noir before drummer Andrew Munsey picks up the pace, Richards shifting from exploratory circles to pulsing intensity and back as bassist Sam Minaie hammers on the beat. At the end, she plays bad cop against the band’s sober backdrop, then gives up and joins them: she packs a lot into this six-minute mini-epic.

Brooklyn Machine has simple, sardonic call-and-response – overdubbed trumpet and flugelhorn – along with shapeshiftingly insistent rhythms and a hilariously cartoonish, multitracked trumpet conversation: it could be a lost track from Darcy James Argue‘s Brooklyn Babylon. Time and Grime, an improvised tone poem, has each musician in a separate corner, Munsey’s drums leading the way from uneasy contemplation to playful jousting.

Likewise, Rumor of War slowly unfolds, Carney’s minimalist, eerily echoing piano again anchoring the outward movement. Transitory Gleams, a rubato haunter with lingering piano and mutedly suspenseful drums, is the album’s most striking number, Richards floating moodily overhead.

With a wide-angle mute, Richards pairs off with Minaie’s steady, bowed swaths as the epic Skull of Theatres gets underwary, Carney joining her as the music brightens, his brooding modalities holding the center while Richards plays incongrous, irresistibly funny swing lines. Is this strictly a musical parody, or a commentary on cluelessly blithe gentrifiers? They bring it back to somber reality, not without a little sarcasm, at the end.

The album’s centerpiece is another epic, Stalked by Tall Buildings – #bestsongtitleever, huh? A more-or-less steady funk groove underpins Richards’ off-center riffs, then Minaie keeps it on track as Carney’s flourishes spin through the mix. The bandleader reaches for optimism throughout a long deep-sky interlude, finally pulling everybody up, hard: this tune wants to stay close to the ground. She winds up the album with All the Years of Our Lives, flickering through the mist. Interesting times produce interesting music, don’t they?

June 2, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, 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

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

Intense, Allusively Political Improvisational Epics from Amirtha Kidambi

Singer/keyboardist Amirtha Kidambi’s work spans the worlds of jazz, Indian music and the avant garde. The relentless angst of her vocals was the icing on the cake throughout Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl album. As she puts it, her latest release, From Untruth – streaming at Bandcamp – contains “Four pieces grappling with issues of power, oppression, capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy, violence and the shifting nature of truth. This music means to give the listener momentary relief from the anxiety and pain caused by living in our current reality.”

The first track is the hypnotic, almost fourteen-minute dirge Eat the Rich. Kidambi runs a loopy gothic harmonium riff; Matt Nelson plays his tenor sax through a pedalboard for icy, squiggly effects; bassist Nick Dunston pounces and prances. Kidambi scats an insistent carnatic riff in tandem with the sax, then takes over the music as well while drummer Max Jaffe adds minimalist, thumping flourishes in the background. “Eat the rich or die starving,” is her mantra on the way out.

Nelson’s otherworldly, zurla-like atmospherics mingle with Kidambi’s similarly uneasy vocalese and synth as Dance of the Subaltern opens, then the rhythm section kicks into an insistently pulsing 7/8 groove and everyone goes off to squall by themselves. Murky, toxically pooling synth and video gunners in space ensue before Kidambi returns, handling both sides of a simple and emphatic conversation weighing victory versus defeat. 

Tightly wound atonal clusters from the whole ensemble converge in Decolonize the Mind, which shifts to what sounds like ambient bagpipe music before Nelson’s wryly oscillating chromatic riffage signals a blazing bhangra-inflected crescendo. The album’s coda is the epic, fourteen minute-plus title track. The atmospheric intro brings to mind Amina Claudine Myers’ work with the AACM, then vocals and sax intertwine to a sardonic march beat before Kidambi allows a sense of guarded hope to filter in over anthemic, ominously looping synth. Nelson echoes that with the album’s most lyrical, soaring solo; elastically snapping solo bass ushers in an unresolved ending.

Kidambi is just back from Mary Halvorson tour and playing Luisa Muhr’s Women Between Arts series at the glass box theatre at the New School (the new Stone) on April 13 at 4 PM with dancer Leyna Marika Papach and choreographer Lilleth Glimcher. Cover is $20, but the series’ policy is not to turn anyone away for lack of funds,

March 31, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooding Rainswept Minimalism from Michael Attias

Michael Attias’ new album Echos la Nuit – streaming at Bandcamp -evokes an iconic midnight Manhattan of the mind: rain-soaked streets, sax player on the corner alone, desolate phrases echoing into the darkness.

What’s different about the record – Attias’ first solo release – is that he plays both alto sax and piano, often at the same time. But where so many horn players will tickle the ivories a little while soloing, just to show off, Attias pairs the instruments for misterioso moods. It’s amazing how seamlessly he makes it work. A biting bhangra riff and variations are central to the brooding ambience. He’s playing the album release show on April 6 at 7:30 PM, with a solo set and then with his quartet at Greenwich House Music School; cover is $20/$15 stud.

He opens the album with the title track, that catchy, arresting bhangra horn phrase and variations over still, starry, minimalist piano, followed by a pensive solo sax passage which he ices with cautious piano harmonies. The minute deviations in tone and pitch throughout the somewhat hesitant sax/piano harmonies in Trinite add a deliciously uneasy tinge.

Attias sustains his notes further in Grass, a solo sax piece with some acidic duotones and an unexpected return to that opening bhangra hook. Autumn I, the first piece of a triptych, is a synthesis of the album’s earlier tropes, but without the Indian spice. But Attias brings it back, calmly, in Autumn II, juxtaposing flutters and resonance, then winds it up with Fenix III, Satie-esque piano contrasting with melancholy, circling, enigmatically agitated modal sax.

His solo sax in Circles shifts from echoey minimalism to a long, catchy, cantering crescendo. Attias follows the playful, insistent bhangra variations of Rue Oberkampf with Wrong Notes, a coy miniature.

The album’s most epic number, Song for the Middle Pedal, seems to employ that useless thing in between sustain and damper, although it’s mostly carefully spaced, allusive sax phrases. Attias finally decides to work a grim low/high dynamic between piano and sax in Sea in the Dark, the album’s most dynamic and intricate piece. He closes with Echoes II Night, hinting at a bluesy ballad but never quite going there. Although this record doesn’t remotely offer any hint of Attias’ formidable chops, it may be the most vivid album he’s ever made.

March 24, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rumbling in Brooklyn with Josh Sinton

Friday night at Issue Project Room, Josh Sinton sat with his back to the audience in the middle of the stage, breathing into his contrabass clarinet. It’s a secondary instrument for him: his usual axe is the baritone sax, which he plays with some of New York’s most interesting big bands, notably Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Amir ElSaffar‘s Rivers of Sound.

The sound of the horn rumbled through a pedalboard and then a bass amp. In his black suit and matching fedora, he made a somber presence. It was clear from his silhouette, larger than life on the northern wall above the marble arch to the side of the stage, that he was breathing pretty hard. It takes a lot of air to fill those tubes. Sinton did that via circular breathing, in an almost nonstop, practically forty-minute improvisation. Is there an Olympic swimmer who can match that for endurance?

Likewise, the music conjured vast, oceanic vistas – when it wasn’t evoking an old diesel tractor. Several other machines came to mind: an encroaching lawnmower; a bandsaw; the hypnotically comforting thrum from the engine room of an ocean liner, through a heavy bulkhead. Overtones echoed, and pulsed, and sometimes hissed or howled, Sinton pulling back on the volume when that happened until the final ten minutes or so.

There was a point about halfway through when it felt utterly shameful to sit back, eyes closed, and get lost in the rumbling ambience, considering how hard Sinton was working to create such a calming effect. Finally, he opted not to pull away from the rising wall of feedback, letting it shriek as the throb of the amp became more like a jackhammer. Suddenly, what had been incredibly soothing was absolutely assaultive: a couple of people exited the front row. Finally, slowly and methodically, Sinton brought the atmosphere full circle to a barely audible wisp. And then silence.

Sinton calls this project Krasa – it’s a deliberate attempt to push himself out of his comfort zone to spur new creative tangents. Another completely different gig which Sinton has excelled at lately has been as the leader of Phantasos, a Morphine cover band. He had a residency with that trio last month at Barbes, putting a somewhat more slinky edge on Mark Sandman’s noir bounces and dirges. He had Dana Colley’s alternately gruff and plaintive sound down cold, and a rotating cast of bassists and drummers – notably Sam Ospovat- rose to the challenge of doing justice to such an iconic band. Much as Issue Project Room was close to sold out for Krasa, Phantasos could be a money gig to be proud of if Sinton could find the time. 

March 19, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Fred Hersch Solo NYC Gig Off His Usual Turf

Lyrical jazz piano icon Fred Hersch is playing solo tonight, March 3 at 7:30 at Mezzrow. Huh? Mr. Village Vanguard at little Mezzrow? It’s happening. They want $20 at the door and you should get there early if you want to get intimate. It’s going to be like getting a seat right on top of the piano at his usual haunt around the corner.

Hersch’s latest solo live album, Open Book – streaming at Spotify – is good way to get a handle on what he might be up to. Other than Satoko Fujii, nobody else has mastered the art of turning live performances into consistently high quality albums as much  as Hersch has. What’s notable about this one, recorded on tour in South Korea, is that it’s one of his most adventurous records.

He opens it on a matter-of-fact yet searching note with the ballad The Orb: it’s wistful, and catchy and he takes his time with it. Benny Golson’s Whisper Not has a ratcheting drive that very subtly shifts into a glittery dance. Hersch may have one of the few great long-running trios in jazz, with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, but he doesn’t need them here, adding unexpected grit with his lefthand as the musical ballet goes on overhead.

By contrast, he really slows down Jobim’s Zingaro, from the unexpected carnivalesque menace at the beginning, through a hint of a fugue, a steady music box-like processional and finally a full-on embrace of the central ballad theme.

The centerpiece is practically twenty minutes of free improvisation, Through the Forest. From eerie, more or less steady Monk-ish music-box twinkle to a series of coda-less crescendos. waiting for Godot has seldom been this entertaining. A similarly matter-of-fact, meticulous, pensive take of Hersch’s ballad Plainsong makes a good segue.

Hersch is one of the alltime great interpreters of Thelonious Monk, so it’s no surprise that a jaunty cover of Eronel is on this record. Hersch closes with something that would disqualify lesser artists from getting attention here: with millions and millions of other songs just screaming out to be covered, why scrape the bottom of the barrel for something by a “piano man” more likely to be skewered in a Mostly Other People Do the Killing parody?

March 3, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trumpeter Steph Richards Brings Her Devious Sense of Humor to Lefferts Gardens Saturday Night

The cover illustration for trumpeter Steph Richards’ solo album Fullmoon (streaming at Bandcamp) shows an open palm holding what could be a postcard of the moon – a pretty warped moon, anyway. But when you click on the individual tracks to play them (on devices that play mp3s, anyway), it turns out that’s a phone the hand is holding, and you’re taking a selfie. Truth in advertising: Richards’ music is deviously fun. She’s bringing her horn and her pedal to a show at the Owl on March 2 at 9 PM; ten bucks in the tip bucket helps ensure she’ll make more appearances at that welcoming, well-appointed listening room.

The album’s opening track, New Moon is based around a catchy, repetitive two-note riff, spiced with gamelanesque electronic flickers via Dino J.A. Deane’s sampler, with unexpected squall at the end. The second number, Snare develops from a thicket of echo effects, insectile sounds and breathy bursts, to a wry evocation of a snare drum. Then, with Piano, Richards moves from desolate, echoey, minimalist phrases to wryly cheery upward swipes: the title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either the instrument or the dynamic.

The coy humor of the atmospheric miniature Half Moon introduces the album’s first diptych, Gong, which develops into a querulous little march, then a weird kaleidoscope of polyrhythms. Timpani doesn’t sound anything like kettledrums; instead, it’s a funny bovine conversation that all of a sudden grows sinister – although the ending is ridiculously amusing. The album ends with the title track, Richards developing a complicated conversation out of late-night desolation in the first part, then a barnyard of the mind (or the valves). Her levity is contagious – and she’s capable of playing with a lot more savagery than she does here, something that wouldn’t be out of the question to expect Saturday night in Lefferts Gardens.

February 27, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Viscerally Intense, Purposeful New Album From Violist Jessica Pavone

Violist Jessica Pavone has been one of the most consistently interesting and compelling musicians on the New York improvisational scene for the better part of a decade, someone who always seems to elevate other players to new levels of spontaneity. Everybody wants to work with her: trumpet icon Wadada Leo Smith, haunting psychedelic art-rocker Rose Thomas Bannister and the late, great guitar stormscaper Glenn Branca number among her many collaborators. Her broodingly surreal 2012 song cycle Hope Dawson Is Missing is a genuine classic, and her Dark Tips project with another hauntingly chameleonic multi-instrumentalist, Raquel Bell is magically murky. Pavone’s latest solo release, In the Action is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing on a killer twinbill on Feb 20 at 8 PM at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery, followed at around 9 by charismatic accordionist/multi-instrumentalist songwriter Rachelle Garniez, who’s playing with another first-rate violist, Karen Waltuch. The cover charge is a mystery right now; ten bucks would be a fair guess.

Pavone is not typically a showy player, preferring purpose, melody and texture. Muted, rhythmic white noise flickers behind uneasy, slowly resolving, multitracked close harmonies as the album’s first track, Oscillatory Salt Transport gets underway. Pavone wails on a pedal note when she’s not working twisted permutations on what could be the intro to a Scottish air.

With tons of reverb echoing from her spare, plucked phrases and overtones burning from her low strings, 2 and Maybe in the End could be a deconstructed 80s spacerock anthem at quarterspeed. Using her trusty loop pedal, Pavone builds vortical variations from a chugging diesel engine idle in Look Out Look Out Look Out: these stygian sounds hardly bring to mind the typical range of a viola. She turns the pedal off to begin the album’s concluding title cut, digging into her axe’s natural low registers in a return to allusions to British Isles folk, teasing the listener with that insistent opening cadenza up to a wry, completely unexpected false ending. As is typical of Pavone’s work, it has the freshness of having been made up on the spot even though a lot of it was probably planned out in advance. 

February 13, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment