Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

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

Riveting, Eclectic Creative Music This Fall in an Unexpected Chinatown Space

One of this year’s most fascinating and eclectic ongoing free concert series is happening right now at the James Cohan Gallery at 48 Walker St, west of Broadway, in Chinatown. Through mid-October, a parade of improvisers, from Middle Eastern and Indian music to postbop and the furthest reaches of free jazz, are playing solo shows in the midst of Josiah McElheny’s futuristic, outer space-themed exhibit Observations at Night. There’s not much seating but there is plenty of standing room.

Last week’s performance by pedal steel legend Susan Alcorn was rapturous, and haunting, and revealingly intimate. Although she used plenty of extended technique – plucking out flickers of harmonics up by the bridge, generating smudgy whirs by rubbing the strings and, for a couple of crescendos, getting the whole rig resonating like at the end of A Day in the Life – she didn’t use a lot of effects, just a touch of reverb from her amp.

She opened the show like a sitar player, building subtle shades off a dark blues phrase, finally flitting and pinging across the strings to contrast with the stygian buildup. Throughout the night, she talked to the crowd more than usual. She explained that the first of many epiphanies that drew her from her original style, country music, to more harmonically complex styles was when, on the way to a gig, she heard Messiaen’s requiem for war victims and was so blown away that she had to pull off the road to listen to it. She was late to that gig, and it took her over a year to tackle the mail-ordered sheet music for the piece, but it was a life-changing event.

Then she played her own original, which she’d written as a requiem in a more general sense for victims of fascism. The Messiaen influence was striking, right from the stern, chillingly chromatic series of opening chords, but from there she went from eerie close-harmonied minimalism to sudden, horrified leaps and bounds, back to mournful stillness.

She explained that she’d always tried to keep music and politics separate, but that the current climate has made that impossible. From there, she shared her horror at how the ugliness of past decades has returned, on a global scale, particularly in Trumpie xenophobia and anti-refugee hostility here at home. With that, she segued from an austere, unexpectedly rhythmic take of Victor Jara song made famous by Violeta Parra, to a brief, longing coda of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom.

On a similarly outside-the-box if less harrowing note, she made her way methodically from the old countrypolitan ballad I’m Your Toy – which Elvis Costello covered on his Almost Blue album – and then couldn’t resist a verse or two of Almost Blue itself. The man himself couldn’t have been more clever. From there she built reflecting-pool Monk echoes, reveling in the lingering tritones. She closed with an austere, guardedly hopeful take of Song  of the Birds, the moody Catalon folk tune that Pablo Casals would close his infrequent concerts with after he’d gone into exile.

The next show at the gallery is on Sept 25 at 6:30 PM with intense free jazz alto saxophonist Makoto Kawashima.

September 23, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, 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

An Acerbic, Darkly Allusive New String Quartet Album and an Upper East Side Gig from Viola Titan Jessica Pavone

Jessica Pavone is one of this city’s most formidable violists. Her work as a bandleader spans from moody, allusive art-rock – her 2012 album Hope Dawson Is Missing is a classic of its kind – to the scary reaches of improvisation. Her latest release, Brick and Mortar, with her two-violin, two-viola String Ensemble is streaming at Bandcamp and arguably her most rapturously minimalist release yet. Her next New York gig is a solo set on Sept 15 at 7 PM with two other intense improvisers: pianist Cat Toren,and saxophonist Catherine Sikora at the ground-floor El Barrio Art Space at 215 E. 99th St (between Second and Third Ave.). It’s not clear what the order of the musicians is, but each is worth hearing; cover is $20.

The new album opens wth Hurtle and Hurdle, a catchy, hypnotic, acerbic tableau with long, resonant notes soaring and eventually hitting a series of wary cadenzas over a Philip Glass-like backdrop of echo phrases. The group are seamless to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what – Pavone and Joanna Mattrey on violas, Erica Dicker and Angela Morris on violins. They take it out with a strolling pizzicato riff.

With simple, acidically harmonic sustained tones over a pulsing, repetitive G note and a keening forest of variations, Lullaby and Goodnight is the album’s most minimalistic track. The players’ slow attack and subtly shaded echo effects are a cool enhancement: Glenn Branca’s symphonic work seems to be an influence. The drone picks up without the rhythm in the title cut, its layered shadings creating an effect like a parking lot full of cars with their horns all more or less stuck, combining to play a seventh chord. The punchline is too good to give away.

Sooner or Later is a diptych: a series of hypnotic, cell-like variations like Caroline Shaw through a funhouse mirror at halfspeed, then a surreal reel. The final number is By and Large, its fleeting echoes and doppler effects growing lusher and more disquieting as the individual voices close harmonies branch out. Play loud to max out the increasingly rich wash of overtones.

September 9, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elegantly Riveting Intensity in Brooklyn with Luisa Muhr and C. Lavender

Last night at Spectrum dancer Luisa Muhr and sound sculptor C. Lavender improvised a literally mesmerizing, often haunting multimedia sonata of sorts, complete with variations on a series of recurrent tropes and gestures. It had all the intensity of butoh, but none of the brutality.

Muhr, dressed in a stark, loosely fitting black cotton top and pants, her hair back, typically moved in sync with Lavender’s electroacoustically-enhanced drumming –  even if that rhythm was often implied. Her timing was striking to witness. For much of the performance, Muhr swayed, turned, rose and fell at halfspeed, as if underwater. Much of her time onstage was spent contending with an invisible tether:, which seemed to encircle her, encumber her feet, hung in front of her face where she could analyze it, then became a sudden threat. But just when it seemed that it had finally sent her into a fetal position, and then a crumpled form at the very edge of the stage, she rose from the depths, slowly but ineluctably, in an understatedly steely display of athletic command.

Muhr’s green eyes are profoundly expressive: like a young Liv Ullmann, she excels at channeling very subtle or conflicted emotions. At times, Muhr’s features were undeterred yet shadowed with unease, especially toward the end of the show where she dealt with what could have been an unseen mirror, a hostile presence lurking beyond the stage, or both. Likewise, during the tether sequence, she fixed her gaze with an unwavering composure but also a profound sadness. This may have been a job she had to finish, but it was ripping her up inside. What exactly was responsible for that, we never found out, although any woman in the current political climate faces an uphill struggle with no comfortable conclusion in sight.

Lavender played a set of syndrums and also a dulcimer, which she hit gently with mallets. She ran the sometimes murky, sometimes much more pointillistic torrents of beats through a mixer for effects that diminished from turbulence to a trickle; then the river rose again. Meanwhile, even while the sound looped back through the mix, she doubled the rhythm, adding a layer of arid, blippy textures above the thump and throb. There were also moments when the sound subsided where she’d get the dulcimer quietly humming, or would build austere blocks of close harmonies and spin then them back through the vortex. Seated centerstage, there was as much elegance as restlessness in her performance, something drummers rarely get to channel: often, she was just as fascinating to watch as Muhr.

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

Contrasting Styles at an Intriguing Prospect Lefferts Gardens Jazz Twinbill This Week

There’s an especially intriguing jazz twinbill this August 15 starting at around 8 at the Owl. Multi-reedman Mike McGinnis – who excels at both pastoral jazz and large-ensemble pieces – leads a quartet with the perennially tuneful Jacob Sacks on piano. They’re followed by alto player Jonathon Crompton – whose methodically drifting compositions blur the line between indie classical and free improvisation – doing the album release show for his new one, Intuit with Ingrid Laubrock, Patrick Booth and Patrick Breiner on tenor sax, plus bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Kate Gentile.

On this album – streaming at Bandcamp – Crompton and the group focus closely on echo effects and shadowing. Tempos, when they coalesce, are on the slow side: there’s a very baroque feel to much of this. They open with the title track, which is trippy to the extreme. A three-way conversation in birdsong-like figures develops into a shadow of a boisterous New Orleans march, shifting in and out (mostly out) of focus, sustain punctuated by squonk. From there, the group provide a hazy, flickering backdrop for Crompton’s forlorn, Mike Maneri-style microtonal wisps and cries before everyone joins in a surrealistic exchange of echoes. A backward masking pedal seems to be involved.

Courage, the pensive, drummerless fugue after that, is closer to indie classical than jazz. Breiner’s enigmatically balletesque bass clarinet and Hopkins’ peppy bass join in a duet to open Apathy; then the band come in and sway sardonically through a hangdog theme and squirrelly variations. In Dreaming, the group come together out of a quasi-classical hint of a round into a jaunty strut that the bandleader pokes at, but can’t quite derail.

The gently triangulated fugue Primacy of Gesture and Catherine (for Cathlene) make an increasingly lively diptych, increasingly cartoonish humor pushing the tightlipped, Bach-like riffs out of the picture. Crompton’s Suite in A Major first traces the deconstruction of a carefree second-line tune, everybody taking turns holding the center and then breaking free. The second part, with its brooding, muted, plaintively funereal harmonies, is the high point of the album. The concluding number, December makes a return to the neo-baroque: it’s deceptively simple, thoughtfully executed and speaks well to Crompton’s uncluttered, moody sensibility,

August 11, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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