Lucid Culture


A Shimmering, Potently Relevant New Album From Fearless Composer Susie Ibarra

Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra‘s rapturous, starkly orchestrated new album Walking on Water touches on the two most deadly ecological crises of our time: the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and global warming. Inspired by a breathtaking series of paintings by Mako Fujimura dedicated to the victims of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear explosions, Ibarra also addresses a familiar theme in her work, the perils of climate change. With the Japanese government threatening to dump millions of gallons of lethal radioactive water from the still-unstable Fukushima site into the Pacific, Ibarra could not have picked a more appropriate time to release this record of what she terms as “spirituals” at Bandcamp.

Ibarra’s DreamTime Ensemble here includes Jennifer Choi on violin, Yves Dharambaj on cello, Claudia Acuna on vocals, Jake Landau on guitar and keys, with Yuka C. Honda adding electronic elements. The music is much more dynamic than you would expect from such troubling central themes and includes many field recordings of water, from melting ice in the Himalayas to water tanks in Washington State.

The first track is Elegy in Azurite, a shimmery, circling theme, part terse, lush classical atmosphere aloft with Acuna’s vocalese, and part pointillistic Filipino kulintang music. Landau’s spiky acoustic guitar pierces the mist in the bouncy Light East of Sendai. His organ falls away, leaving Ibarra’s cymbals and gongs to mingle with melting ice sonics in Waterfalling.

Assertive, flamenco-tinged guitar chords anchor resonant, shivering phrases from violin and cello over Ibarra’s rustles in Coastal Birds The next track is High Wave, a mashup of found sounds of water amid nebulous acoustic and electronic ambience. Acuna sails soulfully above a syncopated organ groove and Ibarra’s slinky drums in the aptly titled Natural Lightness.

Night Rain sounds like exactly that, a field recording with birds chattering away as they take cover. Violin and cello rise warily over Landau’s lush arpeggios in Divine Forgiveness, followed by a fluttery tone poem, Celestial Migration. Floating Azurite makes a good segue, somber atmosphere contrasting with the mandolin-like delicacy of Landau’s guitars.

The bossa-tinged swing of New York With Grace comes as a real surprise, Landau’s spiny textures and the strings adding a surreal, disquieted edge. The album’s big epic is aptly titled Listening at Himalayan Waterfalls, a found-sound pastiche which Ibarra captured with underwater microphones. The group close with Floating Along Banares, a summery field recording of a boat trip mashed up with distantly Indian-flavored melodies. The implication seems to be that this kind of natural camaraderie is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of what we stand to lose if we don’t stop burning things to power the world. The apocalypse never sounded so dreamy. Count this as one of the best and most captivating albums of 2021.

July 7, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lively, Intriguing John Zorn Premiere Uptown

Any opoprtunity to see cellist Fred Sherry and violinist Jennifer Choi share a stage is a bound to be a treat. And as much as the Stone is a wonderful place for many reasons, it was good to see John Zorn off his home turf and making a trip uptown to the Miller Theatre Tuesday night- in the role of roadie for the allstar cast playing the New York premiere of his new suite, Apophthegms and then his 2011 string quartet The Alchemist.

It would be overly reductionistic to describe the suite as a series of agitated cadenzas separated by bracingly airy atonalities, often punctuated by acerbic pizzicato accents, but that’s the basic shape most of them take. With Zorn’s persistent use of high, pianissimo harmonics, they’re also cruelly difficult to play, but violinists Christopher Otto and David Fulmer were game, bravely working the loud/soft dynamic for all it was worth. Acidic close harmonies dispersed into the ether; flurrying staccato passages built to the point where it seemed that one or maybe both musicians were going to break strings when they (literally) hit the pizzicato. Toward the end, an unexpectedly warm consonance gave way to creepy noir allusions, one of the few place where one of Zorn’s standby tropes made an appearance. Another Zorn standby is humor, and here he pretty much waited til the end, where the duo took a series of wry microtonal slides up to a jaunty, spiky coda.

For the quartet, Fulmer switched to viola, joined by Sherry, Choi and violinist Jesse Mills. Like the suite, it works a bustle-versus-stillness, frenetic-versus-calm dichotomy much of the time. Much as its tonalities are modern, it has distant echoes of late Beethoven and also Bernard Herrmann, especially early on where a particularly slithery line from Choi was anchored by Sherry’s creepy stalker bassline, generating grins from both of them. Quiet microtonal sostenuto introduced a romp punctuated by pregnant pauses, more reptilian noir and finally an unexpected triumph: they’d found gold after all, and calm after that. It was a workout – Zorn employs as much of the sonic spectrum as exists, in order to get gold from lead, but the alchemists onstage dug in and delivered.

This was the final “pop-up” concert staged at the Miller this year. Some of these shows are impromptu, last-minute affairs, sometimes not (this wasn’t). Keeping a close eye on the theatre calendar is your best bet to stay on top of them. Oh yeah, the concert was free, and there was beer and wine too! Shhhhh…don’t tell a soul!

December 13, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment