Lucid Culture


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

Dreamy, Woodsy Sounds from Makoto Nakura

Viirtuoso marimba player/vibraph0nist Makoto Nakura has a thematic album of new works by contemporary composers titled Wood and Forest just out on American Modern Recordings. If soothingly earthy sounds are your thing, he’s playing the cd release show at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W. 17 St. on Wednesday, Nov 14. The concert begins with a museum tour at 6:15, a brief break for refreshments and then the show at 7; $15 advance tickets are still available as of this writing. Also on the program is Nakura’s eclectic percussionist labelmate Robert Paterson, whose latest album showcases his pioneering six-mallet technique.

The version of Jacob Bancks’ The Trees Where I Was Born on Nakura’s album is a condensed arrangement of a work for orchestra and choir. As Nakura plays it, solo, it shifts from slightly jungly to strolling and folksy, through a spacious nocturne and then a crescendo that swells while maintaining a hypnotic Southern forest ambience. Violist Kenji Bunch’s Duo for Viola and Vibraphone features the composer joining Nakura on this triptych. A brightly circling, twinkling night theme hints at a brisk bustle, goes more cantabile and then illustrates birds in flight with a jaunty bounce that turns into something akin to March of the Baby Penguins.

By contrast, Paterson’s Forest Shadows opens with a dappled insistence but soon goes macabre: these woods are haunted! Based on plainchant, Bancks’ Arbor Una Nobilis is a long mini-suite, Jesse Mills’ violin mingling and sometimes dancing with the marimba through minimialist, staccato insistence, echoes of the baroque, quiet ambience and then a slightly more muted return.

Winik/Te, by Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez uses a Mayan myth as metaphor for ecological crisis, men made of mud and wood up to no good in the forest. Rubato rhythms and surreal conversational exchanges create the most vivid work here (along with Paterson’s eerie cinematics). The album concludes with Michael Torke’s After the Forest Fire, a portrait of destruction and renewal featuring Wilhelmina Smith on cello and David Fedele on flute, which quickly expands into the album’s most anthemic track. Throughout the pieces, Nakura’s nimble malletwork creates an echoey resonance that’s by turns trance-inducing, bracing and often utterly pillowy. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is usually an insult to the extreme: as far as this one’s concerned, it’s hard to think of any recent release that’s as pleasant a launching pad to Dreamland.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment