Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Celebrating an Eclectic, Dynamic Force in Venezuelan Classical Music

“I’m having a great time up here,” bassist Gonzalo Teppa told his bandmates with an unselfconsciously grin. He’d been exchanging sly rhythmic riffs all night with the Jimi Hendrix of the cuatro, Jorge Glem. Not something you might expect at a concert celebrating the work of a pioneering classical composer.

Friday night at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, an all-star chamber orchestra played the first-ever career retrospective of music by Aldemaro Romero, a 20th century Venezuelan counterpart to Ernesto Lecuona. Romero came to New York at age 34 with his family and worked prolifically as an arranger in both classical and jazz before returning to found the Caracas Philharmonic Orchestra. His 1955 symphonic album Dinner in Caracas, focusing on his signature mashup of neoromanticism and a wide array of styles from across the Americas, was a huge global hit. His son Aldemaro Jr., a biologist and dean of the college, conducted a shapeshifting ensemble which also comprised the Alexander String Quartet, pianist/singer Selene Quiroga, pianist Gonzalo Grau and drummer Fabio Rojas.

In an eerie stroke of fate, the concert took place on the exact spot on 25th Street that housed the RCA studio where Romero Sr. recorded his famous album. The younger Romero, who also contributed a couple of witty cameos on melodica, did not know this until shortly before the performance. “It gave me goosebumps,” he admitted. That the energy and vitality of the show was as fresh as it was testifies not only to the liveliness of the music but also the fact that the group had come up with some of the charts only a couple of days beforehand.

And the concert was anything but stuffy. This music is full of life, and color, and much of it was made for dancing. Subtle rhythmic shifts were everywhere, referencing grooves from the Romeros’ home turf to Cuba, Mexico and ultimately, Spain. The most striking of the instrumental numbers was Capriccio for Viola and Piano, a world premiere given a vigorously incisive workout by Quiroga and Alexander Quartet violist Paul Yarbrough.

Another world premiere, the second movement of the Concerto for Teresa (a dedication to a Venezuelan New York Philharmnoic member ) rose from starkly elegaic into a lush, majestic remembrance. And the entire string section closed with Fuga Con Pajarillo, the most widely performed piece on the bill, an expansive bit of neoromantic dancefloor indulgence that brought to mind Astor Piazzolla’s late work.

When’s the last time you saw a classical pianist move to the mic for a display of vocal power and versatility? The elder Romero probably would have gotten a kick out of the fact that global audiences probably know Quiroga best as a member of irrepressible ska-punk band Desorden Publico. With dramatic flair and often plaintive nuance, she delivered a series of moody, crescendoing ballads, through the expectancy and longing of Quien to the bouncy, salsa-tinged El Musiquito to the uneasily lilting Lo Que Paso Contigo (What’s Up with You), backed by Glem and Teppa’s erudite jousting. Baruch’s choir the Blue Notes, strolling down the stairs on both side of the audience, added harmonic enhancement.

As is across the various CUNY campuses, diversity rules at Baruch. This is the real New York. The next concert in this year’s eclectic season is a holiday show on Dec 5 at 8 PM with pianist Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble, who blend acerbic klezmer and latin jazz sounds. Cover is $26/$11 stud.

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November 19, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s Nothing Jorge Glem Can’t Play on the Cuatro

Last night before the show at Joe’s Pub, the trippy sounds of cumbia icons Chicha Libre’s Canibalismo album wafted through the PA, a very good omen. Like Chicha Libre’s Olivier Conan, Venezuelan wizard Jorge Glem plays the cuatro, the shortscale Pan-American four-stringed instrument. The C4 Trio co-founder explained that he wants to bring that spiky little axe into every style of music around the world…and if there’s anybody who has the chops to do that, it’s Glem. You can watch the whole show at youtube.

He drew plenty of laughs for his account of how he came to play it. As a small child, he wanted to be a percussionist, but his mom wouldn’t let him use the family pots and pans. But there was a cuatro hanging on the wall of his home in Cumaná, a common sight in a neighborhood where it was more kitschy decor than anything else. With a big grin, he vigorously delivered the very first sounds he was able to get out of it: mimicking the beats of a conga by banging on the instrument’s body while muting the strings, first at the sound hole and then right at the headstock for highs and lows. Throughout the show, he also made it sound like a banjo, a mandolin, a flamenco guitar, a pandeiro, many different drums, a mosquito and a jet engine among other things.

Guest clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera also related a funny anecdote about Blues for Sonny, a Sonny Rollins tribute by Toots Thielemans that D’Rivera had recorded with the late jazz harmonica player. Michel Camilo heard it and said to D’Rivera, “That’s a Venezuelan tune! What does Sonny Rollins have to do with Venezuela?” So it would make sense for D’Rivera to play that warmly bouncing number with Glem. The two followed with A Night in Tunisia, which D’Rivera had first thrown at Glem at an impromptu performance at the National Arts Club…and was amazed to find that Glem knew it. That was a showcase for Glem’s postbop phrasing, but then again, so was Glem’s opening solo improvisation.

Joined by accordionist Sam Reider, Glem mashed up what sounded like an Irish reel, a high lonesome Applachian dance, vallenato and champeta, maybe, throwing in a boisterous improvisation midway through. Likewise, guitarist Yotam Silberstein playfully jousted with Glem throughout a shapeshifting blend of Caribbean coastal folk, postbop and some of the most fluidly legato Django Reinhardt ever played.

The final guest was singer Claudia Acuña, who held the crowd in the palm of her hand with her bittersweetly nuanced low register throughout a couple of ballads in both English and Spanish. Glem encored with a final, chord-chopping solo piece that quoted liberally from Bach and Beethoven, and maybe Yomo Toro and Dick Dale too. How Glem managed to get through that one without breaking either strings or his fingers is a mystery that has yet to be solved. No wonder there’s a documentary film being made about his crazy cuatro cross-pollinations here in New York. 

September 6, 2017 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stunningly Eclectic Singer Sofia Rei Radically Reinvents Violeta Parra Classics

Conventional wisdom is that if you cover a song, you either want to do it better than the original, or make something completely different out of it. The latter usually makes more sense, considering that if a song is worth covering at all, the original is probably hard to beat. Merle Haggard as shambling free jazz; Gil Scott-Heron as hard bop; Pink Floyd as dub reggae – all of those unlikely reinterpretations ended up validating the outside-the-box creativity that went into them. On the brand-new album El Gavilan (The Hawk), streaming at Bandcamp, pan-latin singer Sofia Rei – who’s never met a style she was afraid to tackle – puts a brave new spin on the songs of Chilean icon Violeta Parra. The Argentine-born songstress is currently on tour; her next New York concert is this coming June 2 at 8 PM at the Neighborhood Church, 269 Bleecker St. at Morton St. in a duo with the incomparable, more atmospheric Sara Serpa, her bandmate in John Zorn’s Mycale a-cappella project. The show is free.

On one hand, artists from across the Americas have covered Parra. On the other, it takes a lot of nerve to reinvent her songs as radically as Rei does. The album’s opening number, Casamiento de Negros begins as a bouncy multitracked a-cappella number, like Laurie Anderson at her most light-footed; Ribot tosses off a tantalizingly brief, Hawaiian-tinged slide guitar solo. It’s a stark contrast with Parra’s allusive narrative of a lynching. 

Parra’s stark peasant’s lament Arriba Quemando El Sol is a march, Ribot opening with an ominous clang, then echoing and eventually scorching the underbrush beneath Rei’s resolute, emphatic delivery. It’s akin to Pink Floyd covering Parra, but with more unhinged guitars and more expressive vocals. She does Una Copla Me Ha Cantado as a starlit lullaby, killing softly with the song over Ribot’s spare deep-space accents.

Her wryly looped birdsong effects open a pulsing take of Maldigo Del Alto Cielo that rises to swoopy heights, spiced with wisps of backward masking, a curse in high-flying disguise. By contrast, the muted, bruised pairing of Rei’s vocals with Ribot’s spare chords gives La Lavandera the feel of a Marianne Dissard/Sergio Mendoza collaboration as it reaches toward a simmering ranchera-rock sway.

Rei makes a return to atmospheric art-rock with the lament Corazón Maldito, Ribot rising from shivery angst to menacing grey-sky grandeur, Rei parsing the lyrics with a dynamic, suspenseful, defiant delivery like Siouxsie Sioux without the microtones. 

The album’s epic title track clocks in at a whopping fourteen minutes plus, opening with atmospherics and Ribot taking a rare turn on acoustic, warily and airily. From there he switches to electric for cumulo-nimbus, Gilmouresque atmospherics behind Rei’s frantically clipped, carnatically-influenced delivery, following Parra’s anguished tale of abandonment.

The ambient Enya-like concluding cut is Run Run se Fue pa’l Norte, an apt song for our time if there ever was one, echoing with more Pink Floyd guitar from Los Tres‘ Angel Parra, Violeta Parra’s grandson. Whether you call this art-rock, jazz, or state-of-the-art remake of Chilean folksongs, it will leave you transfixed, especially if you know the originals.

It’s open to debate if the Trump administration would let an artist like Rei into the country these days, considering his commitment to kissing up to the non-Spanish speaking lunatic fringe.

May 8, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment