Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Avant Garde All-Star Bass Clarinetist Ken Thomson Plays a Rare Greenpoint Gig

Ken Thomson plays reeds – mostly bass clarinet – in genre-defying art-rock/avant-rock icons the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Over the past couple of decades, he’s also led several other ensembles. His album Restless – an aply titled, troubled tour de force duo recording of two of his chamber works by allstar cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Karl Larson – is streaming at Bandcamp. That vinyl record makes a good listen if you’re considering his show tomorow night, June 16 at 5 PM at Arete Gallery where he’s leading his sextet on a twinbill with Larson’s indie classical trio Bearthoven. Cover is $15 – and the G train is running this weekend!

The album comprises two suites: Restless, nd MeVs,. The four-part, title partita rises from a wary, spare, fugal intertwine of cello and piano to an aching intensity and then an unexpectedly catchy, anthemic coda before fading down. The second movement, Forge is a study in contrasting leaps and bounds: the string jazz of Zach Brock comes to mind early on. Remain Untold is a relentleslsy uneasy stroll anchored by Larson’s low lefthand; then the piano and cello switch roles, rather savagely. Bathgate’s long, expressive, vibrato-tinged lines take centerstage over Larson’s mutedly minimal, resonant chords in the conclusion, Lost, building to an aching insistence punctuated by viscerally chilling glissandos from the cello.

MeVs, a triptych for solo piano, begins with Turn of Phrase, a practically rubato series of short, emphatic phrases amid extended pause that give it a glitchy feel. Quiet, calm, distantly Messiaenic resonance eventually prevails over the heavy whacks, slowly crescendoing with more than a hint of postbop jazz.

Part two, Another Second Try comes across as a more expansive remake of the famous Chopin E Minor Prelude, Larson runs steady eighth notes over surreal lefthand syncopation before the cruelling challenging, incisive series of staccato chords in the concluding segment kick in. Most definitely an album for our time.

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June 15, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting Ken Thomson Cello and Piano Works at the Poisson Rouge

Manhattan was like a mausoleum yesterday evening, where most likely the smallest crowd ever to witness a Ken Thomson album release show gathered under low, somber lights at the Poisson Rouge. Between the steady downpour outsde and the sobering news that defied the exit polls, New Yorkers were stunned, processing, asking themselves and each other some gravely fundamental questions – such as, should we stay or should we go?

On one hand, the two suites on Thomson’s darkly compelling new vinyl release made an aptly elegaic soundtrack for post-election shock and horror. On the other, both pieces are imbued with a sardonic, even playful wit along with plenty of gravitas. Thomson took a couple of moments onstage as emcee for the night, himself in something of a state of shock. The night’s opening triptych, Me Vs., was played with dynamism and a vivid austerity by pianist Karl Larson, Thomson explained that it had taken on new meaning as “We Vs.” and that he was perfectly ok with that.

Larson gave meticulous attention to its broodingly colorful details. Emphatic, trickily polyrhythmic, exasperatedly minimalist insistence early on gave way to an achingly overcast Satie-esque resonance and then a return to a steady, ominously rhythmic drive, a sort of mashup of Mompou belltones and the outro from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The acidically climactic final movement alluded to the baroque, shifted to stormy neoromantiv cascades, then through more subtly shifting polyrhythms, with a triiumphant coda.

Cellist Ashley Bathgate joined Larson for the second half of the program – and the album – the four-part, aptly tilted Restless. As the moody, low-register first moment slowly brightened and picked up steam, there was a subtle change of roles, the cello taking on more of a rhythmic propulsion while the piano moved futher toward lowlit background color. The duo wove a tight, balletesque lattice, with lots of friendly chemistry and interplay throughout the second movement, then took an uneasy, syncopated stroll that dipped into creepily clustering, murky depths in the third. Bathgate returned to the wounded vibrato she’d employed strongly in the opening movement over Larson’s eerie, close-harmoined chimes, winding up the suite with some enigmatically energetic glissandos, an unexpected end to a rather harrowing journey.

November 10, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil’s Camerata Aberta Plays a Stunning Program at SONIC

The SONIC Festival, a weeklong marathon of indie classical/new music performances, continues through this Saturday, winding up with a free performance by the American Composers Orchestra at the World Financial Center at around 7:30. Last night at the Americas Society, Brazilian new music ensemble Camerata Aberta treated a sold-out audience to a challenging, eclectic program that may well have been the highlight of the entire festival. If the Brazilian composers represented on this bill are typical of the new-music scene there, it’s time for American fans of this stuff to pay attention.

The show began on a jaunty note with Carlos Freitas on trombone and Pedro Gadelha on bass, playing the world premiere of Igor Leao Maia’s Caminantes III. A comedic piece that evoked the ordeal of trying to start a car with a rapidly dying battery, its unfinished swoops and dives and “fail” motifs were thoroughly amusing. Pianist Lidia Bazarian played Tatiana Catanzaro’s Kristallklavierexplosionschattenspliter (say that three times fast), contrasting icy, minimalist upper-register incisions with drones and roars created by striking or brushing the piano strings. On one hand, it was something any kid could have done…if that kid had remarkable patience and an ear for getting the max out of long sustained notes.

Joao Victor Bota’s Zenite, performed solo by violist Peter Pas, made vivid use of harmonics as it began bracingly atonal, then more rhythmically and consonantly and then back and forth, with the hint of a dance and more than one tongue-in-cheek joke. Marcilio Onofre’s powerfully evocative Estudo Sobre Os Arrependimentos de Valasquez was inspired by the famous painter’s brush-over technique, where he’d correct his mistakes, only to have those mistakes reappear as the repair work faded over the centuries. Charles Augusto held the center with potently dramatic percussion, whether on marimba, kettledrum or otherwise while the full ensemble took turns adding incisive accents, sometimes with a brooding, furtive call-and-response, against a drone or sustained drum tone. Frequently, the effect was organic versus mechanical, bucolic versus urban, as if to say, maybe those mistakes should have been left as is.

The most transcendent piece on the bill was another world premiere, Lan, by Valeria Bonafe, featuring all but the viola and percussion. Building from a somber bass/piano intro, it crescendoed with a creepy inevitability and highly sophisticated architecture, timbral contrasts, and an absolutely noir, circular motif that Bazarian grabbed solidly and imbued with a lurid neon glitter flecked with major-on-minor menace. It’s a suspense film theme – opening and closing credits included – waiting to happen.

The American composers on the program did not fare quite as well. A Matthias Pintscher solo trumpet tune played by Adenilson Telles had the misfortune of following the Bonafe, leaving the listener pondering questions like when it would end, or what jazz rhythm section might have been able to elevate its halfhearted, hastily minimalist bop-isms to the level of something meaningful (maybe Art Blakey and Jaco Pastorius, who might have bludgeoned it into something even less recognizable?). And while Clint Needham’s Color Study – a New York premiere, played by the whole ensemble plus Ken Thomson on alto sax – got off to a slow start with warped New Orleans jazz allusions, it eventually picked up steam and morphed into smartly counterintuitive variations on bustling, noirish motifs that the group passed among themselves with considerable relish.

October 19, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethel Violinist Todd Reynolds’ Flavorful Solo Double Album Just Out on Innova

Violinist Todd Reynolds is a founding member of Ethel, possibly the world’s most unpredictable string quartet. His expansive new solo album Outerborough, a double-disc set released on Innova, is virtually all solo violin, produced to the nth degree with dizzying layers of effects. A lot of this is psychedelic. There are occasional dark or even harrowing passages, but most of this is fun – disabuse yourself of any preconception that the avant garde is necessarily stuffy or pretentious. The first of the two discs here, the “inside,” comprises Reynolds originals performed via the Lemur GuitarBot, an effects processor that ably facilitates Reynolds’ one-man orchestra. Its high point, in fact the high point of the album, is the hauntingly otherworldly, cinematic title track with its series of tritone motifs, eventually warming up over a hi-tech bounce which the violin eventually hangs out to dry all by itself as the piece concludes. The sad, brooding, aptly titled End of Day is also absolutely gorgeous.

The rest of the originals are more lively. The opening cut, essentially a trip-hop tune, is an adventure theme with David Gilmour-esque angst balanced against a playful dance. The Indian-flavored second cut sets a jaunty pizzicato melody against a drone, shifting to a Dexys Midnight Runners type tune that builds to an interestingly exploratory crescendo, and then shifts back again. There are also a handful of hypnotic, loop-based compositions, a couple with austere sostenuto lines overhead, another featuring some woozy Dr. Dre tonalities.

The “outside” disc represents an A-list of avant-garde composers. Phil Kline’s A Needle Pulling Fred, another trip-hop number, contrasts majestically sailing melody with motorik rhythms. Michael Gordon’s Tree-Oh sets an echoey fugue to a staggered dance beat; Paul de Jong’s Inward Bound (with the composer on cello) is sort of Kraftwerk-meets-the-avant. A mash-up with an uncredited recording of the blues classic Crossroads, Michael Lowenstern’s composition serves as a launching pad for Reynolds’ gritty blues playing, evocative of Karen Waltuch’s work with the Roulette Sisters. …And the Sky Was Still There, by David T. Little illustrates Army veteran Amber Ferenz’s chilling narrative of her would-be transformation into a killing machine – until she had an epiphany, which is where the music picks up. The strongest of the compositions on the second disc is Ken Thomson’s Storm Drain, with its plaintive Middle Eastern allusions and ominous bass clarinet courtesy of the composer himself. There’s also a blippily hypnotic piece by Nick Zammuto and a cinematically crescendoing one from Paula Matthusen. Many flavors and a characteristically eclectic, genre-busting blend of styles, which is just what you’d expect from a member of Ethel (Reynolds has since left the group).

April 2, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment