Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dina Rudeen’s Common Splendor is Uncommonly Splendid

Dina Rudeen is the missing link between Neko Case and Eartha Kitt. The way she slides up to a high note and then nails it triumphantly will give you shivers. Her songs draw you in, make you listen: they aren’t wordy or packed with innumerable chord changes, but they pack a wallop. With just a short verse and a catchy tune, Rudeen will paint a picture and then embellish it while the initial impact is still sinking in. Musically, she reaches back to the magical moment in the late 60s and early 70s when soul music collided with psychedelic rock; lyrically, she uses the metaphorically loaded, witty vernacular of the blues as a foundation for her own terse, literate style. Some of the songs on her new album The Common Splendor sound like what Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks could have been if he’d had a good band behind him; the rest runs the gamut from lush, nocturnal oldschool soul ballads, to jaunty, upbeat, Americana rock. Behind Rudeen’s nuanced vocals, Gary Langol plays keyboards and stringed instruments along with Tim Bright on electric guitars, Tim Luntzel on bass, Konrad Meissner on drums, Jordan MacLean on trumpet, the ubiquitously good Doug Wieselman on baritone sax and clarinet, Lawrence Zoernig on cello, bells and bowls, Smoota’s Dave Smith on trombone, Lars Jacobsen on tenor sax and Jake Engel of Lenny Molotov’s band on blues harp. The arrangements are exquisite, with tersely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines, and horn charts that punch in and then disappear, only to jump back in on a crescendo. This also happens to be the best-produced album of the year: it sounds like a vinyl record.

The opening track, Hittin’ the Town is a sly, ultimately triumphant tune about conquering inner demons, driven by a defiant horn chart over a vintage 50s Howlin Wolf shuffle beat:

I hit a dry spell
I hit a low note
I hit the deck
But missed the boat
I hit the top, cracked the jewel in my crown
When it hit me like a ton of bricks that’s when I hit the ground
But now I’m just hitting the town

The second cut, Steady the Plow slinks along on a low key gospel/blues shuffle, Rudeen’s sultry contralto contrasting with layers of reverberating lapsteel, piano and dobro moving through the mix – psychedelic Americana, 2011 style. Safe with Me, a southern soul tune, wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bettye Swann songbook circa 1967. The lush, gorgeously bittersweet, Rachelle Garniez-esque Yvette eulogizes a teenage party pal who died before her time, maybe because she pushed herself a little too hard (Rudeen doesn’t say, an example of how the ellipses here speak as loudly as the words). Hold Up the Night succinctly captures the “beautiful, unfolding sight” of a gritty wee hours street scene; Blue Bird, a bucolic tribute to the original songbird – or one of them – has more of Langol’s sweet steel work. And Prodigal One, another requiem, vividly memorializes a crazy neighborhood character who finally got on the Night Train and took it express all the way to the end.

Not everything here is quiet and pensive. There’s also some upbeat retro rock here, including the sultry Cadillac of Love and a couple of rockabilly numbers: Repeat Offender, with its Sun Records noir vibe, and Gray Pompadour, a tribute to an old guy who just won’t quit. There’s also the unselfconsciously joyous closing singalong, On My Way Back Home, namechecking a characteristically eclectic list of influences: Bowie, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, among others. Count this among one of the best releases of 2011 in any style of music. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

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April 6, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Scandia String Quartet at MOSA 4/18/10

Like their big sister the NY Scandia Symphony, the Scandia String Quartet dedicate themselves to popularizing Scandinavian composers who are too frequently unknown here. Violinists Mayuki Fukuhara and Elizabeth Miller, cellist Lawrence Zoernig and violist Frank Foerster are the orchestra’s power hitters. Conveniently and fortuitously, Foerster also happens to be a first-rate composer. This program at MOSA uptown Sunday evening featured several of his stark, dramatic arrangements of folk songs from throughout Scandinavia in addition to the world premiere of his composition Summer in Fort Tryon Park. Whimsical but hardly shallow, it painted a lively, multicultural weekend afternoon scene with latin, klezmer and Polish flourishes (the latter an ode the joys of morphine), a brief, torrential downpour and an ice cream truck. The central theme took the shape of a surprisingly somber canon, the audio equivalent of a Time Out NY cover collage by Diane Arbus.

Foerster and the quartet gave the folk songs a majesty that transcended their humble origins. Finland was represented by a heroic theme, a wistful waltz and a carefree dance tune, Iceland by a handful of striking, otherworldly modal numbers, a “winter dance” that moved from a disquietingly modal march to Vivaldiesque revelry, and a potently staccato interpretation of the famous Dangerous Journey on Horseback. Another contemporary composer, Zack Patten was represented, his warily atmospheric, aptly titled Kierkegaard floating uneasily on a series of ninth intervals up to a powerful crescendo sung by contralto Hanne Ladefoged Dollase, and then out much the way it came in.

All this made the big finale, Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27. somewhat anticlimactic, testament to the quality of what had preceded it rather than the Quartet’s inspired performance as they played up its tensions for all they were worth. Written after the composer had left the city for the famous country fiddling town of Hardanger, it’s a tug-of-war, comfortably convivial urbanity (which eventually wins out in the end) versus the wild lure of the unknown. Zoernig described it beforehand as something of a missing link between the late Beethoven quartets and Debussy or Bartok, which vividly made sense, notably toward the end in the evil gnomish stampedes straight out of the Mountain King’s cave. This along with the heroic central theme (an Ibsen song) gave Zoernig and Foerster their chance to blaze through the darkness and they seized each moment as it came along.

The Scandia String Quartet’s next performance is May 13 at Victor Borge Hall at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Ave. featuring many of the most appealing works from this bill including the Foerster original, the Patten and Grieg along with works by Sibelius. And as they’ve been doing for the past few years, the Scandia String Quartet will present a series of outdoors concerts in Ft. Tryon Park this June on Sunday afternoons.

The MOSA series at Our Savior’s Atonement at 189th St. and Bennett Ave. continues as well; the next concert features avant garde adventures Ensemble ACJW on June 6 at 5 PM.

April 22, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The New York Scandia Symphony Plays Nielsen and Svendsen at Trinity Church, 3/12/09

The New York Scandia Symphony dedicates itself to popularizing the work of Scandianavian composers here in the US. That a staggering ninety percent of their repertoire is American premieres is reason alone to put them on your calendar. The other, obviously is that they rank with any other orchestra in New York in terms of talent. Who would have thought that one of the the year’s most stunning moments in classical music so far would have taken place in the middle of the day at a landmark, downtown church?

 

On the podium, Dorrit Matson calmly and assuredly led the ensemble through a seamless yet thrilling Romantic program rich with feeling and melody. They opened with Carl Nielsen’s warmly dreamy Prelude from Maskarade, Mattson vigorously bringing out the striking accents in the horns behind the lush, sweeping strings. Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen’s Cello Concerto, from 1870, was next, a wrenchingly beautiful work that deserves iconic status alongside the best of Brahms or Rachmaninoff. Built around a six-note theme extraordinary both in its simplicity and evocation of longing, it has both a slightly subdued, elegaic feel and something of a noir sensibility. It’s a shock that a rock band or two haven’t nicked one or more of the variations. Leaping into it with abandon, the orchestra only backed off when soloist Lawrence Zoernig joined them. Displaying a warm vibrato and a seemingly effortless familiarity with a relentless series of rapidly cascading arpeggios, he worked his role as an ensemble member rather than showboating, which fit the piece perfectly.

 

Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony closed the program. It’s somewhat odd, stark in places, with a persistent, recurrent feel of unease, notably whenever everything finally seems as if it’s ok. It has an almost mathematical symmetry, not only as the themes change but also in the interior of those themes, whether the melody is being passed from strings to winds (as happens more than once) or during one of its many crescendoing, increasingly complex fugal passages. It frequently reminds of Shostakovich, a constant tug-of-war, peace versus aggression and instability.

 

The first movement evolves from a slow, hypnotic trill on the viola, echoed and eventually returned by the rest of the orchestra. Then, the first of a series of disquieting, martial passages is introduced by the percussion, the first a sarcastic march. From there it builds methodically to a bell-like choir of violins followed by a loudly resigned, almost funereal crescendo, horns bubbling behind the lushness of the strings. The second movement begins as a stormy waltz, horns sounding the alarm once again, then fading into a big, full-steam procession where everything seems to be fine. And then the strings are scurrying once again, crisis admist what once was calm, again and again until it all ends on an unresolved note. To hear this on an ipod is inspiring; to watch this orchestra make their way through it with such intensity and command of its emotional sensibilities was far more satisfying than anything a recording could possibly deliver.   

 

The New York Scandia Symphony’s next performance is at their usual home, Trinity Church on May 28, with pieces by Kuhlau, Larsson and Weyse on the bill along with US premieres by Gunnar Berg and Vagn Holmboe. Classical music fans who are able to make it to the church around lunchtime would be crazy to miss it.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments