Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Defiance, Relevance and Transcendence With the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park

So many inspiring conclusions to take away from the New York Philharmonic’s phantasmagorically majestic performance this past evening in Prospect Park. In the year of the Metoo movement, that the orchestra would choose a centerpiece celebrating a mythic heroine who disarms a psychotic dictator using only her wits spoke volumes.

As does the organization’s long-running Very Young Composers mentorship and advocacy program. Two of those individuals were represented on the bill, each a young African-American woman and a native Brooklynite. And in what’s been a challengingly transitional interregnum between music directors, the choice of James Gaffigan to lead the ensemble through some stunningly fresh, meticulously articulated, relevatory interpretations of material they’ve probably played dozens of times before paid mighty dividends.

At a concert pitched to pull a family audience, local city council representative Brad Lander’s commentary on the ongoing anguish of families being broken up by the ongoing extremist clampdown on immigrants was the night’s most overtly political moment. A polyglot crowd echoed their fervent, familial solidarity, then the orchestra spoke to how triumphantly this scenario could actually play out.

They foreshadowed the suspense and splendor of their romp through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade with an arguably even more carnivalesque stampede through the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Delilah. Even if its creepy chromatics aren’t much more than Hollywood hijaz, those Arabic inflections were another crushingly relevant reference point.

If the program’s two brief, kinetic works by young composers Jordan Millar and Camryn Cowan are any indication, the blues are as much alive in Brooklyn as they were during the Harlem Renaissance, a most welcome meme throughout the New York City public schools this year and a vivid theme for these two gradeschoolers. Each composer’s piece put simple, emphatic blues hooks front and center in lieu of expansive harmony or flourishes, the former with a neat, cold stop midway through and some unexpected, Mozartean lustre afterward.

The orchestra made it to the concert’s midway point with three jaunty, frequently coy excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s score to On the Town. The Philharmonic’s pretty-much-annual tour of the New York City parks system, from the Bronx to Staten Island, always features a little bit of everything, including what in another century would have been called “pops” material from outside the classical canon. But as with the rest of the program, Gaffigan didn’t deviate from the game plan or phone these in, airing out the composer’s exchanges of voicings with a painterly charm.

And as much as the park programming is standard repertoire, the Philharmonic never picks tired or cheesy material. Over the last few years, we’ve been treated to plenty of Stravinsky – notably a conflagration of The Firebird in Central Park a couple years back – as well as a similarly colorful tour of Respighi’s Pines of Rome a little before then. Considering both the political subtext and the stunning attention to detail from both Gaffigan and the orchestra, this could have been the best of all of them since the turn of the decade.

Getting to witness it from the best seat in the house – about the equivalent of row L at their Lincoln Center home – no doubt colored this perception. Looking out into the wide swath of greenery in front of them, it must be tempting for everyone onstage to want to play loud, but Gaffigan mined the entirety of the sonic spectrum in keeping with the composer’s top-to-bottom orchestration. When there was suspense, it was relentless; when there was menace, it was a carnival of potentially dead souls; when there were dreamy interludes, they had a celestial vastness.

And the solos, tantalizingly brief as they were, were mesmerizing. Concertmaster Frank Huang spun joyously expert filigrees and flickers, up to an almost shocking cadenza in the final movement where he dug in so hard it seemed that he might break a violin string. Similar effects – especially bassoonist Judith LeClair’s silken, mutedly bittersweet solo – further underscored a triumphant narrative mirroring both the angst and transgressive victories in so many of the world’s ongoing struggles and rebellions.

The Philharmonic’s 2018 tour of the boroughs concludes on Sunday, June 17 indoors at 3 PM at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

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June 15, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eclectic, Purposeful Trombonist Plays a Subterranean Album Release Show this Wednesday

You want instant cred? Get recruited by Anat Cohen to play in her Tentet. That’s the deal with trombonist Nick Finzer, who’s playing the album release for his new one, No Arrival this Wednesday, May 23 at 8 PM at Subculture, 45 Bleecker just east of Lafayette, downstairs from the Culture Project Theatre. Advance tix, available at the box office, are $20.

Most of the new record – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is originals. To Finzer’s credit, this isn’t a full-throttle situation: he mixes up tempos and styles, and for a guy with his vaunted technique (check his youtube masterclass channel), he doesn’t waste notes. On the opening number, Rinse And Repeat, Finzer’s sextet work an insistent, understated cha-cha groove, Alex Wintz’s guitar and Victor Gould’s piano throwing answers to the bandleader’s ongoing quest of a solo, saxophonist Lucas Pino following, completely tongue-in-cheek, Jon Irabagon style.

The blithe New Orleans stroll that introduces Never Enough offers no hint of the welcome haphazard direction it’s going to go in…or Pino’s nifty bass clarinet solo. Always fun to take chances, right?

Likewise, the first of the covers, Leonard Bernstein’s Maria theme from West Side Story, understates the latin flavor, dancing along on the pulse of Dave Baron’s bass and Jimmy Macbride’s drums, the bandleader’s balmy solo front and center. They revert to similarly subtle latin syncopations a little later with George Gershwin’s Soon.

Tomorrow Next Year – Finzer’s “we’re gonna get through this somehow” response to the fateful 2016 Presidential election – is a bustling, vampy urban tableau, Finzer and Pino having fun with a famous Albert King riff. The band build momentum out of a pensive, searching tone poem of sorts in the album’s title track – the momentary pairing of Macbride’s cymbal bells and Wintz’s belltone chords is a cool touch.

Chugging sixteenth-note volleys from Finzer and Pino, and a tightly clustering Gould solo propel Pyramid, from Duke Ellington’s Ellington Far East Suite, while expansive solos from Finzer and Wintz elevate Only This, Only Now from existential gloom. The album closes with two covers: a mighty, churning reinvention of Prince’s The Greatest Romance Ever Sold, and Strayhorn’s A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, a showcase for Finzer’s wry, Wycliffe-esque finesse with a mute. It’s an impressive effort from a highly sought-after player whose best days are probably still ahead of him.

May 19, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ehud Asherie Goes Green

Ehud Asherie is an interesting guy, a longtime star of the New York jazz underground with a unique and soulful voice on the organ. A lot of jazz players go straight for the funky grooves pioneered by Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff and there’s definitely that feel here but there’s also a welcome fearlessness of the kind of power a B3 organ can deliver. Which is especially interesting since Asherie’s previous albums highlight his feel for samba jazz, a style which is completely the opposite. The group on this latest cd, Organic, has the ubiquitous Peter Bernstein, characteristically terse and incisive on guitar, along with Dmitry Baevsky providing color on alto sax and drummer Phil Stewart having a great time switching between shuffles, undulating Brazilian beats and some playful funk.

They reinvent Tonight, from West Side Story, as a shuffle, Asherie locking into a darkly chordal approach as he will frequently throughout this album; Bernstein’s expansive, exploratory solo and Baevsky’s balmy contributions contrast considerably. They play up the beat on Sonny Rollins’ The Stopper almost to the point where it’s Keystone Kops, choppy terrain for Asherie to sail through with some tricky yet perfectly balanced arpeggios. And a waltz finally, cleverly emerges out of a thicket of syncopation on Asherie’s Walse Pra Jelena, the organ adding an unexpectedly distant carnivalesque tinge echoed in Bernstein’s considerably more anxious second solo.

The most trad early 60s number here is the swinging, midtempo Apostrophe, closer to Made Men than Mad Men with its biting organ solo. Likewise, Jobim’s Favela is punchy, edgy and frankly a lot more interesting than the original, more of a straight-up shuffle. Bernstein grabs the melody and sinks his teeth into it, and Stewart takes it all the way to the depths of Africa with a boomy Yoruban-tinged solo. The rest of the album includes It’s Possible, a warmly lyrical, sneakily brisk original; a slightly smoky, stately and surprisingly intense version of Guy Lombardo’s Coquette; and a swirling, bluesily inspired Fats Waller tribute. A welcome change from a lot of the retro B3 albums coming out lately – and no pesticides either. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sqwonk and Redshift Light Up Saturday Night

It’s hard to imagine a more fun way to spend a Saturday night than watching Sqwonk and then Redshift in the West Village. Their doublebill at the Greenwich House Music School’s absolutely charming, woodpaneled, Jacksonian era upstairs auditorium was full of humor, both in the musicianship and the compositions, as much a part of the show as the ensembles’ dazzling technique and out-of-the-box creativity. Sqwonk, the aptly named bass clarinet duo project of Jon Russell and Jeff Anderle, played first. The bass clarinet is delightful for more reasons than you can count, and for anyone who plays it, it must not be easy to resist going completely over the top (or under the hedge) with the thing. By that logic, having two of them the same stage must be doubly difficult. Russell and Anderle never went straight for the funny bone, although they frequently hinted that they might.

Marc Mellits’ Black, the title track of their most recent album, sounded like a double bassline from a late 70s Kraftwerk album. With its split-second choreography, motorik rhythm and serpentine eighth-note precision, it was great deadpan fun, and literally danceable: who needs synthesizers or drum machines when you have bass clarinets? Cornelius Boots’ Sojourn of the Face contrasted, slow, spacious and thoughtfully paced, with klezmer echoes in its chromatically-tinted march followed by a sad waltz. Strict9, by Aaron Novik, brought back a jaunty vibe, Russell’s blippy staccato pairing off against Anderle’s fluid legato. They two reversed roles throughout the tricky interplay of James Holt’s Action Items and then got the chance to take the staccato/legato dialectic to its logical extreme with Ryan Brown’s perfectly logical yet deviously amusing Knee Gas (On), a series of permutations that switched back and forth between the two voices, working circular motifs, parallelisms and register shifts intermingled with peevish, insistent accents that would occasionally move in from mere enchroachment to completely hog centerstage – and must have been as fun to assemble as they were for Sqwonk to play.

Redshift – Andie Springer on violin, Rose Bellini on cello, Kate Campbell on piano and Anderle on clarinet – had the good sense to maintain the goodnatured atmosphere that Sqwonk had mined, at least for awhile, with Mellits’ Fruity Pebbles. As the title implies, the suite of nine miniatures began whimsically but shifted to dramatic for a distantly tangoish dedication to Leonard Bernstein, a playfully minimalist one for Michael Gordon and then ended with an almost shocking, cinematically plaintive sweep, an elegy that pulsed along on Campbell’s poignant, incisive sustained chords. She would get the choicest, most intense parts to work with throughout the evening, and made the absolute most of them, most vividly on David Heuser’s Catching Updrafts. Meant to evoke the patterns of birds gliding on the wind and then suddenly changing course, it alternated apprehensive atmospherics with bustling chase scenes along with the occasional, sudden scream and frequent detours that were downright macabre – “Halloweeny,” as one of our crew described them, a gleeful grin lighting up the corners of her face. Anderle got to play good cop to Campbell’s prowling slasher, Springer and Bellini collaborating so seamlessly that for anyone not watching, it was often impossible to tell who was playing what. All together, it was nothing short of riveting. Both groups joined forces to wrap up the evening with Philip Glass’ Music in Similar Motion and its 1960s avant stoner vibe – it’s one of those pieces where the individual musicians decide how long they want to run a series of simple, catchy motifs, and decide where to begin and end as well. For whatever reason, the group members eventually converged, gravitating toward a center where others might have found a maze.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment