Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Hauntingly Allusive New Album and a National Sawdust Show From David Smooke

David Smooke explains the premise of his fantastic, eclectic new album,  Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – streaming at Bandcamp – as being an exploration of “unreal landscapes that sonic events can evoke.” Smooke takes his title from a series of grimly allusive training dioramas in the Maryland State Medical Examiner’s Office. As troubled, picturesque, cinematic music goes, it doesn’t get any better than this in 2017. As a demo reel, this album should score Smooke  a long list of clients in film and video if he wants the commissions. He and several of the ensembles on the album – including the mighty Peabody Wind Ensemble, a stormy chamber group comprising brass, winds and percussion, are playing the album release at 7 PM on Jan 22 at National Sawdust. Advance tix are $25.

Smooke’s axe is the toy piano. He ranks with Phyllis Chen as one of the few people to get the absolute max out of that improbable instrument. The album opens with the title composition, a concerto for toy piano and the big ensemble. It’s a real showstopper: if you ever wondered what a toy piano sounds like while being tortured, this will open your eyes. Horrified Bernard Herrmann tritone cadenzas punctuate thunderous swells from the brass, unexpectedly dusky microtonal banjo, and the toy piano plinking and clicking mutedly under extreme duress.

The second number is Transgenic Fields, Dusk, played solo with characteristically detailed attention by pianist Karl Larson. It’s a mashup of Debussyesque clusters, understatedly kinetic Andriessen clock-chime phrases and long, stygian, tentatively stairstepping Messiaenic passages: a reflection on baby raptors turning into big ones someday, maybe?

The album’s most twisted moment is A Baby Bigger Grows Than Up Was, sung with deadpan Tourette glee by Jefffey Gavett against the marionettishly dancing winds of his indie chamber ensemble Loadbang. Some Details of Hell, an orchestration of a Lucie Brock-Broido poem, is delivered with knifes-edge stateliness by chamber group Lunar Ensemble with some dramatic flights to the upper registers by soprano Lisa Perry. As the epic Down Stream methodically unravels, Smooke becomes an increasingly dissociative one-man anvil choir, his toy piano over calm, distant drones.  Michael Parker Harley’s multitracked bassoons build an increasingly bubbly, allusively nocturnal tableau in 21 Miles to Coolville, the album’s final cut. What a deliciously dark late-night playlist.

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January 16, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Uncategorizably Fun Triplebill at Littlefield

Sunday night concerts are a bitch. The trains are still messed up from the weekend and most everybody who’s not unemployed yet is dreading the work week ahead. But clubs still book shows, antipating a handful of the brave souls who aren’t daunted the prospect of Monday’s exhaustion along with a probably larger crowd who don’t have that problem because their parents’ or their parents’ parents’ money has assured that they never will. From the looks of it, this triplebill drew the braver contingent.

With trombone, trumpet, bass clarinet and vocals, quartet Loadbang loosened up the crowd with a series of jokey little Nick Didkovsky pieces with a skronky free jazz flavor, a couple of improvisations and then a genuinely disconcerting, strung-out version of David Lang’s arrangment of I’m Waiting for My Man, their singer’s anxious vocals channeling the dread of a dope jones far more vividly than Lou Reed ever did.

Loud third-stream rock unit Kayo Dot followed, intelligently aggressive. With violin, alto and tenor sax, keys, bass or guitar (or with the enhancement of a pedal or two and a few tuning modifications, sometimes both) and drums, they shifted tempos and dynamics incessantly. Bandleader Toby Driver’s compositions changed shape dramatically from pounding, inexorably crescendoing passages, to still violin atmospherics. Textures shifted just as much as the dynamics, intricately woven lines passed from one instrument to another. One tricky, fusionesque groove coalesced and morphed into a festive if astringent dance with an Ethiopian feel. Until a plaintively swaying, rather majestic art-rock guitar song with an obvious Radiohead influence emerged, they’d avoided any kind of rock-oriented sense of resolution or hint of where a central tonality might be lurking. So when that moment arrived, it was on the heels of over a half hour of tension and it was a welcome respite. Their last piece seemed at first to be a series of dramatic endings, which went on past the point of overkill to where it started to make sense as a Groundhog Day of sorts, an endless series of calamities ending in some kind of blunt trauma. The crowd wanted more, but after that, there wasn’t anywhere higher the band could have gone.

Newspeak were celebrating the release of their potent new album Sweet Light Crude, an equally diverse mix of politically-charged music by an A-list of rising composers. Early on, they followed the album sequence. On the cd, the opening cut, B&E (with Aggravated Assault), by Oscar Bettison takes on a blustery, Mingus-esque tone; here, it swung mightily, stampeding percussively to the end in a cloud of dust. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To contrasted plaintively, a subtle tribute to civil disobedience, cello and violin mingling with singer Mellissa Hughes’ vocalese. The title track, a cautionary tale about the perils of addiction (in this case to oil), emphasized volume and texture rather than the tongue-in-cheek disco pulse of the recorded version, amped to the point of crunchy rockness. Likewise, they took Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This to a swirl of intricately inseparable counterthemes that grew from wounded and damaged to a dizzying series of crazed crescendos. The angst went up another level on Caleb Burhans’ requiem for the padlocked GM plant in his depressed hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, a sort of harder-rocking Twin Peaks theme driven by guitarist Taylor Levine’s twangy, ominous, reverb-toned southwestern gothic lines. Then they threw all caution aside, with a savagely punked-out cover of Taking Back Sunday’s If You See Something Say Something – a raised middle finger at gentrifier paranoia – and then a full-length, pretty much note-for-note cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, Burhans’ violin delivering all Tony Iommi’s showiest fills with lightning precision as Hughes alternated between a sneer and a smirk. It was better than the original and probably more in touch with its molten-metal antiwar core.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment