Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ljova and Fireworks Ensemble Revisit and Reinvent the Rite of Spring

Saturday afternoon on Governors Island offered a wide variety of sounds: the incessant, ominous rumble of helicopters, indignant seagulls, squealing children all around, cicadas in stereo, and the occasional gunshot. There was also music, which was excellent. On the lawn along the island’s middle promenade, pianists Blair McMillen and Pam Goldberg pulled together a deliciously intriguing program to celebrate the centenary of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that began with reimagiing its origins in ancient traditional themes and ended by taking it into the here and now.

Leading an eclectic nonet with fadolin, vocals, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, hammered dulcimer, acccordion, bass and percussion, violist/composer Ljova explained that it had long been theorized that the Rite of Spring was based on folk themes, which turned out to be correct. Invoking the old composer’s adage that if a motif is too good, its source must be folk music, he explained how he’d reviewed the scholarship, and from there and his own research was able to locate several tunes from northwest Lithuania which, if Stravinsky didn’t nick them outright, closely resemble themes and tonalities in the Rites. Except that those folk tunes’ jarringly modern dissonances are actually hundreds if not thousands of years old.

The concert began with about half the ensemble gathered in a circle in front of the stage, unamplified. A slowly sirening theme with eerie close harmonies almost impreceptibly morphed into a hypnotic march followed by a handful of slowly dizzying rondos, a couple featuring Ben Holmes’ lively trumpet, another Shoko Nagai’s stately, unwavering accordion. Things got more jaunty as they went along.

When the band took the stage, a big shot from Satoshi Takeishi’s drums signaled a return to where they’d started earlier, that apprehensively oscillating, sirening motif given more heft and rhythm. It was Ljova at the top of his characteristically cinematic game  – a group creation, actually, deftly pulled together in rehearsal over the previous couple of days. They turned their ur-Stravinsky into a jazzy romp punctated by a Zappa-esque fanfare, an atmospheric crescendo, screaming stadium-rock riffage from guitarist Jay Vilnai and then a segue down to singer Inna Barmash’s otherworldly vocalese which she delivered with a brittle, minutely jeweled, microtonal vibrato. Finally coming full circle with the ominously nebulous opening theme, they gave the outro to Barmash, who sang it in the original Russian, stately and emphatic but with a chilling sense of longing: it made an austere but inescapably powerful conclusion. They encored with a lively Romany dance with hints of Bollywod, which seemed pretty much improvised on the spot, but the band was game.

The equally eclectic indie classical octet Fireworks Ensemble followed, first playing a couple of brief works by bandleader/bassist Brian Coughlin: a lively, bouncy number originally written for trio and beatboxer, with a lively blend of latin and hip-hop influences and then a pair of more moody, brief  Wallace Stevens-inspired works, the second setting pensive flute over a broodingly Reichian, circular piano motif, They wound up the afternoon with an impeccably crafted performance of their own chamber-rock version of the Rite of Spring.  It’s remarkable how close to the original this version was, yet how revealing it also was, more of a moody pas de deux than a fullscale ballet. Stripping it to its chassis, they offered a look at where Gil Evans got his lustre and where Bernard Herrmann got his creepy cadenzas – and maybe where Juan Tizol got Caravan.

Coughlin’s arrangement also underscored the incessant foreshadowing that gives this piece its lingering menace. Jessica Schmitz’ flute and Alex Hamlin’s alto sax lept and dove with a graceful apprehension; Coughlin’s bass,  Pauline Kim Harris’ violin and Leigh Stuart’s cello dug into the bracing close harmonies of those sirening motives, Red Wierenga’s piano carrying much of the melody. They saved the big cadenzas in the next-to-last movement for Kevin Gallagher’s gritty guitar and David Mancuso’s drums, ending with a puckish flourish. It was surprising not to see more of a crowd turn out for the whole thing; Governors Island is a free five-minute ferry ride from the Battery and on this particular afternoon, the cool canopy of trees made it easy to lean up against one of the trunks and get lost in the music – with interruptions from the cicadas and the Civil War reenactment behind the hill. McMillen and Goldberg have another concert scheduled here for September 1 featuring music from Brahms to Kate Bush performed by the organizers, Classical Jam, Tigue Percusssion, Theo Bleckmann, Wendy Sutter and many others.

August 11, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Galeet Dardashti’s Hypnotic Songs Push the Envelope

Galeet Dardashti’s new album The Naming celebrates women throughout history who broke the rules. Dardashti herself is both a pioneer and a traditionalist in Jewish music. She serves as cantor at her Brooklyn synagogue, a role traditionally reserved for men (such as her grandfather, a star in Iran whose popularity transcended his outsider status in a predominantly Muslim culture). With soaring vocals in Hebrew, she sets tales from the Talmud, Bible and Midrash to hypnotic Middle Eastern grooves blending elements of Persian, Jewish and Egyptian music. She’s assembled a first-rate cast of New York musicians around her: violinists Megan Gould and Lila Sklar, cellist Eleanor Norton, percussionist Matt Kilmer, bassist Yossi Fine and hammered dulcimer wiz Max ZT (of psychedelic instrumental combo House of Waters), who build alternately lush and austere textures behind her sometimes hushed, sometimes spectacular voice.

The first track connects the dots between Michal, wife of King David, who like her male counterparts would use tefillin prayer beads, just as Dardashti’s childless aunt Tovah did in Iran some millennia later. It opens with a ululating vocal taqsim over an ambient drone, building to an imploring, Fairouz-style ballad evocative of Natacha Atlas’ recent work, a feel echoed in the equally hypnotic title track. Hagar/Sarah is a slinky levantine dance number with staccato strings over Kilmer’s trance-inducing clip-clop percussion. Sheba celebrates the queen’s spirited seduction of Solomon with a rousing, dulcimer-driven groove. The dulcimer opens the terse, distantly Indian-inflected Dinah with a pensive improvisation; Vashti, a joyously syncopated dance number, commemorates the famously disobedient Persian queen. The album winds up on a high note with the impassioned, anguished Endora, a duet featuring Hazzan Farid Dardashti’s stern cantorial voice contrasting with all the Bjork-inflected swoops and wails. What’s not trance-inducing here is often exhilarating. Galeet Dardashti plays the cd release for the album on September 14 at 6:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge, including a performance by the Syren dance troupe.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Make Music NY 2010

Constructive suggestion to artists who play Make Music NY or set up all-day events on the 21st: be aware of your spot’s sonic limitations. Don’t settle for just an ordinary busking location when this is the one day of the year that you have pretty much your choice of every desirable location in the entire city. Case in point: sure, there’s a lot of foot traffic under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, but the trains crossing every thirty seconds or so render you absolutely inaudible – even if you’re the Bad Brains. The Threefifty Duo were there, outside the Dumbo Arts Center. Lovely stuff, fascinating interplay, a group you should see if acoustic guitar is your thing. But it was impossible to hear them except when there weren’t any trains overhead. An act this good deserves to be heard.

Balthrop, Alabama didn’t have any trouble being heard. A lot of acts were listed at the cube at Astor Place. Fortuituously, Joe’s Pub finagled the entire Astor Place block between Broadway and Lafayette and that’s where the band was along with their gas generator. The generator did double duty as power plant and extremely useful noise cancellation machine, drowning out the alarms of the buses ending their route a block away past the K-Mart. And the band was great. A lot of rock bands make great albums – Balthrop, Alabama’s deliciously macabre Subway Songs cd from last year is a genuine classic – but too few of them can replicate that kind of magic live. These guys did, and under a blistering sun (the poor drummer’s back was to the sun throughout their 45-minute set), no small achievement. They mine the same smart, retro 60s psychedelic pop territory as McGinty and White or the New Pornographers, but have the added advantage of being just as adept at 60s countrypolitan songs (think Patsy Cline with a good live band). That they have a baritone sax in the band gives them instant cred; add a soaring rhythm section, horns, sprightly electric keys, guitars, an artist drawing pictures of the crowd and the surroundings, and a frontman who does a more stagy, somewhat lower register take on what Phil Ochs was doing circa 1968, and you get the picture. They opened with the gypsy-rock smash Subway Horns, from that album, ran through a bunch of period-perfect songs from their Cowboy Songs album (simultaneously released with it) and closed with a casually plaintive, Beatlesque pop song that could easily have been a big hit for ELO in the late 70s or early 80s. Choruses mutated into strange and pleasantly unexpected passages, song structures shifted counterintuitively, and the lead guitar was terrific, in a Bakersfield, 1968 kind of way. And in the short time since 2009, frontman Pascal Balthrop has grown even better as a singer. When he cut loose with the line “What the fuck” in whitewashed yuppie puppie global warming era Bloomberg East Village New York hell, 2010, those three words made the entire trip over to the east side worthwhile.

Brooklyn’s reliably haunting, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel were next on the bill here, followed by the intriguing Pearl & the Beard, but we had ulterior motives. Namely, to find a place to lie down (our prime mover tweaked his back, badly – six hours playing outdoors over the weekend in the deathly heat on hard concrete, not moving around a lot, will do that to you), so the next stop was Dumbo. We don’t like rules around here, but we have a few of them for MMNY, one of them being that we have to limit ourselves to one single artist that we’ve seen before. After all, MMNY is all about discovering new and exciting stuff. So we went looking for Gamelan Son of Lion at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Funny how things repeat themselves – two years ago to the day, we went looking for New York’s own wonderful gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara, and found them. No such luck with these folks. If the late afternoon sun was simply too much and they decided against it, no disrespect to them. It was a miserable day, even by the water.

But in the process of trying to find out where in the hell Pier Nine in Brooklyn Bridge Park is, we discovered House of Waters. When three minutes of a band is enough to tell you that you want to hear an hour or more of them, you know they’re onto something good. Their frontman plays the hammered dulcimer like a Middle Eastern kanun, fast, furious and incisive, and the killer rhythm section behind him feeds off that energy. Add them to the list of bands we want to see again. Ditto Copal, whose lusciously hypnotic, Middle Eastern-tinged string-band instrumentals made any plan B an afterthought, drawing us to the steps of Galapagos from blocks away. Their bass player set a record for discipline: he’d hang patiently in the same key, keeping the groove pulsing along for minutes at a clip, once in awhile going up an octave and swooping down when the moment called for it. Their violinist started several songs with taqsims (improvisations), joined by their cellist (whose soulful washes are more responsible for this band’s mesmerizing vibe than anything else) on one later number. Their drummer played slinky, devious trip-hop beats with his brushes, joined by an ecstatic dumbek (goblet drum) player. The Middle Eastern vibe was sometimes matched by a dark Brazilian forro feel; at the end of their last number, they finally took it into overdrive and wailed, hard, on the outro.

By now it was six PM. Another thing you need to know about the MMNY schedule is that set times are just as fluid as locations. According to the master calendar, from which we quoted liberally here (sorry, folks), Jan Bell’s marvelous oldschool country band the Maybelles were scheduled to play at 68 Jay St. Bar. But they weren’t playing til 7:30, which was the scheduled start time for our one indulgence of the evening, LJ Murphy. So it was time to get over to Greenpoint (F to the G, crossing over to the other side after a detour to Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Ave. – best pitas in town) It was strange seeing the noir rocker in daylight outside the Brooklyn Reformed Church on Milton St., moreso without a mic, even moreso considering that he was competing with a generic white blues band barely a block and a half away – and a bus stop as well. Still, the debonair, black-suited songwriter was characteristically fun, contemplating the adjacent 1850 building, running through a solo acoustic set of hits as well as newer songs: the poignant disappearing-weekend scenario Saturday’s Down, the surreal, raucous 1930s vaudeville-house tableau Buffalo Red, the brutally depressed post-pickup scenario This Is Nothing Like Bliss and a bonafide classic, the mauvaise foi cautionary tale Geneva Conventional, a warning to anyone who “stood pat while their world was shaking.” Murphy was clearly impressed with some of the other acts on the bill, and while his imprimatur is worth a lot, a dorsal area that was edging closer and closer to David Wells territory (and which required Wells-like exercises – we looked online for some video but mystifyingly couldn’t find any) meant that it was time to head out – even though Cassis & the Sympathies, another band on our list – were playing Battery Park.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment