Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

James Ilgenfritz Makes a Troubling, Acidically Relevant Operatic Suite Out of a William Burroughs-Classic

In keeping with this month’s epic theme, today’s album is bassist James Ilgenfritz’s musical interpretation of William Burroughs’ cult classic novel The Ticket That Exploded, an “ongoing opera” streaming at Bandcamp. A collaboration with video artist Jason Ponce – who also contributes to the sound mix – it features Anagram Ensemble playing a mashup of surreal, often dadaistic free jazz and indie classical sounds. The text is delivered both as spoken word and by a rotating cast of singers including Nick Hallett, Ted Hearne, Ryan Opperman, Anne Rhodes and Megan Schubert. Burroughs’novel can be maddeningly dissociative, although in its more accessible moments it’s witheringly aphoristic, and often uproariously funny. That sense of humor does not often translate to the music here: it’s usually serious as death and relentlessly acidic. Most of it seems improvised, although that could be Ilgenfritz, a fixture of the New York creative jazz scene prior to the lockdown, toying with the audience.

With his weathered New York accent, Steve Dalachinsky – who knew Burroughs – was a good choice of narrator. In its best moments, this is classic jazz poetry. “It’s the old army thing: get dicked firstest with the brownest nose,” Nick Hallett muses about midway through. Sound familiar?

“If I had a talking picture of you, would I still read you?” Dalachinsky ponders a little later. Again, Burroughs is being prophetic: remember, this was written in the 1960s. An astringent guitar duel – Ty Citerman and Taylor Levine – pushes him out of the picture, only to be eclipsed by an almost shockingly calm moment from the string section at the end. That’s characteristic of how this unfolds.

After a rather skeletal opening number, the two women’s voices reach crushingly screaming and tumbling peaks, contrasting with a persistently offkilter minimalism. Many of the most ominous moments here pair the strings – Julianne Carney on violin and Nathan Bontrager on cello – with Denman Maroney’s eerie piano tinkles.

Ted Hearne gets the plum assignment of introducing the cast of characters in the Nova Mob which several generations of writers and punk rockers would reference in the decades that followed. The brass and strings drift and rustle uneasily, occasionally coalescing for unexpected pockets of clarity or a rare vaudevillian interlude. Percussionists Andrew Drury, John O’Brien and Vinnie Sperazza squirrel around, sparely, on anything that can be wacked.

Dichotomies – man versus machine, the sacred versus the very sacreligious, reason versus unbridled lust, reality versus hallucination – abound, both lyrically and musically. As challenging a listen as this is, in an age where surveillance is becoming a more and more omnipresent threat, it’s also timely:

Why don’t we shut this machine off?
I had all the answers a thousand years ago…
All we had to do is shut the thing off
Soundtrack calls the image police?
Shut off the soundtrack!

January 20, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Floating Downstream and Up with Eve Beglarian

Plenty of artists have found their muse in the Mississippi. About eighteen months ago, composer Eve Beglarian took a camping trek down the entire length of the river, which gave her more than enough inspiration for an entire concert worth of material. Last night’s performance at the East Village’s Wild Project (part of this year’s dizzyingly diverse Avant Festival) was less a suite than a loosely thematic cycle of jawdroppingly eclectic, smartly conceived, relatively short chamber works for voice, violin, piano, electronics and sometimes all of that at once. In a word, wow. As far as emotional terrain is concerned, the pieces in her new Songs from the River collection run the gamut from hopeful, to anxious, to stormy, to blissfully peaceful. Stylistically, as could be expected from Beglarian, they’re all over the place, and so much better for that. She explained that one particular segment mixed New Orleans motifs with plainchant and a little Bach – she could have added “because I can” and everybody in the sold-out theatre would have nodded their approval.

This concert was particularly special in that Beglarian was part of the performance, lending her unselfconsciously warm, uncluttered mezzo-soprano to the lush, meticulously choreographed voices of the Ekmeles Ensemble (Megan Schubert, Rachel Calloway, Eric S. Brenner and Jeffrey Gavett) alongside Ana Milosavljevic on violin and Vicky Chow on piano. The twelve pieces on program shared an attention to subtle timbral details, uncompromising originality and embrace of all available genres. Watchin Beglarian vividly reassert her command of idioms including but not limited to circular choral counterpoint, neoromantic piano, ambient electronics and violin-and-voice ethereality was literally breathtaking and not a little suspenseful: it was impossible to have any idea of where the music would go next. A Hurricane Katrina eulogy of sorts riffed on “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” not as savagely as the Ted Hearne classic, but as it crescendoed and the phrase coalesced in the mix, it was pretty close. A hopeful, unsentimentally bucolic interlude illustrated how where Beglarian expected to find twisted meth-heads, she found a small town (population less than 200) that enjoyed sharing its ice cream instead. The most hypnotic of the segments was an echoey electroacoustic mashup of water flowing over a dam augmented by Milosavljevic’s elegantly minimalistic violin. The most gripping was a depiction of deep-water currents, which Chow made look easy even though its turbulent, forceful ripples were anything but: Water Music for a new century. The most captivating of the vocal passages set an eerily fluttering, disembodied rondo making its way through the upper registers, completely gothic if not particularly southern.

And the tunes were full of simple, impactful hooks! PBS, or the world of indie film are the obvious destinations for a lot of the material on the program. Beglarian may have made a name for herself on the outskirts of the mainstream, but so much of the music on last night’s bill found itself in perfect balance between cutting-edge and catchy. Beglarian’s music is next featured in New York on March 2 at 8 PM at the Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, 26 W 84th St., with the art song duo Two Sides Sounding performing“A Coney Island of the Mind,” comprising music and images inspired by that Brooklyn neighborhood with music by Beglarian, Gilda Lyons, and Erik Moe and dramaturgy by Kelley Rourke.

February 18, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment