Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Awestruck, Transcendent, Epic Grandeur from the Spectrum Symphony

One of the most transcendent concerts of 2016 happened Friday night at St. Peter’s Church in midtown, where the Spectrum Symphony played not one but two rare concertos for organ and orchestra by Poulenc and Balint Karosi, the latter a world premiere. First of all, beyond the famous Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, there isn’t much organ repertoire that incorporates much of anything other than brass – simply because church organs are loud. And paradoxically, to mute the organ as a concerto instrument would make it redundant: you can get “quiet organ” with woodwinds. So this show was doubly auspicious, incorporating both the Poulenc Concerto for Orchestra, Strings and Timpani in G along with works by Bach, Mendelssohn and the exhilarating, rivetingly dynamic Karosi Concerto No. 2 for Organ, Percussion and Strings, with the composer himself in the console. Conductor David Grunberg, who is really on a roll programming obscure works that deserve to be vastly better known, was a calmly poised, assured presence and had the group on their toes – as they had to be.

Another problematic issue with music for pipe organ and other instruments, from both a compositional and performance prespective, is the sonic decay. Not only do you have to take your time with this kind of music, you have to be minutely attuned to echo effects so that the organ and ensemble aren’t stepping all over each other. The acoustics at this space happen to be on the dry side, which worked to the musicians’ advantage. The strings opened by giving a lively, Vivaldiesque flair to the overture from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No, 3, BWV 1068, a clever bit of programming since the eight-part Poulenc suite – performed as an integral whole – opens with a robust shout-out to Bach before going off in all sorts of clever directions.

Organist Janos Palur parsed the piece with a deliberate, carefully crafted approach well-suited to its innumerable shifts from one idiom to another, from the baroque, to vividly lingering Romanticism, to a robust, completely unexpected dance and more astringent tonalities. Poulenc’s genius in assembling the piece came through in how integrally the organist and ensemble played it: both were clearly audible and rewardingly supportive of each other when in unison, and when not, transitions between solo organ and the strings were confidently fluid and natural. As the piece unwound, it took on a Gil Evans-like sweep and lustre, the lowest pedals and bass paired with sonic cirrus clouds floating serenely above the dark river underneath.

Percussionist Charles Kiger got even more of a workout with the Karosi premiere than he did with the Poulenc. Switching seamlessly from one instrument to another, his vibraphone amplified uneasy pointillisms that a different composer might have arranged for glockenspiel. Otherwise, his terse kettledrum accents bolstered Karosi’s stygian pedal undercurrents, and his mighty, crescendoing washes on the gongs provided the night’s most spine-tingling, thundering crescendos.

Yet for all its towering, epic grandeur, the concerto turned out to be stunningly subtle. Seemingly modeled on the architecture if not the melodies of the Poulenc, Karosi quickly quoted from the same Bach riff that Poulenc used and then worked his way through a completely different and even more adventurously multistylistic tour de force. There were allusions to the haunted atmospherics of Jehan Alain, the austere glimmer of Naji Hakim, the macabre cascades of Louis Vierne, and finally and most conclusively, the otherworldly, awestruck terror of Messiaen. But ultimately, the suite is its own animal – and vaults Karosi into the front ranks of global composers. It’s almost embarrassing to admit not being familiar with his work prior to this concert. Not only is this guy good, he’s John Adams good. Let’s hope for vastly more from him in the years and decades to come. And the Spectrum Symphony return to their new home at St. Peter’s on January 27 at 7:30 PM with a Mozart birthday party celebration featuring his “Prague” Symphony No. 28,

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November 6, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Characteristically Vivid, Potently Relevant Performance by Ensemble Pi

For the past ten years, adventurous indie classical chamber group Ensemble Pi have played an annual “peace concert,” featuring socially relevant compositions from across the years as well as most of the classical music spectrum. This year’s sold-out multimedia performance Saturday night in the comfortable downstairs auditorium at the Sheen Center on Bleecker Street explored music and writing on themes of captivity and imprisonment. In an era when the Guantanamo Bay gulag is still open, and in a city where atrocities on Rikers Island have recently come to light, it was especially relevant, played with equal amounts vividness and attention to the underlying content.

Which was harrowing. Group impresario/pianist Idith Meshulam led a sextet comprising cellist Alexis Gerlach, clarinetist Moran Katz, violinist Airi Yoshioka, trumpeter Sycil Mathai and vibraphonist Bill Trigg through the thorny, endlessly looping Coming Together, Frederic Rzewski’s portrait of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. An illustration of the crushing tedium and repetition of prison life, it’s cruelly difficult difficult to play. But Meshulam and her steely right hand were undaunted by the challenge of its endlessly metronomic pulse and dizzying permutations. Meanwhile, actor Joseph Assadourian narrated the text, a similarly looping quote from a letter by inmate Sam Melville, killed when troops and police stormed the prison. Later in the program, Assadourian provided his own blackly amusing chronicle of arbitrary judicial conduct in New York criminal court.

Eleanor Cory‘s poignant, carefully voiced short work Riker’s Island, for piano, clarinet, cello and violin, was preceded by a similarly troubling account of women’s prison, read by poet Ashley Mote. The program wound up auspiciously with an unexpectedly and very strongly dynamic rendition of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, in fact so dynamic that it seemed as if the group was playing it at a much faster tempo than it was written for. As it turned out, they didn’t, but the effect was visceral. Messiaen famously composed it in the men’s latrine in a Nazi prison camp in 1941, not knowing that he’d survive or be released. its instrumentation derives from the fact that clarinet, violin, cello and piano just happened to be the instruments played by the prisoners who debuted it.

Considering how unorthodox this lineup is, the piece is relatively rarely staged. It’s even harder for a musician to wrap his or her hands around since the group playing it is usually a pickup band, more or less. But Meshulam and the rest of her quartet left no doubt that they’d internalized Messiaen’s angst, and muted terror, and also his defiance. On the surface, like pretty much everything else the composer wrote, it traces a liturgical theme, but it’s also the story of a successful prison break. Katz animatedly voiced the birdsong beyond Messiaen’s cell window, not to mention his anguish at not being able to see his feathered friends…and all the subtext that image carries. Likewise, Meshulam scampered animatedly through the tiptoeing, furtive theme that recurs just before the rapt, awestruck conclusion – which seemed to pass by in a heartbeat rather than lingering as other groups tend to do with it. It’s hard to think of a more apt way to close such an impactful, meaningful program.

October 14, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cameron Carpenter Launches an Organ Odyssey at Lincoln Center

Sunday afternoon’s concert at Lincoln Center was as much about the organ as it was about the organist. It’s likely that the current generation remembers Les Paul as a paradigm-shifting pioneer of electric guitar (and stereo) technology far better than as a brilliant jazz guitarist, so maybe someday the organ demimonde will refer to the Marshall & Ogletree International Touring Organ as the Cameron Carpenter. It’s essentially a digital mellotron. Where the mellotron plays analog samples of notes recorded by various configurations of an orchestra, this new organ plays digital samples taken from some of Carpenter’s favorite organs around the world. It’s an architecturally imposing instrument with a huge cockpit of a console, five manuals of stops played through eight large banks of twin speakers plus two banks of four trumpets each, and four more with large bass woofers. All this likely requires a couple of tractor-trailers and heavy-duty concert hall electrical power. Carpenter, with his rare blend of judicious dynamic choices and astonishing, whirlwind technique, reaffirmed that he is the obvious choice to play it (and to be involved in crafting its design and function). He was a force of nature nine years ago when he performed a dramatic weekend stand downtown at Marble Church; that he has grown even further as a musician since then is mind-boggling.

This was apparent from watching him leap from rank to rank with millisecond-precise athleticism, airing out every inch of sonic capability from the mighty beast, which he played with his back to the audience so everyone could see how much agility is required by so much of the organ repertoire. The program seemed designed to showcase that, not to mention Carpenter’s omnivorous and adventurous taste in works from throughout the centuries and the various schools of organ composition, all of which are influenced greatly by national and regional traditions of organ-building. Carpenter’s attempt to transcend all of those boundaries resulted in three massive standing ovations and calls for more than the two encores that the organist delivered. Bells and whistles – monsoon soundscapes, mighty thunderclaps and timpani, glockenspiel, celeste and other more whimsical effects – featured in the sturm und drang of the world premiere of Carpenter’s own Music for an Imaginary Film. They took centerstage even more prominently in the encores: Eric Coates’ The Dambusters, a jaunty, triumphantly Gershwinesque mini-epic, and a boisterously playful reworking of the Gordon Lightfoot folk-pop hit If You Could Read My Mind.

Carpenter’s virtuosity was most evident in Rachmaninoff’s almost sadistically difficult, waterfalling keyboard arrangement of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 3, as well as Nicolai Medtner’s Messiaenic partita Faity Tale in E Minor, rising from raptly atmospheric wonder to furious, blunderbuss volleys and cascades. Carpenter made also made the relentless staccato of another cruelly challenging piece, Jeanne Demessieux’s Etude VI, look easy. His take of Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 1 in E Major, a familiar and unselfconsciously gorgeous piece in the standard repertoire, was rather brisk and as a result somewhat brusque. But Carpenter nailed the sense of wonder and rapture in his own transcription of Albeniz’s Evocation (from the Iberia suite), and then the climactic ninth movement from Messiaen’s La Nativite. The organist averred to being “About as interested in Lent as your average telemarketer,” but nonetheless explained how the mighty payoff in the French composer’s evocation of God finally making an earthly appearance struck a nerve that transcended any liturgical meaning.

What was missing in all this was reverb, the swirling vortex and lusciously lingering decay of the organ stops you find in the world’s great cathedrals – and no doubt this can be adjusted mechanically to accommodate divergent acoustical spaces. Part of that issue stemmed from the sonics of Alice Tully Hall, which are world-class, but the space is not a “live room” – it was designed for singers and orchestras, and it serves those needs exceptionally well. So the notes faded away here much in the same way they would have if Carpenter was playing in a rock concert space. But that’s being picky. What Carpenter left unsaid was that this organ frees him to play music from pretty much any period in history, written for widely differing instruments, pretty much anywhere that will accomodate his new organ and to take that crusade global. Here’s to that adventure.

March 11, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Awestruck, Terrifying Quartet for the End of Time

It’s a pretty open-and-shut case that Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is the most riveting piece of music ever written in the bathroom. True story: as clarinetist James Campbell recounted to a mostly sold-out house at Subculture Thursday night, the composer came up with most of the angst-ridden eight-part suite in the latrine at a Nazi prison camp in 1940. A guard there had recognized the French composer and offered him the use of a dilapidated piano, which was moved into the warmest room in the camp…you can guess where that was. The rest is history.

Out of necessity, Messiaen wrote the Quartet for clarinet, piano, violin and cello, considering that was the extent of the available talent pool. Because of this unorthodox instrumentation, the work is rarely staged, although over the years it’s developed a rabid cult following who flock to infrequent performances such as this one. What made this particular concert so auspicious was that it was the Gryphon Trio, arguably the world’s foremost currently active ensemble to tackle the piece with any regularity, joining forces with Campbell. The four recorded it at the Banff Centre a couple of years ago and have performed it perhaps more often than any other group in recent memory other than the quartet Tashi, who made a career out of it.

What special insight would this group bring to the piece? Tons. Campbell and the rest of the ensemble painstakingly parsed brief fragments from the work beforehand to demonstrate how Messiaen’s apocalyptic liturgical themes corresponded with his confinement. As Campbell dryly put it, Messiaen had no assurance that he’d ever leave alive, let alone that the war would end with the Nazis on the losing side.

Because most ensembles who play the piece are essentially pickup groups – not to mention that Messiaen’s tempos thoughout it are so slow – those groups tend to rush it. How did this four approach it? Methodically and intimately: what they grasped more than anything was Messiaen’s defiant subtext of rescue and redemption. Pianist James Parker gave the opening movement more of a mechanically marching rhythm (which could be read as a satire of life in Nazi captivity) and also paired off steadily against Annalee Patipatanakoon’s literally unearthly violin on the rapt outro. But in between, they let the music linger, resonant, otherworldly, sometimes macabre, sometimes alluding to the soul-crushing, numbing effects of being behind bars. Roman Borys’ desolately panoramic, emotionally depleted cello solo against Parker’s bitter resonace in the fifth movement was one of many literally transcendent moments, as were Campbell’s series of long crescendos that suddenly burst into birdsong in the second. These are among the most difficult passages in the chamber music repertoire for a clarinetist, but Campbell matched crystalline nuance to a nimble, picturesque, avian attack. And he captured the offhand cruelty of Messiaen being haunted by hearing but not being able to see the birds he loved so much outside his cell window.

Before the Messiaen, the Gryphon Trio treated the audience to a vivid, energetic, dynamically rich performance of the Ravel Piano Trio. Parker explained that the group would not be shying away from its pre-World War I unease (the composer hurried to finish it so that he could go off to volunteer as an ambulance driver). And the ensemble did exactly that, through the distantly flamenco-tinged opening movement, continuing with what the pianist called its “Cirque de Soleil” interlude and then the kinetic finale which saw the return of the flamenco theme flicker out with a guarded optimism.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jussi Reijonen Holds the Crowd Rapt Uptown

Wednesday night uptown at Shrine, Jussi Reijonen alluded that the quiet, reflective compositions from his new album Un might be liberating to New Yorkers looking to escape the afterwork bustle outside. Was he ever right. To describe Reijonen’s music, or his quartet onstage as cosmopolitan would be a considerable understatement. Respectively, guitarist/oudist Reijonen, pianist Utar Artun, bassist Brad Barrett and percussionist Tareq Rantisi represent for Finland, Turkey, California and Palestine. While Reijonen’s work, and his playing, span the emotional spectrum, there’s a searching quality to much of it that haunted this performance. He mused to the audience that this might have something to do with a childhood spent in the stillness of Lapland at the edge of the Arctic circle.

Reijonen’s lively, acerbically dancing oud led the band into the opening number, Rantisi’s nonchalantly triumphant cymbal crashes pairing against Artun’s starlit piano flourishes over stark washes from Barrett. An animatedly nocturnal, chromatically bristling Artun solo over a slinky rhythm wound down to a creepily mysterious, modal glimmer and then back up again, Reijonen then taking it in a stark, haunting direction evocative of Marcel Khalife.

While Rantisi had a full drum kit to work with, he colored the songs with boomy hand drum accents, played muffled hoofbeat rhythms on the toms with his hands and nebulous atmospherics with his brushes, ratcheting up the suspense. Likewise, Barrett alternated between long-tone pitchblende lines and agile, looping phrases, adding a minimalist pulse to an absolutely mystical take of John Coltrane’s Naima, Reijonen’s electric guitar bringing it to a rapturous, meditative but uneasy calm, equal parts Messiaen and Bill Frisell, Artun livening it with a pointillistic summer shower on the high keys.

They played Lorenzo Castelli’s Decisions, a gorgeously brooding jazz waltz, as a sonata of sorts, its theme and variations like waves on a rising tide driven by Artun’s sparkling, sometimes sinister crescendos. Reijonen followed with a homage to Toumani Diabate in a duo with Rantisi, energetically evoking spiky kora voicings that uncoiled with a serpentine, hypnotic energy.

And then a turmpet mysteriously wafted into the mix. Was there a ringer in the band walking in from offstage? No. The bartender had apparently decided he’d had enough of the band, so he’d put some high-energy Afrobeat on the house PA – while the set was still in progress! The same thing happened to Raya Brass Band a couple of weeks ago at Radegast Hall. Some people can’t buy a clue, and it’s too bad they work at music venues.

June 14, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jenny Q Chai’s Smart, Intuitive Carnegie Hall Debut

Pianist Jenny Q Chai’s Carnegie Hall debut last night was expertly programmed and packed with joie de vivre: she played as if she had a secret and couldn’t wait to share it with everybody. Her approach to a mix of premieres, 20th and 21st century compositions and an old High Romantic concert favorite matched fearsome technique to a confidently matter-of-fact emotional intelligence. When the material called for space, she let it linger, most notably (and amusingly) in one of the world premieres, Inhyun Kim’s Parallel Lines, a playfully rigorous study in parallelistic close harmonies punctuated by a Day in the Life-style sustained pause. The joke going around the hall was that Chai could have rubatoed it if she’d wanted to. And when she had to reach back for all the power and precision she could muster, whether for the cruelly difficult machine-gun staccato passages of Marco Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina (a US premiere), or the torrid, torrential rivulets of Debussy’s Etude No. 6, she awed the crowd with what seemed to be an effortless articulacy.

Yet despite the pyrotechnics, it was Chai’s sensitivity to color, timbre and emotion that resonated the most. She nailgunned the stratospherically high notes in Ashley Fu-tsun Wang’s Current (another world premiere), but let the murky, contrasting depths speak for themselves. It was arguably the high point of the night, icily misty tonalities in a rather Rachmaninovian architecture, alternating between spacious minimalism and jaunty flair. And when Chai reached the final variation on the opening theme, she let it go out on a quietly brooding note which packed quite a wallop.

Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya was a mixed bag: Chai handled its herky-jerky, explosive clusters with aplomb and then seemed to revel in its low, stalking basslines, one of the piece’s high points: it could have been a hit single, so to speak, if Messiaen had only edited it down to the juicy passages. And even a wardrobe malfunction didn’t distract Chai from from expertly negotiating the juxtaposition between jarring dissonance and comfortable resonance in a couple of Kurtag miniatures, Quiet Talk with the Devil and Les Adieux, both selections from his Jaketok suite. After all this harshness, Schumann’s Kreisleriana was dessert, and Chai played it as as bittersweet reminscence rather than nostalgia: her phrasing throughout it, whether the rivulets of the main theme, the stately requiem of sorts, or the closing waltz, was judiciously terse, a fitting elegy for Schumann’s old friend from literature. The crowd roared for an encore and got two: the first, an unfamiliar, fluid miniature that would have made a good theme for the PBS special Springtime in Alaska (or the equivalent), the second a John Cage vocal number that she tapped out on the piano lid as she sang.

April 20, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alexandra Joan’s Kaleidoscope Series: Fearless Otherworldly Beauty

Just as the most exciting things in rock music are happening in the small clubs rather than in stadiums, the most exciting classical and chamber music these days typically happens off the beaten path. On and off, over the past several months, we’ve been peering into some of these dark but fertile corners: pianist Alexandra Joan’s Kaleidoscope Series at WMP Concert Hall in Murray Hill may the most exciting of them all. Wednesday night she and her cohorts – cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, clarinetist Vasko Dukovski and violinist Erno Kallai – tackled a program that was as diverse as it was individualistic, and frequently exhilarating. “Thank you for not watching American Idol,” Joan laughed.

First up was Brahms’ Trio in A Minor (Op. 114). Dating from 1891, it’s one of his final works. With its characteristic melodic beauty and alternating wary/warm passages, it follows a straight line back to Beethoven. There’s also some Brahms thinking outside the box, the gypsy passage at the beginning of the concluding allegro section being the most notable. This may be overly reductionistic to say, but essentially it’s a piece with assigned roles: the clarinet pensive, the cello mournful and the piano providing the energy and lighter contrasts. Joan, Thorsteinsdottir and Dukovski took those roles and gave them flair and personality.

For anyone who might have found that piece too predictable in its unselfconscious, pensive beauty, Bartok’s Contrasts, from 1938, was a feral, snidely joyous, jazzy treat. As Joan and Dukovski explained beforehand (they do that a lot, with a genuine passion for the music, which helps more than any pedantic program notes ever could), it was commissioned by Benny Goodman as a way to get Bartok an American visa just as Hitler’s Blitzkrieg was looming. The concept was to get the composer to deliver something sufficiently short to release as a 78 RPM single: for whatever reason, Bartok didn’t exactly comply. What he did was shoot a savagely gleeful spitball right in Der Fuehrer’s face. Joan has a vividly acute emotional intelligence, and she went on the assault from the beginning behind Kallai’s slashing incisions while Dukovski got to demonstrate the “mellow tone” mentioned in his bio (he’s actually an electrifying player, as he would remind a bit later on). Warped Romanticism made way for lurid ragtime, a feast of creepy atmospherics and a conclusion delivered with the glee of an escapee from certain death. Kallai put down his Strad and picked up the house Guarneri for that one since the violin part is out of tune: the vicious humor in his tritone-packed solo was viscerally delicious.

The quartet then took on the formidable challenge of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Written in a Nazi prison camp for piano, clarinet, violin and cello because those were the instruments that the musicians captured with Messiaen happened to play, it was premiered there on the same day that the clarinetist made a failed escape attempt yet sufficiently charmed his captors with his playing, Dukovski related, so that he escaped what would otherwise have been a summary execution. To say that it is harrowing is an extreme understatement. As with so much of Messiaen, its movements correspond to Catholic liturgy: beforehand, Joan encouraged the audience to experience it for its universality. Which makes perfect sense: Messiaen may well have written it primarily as an illustration of the coming of a heavenly eternity, but its subtext screams out defiantly, an anthem for escape from and victory over the Nazis.

Which is where interpretations of Messiaen differ: where some hear otherworldliness and mysticism, others hear the macabre. Clearly, Messiaen found the prospect of heavenly rest nearly as daunting as being murdered by the Nazis, and horror is everywhere in this piece, from the ominous early-morning exchange of birdcalls that open it, to the stunned, jagged, wounded cadenzas that punctuate the tense stillness, to the seemingly endless, almost horizontal clarinet solo that may be its most riveting point. Dukovski pulled that off without a hitch: with its endless sostenuto wash, it requires an almost interminable sequence of circular breathing, and is extraordinarily difficult to play as a seamless whole, but that’s exactly what Dukovski turned it into. Like her collaborators, Thorsteinsdottir is a fearless player who will rise to any intensity required, and she dug in with a mighty vibrato. A final cry for rescue was followed by still, judicious piano that signaled an eventual if hardly unscathed victory over the demons. The audience didn’t know what hit them: the musicians clearly felt the music as overwhelming, intense and cathartic as the crowd did. Alexandra Joan’s next Kaleidoscope Series concert at WMP Concert Hall (31 E 28th St. between Madison and Park Avenues) is on April 27, a characteristically intriguing program featuring piano works by Enesco, Ravel and Mohammed Fairouz.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby Avey Makes an Auspicious Debut

Pianist Bobby Avey’s debut album A New Face instantly elevates him into the ranks of formidable 21st century players like Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, and Marc Cary. Intense, forceful and fearless, Avey has a powerful lefthand like Kenny Barron, a fondness for ominous modal excursions and a vivid sense of melody that hovers between the noir, the Romantics and Olivier Messiaen at his most otherworldly. Along with the other members of his trio, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Jordan Pearlson, this album features the always estimable Dave Liebman guesting on soprano and tenor sax on four tracks. The chemistry between players matches the quality of the compositions: if there’s been a better jazz debut album this year, we haven’t heard it.

The opening track, Late November begins with a machine-gun circular motif that Avey eventually leaves to the bass and drums and hovers over with a noirish glimmer – and then takes it down to a minefield of modal incisions on the third verse. Much of this album has a bracing third-stream feel and this is a prime example. Meanwhile, throughout most of the song, Pearlson and Kneeland lock in and hammer with Avey, something they do with considerable relish throughout the album. The second cut, In Retreat is a potently evocative, bitter, brooding ballad, Liebman adding understated grey tones over Avey’s richly melodic crescendos, agitated but completely in control. Kneeland takes it out into the depths with a woundedly syncopated solo. Delusion is a study in understated chromatics and rhythmic shifts, another Kneeland solo early on its quiet highlight. The title track kicks off with a tense, macabre-tinged bass solo which Avey expands eerily – it’s a Sam Fuller film played out in the churchyard at Saint-Sulpice, Liebman playing the role of semi-friendly ghost.

After the stalker intro of Less is Less Than Half, the drums prowl around Avey’s minimalism, building to a crashing McCoy Tyner style lefthand hook that winds up in a hammering, fiery, percussive blaze. By contrast, Influence, a duo piece for piano and tenor, shifts between a golden age late 50s vibe and an uneasily unwinding, ripplingly horizontal piano soundscape. The final cuts here reach genuinely majestic heights. Insight unfolds with Avey hammering on an insistent staccato pedal note, expands to a chromatic vamp that he roams around, eventually a marvelously terse chromatic bass solo, and then it all comes together, glimmering and intense. Likewise, Time Unfolding finally throws restraint to the wind after giving Liebman the chance to rove expansively and then finally plunge into the rhythm section’s staccato syncopation before Avey and then Pearlson take it all the way up. Avey’s ceiling is pretty much as high as he want to go with it. Hope you like traveling, dude.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/18/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #497:

King Crimson – Starless

Arguably the great British art-rock band’s finest twelve minutes or so, a suite that starts out wistful and eventually goes starless and bible black, John Wetton’s bass climbing deliberately and murderously as Robert Fripp holds down the suspense with his guitar. Classical music devotees will recognize a theme from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time – figures that Fripp would be a fan, doesn’t it? From the Red lp, 1979; the link above is a torrent.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ten Best Christmas Songs of Alltime

…heh heh heh…

 

10. Linda Draper – Merry Christmas

The New York acoustic rock siren is typically pensive and hardly festive here: play this one early Xmas morning, hungover. Merry Xmas, not.

 

9.  The Pretenders – 2000 Miles

A reader suggestion, thanks for this! The link is a nice live version on youtube.  

 

8. The Reducers – Nothing for Christmas

Bet these Connecticut mod punks never realized how prescient this snide holiday tune would turn out to be when they originally released it as a vinyl single in 1988. Still available on the excellent Reducers Redux compilation from 1991.

 

7. Stiff Little Fingers – White Christmas

The alltime best version – maybe the only good version – of the bestselling song of alltime, classic funny irreverent punk rock, 1978 style.

 

6. Ninth House – You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Back when they were an artsy, Joy Divisionesque band, the New York rockers used to have a great time with this one no matter what the time of year. Never officially released, although there are several excellent bootleg versions kicking around, particularly from Arlene Grocery circa 2000.

 

5.  Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Spot-on. Words cannot describe. The youtube link above is a priceless live version.

 

4.  The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

Shane MacGowan and the late Kirsty MacColl play dysfunctional drunken couple, trading insults and invective in perfect holiday style. This link’s a live version too.

 

3. Amy Allison – Drinking Thru Xmas

If this song isn’t universal, you find one that is. “Twelve shots of liquor lined up on the bar/You’ve got all my money and the keys to the car.” It’s vintage Amy. Nice to see the song up on her myspace again.

 

2. Florence Dore – Christmas

Although first recorded by the Posies in the mid-90s, Dore wrote it, and it’s her version from her lone 2002 cd Perfect City that really provides the chills. Xmas may not be suicide season, but this one makes it seem like it is.

 

 

1. Olivier Messiaen – The Birth of Our Lord

As we’ve noted here before, this piece isn’t titled The Birth of Christ. The great composer always put his Catholicism front and center…but maybe he was working for the other team? Nothing but brooding and hellfire in this macabre multi-part suite. The link above is a youtube clip from one of its quieter sections.

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Music, snark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments