Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Denise Mei Yan Hofmann’s New Works Hold the Audience Rapt at Spectrum

Spectrum was packed last night. Granted, composer/guitarist Denise Mei Yan Hofmann used to be in a popular rock band, the wickedly catchy, lyrical Changing Modes, but all the same it was awfully cool to see a venue filled to capacity with young people listening intently to serious composed music. A tantalizingly brief program of new chamber works revealed that Hofmann is a young composer who’s already developed a distinctive and thoughtfully compelling voice. Her harmonies transcend the tonal/twelve-tone dichotomy; her narratives are vivid, she doesn’t waste notes and is rather meticulous about that.

Hofmann performed the opening diptych, a more-or-less steadily strolling miniature featuring lots of close harmonies and flitting exchanges between her terse, minimalist guitar and Salome Scheidegger‘s piano. Hofmann described it afterward as “harsh” – as a depiction of push-pull, lost in the wilderness, randomly searching and then very purposefully seeking a way out, it hit the mark.

Scheidegger played Hofmann’s Dear Son of Memory solo, an aching and dynamically rich depiction of letters never sent. It turned out to be a considerably challenging work. Scheidegger didn’t shy away from it, beginning almost as a march and then negotiating through starlit austerities, flitting sort-of-segues and then a rather violently percussive crescendo before finding home in the calm beyond it. One of Hofmann’s signature tropes seems to be working tension against a central point, raga style, a prominent and effective device here.

The final piece was a triptych for string trio, Deep Calls Unto Deep – another 2014 composition – performed elegantly by violinist Francesca Dardani, violist Yumi Oshima and cellist Xue Yang Liu. With a little editing, this could be something really special. At the core, it’s a rondo, a carefully articulated exchange of voices which began with a rather wounded, austere tone, picked up the pace with a precise, balletesque pulse in the second movement and then with a more resonant, angst-fueled quality in the third even as the rhythm came back to the forefront. The Debussy String Quartet seems to be an influence.

If there’s any criticism of what Hofmann does, it’s that she needs to work on her transitions. There were places throughout both the solo piano and trio pieces which came across as momentary lapses. Full stops would have been one answer; fleshing out those fragmentary segues to eliminate jarring with what came before and after would also be an option. So would nixing them completely. But those are minor quibbles. Here’s looking forward to what this individualistic and auspicious new voice has in store.

October 13, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strange and Powerful Sounds on the New Keeril Makan Album

Composer Keeril Makan’s intriguing and diverse collection of works, titled Target, has been out for awhile on Starkland. Minimalist yet often absolutely massive, the pieces follow dramatically divergent trajectories. The instrumentals rise and fall, sometimes almost imperceptibly but occasionally explosively, the percussion of the Either/Or ensemble and David Shively featuring most prominently in the arrangements. There’s also a potent and politically spot-on suite of vocal pieces utilizing text which poet Jena Osman created from propaganda leaflets dropped into Afghanistan during the Bush Regime’s invasion. It’s a good bet that listeners with the sense of adventure necessary to fully enjoy this album will scatter these tracks throughout several different playlists, considering the differences between them: with its whirring overtones, the half-hour concluding piece, Resonance Alloy makes a great choice for a chillout mix, while the abrasive, keening, sometimes howling solo cello piece Zones d’Accord has the opposite effect.

The opening track, simply titled 2, is the only one of the instrumentals where the melody moves around to any great degree, and that’s only when the marimba comes in bubbling against Shively’s cymbals and Jennifer Choi’s violin atmospherics. On the other hand, the title suite of five skeletal yet sharply rhythmic songs has singer Laurie Rubin leaping in and out unpredictably, the perfectly unwavering, staccato outrage in her voice channeling the mystified shock the Afghanis must have felt as they read how Bush’s bombs falling out of the sky were just one more example of how the U.S. was there to help them. Makan and Rubin, and the ensemble California E.A.R. Unit deserve props for bringing these important works to life so evocatively.

Perhaps because it’s a scrapy, raspy piece, Zones d’Accord is recorded very quietly – so when it suddenly grows loud, it’s jarring. If that’s the effect the composer wanted to create, cellist Alex Waterman delivers that extremely successfully; however, those with headphones should be on alert. It’s definitely a wakeup call! The first track follows an elegant, mathematical architecture with the occasional allusion to jazz before finally collapsing on itself at the end in a splendid display of violence; the last is viscerally mesmerizing. How Shively managed to stay on track and maintain its perfect, pointillistic pulse without being hypnotized by the swoosh, and hum, and eerie whine of the overtones flying from his cymbals and gong is a genuine feat. Did he record this in segments? Are there overdubs? It’s impossible to tell. While the brushstrokes fall fast and precise, the swells from atmospheric to oceanic are almost unnoticeable until suddenly it’s apparent that the waves have risen and then come crashing in with a stately intensity.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment