Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Marathon Microtonal Magic with Kelly Moran at Roulette

During the momentary pause midway through Kelly Moran‘s riveting, marathon parformance at Roulette Monday night, a handful of audience members went up on the balcony to peer into the concert grand piano she’d been playing. What had she done to get such magically eerie, bell-like, otherworldly pointillistic sounds out of that thing?

Moran never addressed the issue, emerging from the wings for the second half in a new outfit – switching out an airy linen dress for a slightly more fesitve black top and jeans. Had she detuned some of the strings? There were some suspicious coppery objects inside the piano, and people in the crowd were speculating whether she’d put tacks, or similar metal objects, on some of the hammers. And there were a couple of laptops involved. Whatever the case, Moran worked the keyboard hard as she swayed from side to side on the bench, a rugged individualist reveling in her own iminitable sound.

It was a torrentially gorgeous tour through Moran’s two latest albums, plus a lengthy suite of new material. Moran combines the uneasy belltones of Mompou with the Asian inflections and rhythmic complexity of Debussy while adding her own layers of microtonal mystery. She tackled six relatively short pieces from her botanically-themed Bloodroot album with an unexpected vigor. The album is on the delicate side; here, she raised the voltage, anchoring her meticulous, rhythmically perfect righthand articulation with graceful, sparse lefthand accents, a trope that would recur with even more intensity later on. While both the subtle circular shifts of Phlip Glass and the plaintiveness of Chopin seemed to be touchstones, the music was unmistakably Moran’s.

The two new, considerably longer pieces before the intermission were even more dynamic. There was a Glass-ine matter-of-factness in the methodical, outwardly rippling variations of the first two movements of Helix II, while the aptly titled Night Music brought to mind late Ravel.

The second half of the program was more electroacoustic, Moran playing along to videos of underwater imagery in tandem with prerecorded, synthesized orchestration that ranged from low drones to what seemed to be live sampling. Often that increased the psychedelic factor, spinning her celestial curlicues and spirals back kaleidoscopically, although as the thicket of sound grew more dense, it sometimes subsumed what Moran was actually playing. After the better part of two hours onstage, she finally closed with a stately, spacious, echoingly minimalist theme to send the crowd home on a rapt note.

Roulette continues to program the most exciting avant garde and 21st century music of any Brooklyn venue, while staying in touch with their roots in the loft jazz scene. Fans of largescale improvisational music and the AACM canon might want to swing by the memorial concert for the great saxophonist Joseph Jarman this Saturday, May 25 at 2 PM; admission is free with a rsvp.

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May 23, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooding, Cinematic Piano Minimalism From Elias Haddad

Pianist Elias Haddad writes dark, pensive, frequently poignant songs without words that draw equally on minimalism and film music, with flickers of the Middle East. You could call him the Lebanese Ludovico Einaudi. Philip Glass is also a major influence. For fun, check out Haddad’s performance in the Jeida Grotto at Mount Lebanon – much as the humidity is doing a number on the piano’s tuning, you can tell how magical the sonics must have been in there that night. His new album Visions is streaming at Spotify. Lucky concertgoers in Ghazir, Lebanon can see him there with Noemi Boroka on cello at the town church on Jan 20 at 7:30 PM; the show is free.

The new album is mostly solo piano, Jana Semaan adding moody, lingering cello to several cuts. The opening track, Falling Leaves blends bell-like, calmly insitent phrases over stygian cello washes: it’s akin to Yann Tiersen playing Federico Mompou.

Alone, a rather menacing solo piano anthem, reminds vividly of Glass’ film work, notably the Dracula soundtrack. It makes a diptych with the similar but more emphatic Chasing Dreams. In Deep Blue, Haddad builds hypnotically circling variations over the cello wafting in from below.

Dream 6676 would make a great new wave pop song – or the title theme for a dark arthouse film. Eternal Tranquility juxtaposes spacious, distantly elegaic piano against distantly fluttering cello that sounds like it’s being run through a sustain pedal. Haddad makes a return to Glassine territory with Free, a somber waltz, and then Illusions and its tricky, Indian-inflected syncopation.

The cello lines over Haddad’s slowly expanding, twinkling broken chords in Last Heartbeats aren’t quite imploring, but they’re pretty close. The wryly titled Teenagers in Love comes straight out of the Angelo Badalamenti school of 50s kitsch recast as noir – it sounds suspiciously satirical. The album’s title track blends Satie angst and Ray Manzarek flourishes. Haddad closes with the sweeping, Lynchian theme Welcome Home.

A casual listener might catch a bar or two of this and confuse it with new age music, or the innumerable gothboy synthesizer dudes who are all over youtube, but it’s infinitely catchier and darker. Somewhere there’s a suspense film or a refugee documentary waiting for this guy to score.

January 6, 2018 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haskell Small Delivers a Shattering Performance of Mompou’s Musica Callada

Federico Mompou’s Musica Callada, true to its name, is very quiet, but it’s murderously difficult to play. Not because it requires great technique, but because it calls for an extraordinary command of minutiae – the subtlest gesture on the part of a pianist brave enough to tackle it can make a mountain of difference. Friday night in the Lincoln Center neighborhood, Haskell Small went deep into the suite with a nuanced command and relentlessly intense commitment and turned in a performance that was often nothing short of harrowing.

Mompou wrote the series of twenty-eight more-or-less miniatures in four “books,” beginning in 1959 and concluding fifteen years later, when the composer was eighty-one years of age. Mompou’s obvious reference points are Satie’s Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes – but with more dynamic variations, and less of a lingering, macabre sensibility – and Messiaen at his most otherworldly and haunting. Small explained beforehand that Mompou described the suite as “airless,” but it’s less a study in stillness than in the anguish of wanting to break a spell. There’s also a prayerful aspect to this music, but in Small’s hands it was an imploring, get-me-out-of-here kind of anguish, similar to the quietest works of Jehain Alain.

Mompou’s father ran a bell foundry, which might be the original inspiration for the eerie, sustained close harmonies that define the work. Small approached them with a minutely varied rubato which mightily enhanced the suspense and element of the unexpected that pervades these pieces. He cautioned the audience to pay close attention to the occasional tortured explosions of sound, making them count far more loudly than he actually played them. As the bit of an opening overture quickly morphed into lento creepiness, Small built tension with a knife’s-edge intensity that never wavered. The alternately atmospheric and sudden, twisted motives of the middle series of pieces in the second book was a highlight, as was Small’s favorite of the entire suite, the next-to-last segment which in many ways sums up the entire work with its plaintive, acidic, bell-toned angst. It concluded at last with a hymn of sorts, but even that never quite let go of the pervasive longing. The crowd, silent throughout the performance, waited until it was certain there would be no more and then slowly began their standing ovation. Small is also a composer, and will play a follow-up to this concert featuring his own similarly-tinged works at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church on 69th St. between Central Park West and Columbus Ave. at 8 PM next March 28.

October 30, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment