Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vast Rapture and Playful Scrambles From Brilliant, Individualistic Pianist Eunyoung Kim

Pianist Eunyoung Kim plays improvised music that draws as much on 20th century and contemporary classical music as it does jazz. Her technique is daunting, and she has a rare fluency for orchestrating on the spot. Themes and variations are big with her, as are close harmonies. She flirts with twelve-tone ideas without being tying the knot with them. Her new album, Earworm – streaming at Bandcamp – is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

The first number – each of the album’s tracks is untitled – has a steady, playfully dancing rhythm with hints of swing, tango and the baroque disguised behind close harmonies. If Louis Andriessen played jazz, it might sound something like this.

Track two is a vast, otherworldly, minimalist soundscape, akin to Federico Mompou at a tenth the speed, maybe. Kim returns to playfully rhythmic mode with the tune after that, an increasingly thorny series of curlicuing phrases and variations that grow more murky and hypnotic.

Track four reflects the spacious minimalism of track two, but more somberly and intricately: it brings to mind Satoko Fujii’s most brooding solo work. Blippy, leapfrogging phrases and staccato insistence mingle in the piece after that, down to a striking interlude fueled by stern quasi-boogie low-register work.

Track six begins as a synthesis of the bounciness and the moody minimalism that Kim has been shifting between so far; then she romps toward Monk and gospel music. She finally goes under the piano lid for her seventh improvisation, a momentary return to somber stillness.

With Kim’s steady, bracing modalities and steady, incisive attack, track eight reminds of Keith Jarrett’s 1960s work. Next up, Kim clusters and jabs with breathtaking speed and articulacy: that she waits this long before cutting loose with her chops testifies to her commitment to making a statement rather than showing off.

The album’s tenth track is increasingly hypnotic variations on a wry, loopy modal phrase. Kim closes the record with an approximation of a Monk-ish wee-hours ballad. Like all the albums on the new Mung Music label out of Korea, this was recorded live to a vintage Tascam cassette recorder before being digitized.

October 26, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, 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