Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Catchy, Thoughtful Rainy-Day Sounds From Modern Nature

Modern Nature play a tuneful, individualistic blend of pastoral jazz and chamber pop with tinges of vintage 70s soul music. Their new album Annual is streaming at Bandcamp. They like nature imagery and long, catchy, circling phrases over simple, muted drums.

They open the record with Dawn, a hazy miniature balancing bandleader Jack Cooper’s uneasy, lingering guitar over Arnulf Lindner’s overtone-laden bass drone. Elegantly uneasy soul guitar anchors frontwoman Kayla Cohen’s muted, half-whispered delivery as Flourish gets imderway, up to a big, anthemic chorus with Jeff Tobias’ fluttery sax and then back down. From there they segue into Mayday, which has a funkier swing but is just as hypnotically circling.

Spacious, incisive piano and balmy sax mingle with syncopated guitar jangle throughout the album’s fourth track, Halo. In Harvest, the band build very subtle variations into a staggered, loopy hook. They bring the record full circle with Wynter. “Outside the trees are groaning,” Cohen sings with an airy calm over the resonant, brooding clang of the guitar. Let’s hope the lockdown doesn’t destroy this band as it has so many others, and we get to hear more from them.

February 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Eclectically Catchy Big Band Album by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players

Does listening to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players transform them from a seventeen-piece big band into a trio? One of the premises of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that some particles are so small that merely observing them changes their state. It’s an extension of the basic idea that some tools are too heavy for the job: you don’t use a hammer where just your thumb would do.

Ultimately, Heisenberg’s postulate challenges us to consider whether some things will always be essentially unknowable: a very Islamic concept, when you think about it. But you hardly need special powers of observation to enjoy this big band’s energy, and catchy themes, and pervasive sense of humor. Their album Gradient is streaming at Bandcamp. There’s a high-energy sax solo on almost every one of bandleader/conductor John Dorhauer’s compositions here, sometimes expected, sometimes not.

The opening number, Boombox, makes a momentary Mission Impossible theme out of the old surf rock hit Tequila, then hits a Weather Report style faux-soukous bubbliness for a bit before shifting toward a gospel groove beneath Matthew Beck’s joyous tenor sax.

The second track, Nevertheless She Persisted is a slow, slinky gospel tune, Stuart Seale’s tersely soulful organ ceding the spotlight to a low-key, burbling trombone solo from Chris Shuttleworth and a big massed crescendo from the brass. Subject/Verb/Object has clever, rhythmless variations on a circling, Ethiopian-tinged riff, in an Either/Orchestra vein; the polyrhythms that ensue as the piece comes together and then calms to an uneasy syncopation are a cool touch.

Four Sides of the Circle begins as a stately, mysterious, Indian-tinged theme for choir and piano, then chattering high reeds take centerstage as the song almost imperceptibly edges toward dusky, modal soul over a familiar Radiohead hook.

The East African tinges return, but more cheerily in Plasma, with its rhythmically tricky interweave of counterpoint. Mahler 3 Movement 1 is exactly that: a moody, jazzed-up classical theme that rises from rumors of war, to brassy King Crimson art-rock fueled by Chris Parsons’ burning guitar, to chipper, Gershwinesque swing over a quasi-reggae beat and then back.

The record winds up with the Basketball Suite. The first segment, Switch Everything is the band’s Dr. J (that’s a Grover Washington Jr. reference). Part two, Point Giannis is probably the slowest hoops theme ever written: Dan Parker’s hypnotic bassline brings to mind a classic Jah Wobble groove on PiL’s Metal Box album. The band take a turn back toward booding, pulsing Ethiopiques with Schedule Loss, Adam Roebuck’s incisive trumpet contrasting with James Baum’s suave, smoky baritone sax. It ends with the album’s warmly funky, vamping title track An entertaining achievement from an ensemble that also includies saxophonists Natalie Lande, Kelley Dorhauer and Dan Burke, trombonists Michael Nearpass, Josh Torrey and Dan Dicesare, trumpeters Jon Rarick and Emily Kuhn and drummer Jonathon Wenzel.

February 23, 2021 Posted by | funk music, gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obscure Treasures From the King of Dark, Wrenching, High Romantic Angst

In these perilous times, who better to spend an hour or so with than the king of High Romantic angst, Sergei Rachmaninoff? The repertoire is vast. There are so many obvious choices: one far less obvious collection is The Complete Rachmaninoff Works and Transcriptions for Piano and Violin, played with dynamic intensity by violinist Annelle Gregory and pianist Alexander Sinchuk and streaming at Spotify. Bridge Records put this out in 2017.

Although the iconic Russian composer only wrote three pieces (that we know of) for violin and piano, there are a grand total of seventeen other transcriptions of some of his most famous and haunting themes included here as well. The duo kick off the record with the first of his original three, the Romance in A minor. This waltz may be a student work, but it’s achingly gorgeous, laced with Asian tinges and occasional slashing chromatics.

His other two original arrangements, grouped together as Deux Morceaux de Salon, Op. 6, are an even more brooding Romance, with some of Gregory’s most richly resonant midrange playing, and a lickety-split Hungarian Dance with strangely bell-like piano.

Most of the other arrangements are either by the composer’s old violinist pal and occasional bandmate Fritz Kreisler, or by another violinist, Jascha Heifetz, a brilliant Rachmaninoff interpreter. Kreisler’s first is a stripped-down version of the famous, searching theme from the second movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 (the godfather of all angst-ridden piano pieces). It seems a little fast.

The most irresistibly outside-the-box of the Heifetz versions is the reinvention of the immortal (and crushingly venomous) G Minor Prelude Op. 23, No. 5 with a subdued drive that could almost be cumbia, The Prelude, Op. 23, No. 9 is furtive and insectilishly creepy – this is the one for your Halloween mixtape.

Heifetz’ reinventions continue with the Romance, Op. 21, No. 7 “It’s Peaceful Here,” a fond miniature, then the Romance, Op. 21, No. 9 “Melody” with some arrestingly fluttery doublestops from Gregory. Sinchuk’s belltone phrasing in the Etude-Tableau, Op. 33, No. 2 is sublime, while Gregory has a jaunty good time with the lilting Etude-Tableau, Op. 33, No. 7. And a final morsel, Oriental Sketch, flits by with only hints of the pentatonic scale.

Kreisler’s version of the Italian Polka, a rarity, has unexpected klezmerish flair; the Romance, Op. 38, No. 3 “Daisies” has more than a hint of a Mediterranean pastorale. And the iconic romantic theme, the 18th Variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini comes into clearer focus in this stripped-down treatment.

Another Romance, Rachmaninoff’s song It Was in April – reinvented as an instrumental by Konstantin Mostras – is an attractively Spanish-tinged miniature. The duo give a practically Satie-esque plaintiveness but also quasi-operatic drama to the Mikhail Press arrangement of the Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3, No. 5 “Serenade.” Press – a violinist and Rachmaninoff contemporary – also recasts the iconic Vocalise with as much cantabile quality as a voice could conjure.

The two give a nocturnal restraint to Mikhail Erdenko’s chart for the Prelude, Op. 23, No. 4. Nobody seems to know who came up with the one for the version of the “Oriental Romance” Op. 4, No. 4 but it’s one of the most anthemic and vividly imploring songs here (the title is misleading – there’s no discernible Asian reference).

February 22, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Darkly Colorful Cellist Gyda Valtysdottir Celebrates Her Fellow Icelanders

The last time that cellist Gyda Valtysdottir was on this page, it was 2013 and her atmospheric trip-hop/postrock band Mum had just put out their Smilewound album. Since then she’s taken a deeper plunge into new classical music. Her latest album Epicycle II – streaming at Bandcamp – is a collection of enveloping new electroacoustic works by colleagues from her native Iceland.

The first track, Skúli Sverrisson’s Unfold, is an increasingly brooding, almost maddeningly unresolved series of duotone chords, up the staircase, then down and around. In her airy high soprano, Valtysdottir half-whispers over stately, minimalist pizzicato in Ólöf Arnalds’ loopy waltz Safe to Love, rising to some bracing doublestops.

Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s Mykros has looming lows, hazy atmospherics and approximations of whale song. Valtysdottir digs in triumphantly when Úlfur Hansson’s Morphogenesis….well…morphs out of pulsing, looped phrases to a gritty swell and then a long, stark upward climb with some flute-like harmonics – it’s musical M.C. Escher.

Kjartan Sveinsson’s Liquidity features stately, spare piano and also percussion. It’s the album’s lone departure into uneasily if anthemically crescendoing art-rock, in keeping with the composer’s background in atmospheric rock. The lingering tone poem Air to Breath, by Daníel Bjarnason has some breathtakingly anticipatory, cantabile phrasing.

Jónsi’s Evol Lamina (spell it backwards, Sonic Youth style) reflects the title – it’s the album’s lone throwaway. Appropriately, the record’s eighth and final composition is María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s Octo, an increasingly atmospheric series of variations on a brooding four-note phrase.

February 19, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Anthemic, Vividly Tuneful Octet Album From Ellen Rowe

The funniest song title on pianist Ellen Rowe‘s latest album Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion – streaming at Soundcloud – is The First Lady (No, Not Melania). It doesn’t seem to be a portrait of any first lady in recent memory. It’s too gentle for Michelle Obama, and there’s too much bluesy shuffle for Jackie Kennedy, let alone Rosalyn Carter. And none of the others from the past several decades rate. Maybe it’s a look forward to the time when we have a confidently easygoing woman in the Oval Office.

It always makes sense to open your record with a song you can close a show with, and the first number here, Ain’t I a Woman fits that bill perfectly. Rowe’s stern gospel voicings and an increasingly artful lefthand line anchor balmy individual horn voices – that’s saxophonists Tia Fuller, Virginia Mayhew and Lisa Parrott, clarinetist Janelle Reichman and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen coalescing with a steady, swinging march beat. Trombonist Melissa Gardiner takes it further toward New Orleans, Rowe closer to the blues, Fuller bringing it all together, followed by a slinky bass solo. There’s a lot going on here.

Balmy horn harmonies over Allison Miller’s suspenseful drizzle of cymbals kick off RFP (Relentless Forward Progress), lithely blippy bass underneath an increasingly soaring, optimistic theme that quickly hits a chugging latin groove echoed by a spiraling Jensen solo.

A biting, upward chromatic piano interlude opens off The Soul Keepers, a boogie with plush, sailing brass. There’s a bluesy late 40s Gillespie band purism here, Rowe’s gritty incisions ceding the stage to a triumphant alto solo and sagacious trombone.

There’s a wistful, gorgeously pastoral sensibility to Anthem, Reichman’s clarinet at the center over the bandleader’s precise chords, down to another purposeful bass solo. Saxes converse cautiously and broodingly as The Guardians slowly rises toward a pensive quasi-bolero groove: in a quiet way, it’s the album’s most vivid and strongest track. Rowe closes it with the playful but determined Game, Set and Match, a web of New Orleans riffs building to a return to Miller’s second line-inflected swing. At this point it hits you: this is one of the most tuneful jazz albums of recent months, arguably the high point in Rowe’s underrated career.

February 14, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting a Favorite of the New Classical Scene

“Anybody who thinks that classical music is dead wasn’t here,” this blog enthused about Caroline Shaw‘s sold-out concert with the Attacca Quartet at Lincoln Center a little over a year ago. Lincoln Center’s concert halls may be cold and dead at the moment – what a hideous reality, huh? – but you can hear some of what she played that night on their most recent album, Orange, streaming at Bandcamp.

Before Shaw won a Pulitzer (for a piece that wasn’t even one of her best), she was highly sought after as a sidewoman, both as a violinist and chorister. Since then, she’s become more widely known as one of the foremost composer-performers in the new classical scene. By the time she recorded this, most of the material had been thoroughly road-tested, and it sparkles with catchy, emphatic riffage and clever humor.

The title track, essentially, is Valencia, inspired by a big, juicy orange. Circling high harmonics, driving glissandos in the lows, echo riffs, suspenseful dopplers and brisk handoffs populate this artfully minimalist theme and variations. Brooklyn Rider gave the New York premiere of the trickily rhythmic yet anthemic opening track, Entr’Acte, earlier that year. The version here seems more spacious and richly textured with microtones, not to mention dynamics. The ensemble  – violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee – take advantage of the studio space to sink to a whisper and then pluck their way back up toward a Philip Glass-ine circularity.

The album’s centerpiece is Plan & Elevation, a seven-part suite inspired by the same landscaped Washington, DC greenery that Igor Stravinsky was drawn to over a half-century ago. Steady pulses, jaunty pizzicato, indian summer haze, spirals across the strings and expertly textured harmonics interchange, rise and fall: Shaw’s reliance on the low midrange, here and elsewhere, is striking, particularly in the third movement’s slow upward slide.

In Latin, Punctum means “point;” it’s also the opening of a tear duct. The group really max out the dynamics, from a wry off-scene strut, to obliquely resonant late Beethoven references and some neat polyrhythms. The album’s longest and most hypnotic piece, Ritornello contrasts shifting tectonic sheets with playful pizzicato riffs over a quasi-palindromic structure with a devious false ending. The concluding number is the plucky, pastoral Limestone & Felt.

February 13, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terse, Otherworldly, Magically Textured Solo Piano Pieces by Benoît Delbecq

Benoît Delbecq inhabits a unique, often otherworldly, surreal sound world. That’s because he prepares his piano, putting metal and other materials on the strings and elsewhere, for textures that few other pianists would ever imagine, let alone seek out. His compositions span the worlds of jazz improvisation, 20th and 21st century classical music, often evoking the work of Messiaen or Federico Mompou. Delbecq can be sardonically funny or piercingly plaintive, sometimes in the same song. His new solo album The Weight of Light is streaming at Spotify

The opening number, The Loop of Chicago has spare, bell-tinged righthand phrases over muted but dancingly catch prepared textures that sound like a cross between a mbira and a balafon. This is definitely the Loop on a rainy Friday night when pretty much everybody has traipsed home.

Dripping Stones is an aptly titled, bell-like tableau that strongly brings to mind Mompou, wie rhythmic freedom. For the album’s third number, Family Trees, Delbecq brings back the approximation of the balafon and adds a clock-like timbre (think of Pink Floyd’s Breathe), with cleverly clustering phrases using Fender Rhodes voicings.

It’s as if Delbecq has a couple of muted, hypnotic bass drum loops going behind his sparse, rainy-day righthand in Chemin Sur Le Crest. The skeletal, arrythmic textures of Au Fil De La Parole are a spot-on evocation of the metal chimes of a mobile, an important childhood influence on Delbecq’s music.

He returns to the balafon-and-chimes analogue, more hypnotically at first and then with more of a traditional postbop jazz edge, in Anamorphoses: that could explain the title. Timbres shift to what could be harmonic pings on the high strings of an electric bass in Havn En Havre: the overtones wafting from Delbecq’s simple chromatic loop are deliciously disquieting. Then his righthand belltones drive the point all the way home.

The album’s most epic track is Pair Et Impair, with an increasingly complex web of plinky, dancing, mbira and Rhodes tones. He winds up the album with Broken World, its spacious, warily ringing phrases tinged with murk.

Fun fact: Delbecq takes the album title from his physicist brother, whose doctoral thesis proposed to verify that light has mass.

February 12, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devious Humor and Poignancy on Violinist Mark Feldman’s New Solo Album

Violinist Mark Feldman has been a staple of the downtown New York jazz scene since the 90s, notably in his long-running duo with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. Like innumerable artists during the lockdown, he’s put out a solo album, Sounding Point, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s incisive, purposeful and sometimes haunting, everything the artists he’s played with have sought him out for. But there are just as many moments here that border on hilarious. Feldman’s sense of humor has seldom come across so deviously as it does on this album.

Some of these pieces are built around a single melody line, others are judiciously multitracked. The opening number, As We Are features varations on a coy “here we go!” theme, Feldman building to his usual erudite mix of extended technique and economical melodicism, laced with harmonics, swells and delicate pizzicato. The album’s title track has plaintive, spacious phrases over delicately fluttering sustained lines.

Warriors is an amusingly ornamented multitracked piece including but not limited to swirly glissandos, a plucky march, pregnant pauses, hints of darkly rustic blues and Appalachia: it could be completely improvised. Unbound has a bit of a scramble, calmly whistling buffoonery, and a sly classical quote or two.

The album’s big, almost ten-minute epic is Viciously, which is aptly titled, horrified cadenzas emerging and suddenly giving way to spare, pensive variations on a blues riff, surreal glissandos and strangely muted echoes. Rebound is arguably the album’s funniest number, a mashup of echoey extended technique and all sorts of cartoonish japes.

Maniac is more dissociative than frantic, a playful pastiche of concise riffs. Feldman’s final number is titled New Normal: other than being more ghostly and disturbingly furtive than the other tracks here, it’s impossible to read any references to totalitarianism, surveillance or death by lethal injection into it. Violin jazz fans, and anyone with a sense of humor, should check this out.

February 10, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Richly Disquieting Music From Nomi Epstein

Pianist Nomi Epstein writes magical, otherworldly, spacious music that sometimes brings to mind Federico Mompou, other times Messiaen. The piano pieces on her new album Sounds – streaming at Bandcamp – linger with an often mournful, sparse belltone ambience. These works are deceptively minimalist: the way Epstein slowly shifts between relentlessly unsettled harmonies is artful to the extreme. She keeps the pedal down for maximum resonance.  If there was any sound tailor-made for the unreality and immersive angst of the lockdown, this is it.

The first composition is Till For Solo Piano, played meticulously by Reinier van Houdt. The obvious antecedent seems to be Satie’s Vexations; the way Epstein subtly shifts harmonies while maintaining a creepy, bell-like ambience is as masterful as it is hypnotic.

Solo for Piano part I: Waves is aptly titled, its graceful series of low lefthand rumbles building a picturesque portrait of water washing a beach at night, and slowly brightening from there. The minute dynamic shifts in the brooding, steady conversation between left and righthand in the uninterrupted, eighteen-minute part two, Dyads are more celestially captivating. Again, Satie’s Vexations comes to mind

Van Houdt returns to the keys for the concluding number, Layers for Piano, with its contrasts between stygian reflecting-pool resonance in the lefthand with slowly shifting, spare, unsettling close-harmonied accents in the right. Occasional flinging gestures in the the upper registers dash any hope of a persistent, meditative state.

There are also two chamber works here. For Collect/Project, a hazy, lighthearted electroacoustic piece featuring vocalist Frauke Aulbert with Shanna Gutierrez on bass flute is ridiculously funny in places. And the composer herself plays the album’s sparest piano on the title track, Eliza Bangert’s flute and Jeff Kimmel‘s bass clarinet providing nebulous wave motion and a mist of overtones behind her. What a stunningly individualistic and often haunting album: let’s hope Epstein can continue build on what promises to be a brilliant body of work.

February 10, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Aizuri Quartet Explore Ilari Kaila’s Strikingly Memorable Tunesmithing

Ilari Kaila draws deeply on many diverse styles, from postminimalism to the Romantic and even the most elegant side of 70s art-rock: it’s impossible to pigeonhole his music. The most striking feature of the Aizuri Quartet’s all-Kaila album with pianist Adrienne Kim, The Bells Bow Down – streaming at Spotify – is what a great tunesmith he is. He’s the rare composer who has absolutely no fear of being anthemic. He likes to build on hypnotically circling, clustering riffs. Bell-like figures are also a recurrent trope on this record, balanced by both airy and kinetic phrasing from the strings.

The album begins with the title track, a requiem for pianist Hanna Sarvala. There’s a striking, plaintive horn-like riff echoed ethereally in the high strings; Kim enters emphatically with an incisive, chiming melody, the quartet wafting and diverging behind her. An insistent upward drive follows, up to a rippling neoromantic Kim cadenza. Again, the strings recede: Sarvala must have been a forceful presence, echoed in Kim’s resonant waves. Kaila brings it full circle with a sad pavane fthat builds to an anxious eighth-note melody against Kim’s assertive chords.

Flutist Isabel Gleicher joins Aizuri violist Ayane Kozasa and the pianist for the dancing, hypnotically circling, jaunty Cameo. Again, bell-like piano figures come to the forefront, the flute adding a bittersweet harmonic element.

Kim and the Aizuris’ cellist Karen Ouzounian contrast resonance and ripples as they gather steam in the duo piece Hum and Drum, then the cello breaks free and flutters along with the piano’s brisk, precise belltone figures and contrasting, stern lefthand. A puckish bit of pizzicato and Debussy allusions liven the mood.

A warily rustling riff hits a big, austerely blues-tinged peak. fades and then rises through a terse interweave in Wisteria, the first of the string quartet pieces. Taonta, a five-part suite for solo piano, has an introduction that Kaila calls a sarabande, shifting from a coy scamper to an unexpected somberness. Hypnotic waves of belltones permeate the second part, Rosary. Xianwei: Tail-Biting Fish is an evocative portrait of floating and sudden dives. The chiming title segment is a bracing, artfully spacious blend of the trancelike and the acerbic. Kaila brings a return to spaciousness versus animation in the final segment, The Caudal Fin: it’s the tail end, get it?

Jouhet, a second string quartet piece, takes its name from an ancient Finnish lyre and was written to commemorate the centennial of that country’s republic. Kaila weaves a series of stark folk themes together, the biting textures of the viola and cello ceding to the clustering violins of Ariana Kim and Miho Saegusa. A subtly stairstepping passage that brings to mind early ELO backs away for a bit of a stately canon, whirling accents and then a darkly spinning dance. This is fascinatingly colorful music, and the quartet and their accomplices attack it with relish.

February 9, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment