Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The NYFA Collection – Best Album of 2010?

The new NYFA Collection, just out on Innova, aims to be the Rosetta Stone of cutting-edge new music in New York, a goal that may be as impossible to achieve as it is admirable to shoot for. But by any standard, this massive five-cd set is extraordinary, a genuine classic. It’s the new music equivalent of the Harry Smith albums. In over six hours of recordings, 52 composers are represented, most of them not more than once, the well-known outnumbered by those who deserve to be. Stylistically, it runs the gamut: vocal, chamber and large-scale works, the avant garde alongside the Romantic. Very impressively, the compilation does not ignore jazz – there’s a whole cd’s worth, and it’s choice. On the other hand, rock is represented only once, and maybe just as well, because the lone rock/pop song here is a dud. Nor is there a lot that falls into a non-western tradition, nor any hip-hop at all. But any perceived shortcomings are literally dwarfed by the collection’s strengths: it’s a brain-warping, provocative feast for the ears, a triumph of smart curating and reason for absolute optimism for this generation’s composers. Not everything here is genius, but a lot of it is.

The premise of the collection is new(er) works by composers who’ve been on the receiving end of NYFA music fellowships since the grants were established in 1983 (talk about taxpayer money put to good use!). CD one is has an emphasis on percussion, and various flutes feature prominently. It’s the most hypnotic, and best-suited one for sleeping or thinking about it. The second emphasizes slightly larger-scale pieces; the third is jazz, the fourth wins hands-down for scary intensity, and the fifth is mostly large ensembles. Although this is all over the map stylistically, the compilers have very cleverly juxtaposed similar works as sort of mini-suites, to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to tell when one ends and another begins.

The collection opens with a playfully warped, percussive waltz by Annie Gosfield. The rest of the cd includes a gamelanesque miniature by David van Tieghem; gamelan interludes on the factory floor by Joseph Bertolozzi; a shakuhachi tone poem by Bruce Germo; ambience versus bustle assembled by Lukas Ligeti; a mystery movie in space for theremin by Jed Chadabe; and an acidically crescendoing chamber-metal piece by Iconoclast.

The highlight of cd two is a work for solo faucet by Eric John Eigner. It’s pretty amazing – who knew how many eerie textures a simple plumbing fixture could create, whether bowed like a cello, used as percussion or for the groan of the pipes as the water runs? Other points of interest here include pianist Anthony de Mare’s elegant arrangement of Meredith Monk’s Urban March; a John Morton music box piece deftly processed to mimic a gamelan; a brooding, tangoish string duo by Monteith McCollum; Daniel Goode’s Tuba Thrush, done by Flexible Orchestra with effectively jarring switches between warm Romanticism and boisterously playful noise; and a texturally ingenious version of an apprehensive Annea Lockwood piano piece played both on and inside the piano by Sarah Cahill.

Diverse jazz styles, both traditional and modern, are represented on cd three: a revolutionary suite by Fred Ho and ensemble dedicated to the survivors of the Golden Venture immigrant smuggling ship; a brief and very funny foghorn piece called Blob, by Robust Bog; a balmy yet boisterous ballad by Rudresh Mahanthappa; a brightly lyrical romp by Laura Kahle featuring Jeff “Tain” Watts, JD Allen and Yosvany Terry; a wistful, carillonesque piano work by Angela Read Thomas played by Nicola Melville; a jaggedly funky late 60s style small combo piece by Howard Prince featuring the late John Stubblefield; and a bracing New Orleans second line drum solo by Newman Taylor Baker.

CD four is a feast of ominous melodies, motifs and tonalities. Andy Tierstein conducts the Interschools String Orchestra of NY in a horror movie soundtrack for boys’ voices and strings, then Bora Yoon evinces some deliciously creepy sounds out of singing bowls in a performance recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Mary Jane Leach’s Night Blossoms, performed a-cappella by Eileen Clark, Karen Goldfeder, Gregory Davidson and Jared Stamm offers distantly operatic, sarcastic menace. The highlight of the entire collection is the University of Wisconsin River Falls Concert Choir and Percussion Quartet’s sepulchrally disembodied, absolutely macabre performance of Pauline Oliveros’ Sound Pattern and Tropes for mixed chorus and percussion, a feeling echoed with slightly less intensity by the chamber choir Volti’s eerily shifting version of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Ecstatic Meditation. With a nod to David Gilmour, guitarist Joel Harrison virtuosically evokes a wrenching anguish in a duet with percussionist Paul Motian plus string quartet. There are also a couple of vivid nocturnes, a rich, chromatically charged one by Judith Sainte Croix played by Oren Fader on guitar plus Andrew Bolotowsky on flute, plus an absolutely beautiful one by Ray Leslee played by Ashley Horne on violin and Barbara Bilach on piano, a black-and-white early 30s sound movie.

The final cd reaches majestic, epic proportions. Raphael Mostel’s Night and Dawn effectively signals a bad summer day about to begin. Far more aggressive than Erik Satie, George Tsontakis’s own Gymnopedies range from bubbly, Bernard Herrmann-esque tension to Debussy-style austerity. Randall Woolf’s Romantically-tinged Franz Schubert is less homage than cleverly rhythmic, circular mood piece; Jay Anthony Gach’s concerto La Vita Autumnale offers darkly dramatic Rachmaninovian ripples and intensity, followed by Peter Golub’s aptly titled, tense Less Than a Week before Xmas featuring choir and orchestra. The collection winds up with the astringent circularity of The Gathering, from Neil Rolnick’s Extended Family suite; the uneasy atmospherics of Lisa Bielawa’s Trojan Women, and Joan Tower’s towering, magnificent Tambor, ablaze with thundering, ominously portentous percussion. There are literally dozens of other artists here who at this moment in time may be somewhat less known, but whose work is no less important or captivating. Thankfully, this collection represents them. It wouldn’t be a difficult choice for best album of 2010: check back with us in about a month and see where it ends up on our list.

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November 17, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch – Genderful

Little Annie AKA Annie Bandez embodies the definition of a cult artist. She’s been called “the white Eartha Kitt” and she does highly sought-after, colorfully trippy Frida Kahlo-influenced paintings. Something of a legend in New York’s underground music scene, she’s best known as a torchy noir cabaret singer whose smoky contralto and hilariously free-associative live shows have earned her an avid worldwide following, notably in Europe. She’s been making records since the 80s when she collaborated with everyone from famous dub producer Adrian Sherwood to ambient goth band This Mortal Coil. There’s nobody in the world better at September songs than Little Annie. This cd, her second collaboration with Botanica’s extraordinary keyboardist Paul Wallfisch is infused with characteristically dadaesque wit and a rich lyricism, and more luxuriant than her stage show. The duo used their the studio time to create a considerably lush, chamber-pop ambience, judiciously adding strings and brass in places along with frequently otherworldly layers of keyboards. It’s the best album of Annie’s shapeshifting career, and one of the best of this year.

The offhand classic here is Cutesy Bootsies, a savagely satirical anti-trendoid broadside set to a jaunty ragtime tune:

We do not read the papers because they are depressing
And they’re full of words we do not understand …
We’re not so much as boring, more like bland
And when we’re not spending money we’re running off to yoga

Talking loudly on our cellphones making plans…
Don’t hate us because we’re stunning, just because we’ve got you running
And your homes will now be ours to renovate
And it’s like it never happened, no tears will be shedding
As you’re quietly evicted to your fate

We’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island
Oh what the hell we’ll take Brooklyn too…
We squeal because we’re witty and we’re conquering your city
And we shake our Bootsy Collins in the sand

The elegaic feel rises to a crescendo on several of the songs, even as they’re imbued with a very dark humor. Set to a Wallfisch trip-hop guitar groove, Billy Martin Requiem eulogizes a better New York time and place where the Yankees won even as the Bronx burned, the boys partied along the Chelsea Piers like it would never end, and a star like Sylvester could be discovered riding the subway in his feathers and boa. Echoing with eerie Omnichord synthesizer, Tomorrow Will Be riffs on what we have to look forward to, whether it be t-cells going through the roof…or permanent summer, with no shade. The most intense of all of these, Because You’re Gone pulses with understated anguish on waves of austere strings, trumpet entering mournfully on the last verse. And the stately, soul-infused Carried Away memorializes someone who reached for the bottle instead of the stars.

The rest of the album is often devastatingly funny. Zexy Zen Zage, a live showstopper, comments on new age charlatanism (Annie can spot one a mile away – she’s also a minister). In the Bar Womb is all torchy wee-hours ambience through a bemused cabernet squint. And The God Song thanks a higher power for being “Teddy Pendergrass on a Friday night!” The cd is already out in Europe; the duo celebrate its US release at the Big Small Beast at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk St. on the LES this Friday, May 21 – the show starts at 6:30 with an hour of free beer beginning at 7; Annie and Paul will probably hit the stage at around eight. But you should show up for the whole night.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/7/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #477:

The Secrets – How to Be Good

A legend in the making: dark New York rock at its purest and catchiest, a downcast, fatalistic anthem built around an irresistible minor-key hook, frontman Brian Stabile chronicling the story of a guy who somewhat defiantly refuses to resist temptation. True to their name, the band rarely played out and didn’t leave much in the way of recordings other than this track from the just-released, gloriously good NYC underground rock compilation titled Beefstock Recipes. It’s also on their myspace along with more intriguingly good stuff.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Hilly Kristal, 1931-2007

Right place, right time. A hippie who worked as a mover and then as booking agent for the Village Vanguard jazz club, Kristal opened his bar in what was then no man’s land, the lower Bowery, in 1970. He changed the name to CBGB/OMFUG in 1973. CBGB stood for Country and Bluegrass Bar: OMFUG stood for Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers (the word gourmandizer was apparently a stoner invention of his: it’s supposed to mean connoisseur). The Ramones stumbled upon the place a year later because their drummer Tommy was (and still is) a bluegrass fan. And the rest is history.

In typical New York club owner fashion, Kristal did nothing to promote the scene that sprang up there: it was a spontaneous, underground, word-of-mouth thing and he left it at that. Never particularly ambitious, Kristal let the bands who played there spread the word. Lest any of you oldtimers out there try to romanticize things, the CBGB scene, even in its prime, wasn’t much better than the music scene in New York in the present day, such that it is. Bands didn’t play CBGB because they wanted to: they played there because they couldn’t get a gig at Hurrah’s, or Gildersleeves, or Max’s. Most of the CBs acts were pariahs in the more mainstream clubs because in the late 70s and early 80s, most New York bands sounded pretty much like New Jersey or Long Island bands: everybody wanted to be Aerosmith. As Bob Gruen recounted in the documentary NYC 77, the CBGB clientele was basically just musicians coming out to see their musician friends. Your typical NY music fan didn’t go there because most of the bands who played there weren’t that popular and the club was in a scuzzy neighborhood.

As punk gained popularity, so did CBs and Kristal. A brief stab at starting a record label was a failure; however, the development of hardcore proved a boon to the club and its owner, whose Sunday afternoon hardcore matinees brought in thousands of underage kids from the suburbs to beat each other bloody, drink and puke. This was in the days before Rudy Mussolini.

In the late 80s, booking was taken over by the members of Prong, an atrocious heavy metal trio, and the acts playing the place predictably followed in that direction. As usual, Kristal remained a hands-off owner. His greatest achievement was to open CB’s 313 Gallery in 1992, which quickly became the place for acoustic music in New York: the sound and most of the acts who played there were consistently good, and for awhile the place even served pizza (the pizza ovens were still there when it closed last year). Meanwhile, the main venue went into decline, to the point where in the last couple of years before it closed, they were booking cover bands from New Jersey for Saturday night shows. The Gallery somehow managed to remain a first-class venue until perhaps the final two years.

Kristal was a shy, retiring person who let others take advantage of him: relatives meddled in his affairs, employees stole from him and it was only the licensing of the CBGB clothing line that made him a millionaire. In the battle that saw the venue finally lose its lease, he testified that for a time, it had been difficult to make the rent and there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t telling the truth. His greatest achievement? That he was there, openminded enough to let good things happen (he was a hippie, after all) and didn’t get in the way.

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments