Lucid Culture


James Ilgenfritz Makes a Troubling, Acidically Relevant Operatic Suite Out of a William Burroughs-Classic

In keeping with this month’s epic theme, today’s album is bassist James Ilgenfritz’s musical interpretation of William Burroughs’ cult classic novel The Ticket That Exploded, an “ongoing opera” streaming at Bandcamp. A collaboration with video artist Jason Ponce – who also contributes to the sound mix – it features Anagram Ensemble playing a mashup of surreal, often dadaistic free jazz and indie classical sounds. The text is delivered both as spoken word and by a rotating cast of singers including Nick Hallett, Ted Hearne, Ryan Opperman, Anne Rhodes and Megan Schubert. Burroughs’novel can be maddeningly dissociative, although in its more accessible moments it’s witheringly aphoristic, and often uproariously funny. That sense of humor does not often translate to the music here: it’s usually serious as death and relentlessly acidic. Most of it seems improvised, although that could be Ilgenfritz, a fixture of the New York creative jazz scene prior to the lockdown, toying with the audience.

With his weathered New York accent, Steve Dalachinsky – who knew Burroughs – was a good choice of narrator. In its best moments, this is classic jazz poetry. “It’s the old army thing: get dicked firstest with the brownest nose,” Nick Hallett muses about midway through. Sound familiar?

“If I had a talking picture of you, would I still read you?” Dalachinsky ponders a little later. Again, Burroughs is being prophetic: remember, this was written in the 1960s. An astringent guitar duel – Ty Citerman and Taylor Levine – pushes him out of the picture, only to be eclipsed by an almost shockingly calm moment from the string section at the end. That’s characteristic of how this unfolds.

After a rather skeletal opening number, the two women’s voices reach crushingly screaming and tumbling peaks, contrasting with a persistently offkilter minimalism. Many of the most ominous moments here pair the strings – Julianne Carney on violin and Nathan Bontrager on cello – with Denman Maroney’s eerie piano tinkles.

Ted Hearne gets the plum assignment of introducing the cast of characters in the Nova Mob which several generations of writers and punk rockers would reference in the decades that followed. The brass and strings drift and rustle uneasily, occasionally coalescing for unexpected pockets of clarity or a rare vaudevillian interlude. Percussionists Andrew Drury, John O’Brien and Vinnie Sperazza squirrel around, sparely, on anything that can be wacked.

Dichotomies – man versus machine, the sacred versus the very sacreligious, reason versus unbridled lust, reality versus hallucination – abound, both lyrically and musically. As challenging a listen as this is, in an age where surveillance is becoming a more and more omnipresent threat, it’s also timely:

Why don’t we shut this machine off?
I had all the answers a thousand years ago…
All we had to do is shut the thing off
Soundtrack calls the image police?
Shut off the soundtrack!

January 20, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dark and Stormy Night at the Tank

In their debut performance Thursday night at the Tank, Dark and Stormy revealed not only the amazing amount of nuance, but also the raw power that two badass bassoonists can deliver. It’s not clear which one is Dark and which is Stormy, Adrian Morejon or Rebekah Heller – or if they’re only Dark and Stormy when they’re together – but it definitely was an exciting night, affirmed by the roar of the audience at the end of the show, clearly hoping for an encore. “As far as the repertoire for two bassoons, this is pretty much it,” laughed Heller.

It was a feast of low tonalities. They opened with a playfully brief Stravinsky fragment, unpublished during his lifetime. Then they brought the intensity up with Louis Andriessen’s eerily dreamy Lacrimosa for Two Bassoons, beginning with meticulously shifting microtones, building to stately, shifting textures based on a series of memorably minimalist little walks down the scale. Heller shadowed Morejon for awhile, while he got to toss off a couple of unexpected flourishes, building to a crescendo that signaled a return of the minute pitch modulations of the earlier part of the piece.

The next work was Francisco Mignone’s Sonata Para 2 Fagotes. Through its three movements, Heller and Morejon paired off on its baroque-tinged introduction as it built momentum with some perfectly synched glissandos and then a droll conclusion. The second movement was surprisingly dark and austere, melody versus long, suspensefully sustained notes; the third was peppy and pretty comedic in places, a showcase for the duo’s goodnatured, energetic attack (both played standing up, swaying in time, throughout the show). They followed with the premiere of a Nicholas deMaison work possibly titled A Field of 46 Fissures. Beginning cyclical and micotonal, Morejon leading Heller, it grew faster and blippier, took a grave downturn before a smooth-versus-screechy interlude that managed to be both ominous and playful at the same time.

The show closed with a duo sonata by Sofia Gubaidulina, who as Heller explained has probably written more for the bassoon than any other living composer. Once again layering a tune over a low sustained note, working brooding chromatic territory for maximum suspense, Heller eventually took over agitatedly as Morejon maintained his calm until that was no longer possible. From there it was back to mysterioso – and then the two reversed roles. Since this seems to be pretty much everything that exists for bassoon duo, these two need more material. Who’s up to the challenge? Missy Mazzoli, Mohammed Fairouz, Ana Milosavljevic? Time to get busy!

May 2, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment