Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Playful, Entertaining, Dynamic New Album of Genre-Busting String Music From the PubliQuartet

You could debate whether the PubliQuartet’s latest album What Is American – streaming at Bandcamp – is punk classical, or the avant garde, or string jazz, or oldtimey string band music. You’d be right on all counts. The foursome of violinists Curtis Stewart and Nick Revel, violist Jannina Norpoth and cellist Hamilton Berry have a great time reinventing an iconic classical quartet, a couple of famous jazz numbers, and unveil a handful of world premieres that defy category. The central theme is exploring the many threads that make up what we might call American music. While it’s a lot of fun and eclectic to the extreme, the group also don’t shy away from themes of segregation or discrimination: again, highly relevant in the wake of the March 2020 global takeover attempt.

The group intersperse their own miniatures in between several of the pieces, taking turns narrating an Oliver Wendell Holmes text. “Down, down with the traitor” – powerful words for 2023!

The first work on the album is improvisations on Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, No. 12, Op. 96. Movement one sets the stage: this is punk classical. spiked with slashes, slow drifting tones and percussive extended technique within a straightforward proto-Gershwin march. While the group blend several unembellished themes from the original, their reinterpretation is more brief.

They put a lively pizzicato swing beat to the lento second movement, when they’re not adding flitting, ghostly harmonics to the rustic oldtime gospel theme. Interestingly, the molto vivace third movement is a lot more circumspect and spacious in places. The quartet punch in hard with a march on the final movement, then back away with a hazy, contrapuntal chorale over loopy, jagged harmonics: if they recorded this live, it’s all the more impressive how they handled this polyrhythmic maze.

The ensemble build Rhiannon Giddens‘ At the Purchaser’s Option from stark oldtime blues-flavored trip-hop to a mighty anthem. Likewise, they turn Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose into shivery indie classical and jaunty ragtime, with a voiceover by A’Lelia Bundles. In a diptych of Ornette Coleman’s Law Years, they veer from anthemic intensity to flickering disquiet and jaggedly dissociative blues.

The opening movement of the world premiere of Vijay Iyer‘s relatively brief string quartet Dig the Say is Carry the Ball. a jauntily swaying, riffy theme over hypnotic, rhythmic pedalpoint. The second movement, This Thing Together is equally hypnotic, but in a hazily drifting way. Movement three, Up From the Ground is bouncy and has handclaps; the final movement, To Live Tomorrow wraps it up with a jaggedly opaque edge. Iyer’s milieu may be jazz, and a lot more expansive than this, but this is a triumph of tight, genre-resistant tunesmithing.

Another world premiere, Roscoe Mitchell’s CARDS 11-11-2020 is the most ambient, minimalist and astringent work here, punctuated by echo effects and plucky pizzicato before an unexpectedly lively, acerbic coda.

The ensemble wind up the record with a medley of four covers from the worlds of soul and blues. They reinvent Tina Turner’s Black Coffee as a quasi-spiritual in 6/8 time, then bring a biting blues edge and slithery extended technique to They Say I’m Different, by Betty Davis. The driftiest, most sepulchral piece here is Alice Coltrane’s Er Ra, although the group can’t resist rising with a triumphant if whispery lattice of harmonics. They close by digging triumphantly into a determinedly swinging take of Ida Cox’s Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.

The PubliQuartet don’t have any New York gigs coming up, but Giddens is playing an intriguing show on Jan 12 at 7 PM at the Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she’s joined by pianist Howard Watkins and a cast of singers in a salute to the thirty thousand slaves who escaped captivity prior to the Civil War. You can get in for $35.

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January 6, 2023 Posted by | avant garde music, blues music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting One of the Funnest Albums Released by a Big Band in Recent Years

One of the funniest, most individualistically lavish albums ever to be featured on this page is Josh Green & the Cyborg Orchestra’s Telepathy & Bop, streaming at Spotify. The album cover image says a lot: a cartoon cyclops bounding down the subway stairs at 14th St. and 6th Ave., just as the doors on the L train are closing.

Just to be clear, this isn’t electronic music. Green’s compositions are totally organic, wildly picturesque and often irresistibly cartoonish. Brian Carpenter‘s many surreal rediscoveries from the 1930s and 1940s are a good point of comparison; Juan Esquivel’s most adventurous largescale works also come to mind. Green is a brilliant musical surrealist: all options seem to be on the table as these unpredictable and counterintuitive sonic narratives unfold.

The seventeen-piece group open the Basquiat-inspired first track, Boy & Dog in a Jonnypump with a big, brassy splash and then a wry, staggered cha-cha; Green very subtly builds tiptoeing but pillowy suspense, up to a long, gritty, Balkan-tinged Sungwon Kim guitar solo. Accordionist Nathan Koci takes over as everybody but the rhythm section drops out, then Green brings back the string section – that’s the PUBLIQuartet with violinists Curtis Stewart and Jannina Norpoth, violist Nick Revel and Amanda Gookin bolstered by violist Nathan Schram and cellist Clarice Jenson. As the orchestra punch in and out, Kim goes shredding again. By ten minutes in, Todd Groves has wrapped up his cheery flute solo and the strings do A Day in the Life. They would really love to turn you on.

Green conjures a busy tv studio setting, individual voices bustling and skulking down the hallway in The Lauer Faceplant, based on a real-life head-on collision with a tv personality who was enjoying his fifteen minutes at the time. A gruff sax solo (that’s either Groves or Charles Pillow) leads to the moment of impact, which leaves the orchestra reeling, echo phrases bounding back and forth. A balletesque flute theme gives way to trombonist Chris Misch-Bloxdorf’s return to tongue-in-cheek gruffness. Are we having fun yet?

The album’s title track is a triptych. The first part is a mashup of a woozily sirening cartoon tableau, Georgyi Ligeti somberness and a sideshow shooting gallery of individual voices, dat wabbit thumbing his nose at Elmer Fudd. Green brings back an expansion of an earlier Indian-flavored sax riff for the acidically resonant, fleetingly brief part two. The group tiptoe and pounce up to caffeinated clarinet and sax solos, the latter a duet with drummer Josh Bailey and a reprise of an earlier theme that’s too good to give away. Telepathic? Maybe. Bop? No question.

The gorgeously epic centerpiece here is La Victoire, inspired by Magritte’s famous cloud floating through a disembodied door. A wistful accordion theme quickly sinks in lush, nocturnal ambience, a jaunty sax solo leading the group upward as Michael Verselli’s piano adds incisive gleam amid the warmly inviting wash of sound. A dip to folksy contentment with the accordion quickly grows more luminous, sax leading the vividly triumphant upward drive: it’s Maria Schneider-worthy music.

Verselli introduces the distantly haunting, Ligeti-esque Nebula with a similarly glistening, eerily modal solo, drifting into deep-space minimalism and then icy contrasts. With individual voices shifting through a Darcy James Argue-esque staccato theme, the humor in Reverie Engine: The Ambiguous Rhumba is more distant, at least until a ridiculous synth solo. The album’s closing cut, Soir Bleu – A Rag of Sorts draws on a surreal Edward Hopper image of a clown in a Parisian cafe. After a flicker of Django Reinhardt, the group work a pulse and a theme that grow more carnivalesque, Koci’s ambiguous solo enhancing the unease. With the strings edging into the macabre and Verselli’s noir cabaret solo, it’s by far the album’s darkest number. Nobody in this band is ever going to forget playing on this record: the rest of a very inspired cast includes clarinetist Jay Hassler, trumpeter John Lake and bassist Brian Courage.

So where the hell was this blog the night the band played the album release show at National Sawdust in the spring of 2017? At Barbes – big surprise, considering the New York music scene that year. Rest assured, there will be a music scene in this city again…and let’s hope Green has another album ready to go by then. How long it takes this city to be open to that eventuality is really up to us.

January 31, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment