Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Iconic Horror Film For the Ears

Here’s one of the alltime great horror movies for the ears. Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 4 in 1936, when he first earned the wrath of Josef Stalin for daring to create interesting and relevant music that didn’t glorify the genocidal Soviet regime.

Sound familiar?

Censorship and totalitarianism existed long before the lockdown, the needle of death, Facebook and Google. The Leningrad Symphony Orchestra was pressured not to premiere the symphony, which wouldn’t see the light of day until 1961. The composer reputedly called it his favorite.

As political satire, it’s one of the most withering pieces of music ever written. It’s a mashup of Stravinsky, Tschaikovsky, Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King and Schoenberg, but more venomously political than anything any of those composers ever wrote. There’s a spellbinding live recording by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, streaming at Spotify, that you should hear if you can handle savagely troubled music right now.

This particular album is taken from two concerts at the Barbican in November 2018. Noseda’s dynamics are vast and dramatic to the extreme, as they should be. Whether explosive, or shuddering with horror, or ruthlessly parodying Stalin’s campy pageantry, the orchestra are a force of nature.

The first movement comes in with a shriek, a pulsing post-Sacre du Printemps dance of death and all kinds of foreshadowing of how Shostakovich would expand on this kind of phantasmagoria, far more politically. All the strongman themes in Shostakovich’s symphonies, from the third on, are phony: he never lets a tyrant, whether Stalin or Krushchev, off the hook.

Coy cartoons suddenly appear livesize and lethal. This is a cautionary tale, the composer telling us not to take our eye off the ball, or else. A rite of the dead of winter, intertwined with terrified individual voices, rises to a vicious crescendo. The first of many references to Anitra’s Dance, the Grieg theme, appears. Concertmaster Roman Sinovic and bassoonist Rachel Gough become plaintive and persistent witnesses to history.

Movement two is nothing less than an indictment, a sometimes ghostly, pervasively anxious waltz wafting in and out, the ruthlessness of the regime baring its fangs to a terrorized citizenry. The concluding third movement begins too casual to be true, as the orchestra calmly allude to another macabre Russian classic, Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. The chase scene early on doesn’t have quite the horror of the KGB pursuit theme in Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, but it’s close.

The ensemble offer a twisted parody of a Germanic minuet as a spitball at the entitled Russian collaborator classes, Noseda getting maximum cynical gossipy fervor out of the strings. Stormtroopers gather and wreak havoc, the orchestra building a devastatingly phantasmagorical parody of Tschaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Clashes of ideologies, musical and otherwise, grow more combatively surreal. The seemingly ineluctable, gruesome march out doesn’t get to fade down without a series of accusatory ghosts.

As with all of Shostakovich, there are innumerable other details that could take up ten more pages to chronicle: buckle up for this carnival of dead souls. The London Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing series of live albums comprise some incredible performances and this might be the very best of recent years.

October 1, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.

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

Mike Neer’s Brilliant, Imaginative New Album Reinvents Jazz Classics for Lapsteel

Lapsteel player Mike Neer‘s previous album was a reinvention of Thelonious Monk classics. His latest album Keepin’ It Real – streaming at Bandcamp – is an absolutely brilliant, occasionally unsettling mix of material imaginatively arranged for what Neer calls a “faux Hawaiian trio” of steel, bass and ukulele, all of which he plays himself. Recorded during the lockdown, it also features cameos from an allstar cast.

It wouldn’t be overhype to compare the opening number, Duke Ellington’s African Flower, to Big Lazy. Neer’s steady ukulele in the beginning is a red herring: his ominously chromatic steel lead follows a  swinging quasi-bolero beat. It brings to mind a certain Brooklyn psychedelic cumbia band’s take on Erik Satie.

Nica’s Dream, a Horace Silver tune, shifts from hints of bossa nova to a jaunty swing, then clouds pass through the sonic picture, guest vibraphonist Tom Beckham adding a steady, latin-tinged solo over Neer’s uke flurries before he hits a deviously Monk-inflected steel solo.

Neer’s take of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance – has a jaunty, bubbling, riff-driven cheer and a series of dazzling, rapidfire Beckham solos. Melodica player Matt King adds a layer floating over Neer’s steel in their amiably pulsing bossa take of Pensativa.

An aptly furtive, stalking take of Stolen Moments features Anton Denner taking tensely bluesy flight on alto flute. West Coast Blues comes across as what could have been a Bob Wills demo, Neer contributing both a terse bass solo and a romping, irrepressible bop steel solo.

Will Bernard guests sparely, incisively, and subtly ferociously on guitar in the allusively modal, vamping Witch Hunt. Accordionist Ron Oswanski kicks off Peace with a lush intro, Neer adding warmly, sparely pastoral melody over a slow, trip-hop-like sway

Fun fact: before Neer became New York’s foremost jazz lapsteel player, he did some time as lead instrumentalist with Hawaiian swing stars the Moonlighters, an influence that obviously stuck.

June 20, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DWB: The Most Relevant, Hauntingly Evocative New Chamber Opera in Years

It’s hard to imagine a song cycle more apropos to our era than composer Susan Kander and soprano Roberta Gumbel’s chamber opera DWB (Driving While Black), streaming at Spotify. Gumbel’s lyrics draw on her own experiences and worries as the parent of a black adolescent who’s approaching driving age. Interspersed amid this mom’s reveries are real-life “bulletins” ranging from incidents of mundane everyday racism – Henry Louis Gates arrested for trying to enter his own home – to allusively macabre references to the murders of Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile.

Kander’s dynamic, sometimes kinetic, often haunting series of themes bring to mind Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock movie scores, Gumbel nimbly negotiating their dramatic twists and turns. With tense close harmonies and chiming arrangements, Messiaen and maybe George Crumb seem to be influences. The duo New Morse Code come across as a much larger ensemble: credit percussionist Michael Compitello, who plays a vast variety of instruments, most notably vibraphone and bells, alongside cellist Hannah Collins. Together they shift, often in the span of a few seconds, from a creepy, deep-space twinkle to a stalking, monstrous pulse and all-too-frequent evocations of gunfire.

What hits you right off the bat is that this narrator mom is smart. She frets about putting her infant in a backwards-facing car seat, because he won’t be able to see her, and she won’t be able to offer him a smile to comfort him. We get to watch him grow up: to Gumbel’s immense credit, there’s a lot of humor in the more familial moments, welcome relief from the relentless sinister outside world. The driver’s ed scene is particularly hilarious. Yet this doesn’t turn out to be a trouble-free childhood: Gumbel casts the kid as the son in a single-parent household, reflecting the reality that an inordinate percentage of people of color are forced to cope with.

Most of the numbers are over in less than a couple of minutes, a kaleidoscope of alternately fond and grisly images. A soaring, drifting lullaby, a slinky soul-tinged groove and a plaintive cello solo break up the furtive, often frantic sequences. One of the most chilling interludes involves not a police shooting but a near-miss. In a case of mistaken identity with a rare happy ending, the cops end up dumping the ex-suspect out of the police van in an unfamiliar part of town. He has to walk all the way home from there. Wait til you find out how old he is.

June 9, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting, Purposeful, Hypnotic New Trio Album From Pianist Dahveed Behroozi

Pianist Davheed Behroozi‘s new album Echos – streaming at Sunnyside Records – is a magically immersive, often haunting, stunningly improvisational suite of sorts. Behroozi likes to cast a stone and then minimalistically parse the ripples, joined by a sympatico rhythm section of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Billy Mintz. Interestingly, it’s Morgan – who’s done similarly brilliant work with Bill Frisell, especially – who pierces this nocturnal veil more often than not. Mintz flashes his plates for drizzle and snowstorm ambience more than he drives the music forward: rhythms here are tidal rather than torrential.

The trio open with Imagery, a broodingly drifting, subtly polyrhythmic, frequently rubato tone poem that draws obvious comparisons to Keith Jarrett and never strays far from a central mode. Yet the shifts in timbre, dynamics and the trio’s elastic use of space are stunning, all the more so for being so minute. The moment where Morgan steps back to get a Weegee angle on this shadowy tableau about midway through will take your breath away.

Track two, Chimes comes across as a more dizzyingly rhythmic variation on the same theme, like a waterwheel on an off-center axle, a perpetual-motion machine wavering but ultimately unstoppable. The band revisit the theme toward the end of the record with a more stern, lingering approach.

Gilroy (the California municipality which produces a major percentage of the world’s garlic, in case you weren’t aware) seems like an absolutely haunted place, if the album’s third track is to be taken at face value. Again, the triangulation between the trio’s minimalistic, emphatic rhythmic gestures is staggered just enough to raise the suspense factor. Behroozi brings up the lights a little with a bit of a churning drive and a few wry glissandos as Mintz mists the windows with his cymbals.

Mintz’s cymbal bell hits add coy mystique as Behroozi ventures little by little from a circling pattern in Alliteration: you could call it Tiny Steps. Then with Sendoff he completely fips the script, building a murkily raging stormscape, torrents from Morgan and Mintz finally breaking the stygian levee.

Royal Star is the album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous, mysterious number, Dark Side-era Pink Floyd done in 12/8 over Mintz’s steady brushwork, Morgan’s terse upward flickers in subtle contrast with the bandleader’s saturnine resonance.

Behroozi’s much more trad, bluesy-infused rivulets in Tricks come as a real shock: maybe this unexpectedly upbeat quasi-ballad is a pressure valve for all the meticulous focus of what’s been played up to here. The trio bring the record full circle with TDB (that’s their initials). a calmly minimalistic, benedictory coda. Play this with the lights out but not if you’re trying to drift off to sleep. And let’s hope it won’t be so long between albums for Behroozi next time out.

June 5, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Calm Transcendence, Gravitas and Haunting Film Noir Sonics on Wadada Leo Smith’s Latest Epic Triple-Disc Album

It’s hard to imagine another artist who has been as prolific and perennially relevant in his seventh decade as Wadada Leo Smith. His epic Civil Rights Era-themed 2013 triple-disc set Ten Freedom Summers is probably one of the hundred best albums ever made in any style of music.

Occupy Wall Street? Why not Occupy the World, as Smith suggested with a transcendently good orchestral album. He’s also saluted America’s National Parks, composed a rapt, oceanic Great Lakes suite, played huge amounts of solo Monk on trumpet, and now has a brand new triple-disc set of often darkly inspiring duo and trio recordings, Sacred Ceremonies, streaming at Spotify, It’s music to get completely lost in and will give you hope at a time when we really, really need it.

The sad undercurrent here is that we lost the iconic Milford Graves last year. In a crushing stroke of irony, it was a heart ailment that claimed the greatest cardiac medical pioneer to ever play the drums. Fortuitously, two of these discs feature Graves, the first in a duo with Smith, the other in a trio set with bassist Bill Laswell. In between, Smith and Laswell explore less friendly atmospheres.

Graves’ shamanic toms, oscillating cymbals and mystical rimwork back Smith’s characteristically spacious, terse lines on the opening disc’s five expansive tracks. Sometimes Graves’ boom is such that it’s as if he’s playing a tapan barrel drum from the Balkans. In what could have been a stroke of intuition on Smith’s part, he gives his bandmate centerstage much of the time, when he’s not channeling somber 19th century blues and gritty variations, mournful foghorn washes, austerely sailing lines punctuated by deft trills and clusters, and the occasional call of the wild.

The two slowly bring in a fond, mutedly suspenseful ballad, in just short of fifteen minutes, in the fourth track. As the two make their way upward, part of Graves’ kit sounds like a giant tabla from the great beyond. And his chugging, gnawa-like cymbals behind Smith’s coy Stevie Wonder paraphrases in the final duo number are a stunningly surreal touch.

The Smith/Laswell duos on disc two are 180 degrees from that, typically edging toward a Bob Belden post-Miles noir atmosphere, with a more defined low/high dichotomy and less interplay. To Laswell’s infinite credit, he chills – literally – in the background as Smith takes flight, frequently with a mute. Feeling some low pressure here, the trumpeter picks up the energy and the catchy riffage significantly. If you want to hear Wadada Leo Smith playing parts – well, a little bit – this is it. Laswell loves loves loves that flange pedal, or its digital equivalent, set to deep freeze, and sticks with it, sometimes in tandem with a wah, a loop box and an arsenal of light sabers. Smith’s utterly Lynchian chromatics over spare pedalpoint in Mysterious Night and then the concluding Minnie Riperton elegy are the highlights.

Smith’s spine-tingling flares and Graves’ churning, kaleidoscopic murk (who knew such an oxymoron could exist? He did) pair off over Laswell’s warp and wooze to open the third disc, essentially a reprise of the second disc with more of a dystopic drive. Smith holds the whole thing together, more or less, playing with a mute, a white-knuckle angst and a clenched-teeth smile as Graves motors along the stygian underground, Laswell’s robotically cold calculations piercing the veil now and again. Yet Smith’s saturnine solo intro to the fourth track here could be the most heartbreakingly beautiful moment on the whole record.

May 25, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting, Stunningly Individualistic, Exotic New Orchestral and Piano Works From Konstantia Gourzi

Anájikon, the new album from Konstantia Gourzi – streaming at Spotify – will blow your mind. Gourzi’s often haunting compositions bring to mind sounds from traditions as far-flung as her native Greece, Armenia, Iran and India as well as contemporary minimalism. The rhythms here are strong and prominent, with heavy use of percussion. There’s more of an emphasis on melody than harmony, and Gourzi’s tunes are rich with chromatics and implied melody. There’s a careening intensity to much of the orchestration.

Gourzi conducts the Lucerne Academy Orchestra in the achingly lush, often utterly Lynchian Two Angels in the White Garden. A dramatically dancing percussion riff – and a hint of Richard Strauss – punctuate the mournfully tolling and then enigmatically swirling, allusively chromatic interludes of the first part, Eviction. The rhythms are more muted in Exodus, the brooding swirl of the orchestra receding for a hauntingly minimalist piano theme anchored by ominous bass and flickers throughout the ensemble. Part three, Longing has a dense, stormy pulse, akin to Alan Hovhaness in a blustery moment. The orchestra rise from stillness over looming, pianissimo drums to a bit of a Respighi-ish dance and then contented atmospherics in the conclusion, The White Garden.

The Minguet Quartett – violinists Ulrich Isfort and Annette Reisinger, violist Tony Nys and cellist Matthias Diener – first contribute Gourzi’s String Quartet No. 3, The Angel in the Blue Garden. The first movement, The Blue Rose begins with an insistent, staccato violin pulse anchoring achingly beautiful, lyrical cello and then a similarly melancholic, modal, Armenian-tinged viola line; it ends surprisingly calmly. Movement two, The Blue Bird pairs spare, broodingly soaring cello against fluttery echoes from the rest of the quartet – anxious wings, maybe?

The Blue Moon: The Bright Side is more minimal and hypnotic, high strings shimmering and weaving an otherworldly melody over a persistent cello pedal figure. The muted mystery of Turning, which follows, is over too soon. The Dark Side begins with a circling, distantly Balkan-tinged dance, pizzicato cello and viola answering each other beneath plaintive lustre.

Violist Nils Mönkemeyer and pianist William Youn close the record with a stunningly and starkly lyrical performance of Gourzi’s Three Dialogues For Viola and Piano, the most vividly Hovahaness-esque work here. Part one has variations on an allusive, poignant melody descending over simple, alternately lingering and insistently rhythmic piano accents. A catchy, circling bell-like interweave persists and finally rises in part two. Part three is at first shivery and otherworldly, then Youn runs a rippling riff beneath Mönkemeyer’s austerely looping, sailing lines. If this is your introduction to this brilliant and fascinatingly original composer, you are in for a treat: this might be the best album of the year so far.

May 19, 2021 Posted by | classical music, gypsy music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Revealing New Take on an Iconically Scary Suite From Patricia Kopatchinskaja

As a student, Patricia Kopatchinskaja fell in love with Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. But she didn’t stop with the music: “All my life I have felt that I was Pierrot,” she reveals.

Scary admission. Now we know why she would seize the opportunity to be the macabre Michael Hersch’s go-to violinist. For fans of Schoenberg’s iconic portrait of mad obsession (and staple of horror movie scores), Kopatchinskaja has recorded the suite on her new album, streaming at Spotify. It’s truly a dream (or nightmare) come true for her, since she doubles as both violinist and vocalist.

And she revels in it. The way her voice matches that fleeting glissando early in the opening miniature attests to how deeply she dives into the rest of it. Having seen the great Lucy Shelton gleefully tackle these pieces more than once, it’s fair to say that Kopatchinskaja’s approach just as fearlessly entertaining, and surprisingly nuanced. Shelton would really dig in and try to half-sing Albert Giraud’s texts. Kopatchinskaja is more of an otherworldly narrator sprite.

Pianist Joonas Ahonen and the rest of an inspired ensemble join her in giving a stately strut to Colombine, providing sotto-voce, cynical cheer in Der Dandy, flitting mystery in Ein blasse Wascherin, a moody stroll for Madonna, and a distant moroseness to Der kranke Mond. Beyond just those highlights, the attention to detail throughout the twenty-one short segments is spectacular, from film noir furtiveness to deep-space gloom, unexpectedly restrained phantasmagoria and flickers of sardonic humor.

There are a handful of other pieces on the record. Webern’s Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, op.7 drift sepulchrally and offer stygian mystery alongside puckish cheer. Kopatchinskaja and Ahonen bounce slyly through Fritz Kreisler’s Miniature Viennese and its ersatz Romany riffage.

To close the album, Ahonen parses Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces op.19 for moody acidity, lingering unease and peek-a-boo humor. The inclusion of Schoenberg’s pointless arrangement of Johann Strauss’s schlocky Emperor Waltz makes an awful segue out of Pierrot Lunaire: punk classical this is not. Going straight to Schoenberg’s Phantasy For Violin and Piano, op.47, which Kopatchinskaja and Ahonen play colorfully and acerbically afterward, would have been perfect.

April 27, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last-Ever Orchestral Album Made in the UK?

What a creepy coincidence that two of the most harrowing British orchestral works ever written would be recorded on two of the nation’s most fateful dates in recent history. December 12, 2019 was election day. It’s impossible to imagine that anyone involved with the London Symphony Orchestra had any idea of the horrors that would take place the following year, but there’s a bristling intensity, a sense of dread and desperation in their performance of Vaughan Williams’ 1935 Symphony No. 4 at the Barbican that night.

Antonio Pappano also led the orchestra through Vaughan Williams’ much differently dark Symphony No. 6 there on March 15 of last year, the final day of freedom in that country. To date, this chilling, riveting performance – streaming at Spotify – is the last live orchestral album ever recorded in the United Kingdom. Some rock bands have recorded clandestinely since then, but it’s hard to imagine that a full orchestra could pull off such a feat. And this isn’t just a powerful, insightful interpretation of two iconic works: these performances will rip your face off.

There’s a franticness to the introduction of the first movement of Symphony No. 4, leaving no doubt that the gusting pulses afterward do not bode well. The brass is particularly strong here, enhancing the effect, especially as the chromatics grow more macabre. By contrast, the lull afterward seems more conspiratorial – or more enigmatically suspenseful – by comparison to most recordings (the BBC Symphony under Martyn Brabbins also put out a noteworthy, grimly colorful recording of this last year).

Pappano’s dynamics are just as rich in the second movement, from the initial stalker bassline, to methodically pulsing portents, the morose flute theme overhead. a crashing coda and then the lustrously sweeping yet relentless unease afterward. The leaps and bounds of the third movement become more of a chase scene than danse macabre, notwithstanding a momentary cheery, Tschaikovskian interlude. Brisk as this may be, all hands are on deck and primed for battle.

Likewise, the faux-martial bombast of the fourth is downright Shostakovian, which becomes even more striking considering how low Pappano brings the lights down for the deep-space reverie midway through. Few ensembles allow themselves to channel the kind of sheer terror this orchestra does at the end. To call this music prophetic is an understatement: where so much of the world was oblivious, Ralph Vaughan Williams obviously had his eye on the ball.

Where Symphony No. 4 is a prelude, No. 6 is a dystopic postlude, composed in 1947. The opening movement’s series of crashing collapses – the ultimate epic fail, and possibly a Battle of Britain portrait – give way to a witheringly cynical, bounding, vaudevillian theme that follows, Pappano reaching for fullscale phantasmagoria. This could be Hitler, or someone closer to home. The aching, bittersweet longing that emerges immediately afterward will break your heart. When are we going to get back to normal, he asks. Will we ever get back to normal?

Movement two strongly echoes both the stalking menace of Symphony No. 4’s second movement and the vastness of the third, along with a bit of famously bellicose Tschaikovsky. Is this the composer trying to remind us that we’d better remember our history so as not to repeat it?

What’s with that tenor sax weaving in and out of the third movement’s mashup of the work’s initial bustle and striding cynicism? Pillorying postwar optimism, or for that matter any kind of optimism, it would seem: Hitler may have been toast, but the Soviet Union was as much a horror as ever and the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal campaigns would soon be underway. Like the third movement of Symphony No. 4, this is on the fast side, but the impact is unescapable.

As is the utterly eerie, funereal hush throughout the fourth movement: Vaughan Williams slows down his signature interweave so we can watch the gears’ fateful motion up close this time, and Pappano has the orchestra locking in their long-range sights. An oboe solo channels longing and disappointment; the shivers from the strings go on and on and bring a chill that never lifts. You could call this a musical counterpart to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins.

The London Symphony Orchestra have released a ton of live recordings since the lockdown, and most of them have been fantastic. One suspects that they have many more lined up on the runway, but so far this is the very best of them all. In fact, this may be the best album of 2021 in any style of music.

April 16, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura Keep Hope Alive With a Visionary, Otherworldly Album

What do musicians do when their careers, and their sources of income, have been stolen from them by the lockdowners? Pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura came to the point where the only option was to turn their Tokyo home into a recording studio..and started putting out one amazing album after another. Their latest, Keshin, is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a gorgeous and erudite record, packed with humor and horror, and a resolute determination. It’s transcendent in the purest sense: this is clearly what these two road warriors are doing to stay sane. Fujii and Tamura most likely do not see themselves as heroes, but there’s genuine heroism in their music: running the gamut of possible emotional reactions, they offer incredibly inspiring perseverance and hope at this pivotal moment in history.

They might also be doing this because they sense that the forces of sanity and compassion are going to win this battle. As the ugly statistics continue to pour in from Europe – thousands dead, hundreds of thousands maimed – the needle of death is dead in the water. Someday soon, we’ll be able to listen to this album both as portent and celebration, as dark as it may sound now.

The first track, Busy Day, starts out ridiculously funny: it’s not fair to give the joke away. The bustle from there never stops: very precise, very tongue-in-cheek harmonies, Fujii getting sick of the whole thing and thinking again and again of smashing it to bits, Tamura delivering a handful of withering, machinegunning, goosebump-inducing solos. He’s the Japanese Peter Evans…or, Peter Evans is the American Natsuki Tamura.

Track two, Donten has Tamura playing variations on a catchy, easygoing theme as Fujii lingers in the ominous lows and eventually cedes centerstage completely. She returns with spare, guarded minimalism as Tamura refuses to relent, then goes deep into the cave, as she’s been doing lately, cascading and quietly lamenting: when is this madness going to end? The shivering low-high contrasts afterward are as haunting as anything released this year.

Fujii opens Dreamer as a solo, icily Messiaenic lockstep pavane: subtext, anybody? Tanura’s shininess overhead dovetails perfectly. Three Scenes is surreal to the extreme: Tamura begins with rubbery bubble-rubbing squeaks against Fujii’s chilly, emphatic chords and then reaches for the sky as she parses creepy chromatics and an offhandedly hellish bell choir. The reprise of the sotto-voce stroll from the previous number isn’t lost here, although it seems like more of a real victory this time.

The two maintain the horrorstricken/calmly indomitable dichotomy in the album’s title track: it’s the great lost next-to-last segment from the Quartet For the End of Time, at least until Fujii gets all the nervous tension out of her system and brings back the carillonesque solemnity.

The dichotomy between intense piano agitation and determined, optimistic trumpet is less severe, more minimalistically auspicous in the next-to-last number, Drop, although Tamura’s signal for a flamencoish theme soon reaches incendiary heights. Husband and wife close yet another brilliant album with Sparrow Dance, a shadow version of the playful opening track: trouble is still afoot in this twisted space, and it can strike anywhere, particularly as Fujii develops a macabre vortex. She has two other albums out recently which are contenders for best record of 2021 and this m

April 10, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment