Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Roberto Prosseda Brings Rare Morricone Solo Piano Music to Life

Ennio Morricone is best remembered for his film scores, notably his Sergio Leone spaghetti western soundtracks, where he built the foundation for what would become known as the southwestern gothic genre. Although Morricone was a pianist, he didn’t write a lot of solo piano music, and much of that material remains obscure. On his latest album, pianist Roberto Prosseda has unearthed some of those works along with some better-known title themes, courageously recorded in Sacile, Italy last spring and streaming at Spotify.

He opens with a starry, spare, neoromantic miniature, The Legend of 1900 theme and closes with the jarringly polyrhythmic modernism of the conclusion of the Four Studies For Pedal Piano. In between, Prosseda has grimly precise fun with the carnivalesque, Lynchian strut of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion: the way Morricone shifts the melody from righthand to left is a typically artful move. It’s fascinating to hear how the composer hides a border-rock melody just beneath the surface of Love Circle, and somewhat deeper in The Tartar Desert.

Prosseda brings a spacious, bittersweet rapture to the Cinema Paradiso theme and a striking dynamic range to the broodingly immersive, Satie-esque minimalism of the First Study For Piano and then the steadier White Dog.

Other works on the program here include the saturnine, rather wistful The Two Stages of Life; the Second Study for Piano, where Prosseda works a startling-versus-calm dichotomy; and the absolutely gorgeous Angels of Power, shifting between a love theme and a moody, baroque-tinged melody.

There’s also a bounding invention, a boldly crescendoing processional, and an altered canon that bring to mind the work of Vincent Persichetti. Morricone was a lyrical composer and excelled at capturing a vast expanse of moods. Doctrinaire Second Viennese School atonality was not his thing.

December 26, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magically Diverse Solo Harp Improvisations From Jacqueline Kerrod

Jacqueline Kerrod was Robert Paterson’s not-so-secret weapon on his lusciously noir album Star Crossing, and also his contrastingly sparkling Book of Goddesses. But she’s probably better known for her time as the New York City Opera’s principal harpist…and for playing with a rapper who, if his improbable Presidential run had vaulted him into the Oval Office, would be a more lucid presence than what we have at the present moment.

Yet Kerrod’s arguably most foundational collaboration was with Anthony Braxton. Inspired by touring as a duo with the Tri-Centric icon, she made the best of 2020 lockdown time and recorded an often mesmerizing album of solo improvisations, 17 Days in December. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s unlike any other harp record you will ever hear. Jazz harpists are an individualistic bunch to begin with: Zeena Parkins, with her blend of acerbity and atmosphere; Alice Coltrane and her melodic rapture; Dorothy Ashby, who shifted the paradigm by employing everything but harp voicings, and to an extent, Brandee Younger following in her wake. Kerrod is a welcome member of that rare, celestial body.

The chilling, menacing opening tableau, titled Trill to Begin, no doubt reflects the dire circumstances under which Kerrod made it, almost exactly a year ago. It’s a series of eerie modal phrases against a tremolo-picked pedal note, punctuated by low funereal bell accents and otherworldly close harmonies. What a way to kick off the project!

The squiggly web she builds on her electric harp on the second track is 180 degrees from that. She returns to ominous portents, but more spaciously, in a short piece she calls Gentle Jangle. Jazz guitar-like voicings give way to disquietly circling phrases and icy deep-sky sparkle in An Impression, then Kerrod breaks out her electric harp again for the woozily skronky Sugar Up.

Likewise, Glare is a sunbaked, resonant piece that could be mistaken for an ebow guitar soundscape. After that, she assembles an echoey lattice that brings to mind Robert Fripp’s early 80s work. Kerrod employs a glass bowl to enhance the shimmering, steel pan-like microtones in Glassy Fingers. then takes it toward vortical Pink Floyd gloom.

Next, she coalesces toward a warped music-box theme, following with Fluttering Alberti, where she works a hypnotic/spiky dichotomy. Can-Can is not a latin number but a return to steady, sinister mode. In the album’s longest improvisation, Kerrod sprinkles spare incisions over a gritty low drone which she plays with a bow.

The album’s concluding tracks range from playful electronics, to a ghostly National Steel guitar-like miniature, a gently insistent, Debussy-esque interlude and a cheerily ornamented electric harp finale.

December 3, 2021 Posted by | experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Brilliantly Dark, Purposeful Debut From Guitarist Nick Rousseau

Guitarist Nick Rousseau‘s debut full-length album Rest/Unrest – streaming at Bandcamp – is strikingly vivid, often troubled music that reflects the struggles of our time. Rousseau plays purposefully, often sparely, with an uncluttered, slightly reverb-tinged tone and writes darkly translucent themes.

The title track begins spaciously and pensively, guest trumpeter Alex Sipiagin doubling Rousseau’s steady, moody, resonant lines, up to a warily reflective solo. Bassist Sean Hannon, pianist Carlin Lee and drummer Anton Kot provide a smartly lowlit backdrop.

The second number, Lucid Awakening shifts quickly from a dreamy bass-and-guitar introduction to somberly descending chromatics, then the band pick up the pace with incisive piano and guitar solos over Kot’s oceanic forward drive. The outro is spot-on beyond words.

Likewise, in Let Their Voices Sing, the band move quickly from a glittering, neoromantic-tinged intro to a shadowy clave, a flaring guitar solo and then a deliciously messy, heavy metal outro. Deassurance, a wistful ballad, has hints of Scottish folk and early Pat Metheny (without the ubiquitous, watery chorus-pedal ambience). The polyrhythmic interweave between Rousseau and Kot – who was only eighteen when he recorded this – is breathtaking.

Mutedly eerie piano glistens over a sketchy rhythm and dissociative loops in Soul Harvest, an increasingly animated tableau where the reaper seems to be having a feast. Rousseau launches into an ambling, guardedly optimistic theme to kick off Reconstruction, punctuating Lee’s loose-limbed, bluesy piano lines with bright, incisive spires.

Rousseau returns to somber wistfulness in Fall Rebuild, a disconsolately modal ballad: this time it’s Lee’s turn to puncture and color around a looping guitar phrase as Kot builds stormy intensity. The album’s final cut, simply and aptly titled Solemn, is a spacious, pastoral tone poem for solo guitar.

Rousseau also has a brooding, Big Lazy-esque, rather macabre single, Gaslight – good subject matter for an era of lockdowns and lethal injections, huh? – up at his Bandcamp page as a free download.

October 30, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting an Iconic Moment in the Creepy Classical Canon

Over the course of thirteen years here, you would think that at some point, a recording of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition would have made an appearance. No dice. The Chelsea Symphony‘s performance of that staple of the horror-classical canon got a big thumbs-up...but that was in January of 2016.

Fast forward to 2021: the Chelsea Symphony’s beloved executive director has moved on and the group are as imperiled as any other performing arts organization outside the free world. But there is a very straightforward, energetic 2018 live recording at Spotify by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (both featured here earlier this month) which has plenty of creepy moments.

For those unfamiliar with the suite, the composer wrote it as a requiem for his painter friend Victor Hartmann, inspired by a posthumous retrospective of his work. It’s a wildly successful attempt to bring those paintings to life within the context of a leisurely, pensive gallery tour. In reality, Moussorgsky’s memory of several of the pictures on display was either fuzzy, or he deliberately gave them a much creepier interpretation. The original suite is for solo piano; Maurice Ravel orchestrated it in 1922. That’s what the orchestra are working with here.

The creepiness doesn’t start immediately, Noseda leading the listener into the gallery via a firmly reverential stroll. Ravel’s genius is in highlighting every available bit of phantasmagoria. Case in point: the twinkling second segment, The Gnome, which Noseda picks up boisterously at the end.

Fueled by the low brass and deliciously fluttery, ghostly strings, this broodingly waltzing take of The Old Castle is a keeper for anybody’s Halloween party playlist. Those cattle in the pasture? Definitely up to no good, beneath an increasingly stormy sky.

The Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks is on the goofy, cartoonish side of Halloween music. But Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, the two Jews out for a Shabbat stroll, are definitely keeping an eye out for trouble. Interestingly, Noseda’s interpretation of the catacomb scene is much louder and emphatic – and less haunting – than other conductors usually portray it. Maybe that choice was to set up the distant ominousness of the land of the dead – and then a rise to the bellicose menace of Baba Yaga’s Hut afterward.

The rest of the suite is relatively more lighthearted: proto-ragtime Tuileries, an anxious Limoges market scene and a dynamically rich, stately portrait of the (completely fictitious) Great Gate of Kiev.

This album opens with a similarly dynamic, persistently restless concert recording of Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. The fateful angst and moody balletesque variations of the first movement, moments of gorgeous bittersweetness and torment of the second, unexpectedly carnivalesque touches in the third and boisterous swirl in the conclusion all testify to how sensitively Noseda and the orchestra approach it.

October 28, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virgil Boutellis-Taft Puts Out One of the Most Darkly Beguiling Classical Albums of Recent Years

One of the most diversely entertaining, dark-themed classical records of recent years is violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft‘s new album Incantation with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, streaming at Spotify. His approach is disarmingly direct and typically understated: overall, this is about mystery far more than the macabre.

He and the ensemble open with an aptly lush, starkly dynamic, moody take of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. Max Bruch was not Jewish, but he liked to plunder Jewish melodies – in this case, the prayer for the dead – rather than reaching for a faux-Romany sound as so many of his contemporaries did when they needed an extra jolt of minor-key intensity.

Tomaso Antonio Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor is one of the great classical mystery stories. We don’t know when it was written, but it was obviously radical for the baroque era. We know next to nothing about the composer and those who first resurrected it. Some investigators have suggested that the piece was deliberately misattributed in order to deflect possible criticism of its strikingly forward-looking chromatics. Boutellis-Taft holds onto the piece’s wicked ornamentation with a vise-grip legato as the orchestra looms and pulses menacingly behind him.

Saint-Saëns’ iconic Danse Macabre has been featured on this page innumerable times. This version of the witchy tarantella is distinguished by Boutellis-Taft’s gleeful vibrato, the forceful presence of the flutes, and an unusually persistent, skittish tension – which makes obvious sense in context. And the reaper doesn’t tiptoe out here – he leaves with a sinister flourish. He’ll be back!

Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique is exactly that, muted but purposeful. As with the Bruch work here, it’s a showcase for Boutellis-Taft’s resonant low midrange expressiveness, but also vigorously colorful attack in the upper registers. He makes a memorable return to Jewish themes with Ernest Bloch’s Nigun, from the Baal Shem suite, lit up by quicksilver ornamentation over an ominously Asian-tinged pentatonic theme. It’s a welcome addition to the classical heavy metal canon – and that’s meant as a compliment.

Ernest Chausson’s Poème pour Violon et Orchestre, op. 25, the longest piece on the program here, launches from an uneasily dreamy woodwind-driven tableau that eventually falls away on the wings of Boutellis-Taft’s wary solo. This is the most lavishly orchestrated yet most subtle performance here, darkly celestial rather than stygian.

Boutellis-Taft closes the album with Yumeji’s Theme, by Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi, a brief, melancholy, marionettishly waltzing recent work from the soundtrack to the film In the Mood for Love.

October 26, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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