Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Philippe Quint Shows Off His Address Book and His Exquisite Chops on the Violin

The bill Tuesday night at the Times Center was a casual “Philippe Quint and friends,” but these friends are in high places, musically speaking. Great players never have trouble finding similar top-level talent, but this violinist has a particularly deep address book. Introducing his own Caprices from the film The Red Violin, John Corigliano attested to Quint’s eclecticism. “He can do bluesy swing, salsa, anything you ask him to,” he marveled. Quint validated him with an alternatingly terse and sizzling performance of the plaintively neoromantic solo theme and variations, through daunting octave passages, lightning descents and nail-biting intensity as they reached a peak.

A bit later on, his fellow violin virtuoso Joshua Bell joined him along with pianist William Wolfram for an effortlessly gleaming version of the opening movement from Moszkowski’s Suite for 2 Violins, followed by an equally gorgeous performance of Shostakovich’s Prelude for Two Violins and Piano, from the composer’s variations on the Jewish folk themes collected by legendary songfinder Moishe Beregovsky in the 1930s. There was a scripted false start and some banter about how Quint had appropriated the Corigliano suite, which Bell had played for the film score and which has since become a signature of sorts: here and elsewhere, Quint revealed himself as quite the ham when he wants to be.

The evening ended on an even more emotionally charged note with the wryly named Quint Quintet – comprising some of the world’s top talent in nuevo tango – playing a trio of Piazzolla classics. Bassist Pedro Giraudo anchored the songs with a spring-loaded pulse while Quint and bandoneon genius JP Jofre worked magical, angst-ridden dynamics while electric guitarist Oren Fader spiced them with measured, incisive figures. Pianist Octavio Brunetti led the group with a relentlessly mysterious majesty through a lushly crescendoing version of Milonga del Angel, then the rising and falling, utterly Lynchian Concierto para Quintetto and then a triumphantly pouncing take of Libertango. Quint favors a singing tone – he released an album of violin arrangements of opera arias a couple of years ago – so it was no surprise to see him literally give voice to the longing and passion in Piazzolla’s melodies.

Pianist Matt Herskowitz delivered an equally thrilling, all-too-brief set with his trio. Quint joined them for a jauntily swinging, exuberantly latin-tinged reinvention of Bach’s Cello Prelude, then a tender rendition of the Goldberg Aria. Herskowitz and the trio ended with a long, ferally cascading arrangement of a familiar Prokofiev theme. All three of these pieces will appear on a forthcoming album recorded by Quint with Herskowitz and his band.

There were also a couple of cameos with singer-songwriters where Quint proved himself adept at chamber pop and quasi-Romany jazz. This concert was a benefit for the Russian-American Foundation, known for similarly intriguing, cross-pollinational events, this one being the kickoff for their twelfth annual Russian Heritage Month. In Russia, classical music is a spectator sport: this audience, weighing in at about 50/50 Russian and American, responded with a Moscow-class enthusiasm.

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June 1, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Agile, Slinky Latin Jazz Cross-Pollination from Natalie Fernandez

Singer Natalie Fernandez has a genre-smashing new album out, Nuestro Tango, a collaboration with a shapeshifting band whose core is pianist Zaccai Curtis’ Insight. Curtis, a member of both Donald Harrison and Cindy Blackmon’s bands, knows a thing or two about cross-pollination. Likewise, his brother, bassist Luques Curtis, of Eddie Palmieri’s band, whose work obviously inspires this project. Fernandez, daughter of well-known tango singer Stella Milano, does a lot with a small voice, singing fluently in both Spanish and English, more animatedly in Spanish which probably makes sense since the Spanish-language numbers are livelier. Essentially, as Palmieri does so often, these tracks make Afro-Cuban jazz out of themes from further south of the border, in this case from Argentina and Uruguay. The rest of the inspired ensemble includes drummer Richie Barshay, Reinaldo de Jesus on percussion, Daniel Antonetti on timbales, Julie Acosta on trumpet, Tukunori Kajiwara on trombone, and Zach Lucas on tenor sax plus a multitude of special guests.

They open with Azabache, the first of the candombes, which gets a swinging, fat groove, a lithe Zaccai Curtis intro, a gem of a piano solo that’s far too short, a balmy horn chart…then they make a guaguanco out of it. Right there you have the band’s m.o. El Dia Que Me Quieras looks back to the famous Eddie Palmieri version but with more of a nuevo tango feel and coy, terse vocals from Fernandez. Like the first track, they swing it out with a cha-cha groove.

Adios Nonino probably isn’t the first song you might think of swinging, but Fernandez does it tenderly over an understatedly slinky beat lit up by Richard Scofano’s bandoneon. They follow it with Afrotangojazz, a vamping feature for percussion and bandoneon. Malena builds to an emotionally-charged, suspenseful crescendo – and then the percussion kicks in, and suddenly it’s a summery candombe-salsa romp. My True Love, a salsa-tinged jazz ballad co-written by the pianist and singer, gets an incisive, wood-toned bass solo and a hard-hitting break for drums and percussion.

Since this is a Curtis Brothers project (the two earned the top spot on the Best Albums of 2011 list here for their album Completion of Proof) it’s no surprise that there’s socially aware content, most vividly expressed in the elegant jazz waltz Free Me, with its moody bass solo and a thoughtful lyrical interlude delivered by hip-hop artist Giovanni Almonte Alberto Mastra’s El Viaje del Negro gets rapidfire bursts of lyrics, a brisk, poinpoint beat and a full-bore brass section. By contrast, Juan Carlos Cobian’s Nostalgias opens with eerily glimmering piano and a brooding trumpet line setting the stage for Fernandez’ wounded, angst-ridden vocals, intertwined with the bandoneon and a darkly gleaming horn chart. It’s the best and most epic song on the album. Fernandez winds it up with a torchy yet nuanced voice-and-piano version of Eladia Blazquez’s Un Semajente  It’s out now on Truth Revolution Records.

November 17, 2013 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lush, Luxuriant, Relentless Intensity from JP Jofre and the Attacca String Quartet

It takes nerve to put your own string quartet on the program after an Astor Piazzolla work widely regarded as a classic, but that’s what bandoneon virtuoso JP Jofre did at SubCulture last night. Not only was it not anticlimactic; it would have made a good segue with the bill’s centerpiece, the late-period Piazzolla suite Five Tango Sensations. Jofre filled the time between the two pieces with a small handful of hard-hitting shorter works of his own before leaping into his String Quartet No. 1, joining with the Attacca String Quartet: cellist Andrew Yee, violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga and violist Luke Fleming.

Jofre broke a sweat before the first piece, a stormy, bustling miniature, was over. Then he led the group into the lingering, wistful introduction to Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations. The suite was premiered by the composer with the Kronos Quartet at Lincoln Center in 1989 and remains one of the standouts in a late-career burst of creativity to rival pretty much any composer, ever. The “sensations” in the title are meant to describe specific emotions; the composer wasn’t bragging about how sensational the suite is…yet that’s a good way to describe it. The ensemble built it to lushly shifting, Rachmaninovian washes of strings, resolutely propelling a vamp that was a lot more bitter than sweet. Dynamic shifts, which the group worked like a charm all night, went from to darkly pillowy to leaping and insistent, developing the ominously chromatic central theme and then angst-fueled variations to an ultimately triumphant conclusion. In between, the strings carried a somber, noirish lament that made the payoff at the end all the more rewarding – and unexpected, for anyone hearing it for the first time.

From there Jofre mixed and matched a trio of smaller-group numbers, first a tender, hypnotic lullaby for his niece and then a marauding, rat-a-tat theme that evoked the cello metal of Rasputina before shiftting back and forth between atmospheric washes and a big, shivery bandoneon cadenza into a victoriously anthemic ending. An austere, rather elegaic bandoneon/cello duet was next. Then they tackled the String Quartet – which is actually a quintet, the bandoneon featured in its later movements. Throughout the composition, Jofre kept his collaborators on their toes as the variations moved briskly through an uneasy rustle, warmly anthemic hints emerging from moody atmospherics, the bandoneon leading the cello through a furtive chase scene to a big, rhythmic, stalking passage that deviously signaled the way out. They wound up the show with an explosive, anxiously bustling piece whose dark drama crept into crime-jazz turf and ended cold. The pretty much sold-out audience responded about as explosively as the music they’d just heard. For anyone in search of soul-wrenching, emotionally-charged tunefulness, Argentina is the place to look, with Jofre as one of its most original ambassadors.

November 8, 2013 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devious, Witty, Swinging Tunefulness from the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet

The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet’s album The Sound of a Broken Reed is a quintessentially New York creation. With its edgy humor and intelligence, it’s steeped in history but just as irreverent, pretty much what you would expect from a bunch of longtime downtown types jazzing up Debussy, Piazzolla and Led Zep. Yet as entertaining and amusing as the covers here are, it’s bandleader Charley Gerard’s compositions that stand out the most. As you may have guessed, the album title is sarcastic: the charts are lustrous, the ensemble plays seamlessly and the songs swing just as hard as they would if there were bass and drums on them. The only other instrument besides the saxes (Gerard on alto, Jenny Hill primarily on soprano, Chris Bacas mostly on tenor and Alden Banta on baritone) is Carl Banner’s elegant piano on the first two suites. Most of the album, as well as a considerable amount of equally intriguing, more recent material, is streaming at the group’s Soundcloud page.

The opening diptych is Gerard’s Quintet for Carl and Saxes, Banner’s third-stream lyricism followed by lush four-part harmonies that grow to a majestic waltz. The second part is a wry series of interwoven miniatures that’s basically a non-linear history of jazz: ragtime, lounge, a little noir amd sumptuous big band swing, capped off by a genial soprano solo by Bacas.

The second suite is Dick Hyman’s droll Novelties for Piano and Sax Quartet: jaunty ragtime, a couple of lively staccato strolls and a comedic polka/ragtime hybrid. They follow that with Gerard’s Quartet No. 3, bookending a pensive exchange of voices led by Banta with variations on a theme that very artfully coalesces out of lively, dancing counterpoint.

The Led Zep comes after that. Humor-wise, it’s a lot like the Threeds Oboe Trio’s take on the Doors or Michael Jackson, equal parts spoof and opportunity to have fun with taking old themes to new places. Whole Lotta Love and an unexpectedly anxious, rather radical remake of Dazed and Confused are barely recognizable until halfway through, while miniature versions of Heartbreaker and Kashmir are as irresistibly over the top as you could possibly want. Living Loving Maid falls somewhere in between.

Tom Olin takes over for Bacas on tenor (with Hill playing soprano, as she does with a judicious elan on most of the tracks) on three Gerard remakes of Summer, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The first has a balmy Miles Ahead vibe and adheres closest to the baroque, the second a lively, bluesy exchange of voices, the third a mashup with Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, done as a clave tune

Bacas moves back to his usual tenor, Olin to soprano for his arrangement of Debussy’s Syrinx for Solo Flute, fleshed out with a nod to Gil Evans, weaving the pensive melody through the whole ensemble. Gerard’s medley of popular Cuban melodies (De Cuba Para La Habana, Guantanamera, Bilonto and El Manicero) bops along with a sunny pulse, followed by Hill’s pensively airy, understatedly majestic waltz arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Chiquilín de Bachín. It’s a rare blend of edgy fun and razor-sharp chops.

For anyone who might take exception to giving this much ink to an album that came out in 2009, that’s old thinking. Exciting as the past year has been, if the only music we listened to was brand-new, nobody would have heard of Coltrane or Mingus.

January 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Start to This Year’s Imani Winds Festival

This year’s third annual Imani Winds Festival of cutting-edge chamber music kicked off auspiciously last night on the upper west side with the pioneering wind quintet performing a sometimes haunting, sometimes exhilarating mix of relatively new (and brand new) compositions. Imani Winds flutist Valerie Coleman’s Tzigane made a deliciously high-octane opening number: an imaginative blend of gypsy jazz and indie classical with intricately shifting voices, it was a showcase for the entirety of the ensemble, notably clarinetist Mariam Adam’s otherworldly, microtonal trills and Coleman’s slinkily legato snakecharmer lines.

Phil Taylor’s Prelude and Scherzo was next. Brooding, apprehensive, atmospheric cinematics built matter-of-factly to an anguished flute cadenza, then backed away and the process repeated itself; the Scherzo cleverly took the wary introductory theme and disguised it with a jaunty bounce which the group built to an unexpectedly triumphant ending.

The piece de resistance was a new Mohammed Fairouz suite, Jebnal Lebnan (meaning “Mount Lebanon,” the historical name for the mountainous country), which the Imani Winds recently recorded. The composer explained beforehand that its withering opening segment, Bashir’s March, was inspired by his visit to the site of a former refugee camp there, “the most horrific thing” he’d ever seen. Monica Ellis’ bassoon drove it with a chilling nonchalance, the rest of the ensemble fleshing out a coldly sarcastic, Shostakovian martial theme that Jeff Scott’s french horn took to its cruelly logical, mechanically bustling extreme. After a solo interlude where Coleman got to subtly  imitate an Arabic ney flute, the group hit a high note (if you’re willing to buy the premise of a dirge being a high note) with the second movement, Lamentation: Ariel’s Song. Ominous atmospheric washes led to an elegantly plaintive bassoon solo and a methodical crescendo that built from elegaic to fullscale horror, its fatalistic pulse suddenly disappearing, leaving the atmospherics to linger ominously before ending on a more lively but equally wary note. This angst subsided somewhat but still remained through the rest of the work: the tango-like Dance and Little Song, with their bracing close harmonies and Scheherezade allusions, and Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh, a cleverly interwoven rondo of sorts featuring Coleman on pennywhistle that ended energetically with a confluence of klezmer, gypsy and Arabic tonalities, an apt evocation of a land that’s been a melting pot (and a boiling point) for centuries.

Derek Bermel’s Gift of Life made a terrific segue. Inspired by a visit to Jerusalem, it built suspensefully with a Middle Eastern melody anchored by brooding bassoon, its atmospherics finally falling apart in a bustling cacaphony. Another short work by Bermel, Two Songs from Nandom, drawing on Ugandan xylophone music, made a sprightly contrast as its rhythmic central theme shifted further and further away from the center. The group closed with Scott’s artfully voiced, passionately animated arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and encored with a grin from the edge of the stage with what sounded like a brief, matter-of-factly improvised theme from a late Dvorak work. The Imani Winds Festival continues through August 7, with a whirlwind of master classes and performances featuring a deluge of up-and-coming talent; the full schedule is here.

July 30, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pablo Ziegler and Maya Beiser Tango Through Le Poisson Rouge

While it’s hardly necessary for a musician to be immersed in a particular style since childhood in order to play it well, growing up with a genre doesn’t hurt. Last night at le Poisson Rouge pianist Pablo Ziegler and cellist Maya Beiser celebrated their Argentinian heritage with a mix of Piazzolla classics and Ziegler originals, Satoshi Takeishi propelling the trio with a master class in restraint and subtle intensity behind the drum kit. Ziegler was a Piazzolla collaborator through the end of the composer’s life, and has been a major force in tango nuevo in his own right. Beiser is well known as a powerful and eclectic presence in the new-music scene: how does she approach playing Piazzolla and Ziegler? Like she’d grown up with them, dancing in her chair at one point as the trio kicked off the show with a bustling, noirish, Mingus-esque take of Piazzolla’s Michaelangelo 17. Ziegler’s arrangements and also his originals gave Beiser a launching pad for tracking down every bit of restless unease in the genre-spanning compositions: his part’s in his blood, meticulous yet forceful, whether driving the rhythm, adding jazzy flourishes or the occasional joyous glissando.

Ziegler recounted that Piazzolla enjoyed fishing for sharks, then led the group through the cinematic fish tale Escualo, Beiser reeling the line out with a perfectly timed microtonal swoop, kicking off its leaping, jaunty ballet-esque imagery all the way through to the big, slashing crescendo at the end. By contrast, the insistent longing in Piazzolla’s A Year of Solitude lingered vividly, as did a brooding, plaintive Ziegler piece that Beiser approached with a suspenseful vibrato, and a terse arrangement of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti’s Agua Y Vinho.

Introducing Piazzzolla’s Fuga Y Misterioso, Ziegler reminded the crowd how much of a fan of Bach Piazzolla was, and then reminded them again as Beiser played lively rapidfire riffage over Ziegler’s matter-of-factly precise baroqueisms. Beiser got a brief solo turn, playing Mariel, an aching, envelopingly atmospheric Osvaldo Golijov requiem originally written for cello and vibraphone, against her own recording of slow sustained notes and minimalist accents. As affecting as this was, it would have been even more interesting to have seen three cellists play it: there’s no telling how much more magic they might have been able to conjure up.

After a 1970s-era lullaby by Ziegler, the ensemble wowed what looked like a sold-out crowd with a plaintive version of Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino, then a swinging, somewhat satirical portrait of a macho doofus written by Ziegler and then closed with an impressively understated version of the iconic Libertango, its restrained, tense revelry a perfect resolution of the tension between Piazzola the pop tunesmith and Piazzolla the modernist composer. The crowd wanted an encore; they got an unselfconsciously beautiful rendition of Ziegler’s Muchacha de Boedo. Considering how much fun everyone onstage was having, let’s hope they keep this richly enjoyable project going.

February 2, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pablo Aslan Tackles an Ambitious Task

It takes nerve to try to recreate a classic album. It takes more nerve to try to resurrect a bad one and transform it into something listenable. That’s what bassist Pablo Aslan and his quintet have attempted with their new album Piazzolla in Brooklyn: to take the songs from Astor Piazzolla’s notoriously failed attempt at tango jazz, Take Me Dancing, and redeem them. Some useful context: when Piazzolla made Take Me Dancing in 1959, America was at the height of the mambo craze. While there were some Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican artists – most notably Machito – who benefited from middleclass and upper middleclass America’s sudden embrace of Afro-Cuban dance music, most of the popular stuff was being made by gringo schlockmeisters or generic swing bandleaders who watered it down in order to appeal to a mainstream (and frequently racist) white audience. Obviously, that wasn’t Piazzola’s intention: being an insatiable eclecticist and cross-pollinator, he never met a collaboration he could resist – but this was one he should have, because there’s no doubt that he wouldn’t have minded if the album had become a hit. Good thing it didn’t – the tunes are nice, some of them on the breezy side for a tormented, brooding guy like him, but the album just doesn’t swing. Nobody’s on the same page, and for that reason the session has gone down in history as sort of Piazzolla’s Metal Machine Music, a trainwreck you can see coming a mile away.

Interestingly, Aslan – who, like Piazzolla, has made a career out of taking tango sounds to new and exciting places – opens this experiment with a Piazzolla tune that’s not on Take Me Dancing. La Calle 92, dedicated to the Spanish Harlem street where the composer lived for a time. It’s a triumphantly slinky mini-suite, moving slyly on the pulse of the bass, with Gustavo Bergalli’s vivid, noirish trumpet and the warily incisive piano of Abel Rogantini. It doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the album – it gets considerably darker and more suspenseful than what’s in store – but it’s a good start.

The first of the 1959 cuts here, Counterpoint, gets a dark, bristling bounce, stark bowed bass contrasting with the trumpet and Nicolas Enrich’s animated bandoneon: as Piazzolla may well have envisioned it, it’s more classical than jazz. Dedita, which Piazzolla dedicated it to his wife at the time, switches between tango and swing, with a casual, soulful solo from Bergalli, Rogantini adding an unexpected and delicious menace afterward, drummer Daniel Piazzolla (the composer’s grandson) reaffirming that with a goodnaturedly rumbling precision.

Laura, the old jazz standard, begins as bandoneon tune, somewhere in the netherworld between tango and jazz, the whole band – especially Aslan, whose gritty touch really nails the mood – hanging back just thisfar away from going over the edge. George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland, Piazzolla’s other choice of cover tune, follows as practically a segue and benefits from some amped-up drama and syncopated punch. As one would expect from the title, Oscar Peterson is a homage to the piano legend, and a showcase for surprising restraint and intensity from Rogantini, who just as much as Aslan serves as dark, purist Argentine anchor here over the younger Piazzolla’s wry Caribbean-inflected riffs. The ambitious, cosmopolitan musette-inflected Plus Ultra gets a characteristically incisive, blue-flame solo from Aslan; Show Off, true to its title, hints at the big band blaze that Piazzolla swung at and missed, hard, the first time around, but Enrich’s chill, rippling wee-hours lines keep it from crossing the line into kitsch. With its self-conscious, fussy riff, Something Strange is the weakest track here. They close with a bustling, relentless, absolutely triumphant take of Triunfal, where they finally take it deep into the postbop territory whose energy Piazzolla doubtlessly wanted to capture the first time around.

Interestingly, Aslan claims to have “systematically avoided” Piazzolla’s music until now, since it’s pretty much impossible to outdo the master. How cool it is that Aslan found something in the repertoire that he could surpass! This one’s out now on Soundbrush.

November 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Is What We Lose If We Lose Japan

Watching Japanese pianists Miwa Onodera and then Hikaru Nakajo play the piano expertly, and soufully, at Pro Piano’s benefit for Japan in their wonderfully low-key recital space on Jane Street in the West Village Sunday afternoon was surreal to the extreme. Had they already been fatally poisoned by radiation from the Fukushima plant? Would they (hopefully!!!) find a place here in the US? We can talk clinically or cynically about an “extinction event,” but when we look at the individuals impacted by this catastrophe, a chilling reality sinks in. The corporate media, under instructions from the richest one tenth of one percent of the population, wilfully fail to acknowledge the reality of the situation lest there be a Grapes of Wrath in reverse, a mass exodus from the West Coast, as there should be. Forget for a minute that the water in Tokyo is undrinkable and the air there is unbreathable. Radioactive iodine a thousand times more lethal than governmentally approved “safe” levels has been found in drinking water in British Columbia; the organic milk in San Francisco is not far behind. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy, who accompanied Onodera virtuosically and intensely with a riveting, crystalline tone, went to Japan a couple of days after this concert. Pray for him if you believe in prayer.

The concert was beautiful, and austere, and also passionate, every emotion you would try to evoke if you might be playing your last show. One can only hope for composer Tsuboi Ippo, whose preludes Nakajo and Onodera played. The most hauntingly beautiful moment of the night was a duo performance by Piercy and Onodera, a poignant, elegaic Chopinesque Ippo nocturne whose sadness translated even more vividly in light of the past three weeks’ events. They also played a casually crescendoing, absolutely brilliant version of Piazzolla’s Grand Tango, Onodera holding back until the end when she crashed in with a triumphant majesty, and a couple of Gershwin pieces, a nonchalantly sly It Ain’t Necessarily So and an inventively hazy take on Summertime.

Nakajo played a series of Ippo preludes that ranged from suspenseful Chopinesque Romanticism to acidic modernism; Onodera followed with more, ending with a very smartly understatedly version of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 – where other pianists would have gone for the jugular with this showstopper, she made it a clinic in judicious dynamics. One can only wonder how many others like her won’t make it to New York in the coming months.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Thomas Piercy and Vilian Ivantchev’s Cafe Album

A collection of brilliant segues. For a casual listener, this is the perfect rainy day album, pleasantly pensive with a balance of melancholy and more upbeat material, especially toward the end. For more adventurous fans, it’s a smartly innovative concept that works all the way through. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy and acoustic guitarist Vilian Ivantchev link fourteen pieces together as a suite, beginning with the French late Romantics, taking a detour into the German baroque before following the gypsy path to Brazil and from there to Argentina, where the trail ends on a note that threatens to jump out of its shoes with joy. It’s a very subtly fun ride.

Having worked with both Leonard Bernstein and KRS-One, Piercy is diversely talented. He’s as strong in his upper register, with a buoyant, flute-like presence on Telemann’s A Minor Sonata, or soaring with bandoneon textures on the Piazzolla pieces here that close the album, as he is mining the darker sonorities of Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances suite, or Erik Satie’s Gnossienne or Gymnopedie No. 1. Ivantchev displays almost superhuman discipline, restraining himself to terse, rock-solid chordal work or precise arpeggios, with the exception of the Piazzolla where he gets to cut loose a little more – but not much. Ultimately, this album is all about connections, and the duo make them everywhere. Debussy’s Le Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (The Blonde Girl) follows so seamlessly out of Satie that it could practically be the same piece. Likewise, following the last of Bartok’s gypsy dance transcriptions with Villa-Lobos’ Modinha is so logical that it’s almost funny when you think about it. The duo close the album with two brief arrangements of songs by vintage Argentinan tanguero Carlos Gardel (Mi Manita Pampa and Sus Ojos Se Cerraron) into a stripped-down yet melodically rich version of Piazzolla’s four-part suite Histoire du Tango and then, seemingly as an encore, Jacinto Chiclana which ends the album on a note equally balmy and bracing. Piercy’s viscerally intuitive feel for the tension-and-release of tango lets the guitar hold things together this time, giving him a chance to launch into some quiet rejoicing. Piercy plays the cd release show for this album at Caffe Vivaldi on June 19 at 8:15 PM with his trio: live, they are considerably more boisterous.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Fourth Annual Main Squeeze Accordion Festival

Forget All Points West or Lolapalooza if it should ever get here again: diehard fans with sufficient stamina (and water supply- it was overcast but pretty hot most of the day over by the river) to hang in through all seven acts on the bill at Pier One on the Hudson were treated to what might be the year’s best single-day outdoor New York music festival. Considering how much of a comeback the small but mighty accordion has made over the years here in the US, there was a sense of defiance and triumph in the air.

The opening act, Musette Explosion is a tremendously good side project from accordionist Will Holshouser and guitarist Matt Munisteri – they do this gig a few times a year when there’s time, and given how much fun everybody onstage was having, it’s something of a surprise they don’t do it more often. Backed by bass saxophonist Scott Robinson, they ran through an alternately haunting and bouncy mix of swing-inflected French and Belgian instrumentals from mostly the 1930s and 40s. The highlight of the set, as usual, was Jo Privat’s eerie La Sorciere (The Witch), Munisteri weaving his way into a ferocious tremolo-picked solo on banjo. A Holshouser original, Chanson Pop built to a lushly plaintive, unaffectedly dramatic Baroque-inflected anthem. This group usually plays with a tuba, but Robinson made a great fit: blazing solos aren’t something you expect from a bass sax, but this guy delivered, particularly on the opening number, Gus Viseur’s swaying Swing Valse.

Mexican norteno band Suspenso del Norte were next, seemingly a project of the Javier family of Queens: father Pablo on guitar and lead vocals with his twelve-year-old son on button accordion along with a second guitar and rhythm section. What they play is essentially Mexican country music, with the same kind of swinging backbeat as what used to come out of Nashville before it became the hometown of lame pop-rock about fifteen years ago. Mixing popular hits along with originals, they connected with the small expat contingent who’d come out to see them, the powerfully built young accordionist supplying effortlessly fast, soulfully bubbling leads.

Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet took the dance vibe into intense, wrenchingly passionate territory. With Del Curto on bandoneon, Gustavo Casenave on piano, Pedro Giraudo on upright bass along with an inspired cellist and violinist, they mixed originals and classics, from a stately, haunting version of the traditional Argentinian tango El Choclo to a fast yet lush take of the Piazzolla classic Libertango. Another Piazzolla composition, Michaelangelo #17 bristled with stormy bandoneon and string flourishes; an original, Emancipacion built suspense with a martial beat and some vivid interplay between piano and bandoneon, a device that Del Curto employed very effectively and evocatively through the set’s brooding ebbs and aching swells.

The Main Squeeze Orchestra were next: being the pet project of Walter Kuhr, proprietor of the Main Squeeze accordion center on Essex St., this is an annual event for the all-female twelve-accordion group. It was a characteristically playful, tongue-in-cheek yet also virtuosic and fascinatingly arranged performance. They got the schlock out of the way first – no matter how much you polish a turd, there’s not much you can do with the Eurythmics or Michael Jackson. “This is a happy song about love,” announced one of the women, taking a turn on vocals on an oompah version of the Joy Division classic Love Will Tear Us Apart. They reinvented Misirlou as a tango and Hava Nagila as a hora, seguing into a happy, upbeat wedding dance. The Kinks’ Demon Alcohol was as amusingly over-the-top as usual; they closed with their deliciously deadpan, full-length version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Maybe if we get lucky they’ll do Freebird next year.

Italian composer/accordionist Roberto Cassan and classical guitarist John Muratore followed with a fascinating, cutting-edge program that spanned from a couple of swinging yet pensive Piazzolla compositions originally written for guitar and flute, to a darkly expansive instrumental by a contemporary Cuban composer, two rousing Italian tarantellas and a long opening number with echoes of both Celtic music and bluesy Hot Tuna-style improvisation.

The big hit of the festival was Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica, who absolutely slayed with a wildly danceable set of merengue. Parra delivered lightning-fast rivulets on his button accordion, sometimes trading off with the band’s excellent sax player, who matched him note for note on some pretty crazy trills. Along with a harmony singer,  they had a rhythm section including congas, cajon and bass drum along with a five-string bassist who stole the show, punching in booming chords to bring a phrase to a crescendo, adding eerie atonal accents, liquid arpeggios and even some laid-back, unpretentious two-handed tapping when things got really sick. They took their time working in with a long intro, just accordion and the drums, then the bass hit a tritone and they went flying. La Mega Mafia Tipica’s merengue is party music, first and foremost: they don’t sing much except on the choruses. This set had a bunch of deliriously hypnotic two-chord jams, bass behind the beat for a fat, seductive groove. They’d shake up the rhythm in places, accordion and sometimes the bass playing three on four for an extended vamp. The last song of the set had a trick ending that took pretty much everybody by surprise: of all the bands on the schedule, only la Mega Mafia Tipica got an encore because nobody wanted the party to stop.

That Slavic Soul Party accordionist Peter Stan and his four-piece backing band weren’t anticlimactic speaks for itself. Stan is something of the Balkan Rick Wakeman, blessed with unearthly speed and fond of playing a lot of notes. This time out he had his son Peter Jr. on chromatic button accordion, playing much like his dad, along with violin, synthesizer usually supplying the basslines and somewhat minimalist drums. By now, it was late, the rain was picking up and everybody except the growing line of dancers in front of the stage seemed pretty exhausted. But it was impossible to leave. Stan plays the kind of modern Balkan dance music you hear at Mehanata, a slick feel made slicker by the artificial bass sound of the synth. But the tunes are relentless and often haunting. He soloed his way from country to country, from Romanian gypsy to klezmer. The band mixed it up, from the happy, upbeat Serbian pop song Nishka Banya to the stately, sweepingly ornate original instrumental Gypsy Soul Fantasy to several edgy dance numbers sung by guest vocalist Bato the Yugo. It was an appropriately bracing way to wind up the evening. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates by all these bands.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment