Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Campbell Plays an Insane Show at Columbia

Cellist Jay Campbell characterized his program last night at Columbia University’s Italian Academy as “kind of insane,” and he was right on the money. Campbell, winner of the Concert Artists Guild’s 2012 competition, keeps a very busy schedule and seems to gravitate toward contemporary repertoire. This concert seemed to be an opportunity for him to blow off some steam. The bill started somewhat haphazardly with the world premiere of Jonathan Dawe‘s Cello Sonata, with Stephen Gosling on piano. On one hand, its architecture is clever, taking the sonata concept as we understand it today back two hundred years by giving the lion’s share of activity to the piano rather than the cello. On the other hand, the way it constantly veered between classical harmony and the twelve-tone system was jarring, as motive after motive flashed by. It never really had time to coalesce.

Jason Eckardt’s Flux, with Campbell joined by flutist Eric Lamb, began with the feel of a jazz improvisation, albeit one without the kind of sputtering and scraping you might expect from the pairing of these two instruments. It came together subtly and artfully as the duo intertwined and exchanged voices.

The piece de resistance was the New York premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino‘s 1981 composition Vanitas: Still Life in One Act, Campbell teaming with Gosling and soprano Sharon Harms. It goes on too long, becomes interminable and repeats itself practically ad nauseum, but that seems intentional: this twistedly creepy, glacially slow, sardonic punk classical piece is as funny as it is menacing (and brutally difficult to play!), and the audience loved it. Does any other work exist which requires the cellist to spend so much time playing fractions of an inch from the bridge? 95% of the cello score is harmonics, but Campbell was up to the challenge, through a droll, endless call-and-response with Harms, whispery sustained accents punctuated by long, pregnant pauses and the occasional rise to whiplash agitation or icily spinning circular phrases delivered with icepick precision by Gosling.

Both the pianist and cellist managed to keep a straight face, although Harms couldn’t, no surprise since she got the bulk of the work’s silliest moments, her stentorian, declamatory phrases trailing off into a quasi-yodel. Sciarrino’s incessant use of microtones and slides make it even more difficult for a singer, but Harms nailed it, to the extent that you can nail something as slippery as this. And when the time came about midway through where it seemed that the composer realized that a horror film soundtrack of sorts was within reach and then went for it, more or less abandoning the tomfoolerly, the effect was viscerally chilling. At least until Campbell’s long, slow, deadpan downward slide at the very end, the sonic equivalent of a tracking shot panning the horizon at a dead crawl as the sun slips under. He’d never heard the piece prior to playing it, grinningly explaining it as “a lot stranger than I had expected.” Here’s to having the nerve to tackle it at all, let alone with such deviously purposeful command.

May 8, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dollshot Has Creepy Fun with Classical Art-Song

This is a Halloween album. New York ensemble Dollshot’s M.O. is to take hundred-year-old classical “art songs,” do a verse or a chorus absolutely straight-up and then matter-of-factly and methodically mangle them – which might explain the “shot” in “Dollshot.” Usually the effect is menacing, sometimes downright macabre, but just as often they’re very funny: this group has a great sense of humor. Pigeonholing them as “punk classical” works in a sense because that’s what they’re doing to the songs, but they also venture into free jazz. And all this works as stunningly well as it does because they’re so good at doing the songs as written before they get all sarcastic. Frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan’s otherworldly beautiful, crystalline high soprano, which she colors with a rapidfire vibrato in places, makes a perfectly deadpan vehicle for this material. Pianist Wes Matthews circles and stabs with a coroner’s precision in the upper registers for a chilly, frequently chilling moonlit ambience. In the band’s most punk moments, tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan is the ringleader: when he goes off key and starts mocking the melodies, it’s LOL funny. Bassist Giacomo Merega alternates between precise accents and booming atmospherics that rise apprehensively from the depths below.

The three strongest tracks are all originals. The Trees, written by Matthews, sets nonchalantly ominous, quiet vocals over a hypnotic, circular melody with bass and off-kilter prepared piano that hints at a resolution before finally turning into a catchy rock song at the end. “The trees are falling…the trees are choking…the pail is falling…” Surreal, and strange, and also possibly funny – it perfectly capsulizes the appeal of this band. Noah Kaplan’s Fear of Clouds is the most stunningly eerie piece here, ghost girl vocalese over starlit piano and then an agitated crescendo with bass pairing off against quavery saxophone terror – it would make a great horror movie theme. And the closing cut, Postlude, layers sepulchral sax overtones over a damaged yet catchy hook that refuses to die.

The covers are more lighthearted. Woozy sax pokes holes in an otherwise dead-serious and absolutely spot-on version of Arnold Schoenberg’s Galathea and his twisted little waltz, Der Genugsame Liebhaber, which by itself already seems something of a parody. Poulenc gets off a little easier: the band adds add murky apprehension to La Reine de Coeur and leaves the gorgeously ominous Lune d’Avril pretty much alone other than adding some sepulchral atmospherics at the end. Bouncing gently on some completely off-center, synthy prepared piano tones, Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here Comes That Rainy Day is reinvented as art-song with a comic wink, yet while bringing the lyrics into sharper focus than most jazz acts do. And a Charles Ives medley of The Cage, Maple Leaves and Evening makes a launching pad for the unexpected power in Rosalie Kaplan’s stratospheric upper registers, as well as Matthews’ mountains-of-the-moon piano and an unexpected minimalist, ambient interlude that only enhances the nocturnal vibe. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of 2011 at the end of the year.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment