Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bang on a Can Marathon 2010: The Early Hours

This year’s Bang on a Can Marathon aimed to be especially audience-friendly. In the “social media lounge” on the World Financial Center balcony, you could recharge your laptop, play an Evan Ziporyn or Julia Wolfe composition on Rock Band (!?!) and get your hand stamped by the hour. Those with a full twelve hours worth of stamps at the night’s end had earned Marathon Warrior designation, a certificate of merit (suitable for framing!) plus a mention on Bang on a Can’s main site and their twitter page. A little extreme, maybe, but that’s what a marathon’s all about. How does this year’s rank, compared to previous years? From the first four hours’ worth, somewhere around the top. The annual new music showcase runs ’em on and runs ’em off, meaning that if you don’t like the piece or ensemble that’s onstage at the moment, you can always come back in ten minutes and there’ll probably be somebody new up there. This year’s selection of performers and composers was characteristically skewed toward the avant-garde (subcategory: postminimalist) with jazzy edges.

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble opened the show auspiciously with the drummer/composer’s Perseverance, the centerpiece of the group’s excellent 2009 album Eternal Interlude. Completed on Election Eve, 2008 and dedicated to Obama, it sends three specific sax voices (played by Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby and Jeremy Viner) fluttering and flailing against the big band’s majestic swells and a couple of inspired drum breaks by the composer. Eskelin got the Obama role and hung in there tenaciously for all it was worth.

Innovatively and more than a little deviously, German recorder quartet QNG ran through a New York premiere of Dorothee Hahne’s somewhat understated Dance Macabre and its neat half-time ending, and then Paul Moravec’s Mortal Flesh, shifting from hypnotic horizontality to warped baroque, utilizing at least half a museum’s worth of recorders of various sizes. They brought the big seven-foot model out for the final piece, Moritz Eggert’s LOL funny Flohwalze (that’s German for Chopsticks – the tune, that is), mocking and thrashing its cheesiness to the fullest extent that a recorder quartet can thrash.

The mockery continued with Kyrzyg musicians Kambar Kalendarov and Kutman Sultanbekov playing a simple boing-boing jews harp riff over and over again, completely deadpan until the very end, as if to see if the westerners in the crowd knew they were being had. The crowd’s polite applause seemed to confirm the Kyrzygs’ suspicions. The duo finally played a little country dance on lute and fiddle and that was that.

Florent Ghys effectively took speech patterns and did a one-man band thing, making vaguely baroque-themed loops out of them by playing his upright bass through a series of electronic effects. Eggert then did the same on piano, except that his Hammerklavier III went all-out for laughs and delivered them in droves as he pounded the piano everywhere he could reach, finally kicking up his heel on the low keys and losing his shoe in the process.

The Lucy Moses School’s ensemble Face the Music played Graham Fitkin’s Mesh, which attempts to make a rondo capricioso of sorts out of minimal, circular phrases that eventually move into elevator jazz territory. Following them was a duo playing a Tristan Perich work for tubular bells, electronically processed and amplified to the point that it was like being behind a fleet of garbage trucks with their backup alarms shrieking at full volume: a bathroom break waiting to happen.

Alto saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman, joined by Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, and David Millares on piano played the captivating suite Formation – Lunar Eclipse, cleverly and often intensely exploring permutations of a hypnotic, circular introductory theme that finally got the chance to cut loose when Millares, whose intensity shadowing Coleman’s sax lines all the way through finally got a chance to break loose and wreak some slightly restrained havoc.

With their marimbas, vibraphones, gongs, water jugs and all sorts of other bangable objects, percussion troupe Slagwerk Den Haag opened their short set with the New York premiere of Seung-Ah Oh’s delightfully playful DaDeRimGill, a dramatic laundry-room scenario that managed to be as purposeful and conversational as it was comedic. Marco Momi’s Ludica (an American premiere) displayed the same kind of conversational tradeoffs and humor.

While one trailerload of instruments was being cleared off the stage for another, the JACK Quartet played Iannis Xenakis’ Tetras on the steps in the back of the atrium, amid the audience, moving from characteristic astringent, percussive phrases to swirling and strikingly melodic ambience. It was the big hit of the day, at least until Evan Ziporyn and his group Gamelan Galak Tika were ready to go. Bang on a Can’s Michael Gordon laughed it up with the composer beforehand since the group follow oldschool gamelan tradition, right down to the matching uniforms and seating arrangements. “I thought it was the Bang on a Can pyjama party,” Ziporyn responded sheepishly. “Xenakis, next to a gamelan, really sums up Bang on a Can,” which pretty much says it all.

And the Ziporyn piece they played, Tire Fire, was as aptly titled as it was transcendent. Ziporyn self-deprecatingly remarked beforehand that the piece really had no real reason to exist. Which maybe it doesn’t – other than to give audiences (and ensemble members) a shot of pure adrenaline exhilaration. It’s a triptych of sorts, each theme introduced by the group’s two electric guitarists. The first movement was the eeriest and the best, the ensemble’s bells ringing out an ocean of overtones against the Telecaster’s ominous shades. The two following movements were more optimistic, the second pulsing along with catchy yet stately electric bass. And with that, after four hours of music, it was time to fly out into the hundred-degree heat. Which combined with the messed-up state of the West Village, the police mystifyingly blocking off access to subways from Christopher to 14th St. despite the presence of a huge crowd who’d come out for the gay parade, made the prospect of a return later in the day a foregone conclusion.

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June 28, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

QNG Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/9/08

At first glance, the concept seemed forced and contrived: four attractive, ponytailed women in matching black t-shirts and pants playing rigorously arranged music for recorder. But QNG (as in Quartet New Generation) proved to be much more than just the latest attempt to market classical music as theme-pop, playing an impressively versatile mix of classical and new music with equal amounts of passion, wit, playfulness and rigor. Without a program, it wasn’t always easy to tell precisely what they were playing, but there was a tradeoff: drinks and a nice waitress to bring them! Carnegie Hall suddenly seems boring by comparison.

They began with a baroque work: imagine Scherzo fur Krummhorn by Georg Bohm, if in fact it exists (probably not, but you get the picture). After that, they did a circular, hypnotic modern work, reminding a lot of Chicago downtempo improvisers Tortoise. They followed with the last, unfinished piece that Johann Sebastian Bach ever wrote, a fugue. It’s not one of his major works, but it’s still Bach, melodic with a slightly detached melancholy. The group stopped it cold where it ended, unexpectedly, and after a meaningful pause played the ending composed by one of his sons. The quartet had brought what seemed to be an entire factory floor worth of recorders in various sizes and types of wood, the players sometimes alternating between several within a single song. One was a large, boxy, rectangular wooden instrument capable of of playing chords on notes far lower than one would ever expect from a recorder. At times where the highs were matched by lows, it was as if an organ was playing, testament to the group’s tightly synchronous feel for the music.

They also did an arrangement of a medieval madrigal worthy of Bach along with a new piece by contemporary composer Paul Moravec on the theme of water heating to a boil, whose predictable, long crescendo was quite enjoyable until the end, which was painfully akin to listening to a roomful of teakettles screeching away at full steam. They also played another new piece that annoyed with an incessant pizzicato rhythm until a sudden macabre swell followed by a frenetic chase scene, and then it all became clear: the composer’s simply trying to be Mingus. The group ought to take some liberties with it and give it some muscle in the early going. But all in all, this show was a revelation, the last thing one would ever expect to hear in the back room of a Gallic-themed bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn where QNG earned a rousing ovation for a performance that was as adventurous as it was virtuosic.

The monthly classical series at Barbes, needless to say, is a welcome development. Here’s hoping that they continue with it: early Sundays are usually a wash as far as bar traffic is concerned, so it ought to bring some extra bodies into the place while maintaining Barbes’ reliably high standards.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment