Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Barbez Brings Paul Celan to Life in Midtown

Stark, often haunting, eclectic Brooklyn band Barbez have explored several different styles: Tom Waits-ish cabaret, Big Lazy-style noir soundtracks and most recently gypsy rock. The incarnation that played the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown Thursday night is the most interesting yet. Along with the encores, the show brought to life the band’s the most recent Tzadik album Force of Light, a musical companion to a series of poems by Holocaust survivor Paul Celan. Celan wrote in German – his original language – and met with considerable criticism for it. His earlier work is graceful, meticulously constructed and haunted; his later poems are considerably gnomic. He asserted that language was a sanctuary of sorts for him, the only way to make sense of the horrors he’d witnessed, including the murder of his parents in a death camp. Celan committed suicide in 1970. This version of the band – leader Dan Kaufman on guitar and lapsteel, Peter Hess on clarinet and bass clarinet, Danny Tunick on vibraphone and marimba, Peter Lettre on bass, John Bollinger on drums, the Quavers‘ Catherine McRae on violin – played in mostly minor keys alongside Cassie Tunick’s matter-of-fact narration.

The first song, Shibboleth set the stage for what was to follow, a succinct, distantly klezmer-tinged, fingerpicked acoustic guitar theme that expanded with subtle variations: it made an apt soundtrack for the accompanying poem, an imagistic cautionary tale. Kaufman switched to Strat for the album’s title track – the accompanying poem is cynical, Sysyphian and death-obsessed, the instrumental slow, swaying and austere with a violin lead track in place of Pamelia Kurstin’s theremin on the studio version, Tunick’s vibes signaling a desperate stampede down to a troubled, repetitive outro. Aspen Trees, based on Celan’s dedication to his mother, was an understated dirge driven by clarinet and another strikingly terse, melodic central hook by Kaufman. Based on two late poems, Corner of Time maintained the plaintive atmosphere with a stately sway, everyone in the band adding off-kilter accents in turn.

Count the Almonds, an allusion to a popular ghetto snack, was the most overtly klezmer-inflected composition of the night, utilizing intricately tremoloing vibraphone passages to build crescendos to one final swell with the drums going full tilt, then down and out with surprising gentleness. Their take on The Black Forest was funky and enlivened with all kinds of dynamic shifts; Conversation in the Mountains – based on Celan’s only known prose piece, was a long, doomed cruise to nowhere. The last of the Celan pieces, Sky Beetle gave Hess a long runway to launch a gliding, hypnotic bass clarinet passage evocative of hypnotic avant-chamber ensemble Redhooker. They encored with a brightly apprehensive chase scene of sorts based on an ancient Roman Jewish melody, and a surfy, creepily phantasmagorical take on an Alfred Schnittke piece. The polyglot crowd in the auditorium wanted more despite the fact that after about an hour and a half onstage, the band had literally heated up the room.

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May 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raptly Watching Redhooker at Littlefield

“Usually our music is described as brooding, and dark, and melancholic,” Redhooker frontman/guitarist Stephen Griesgraber told the hushed crowd at Littlefield late in their show Saturday night. “This one’s not,” he grinned, and led the atmospheric avant-chamber group into a long, carefree, bucolic, absolutely gorgeous instrumental that he said was about fish. Fluid ripples flying from his fingers as he picked, he eventually ceded the distantly bluegrass-tinged melody to new keyboardist Derek Muro and his Fender Rhodes, the violins of Andie Springer and Maxim Moston managing to be simultaneously animated and hypnotic. It perfectly capsulized the mood they’d set early on and maintained throughout their set. Their latest album Vespers is aptly titled, a still, ambient series of nocturnes. Onstage this time around they took them to a land of midnight sun, imbuing them with a quiet joy.

What’s even better is that the band has started improvising live, with tremendously captivating results. Everyone was using his or her effects pedals, Griesgraber experimenting with drones, loops and sheets of feedback which he’d use to ease the compositions in to the point where a violin or two, or Muro’s organ, would add a texture or a single complementary note or phrase, pedaling or sustaining it depending on what the rest of the band was doing. Bedside, a trance-inducing rondo, got a stretched-out treatment which emphasized both its baroque roots and cinematic sweep. The sheer volume of the songs was one transformative aspect, the band digging in a little for a wider dynamic spectrum than on the album, Griesgraber reaching for a little extra oomph as the strings would swell, Peter Hess’ bass clarinet weaving in and out of the melody when he wasn’t anchoring it with a low drone or a contrapuntal bassline of sorts. At one point, the whole group had their pedals going, Hess tapping on the body of his instrument, adding yet another level of reverberating, pointillistic rhythm while Springer tossed off some sparks with some judicious pizzicato phrasing. Much of what they play could be characterized as horizontal or minimalist, but horizontality doesn’t often offer the opportunity for this kind of interplay or just plain fun. The crowd was rapt all the way through. It would have been interesting to stick around for headliner Kelli Rudick, who was schedule to hit at around eleven, but the threat of a midnight domino effect on the trains (you never know with the MTA – trains on the way there, ostensibly completely FUBAR, were fine) was reason to err on the side of caution instead of further adventure. And Redhooker would have been a hard act to follow in any case.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dither Quartet Mess with Your Mind

File this under psychedelia. If you’re a fan of the dirtier, more ominous textures an electric guitar can create, an entire ocean of them, the Dither guitar quartet’s new album is for you. This is one of those albums that sounds like it was an awful lot of fun to make, in places moreso than it is to listen to. Incorporating elements of noise-rock, dreampop, guitar jazz, classical and the avant-garde, Dither’s dense, hypnotic, overtone-laden instrumentals are imaginative, clever, sometimes subtly funny, other times flat-out assaultive. The influence of Elliott Sharp (who wrote the album liner notes) is everywhere, as is that of Steve Reich. But this isn’t mere layers of drones: with five different composers (including Dither’s own Joshua Lopes) represented, there’s a wide diversity among the tracks here. From the first few seconds, it’s clear that trying to figure out which of the group’s members – Lopes, Taylor Levine, David Linaburg and James Moore – is playing what is a lost cause, but there’s a consistent dedication to thinking out of the box and just simply having fun.

The opening track, Lainie Fefferman’s Tongue of Torns, is a pretty standard Steve Reich-ish “let’s all play the same A chord for an hour and a half” except that this one has a surprise, a shock to the system about three quarters of the way through. And they do it again, and again. Pantagruel, written by Lopes, is the most overtly jazz-oriented work here, serpentine ascending progresssions intertwined through off-key, tone-warping patches that eventually crash, burn and then fade out a la A Day in the Life. Lisa R. Coons’ suite Cross-Sections is a showcase for the group’s exuberant command of every guitar texture ever invented, weaving hypnotically through skronk, atmospherics, muted plucking, a long siren passage, raptly still atmospherics and good old-fashioned noise. The showstopper here (they played this at Bang on a Can last year) is Eric KM Clark’s ExPAT, written for “as many guitarists as possible.” It’s a hearing-deprivation piece, each guitarist sonically isolated from the rest of the group, wearing headphones blasting white noise so as to throw their timing off. Yet the group is not so easily distracted! Ominous and intense, it’s a pulsing, echoing choir of hell’s bells, very evocative of Louis Andriessen at his most insistently abrasive. And yet, its shifts are extremely subtle, drifting apart but then coming together before another slight divergence.

Dither plays the cd release show on June 12 at the Invisible Dog Art Center, 51 Bergen St. in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn on a ridiculously inviting bill, a mini-Bang on a Can marathon of sorts with Redhooker, Kathleen Supové and Nick Didkovsky, Elliott Sharp, Matthew Welch, the Deprivation Orchestra of NY, Loud Objects, Mantra Percussion and Florent Ghys, which for a $6 cover turns out to be less than a dollar a band.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: My Education – Sunrise

The Dirty Three meets Friends of Dean Martinez meets Brooklyn Rider meets My Bloody Valentine – that’s what the absolutely killer, hypnotic new album by cinematic, psychedelic Austin instrumentalists My Education sounds like. Just as Steve Nieve did with F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Chicha Libre have recently done with Chaplin films, My Education chose to compose a new soundtrack for Murnau’s Oscar-winning 1927 silent film Sunrise. Weaving elements of dreampop, art-rock and baroque music into lush, densely shimmering soundscapes, the album transcends any kind of label that might be conveniently stamped on a film soundtrack.

The opening track is a pretty, wistful circular fugue theme with strings, in the same vein as Brooklyn Rider’s recent work, or a louder Redhooker. The second segment, City Woman Theme offers a tip of the hat to Pink Floyd’s Breathe, building to a swirling, dense cloud of dreampop reverb guitar. With an ominous, David Lynchian feel, Lust layers strings and stately guitar accents over a slow swaying beat, swirling and blending hypnotically down to just a texturally beautiful thicket of acoustic guitars over drums. Then they bring it up again.

The tense tone poem Heave Oars has staccato guitar echoes winding their way through a wash of eerie noise. Howling overtones and finally the drums come pounding along, with a fierce martial riff straight out of something the Church might have done on Priest = Aura, a volcanic ocean of roaring guitars that finally fades away unexpectedly in the span of a few seconds. The next track, Peasant Dance alternates between a fast, rustic shuffle with vibraphone and viola, and majestic gypsy-flavored metal. The album wraps up with the apprehensive, tensely cloudy tone poem A Man Alone and then the title track, its theme baroquely working variations on a simple hook cleverly spiced with slide guitar, Scarlatti as played by Floyd circa Dark Side. It’s all absolutely hypnotic and psychedelic. The album is just out on Strange Attractors; the band will be on summer tour, with a full schedule of dates here.

May 9, 2010 Posted by | experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Redhooker – Vespers

In terms of lush nocturnal beauty, this album tops the charts for 2010, end of story. Beguiling instrumental ensemble Redhooker defy categorization, incorporating elements of chamber music, ambient soundscapes, psychedelic rock and avant genres like minimalism and horizontal music, but whichever label you slap them with the result is the same, hypnotic and dreamlike. Where Brian Eno did ambient music for airports, this is ambient music for empty rooms in abandoned buildings, intimate yet impenetrably mysterious. There’s an almost magical symmetry to the compositions here, yet constantly an element of surprise. Essentially, this is a theme and variations interrupted by two long jams – which perhaps not ironically are the most captivating parts of the album. Guitarist/composer Stephen Griesgraber alternates between atmospheric washes of sound, simple but effective lead lines and gently insistent fingerpicking while the violins of Andie Springer and Maxim Moston trade harmonies and textures, with Peter Hess’ bass clarinet often carrying the lead counterintuitively in the lowest registers.

The opening track, Standing Still establishes a circular theme that weaves among the instruments like a lazy dragonfly in the bulrushes. The line goes straight back to Haydn if you follow it through the clouds. The aptly titled Bedside is a swaying minimalist lullaby with distant baroque echoes, a study in textural contrasts, guitar or bass clarinet playing stately melody versus the sweep of the violins. The first improvisation, Presence and Reflection begins ghostly, gently ominous with whispering waves of guitar noise, a draft-through-the-door atmosphere with distant echoes of (but not by) Pink Floyd. And then it’s a lullaby again, going out on a gentle, late afternoon tide.

Things get as lively as they’re going to here on the next cut, Friction, interwoven with subtly colliding textures and building to a tricky dance that wouldn’t be out of place in the Turtle Island String Quartet oeuvre. And then night falls again with the second jam, like Pink Floyd’s On the Run but quarterspeed – you could call it On the Crawl. In over fifteen minutes, starkly glimmering, Gilmouresque guitar rings out in the distance over dense waves of noise, the violins and then the bass clarinet eventually making a welcome, deftly terse return to paint in pieces of melody that slowly make shape out of shadow . The album ends with a rondo, each instrument working a judiciously studied piece of the original theme, ending with bass clarinet looming in from behind the strings like a sleepy caretaker who’s gotten to know the ghosts in this place by now. It takes a special kind of album to be this quiet and still keep the listener captivated, not to mention awake. This is that album.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Victrola and Redhooker at Galapagos, Brooklyn NY 12/12/08

A night of rich, lush instrumentals. To try to pigeonhole all-female quintet Victrola or the evening’s headliner, Redhooker as classical, or minimalist, or downtempo wouldn’t do justice to either group’s quietly adventurous sensibility, although each utilizes elements of all three. One comparison might be American composer Leo Sowerby, who sixty years ago moved effortlessly between pop, jazz and the organ music for which he’s best known. Or Astor Piazzolla, if only in spirit. Esthetically both units are far more Romantic than Modernist, unabashedly favoring melody and emotion over any intellectual contrivance.

 

With violin, clarinet, two keyboards and upright bass, Victrola (now known as Victoire) reminded somewhat of Sigur Ros transported to a vastly warmer climate, maybe the Mediterranean. The thoughtfulness and imagination of their set foreshadowed what was to come with Redhooker, which isn’t surprising considering that they credit that group as an influence. Keyboardist Missy Mazzoli’s compositions are generally plaintive and often circular, catchy motifs rising and falling out of the mix and then returning to claim their turf, sometimes triumphantly as with the first song of the set which built at the last second to a rousing, noisy ending. Their second piece worked the idea in reverse, violin and clarinet shifting from providing rhythm to atmospheric washes of sound. Their most melodically interesting piece moved along steadily on a jaunty 4/4 beat, with just enough drama over a single, repetitive, minimalist electric piano motif to remind of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Their last song was an ensemble piece with a big crescendo, one of the keyboardists holding it aloft with a roaring, fiery pipe organ setting.

 

An ever-changing cast led by brilliantly terse electric guitarist/composer Stephen Griesgraber, Redhooker tonight also featured violin, viola and bass clarinet. As another pioneering guitarist (Chuck Berry) was known to do on occasion, Griesgraber is fond of piano voicings, a technique that works like a charm in this outfit. Their first piece began with the guitar playing a piano riff against pensive violin washes and plucked viola, stately, haunting and so hypnotic that it took extra concentration to figure out who was playing what. Their second song featured (new and as yet untitled, Griesgraber told the crowd) was slow, sparse and almost baroque with all the tradeoffs between guitar and strings. A long, trance-inducing, absolutely psychedelic noise jam followed, a melody finally emerging after several minutes with an insistent four-note phrase slowly pulsing, the strings continuing to flutter. Their fifth and final song without words was all rich, lush beauty, vividly pensive fingerpicked guitar shining through the mist of the strings as the bass clarinet played a casual, matter-of-fact bassline. The crowd wanted more but didn’t get it, which was too bad because Griesgraber’s melodies are terrifically suited for improvisation, and the crew he had with him seemed like they’d be more than up to the task of stretching out and taking them to all sorts of new and unexpected places.

 

Sandwiched between the two bands were Twi the Humble Feather, whose overlong set drew in listeners with their warmly strummed guitars, their pseudo-operatic vocals pushing back in the opposite direction with far greater force.

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, review | , , , , , | Leave a comment