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

A Dusky Jewel and a Lower East Side Park Gig From Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck has pushed the envelope with what can be done on one of the world’s most soulful, expressive instruments for more than two decades. She loves extended technique, writes terse and translucent melodies and has no fear of darkness. Her latest, self-titled album – streaming at youtube – dates from the dark days of the 2021 lockdown, a series of rapturous and often plaintive duets with like-minded performers. Schoenbeck’s next show is a prime opportunity to watch her work a similarly intimate magic on Sept 5 at around 2:30 PM in the community garden at 129 Stanton St near Essex, where she’s playing as part of a trio with drummer TA Thompson and bassist Ken Filiano. Soprano sax wizard Sam Newsome opens the afternoon at 1:30 with flutist Laura Cocks and multi-wind icon Daniel Carter; reedman Andrew Lamb and his trio close out the afternoon starting at 4. Take the F or J/M to Delancey St.

The album’s opening track is O’Saris, Schoenbeck building distorted duotones and then a fond nocturne over drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s distant, mystical rumbles and what could be a gong, She provides a solid foundation, playing good cop to Nicole Mitchell’s rather coy responses until the flutist lures her into an increasingly dynamic conversation in the ten-minute Sand Dune Trilogy. Although there are moments of wry humor in places, the duo focus on creating a steely, modal poignancy as they move along.

Schoenbeck’s cover of Lullaby, by Low, with Nels Cline on guitar, is a dystopic dirge: the instant where his acidic spirals launch Schoenbeck’s introductory phrasing will take your breath away. Rising from from minimalist arpeggios, the du0 give you danger before any promise of a new dawn fades to a mechanical chill. It’s impossible to think of a more poignant or spot-on musical reflection of the past thirty months than this.

Then Schoenbeck pairs with Roscoe Mitchell for Chordata, a spacious moment of comic revelry. If you make videos, this makes a great soundtrack for the goofiest meme you can find.

She picks up the pace with pianist Matt Mitchell in Augur Strokes, exchanging enigmatic clusters equally informed by Messiaen and the baroque, punctuated by judicious use of space (a major theme in Schoenbeck’s work). Exploring brooding portents and puckish poltergeist motives, the duo rise to turbulence and then bring everything full circle.

She pairs with Mark Dresser for the aptly titled Absence, a warily expanding, distantly blues-tinged tableau, shadowed by the bassist’s sparse, broodingly bowed washes and flickers. Anaphoria, with Wayne Horvitz, never breaks free from a moody, Armenian-tinged undercurrent despite the pianist’s leaps and bounds.

Cellist Peggy Lee’s muted slashes contrast with Schoenbeck’s haunted explorations, then the two coalesce with their keening, resonant harmonics in Suspend a Bridge. Pianist/songwriter Robin Holcomb sings the allusively portentous final cut, Sugar as Schoenbeck floats elegically overhead:

What’s for certain no one can tell
It’s a low day
Sniper raven in the air
Stealing silver from my hair
Carve initials on the stairs
Then fly away
Your shadow feels the same as you
I wear it as you want me to
Now there’s so much more to do
Until it’s over .

Count this as one of the half-dozen most darkly gorgeous albums of the past year.

September 3, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Historic Meeting of Some of the World’s Greatest Improvisational Minds

The new release Flow States, a highly entertaining, frequently thrilling improvisatory session recorded in 2015, speaks to the imperiled state of music in 2020. After the lockdowners banned musicians from playing onstage and earning what had essentially become their sole source of income, artists around the world have been flooding the web with all kinds of incredible archival recordings. Desperate times, desperate measures – and the quality of this material reminds us of what we stand to lose if we continue to allow ourselves to be locked down.

This session has special historical value for being the very first time that saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell had played with either the Sun Ra Arkestra‘s iconic Marshall Allen, or with Milford Graves, the polymath drummer, cardiac medicine specialist, sound healing pioneer and musicologist. Multi-reedman Scott Robinson pulled the session together. While the session was in an open studio with no separation, the individual voices of this hall of fame lineup are distinct and everybody gets plenty of chances to give the listener goosebumps.

Allen is in the left channel, mainly on alto sax. Mitchell is in the center, beginning on soprano, sometimes shifting in one piece from sopranino to bass or alto. Robinson is on the right, moving from tenor to bass to contrabass and then alto, mixing it up as usual. And you should see Graves’ kit, with all those toms, delivering a majestically boomy, mysterious groove. Who needs a bass when you have that guy in the band?

Mitchell’s rapidfire melismas are so otherworldly and bagpipe-like throughout the first number, Vortex State, that it’s almost as if he’s playing the EWI that Allen has used for so long in the Sun Ra band. Meanwhile, Graves goes to his mallets for a deep, spacious river as Allen and Robinson carry on a lively, sharp conversation from the edges.

Track two, the aptly titled Dream State, floats over Graves’ magically shamanic, muted, steady pulse, sprites slowly popping up amidst the mist. Allen first goes to the EWI in the trio piece Transition State for a woozily amusing contrast with the droll strutting and foghorn sonics from Robinson’s bass sax as Graves builds a hypnotic sway with his cymbals.

Steady State, a duo piece for Graves and Mitchell’s Balkan-tinged sopranino, is arguably the album’s most relentlessly adrenalizing interlude. Allen picks up the EWI again for the wryly spacy warpscape Plasma State, another duo with Graves. Altered State also has ridiculously funny moments, whether it’s Robinson’s heavy-lidded lows on contrabass sax, or Graves sounding the alarm.

Variable State, a conversation between Mitchell and Allen (back on alto), has plenty of jokes too good to give away, but just as much daunting extended technique. The full quartet close with the title track, which with its relentless traffic jam ambience could be called Garden State, where the album was recorded. More auspiciously, a vinyl release is planned, including extra material that wouldn’t fit on this one.

November 27, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alex Cline and Large Ensemble Reinvent an Avant-Garde Favorite

Drummer Alex Cline‘s recent release of his 2011 large-ensemble concert reworking of Roscoe Mitchell’s 1969 cult classic improvisational suite For People in Sorrow begs the question, why bother? Maybe because the original left such a mark on Cline. For the concert, he assembled an all-star, mostly West Coast group: Oliver Lake on reeds, Vinny Golia on woodwinds, Dan Clucas on cornet and flute, Jeff Gauthier on violin, Maggie Parkins on cello, Zeena Parkins on harp, Myra Melford on piano and harmonium, G.E. Stinson on electric guitar, Mark Dresser on bass, Dwight Trible and Sister Dang Nghiem on vocals. This crew does it less as a theme and variations than a long, dynamically and sometimes radically shifting tone poem. Those expecting a close approximation of the original won’t find that here, although the ensemble’s commitment and attention to the overall mood is very similar. Much of the piece is up at youtube.

There’s a lot of pairing, conversations and outright duels here: bass and percussion,  piano and cornet, vocals and gongs, guitar and bongos, sax and bass drum and a whole lot more, Cline perhaps by necessity as bandleader being up to his elbows in most of the sparring. High/low contrasts maintain a sense of tension, agitated flutes or harp against nebulous, Braxton-esque washes of sound. Cline engages with the entirety of the sonic spectrum, from the whisperiest of temple bell tones, to Hendrixian guitar wails and bunker-buster gong hits. Vocals, other than Nghiem’s – who sings religious invocations in Vietnamese – are mostly wordless but no less vivid.

Fullscale solos here, other than a trio of absolutely frantic ones from Lake, are few and far between. Brief spotlights on harp, cello and harmonium are slashingly effective, and arguably the high points of the performance. The long, all-enveloping series of crescendos at the end prefigure Wadada Leo Smith‘s more rambunctious orchestral works.The hippie-dippie poem that serves as the intro – added for this performance – adds nothing. The cd (out from Cryptogramophone) also comes with a dvd of the concert whose sound quality impressively matches that of the cd.  What does it mean, that this turbulent Vietnam War-era reflection still resonates as strongly as it does? Is it testament to the universality of Mitchell’s vision, and this group’s sense of it…or that people are just as barbaric, yet just as much in need of a respite from that barbarity, as they’ve always been?

December 7, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment