Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

CD Review: Phillip Johnston – Page of Madness

A horror movie soundtrack like no other. In addition to his substantial body of jazz, Microscopic Septet founder Phillip Johnston gets plenty of film work. This one debuted a full ten years ago at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, played live to the 1926 Teinosuke Kinugasa silent film A Page of Madness by the Transparent Quartet:  Johnston on soprano and alto saxes, Joe Ruddick on piano and baritone sax, Dave Hofstra on bass and Mark Josefsburg on vibes. More a haunting portrait of insanity than outright horror, A Page of Madness has achieved cult status as a rare example of 1920s Japanese avante-garde filmmaking (Kinugasa cited Murnau’s The Last Laugh as a major influence). For reasons unknown, literally dozens of record labels were approached but were unwilling to release this album, notwithstanding the fact that a more recent electronic score is absolutely lame and only detracts from the movie.

From his work with the Micros, Johnston makes a good match for the flick, being no stranger to effective, frequently very amusing narrative jazz. This is a radically different side of the composer and quite a departure from his usual approach in that there is a great deal of improvisation going on. This one-off set was played to a relatively slow 18ips projector speed, most likely to maximize shading and minimize the herky-jerky fast-forward effect that plagues so much of early cinema. Like the film, Johnston’s composition is sad, viscerally intense and frequently haunting, the group’s improvisations sometimes rising to shriekingly anguished crescendos to match the script, by far the darkest work Johnston has released to date. To call it schizophrenic attests to its success in tandem with the visuals. Many of the instrumental pieces, some as long as nine or ten minutes, segue into each other. The central theme is an indignant, twisted little march, beginning on the vibraphone but frequently picked up by the piano or, toward the end, by the sax, sometimes traded off between instruments. Counterintuitively, it’s Hofstra’s snapping bass that launches a fullblown episode on track nine where the central character loses it for good. Johnston flutters and floats more than he goes crazy, while Ruddick, definitely the star of the show here, gets to fly completely off the hinges with crazed runs from one end of the keyboard to the other, a couple of murderously raging chordal passages and some plaintive sax work in tandem with Johnston.

Toward the end, there’s a ten-minute dream sequence alternating between troubled and balmy until a fullscale nightmare sets in, followed by sort of an overture and closing with a breezy, tinkly swing number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Micros catalog, morphing into a snazzy tango only to end somberly with the central march theme. As much as possible, it’s closure, coming to grips with madness. This is treat for jazz and vintage cinema fans alike as well as anyone who enjoys listening to the darkest stuff imaginable late at night with the lights out. Watch this space for live dates by Johnston with his many diverse projects.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment