Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Riveting Concert and an Upcoming Parkside Show by Diana Wayburn’s Dances of the World Ensemble

You might think from the name of the group that pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn‘s Dances of the World Chamber Ensemble play ballet music. That might be possible, but while their music is kinetic and intensely rhythmic, it has an edge and an individuality that transcend the boundaries of African music, classical, jazz, rock and film music while combining elements of all those styles. While Wayburn’s music often reminds of Mulatu Astatke’s Ethiopiques, or Astor Piazzolla’s shapeshifting, tango-based compositions, her sound is unique. There is no band in the world who sound anything like this group. If darkly glimmering, intense, energetic sounds are your thing, they’re playing the Parkside tonight, Nov 2 at 7 PM. Which might seem a strange place to see a chamber ensemble, but this group is just as at home in a rock venue as on a classical stage or in a jazz club.

Wayburn’s recordings – up at her Soundcloud page – encompass influences from West Africa to Spain, Argentina and beyond. The group’s concert at St. Marks Church this past September was much darker, more intense and seemingly jam-oriented than any of those tracks suggest: this is first and foremost a high-voltage, dynamic live band. Their opening number at that show began as a leapfrogging dance, Wayburn opening with a jaunty flute solo before handing off to trumpeter Marco Coco and violist Adam Matthes’ lingering lines. As the piece took on a moodily hypnotic Ethiopiques groove, trombonist Spencer Hale and then guitarist Ken Silverman took it deeper and deeper into the shadows, the guitar finally leading them up with a spiraling 70s art-rock feel before the band took it back down again. They let it wind out on an unsettled, unresolved note.

Switching to piano, Wayburn brought to mind Joy Division’s The Eternal, but with a towering, art-rock grandeur lit up with eerie chromatics and passing tones as the brooding second tune got underway. Coco added a tinge of the Middle East, Silverman some more traditional jazz phrasing and then Wayburn played bitingly rippling, incisive neoromantic lines all the way through to a triumphant downward cascade out. She and the band would revisit a similarly epic intensity with a brisk tango of sorts later in the show.

They played a more spacious, spare, bouncy number in between, with methodical solos from flute, trumpet and trombone over an insistent pulse reminiscent of American Indian music. They followed that with a gorgeously cinematic number fueled by Silverman’s insistence and Wayburn’s glistening minor-key piano, the most distinctively Ethiopian-flavored tune in the set. Andy O’Neill’s tumbling drums fueled the one-chord jam they closed with, Coco taking his time, choosing his spots and finally getting pretty wild before the group took it down into an ominously moody interlude fueled by Hale’s mournful trombone, then rising as the guitar and trumpet lept and jabbed over the murk underneath. Obviously, the lows resonated more mightily and maybe more menacingly in the church’s boomy sonics than might be the case in another room, but the intensity of this band – and Wayburn’s catchy, deceptively simple phrasing and intricate thematic variations – will be a factor no matter where they play. Catch them now before Wayburn gets a big Hollywood film score deal and all of a sudden the only place you’ll be able to find them is in much larger, pricier venues.

November 2, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Unexpected Treat from Dave Holland and Pepe Habichuela

Spring cleaning has its rewards. Pretty much every attempt to clean up the server at Lucid Culture HQ causes strange and sometimes beautiful things to float to the surface. Case in point: this album. The media kit file wouldn’t open and went into the trash, but the tracks remained. A listen to the first song was addictive – it was impossible to stop with the next track, and the one after that. The first begins with a long, flamenco-tinged bass solo, of all things. Flamenco guitar follows it, solo, darkly atmospheric rather than all melodramatic like the Gipsy Kings, with the thump of a cajon in the background. It’s basically a modal vamp on a couple of chords, the guitar with a harplike clarity and articulation. What was this magical music and who was playing it?

A little googling revealed the answer: back in October, legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland joined forces with Spanish gypsy flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela and his son Joseli (of crossover flamenco group Ketama) along with a percussionist, and put out this tremendously cool album, simply titled Hands. As it turns out, this is the result of a rather long process, Holland seeking to immerse himself in flamenco and become a good flamenco bassist rather than trying to jazz up the music, sometimes playing vocal lines on his bass. To his credit, not only did he become a good flamenco bassist, he keeps very good company. Although this is a pretty straight-up flamenco album, there are other influences here, especially Brazilian. What’s most striking is how judicious and thoughtful the guitar is, and how unpredictable the compositions are. There are crescendos to big choruses, but no cliches, and also no grand guignol, and a lot of counterintuitive touches. For example, on Camaron (“Shrimp”), Habichuela essentially plays an indie rock melody, Holland responding with a long, aptly cantabile solo. Then, on El Ritmo Me Lleva (“The Beat Moves Me”), the two guitars and bass follow a rhumba beat, with an airy, almost Pat Metheny-ish feel.

The title track starts out hinting at samba but quickly goes back to a tersely bristling flamenco groove, following an absolutely delicious, un-flamencoish chord progression and then a long, pensive bass solo that again stays solidly in flamenco territory. Likewise, Holland mimics the guitars on the most traditional number here, Puente Quebrao. Habichuela offers a solo guitar tribute to his new bass-playing friend; Joyride, by Holland, is the gentlest, most Brazilian-inflected tune here. There’s also the joyously crescendoing, tango-tinged Subi la Questa; Holland’s Whirling Dervish, a spotlight for Josemi’s rapidfire fretwork, and the rippling closing track. What a fun discovery at close to midnight on a work night – it’s less like being transported to a sangria-fueled gypsy campfire than to Holland’s studio where this beautifully intricate stuff began life.

April 11, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amy Gustafson Awes the Crowd at Trinity Church

Pianist Amy Gustafson is VP of the Spanish American Music Council, which makes sense, considering her affinity for Spanish and latin composers. Her solo performance yesterday at Trinity Church emphasized this, but it also underscored her originality and sensitivity as an interpreter of both Romantic and 20th century music. What a pleasure to discover a talented player who doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold.

She opened with three sonatas by Antonio Soler, downplaying the courtly waltziness of a couple of bright, major key pieces bookended around a strikingly plaintive performance of the E Minor Sonata (R. 113), a wary, wounded work that foreshadows Chopin. That composer’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 1, No. 1 was delivered with a matter-of-factness that again downplayed its thickets of grace notes, a more impressive achievement than it might seem: it’s fast and easy to overdramatize. By contrast, Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1, an obviously more mature work, vividly alternated sun-speckled and stormy textures.

Gustafson’s pacing had been finely nuanced all the way to this point, but her feel for the emotional push and pull of the material really came to the forefront in a richly varied series of eight preludes by Alexander Scriabin. Through rippling, distantly Asian notifs, poignantly flowing Chopinesque passages, a couple of roaring, chordally supercharged sprints that could have been Rachmaninoff, the occasional understated heroic theme and the warmly Schubert-tinged final Prelude No. 24 in D Minor with its fiery outro, she distinguished herself along with the music by pulling back whenever it threatened to get too “Romantic.” Scriabin bridged that era and the modern one, and one suspects he would have appreciated Gustafson’s renditions. Other pianists make this kind of stuff maudlin and campy; she made it plaintive and adrenalizing.

Yet during a particularly fast, percussive run up the scale in the El Puerto segment of Albeniz’ Iberia, Book 1, she made it look anything but easy, not only because it wasn’t, but because it made a perfect spot to emphasize apprehension and suspense in the midst of otherworldliness and flamenco-inflected grandeur. She closed with a romp through Ginastera’s Danzas Criollas, Op. 15, another study in contrasts, leaping from nocturnal wonder to a joyous bounce. Satisfied with a job well done, she pulled back from the piano after the strenuous chordal attack was finally over and almost fell over backwards. The audience agreed with her unanimously and demanded an encore, which turned out to be an unfamiliar but beautifully lyrical miniature titled The Secret. Gustafson has a southern tour coming up in November; watch this space for New York dates.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jordi Savall Discovers the New World

Virtuoso viola da gamba player and early music maven Jordi Savall needs no introduction to fans of classical music: as a bandleader, soloist, researcher and all-around time traveler, he’s unearthed all sorts of fascinating medieval treasures from Spain to the Middle East. Now, he turns his sights on Latin America with his pioneering new album El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, a collaboration with Mexican early music adventurers Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, his choir La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Swiss-based ensemble Hesperion XXI and Catalan soprano and early music specialist Montserrat Figueras. Utilizing a museum’s worth of baroque-era guitars and ancient guitar-like instruments along with a chamber orchestra and lush vocal harmonies, Savall and his fellow travelers run through an eye-opening mix of recently rediscovered, little-known early music from Mexico and the Americas dating back as far as the seventeenth century.

As Savall somberly avers in the fascinating, extensive liner notes, all of this music was the soundtrack to genocide: the music of the conquistadors always took precedence over the sounds of the embattled indigenous peoples. Yet cross-pollination is everywhere, even on the earliest works here. Ironically, many of those who worked alongside the conquistadors were outcasts from Spanish society: Jews, heretics and also an element that was considered criminal (but whose only crime may have been running afoul of the Spanish crown). It is therefore unsurprising that they would be more likely to mingle with the locals and become familiar with their music. The conquistadors, predictably, disliked it to the extent they banned it, including at least one and maybe more of the pieces here. All of these are taken from ancient manuscripts, subject to improvisation as was the custom then, with occasional, additional lyrics by Patricio Hidalgo and Enrique Barona of Tembembe Ensamble.

The one-four-five chord progression is everywhere, particularly on the early Mexican son jarocho numbers. Other pieces are folk songs arranged with the ornate harmonies of 1700s Spanish pop opera. The two oldest pieces are a traditional Mexican waltz from around 1650, and an operatically-tinged, bouncy antiphon for chamber ensemble and guitars that may date back as far as 1732. There’s a risque Mexican folk song about “cuckolding the priest,” a metaphorically charged tribute to the joys of green chiles that got a 24-year-old woman tried and probably executed for singing it, and a strikingly complex, contrapuntal Mexican slave song celebrating a fiesta where “we will all be white people tonight.” A couple of seafaring ballads, an operatic lullaby, a richly textured, guitar-orchestra number from Colombia, a bouncy operatic Mexican hymn and pair of Peruvian songs which predate the cumbia revolution by about two hundred years round out the album. It’s a long, strange trip, and absolutely essential for latin music fans. It’s out now on Alia Vox  (distributed by Harmonia Mundi here in the US).

August 19, 2010 Posted by | classical music, folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genre-Smashing New Guitar Albums from Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins

Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins are both gifted acoustic guitarists with individual voices, each with an innovative, flamenco-inspired approach and a new album out. Jacome imaginatively blends both rock and Middle Eastern melodies within a traditional gypsy flamenco framework, while Rollins brings a biting flamenco edge to his groove-oriented world jazz instrumentals. If flamenco or gypsy guitar is your thing, both of these guys should be on your radar, particularly since each has his best days ahead of him.

Jacome is a feel-good story: as a teenager, he wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, but was happily disabused of that fantasy when he discovered flamenco. He immersed himself in it the old-fashioned way, learning from the source from Roma in Spain. His new album Levanto is a fullscale ballet, a theme and variations complete with dancing – as a purist, he’s continuing a centuries-old tradition that blends music with dance, legend and storytelling. Dynamics are his strong suit: he’s the rare guitarist you actually want to hear more of (lots more of, actually – as with Rollins, he’s sometimes conspicuously absent on his own album). Backed by the vivid, incisive violin of Jennifer Mayer, Adrian Goldenthal on bass, Kristofer Hill on percussion and a trio of brassy vocalists (Chayito Champion, Olivia Rojas and Vanessa Lopez), the group alternate between fiery dance instrumentals, dramatic ballads, poignantly fingerpicked passages and a lot of tap-dancing. Jacome makes artful use of the Arabic hijaz scale as well as interpolating catchy rock passages within the compositions’ stately architecture. The problem is that as an album, the segues are jarring – just when a song seems about to sail joyously over the edge, here come those dancers again. It’s easily solved once you upload the tracks and sequence them yourself (it should be emphasized that fans of oldschool flamenco will have no problem with this; however, a lot of momentum gets lost if you just leave the tracks in their original order). What this really should have been is a DVD – it leaves the impression that there’s a whole side to the spectacle that doesn’t translate if the audio is all you have.

Rollins comes at flamenco as a jazz player with blazing speed and a wealth of original ideas: by the time the fifth track begins, he’s delved into rhumba, samba, Cuban son and back again. Like Jacome, he has an inspired cast of characters behind him including Charlie Bisharat on violin, Dave Bryant on percussion, the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor guesting on kamancheh on one track and Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and their daughter Diana Booker contributing backing vocals. Rollins tosses off one lightning phrase after another, sometimes handing them off to Bisharat, other times to the wryly muted trumpet of Jeff Elliott. He imaginatively works the traditional descending scale of flamenco music in all kinds of new ways, even adding some tersely textural electric guitar beauty to the title track. The highlight of the cd is the triptych at the end, the Migration Suite, upping the ante with biting, Middle Eastern flavored arrangements and motifs. The problem here is the production: when there are horns here, they’re so compressed that they sound like a synthesizer, an effect that compromises all the playing here, even Rollins’. Where the Brazilian vocalists might have been able to contribute something memorable, they’re as buried in the mix as the Jordanaires on an old Elvis record. Even Kalhor gets flattened out. There may be a reason behind this: one of the cuts here was a “most added” track on easy-listening radio earlier in the year. Which on one level is fine, Rollins deserves to be heard – but in a context that does justice to the fire and imagination of his playing, his compositions and the peers he plays with. More than anything, this reminds of the work of another quality guitarist, Peter White, whose series of world music-inspired acoustic instrumental albums about 20 years ago typecast him as an easy-listening, smooth jazz guy rather than the world class player he is.

Lucky Arizonans can see Chris Burton Jacome play the cd release show for this one at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N Arizona Ave. in Chandler on May 2.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Depedro at SOB’s, NYC 10/28/09

Ex-Amparanoia guitarist Jairo Zavala AKA Depedro impressed with an acoustic set that managed to hold an impatient crowd attentive for an all-too-brief half hour. Having just recorded his debut solo cd (very favorably reviewed here) with Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, it would have been awfully nice to have had them onstage with him, especially since Calexico’s covered him and he’s shared a stage with them on multiple occasions. But it was not to be. To his credit, Zavala’s songs still resonate even without the album’s mansions of echo and ominous tremolo guitar arrangements. His shtick seems to be to take pretty much every style he knows and transform them into southwestern gothic; watching his solo show was more of an excursion through those particular styles rather than the dusky, otherw0rldly trip that is the album. The straight-up feel was enhanced by Zavala’s casual stage presence – he didn’t let what seemed at least early on to be a tough audience phase him a bit.

Minus all the Mexican and latinisms of the cd, Zavala’s guitar playing stood out as distinctively Spanish. He took one number deep into flamenco territory, rapping on the body of his guitar while essentially playing bass and rhythm simultaneously (he’s an excellent electric player, as well). The best song of the night was a powerful take of his Mexican liberation anthem La Memoria, galloping along with a gorgeously resounding clang. Done acoustically, the old Amparanoia song Como El Viento (Like the Wind) took on a sunny Mediterranean ballad feel; his reworking of a Mexican folk song, La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) was stark and rustic in contrast with the album’s twangy, ghostly version. His strong command of English helped carry the noir, slightly Orbison-esque ballad Don’t Leave Me Now; he closed the set with a singalong on a new one, then the lullaby that closes the album and a funky take of the bouncy number Comanche that could have been mistaken for G. Love if G. Love had soul and a feel for latin rhythm. Zavala promised a return trip here; hopefully he’ll have a crew behind him next time to flesh out those captivating songs.

Argentinian tango nuevo/pop sensation Federico Aubele was next on the bill, but at this point the show was running an hour and a half behind schedule and there were more captivating things to see, for cheaper (namely, Cliff Lee shutting down the Yankees in Game One of the World Series).

October 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Orchestra of Tetouan’s Auspicious New York Debut

Tetouan is sister city to Tangiers, and is historically connected with Granada across the water since this is where many Spanish Muslims and Jews fled the terror of the Inquisition. And they brought their music with them. In a concert that was heaven for early music fans, the Orchestra of Tetouan made their New York debut at Judson Memorial Church in the West Village a memorable one. Their repertoire is medieval Andalusian suites, eleven of which survive. With oud, violin, viola, kanun (hammered zither), tar (tambourine) and darbouka (hand drum), the six-piece ensemble ran through lengthy excerpts from four of them, taking up the better part of two hours and engaging what looked like a sold-out crowd enthusiastically when the pace picked up. From the audience response, much of the lyrically-driven material (sung rousingly and passionately in Arabic) has considerable cultural resonance.

What does it sound like? Like Palestrina with Middle Eastern instruments – no surprise that the adventurous revivalists Gotham Early Music co-produced the concert. The earliest Andalusian music has a definable western feel without the otherworldly overtones and chromatics that have come to characterize pretty much everything radiating from Jerusalem outward for the last several centuries. With a stately sway, pulsing along with the bassy boom of the darbouka, the group would go up from a central key for few steps in the major scale, then back down again and then work around the theme introduced by a brief instrumental overture. Polyphony and antiphony were joyously abundant. The group’s not-so-secret weapon is eighteen-year-old violinist/singer Brahim Idrissi, whose powerful baritone and impressive range dominated the mix. Oudist/bandleader Mehdi Chachoua, a leading Moroccan music scholar, took all of one taqsim (solo) all night and limited his embellishments to a few subtle slides. Likewise, kanun player Hicham Zubeiri’s taqsim could have been a Renaissance-era English reel if given a more straight-up rhythm.

Throughout the Arabic-speaking world, poetry is accorded a vastly higher space in the literary pantheon, and likewise far more of a role in daily life (the day that Bush invaded Iraq, the #1 bestseller there was a book of poetry). From the point of view of a non-Arabic speaker, the passion and longing voiced by all six singers translated viscerally, aided substantially by translations supplied in the program notes. The group concludes their American tour with shows tonight and tomorrow in Bloomington, Indiana; watch this space for upcoming NYC appearances.

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment