Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Suspensefully Cinematic, High-Spirited New Classical Works From the CCCC Grossman Ensemble

The Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition’s Grossman Ensemble is the brainchild of Augusta Read Thomas. Her game plan was to create a group which could intensely workshop material with composers rather than simply holding a few rehearsals and then throwing a concert. Their album Fountain of Time – streaming at youtube – is contemporary classical music as entertainment: a dynamic series of new works, many of them with a cinematic suspense and tingly moments of noir. Percussionists Greg Beyer and John Corkill, in particular, have a field day with this.

They open with Shulamit Ran’s picturesque Grand Rounds. Oboe player Andrew Nogal, clarinetist Katherine Schoepflin Jimoh, pianist Daniel Pesca and harpist Ben Melsky get to send a shout-out to Messiaen and then a salute to Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock film scores. Terse accents from horn player Matthew Oliphant and saxophonist Taimur Sullivan mingle with the acerbic textures of the Spektral Quartet: violinists Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Russell Rolen. Furtiveness ensues and then the chase is on! The ending is anything but what you would expect. Told you this was fun!

Anthony Cheung’s triptych Double Allegories begins with sudden strikes amid suspenseful, wafting ambience, heavy on the percussion: Herrmann again comes strongly to mind. The midsection is built around a deliciously otherworldly series of microtonal, stairstepping motives, subtle echo effects and ice-storm ambience. The finale comes across as a series of playful but agitated poltergeist conversations….or intermittent stormy bursts. Or both, Tim Munro’s flute and the percussion front and center.

David Dzubay conducts his new work, PHO, which is not a reference to Vietnamese cuisine: the title stands for Potentially Hazardous Objects. The ensemble work every trick in the suspense film playbook – creepy bongos, shivery swells, tense bustles, pizzicato strings like high heels on concrete, breathy atmospherics and hints of a cynical Mingus-esque boogie – for playfully maximum impact. It’s the album’s most animated and strongest piece.

Tonia Ko‘s Simple Fuel was largely improvised while the ensemble were workshopping it; it retains that spontaneity with all sorts of extended technique, pulsing massed phrasing in an AACM vein, conspiratorial clusters alternating with ominous microtonal haze.

A second triptych, by David “Clay” Mettens, winds up the record. Stain, the first segment, bristles with defiantly unresolved microtones, gremlins in the highs peeking around corners and hints of Indian carnatic riffage. Part two, Bloom/Moon pairs deviously syncopated marimba against slithery strings. The textures and clever interweave in Rain provide the album with a vivid coda. Let’s hope we hear more from this group as larger ensembles begin recording and playing again: day after day, the lockdown is unraveling and the world seems to be returning to normal.

March 1, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Latest Chapter in the PRISM Quartet’s Crusade to Establish Four-Sax Repertoire

Are a saxophone quartet a brass band? Not really. A wind ensemble? Strictly speaking, yes, but the PRISM Quartet are different. “New music superstars,” is how composer Emily Cooley – who’d discovered them as a kid at summer camp at Interlochen, the Juilliard of the midwest – characterized them. She was one of four composers whose works the group gave world premieres to Monday night in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

They opened with Nina C. Young‘s Tarnish, a playful evocation of how oxidation changes the surface of metal yet also acts as a sealant for what’s underneath. Brief tectonic shifts between pairs of instruments and then the full ensemble – Timothy McAllister on soprano sax, Zachary Shemon on alto, Matthew Levy on tenor and the New Thread Quartet‘s Geoffrey Landman, subbing for Taimur Sullivan and adding welcome growl and purr on baritone – led to a series of circular themes with a nod to Steve Reich, a trope that would dominate the rest of the program. They wound it up with unexpectedly coy cheer.

Jacob TV‘s The Waves drew its inspiration not from Virginia Woolf but from the medieval Japanese poet Dogen. A study in the passage (and ultimately, ravages) of time, in addition to the minutiae of attack and decay of individual notes, its calm, lustrous slowly mutating riffs built a baroque-tinged quasi-canon. Philip Glass also came to mind frequently.

Young composer Francesca Hellerman drew a round of chuckles from the audience, explaining how she’d come up with what turned out to be a very apt title for From Here to There, a commission from the ensemble in a long, long line of new repertoire for sax quartet dating back to the group’s inception. Its quirky charm, developing variations on a couple of catchy, lithe riffs, made a good pairing with Young’s work.

Cooley’s Dissolve went in the opposite direction, a meticulous interweave slowly distilled to its underlying essence. Counterintuitively, she ended the first part of the diptych on a jaunty, upbeat note. The second half was awash in airy, sustained phrases, ending soberly and matter-of-factly in the same vein as Jacob TV’s composition

There was another piece on the program which posed more questions than it answered. To what extent does it make sense to try to control chaos? How possible is it to orchestrate genuine chaos if you begin with a specific game plan? Music may ultimately be all math, but to what degree, if at all, can an audience realistically be engaged by a severe, dispassionate depiction of what sounds like an interminably abstruse equation – especially if it’s the longest number on the bill?

June 6, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment