Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tom Piercy’s Richly Diverse Program of Japanese and American Music Comes to Spectrum This June

Saturday at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, clarinetist Tom Piercy joined forces with pianist Mika Tanaka and special guest shakuhachi player Elizabeth Brown for a fascinatingly eclectic, virtuosic program of new chamber works which contrast Japanese composers’ views of New York with their New York counterparts’ views of Japan. Those who missed the show have a second chance to catch it this coming June 2 at 3 PM at Spectrum on Ludlow Street.  Although most of the works are relatively short, assembling a bill comprising 22 composers – several of whom were in attendance at Saturday’s show – was no small feat, and the ensemble tackled the music’s wide range of demands with verve, insight and sensitivity.

Piercy has made a name for himself as a first-rate interpreter of nuevo tango and Astor Piazzolla, but another specialty of his is contemporary Japanese music. He had commissioned several of the works on the bill, and it’s no wonder that so many composers jumped at the opportunity. While Piercy is not a showy player, his extended technique is subtly spectacular: thoughout the concert, he exhibited misty overtones, eerie polytonalities, perfectly sinuous glissandos and command of the lows and highs beyond the reach of most clarinetists. Likewise, Tanaka varied her approach from warm neoromanticism to jaggedly percussive on some of the more atonal, harsher numbers, while Brown vividly evoked the nuances of birdsong, particularly during a solo piece of her own toward the end of the bill.

Piercy began the program solo on a small but lower-register Japanese wood flute, with a resonant but ghostly solo piece of his own. The trio closed with the American premiere of Hifumi Shimoyama’s Alamgam-A, a theme and variations that hypnotically morphed between airy traditional Japanese folk themes and more austere, modern tonalities voice mainly by the piano. Tanaka got to diversify herself on the starlit, distantly Satie-influenced Toro Nagashi, by Masatora Goya, as well as with Kento Iwasaki’s Autumn Festival, which shifted abruptly from a jaunty tango-flavored celebration to bittersweet neoromanticism, and the apprehensively crescendoing mood swings of Ippei Inoue’s Nostalgia.

A series of miniatures followed a lingering solo piece by Brown. Highlights included an otherworldly, microtonal dance by Daniel J. Thompson; Armando Ayala’s Sakana, which packed a sonata’s worth of ideas into barely a minute; brief pastoral tableaux from Greg Bartholomew and Andrew Davis; and resonant, spacious austerity from Andy Cohen and Michael Frazier.

The most gripping work might have been Tanaka’s own somber, plaintive, unexpectedly gritty In the Garden. Surprisingly, the majority of the program for the most part eschewed traditional Asian scales, save for Yohei Kurihara’s Yuu. A bit later, a rapidfire, tongue-in-cheek piee incorporating droll spoken-word interludes by Yuichi Matsumoto gave Piercy a workout, poking fun at the annoying and usually unncessary interruptions the online world makes in our daily lives. Not only was this a diverse and entertaining introduction to up-and-coming composers, it also made for a rare opportunity to hear works seldom played outside Japan. That becomes all the more important in a post-3/11 world – other than playing great music, Piercy is doing crucial cultural preservation work here.

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May 20, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Is What We Lose If We Lose Japan

Watching Japanese pianists Miwa Onodera and then Hikaru Nakajo play the piano expertly, and soufully, at Pro Piano’s benefit for Japan in their wonderfully low-key recital space on Jane Street in the West Village Sunday afternoon was surreal to the extreme. Had they already been fatally poisoned by radiation from the Fukushima plant? Would they (hopefully!!!) find a place here in the US? We can talk clinically or cynically about an “extinction event,” but when we look at the individuals impacted by this catastrophe, a chilling reality sinks in. The corporate media, under instructions from the richest one tenth of one percent of the population, wilfully fail to acknowledge the reality of the situation lest there be a Grapes of Wrath in reverse, a mass exodus from the West Coast, as there should be. Forget for a minute that the water in Tokyo is undrinkable and the air there is unbreathable. Radioactive iodine a thousand times more lethal than governmentally approved “safe” levels has been found in drinking water in British Columbia; the organic milk in San Francisco is not far behind. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy, who accompanied Onodera virtuosically and intensely with a riveting, crystalline tone, went to Japan a couple of days after this concert. Pray for him if you believe in prayer.

The concert was beautiful, and austere, and also passionate, every emotion you would try to evoke if you might be playing your last show. One can only hope for composer Tsuboi Ippo, whose preludes Nakajo and Onodera played. The most hauntingly beautiful moment of the night was a duo performance by Piercy and Onodera, a poignant, elegaic Chopinesque Ippo nocturne whose sadness translated even more vividly in light of the past three weeks’ events. They also played a casually crescendoing, absolutely brilliant version of Piazzolla’s Grand Tango, Onodera holding back until the end when she crashed in with a triumphant majesty, and a couple of Gershwin pieces, a nonchalantly sly It Ain’t Necessarily So and an inventively hazy take on Summertime.

Nakajo played a series of Ippo preludes that ranged from suspenseful Chopinesque Romanticism to acidic modernism; Onodera followed with more, ending with a very smartly understatedly version of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 – where other pianists would have gone for the jugular with this showstopper, she made it a clinic in judicious dynamics. One can only wonder how many others like her won’t make it to New York in the coming months.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Thomas Piercy and Vilian Ivantchev’s Cafe Album

A collection of brilliant segues. For a casual listener, this is the perfect rainy day album, pleasantly pensive with a balance of melancholy and more upbeat material, especially toward the end. For more adventurous fans, it’s a smartly innovative concept that works all the way through. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy and acoustic guitarist Vilian Ivantchev link fourteen pieces together as a suite, beginning with the French late Romantics, taking a detour into the German baroque before following the gypsy path to Brazil and from there to Argentina, where the trail ends on a note that threatens to jump out of its shoes with joy. It’s a very subtly fun ride.

Having worked with both Leonard Bernstein and KRS-One, Piercy is diversely talented. He’s as strong in his upper register, with a buoyant, flute-like presence on Telemann’s A Minor Sonata, or soaring with bandoneon textures on the Piazzolla pieces here that close the album, as he is mining the darker sonorities of Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances suite, or Erik Satie’s Gnossienne or Gymnopedie No. 1. Ivantchev displays almost superhuman discipline, restraining himself to terse, rock-solid chordal work or precise arpeggios, with the exception of the Piazzolla where he gets to cut loose a little more – but not much. Ultimately, this album is all about connections, and the duo make them everywhere. Debussy’s Le Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (The Blonde Girl) follows so seamlessly out of Satie that it could practically be the same piece. Likewise, following the last of Bartok’s gypsy dance transcriptions with Villa-Lobos’ Modinha is so logical that it’s almost funny when you think about it. The duo close the album with two brief arrangements of songs by vintage Argentinan tanguero Carlos Gardel (Mi Manita Pampa and Sus Ojos Se Cerraron) into a stripped-down yet melodically rich version of Piazzolla’s four-part suite Histoire du Tango and then, seemingly as an encore, Jacinto Chiclana which ends the album on a note equally balmy and bracing. Piercy’s viscerally intuitive feel for the tension-and-release of tango lets the guitar hold things together this time, giving him a chance to launch into some quiet rejoicing. Piercy plays the cd release show for this album at Caffe Vivaldi on June 19 at 8:15 PM with his trio: live, they are considerably more boisterous.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Thomas Piercy, Claudine Hickman and Pablo Aslan Play Piazzolla at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 5/23/09

It didn’t matter that there was no bandoneon in the band: the trio of clarinetist/arranger Thomas Piercy, pianist Claudine Hickman and upright bassist Pablo Aslan managed to silence the sold-out room (no easy task!) with a practically telepathic, emotionally rich program of both familiar and more obscure compositions by the legendary Argentinian composer, along with meticulous yet spirited performances of two pieces by French jazz composer/pianist Claude Bolling. Playing mostly with a strikingly clear tone, Piercy expertly worked the nooks and crannies of the songs’ innumerable permutations, only going full throttle when the piece demanded it (and one did). With a bright yet haunting precision, Hickman was every bit his equal and Aslan, who’s only been taking classic tango to new and exciting places for about two decades with his group Avantango, alternated between stately majesty, dark ambience and fiery verve, frequently using a bow.

The first two numbers, Tango del Diablo and Milonga del Angel were a study in contrast. Piercy’s arrangement of the ominous Tango Seis found him playing the original’s violin line with a jaunty effervescence, pulling back when the piece wound its way into eerie flamencoisms. The long, catchy suite Le Grand Tango could have been made showy or done with a sentimental feel but was neither, the trio content to let its sense of longing speak for itself right up to the end where Piercy finally cut loose with a visceral intensity.

The two Claude Bolling numbers gave the group a chance to relax and play more expansively. The first, Allegre was a showcase both for Hickman’s vivid, Brubeck-esque melodicism, contrasting with Piercy’s Bach-inflected precision. The second, Romantique bookended a brisk excursion pulsing along on Aslan’s jaunty basslines with two segments imbued with plaintive, Romantic beauty. They wrapped up the program with an exquisite take of the classic Soledad, Piercy’s clarinet soaring to the heights with unaffectedly raw anguish right before the end, and closed with the vastly more optimistic, insistent Michelangelo ’70. Piazzolla, ever the innovator, would no doubt have approved. Watch this space for future performances.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best Piazzolla in New York?

Always a hotly debatable question. On Monday afternoon, there couldn’t have been anything better. Should anyone claim that Argentinan bandoneon player and bandleader Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) wasn’t one of the greatest composers of alltime, the trio of Thomas Piercy (clarinet), Masataka Odaka (upright bass) and Claudine Hickman (piano) reaffirmed that brilliantly throughout their afternoon performance at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Throughout his career, Piazzolla was torn between two worlds, classical and traditional Argentinian tango. While living in New York as a boy he took piano lessons and discovered the joys and pleasures of Bach; later, in the 1940s, having returned to Argentina and established himself as a player and songwriter, he ventured deeply into jazz, incorporating that as well into his own unique vision. Perhaps because he had one foot in what was then considered pop culture, and the other in the all-so-serious world of classical music, Piazzolla’s music is stormy, often downright anguished. Most of his greatest works are in dark minor keys replete with tense, riveting crescendos and all sorts of drama, the ominous, flamenco-inspired beat always driving it on. The trio of Piercy, Odaka and Hickman brought out all of this but also the sunnier, jazzier side of the great composer in what was essentially an impressively inclusive overview of Piazzolla’s career.

Because Piazzolla was such a genre-bender, his music has been arranged for all different types of configurations, from rock bands (notably Big Lazy) to full orchestra to fusion jazz. Piercy’s often mournful clarinet, flying over Hickman’s tasteful, understated piano and Odaka’s insistent, pulsing bass brought out every bit of melody in the program. Because Piazzolla liked a big, lush sound, playing his bandoneon – a German accordion – with a full orchestra roaring behind him, tunes were occasionally subsumed beneath lavish arrangements. The opposite was the case here. The trio ran through the angst-driven, somewhat death-obsessed Oblivion, the misnamed Tango del Diablo (which begins with a big eerie cadenza before quieting down and building very subtly), Le Grand Tango (a beautiful, overtly classical mini-suite from late in Piazzolla’s career) and one of Piazzolla’s most popular and catchy compositions, Solitude, with confidence and sensitivity to even minute emotional shifts. They closed the almost hourlong program with his 1960s composition, the darkly and somewhat modernistic Tango Six, the somewhat wistful, classically-inflected Angel’s Tango and finally the surprisingly optimistic, jazzy Invierno Porteno (Winter in Buenos Aires). The crowd – a mix of retirees and office workers on their lunch break – were spellbound. If Piercy’s planned upcoming recording of Piazzolla works is anything like this, it’ll be amazing.

April 3, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments