Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vivid, Picturesque, Purposeful Violin Jazz From Tomoko Omura

Tomoko Omura is one of the most distinctive and purposeful violinists in jazz. Her album Branches Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.

She opens it with a radical reinvention of Moonlight in Vermont. Just as soon as Omura’s theme threatens to rise to total self-combustion, she and the band bring it down to elegant, purposeful, optimistic lyricism. Pianist Glenn Zaleski takes a masterfully light-fingered solo to a similarly triumphant crescendo followed by spare, soaring riffs by the bandleader over a loopy pulse. Late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind, but with a more organic backdrop.

Three Magic Charms is aptly titled, Zaleski’s starry lines mingling with sailing violin, guitarist Jeff Miles’ fanged swells and accents adding a menacing edge over bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer’s dubwise pulse. As it grows funkier, Sawyer’s subtle carnivalesque touches lure his bandmates into similar shenanigans.

Zaleski’s sternly low, modal chords anchor The Revenge of the Rabbit as Omura slides and soars while the drums scramble and cluster. Again, the rhythm takes on a funkier bounce for Zaleski’s scampering solo before he moves back down, Omura’s woozy, processed, atmospheric lines taking over. In this case, living well seems to be the best revenge a critter could want

Zaleski glimmers amid drifting atmospherics as Return to the Moon gets underway, Omura’s koto-like flickers kicking off a slow, richly suspenseful, anthemic sway: this mission turns out to be a smashing success. Both the space-jazz of Bryan and the Aardvarks and the driftiest Pink Floyd soundscapes are good points of comparison.

Omura winds up the record with Konomichi, a lively, leaping tune with Zaleski on electric and acoustic piano and a fleetingly stinging bass/violin break. Good news: Omura has an excellent, eclectic follow-up volume just out as well.

June 27, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Picturesque, Poignant New Volume From Jazz Violinist Tomoko Omura

This blog called violinist Tomoko Omura‘s 2020 album Branches “refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.” On her newly released second volume – streaming at Bandcamp – she takes both that saturnine ambience and picturesque sensibility to the next level. The band includes pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Pablo Menares, drummer Jay Sawyer and guitarist Jeff Miles. These songs burst with purposeful tunes, ideas and thoughtful solos.

They open with To a Firefly, Omura adding elegant vocal harmonies over a sober, slowly shuffling groove spiced with eerily flickering piano, ominously lingering guitar chords, lilting triplets from the bass, alternately sailing melody and apprehensive harmonics from the violin. The trick ending will take you completely by surprise.

Melancholy of a Crane is a spare, moodily balletesque jazz waltz, Zaleski’s enigmatically resonant chords behind Omura’s slowly unwinding, sustained tones. Little by little, his brightly incisive solo pushes the clouds away for a bit before the bandleader’s spare, subtly chromatic solo brings the unsettled atmosphere back.

To Ryan Se begins as a bracing, trickily rhythmic Balkan dance number and picks up with a racewalking swing. Omura chooses her spots in a biting, energetic, methodically crescendoing solo, Zaleski’s romping lines once again bringing up the lights, Miles shredding a path for a tantalizingly sizzling coda.

A murky bit of a tone poem, a lively series of solo arpeggios and then Zaleski’s somber, funereal chords take centerstage as Bow’s Dance slowly unwinds, Omura again steady and apprehensive overhead: damn, this is an album for our time! But the light-fingered stampede out is a hoot.

Tomie’s Blues is actually a steady, gorgeously lyrical ballad, Menares taking a warmly dancing, mutedly incisive solo over Zaleski’s spare gleam and Sawyer’s whispery brushwork. They wind up the record with the Urashima Suite, unwinding from a tight, spiraling, Terry Riley-ish piano riff to a gracefully bounding, shimmering Zaleski solo, a jagged violin/guitar break, a subtly conversational series of violin and piano variations capped off by a lush Omura solo, and some deliciously unhinged bluesmetal from Miles. Don’t be surprised to see this album on a lot of best-of-2021 lists assuming that those who put them together haven’t collectively taken the needle of death.

June 8, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Carolina Calvache Takes Her Lyrical, Individualistic Style to New Depths

It’s always validating to see an artist follow his or her muse and take their art to the next level. Pianist Carolina Calvache‘s 2014 debut album Sotareño was an ambitious mix of classically-inspired lyricism, postbop jazz and rhythms from her native Colombia. But Calvache is also a songwriter. On her new album Vida Profunda – streaming at Bandcamp -, she backs a murderer’s row of vocal talent in a collection of originals plus new settings of poems from across the ages. Calvache’s style is distinctly her own: 19th century art-song, classical music, jazz and diverse sounds from south of the border all figure in. Most of the lyrics on the album are in Spanish.

Marta Gomez sings the album’s title track, an anthemic neoromantic art-song awash in lush strings, with an understated intensity. Based on a poem by Porfirio Barba Jacob, it’s an uneasy coming to terms with extremes, emotional or otherwise. As Calvache sees it, an unfelt life is not worth living.

Sofia Ribeiro takes over the mic for El Pájaro Yo (The Bird Is Me), a darkly lilting setting of the famous Pablo Neruda poem. Hadar Noiberg’s flute soaring as fearlessly as the lyric. Ruben Blades delivers Te Conocí de Nuevo (I Met You Again), a reunited-for-good ballad, with hope and tenderness over Calvache’s bright, emphatic melody.

Claudia Acuña gives an aching, imploring angst to Sin un Despido (unpoetic translation: We Never Got to Say Goodbye), a glistening, symphonic requiem for the 2015 LaMia Flight 2933 crash whose victims included the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoens. Sara Serpa provides her signature, crystalline vocalese gravitas to Hope, a optimistically clustering number propelled by Jonathan Blake’s drums, Samuel Torres’ djembe and Peter Slavov’s bass, Calvache introducing it with a reference to Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Aubrey Johnson brings a bracing, unsettled energy to Childhood Retreat, a poignant setting of a Robert Duncan poem capped off by Michael Rodriguez’s soaring trumpet. Haydee Milanes offers warm and reflection in the Horace Silver-inspired Stella, a tribute to Calvache’s mom, with the composer on twinkling Rhodes and then incisive acoustic piano as harmonica player Gregoire Maret spirals overhead.

Serpa takes over on vocals again for the album’s most stunning song, The Trail, based on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow. Calvache ripples and cascades over sweeping string orchestration: at a time when the lockdowners are insisting on increasingly sinister levels of surveillance, this song couldn’t be more timely.

Lara Bello lends a warmly reflective tone to No Te Vi Crecer (I Didn’t See You Grow Up) over Calvache’s glistening lines: as lullabies go, this is a particularly enegetic one. The album’s only dud is a pop song that smacks of label mismanagement and doesn’t take advantage of Calvache’s many talents. This is a quiet triumph of outside-the-box playing from a rotating cast that also includes drummer Keita Ogawa; bassists Petros Klampanis and Ricky Rodriguez; violinists Tomoko Omura, Leonor Falcon, Ben Russell, Annaliesa Place and Adda Kridler; violists Allysin Clare and Jocelin Pan; cellists Brian Sanders and Diego Garcia; oboist Katie Scheele; trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulous and bass clarinetist Paul Won Jin Cho.

July 23, 2020 Posted by | classical music, jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mighty, Epic Individualist Fabian Almazan Plays the Jazz Gallery This Friday Night

As a composer and pianist, Fabian Almazan has no fear of epic grandeur, big statements or rich melodicism. He doesn’t limit himself to acoustic piano, or to traditional postbop tunesmithing either. As a bandleader, he hasn’t been as ubiquitous lately as he was a couple of years ago when he released his mighty Alcanza Suite, which is streaming at Bandcamp. He’s back out in front of his own trio this Friday night, March 1 at the Jazz Gallery, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $25.

While there’s no telling which direction Almazan is going to go in next – he’s done everything from reinventing Shostakovich string quartets in a jazz context, to playing in starry space-jazz band Bryan & the Aardvarks – the Alcanza Suite is his magnum opus so far. There’s never been anything quite like it, a towering, symphonic masterpiece that draws equally on jazz and neoromanticism while tackling many sobering themes, from the trials facing immigrants to the bright of existentialism. The ensemble here rise to the many demands on their technique, a string quartet of Megan Gould and Tomoko Omura on violins, Karen Waltuch on viola and Noah Hoffeld on cello bolstered by Camila Meza on guitar and vocals, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Henry Cole on drums alongside the bandleader.

Meza sings calmly amidst the sudden gusts of the opening number, Vida Absurda y Bella (Absurd and Beautiful Life), Almazan’s piano a frenzy of climbs and spirals in tandem with Cole’s pummeling attack. Astor Piazzolla at his most adventurous seems to be a reference point.

The second movement, Marea Baja (Low Tide) is a thoughtful nocturne, Meza’s tender vocal over wary strings, Almazan picking up the pace with his circling rivulets. As Meza moves further back in the mix, she grows more forceful. From there, Almazan’s carnivalesque chromatics enter and then give way to a big, hypnotically insistent crescendo.

Verla (Seeing It, “It”) being truth, begins as a tone poem and then becomes a moody, austere string quartet piece: this particular truth seems hard to bear. Almazan follows it with a brief solo piano passage that shifts from gentle lustre to disquiet; later on, Oh and Cole also get to contribute unaccompanied solos.

Meza returns to the mic for Mas, a fervent hope for better circumstances over airy, distantly blues-tinged atmospherics that builds toward towering angst with Almazan’s chromatic cascades.

Oh pounces and bubbles within the vast, catchy riffage of Tribu T9, Meza’s vocalese adding calm contrast to Almazan’s energetic two-handed polyrhythms. 

Rising from somber belltones to emphatically spaced minimalist gravitas, Oh’s solo introduces the sixth movement, Cazador Antiguo (Ancient Hunter). Its stern, mechanical, martial drive and creepy helicopter effects juxtapose with Meza’s resolutely sailing vocals, segueing into Pater Familias. A coming-of-age narrative without words, it’s a return to the bright/shadowy dynamic between Meza and the rest of the band. Almazan cuts loose with his most gorgeously glittery solo of the entire record before a grim march returns, then gives way to a jubilant Meza coda.

Este Lugar (This Place) is the suite’s most epic segment, a lush, dynamically shifting maze of counterpoint, Meza giving voice to immigrant hopes and crushing realities: the return to the relentless march theme packs a wallop. Marea Alta (High Tide) is the suite’s towering coda, Meza’s guitar chords finally punching through the symphonic, polyrhythmic web. Whether you consider this classical music, minimalism or jazz, or all of the above, this album is pretty much unrivalled, in terms of both towering majesty and social relevance, over the last couple of years,.

February 25, 2019 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Feast of Catchy Tunesmithing, Big Ideas and Picturesque Themes on Annie Chen’s New Album

Composer/singe Annie Chen’s imagination knows no bounds. By any standard, her music is richly layered and often lavishly orchestrated. There’s an unusual majesty and cinematic sweep to much of her work, especially for a vocalist. The dream world is a recurrent reference point, as are several striking musical themes woven throughout her songs, some of them drawing on traditional Chinese melodies.

Chen’s writing is extremely clever, and a lot of fun, often infused with an irrepressible sense of humor. Sara Serpa is a viable comparison, another rare jazz singer who doesn’t shy away from big. sometimes nebulous ideas; interestingly, both have roots outside the US, Serpa hailing from Portugal and Chen from China. Chen’s new album Secret Treetop, a jazz sonata of sorts, is streaming at Bandcamp; she and her group are playing the release show on Dec 9 at 8:15 PM at Shapeshifter Lab. Cover is $15.

It opens auspiciously with Ozledim Seni,Matthew Muntz’s stygian solo bowed bass intro over drummer Jerad Lippi’s rattles rising tensely with Chen’s melismatic, looming vocals…suddenly she hits a big flourish and the band is bouncing along with a distant Balkan tinge, spiced with Glenn Zaleski’s rippling piano and Rafal Sarnecki’s spare, emphatic guitar. Alto saxophonist Alex LoRe takes it down to a suspenseful, modal pulse, then rises with chirpy determination to where Chen leaps back in with her vocalese.

Majo Kiki in12 Days opens with a dramatic flight scenario and plenty of suspense, too; as usual, Chen flips the script, segueing without warning into a glittering nocturnal theme before bringing back the A-section An enigmatic, insistent, staccato bass-and-guitar conversation gives way to Tomoko Omura’s acerbically dancing violin solo and then a catchy descent beneath the stars.

Chen begins the ten-minute Chinese classical epic Ao Bao Xiang Hui stately and cool, Sarnecki’s sparsely circling guitar and LoRe’s alto expanding and pulling back. David Smith’s trumpet is a herald in the forest; spikily dancing piano fuels majestically ominous horn riffage. Buzzy guitar takes the song further out on a postbop tangent; this trip ends suddenly and counterintuitively.

The title track is a more direct variation on that same circular theme and variations, this time with expansive piano rivulets and a long, emphatic, pouncingly rhythmic crescendo. Orange Tears Lullaby has a darkly elegant, spiky guitar-and-piano intro and rises to a jubilant, precisely undulating theme spiced with stark violin. ‘Never doubt me under the covers,” Chen asserts.

The diptych Mr.Wind-Up Bird, Strange Yearning circles upward to a jaunty groove that’s part samba, part Chinese anthem and part mighty urban bustle. LoRe gets a long launching pad to sail and spiral from; Sarnecki plays it closer to the vest.

Leaving Sonnet is one of the many studies in contrasts here, a breathless yet precisely articulated travelogue over a lustrous backdrop lit up with a trumpet solo that grows from wistful to frenetic and back as the band shift in and out of a lush waltz. Chen weaves the album’s main circling theme into her syncopated reinvention of the 1980s Taiwanese pop hit Gan Lan Shu (Olive Tree): the pairing of piano ripple and guitar clang is absolutely luscious. The final track, My Ocean Is Blue in White, a pensive tale of a thwarted seduction, has a surreal hint of bluegrass. There is no one in the world who sounds like Annie Chen.

Vocally speaking, sometimes it’s hard to tell where Chen’s English – still a work in progress – leaves off and the vocalese kicks in. But that’s not a big deal. These colorful songs speak for themselves.

December 5, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment