Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Broodingly Catchy, Lithely Orchestrated Album and a Week at the Vanguard by Pianist Edward Simon

Duke Ellington liked suites. So does Edward Simon. Likewise, the jazz icon and the Venezuelan pianist share classical roots, a genius for orchestration and a completely outside-the box sensibility. Simon’s latest album Sorrows and Triumphs – streaming at Bandcamp – reaffirms his darkly eclectic sensibility, interspersing material from two suites. The first is the broodingly orchestrated title suite, the second is his more rhythm-centered House of Numbers suite. The result is as lavishly hypnotic as it is incisive and edgy. Simon is bringing a stripped-down version of the band on the album – his Steel House trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade – to a stand at the Vanguard that runs from Jan 8 through the 13th, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 PM; cover is $35.

The album’s epic opening track, Incessant Desires begins with a misterioso rustle, chamber quartet the Imani Winds wafting over a tersely enigmatic series of hooks, alto saxophonist David Binney adding spaciously placed colors. Singer Gretchen Parlato joins them as the music rises joyously, guitarist Adam Rogers leading a pensive return downward. Darcy James Argue at his most plaintively lyrical is a strong reference point; Binney’s moody modal solo over Simon’s tense, distantly menacing glimmer as the wind ensemble circle around behind them could be the high point of the album.

The group keep the eerily dancing glimmer going with the circling counterpoint of Uninvited Thoughts, with piano that’s both carnivalesque and carnaval-esque. Once again, Binney adds judicious riffage, this time throughout a lively exchange with the wind ensemble.

The shadowy interweave between piano, guitar and Parlato’s tender yet assertive vocalese as Equanimity gets underway slowly reaches toward anthemic proportions. This time it’s Rogers who gets to take centerstage in the ongoing enigma: the sense of mystery throughout this album is pretty relentless.

With its persistently uneasy, often hypnotic piano chromatics, the winds weaving in and out, Triangle is equal parts Bernard Herrmann suspense film theme and Darcy James Argue altered blues. It’s the key to the album.

The balmiest, most atmospheric track is Chant, anchored by Rogers’ tremoloing guitar waves and Parlato’s gentle, encouraging vocals. Colley’s minimalist solo echoes Simon – and is that an organ, back in the mix, or just Rogers using a pedal?

Venezuela Unida, a shout-out to Simon’s home turf, has most of the band running a warily dancing melody together, then diverging into clever, tightly clustered polyrhythms. The sparse/ornate dichotomies and moody/ebullient contrasts as it winds up and out wouldn’t be out of place in the Maria Schneider playbook.

Triumphs is part circling indie classical, part terse latin jazz, Parlato’s misty mantras and Rogers’ wry oscillations at the center. The album’s slowly pulsing closing cut, Rebirth, is even more envelopingly stripped down. If this otherwise jauntily orchestrated masterpiece slipped under the radar for you in the past year’s deluge of albums, now’s as good a time to immerse yourself in Simon’s dark melodic splendor.

January 4, 2019 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Valerie Coleman’s Bustling Compositions Spring to Life at Symphony Space

If anybody deserves a lavish three-hour “composer portrait” concert, it’s Valerie Coleman. The esteemed Imani Winds flutist and founder got just that at Symphony Space in a program featuring her bandmates along with the Da Capo Chamber Players and other musicians. Coleman’s compositions bustle without being busy. They’re electric with color and rhythm, reflecting the New York milieu she represents. Balancing that kinetic energy is a somber side steeped in history, infused as much with the blues and gospel music as with classical and the avant garde. And as serious and in-your-face as her music can be – very in-your-face, if she feels like it – she can also be uproariously funny. There were several moments of LOL vaudevillian jousting during the performance that made for considerable relief from the intensity that permeated the rest of the show. Ultimately, Coleman’s music is deep, and the performers seized that and brought out all the rich color in a series of diverse chamber works as they flashed by, or resonated with a gritty, irony-drenched gravitas.

The night’s most spine-tingling moment of many might have been the tightly spiraling interplay between Coleman and clarinetist Michiyo Suzuki midway through an unselfconsciously haunting, Langston Hughes-inspired trio work (one of a half-dozen on the bill) with pianist Dmitri Dover. Or it could have been the Da Capos’ world premiere of Lenox Avenue, a fascinatingly boisterous cityscape that does for Harlem what Respighi did for Rome. The rousing, minutely jeweled closing partita Tzigane for Wind Quintet also delivered plenty of chromatically-charged thrills, notably from the Imanis’ Toyin Spellman-Diaz’s oboe, set up by longer, more expansive, suspenseful interludes.

The Imanis delivered an alternately rapt, darkly reflective and celebratory take of Coleman’s triptych, Afro-Cuban Concerto for Wind Quintet. Coleman said before the concert that she envisioned her ensemble as having more of the spirit of a brass band than a “light and fluffy” group, and this reaffirmed that she doesn’t have to worry about the latter ever being the case. The world premiere of Rubispheres, for the wind trio of Coleman and her bandmates – propulsive bassoonist Monica Ellis and the similarly incisive Mariam Adam on clarinet – followed a similar, dynamically charged trajectory, echoed later in the program by the DaCapos’ take of the blues-infused suite Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes. All three of those richly ambered, reflective works made a powerful contrast with the unfettered joie de vivre that had taken centerstage for so much of this fascinating and rewarding program.

April 7, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Imani Winds Festival: Cutting-Edge Young Composers and Players

The Imani Winds are on a mission to create a repertoire for wind ensembles that rivals what string quartets have to choose from. It’s a daunting task, but the way they’re going about it is very savvy. They’re not only commissioning works by established composers, but starting on the ground floor with up-and-coming talent who in many cases may still be in conservatory. If the idea of witnessing a performance of student works doesn’t exactly set you on fire, then you obviously missed Sunday’s concert at Mannes College of Music, one of the highlights of this year’s Imani Winds Festival, cleverly designed to entice the next generation of topnotch composers to join the crusade.

The big drawing card on the bill was Mohammed Fairouz. Still in his twenties, Fairouz is one of this era’s enfants terribles, an astonishingly eclectic and vivid composer with a knack for small-ensemble works – and an auspicious, recently released collection of chamber pieces on Sono Luminus. He and the Imanis had selected and then coached the composers whose works were being showcased, which goes a long way toward explaining the impressively high level of the compositions on the bill. Not everything was memorable, but most of it was. And Fairouz himself contributed a bracingly airy, microtonally-tinged work carried matter-of-factly to a warmer crescendo by clarinetist Patricia Billings and the Imanis’ Toyin Spellman-Diaz, taking an impressive turn on vocals.

If Amorphous Moment, a pensive trio piece by Sam Parrilla, age nineteen, is typical of his work, he’s someone to keep an eye on. Driven by Parrilla’s brooding piano, Matthew Bennett’s violin and Madelyn Moore’s clarinet carried it suspensefully and rather minimalistically through tense microtonal shifts to a terse, impactful exchange of voices. The most ornate work on the bill, Molly Joyce’s Vintage (another world premiere) balanced dancing contrapuntal harmonies within a vividly tense, pensive framework, carried to more towering heights with poise and assurance by flutist Briana Oliver, oboeist Marissa Honda, clarinetist Lara Mitofsky-Nuess, french hornist Amr Selim and bassoonist Blaire Koerner. The biggest audience hit was a third world premiere, Matthew Taylor’s The Sphinx’s Riddle, a subtly rhythmic triptych illustrating Oedipus’ three stages of life (quadruped, biped and limping triped). Insistent and defiant but envelopingly hypnotic as well, the first movement set the stage for the second’s steadily paced, biting atonalisms and the quietly raw, elegaic power of the third, delivered with both vigor and nuance by Phil Taylor on piano, Bennett on violin, Genesis Blanco on flute, Lee Seidner on clarinet and Brian McKee on bassoon.

Yuan-Chen Li’s rippling, balletesque Butterfly, another triptych, got a lively New York premiere from flutist Ileana Blanco, oboeist Ross Garton, clarinetist Katherine Vetter, bassoonist Nick Ober and Li herself on piano. Pianist Taylor’s Watercolors (also a New York premiere) launched spaciously and dreamily and then vaccillated for awhile before being pulled out of the ether with considerable, welcome oomph by flutist Jessie Nucho, oboeist Perry Maddox, clarinetist David Valbuena, french hornist Kalyn Jang and bassoonist Tyler Austin.

In its own quiet way, Alex Weston’s GOST 7845-55 was a knockout. The composer explained it as an attempt to mimic the wavering quality of poor radio reception, but that was just the beginning. With its interchange of straight-ahead tonalities and fluttering on/off-pitch microtones, it was a workout for the ensemble, but they were up to it, JT Tindall’s flute, Katie Haun’s oboe and Jeffrey Boehmer’s clarinet austere and enigmatic (and then swooping with unexpected delight) over the autumnally hued resonance of Dakota Corbliss’ french horn and Ronn Hall’s bassoon.

Obviously, not all of these performers, nor perhaps all of the composers, will go on a career in concert halls. But a lot of them will. If staying in touch with the most exciting developments in serious music is important to you, ignore these people at your peril. A big shout-out to the Imani Winds for giving them a well-deserved turn in the spotlight.

August 7, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Auspicious Start to This Year’s Imani Winds Festival

This year’s third annual Imani Winds Festival of cutting-edge chamber music kicked off auspiciously last night on the upper west side with the pioneering wind quintet performing a sometimes haunting, sometimes exhilarating mix of relatively new (and brand new) compositions. Imani Winds flutist Valerie Coleman’s Tzigane made a deliciously high-octane opening number: an imaginative blend of gypsy jazz and indie classical with intricately shifting voices, it was a showcase for the entirety of the ensemble, notably clarinetist Mariam Adam’s otherworldly, microtonal trills and Coleman’s slinkily legato snakecharmer lines.

Phil Taylor’s Prelude and Scherzo was next. Brooding, apprehensive, atmospheric cinematics built matter-of-factly to an anguished flute cadenza, then backed away and the process repeated itself; the Scherzo cleverly took the wary introductory theme and disguised it with a jaunty bounce which the group built to an unexpectedly triumphant ending.

The piece de resistance was a new Mohammed Fairouz suite, Jebnal Lebnan (meaning “Mount Lebanon,” the historical name for the mountainous country), which the Imani Winds recently recorded. The composer explained beforehand that its withering opening segment, Bashir’s March, was inspired by his visit to the site of a former refugee camp there, “the most horrific thing” he’d ever seen. Monica Ellis’ bassoon drove it with a chilling nonchalance, the rest of the ensemble fleshing out a coldly sarcastic, Shostakovian martial theme that Jeff Scott’s french horn took to its cruelly logical, mechanically bustling extreme. After a solo interlude where Coleman got to subtly  imitate an Arabic ney flute, the group hit a high note (if you’re willing to buy the premise of a dirge being a high note) with the second movement, Lamentation: Ariel’s Song. Ominous atmospheric washes led to an elegantly plaintive bassoon solo and a methodical crescendo that built from elegaic to fullscale horror, its fatalistic pulse suddenly disappearing, leaving the atmospherics to linger ominously before ending on a more lively but equally wary note. This angst subsided somewhat but still remained through the rest of the work: the tango-like Dance and Little Song, with their bracing close harmonies and Scheherezade allusions, and Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh, a cleverly interwoven rondo of sorts featuring Coleman on pennywhistle that ended energetically with a confluence of klezmer, gypsy and Arabic tonalities, an apt evocation of a land that’s been a melting pot (and a boiling point) for centuries.

Derek Bermel’s Gift of Life made a terrific segue. Inspired by a visit to Jerusalem, it built suspensefully with a Middle Eastern melody anchored by brooding bassoon, its atmospherics finally falling apart in a bustling cacaphony. Another short work by Bermel, Two Songs from Nandom, drawing on Ugandan xylophone music, made a sprightly contrast as its rhythmic central theme shifted further and further away from the center. The group closed with Scott’s artfully voiced, passionately animated arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and encored with a grin from the edge of the stage with what sounded like a brief, matter-of-factly improvised theme from a late Dvorak work. The Imani Winds Festival continues through August 7, with a whirlwind of master classes and performances featuring a deluge of up-and-coming talent; the full schedule is here.

July 30, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment