Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sam Bardfeld Puts on His Richard Nixon Mask Just in Time for Halloween

What could be more appropriate for Halloween month than a fearsome violinist who sometimes leads a band called Up Jumped the Devil? Or whose latest album, The Great Enthusiasms – streaming at Bandcamp – comprises songs with titles taken from Richard Nixon quotes? Sam Bardfeld lifted most of those from Nixon’s resignation speech; it’s not likely that Trump, if in fact he ends up giving one, will be nearly as quotable. “Though Dick was a paranoid, hateful crook, there’s intelligence and complexity in him that one cannot imagine existing inside our current president. During this current dark stain in our country’s history, let’s continue to make weird, joyous art,’ Bardfeld encourages. He’s playing the album release show on Oct 5 at Cornelia Street Cafe, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

Most people know Bardfeld from his work with Springsteen, but his best material is his own. Bardfeld calls this trio project with the fantastic, lyrical pianist Kris Davis and drummer Michael Sarin his “weird Americana” album. Noir jazz is more like it.

How sarcastic is the opening track, Fails While Daring Greatly? The title is a Teddy Roosevelt quote that Nixon used when resigning, the song a distantly Romany swing-tinged number. Davis strolls uneasily while the bandleader swoops, shivers and scrapes with his signature, subtle, sardonic humor.

Resignation Rag is a surreal second-line march: Davis’ peevish insistence and Monkish loops are very funny, not just because they’re so far from her usual style. Bardfeld throws in a taunt or two as he takes the trio further and further outside to solo Davis contemplation, and a little twisted faux-barrelhouse.

A steady, uneasy violin solo opens Winner Image, Davis joining with cautious, starry chordlets, a troubled lullaby of sorts that grows more menacing as Bardfeld spins and slides and Davis takes a grimly gleaming stroll. Then they make a slow, enigmatic sway out of the Springsteen/Patti Smith hit Because the Night, which is barely recognizable, more Monk than late 70s CBGB powerpop. Davis’ eerie deep-sky solo is arguably the album’s high point, in contrast with the LMAO ending.

Listening to the album as sequenced, the title track is where it hits you that this is the great violin album that Monk never made, Davis the steady stalker as Bardfeld leaps and dances through funhouse mirror blues. Sarin’s subtle flickers and accents complete the carnivalesque tableau.

The trio do the Band’s King Harvest (Has Surely Come) as less dadrock than quasi-gospel, Bardfeld’s animated lines paired with Davis’ terse, gospel-infused groove. Bardfeld strums uneasy chords behind the funereal piano/drum atmospherics as The 37th Time I Have Spoken gets underway, interspersed with moments of sarcastic loopiness, frantic scurrying, and a burbling free interlude. One of the top ten jazz albums of the year so far, no question.

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October 2, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dana Lyn Plays an Ocean of Melody at the Firehouse Space

Violinist Dana Lyn is as adept at Bach and Celtic dances as she is at searchingly acerbic string music. There’s a lot of the the latter on her latest album Aqualude. Last night at the Firehouse Space in Greenpoint, she and her shapeshifting band from that album – Clara Kennedy on cello, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums – aired out some of the spiraling, entrancing pieces on it as well as a number of even more intriguing new compositions. One of those Lyn had just finished earlier in the day, but the group approached it with relish, Kennedy’s stark solo intro giving way to a lively balletesque theme that worked back and forth through all kinds of permutations, Goldberger hinting at skronk against an uneasy wash of strings.

Another began with an elegant eight-note clarinet hook that Lyn and Goldberger used as a springboard for lilting, dancing harmonies. One of Lyn’s main tropes is to loop a phrase and then use that to anchor an intricate interweave of voices. and the band did that often throughout an expansive set that went well over an hour. Lyn also has a fascination with the ocean and its creatures, carefully and wryly explaining how those often very strange beings influence her music. The guardedly explosive centerpiece of the Aqualude album, she said, was inspired by the hairy crabs who frequent the volcanic vents on the seabed. Another piece drew on the plight of the octopus, whose male and female basically go insane and die after they mate (does that remind you of another species?).

Kennedy opened the show with a stark intro that grew into a metrically tricky loop in tandem with the guitar, McGinnis adding counterrythmic staccato accents as Lyn’s violin wafted overhead. Sperrazza – who felt the room’s sonics instantly, keeping his masterfully counterintuitive accents and colors low-key with his brushes and sometimes just his hands – kicked off the next one as loudly as he’d go, with an almost baroque counterpoint from the clarinet and strings.

Along with the web of melodies, there’s a lot of contrast in Lyn’s music, and the band worked those dynamics with a comfortable chemistry: hazy atmospherics versus a kinetic drive, loud/soft and calm/agitated dichotomies, Goldberger hitting his pedals for an unexpected roar or McGinnis leaping from the murk of the bass clarinet to the top of his register. Lyn also counters the pensiveness and gravitas of her music with a surreal sense of humor. It was her birthday, so she supplied paper and pens so that everyone in the crowd could draw a cadavre exquis. Some of the audience came up with intriguing or amusing stuff; from an artistically-challenged point of view, it was impossible to concentrate on drawing for very long because it was such a distraction – and a lot more fun – to watch Lyn’s magical sonic tableaux unfold.

April 21, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intriguing, Suspenseful, Ecologically Relevant String Themes from Dana Lyn

You have to love this story: it’s so 1971. A boy crossing an icy river gets knocked cold by a flying carp. He wakes to find himself in a mysterious underwater grotto, where a mother octopus gives him a magic branch that enables him to swim underwater just like the rest of the many sea creatures he will meet on his journey. An ancient white whale then transports him to the ocean floor, where he eventually discovers a volcanic vent. The vent suddenly explodes and blasts him back above the surface, where he swims back to shore amid a snowstorm. His family, worried about him, eventually track him down; he presents them with the magic branch and then falls into a troubled sleep. That’s the eco-disaster parable (you can read the original version on the cd package) that violinist Dana Lyn seeks to illustrate on her new album Aqualude.

Unlike what the title might imply – if you read it a certain way – this is not a sleepy album, although there is a definite narcotic, psychedelic quality to it. The obvious comparison is late 70s King Crimson. Jonathan Goldberger’s guitar growls and spirals, albeit with less of a grim focus than what Robert Fripp typically employed during that era, while Lyn and cellist Clara Kennedy team up for atmospheric washes when they’re not providing ghostly or flitting accents alongside Mike McGinnis’ lyrical clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperazza’s remarkably straightforward drunming.

The suite opens with a stomping, trickily rhythmic, distorted guitar theme that immediately kicks off the King Crimson comparisons. Moody cello builds to a circular, atmospheric theme, then a mysteriously tinkling, whispery miniature. The first series of variations on the opening theme dances and eventually spirals on the wings of the guitar, then goes atmospheric again. Lyn likes dynamics and uses them very counterintuitively, often suspensefully, in keeping with the storyline.

A twinkling loop rises to a sort of dance of the friendly aquatic animals, which turns more uneasy as the counterpoint between instruments grows more complex. Again, they swirl down to a nebulous miniature and then it seems they locate the volcanic vent: the jaunty guitar and drums against balmy strings build to a crescendo that’s less menacing than you might expect, followed by a slow, methodical, vividly pastoral theme. Spaciously ambient washes from the strings over echoey lows begin to pulse slowly, followed by a gentle blue-sky waltz that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bill Frisell catalog. This might be the subtlest eco-disaster album ever written, leaving plenty of room for the listener to reflect and fill in the blanks. As Lyn, a passionate advocate for the world’s oceans, says in her liner notes, we still have a long way to go towards cleaning up our act.

January 1, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Energetic, Eclectic, Haunting Sounds from the Jason Seed Stringtet

While echoes of Django Reinhardt and Astor Piazzolla pervade the Jason Seed Stringtet’s new album In the Gallery, the Milwaukee guitarist’s compositions are even more eclectic than simply a blend of Romany jazz and nuevo tango. He’s put together a formidable string band, playing acoustic alongside Glenn Asch on violin and viola, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Helen Reich on viola and and Scott Tisdel on cello, and the Chicago Symphony’s Dan Armstrong on bass. Although these players come from classical backgrounds, there’s a lot of improvisation, and the band has a lot of fun with it. Armstrong gets to bow just as much as playing basslines; Seed likes acidic close harmonies, especially with the high strings, making an uneasy counterbalance with his sinuously precise, catchy lead lines.

Seed opens the album with a solo introduction into the Goulash Rag, a biting, dancing theme that runs closer to bolero territory. Swirling high strings hand off to a cello solo over dancing bass; they take it out with a flourish. The subdued, brooding Tangoesque offers an appreciative nod to Bill Frisell’s Strange Meeting, Seed’s guitar elegantly intertwining amid the stark arrangement, with edgy solos for cello, viola and bass and then the first of the album’s many trick endings. Pictures of an Exhibitionist has a bit of a funk edge to go with the tango and the Romany guitar flavor, capped off with a sailing, glissando-fueled violin solo. Ishtar opens with a dark, droning Middle Eastern-flavored low-register taqsim and morphs into a klezmer-esque dance, Seed adding an acerbic flamenco edge, the ensemble taking it out with a shivery intensity. Krakow’s central theme is like Django at his most plaintive, with a darkly searing cello solo, the viola following in the same vein, Seed taking it up anxiously and then gracefully down again.

\Where the Corners Meet features Yang Wei on pipa, a spiky, circular theme growing to a wistful but animated crescendo, Tisdel artfully shadowing the fretted instruments as it builds to anthemic proportions. In the Right Line follows a moody folk-rock trajectory, while Caterpillar Kif is the album’s big showstopper. Agitated strings switch back and forth with a wryly bluesy theme that Seed once again takes in a flamenco direction; it gets funkier, then Tisdel takes it dancing to yet another trick ending.

One in Five might be the album’s most intense track, with a brooding rainy day guitar-and-cello duet into more flamencoesque guitar, Tisdel’s soaring chromatics against Seed’s pensive, spare, rhythmic pulse. The title track closes the album, and it turns out that this is one haunted gallery: Seed’s long, nebulously spacious solo intro hands off to Armstrong, who supplies chilling, stygian sustained lines all the way through to a darkly ironic ending. A lot of people – fans of art-rock, jazz, classical and global sounds – are going to love this album. It’s one of the year’s best, whichever category you might think it fits (and realistically, it doesn’t really fit any, which helps explain why it’s so enjoyable).

August 21, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alicia Svigals and Marilyn Lerner Steal the Show at Lincoln Center

Last night violinist/composer Alicia Svigals debuted her new score to the 1918 German silent film The Yellow Ticket to a sold-out house at Lincoln Center,  accompanying a screening in tandem with jazz pianist Marilyn Lerner. The movie isn’t much. A screwball tragi-comedy starring nineteen-year-old future Hollywood siren Pola Negri, it casts Polish Jews as the unlikely protagonists in a family drama concerning a question of parentage. The pro-Jewish angle was undoubtedly less of a decisively progressive move than an excuse to paint the WWI enemy Russians as cruel and discriminatory (which they were, actually). The film, newly restored, has historical value for including rare footage of Warsaw’s Jewish district – and little else. But Svigals’ score is exquisite.

In practically an hour of music, the former Klezmatic and Itzhak Perlman collaborator  blended somber klezmer themes with vivid, plaintive neoromantic melodies that echoed Tschaikovsky and Ravel, particularly in one of the soundtrack’s most chilling passages, piano joining the violin in adding ominous close harmonies to a variation on the steady, pensive, minor-key title theme. The score’s dynamics turned out to be pretty straightforward, other than a brief, furtive suspense interlude and a couple of shivery, overtone-generating solo violin cadenzas that only hinted at the raw firepower that Svigals can generate in concert.

Svigals’ themes unfolded and shifted shape cleverly and memorably. A moody, apprehensive hora early on, introduced during a broad sequence where Negri’s character fends off a would-be suitor, romped back in later as a joyous freilach. The soaring blue-sky interlude illustrating Negri’s train passage to what would ostensibly be a new life as a student in St. Petersburg turned ominous and chilling in a split second, to match a jump cut. Lerner’s understatedly haunting, resonant block chords and elegant arpeggios made a poignant and intuitive backdrop for Svigals’ highly ornamented phrasing, sometimes tense and nuanced, occasionally channeling fullscale horror. Svigals has a forthcoming album of Osvaldo Golijov works recorded with clarinet powerhouse David Krakauer due out this year; this deserves to be immortalized every bit as much.

Svigals and Lerner will be touring the score along with the film, with screenings and live performances on February 17 in Vancouver, March 3 in Miami and April 29 in Boston, among others.

January 11, 2013 Posted by | concert, Film, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Name That Tune with the International String Trio’s Help

Old habits die hard. If you go back as far as the radio-and-records era, you were probably used to having a cd – or if you were lucky, a vinyl album – to refer to for song titles and now-archaic things like liner notes and musician credits. As fast as all those things are disappearing, jazz bloggers are obsessive about them. But sometimes it pays to resist OCD and leave the news release and the promo copy out of sight and just get a handle on the music. That’s the approach that everybody ought to take with the International String Trio’s new album Movie Night. Just listening to Slava Tolstoy’s nimble gypsy jazz guitar, Ben Powell’s elegantly nuanced violin and Ippei Ichimaru’s terse bass will get your head bopping and eliminate any prejudices that might arise from a peek at the credits.

Here’s why – this is a concept album, a collection of the band’s favorite movie music. It’s not known what opinions the band have, if any, about the movies themselves. Which is why it’s best just to catch the lively, carefree violin and gypsy jazz allusions on the breezy first track and ask yourself, what on earth is that? It’s too straightforward to be a pop song and you probably won’t recognize it, and here’s why: it’s the Feather Theme from Forrest Gump. In case you’re wondering, there’s nothing from Xanadu, or any of the Friday or Elvis movies here – although those flicks, forgettable as they were, all had some good tunes.

If gypsy jazz is your thing, you will enjoy the trio’s versions of the two Django Reinhardt classics here: the group gives them both the groove and the bite those songs deserve. What is that sad waltz with the biting violin solo out? That’s I Will Wait for You, a Michel Legrand composition from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. And what’s that jaunty early swing number? Singing’ in the Rain? That’s right – these guys transform that moldy old schlockfest into something actually listenable.

Track six is a pensive, pretty ballad: could this be French? No, it’s the Schindler’s List Theme, by John Williams. That other understatedly moody, pretty waltz? Stephen Flaherty’s Once Upon a December, from the film Anastasia. And that sprightly Irish reel? That’s an acoustic cover of the Dropkick Murphy’s I’m Shipping Up to Boston and it’s way better than the original, Sox fans be damned!

Is that other waltz Haydn? No, it’s Shostakovich, done nonchalantly as gypsy jazz with Powell out front and center. David Raksin’s Theme from Laura is well-known, as is Maurice Jarre’s Somewhere My Love – but who knew that one had a laid-back, minor intro before the syrupy theme kicks in? The album closes with a matter-of-fact version of the Tennessee Waltz – wait a minute, that’s Ashokan Farewell. Aw heck, all those old folksingers ripped each other off. Who is the audience for this? Gypsy jazz fans may find these takes inspired but some of the source material on the weak side; otherwise, fans of the more accessible side of chamber and folk music won’t go wrong giving this a spin.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | classical music, folk music, irish music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Edgy String Band Eclecticism from the Real Vocal String Quartet

Former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, a pioneer of string-band improvisation, founded the all-female Real Vocal String Quartet. You could characterize them as a less caustic. considerably more eclectic alternative to Rasputina. They’re playing Barbes on Oct 13 at midnight – and then they’re at Passim in Cambridge, MA the next day at 4:30 PM! That same sense of adventure pervades their music, drawing on genres from around the world to create an enchanting, original, sometimes gypsy-tinged blend.

The best song on their 2010 self-titled debut was a radical reworking of a Paul Simon song, of all things. This time around, they open their new album Four Little Sisters by radically reworking Regina Spektor’s Machines, first giving it a slyly satirical, robotic bounce and then roaring through an outro that’s the furthest thing from detached and coldly mechanical. Everybody in the band – Sazer, violinist Alisa Rose (also of Quartet San Francisco), violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry – contributes vocals as well, therefore the band name.

Sazer’s instrumental Homage to Oumou follows, a swinging minor-key gypsy/klezmer romp capped by a blazing violin solo, held down by Ivry’s alternately stark, bowed washes and swinging pizzicato basslines. Elephant Dreams, by Rose, has a fresh, distantly West African tinge, swinging counterpoint and an edgy series of bluesy exchanges.

They begin Gilberto Gil’s Copo Vazio with an insistent staccato pulse, growing to pensive, lush chamber pop with a tersely thoughtful Sazer solo. Likewise, Maccabee’s arrangement of the cajun dance Allons a Lafayette gives it plenty of oomph – and some neat four-part vocal harmonies.

Duke Perarson’s Sweet Honey Bee is transformed by a Sazer arrangement into a tioptoeing but acerbic blues ballad with a long, intricately intertwining jam at the end – it makes a good segue with Vasen guitarist Roger Tallroth’s Falling Polska, a moody mix of the baroque and the Balkans. Durang’s Hornpipe, dating from the American Revolution, gets a rousing cajun treatment, and then a long jam, a vein they return to with the album’s more nocturnal concluding track, Grand Mamou Waltz. There’s also a bright, blue-sky cover of the Dirty Projectors’ Knotty Pine. It’s hard to think of another recent album that so entertainingly connects jazz, indie classical, jamband rock and so many other worlds as this one does.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | folk music, jazz, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jaunty African Beats and Rich Purist Blues from Regina Carter

Violinist Regina Carter led her captivatingly cross-pollinated African jazz quintet Reverse Thread through a characteristically intriguing blend of styles last night at Madison Square Park. Backed by kora virtuoso Yacouba Sissoko, bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Alvester Garnett and accordionist Will Holshouser, Carter alternated between gorgeously stark minor-key blues leads, hypnotic loops of pizzicato and the occasional terse cadenza: throughout the set, she chose her spots.

They opened with the slowly unwinding, bluesy Dancing on the Niger, Carter’s tersely bittersweet, sometimes atmospheric lines hovering over the swaying rhythm and Holshouser’s steady pulsing chords, Sissoko throwing off a similarly terse, sparkling solo. The dancing second number, by Amadou and Mariam, began as another showcase for Sissoko, working his way down from spiraling glissandos to an insistent, rhythmic intensity before turning it over to Carter, who turned the heat up all the way over a repetitive two-bar motif, Holshouser winding it out in a whirling torrent of chords.

Garnett’s New for New Orleans was a fullscale suite. A stately, somberly hopeful solo accordion intro kicked off a jaunty jazz waltz, followed by a long Holshouser solo that veered from triumphant to apprehensive and back again, and a tense duel between Garnett and Lightcap that springboarded Carter’s purist, blues-drenched, smartly crescendoing coda. They followed with a biting, slinky rendition of a Papo Vazquez salsa jazz tune with a long shivery kora solo, Carter taking it into more pensive, spacious terrain. Carter took care to explain that Hiwumbe Awumba (meaning “God creates, God destroys”), a Ugandan Jewish traditional song from the album, would be the opposite of fire-and-brimstone, and she was right, the band taking turns throwing devious quotes and playful jabs over its happy-go-lucky bounce. The Malagasy dance that followed could have passed for a zydeco jam. A Richard Bona tune, pulsing along on an Ethiopian triplet rhythm, served as a platform for Sissoko’s most lickety-split solo of the night, Carter then teasing the band – and the crowd – with pregnant pauses and spritely, split-second flourishes. They encored on a high-energy note with variations on a theme that could have been a country blues, or a West African folk tune – both which it could have been in other times and places.

Carter plays with pianist Pablo Ziegler’s fascinating, intense Tango Connection tonight through the 28th at Birdland, then she goes on world tour with Joe Jackson’s band.

July 26, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gypsy Jazz and Beyond with Ben Powell

Jazz violinist Ben Powell has an impressively diverse new album out, New Street. Pitched as a tribute to Stephane Grappelli, it’s exactly that, not a homage, a mix of originals and gypsy jazz classics. Powell has a distinctive sound, a glistening, pure tone and the precision of a classical player whether he’s spinning off glissandos, bending blue notes or going way up into harmonics and shows off an impressive command of a lot more than just gypsy jazz. The big news is that a handful of tracks feature Gary Burton and Julian Lage: the rest of the band includes Tadataka Unno on piano, Aaron Darrel on bass and Devin Drobka on drums, along with Adrien Moignard guesting with some aptly Django-esque guitar, and Linda Calise singing in fluently nuanced French on an imaginatively reinvented samba version of La Vie En Rose.

The album opens with a rather counterintuitive choice, an expansively reminiscent Powell ballad, Judith, done as a violin/bass/piano trio with a Georgia on My Mind vibe and a glistening piano solo from Unno. The carefree, dancing title track is a two-parter, beginning with a trip to Brazil via Joe Jackson and then morphing into a briskly swinging gypsy tune that ends up looping a phrase out of Grieg. They follow that with Monk for Strings, vividly evoking that composer but with an animated, scurrying rhythm and a playful series of gypsy swoops and dives at the end. Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love is transformed into gypsy jazz, Moignard adding spiraling, spiky energy on the frets, Powell’s penetrating, intense solo taking the energy up even further. They do the sentimental old ballad Sea Shell as a jazz waltz, Powell’s flights to the uppermost registers so clean and fluid that it’s almost as if he’s playing a saw. The most intense number here is Swinging for Stephane, a Powell original that recalls Grappelli but doesn’t ape him, with a couple of absolutely searing, bluesy violin solos and a neat false ending.

The cuts with Burton and Lage here are also choice. Interesting, Lage seems largely relegated to rhythm, which he keeps simple and elegant. Grappelli’s Gary – a gesture of appreciation from the late violinist to the vibraphonist – has a bucolic, summery sway, silky violin and smartly judicious, warmly bluesy work from Burton. Next is a steady, bittersweet take on La Chanson Des Rues, seemingly a prototype for Just a Gigolo (which Jenifer Jackson once covered and knocked out of the ballpark). Burton’s artful interpolations, peeking from behind the guitar and violin here, are absolutely luscious. The trio wind up the album with a richly sonorous romp through Grappelli’s Piccadilly Stomp, vibes and electric guitar blending into a lush bell choir, Lage showing off an impressive fluency in Django-style spirals: who knew he was also into this kind of music? It’s a treat for anyone who loves gypsy jazz (meaning pretty much everybody).

July 5, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nova Philharmonic and Paul Joseph Take Third-Stream to the Next Level

Isn’t it amazing how there are so many incredible classical and jazz performances in New York, just a stone’s throw off the beaten path? Last night at Good Shepherd-Faith Church in the Lincoln Center complex was a perfect example, where the Nova Philharmonic teamed up with violinist/composer Gregor Huebner and the Paul Joseph Quartet for a characteristically genre-smashing good time. First on the agenda was Huebner’s own absolutely haunting Ground Zero (from his New York Suite), a tone poem that gave him the opportunity to play while casually circling the audience, conductor Dong-Hyun Kim leading the string orchestra onstage through its chilling, gently keening and then subsiding microtones. The work eventually reached a chilling crescendo with Huebner’s horror-stricken staccato attack against a brooding, dissociative backdrop. As an evocation of the anguish of 9/11, it’s powerfully evocative, more of a look back from a distance than Robert Sirota’s manic-then-bereaved Triptych or Julia Wolfe’s terror-fueled, recently released Big Beautiful Dark & Scary.

The ensemble shifted to warmer, more consonantly enveloping territory with Joel Mandelbaum’s The Past Is Now, a trio of May Sarton poems set to music and delivered with highwire intensity by soprano Kathryn Wieckhorst: in the church’s echoey acoustics, her sheer crystalline power equated to the force of a choir over the lushness of the strings. Mandelbaum’s attention to the rather elegaic lyrical content was both poignant and witty, notably in a furtive, metaphorically-charged passage marking the trail of some nocturnal varmints who’d vanished by daybreak, leaving only their pawprints in the snow. Huebner then rejoined the group for his Concerto con Violin Latino, a bracing, rhythmically-charged suite juxtaposing guajira, bembe and tango themes that began with an anxious, Piazzola-esque sweep and majesty and then romped through the tropics before reverting to a staccato intensity that revisited the angst of the opening piece.

Throughout the performance, Kim’s meticulousness was matched by the ensemble, perhaps most noticeably on the concluding suite, Mozart’s Eine Kliene Nachtmusik. How does one rescue this old standby from the world of credit card commercials and NPR lead-ins? This group’s answer was to dig in and amp it up. And they had to, because this particular performance was billed as a duel of sorts with pianist Paul Joseph and his Quartet – Susan Mitchell on violin, Edgar Mills on bass and Mike Corn on drums – who played their own jazz versions of each of Mozart’s four movements: first the orchestra would play one, then Joseph and crew would come up with a response. Much as it might have been tempting to make hard bop out of it, Joseph did the right thing with a jaunty, ragtime-inflected approach worthy of Dave Brubeck. They swung the opening allegro with gusto, turning the Romanza into bossa nova and the minuet into a jazz waltz. To call what they did eye-opening is an understatement: the strength and irresistible catchiness of Mozart’s melody became even more apparent as they turned a Venetian courtly dance into a blithely bouncy jazz-pop anthem that would be perfectly at home in the Egberto Gismonti songbook. Whenever the glittery attractiveness of the piano threatened to saturate the mix with sugar, Mitchell was there in a split-second with stark, assertive cadenzas and a razor-sharp, slithery legato to add edge and bite. They turned the concluding rondo into a samba, making it as much of a round rhythmically as musically, Mills and Mitchell trading off the tune while Joseph and Corn paired off on an increasingly animated series of percussive jousts that the orchestra finally lept into, completely unexpectedly, and wound out in a joyous crescendo. The audience exploded with a standing ovation. Watch this space for upcoming New York area dates for the Nova Philharmonic and the Paul Joseph Quartet.

March 31, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments