Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Picturesque, Darkly Kaleidoscopic Album of New Wendy Griffiths Piano Music

Wendy Griffiths is best known as the primary songwriter, lead singer and one of three keyboardists in brilliantly shapeshifting New York art-rock band Changing Modes. In addition to her eleven records with the band, she’s also a prolific classical composer who’s written ballet music, string quartets and works for piano. The latest album of Griffiths’ instrumental music is Views from the Keyboard, a collection of solo piano pieces played by Elizabeth Rodgers, streaming at youtube.

Unsurprisingly, these short pieces reflect the same outside-the-box sensibility, quirky humor and vividness of Griffiths’ rock songs. Rodgers plays with grace and fluidity throughout a series of often labyrinthine idiomatic twists which flash by in a split second. This is 21st century composition as entertainment, informed by a sensibility that’s sometimes phantasmagorical, at other times irresistibly comedic. The intensity of the music on both sides of the emotional spectrum rises as the album goes along.

Three Views From Mexico has hints of flamenco modalities, ragtime, Webern and a brisk close-harmonied stroll which could be Mompou in a rare high-energy moment. A suite of miniatures, Rogue Taxidermy includes the tiptoeing, playfully sotto-voce Consider the Hortle; the deviously phrased Tortitude; the evocatively kinetic, neoromantic Moth Frog; the delightful Meowl; Lone Wolf, a defiantly individualistic vignette; Lunar Mothfish, a slightly turbulent mini-nocturne; the determined March of the Pengupines and finally, the disquietingly warped Zebra Prawn Blues.

The Sheltering Suite comprises My Corona, a light-fingered romp which is about neither beer nor a vintage Toyota; the self-explanatory Jumping Bean; Climbing the Walls, which is more troublingly self-descriptive; Dream Song, which is essentially a synopsis of the whole album; an opaque Lamentation; and the mutedly strutting Danse Mechanique.

Christmas, 1989 appears to have been less than festive time. Griffiths’ Seven Places in America captures Los Angeles as thisclose to frantic (a recent portrait, maybe?); paints Miami as a danse macabre; and uncovers a sinister poltergeist amid San Francisco fog. In fifty-seven seconds, New York decays from steady forebearance to a somber, unresolved lull, while the picture brightens considerably for Maine’s Isle au Haut and the bluesy solidity of Chicago.

The concluding suite, Four Strong Winds begins with the icy pointillisms and clusters but also the friendlier sway of Boreas. Zephyr hops and skips between blithe and brooding; Eurus comes across as a moody, insistent Balkan dance. Rodgers closes the album with Notos, an early Ligeti-flavored coda. Much like Griffiths’ rock band, this is as charming as it is disconcerting.

Changing Modes are playing Bar Freda, 801 Seneca Ave. in Ridgewood on Nov 13 at 8 PM; cover is $10. Take the M to Seneca Ave.

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November 11, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Classic From the 80s – Or From Right Now?

If this band had been around in the 80s and had recorded this album then – an era it easily could date from, had the band members not been in diapers or not yet born – it would be a cult classic today, and they would be packing clubs full of kids younger than they are now. On their fourth cd, Here, New York art-rockers Changing Modes leap from one radically dissimilar style to another with gusto, guile and a tunefulness that won’t quit. Blending classical flourishes, punk energy, playful and clever lyrics that draw on 80s new wave and a ubiquitous element of surprise, every time you think you’ve got them figured out, they drop something new on you. They have two first-rate lead singers and one of them plays the theremin – in a way that’s not cheesy or precious. The songs here, most of them clocking in at barely three minutes apiece, evoke such diverse acts as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Adverts, Captain Beefheart, Pamelia Kurstin and the Go-Go’s.

Ironically, the simplest song on the album is the best – and it might be the best song any band has released this year. Moles, about the “mole people” living deep in the bowels of the New York City subway, is a scampering, ridiculously catchy, jaggedly sinister punk/new wave hit: “Your life underground is not what it seems, it’s worse than your strangest nightmares and better than your wildest dreams.” It goes out on Yuzuru Sadashige’s screaming, off-kilter reverb guitar crescendo, straight out of the Doctors of Madness playbook. The Great Beyond takes a pensive pop ballad and sends it tumbling into the abyss with some ominous Bernard Herrmann atmospherics, while the title track evokes Siouxsie with its eerie, lo-fi organ and skronky guitar – and a stark, classically-tinged piano bridge that comes out of nowhere but makes a perfect fit.

Bookended with a handful of lolcat string synth flourishes, Louise is singer/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths’ stomping powerpop tribute to a furry friend: love ultimately conquers all. Scratchy new wave/punk-pop, like the Cars with a college degree, Cell to Cell features a bizarre, noisy guitar solo from Sadashige, Beefheart as played by PiL’s Keith Levene, maybe. The rest of the album includes an uneasy, ornate ballad sung with effortless, soaring abandon by theremin player Jen Rondeau; a blistering ska-punk number; a playful new wave pop tune with a theremin solo, and a couple of jaunty vaudevillian numbers, one possibly about the evils of gentrification, the other a sarcastic sendup of catty drama queens. Count this among the half-dozen or so best albums of 2010 so far. Changing Modes play Ella (the latin club adjacent to Nice Guy Eddie’s on Ave. A just north of Houston) at 9 PM on June 8.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment