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

The Threeds’ Oboes Make You Laugh and Give You Chills Too

The idea of a band with three oboes and not much of anything else is pretty awesome in itself. Add an irrepressible sense of humor, a penchant for rearranging familiar tunes in unfamiliar ways, and three players with chops as soulful as they are technically impressive, and you get the Threeds oboe trio. Their new album Unraveled is pure joy – except when it’s bittersweet, or sad, or even haunting, as it is much of the time. Much as Kathy Halvorson, Mark Snyder and Katie Scheele have a great time rearranging Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bjork and others, this is as about as far from a joke record as you can get. Can you say cutting-edge with a smirk?

On the opening track, Joga, they find Bjork’s plaintive inner baroque soul. Their cover of Billie Jean has Pavel Vinnitsky’s bass clarinet playing the bassline perfectly deadpan and mechanical, with the trio in perfect alignment. In the beginning, the arrangement really nails the cold, heartless precision of the original; as it goes on, it’s impossible to escape the context, and becomes just plain hilarious, especially when two of the oboes do those staccato backing vocal lines. Best yet, you can download it for free. While the version of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition also has the bass clarinet playing the bassline, it swings, and so do the oboes – it’s blissfully funky. In a pretty stark contrast, Paranoid Android gives Radiohead’s crazy cyborg some real humanity – when it segues into a restless march, it’s one of the most unaffectedly intense moments on the album.

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat begins as a duo, with Scott Anderson on acoustic guitar and Halvorson playing Mingus’ sad, bitter lead lines. It’s a potent reminder that Mingus wrote the song as an elegy for Lester Young, the bass clarinet’s sustained lines underscoring Halvorson’s understatedly wounded, blues-infused phrasing. Light My Fire has drums, percussion, and tambourine along with bass clarinet – it works as well as it does because Manzarek nicked a Chopin riff for it! The spiraling bop oboe at the point where the organ solo kicks in is pretty hilarious, and absolutely spot-on. The most intriguingly complex arrangement here is the series of lushly intricate, shifting segments in the suspenseful, nocturnal Spanish Stairs.

Dospatsko Horo is the Balkans done as baroque – it doesn’t quite turn the party into a wake but it’s definitely a radical reinvention. Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark also gets a radical reinvention, in this case as riff-driven 21st century circular music.The other tracks include the classic tango El Choclo done as a brooding yet sprightly baroque round; Piazzolla’s Oblivion, a bolero-flavored pop ballad; Little Feat’s Roll Um Easy, which surprisingly hits a mellow early 70s Allman Brothers vibe, soaring oboes enhancing the blue-sky ambience. The only track here that’s not worth uploading is not the band’s fault. This works on so many levels – as party music, as a monster ipod mix and as sophisticated 21st century stuff. Look for this one on our best-of-2011 list at the end of the year.

November 14, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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: Sospiro Winds at Music Mondays, NYC 10/19/09

The Sospiro Winds have quietly and methodically insinuated themselves as a particularly adventurous fixture in the New York music scene. It was particularly auspicious to see a good crowd assembled, on a Monday night no less, for the quintet’s program of exciting, obscure woodwind ensemble pieces (memo to other concert promoters: new music is commercially viable, especially if it’s this good!). The group opened with Viennese Romantic composer Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Humoreske, a little post-baroque style introduction (actually an etude, as one of the group explained) that set a convivial tone for the rest of the evening. In stark contrast, the great Hungarian modernist Gyorgy Kurtag‘s Quintetto Per Fiati was a stark and frequently disturbing, cinematic partita in eight sections that ran from an ominously minimalist intro through a series of boisterous and surprise-laden grapples with demons and syncopation. There’s a horror movie out there somewhere that needs this piece. Another partita, by the German post-Romantic Theodor Blumer moved from “fresh and fiery” to an insistently crescendoing conclusion.

The second half of the show was also replete with surprises. Contemporary American composer Derek Bermel’s Wanderings for Woodwind Quintet cleverly cached away a rousing klezmer dance within its first section, Gift of Life, turning plaintively percussive with Two Songs from Nandom, a particularly imaginative arrangement of an organ piece built on echo devices. Hector Villa-Lobos, a favorite of the group, was represented by the characteristically colorful, flamenco-inflected Quintette en forme de Choros. They closed with an Elliott Carter number that, even without a program (serves us right for getting to the venue at the eleventh hour) was obviously him, perversely atonal yet still managing to be cloying. Flutist Kelli Kathman gets top billing in the group, likely due to her Bang on a Can cred (she’s a member of SIGNAL); joining her with a swaying, passionate but precise attack was oboeist James Austin Smith. Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois made her most difficult, sonically expansive passages look easy, as did the group’s newest member, French horn player Alana Vegter while Adrian Morejon gave a clinic in power and precision on bassoon, tackling all sorts of challenging staccato passages with fire and aplomb.

Music Mondays is an ambitious monthly series at the comfortably rustic old church at the northeast corner of 93rd and Broadway, currently home to two congregations, Advent Lutheran Church and Broadway United Church of Christ; watch this space for upcoming events.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

QNG Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/9/08

At first glance, the concept seemed forced and contrived: four attractive, ponytailed women in matching black t-shirts and pants playing rigorously arranged music for recorder. But QNG (as in Quartet New Generation) proved to be much more than just the latest attempt to market classical music as theme-pop, playing an impressively versatile mix of classical and new music with equal amounts of passion, wit, playfulness and rigor. Without a program, it wasn’t always easy to tell precisely what they were playing, but there was a tradeoff: drinks and a nice waitress to bring them! Carnegie Hall suddenly seems boring by comparison.

They began with a baroque work: imagine Scherzo fur Krummhorn by Georg Bohm, if in fact it exists (probably not, but you get the picture). After that, they did a circular, hypnotic modern work, reminding a lot of Chicago downtempo improvisers Tortoise. They followed with the last, unfinished piece that Johann Sebastian Bach ever wrote, a fugue. It’s not one of his major works, but it’s still Bach, melodic with a slightly detached melancholy. The group stopped it cold where it ended, unexpectedly, and after a meaningful pause played the ending composed by one of his sons. The quartet had brought what seemed to be an entire factory floor worth of recorders in various sizes and types of wood, the players sometimes alternating between several within a single song. One was a large, boxy, rectangular wooden instrument capable of of playing chords on notes far lower than one would ever expect from a recorder. At times where the highs were matched by lows, it was as if an organ was playing, testament to the group’s tightly synchronous feel for the music.

They also did an arrangement of a medieval madrigal worthy of Bach along with a new piece by contemporary composer Paul Moravec on the theme of water heating to a boil, whose predictable, long crescendo was quite enjoyable until the end, which was painfully akin to listening to a roomful of teakettles screeching away at full steam. They also played another new piece that annoyed with an incessant pizzicato rhythm until a sudden macabre swell followed by a frenetic chase scene, and then it all became clear: the composer’s simply trying to be Mingus. The group ought to take some liberties with it and give it some muscle in the early going. But all in all, this show was a revelation, the last thing one would ever expect to hear in the back room of a Gallic-themed bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn where QNG earned a rousing ovation for a performance that was as adventurous as it was virtuosic.

The monthly classical series at Barbes, needless to say, is a welcome development. Here’s hoping that they continue with it: early Sundays are usually a wash as far as bar traffic is concerned, so it ought to bring some extra bodies into the place while maintaining Barbes’ reliably high standards.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment