New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: August, 2011

Little Genius on the Loose at the Rockwood

At her Soundcloud site, Marilyn Carino calls her new Little Genius album “electronic soul,” but it’s a lot more soul than electronic. Her show Tuesday night at the Rockwood took awhile to set up: with her two keyboards, and her big Gibson hollowbody guitar, and a live rhythm section, it was obvious that this was going to be a real concert, not karaoke. You could compare the former frontwoman of Brooklyn downtempo/chillout group Mudville to Amy Winehouse or to Bjork, but Carino’s a thousand times more diverse than the first one and a lot more focused than the other. Alison Goldfrapp is another singer who comes to mind, but she can’t match Carino for unadulterated, lurid sultriness. And for all the raw sensuality in her delivery, Carino can also be incredibly subtle.

This was a trippy show. The tight, purist rhythm section of jazz bassist Ben Rubin (of Dred Scott’s group) on upright bass and Shawn Pelton (of cinematic noir soundscapers Mojo Mancini) on drums launched into a hypnotic backbeat as Carino spun webs of coldly moody, processed keys that contrasted with the slyly beckoning feel of her vocals. The catchy second song of the night set Carino’s voice against eerie roto organ moving in and out of the mix and a couple of trumpet solos that took it out triumphant and satisfied. Another had Carino building a lazy indie tune out of a single brooding, acidic guitar chord; later, she delivered hushed, suspenseful yet raw gospel-tinged soul over thoughtfully minimalist, echoey Rhodes electric piano.

A couple of the trip-hop numbers, including one that opened with a cascade of rainstorm piano before the textures got all woozy, had a darkly mesmerizing intensity: they wouldn’t have been out of place on the live Portishead album. They hit a cool Jazzmatazz vibe toward the end of the set, a hip-hop artist joining them to elevate the laid-back atmosphere as the trumpet soared. They closed with a deliciously noir, jazzy tune and then an old Mudville song, just bass, drums, trumpet and Carino’s bracing come-hither allure.

As entertaining as this show was, there were unwanted distractions. A pair of drunken Eurotrash couples – a girl at the bar chatting up a much older guy, and a coked-up greybeard by the window with his rent-a-date, talked loudly, nonstop, throughout the concert. Which was too bad – the Rockwood doesn’t usually draw that kind of crowd, especially when there’s a good band onstage.

Daria Grace at Rodeo Bar Last Night

For some crazy reason this past couple of weeks has been all about singers. Maybe there’s some mysterious force at work that science doesn’t understand yet. Or maybe it’s just that this is New York and even the far less mysterious forces of gentrification can’t banish all the great voices from this town.

In case you ever wondered, a lot of the vocal jazz groups you see playing restaurant gigs in New York actually serve a purpose. They give A-list players a chance to moonlight for a little extra cash – or maybe just dinner – and a chance to hang with their friends, and keep up their chops, even if nobody’s listening. What makes Daria Grace and the Pre-War Ponies any different from those other bands? She can’t resist a bargain at a junk shop – if that bargain is an old chart for some obscure song from the 20s or 30s. Last night at Rodeo Bar, they threw a few standards into the mix – Heart and Soul, and All I Do Is Dream of You, and a really thoughtful, low-key but vividly anxious version of It’s the Talk of the Town. But the real treats were the rarities that hardly anybody else plays: Jimmie Noone’s 1920s hit Ready for the River (“The happiest song ever written about suicide,” said trombonist J. Walter Hawkes); Hoagy Carmichael’s Two Sleepy People, about a “foggy little fella and drowsy little dame” who can’t drag themselves away from each other; and Belle Baker’s quietly brooding waltz Underneath the Russian Moon, from 1929.

Grace played baritone ukulele and sang with a cool, pure, mountain-spring clarity that went misty as she went up the scale, dipping down low and then stretching to the top of her register and making it look effortless. Hawkes varied his attack from droll to snarky to whispery to full-on crystalline intensity: when he wasn’t playing trombone, he was playing snaky, thoughtful leads on ukulele. The bass player dove into what was obviously a bunch of unfamiliar material, playing half his solos with a bow and coming up triumphantly while drummer Russ Meissner kept a wry shuffle groove going, often using just his hands on the snare and a cymbal. On the bouncy 1928 Helen Kane tune Get Out, Get Under the Moon, Grace finally cut loose at the end – the effect was intense.

Guy Lombardo’s Moon Over Brooklyn, a big favorite of this band, was as amusing as always. What makes it so funny is that it’s really not about Brooklyn at all. Somewhere in a junk shop in Illinois there may be a moth-eaten chart for the same song, except that the Chicago version switches out Flatbush Avenue for North Huron Street – and a line that rhymes with it. On Johnny Mercer’s Pardon My Southern Accent, was the band singing “Shut up!” on the chorus? No. The phrase was “Sho ’nuff!” Hawkes added his own version of a Southern accent on Atlanta Blues a.k.a. Pallet on Your Floor. They also did a balmy version of Paul Robeson’s Got the South in My Soul, a torchy Say It Isn’t So and flipped the script with a bracing bolero tune that gave Meissner a chance to really turn up the heat.

What are such a superb singer and her band doing singing over – or into – the Monday night football crowd at Rodeo Bar? This is a side project for her. Grace is also the bass player in her husband Jack’s group, one of the East Coast’s most popular country bands, so she’s busy with that. In the meantime, you can catch her with the Pre-War Ponies the last Monday of the month here playing two sets, starting a little after 9.

Friday Night Hurricane Party at Barbes

Friday night was a hurricane party. Everybody in town was out because by Saturday noon they’d be more or less housebound, since the subway was shutting down in anticipation of what reasonably-minded New Yorkers expected – a big rainstorm, nothing this city hasn’t seen before or won’t see again. It wasn’t exactly 1821 or 1938, the two most recent years that hurricanes hit the city. In a fortuitous if predictable stroke of fate, New York’s best music venue, Barbes, had a characteristically excellent triplebill.

Mamie Minch opened, a late addition to the bill. It would have been nice to have seen the eclectically oldtimey Roulette Sisters’ charismatic frontwoman/guitarist – she always puts on a good show. Greta Gertler was next. This time out the unpredictable pianist and art-rock songwriter had an acoustic rhythm section and a backup singer who doubled on glockenspiel when she wasn’t artfully switching between high and low harmonies. The set was a mix of greatest hits and new songs from her lush chamber-pop project the Universal Thump. She did the poignant, regretful 6/8 ballad Damien, the massive top 40 hit that should have been, early on. Anticipating a little rain, she segued from the aptly pensive Wrist Slasher into the bustling Bergen Street, a vivid Brooklyn thunderstorm scenario from her ragtime-flavored 2008 album Edible Restaurant album. The new songs included a gently majestic ballad (Gertler told the crowd that she was edging further and further toward “theatre music”) and a somewhat Peter Gabriel-esque Universal Thump anthem lit up by drummer Adam Gold’s hypnotically swirling cymbals and joyously thunderous, symphonic drumming.

“Party band” probably wouldn’t be the first way you might consider categorizing Piñataland. But that’s what they were. On their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night, the chamber pop band’s rhythm section really amps it up – interestingly, this time out, drummer Bill Gerstel and bassist Ross Bonadonna kept the groove more low-key, sometimes gracefully ornate, probably just as well considering that they were playing Barbes. Violinist Deni Bonet stole the show with her fiery, gypsy and celtic-flavored lines when she wasn’t building an orchestral swirl with the guest accordionist, while bandleaders Dave Wechsler and Doug Stone joined voices vigorously with Robin Aigner (who was making it her second night in a row here).

They opened with a big-sky country waltz by Wechsler, got quiet and gospelly on the new album’s title track before a joyous version of the Irish rock tune Island of Godless Men, told from the point of view of a pre-Revolutionary War era religious zealot, Bonet bringing an especially exuberant edge to the closing reel. The gypsy-rock numbers were the high point of the show, especially the bitter, defiant Death of Silas Deane, a tribute to another Revolutionary era figure who was instrumental in generating support for his new nation, then took a dramatic and tragic fall from grace. The single most gripping moment was on the set’s weirdest song, Wechsler’s elegant country-gospel piano set against the unlikely backdrop of a Roswell incident engineered by the KGB, where the aliens are actually surgically modified Russian children. That one was told from the point of view of a real alien. They closed with another waltz, a country shuffle with another searing Bonet solo, a gypsy rocker about a 19th century anti-gentrification protestor of sorts, and the inexplicable but irresistibly catchy Border Guard, Aigner sliding and slinking through the melody Kitty Wells style.

Serena Jost Plays an Enchanting Set at Barbes

Thursday night at Barbes Serena Jost played a concert to get lost in. “Night time and shade were never the same,” she sang, carefully modulated, nuanced, allusively, early on. If there’s anybody who knows what the difference between night time and shade is, it’s Serena Jost. This time out she and her band brought both, along with some sun as well. Like most artists whose main axe is the cello, her background is classical music, and as you might expect, she adds a classic pop feel to that – her songs are always about the melody. Her sound is one that first gained traction in the early 70s, when Genesis was a theatrical psychedelic band, and ELO played raw, apocalyptic, amped-up orchestral suites. But Jost’s melodies, and her vocals, go for plaintivess and an occasionally allusive wit instead of theatricality or fullscale epic grandeur.

Much of the set was new material from her forthcoming album A Bird Will Sing; Jost played acoustic guitar on the majority of those songs. One early standout had a distantly Brazilian flavor, Strat player Julian Maile shadowing Jost ominously, bassist Rob Jost (no relation) rising to meet a crescendoing wave head-on, nimbly filling in the spaces with some playfully sliding riffs. Another new one with a long solo cello intro followed by a brief fanfare, and then a march, sounded like a less caustic Rasputina. Drummer Rob DiPietro gave Almost Nothing, a track from her most recent album Closer Than Far, some marvelously funereal drumming that matched perfectly with her soaring vocals, stopping just this short of anguish. She also brought up her recent tourmate Robin Aigner to sing defiantly brassy harmonies on several songs.

“What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a deli?” Somebody in the audience nailed it. “That’s right! The cat!” she grinned, approvingly, and launched into a song inspired by a deli trip (and the furry friend she found there) that sounded something like White Rabbit done as chamber pop. The rest of the show was deliciously all over the map. The forthcoming album’s title track, a countrypolitan ballad, had Maile doing a spot-on imitation of a pedal steel with some nuanced slide work. Another new one, a gorgeous art-pop tune, had him running a fat Steve Cropper-style Memphis lick against the song’s balmy melody. They reinvented Doris Fisher’s Whispering Grass as a slow, sinuous funk groove, and then went into late 60s ye-ye pop on the “one song that sounds like a cover but isn’t,” as the bandleader took care to note. And Great Conclusions, another new track, was genuinely majestic, its slowly galloping chorus kicking in with an apprehensive power that wouldn’t be out of place in the Grieg repertoire.

Another excellent band, the People’s Champs, were scheduled to follow, but it was time to go home and pack for the Great Evacuation on Saturday (just kidding about that – but no trip to Barbes is complete without a visit to the totally oldschool 24-hour donut shop up the block on 7th Ave.).

Weather Conspiracy Theory

Paranoid

Goodnight Irene

Enjoy!

Don’t Evacuate

The time has come for New Yorkers to stand up for our rights. Michael Bloomberg is using the spectre of a “hurricane” as a pretext for instituting martial law. Don’t fall for it. Don’t evacuate this weekend, whether or not you live in one of the areas designated by the mayor as an evacuation zone.

Remember the last time a “hurricane” came through Manhattan? It got a little drizzly that day. Bloomberg was roundly criticized for being caught unawares when that big snowstorm hit last winter – something that could have happened to any mayor, actually. So now he’s paranoid about potential fallout in the event of another big storm.

The “hurricane”also provides convenient cover for a trial run to see how well full-blown fascism will work here. Where are all the evacuees going to go? Is Bloomberg going to put them all on charter flights to his private resort in the Bahamas? He could afford that if he wanted to.

And how are all the people who live in the evacuation zones going to leave when the subway and all the buses stop running at noon on Saturday?

What are the cops going to do to the people who haven’t evacuated? Shoot them?

What’s next? Albany gets a couple of inches of snow and Bloomberg declares a state of emergency?

If Bloomberg really cared about the safety of New Yorkers, he would have encouraged people to stay indoors while radioactive rain from Fukushima fell on this city for almost two solid weeks. He’d work to shut down the Indian Point nuclear plant.

This is all about power. Power corrupts. Bloomberg got a third term. He outlawed smoking in public parks and on the beach. He snarled traffic so badly with his stupid bike lanes that congestion pricing, another one of his pipe dreams, might actually come to fruition. And now he wants absolute, total control. Pure fascism. New York Music Daily says no to that. Stand your ground. Don’t evacuate.

Thad Debrock Makes a Mark at the Rockwood

Last night at the Rockwood Thad Debrock put on a guitar clinic. It was as much a clinic for the ears as the fingers. Debrock is a professional musician – he’s played in pit bands for musicals and is highly sought after as a sideman. He’s also a refreshing exception to the rule that the best sidemen often aren’t so good at coming up with their own material. There are plenty of players who can mimic one iconic style or another, but Debrock takes it to the next level. Not only did he evoke a little Chet Atkins, and Wes Montgomery, and John Leventhal (the cerebral, eclectic guitarist from Mojo Mancini and Rosanne Cash’s band), and a lot of Hendrix: he incorporated those ideas, and a whole lot more, into a style that’s all his own.

Debrock plays with great nuance, sharp precision and has blistering speed when he wants to use it, but he didn’t go past midtempo until late in the set. Instead, he shifted imaginatively through one texture after another: judicious jangle, a little distorted skronk, blithe jazzy octaves, twangy noir, graceful Nashville lines, boisterous Bakersfield and finally some screaming Dick Dale tremolo-picking late in the set. Like Marc Ribot, he can play pretty much anything, but where Ribot goes for creepy and sometimes noisy, Debrock tends to go for contemplatively incisive and atmospheric. He sang a couple of terse pop tunes early on and used his loop pedal to add hypnotic background. A bit later, a “tribute to Hendrix” was the furthest thing from what that idea generally conjures up: instead, Debrock went from Wes, to a couple of methodically bluesy verses of Summertime, to where he timewarped a famous Jimi riff and ended up in otherworldly Bill Frisell big-sky territory. Wow!

Another highlight of the show was a romp through a Buck Owens instrumental (doesn’t it kill you when the name of the tune is on the tip of your tongue, you plug in, call your surf music maven friend, play the hook into the phone and still end up without a title?). But instead of doing it straight-up country, Debrock did it with a biting, staccato, jazzy Chet Atkins edge. Then he hit his distortion pedal and launched into a biting salsa-flavored tune that pinned the intensity meter in the red when he started chopping at his chords furiously. Debrock’s rhythm section was tremendous as well. The bassist played with what looked like a gorgeous hollowbody Les Paul copy that provided a darkly snapping, trebly bite, and a drummer whose artful brush and mallet work included probably everything you can do with a pair of cymbals other than saw on them: the whooshy sonics, elegant boom of the toms and devious fills in some of the many spaces that Debrock left open were as fun to watch as they were to hear. There was a lull when a corporate singer-songwriter with one of those generically cheesy, hoarse, phony-sensitive vocal styles took a brief turn behind the mic, but even then Debrock stayed on task, adding a gorgeous country-flavored turnaround to the first song that wasn’t enough to rescue it, but at least it gave it a gentle splashdown instead of an awkward crash-landing. He’s been doing a Wednesday residency here on and off for several months now: if guitar is your thing, he’ll inspire you.

Strauss-Kahn Gets Off

What if the woman allegedly raped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a gentrifier rather than a Guinean immigrant?

Imagine this scenario: Whitney Saltonstall, 23, an intern at high-end virtual goods retailer randomstatusobject.com stumbles out of a room at the Sofitel Hotel where she’s been doing ecstasy and coke for the past several hours with a couple of guys she met at a bar in the Meatpacking District the previous night. She’s called a car service to take her back to the brand-new Williamsburg highrise apartment that her parents just bought for her. Looking for the elevator, she stumbles instead into a room occupied by the head of the International Monetary Fund. An encounter of some sort ensues. Afterward, he leaves; she goes looking for the room where she was, can’t find it, eventually makes it downstairs where she calls the car service again. On the way home, she vomits on the floor of the cab.

Later on that day she wakes up to find the IMF bigwig’s spooge staining her dress. Outraged, she calls her father. Her father calls his lawyer. The lawyer calls an acquaintance at the police commissioner’s office, who then calls the precinct to request an investigation. The investigation turns up DNA evidence, and although the alleged rapist is the head of a multibillion-dollar multinational organization, it turns out that he’s French, and is immediately arrested.

The next day, the New York Post headlines read “SOCIALIST MONSTER RAPES AMERICA’S SWEETHEART.” Saltonstall gives an exclusive interview to Perez Hilton while the IMF bigwig is denied bail. Meanwhile, the IMF fires him and appoints a woman in his place. But he can afford to defend himself: his wife hires a Halliburton subsidiary to investigate Saltonstall. It turns out that she has a long history of getting wasted and hooking up with random guys. But the prosecutors press ahead with their case and a sensational trial ensues, punctuated by several delays where the alleged victim takes time away from the courtroom to film a new reality tv series, Manhattan Mistresses, as well as posing for Playboy.

All this is not to imply in the least that Nafissatou Diallo is not telling the truth. On the contrary, it’s estimated that 80 to 90% of all rapes go unreported: that she would be brave enough to come out and tell her story, with DNA evidence to support it, offers persuasive evidence that the case against Strauss-Kahn would be a slam-dunk. So why did Cyrus Vance Jr. stop the prosecution?

You know the answer. If Nafissatou Diallo came from money, she’d have a fighting chance getting justice in court, probably more than a fighting chance considering that the forensic evidence is a smoking gun. But she’s an African immigrant.

The height of irony here, of course, is that if Strauss-Kahn is in fact guilty, as it appears, this crime is hardly the worst one he’s participated in. Do you what know the purpose of the International Monetary Fund is? It’s essentially a slush fund doled out to any banana republic dictator who’s willing to crush democracy in his country in order to keep wages low and resources cheap so that the ultra-rich heads of western multinational corporations, and those who speculate in their products, can continue to make multimillion-dollar profits. What Strauss-Kahn has been a part of on a daily basis should rightfully earn him a place behind bars, never mind what happened at the Sofitel. Thanks to the IMF, criminal gangs like the Janjaweed rape dozens of women every day, scot-free. What Diallo suffered simply gives her one more thing in common with thousands of other women in the continent where she was born. Let us hope that she somehow gets through this with her sanity intact. Fortunately, African women are strong.

The New York Music Daily Publicity Stunt

An interview with New York Music Daily’s founder:

Q: Isn’t it ironic that now that you have your own blog, you’re leaning on me to ask you all kinds of leading questions?

A: Life is full of ironies.

Q: I understand that very soon, you’ll be trying to pull off your one-and-only publicity stunt for New York Music Daily, which is to break the record of the most consecutive concerts ever covered by a music writer. Don’t you already own that record?

A: No. The most consecutive days I’ve ever gone out, and then written about what I’ve seen, is about six or seven. I need a break like everybody else!

Q: So what is the record?

A: I believe the record is 31. My game plan is to extend it to 32.

Q: It’s only 31? Isn’t there a Phish-head or a Deadhead who’s seen a hundred shows in a row, maybe a lot more than that?

A: I’m guessing that the record for simply being there and seeing concerts on consecutive days is held by somebody in B.B. King’s entourage, or maybe by a roadie for Steve Wynn, or someone who was on that endless Iron Maiden tour back in the 80s. The record I’m shooting for is for the most consecutive shows covered by a music writer.

Q: Who owns that record?

A: I don’t want to say. As far as I can tell it’s held by someone who used to work at one of the local rags here in New York, someone I don’t respect and for that reason I don’t want to give that person any press. A few years ago, that person saw a concert a day for a month - I think it was in either March or April – and then wrote about them. So either way I’m going to assume that the record is 31, so when I hit 32 I’ll own the record fair and square no matter what. What’s funny about this is that the person who currently owns the record was being pushed out of a job. I get the impression that the marathon month of concerts was an attempt to save that job – or to go out on a high note. What happened in the end is that what was probably pages and pages of writing was edited down to a 200-word sidebar that didn’t even appear in the music section – and then this person got the boot. Which was long overdue, by the way.

Q: Why don’t you go for 50 or even 100 concerts and put the record out of reach, more or less?

A: Like everybody else, demands on my life sometimes require travel. Me being in New York 32 days in a row is really pushing it. That’s about my limit. Besides, I want somebody else to break my record.

Q: I don’t get it. You want to set a record and then lose it to somebody else?

A: That’s right. I think it would be incredibly cool if this could become a competition. Like the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. You may think that’s disgusting, but look what happened. The record used to be,what, 16 or 17 hot dogs – which seems like an awful lot to me, but now the record is something like 70 or 80. Think what a great thing it would be for live music in New York if a whole bunch of people decided to go on a marathon like this. And seeing a whole lot of concerts is more fun than eating a whole lot of hot dogs…

Q: This is going to be hell on your social life…

A: Au contraire! It’ll be the best thing that could happen to my social life. It’s the rest of my life that’s going to suffer. I’m taking one for the blog here!

Q: What’s in it for you?

A: Not a whole hell of a lot at this point. But I want to get this blog off the ground, and this seemed like a fun way to do it. It’ll be a fun thing to follow, a mystery: where am I going to be tomorrow? You’ll have to check back here every day to find out.

Q: Maybe it’ll make you famous…

A: Nope. I hope it helps brings visitors to the blog. But I’m doing this anonymously.

Q: Huh? You want to set a record and not take any credit for it? Doesn’t that ruin your credibility?

A: No, it establishes my credibility. I couldn’t do this if I didn’t do it anonymously. Think about it – there are a gazillion starstruck bloggers out there who will do anything to be famous. I’m doing this strictly for the music. Focusing on the music rather than on myself puts me on the side of the angels. Don’t think I’m not aware of that.

Q: What if you screw up? In other words, what if your concert gets cancelled, or rescheduled?

A: Trust me, I have a Plan B and a Plan C.

Q: And if Plan B and Plan C both fall through?

A: That’s not part of the plan. I hope it doesn’t happen because that means I’d have to start all over again. And I don’t honestly know if I could do that. It would probably take me a couple of months to find another window of opportunity. I’m not in this to lose – and I don’t plan on doing another one of these if I can help it.

Q: How do we know you’re not cheating?

A: Cheating? What do you mean? I’m not going to invent concerts that never happened, or bands that don’t exist…

Q: Like you see the eleven o’clock band at one place and then go across the street and see the midnight band there, and you count that as two days?

A: That’s not cheating. Midnight is the beginning of a new day. Now, staying at the same club from eleven to, say, one in the morning, and counting that as two concerts, would be cheating. I’m not going to do that. But I have to tell you, there may come a point where I need something just short of a 48-hour window to get stuff done. Or to get some sleep. And that’s part of the intrigue. How am I going to pull this off?

Q: By seeing a band right after work every day and then going home and writing about it?

A: There will be days when I need to do that. But I’m not going to get all frantic about time management. If there’s a good late show somewhere, that’s where I’ll be.

Q: So you’re not going to announce beforehand where you’ll be?

A: No! That’s what makes this so much fun. You’ll have to follow New York Music Daily for 32 days in a row to find out where I was last night – and I might give you a hint as to where I’ll be the next day, but you’ll have to figure that out. I will tell you this: I want this to be an adventure, but I also want to establish a baseline for future coverage here at the blog. For one, I’m really going to try to avoid covering groups or artists I’ve covered before, either here or elsewhere. I’m also going to try to avoid covering the same artist or group more than once while this is going on. And it’s going to be an eclectic 32 days – it’s not going to be all rock, or all jazz, or all classical. I’m going to mix it up.

Q: This is going to end up costing you a fortune….

A: Not at all. Another reason I’m doing this is to help increase awareness of how much incredible free music there is in this city. Being broke or out of work shouldn’t prevent anybody from going out to see live music. Just for the hell of it, I am going to keep a record of how much I spend over these 32 days. I buy a subway card anyway, so getting there and back is covered. I don’t plan on spending much if any money on dinner at any of these places – and if I get a banana at a deli, I don’t think that should count toward the total, I do that all the time whether or not I’m seeing a show.

Q: What if the show sucks? Are you going to stick around, or are you going to leave? And if you leave, does it count?

A: That’s the ultimate challenge here. I’m pretty good at picking shows: this will be a test to prove how good I am, won’t it! I will be honest – if I screw up and pick a bad one, I’ll own up to it. And sometimes the greatest bands or musicians have off days, or bad shows due to factors completely beyond their control. I’m not in this to pick fights with bands, I can and will sympathize with anybody who has a rough time onstage. Playing a gig in this city can be very hard work. Even if the show is bad, I promise to stick around for at least half an hour so I can report something meaningful.

Q: When is all this going to start?

A: I’ll be making an announcement about it soon, right here.

Roman Hurko’s Requiem for Chernobyl: Even More Relevant Today

New York Music Daily is a week old today, and so far, there has been no coverage of albums here. After all, albums are out of fashion, particularly in the rock world. And that’s probably a good thing. Many songwriters who have a good song in them don’t have another ten, and those who do often take several albums to get all of those songs out. Yet there’s no reason to discredit the idea of an album-length artistic work, or a successful collection. One such work is Roman Hurko’s Requiem for the Victims of Chornobyl [to be consistent, the transliterations from the original Ukrainian used here are the same ones used by the composer in the cd art and album notes, i.e. "Chornobyl" for Чернобыл].

Why is this ten-year-old album still relevant? For one, 2011 is the 25th anniversary of the disaster it commemorates, one which most likely killed a million people worldwide from radiation poisioning, cancer and birth defects. 2011 has also been the year of the probably far more lethal catastrophe at Fukushima – since there has never been a waterborne nuclear disaster, the ultimate toll in terms of human lives is unknown, next to impossible to predict, and could exceed the 1986 catastrophe by a factor of ten or even more. And taken simply as an artistic statement, an expression of grief and remembrance, Hurko’s Requiem is as memorable as it is important.

It is a work of the utmost solemnity and somberness: the music is as heavy as the lethal metals expelled in the nuclear inferno that followed the failed safety test (arguably the cruelest irony in human history) the night of April 26, 1986. It’s sung by the Frescoes of Kyiv Chamber Choir conducted by Oleksandr Bondarenko, who publically premiered it in that city fifteen years later. The lyrics are an Orthodox Catholic requiem, sung in Ukrainian specifically for the disaster victims. The music, in fifteen sections, begins very low, still and funereal, gradually grows more radiant, a balance of extreme lows and highs. A bass soloist appears on the third track and sings his most melodic part – since this is mass, much of the rest of his assigned passages are practically spoken, more an invocation than a melody. Throughout the suite, the tempos range from glacial to barely largo. And the melody itself resists resolution, and other than a small handful of anguished crescendos, doesn’t move around very much. Which it shouldn’t: there aren’t many shades of grief. That’s what makes this such a universal work. In ten years’ time, it will tragically be as appropriate a requiem for the victims of Fukushima as it was and remains for their counterparts thousands of miles away.

Who is the audience for this album? Fans of heavy, dark music – it doesn’t get any more gothic than this. And fans of the darker side of pre-baroque choral music, specifically composers like John Sheppard. Those who prefer the pyrotechnics of gospel music, or more avant garde outfits like Conspirare, may find this claustrophobic and monochromatic. Which, again, it’s supposed to be. Ten years after it was released, it still packs a wallop.

In the years since, Hurko – a Canadian of Ukrainian descent – has continued to compose: his most recent work is a richly dynamic setting of the complete Orthodox/Byzantine Catholic Vespers for choir and soloist. A search of the sharelockers and free music blogs didn’t turn up anything – it’s surprising that even now, this album remains so obscure. Copies and downloads are still available from Hurko’s site.

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