New York Music Daily

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Intensely Tuneful, Paradigm-Shifting Indian and Middle Eastern Mashups from the Brooklyn Raga Massive

The Brooklyn Raga Massive got their start about five years ago at a ratty little Fort Greene bar. Since then, they’ve grown by leaps and bounds, made their Lincoln Center debut a couple of weeks ago, and have built a growing following via a popular weekly Wednesday residency at around 8:30 PM amid the spices wafting through the air at the comfortable, welcoming Art Cafe and Bar at the corner of Underhill and Pacific St. Cover is $15; the venue is roughly equidistant from the 2 train at Bergen St., the C at Clinton-Washington and the B at 7th Ave.

The group’s raison d’etre is to take the vast, richly tuneful universe of classic Indian sounds to new and exhilarating places. With its constantly shifting cast of members, the collective comprises a similarly wide swath of some of New York’s most adventurous Indian classical, jazz and rock talent. Last night was oud night. If you’re wondering what the centuries-old, otherworldly resonant low-register North African lute has to do with Indian music, there isn’t any historical connection…although this group is making it happen now. Ever wonder what a slinky levantine theme would sound like over a completely different but similarly snaky tabla groove? That was one of the mind-expanding mashups that oudist Brandon Terzic and tabla player Ehren Hanson tackled last night, to roaring applause.

Terzic explained that he was feeling especially psychedelic since he was jetlagged – although he didn’t seem any less energetic or wickedly precise than usual. As you would expect from a performance of Middle Eastern music, he opened a couple of numbers with brooding, slowly crescendoing improvisations lowlit with uneasy chromatics and microtones. Hanson matched the oudist’s energy with his steady, rippling rhythms, for the most part keeping a straight-ahead pulse going, at least when the two weren’t working a wry, polyrhythmic tug-of-war.

In case anyone was wondering why Terzic would switch to a completely different, West African tuning midway through the show, he explained that he wanted to make his oud sound like a kora since that harplike instrument can be so maddeningly difficult to play. Then the two romped through a lively, upbeat tune that could have been a Malian folk song. They reprised that vibe, a little more low-key, later on with a spare, dusky Nubian theme.

Klezmatics multi-reed polymath Matt Darriau joined them midway through, first playing flutes on a bristling, chromatically-fueled number that eventually morphed into a circling, crescendoing jam on what appeared to centuries-old carnatic riffage. It was a vivid illustration of how much cross-pollination there’s been between what was once the Persian empire and the Hindustani subcontinent. Given a one-chord jam to play along to, Darriau took the rhythmic route, hitting on the offbeat, then supplying tersely devious polyrhythmic accents rather than cluttering the tune. The trio wound up the set on an ominously relevant note with a Terzic number dedicated to the people of Syria, awash in grimly resonant grey-sky sonics over a stately, cautious midtempo beat, Darriau slithering through some of the evening’s most plaintive, subtly microtonally-infused washes.

Terzic’s next gig as a bandleader is Nov 22 at 7 PM at Barbes, followed by Brooklyn Balkan brass favorites Slavic Soul Party. Beyond his collaboration with Brooklyn Raga Massive,  Darriau can also typically be found at Barbes, his main hang these days when he’s not on the road. His next gig there is Nov 17 at 10 PM with his amazing Who Is Manny Blanc project, resurrecting the twistedly irresistible work of the legendary/obscure Lower East Side psychedelic Jewish jazz/esoterica composer. The Massive’s next gig, next Wednesday, Nov 9 features innovative oudist Tom Chess and his quartet. If you wish you’d been alive to witness the birth of bebop in Harlem in the 1940s, you could watch a similar kind of innovation happen right here, right now.

A Historic Performance of Epic Orchestral and Organ Music Tomorrow in Midtown

For those who gravitate toward towering, majestic sonics, it’s hard to imagine anything more exciting than the Spectrum Symphony‘s upcoming concert tomorrow, Nov 4 at 7:30 PM at St. Peter’s Church at Lexington Ave. and 54th St, where they’ll be playing the first program devoted exclusively to music for organ and orchestra staged in this city this year. In fact, this might be the first concert of its kind staged in this city in this CENTURY. Admittedly, beyond the famous Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, symphonic repertoire that also incorporates organ is hard to find. Whatever the case, history will be made when conductor David Grunberg leads the enterprising ensemble through Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ and Orchestra along with the world premiere of Hungarian composer Balint Karosi‘s new Concerto with organ soloist János Pálúr. Suggested donation is $25/$15 stud/srs.

Since 2016 is the Ginastera centenary, it was no surprise that the orchestra would conclude their spring 2016 season on the Upper West Side with a concert highlighted by a meticulously dynamic, uneasily thrilling performance of Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes, with special guest harpist Melanie Genin. A sort of synthesis of the early neoromantic Ginastera and his chilling, Messiaenesque later works, it’s a surrealistically riveting mashup of eras and idioms, making it hard to shift gears between them. Grunberg and the orchestra pulled it off with an impressive seamlessness.

They opened quietly with uneasily terse, moonlit glimmer from the harp and strings. The suite grew to a somber, meticulously lowlit lustre that gave way to a sudden, striking trumpet cadenza and then a swirling ballet theme of sorts. There was both precision and irresistible fun as the spiraling woodwinds wound up the opening movement.

From there, austere strings rose with eerie close harmonies to a warmly lush nocturnal, neoromantic interlude. The orchestra followed a spare, brooding oboe solo over a richly misty backdrop More of those uneasy close harmonies shifted to the brass as the fourth movement built, followed by vividly acidic violin. Slowly looming horns in counterpoint with the winds and a hushed passage with strings and harp gave not the slightest hint of how triumpantly pulsing the piece’s triumphantly Stravinskyian coda would be, with its shivery strings and stilletto brass. If this performance is any indication, the energy will be through the roof (or the pavement – the space is below ground) tomorrow night.