New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: April, 2018

A Riveting, Poignant Suite of North African Jazz Nocturnes at Lincoln Center

With the New York premiere of their new Abu Sadiya suite last night at Lincoln Center,the trio of multi-reedman Yacine Boulares, cellist Vincent Segal and drummer Nasheet Waits played what might have been the best single concert of 2018. Methodically and poignantly tracing most of its breathtaking peaks and haunted valleys, the three held the crowd rapt through a constantly shifting series of variations on ancient Tunisian stambeli themes.

Like gnawa, stambeli has origins in ancient sub-Saharan animist music brought north by slaves. Until the Tunisian revolution just a few years ago, it had been suppressed and become largely forgotten. It is stark, hypnotic and has an often otherworldly beauty. And since it relies so heavily on improvisation, it’s fertile source material for jazz.

In the course of working out logistics, Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal – one of New York’s few genuinely visionary impresarios, who programmed the night – had sent Boulares the Rumi poem Where Everything Is Music. Boulares told the crowd how moved he had been, particularly by the conclusion, Rumi’s ultimate view of music as divine:

Open the window in the centre of your chest
And let the spirits fly in and out

It was clear from the first few somber, mystical washes of sound from Segal, Boulares’ plaintive, spacious soprano sax lines and Waits’ whispery cymbals that everyone was on that same page.

The Abu Sadiya myth may be a prototype for Persephone. As Boulares explained, the moon kidnaps Sadiya; her dad journeys through the desert, then tries to capture the moon by holding a barrel of water under his arm to catch the reflection and then bargain for Sadiya’s return. Beyond resuscitating the spirit of stambeli, Boulares’ intention is to redeem Sadiya herself. “It’s a very masculine story,” he told the crowd – Sadiya is more of a pretext for male heroism than full-fledged character.

As the suite took shape, Segal alternated between spare, trancey arpeggios, sepulchral bowing, ominous modal vamps and frequent detours into propulsive low-register gnawa riffage. Often if was as if he was playing a sintir – no other cellist has such an intense and intuitive grasp of North African music as he does

Throughout the night, Boulares ranged from forlorn, airily resonant phrases to judicious crescendos up to Coltrane-like flurries capped off by the occasional triumphant cadenza. He and Segal often switched roles, from carrying the melody line to running low, hypnotically looping riffs. This was most striking when Boulares switched to bass clarinet, taking over the low end in one of the gnawa-influenced interludes. Behind them, Waits muted his snare and toms, rattled the traps a little, took a couple of misterioso prowls along the perimeter and finally hit the launching pad with a methodically climbing solo where it sounded as if he was playing a couple of congas. It’s rare that a drummer tunes his kit with such attention to the material, particularly as troubled and angst-fueled as this is.

The three, particularly Boulares, used lots of space – and also the reverberating sonics of the Lincoln Center atrium space – mysteriously well  They gave each other just as much breathing room. Contrasting with the distantly phantasmagorical quality of the music – the moon in this myth is a real pierrot lunaire – was how incredibly catchy so many of the central riffs turned out to be. The suite’s second part opened with a very close approximation of the Rick Wright organ motif that opens Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. A bit later, Segal’s concentrically arpeggiated circles brought to mind Serena Jost’s melancholy art-rock. And Waits’ subtle shifts in, out of, and around waltz time were delectably fun for listeners as well as his bandmates.

The final segment was a portrait of Sadiya, revisiting the vast sense of abandonment that opened the night but rising with flickers and flares to cast the missing heroine as indomitable, just like her dad. They wound it down to a Saharan expanse of dusky dune ambience at the end.

The trio’s next stop on their current tour is tonight, April 20 at 7:30 PM at the Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine St. in Philadelphia; cover is $20. The next free concert at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is also tonight, at 7:30 PM with salsa dura band Eddie Montalvo y Su Orquesta, featuring alums from some of the Fania era’s greatest 1970s Nuyorican bands. The earlier you get there, the better.

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Anne Carrere Reinvents Edith Piaf Classics and Rarities with Flair and Imagination in Midtown This Week

In her lavish, colorful, poignant tribute Piaf: The Show – currently running through April 21 at 7:30 PM at the French Institute/Alliance Française at 55 E 59th St. – French singer Anne Carrere absolutely gets what the iconic little sparrow was all about. On one hand, Carrere has assimilated an astonishing amount of Piaf’s performance style, extending well beyond vocals to costumes, stage patter and even her hand gestures.

There’s a moment during the angst-ridden ballad La Foule where the narrator is dancing. Last night, while Carrere sang the final verse, a vintage 1950s video of Piaf singing it played over the back of the stage. Synched to a split-second, the song’s originator and re-interpreter each swayed without a partner in their arms, sixty years apart, absolutely alone in the crowd. The effect packed a wallop.

Yet for all the verisimilitude, this isn’t mimicry. Carrere can hold those low notes with any other Piaf interpreter, but her voice is a little higher. Serendipitously, for those who didn’t grow up speaking French, her diction is much clearer than Piaf’s rapidfire 1930s Parisian slang. That helps enormously during the early part of the show, which follows Piaf’s early years singing the torrential lyrics of her hardscrabble street urchin tales in the streets of Montmartre and in sleazy Pigalle boîtes.

The imaginative, playful new arrangements of the songs hold true to lyrical content. Carrere doesn’t try to make garage rock out of Jezebel, like the Lyres did – instead, she reinvents it as third-generation, klezmer-inflected Vegas noir. She singe Autumn Leaves in competent English. And the sad tale of Mon Legionnaire, infused with Philippe Villa’s bittersweetly glittering, neoromantic piano, left no doubt as to the fateful consequences of one country stirring up trouble in another’s desert.

The choice of songs will satisfy longtime Piaf fans, and also serves as a solid introduction to the legendary chanteuse’s career. Obviously, the program includes  La Vie en Rose, and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, and Milord: each of them are more stark and spare than you would expect, which enhances the lyrical effect, whether resolute and indomitable, hazy and lovestruck or bittersweet.

The early material is choice: hardcore Piaf fans will not be disappointed. Not to spoil anything, but you get the expected – an absolutely defiant take of the workingwoman’s anthem Je M’en Fous Pas Mal and  a wistful C’est un Gars – along with less frequently performed numbers, from a Waitsian interpretation of La Java de Cézigue to a deliciously phantasmagorical version of Bravo Pour le Clown.

Carrere’s four-piece backing band are fantastic, creating a backdrop that is by turns lush or intimate, depending on context – there’s never a moment where the lavish orchestration of so many of the originals is missed. Drummer Laurent Sarrien colors several of the songs with pointillistic vibraphone. Bassist and musical director Daniel Fabricant stays lowdown and in the pocket, with a deadpan camaraderie that sets up a couple of Carrere punchlines. And accordionist Guy Guiliano’s vast, plaintive washes and occasional stormy cascades are as breathtaking as Carrere’s presence.

Gil Marsalla’s direction is inventive and full of surprises. He keeps Carrere on the move nonstop throughout the first half of the program, leaving no doubt as to how hard Piaf had to work in her early days. Band members play along with the vaudevillian moments goodnaturedly; there are costume changes and several droll instances where the fourth wall comes down. The video montages are insightful, packed with rare footage of Piaf offstage with the many, many members of her circle. You will eventually be asked to sing along: there will be supertitles to guide you.

The New Bourbon Express Album: State-of-the-Art Hard Honkytonk

The Bourbon Express are as good as it gets in hard honkytonk. To get the sound perfect for their new album Cry About It Later – which hasn’t yet hit their Soundcloud page – they brought in the king of Americana and twangy rock guitar, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, to produce. The result is a purist blend of classic 60s C&W and harder-edged urban country. They’re playing the album release show this Saturday night, April 21 at 10 PM at Hank’s; cover is $8.

The album’s first track is Pick Me Up, swinging along over the groove from Andrew Dykeman’s bass and Phil Cimino’s drums. This isn’t your ordinary drinking song: frontwoman/rhythm guitarist Katie Curley insists that she needs enough to get her through the whole month!

Co-leader Brendan Curley spaces out his incisive Telecaster licks in Devil’s Angel, which has the feel of a Tammy Wynette hit from the late 60s, but with the guitar sting of the best Brooklyn country bands from the past fifteen years or so. Turn the Page – an original, not the Metallica hit – traces a bittersweet story through a family album, Jonny Lam’s pedal steel lingering in the background. Katie’s last line of the song is shattering, an ending too good to give away.

Take Me Out has a gorgeous blend of resonant guitar and steel, along with Melody Berger’s fiddle, not to mention one of the album’s most plaintively affecting vocals. Dream Girl, an aptly starry waltz, is probably the only honkytonk song ever to feature a concert harp. Katie also plays that instrument throughout her two intriguing, previous albums of Americana-laced parlor pop songs, originally released under her maiden name, Katie Brennan.

With its spiky twelve-string guitar textures blending with the steel, Ten Gallon Hat could be a female-fronted Byrds circa Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Brendan switches to saloon piano on Dilly Dally, Katie enthusing about the joys of being a homebody with a glass of red wine in her hand.

The album’s most aphoristic, retro 50s song is Blame It on the Hangover, a cheater’s cautionary tale. The title track keeps that theme going – “Laugh about it now, cry about it later.” The real classic here is is Five to Nine, a Take This Job and Shove It for everyone stuck in the electronic sweatshop. “I’ll probably have to drink alone tonight ‘cause I had to turn off my phone,” Katie laments, “You’re trying to keep me on the virtual clock while I’m trying to get offline.”

The album winds up with Cold Quiet Drink, a subdued Amy Allison-ish ballad with Brendan moving to mandolin, Ambel on acoustic guitar and Jason Mercer on bass.

A Wryly Trippy, Picturesque New Album and an Owl Release Show by Curtis Hasselbring

Curtis Hasselbring has been a mainstay at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene since the late 80s. Best known as a trombonist and composer of cinematic themes with a sardonic sense of humor, he’s also a very distinctive guitarist and keyboardist. His new solo album, Curha II is streaming at his music page. It’s a lot more techy than his usual work, and probably the most psychedelic thing he’s ever done. Here, he plays all the instruments. He’s playing the album release show on April 20 at 9:30 PM at the Owl, leading a very cool quintet with Alec Spiegelman and Peter Hess on bass clarinets, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and John Bollinger on drums.

The album opens on a slashing note with Scissors, a gamelanesque, pointillistic stroll through a Javanese funhouse mirror. Then Hasselbring completely flips the script with Egon, a woozy, blippy synth-and-drum-machine acid jazz number.

A squirrelly new wave-influenced shuffle, Respect the Pedestrian comes across as an early 80s video game theme as XTC might have done it – with a not-so-subtle message for an era in New York where a driver can blast through an intersection, take out a couple of toddlers, and get away with it.

Mystery Guest mashes up Eno-esque rainy-day ambience and a warpy trip-hop groove. The Beatles catch up with Gary Numan in the catchy Sir Fish; then Hasselbring goes further into psych-folk mode with ’68, its wah-wah guitars and catchy acoustic garage riffage.

Party Platter People is prime Hasselbring: a staggered motorik drive, cascading Tangerine Dream synths against King Crimson guitar flares…and dreamy Hawaiian swing when you least expect it. The dubby Fish Coda is sort of King Tubby meets sleng teng uptown. The album ends with the stomping Ana-lo, which sounds like a Joy Division instrumental b-side. There’s also the surreal trombone-and-electronics shuffle Alpaca Lunch and Madgit, an interminable, robotic techno parody – maybe. Tune in, turn on, bug out. 

Edgy, Danceable B3 Grooves From the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Seattle band the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio are akin to Booker T & the MG’s with more of a guitar-oriented, often darkly cinematic focus. These irrepressible, constantly touring groovemeisters are bringing their party to the big room at the Rockwood this April 18 at 10:30 PM; cover is $15.

Their latest album Close But No Cigar – streaming at Spotify – bubbles and simmers with influences from a half-century of soul, funk and groove: these three guys live for throwing riffs back and forth, whether original ones, or hooks from obscure 1960s singles. The record opens with the title track, a catchy strut that’s like a mashup of the Meters and early James Brown, the bandleader’s subtly tremoloing organ contrasting with guitarist Jimmy James’  sharp funk lines over drummer David McGraw’s edgy snare hits and snowstorm cymbals. James’ wry, warpy, tone-bending guitar solo midway through is irresistibly fun.

Little Booker T is a self-effacing title for a slow but purposefully swaying soul groove driven by snarling guitar that shifts between distorted, staccato rhythm and big expansive chords, in contrast to Lamarr’s suammery fills and pulses. Ain’t It Funky Now is truth in advertising, a vintage JB’s-style slink. As with a lot these tracks, the organ and guitar switch up roles, between melody and rhythm, a trick most B3 bands use too infrequently. James indulges in some twangy blues over Lamarr’s leadfoot stomp midway through.

James vamps on an edgy 70s soul-jazz riff and variations in Close But No Cigar. Memphis – a Lamarr tune, not a cover – is another vampy number, Lamarr and James casually trading licks, with a couple of bluesy organ solos punctuating the interplay. Al Greenery – these guys are good with titles – is closer to the gritty noir cinematics of the City Champs than Rev. Green, bristling with wide-angle minor-key guitar over Lamarr’s slithery lines. Likewise, James’ serpentine, sparkly Marv Tarplin-ish lines propel Can I Change My Mind.

The no-nonsense strut Between the Mayo and the Mustard falls somewhere between Jimmy Smith, Booker T and the Meters, with a big powerful chorus packed with tense echo phrases – you can almost hear the horns. Raymond Brings the Greens bursts and pulses with oldschool soul-funk flavor; it’s the album’s funniest track. The trio wind it up with their only cover, a slow, simmering, heavily camouflaged take of the Burt Bacharach classic Walk On By

Oh yeah – you can dance to all this.

A Rapturous, Hauntingly Spare Solo Album From Enigmatic Cello Rock Songstress Serena Jost

The sheer hummability of cellist/multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost’s music contrasts with the opaqueness of her lyrics. In her music, nothing is ever as it seems despite all indications to the contrary. That enigmatic sensibility has served her well over the past fifteen years. The closest comparison is ELO’s Jeff Lynne, a similarly brilliant tunesmith whose signature sound blends classical ideas with rock, and has a similarly distinctively, elegant production style as well. Jost’s newest album, Up to the Sky – streaming at her music page – is her most ambitious to date. It’s a solo recording, just cello and vocals, recorded in the rich, reverberating sonics of St. Peter’s Church at 346 W 20th St. in Chelsea, where she’s playing the album release show on April 19 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $10; a reception will follow.

Window opens the album. Jost’s stark, ambered low chords, circling in a Philip Glass vein, anchor her clear, pensive vocals. A recurring shooting star reference adds to the nocturnal rapture and unease.

The influence of Jost’s frequent collaborator Amanda Thorpe shines through plaintively in The Cut, a canteringly hypnotic, Britfolk-tinged, plaintively imagistic lament. Likewise, the wave motion of Clement – just vocalese and cello – sets the stage for Great Conclusions. Playing this with her band, Jost cuts loose with a galloping, crescendoing intensity, but in this version, her pizzicato attack is muted, her vocals understated and clear, echoing Linda Thompson as the song’s gloomily allusive narrative winds out.

Hallway. another instrumental with vocalese, brings in a hazy late-afternoon sun, introducing the baroque-flavored vignette Happiness. “Happiness has come and gone without warning, just a lantern in the night.” Jost intones.

Lullaby is a melody much of the world knows from childhood; the cello adds a newly somber undercurrent. By contrast, It’s a Delight rises to an unexpectedly triumphant crescendo over the sparest, circling low-register riff. Jost works that dichotomy again in Silver Star, its images of escape and release over subtle variations on a mantra-like cello phrase. The album concludes, unresolved, with the fragmentary, echoing, mysterious Red Door. Fans of darkly individualistic songwriters from Carol Lipnik to Connie Converse will devour this. Indie classical people ought to check this out as well – for what it’s worth, Jost once arranged and led a fifty-cello performance of Terry Riley’s In C!

A Shattering Performance of Iconic Classical and Film Music Uptown

In terms of pure thrills and chills, there hasn’t been a concert in New York this year more exhilarating than string ensemble Shattered Glass’ performance last night at the popular Washington Heights classical spot Our Savior’s Atonement. And that includes all of Golden Fest, trumpeter/santoorist Amir ElSaffar’s oceanically intense Middle Eastern mass improvisation in February at NYU, and cinematic noir trio Big Lazy’s shattering performance of mostly new material at Barbes later that month. This crew are like another popular conductorless string orchestra, ECCO…on steroids.

Just back from midwest tour, the fourteen-piece ensemble were clearly psyched to be back on their home turf. They played in the round, gathered in a circle under the church’s low lights. Between works on the bill, the group shifted positions so that everyone could get to see who was playing what. It was a transcendent program, kicking off with a relentlessly angst-ridden, percussive take of Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet. The sonics in the church enhanced the resonance of the pizzicato phrases to the point where they lingered almost like guitar chords. That effect would also help the delicately overtone-spiced, challenging extended technique required in Caroline Shaw’s concentrically circling Entr’acte to resound. It’s on Shattered Glass’ debut album; they’re the first group to record it.

Philip Glass’ diptych Company, its signature cell-like melody expanding deliciously outward, had distantly ominous chromatics that reminded of his Dracula soundtrack. It set the stage for what under ordinary circumstances would have been the night’s piece resistance, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho Suite for Strings. The whole group got into the act on that lusciously chilling arrangement of the iconic horror film soundtrack. The sinuous menace of the central up-and-down staircase riff at its center, the machete attack of the shower scene, cumulo-nimbus buildups to icepick attacks and a final somber conclusion left the crowd breathless.

The group ended the night with a harrowing, dynamically epic arrangement of second Shostakovich piece, the String Quartet No. 3. The quartet of violinists Christina Bouey and Ravenna Lipchik, violist Michael Davis and cellist Max Jacob played the work as written, augmented with sinister force by the rest of the circle around them. Davis spoke passionately about how much the work means to them, and how wrenching it is to play, emotionally speaking. He didn’t say outright that there’s a psycho in the White House, or that wartime horror is that situation’s logical conclusion, but the piece spoke for itself.

And the group really nailed the narrative: the cynically lilting faux country dance that tries to come back valiantly but never does; the franticness, furtiveness but also the resilience and heroism of the second movement, Russians fending off the Nazi attackers; and the exhausted, mournful sweep of the concluding movements. It was as searing and relevant as any piece of music could have been in this country on this date.

Watch this space for Shattered Glass’ next performance. The next concert at Our Savior’s Atonement is on April 29 at 8 PM with the Jack Quartet playing a free program of “maverick American composers” TBA.

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards Bring Their Fearlessly Imaginative, Psychedelic Americana to the Rockwood

Violinist Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards stand out in a crowded Americana field for their fearlessness and originality. They aren’t the first to play retro acoustic roots music for string ensemble – a lot of classical types have a secret or not-so-secret fondness for folk music. Sadly, much as some of that crew are completely sincere, they don’t swing and they can’t really improvise. That’s where Cortese really shines. She and the band are playing the downstairs third stage at the Rockwood tomorrow night, April 14 at 11:30 PM; cover is $15.

Their latest album California Calling – streaming at Spotfy – isn’t particularly oldtimey, either. In fact, there’s only one tradtional tune on it. What Hem were to the zeros, Cortese and band are in the here and now. Case in point: the hypnotic opening track, The Low Hum, awash in hazy washes of strings, second violinist Jenna Moynihan anchoring the song on banjo, multi-instrumentalist Sam Kassirer adding woozy Dr. Dre synth. That it works as seamlessly as it does validates Cortese’s outside-the-box arrangement.

Cortese;s vocals infuse the album’s title track with warmth and intimacy amid a swirl of backing vocals, swelling strings and bouncy pizzicato: it’s not clear whether that spiky lead line is Cortese, Moynihan or cellist Valerie Thompson.

The women in the band – which also includes bassist Natalie Bohrn – join voices and then instruments in the lush, Celtic-tinged Three Little Words. If Irish chamber folk psychedelia didn’t exist before now, this band just invented it. There’s a fetching, Kasey Chanbers-ish break in Cortese’s voice in the bittersweetly swaying ballad Skipping Stone, with more spiky/atmospheric contrast.

The psychedelic Hold On, with its gospel allusions and trip-hop beat, brings to mind cult favorite New York Americana songstress Barbara Brousal – who’s since absconded to Boston. The band reinvent Swing & Turn (Jubilee), the album’s lone traditional tune, in much the same fashion, Cortese’s vocals soaring to the top of her register before the band finally cut loose with a jaunty reel.

The women’s four-part harmonies offer comfort in icy times in Rhododendron, which segues into Someday, sort of a more bluegrass-oriented take on Andrew Bird at his most bucolic. Stockholm, an allusive cautionary tale – “You’ve got to find a place to call home” – is another unlikely successful mashup of bluegrass and echoey psychedelia.

Bohrn’s starkly dancing bassline propels Pace Myself, a bluesy trip-hop number, edging from echoey Soft Cell new wave pop toward neo-soul. The album closes with If You Can Hear Me, a Taylor Ashton cover that doesn’t measure up to the strength of Cortese’s songwriting despite an interesting arrangement. It’s impossible to imagine anyone releasing more original album than this lately.

Gravitas and Great Fun at Tomas Fujiwara’s Stone Residency This Week

Tomas Fujiwara isn’t just one of the most sought-after drummers in jazz; he’s also one of the most concisely tuneful drummer-composers out there. Among his fellow percussionists, the only one whose work ranks with his over the past few years is John Hollenbeck, although Fujiwara’s compositions are a lot less byzantine and more improvisationally oriented. He’s doing a stand this week at the Stone, with shows nightly at 8:30 PM through this Sunday; cover is $20. The one that everybody’s going to want to go to – and get to early – is Saturday night, April 14, with his two-guitar Triple Double sextet, which includes both Mary Halvorson and Ava Mendoza on guitars. The “Double Double” show tomorrow night – Halvorson and Bill Frisell on guitars, Fujiwara and Kendrick Scott on drums – will also obviously sell out.

Last night’s performance was a rapturous trio set with Amir ElSaffar on trumpet and Ole Mathisen on tenor sax, reflecting the musicians’ long association and camaraderie. On one hand, it was something of a reprise of their transcendent set in January of last year at the Fridman Gallery, except that ElSaffar was at the helm that time. This time out they played two numbers, the second a practically fifty-minute suite punctuated by numerous pregnant pauses. Both works gave the group plenty of space to expand on somberly terse, translucent phrases with brooding harmonies, crescendoing  judiciously through a long series of variations.

The opening tune had more of Fujiwara’s signature wit, in this case popping up in “wait-for-it” moments that weren’t quite vaudevillian, and droll flourishes leaping out of a series of altered press rolls. ElSaffar, who’s usually a cipher onstage, couldn’t keep himself from grinning. And the trumpeter’s influenced seemed to permeate the whole set, at least as far as gravitas is concerned – although his role here was to simmer and percolate when he wasn’t exchanging long tectonic phrases with Mathisen. Fujiwara built suspense with mallets on the toms, developing a slowly rising series of waves punctuated by lots of space and some wry doppler and echo effects.

His persistent, protean presence permeated the long suite, whether with muted mallet murmurs, brushy mist or finally a sober sway when he broke out his sticks. Mathisen, charged with the darker role here, lingered in the shadows or moved forward with a moody melodicism, sometimes trading off with ElSaffar or anchoring the trumpet’s increasingly complex, cellular spontaneity.

The crowd was intimate; it was akin to sharing a backstage moment with some of this era’s greatest jazz minds. “Come back tomorrow,” Fujiwara grinned; it’s a good bet some of them will. As a reminder to those who haven’t been to the Stone recently, the old Avenue C space is gone for good; the shows are now held in the comfortable ground-floor Glass Box Theatre at the New School at 55 W 13th St.

Sampling Lincoln Center’s Great Performers With the Aeolus Quartet

Lincoln Center’s Great Performers is New York’s cultural mecca’s longest-running continuous series, explained Jordana Leigh, who booked the Aeolus Quartet for a dynamic performance there this past evening. “Let’s enjoy this experience together as a community, which doesn’t happen as much as it used to,”  she encouraged. But the crowd – a surprisingly diverse, multi-generational mix – didn’t need any cajoling.

The quartet opened with Beethoven’ Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1. Dating from when the composer was still in the shadow of Haydn, it’s actually Beethoven’s second quartet – publishers couldn’t keep up with him. The ensemble took it for a ride, emphasis on its sparkliest moments, rising from stately to an almost icepick precision during the opening waltz, with jaunty exchanges between violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro.

They got a spontaneous round of applause before launching mutedly and plaintively into the second movement. They really took their time with it, with unusual detail, attention to moody/cheery contrasts, space and dynamics, which made the decision to really dig into its swells and whisper through its lulls stand out even more. And set up the struts and blusters of the movement to follow, anchored by cellist Alan Richardson. They ended it sharply and convivially, spiraling upward with a wink from violins, to cello, to violist Caitlin Lynch.

Richardson endorsed Charles Ives’ Quartet No. 2 as one of the 20th century’s greatest masterworks, and “tragically underperformed,” He quoted the composer’s explanations of its three movements – Discussions, Arguments and The Call of the Mountains –  as a process “That resonates in our current times, that our politicians sometimes forget.” As with the Debussy quartet, it’s Gilded Age vernacular through the bottom of a glass, darkly, including but not limited to wry quotes from Brahms, Beethoven and Tschaikovsky as well as the patriotic American themes Ives so often falls back on.

They parsed its somber opening astringencies with the same care they’d brought to the night’s first work – but this was more a resigned preparation for battle. That lept to the forefront with an aptly Bartokian, snarkily bellicose take of the second movement, the quartet reveling in slapping down the sweet melodicism from Shapiro’s violin. The third movement, both a literal and metaphorical journey, validated Richardson’s description as containing  “Some of the  most evocative painting in this repertoire…you can hear the light piercing over the peaks.” Base camp seldom looked so bleak, or the journey more arduous, but the practically aching lustre of the payoff made everything worthwhile. The crowd didn’t know what hit them.

The Aeolus Quartet’s next concert is  a free performance of Dvorak’s American String Quartet on April 15 at 5 PM with the New Orchestra of Washington, who play Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Fantasy for chamber orchestra. and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” at National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Avenue Northwest in Washington, DC, There’s a very different free  performance at Lincoln Center’s atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd  St. tomorrow night, April 13 at 7:30 PM featuring irrepressible Indian classical music collective the Brooklyn Raga Massive collaborating with soul singer Martha Redbone. Get there early if you’re going, to ensure a seat.