New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Month: June, 2019

Epic, Spine-Tingling Spanish Dances and a Queens Show by Fiery Violinist Maureen Choi

Violinst Maureen Choi found her muse when she immersed herself in Spanish music. She likes epics and big, explosive crescendos: her music is not for the timid or people with ADD. Her new kick-ass album Theia is streaming at her music page – and it’s one of the most unselfconsciously adrenalizing records of the year. Her slashing, often Romany and Arabic-tinged compositions rise and fall and leap all over the place, and the fun her band has with them is contagious. She’s playing Terraza 7 on June 29 at 9 PM; cover is $15.

Choi flurries and flares over drummer Michael Olivera’s suspenseful flickers throughout the dramatic intro to the album’s first cut, Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza); then bassist Mario Carrillo joins the party, pianist Daniel Garcia Diego firing off fiery, Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics.

Phoenix Borealis is a diptych of sorts, hushed luminosity bookending a ferocious flamenco dance with a big explosion of drums and some of the most savagely bowed bass in recent memory. Choi follows the same trajectory in Dance of the Fallen, painting plaintively resonatn lines over Garcia Diego’s elegant chromatic ripples and graceful chordal work.

Canto Salamanchino is a cheery number that shifts in and out of waltz time, between major and minor, with a deliciously pointillistic, chromatic piano solo midway through and an unexpected detour into Chinese pastoralia afterward. Silverio O. Garcia has a hushed, elegaic quality, violin and piano echoing each other’s plaintive riffs. Steady pitchblende menace gives way to acerbic Andalucian flair and a series of crashing crescendos in Sinner’s Prayer

Love Is the Answer is a somewhat muted, almost wrenchingly bittersweet ballad: imagine Chano Dominguez taking a crack at Schubert. Choi kicks off Bok Choi Pajarillo with a big solo that shifts cleverly between Romany intensity and the baroque; from there, it’s a flamenco rollercoaster.

The album closes with its two most towering epics. Septenber the First, the album’s most haunting number, has a persistently uneasy late-summer haziness, part Palestinian-flavored dirge and anguished string-jazz lament. Choi closes the record with Danza Ritual Del Fuego: from an allusive intro that could be Dave Brubeck, through a long Afro-Cuban-inflected interlude, it’s more simmer than fullscale inferno, with a coy false ending. Count this as one of the best albums of 2019 in any style of music.

Eleni Mandell’s Best Album Offers Grim Insight Into Survival in the Prison-Industrial Complex

Eleni Mandell got the inspiration for her new album, Wake Up Again, behind bars. No, she wasn’t doing time. She was teaching songwriting as part of the Jail Guitar Doors program founded by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer. The record – streaming at Spotify – is surprisingly her most indie rock-flavored release to date, at least until about the halfway point. But it’s also her most relevant, and most lyrically powerful. These clear-eyed, sobering songs elegantly and often allusively chronicle the cycles of despair, and addiction, and hopelessness of being caught in the prison-industrial compex. As Mandell makes crystal clear, orange is anything but the new black. She’s currently on tour, with a New York stop on June 27 at 9:30 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $15

Milo Jones’ reverbtoned guitar weaves enigmatically, going nowhere in particular, throughout the album’s opening track, Circumstance, Mandell matter-of-factly traces the outline of a woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that her babies will grow up without her.

“Got my foot out the window it’s a long way down, if you know the secret password there’s another way around,” Mandell explains in Be Together. “Am I waiting for a punishment for all the time I wasted?” she asks. In a career packed with some of the most captivating vocals ever recorded, this is one of Mandell’s most shattering.

Just Herself is just as harrowing, a resolutely waltzing account of someone who’s just as much of an outsider on the inside as she was before she got thrown in jail. Evelyn, a throwback to Mandell’s days as queen of late 90s/early zeros noir, underscores the fact that a large percentage of people in the prison-industrial complex – and the majority of the women there – aren’t criminals. They’re addicts, and people who sold them substances, some of which have been legalized in the years since many of these prisoners were locked up.

“Don’t ask when it was better – she would say that was never,” Mandell intones in Box in a Box, a catchy, gritty account of what could be solitary confinement, or addiction, or both. A brisk, subtly torchy backbeat number, Oh Mother could be a sideways tribute from a prisoner to a mom who managedto stay out of trouble – or the child of a prisoner admiring her mother’s resilience.

The gloom lifts in the quirky, upbeat, country-tinged What’s Your Handle (Radio Waves), following a thinly veiled escape theme that resurfaces a bit later in Air, a similarly bubbling, Americana-tinged number. Empty Locket, a duet with Jones, recounts a wistful, one-sided long-distance phone coversation.

Slowly swaying over Kevin Fitzgerald’s brushy drums and Ryan Feves’ bass, the country lament Ghost of a Girl is the closest thing here to Mandell’s signature noir Americana. The album close with another country waltz, the surreal, enigmatic title track. In a way, it’s no surprise that Mandell, an icon of noir since the late 90s, would end up behind bars – songwriting-wise, anyway. The most basic rule in noir is that ultimately there are none – and the consequences can be lethal.

A Darkly Simmering Comeback From This Era’s Most Potent Tenor Saxophonist

Although tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions gravitate toward concise, often slashing melodies, there’s just as much majesty and gravitas in his music. Often that ache and struggle and anger reaches Shostakovian proportions. Over the course of thirteen albums as a bandleader, Allen has concretized an intense, uncompromising style that draws heavily on bristling chromatics and every facet of the blues, from his breakout 2008 album I Am I Am, through his savagely insightful, blues-steeped Americana collection from 2016. His last couple of records have been a more improvisational quintet release with guitarist Liberty Ellman, and a collection of standards. And they have their moments, but his latest one, Barracoon – streaming at Spotify – is a return to form, a protest jazz collection initially inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It’s a more expansive take on the signature, three-minute “jukebox jazz” sonata-style records Allen started putting out a decade ago; the rage is more restrained, more veiled, but it’s still there.

Allen has a brand-new trio this time. Both bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacioppo stick close to the roles that Gregg August and Rudy Royston held in Allen’s previous trio for the better part of a decade, although Kenselaar doesn’t dive as frequently into the pitchblende depths August would descend to, and Cacioppo’s rhythms here are closer to traditional New Orleans shuffle grooves.

Cacioppo punches out one of those second-line rhythms and expands a bit from there as Kenselaar slams his strings for darkly woody resonance, Allen blipping and dancing with a bluesy ebullience throughout the album’s title cut. The second track, G sus (that’s an insider musician joke) begins with Allen’s sparse, saturnine phrases and similarly sparse chords from Kenselaar (on electric bass this time) over scrambling drums, the bandleader picking up steam judiciously.

The Goldilocks Zone is a classic, catchy, suspiciously blithe Allen jukebox jazz number, with more than a few echoes of peak-era Sonny Rollins and an understated polyrhythmic interweave between the trio. In The Immortal (H. Lacks), Allen shifts back and forth between balmy resonance and acerbically wary lines as Cacioppo tumbles gracefully and Kenselaar – on electric again – shifts between stark chords and incisively trebly riffage, shadowing the bandleader,

The album’s fifth track, 13, shuffles along, catchy yet enigmatic, although both Allen and Kenselaar brighten as they move closer to a Veracruz-tinged bounce. Allen’s gravelly, darkly bluesy pulses grow more animated as the drums get busy in Beyond the Goldilocks Zone: titles really set the tone here.

Kenselaar’s anthemically dancing bass over shuffling drums opens Communion, Allen weaving his way through the methodical eighth notes of an unexpectedly triumphant song without words. EYE Scream is a longscale take on Allen’s I Am I Am modal brushfires, a plucky bass solo giving way to straightforwardly uneasy one from the bandleader

The album’s coda, and darkest track, is Ursa Major, Kenselaar returning incisively to electric, Allen shifting deftly between major and minor, Cacioppo exercising some welcome restraint. The trio close with the lone cover here, When You Wish Upon a Star, which despite all the fun the band have with it (Cacioppo’s cymbals are hilarious) seems tacked on. Where does this album fall in the Allen pantheon? Definitely in the top five, and that includes the killer Tarbaby record with Oliver Lake and Orrin Evans.

Now where is the album release show for this masterpiece taking place? The Vanguard? Jazz at Lincoln Center? Not yet. The trio will be warming up for much bigger stages when they play on July 26 at 8 PM at Bar Bayeux at1066 Nostrand Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. The show is free; take the 2 to Sterling St.

Wadada Leo Smith Puts Out Another Riveting Civil Rights Epic

It’s hard to think of a more consistently relevant artist in any style of music than trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith. Over the last seven years, he’s chronicled the Civil Rights Movement, celebrated the endangered ecology of our Great Lakes and National Parks, and suggested that we shouldn’t stop with occupying Wall Street: as the title of his 2013 album instructs, we ought to Occupy the World. His song cycle Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs – streaming at Spotify – is his most ambitious and often harrowing release since his epic 2012 Civil Rights era narrative Ten Freedom Summers. In general, this album is more atmospheric – and in that sense enveloping – maybe because it’s about a pivotal moment and the embryonic days of the movement it springboarded. Smith is playing a weeklong stand with a series of ensembles, including some of the artists on this album, at the Stone at the New School starting on June 25 at 8:30 PM; cover is $20.

As with Ten Freedom Summers, this album’s orchestration is lavish: Smith plays as part of the BlueTrumpet Quartet with Ted Daniel, Hugh Ragin and Graham Haynes, alongside the RedKoral string quartet and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. There are three singers: Karen Parks, Min Xiao-Fen and Carmina Escobar.

The opening instrumental prelude has a shattering, Shostakovian intensity: a horrified blaze of trumpets, sirening strings, disjointed anguish and yet, in the center of it all, a calm horn presenced which is probably Smith’s own portrayal of Parks’ determination to hold onto her seat and stand up for justice in the midst of assaults from all sides.

As the suspense mounts, there are keening highs over tense, expectant lows from the strings and slow exchanges with the brass. Maybe it’s the presence of Min Xiao-Fen and her spiky pipa, but the first vocal number, The Montgomery Bus Boycott has a big-sky Chinese pastoral vastness, a salute to solidarity and what it can accomplish.

Escobar’s fond but emphatic vocal matches the still sternness of the string quartet in The First Light, Gold, a shout-out to how Martin Luther King picked up the ball and ran with it after Rosa Parks got everything started. Vision Dance 2: Defiance, Justice and Liberation [Smith likes subtitles] is a slowly shifting tone poem for the whole ensemble plus samples from early works by Smith’s AACM collaborators Anthony Braxton on alto and Steve McCall on drums.

Parks sings Change It!, a soberingly poetic contemplation of democratic ideals clashing with reality, with an operatic intensity over mutedly pulsing and then resonant strings, akLaff flickering behind them. His majestically cynical, dismissive solo is sublime. Escobar takes the mic on The Truth, alternately spacious and insistent, then hands off to Min Xiao-Fen for No Fear, a hauntingly resonant setting of Rosa Parks’ own simple explanation of how she got up the courage to kick off a revolution.

More than a tinge of the macabre permeates the shivery, slowly unfolding Vision Dance 3: Rosa’s Blue Lake. Shalini Vijayan’s woundedly expressive viola solo introduces Min Xiao-Fen’s similarly moody vocal dramatics in The Second Light. Yet victory seems within reach as the trumpets enter in Vision Dance 4: A Blue Casa; slipsliding strings remind that it won’t be an easy task.

Parks sings the last of the songs, Pure Love, a celestially lingering look at the Greek concept of agape via MLK. Smith saves his most dynamic solo for The Known World: Apartheid amid disembodied string horror. The brief postlude seems like a Pyrrhic victory until akLaff deliciously gets the last word. This music is as rich and as troubling as the history it commemorates: like Ten Freedom Summers, you can get lost in it. Count this among the half-dozen best albums of the past several months.

The Black Capsule Bring Their Epic, Surreal, Cynical Psychedelia to Unexpected Places

Psychedelic band the Black Capsule like long songs. Unlike what their name might imply, speed is not their thing. There’s no other New York band who sound like anything like them, although there are a whole lot of old bands who do. This crew draw on oldschool soul, the more pensive side of Hendrix and stoner 70s art-rock. British psych legends the Frank Flight Band are a good comparison, although the Black Capsule are more cynical and quintessentially New York. Their album is up at Bandcamp as a free download.

Now, there are plenty of decent venues in this town where psychedelia can be found: where are these guys taking the stage on June 20 at around 9? At Baby’s All Right? No. Union Pool? No. Trans-Pecos, Gold Sounds, Coney Island Baby? No, no and no. They’re playing the Bitter End. Cover isn’t listed on the club webpage, but it’s usually ten bucks there. Make sure to find some standing room because the moment you sit down, the waitress will try to stick you for a drink minimum.

The album’s catchy opening track is pretty short by comparison to the rest of the material, clocking in at less than six minutes. It’s a swaying latin soul-tinged anthem, like Chicano Batman at their most sprawling, acoustic and electric guitar textures mingling with Rhodes piano and then swirly organ as it hits a peak. “She was high, she was high, she was high when she was coming down,” the frontman (uncredited on the group’s Bandcamp page) intones in his flinty voice.

Joanna is an increasingly creepy chronicle of failed relationships – think a more vengeful, eleven-minute take on what the Nails did with 88 Lines About 44 Women, with a bridge nicked from Pink Floyd:

After all the cigarettes”
I’m just left with cheap regrets
Take me to your dear dark cave
I promise that I won’t behave

After All is a slightly more focused remake of the Velvets’ Heroin: same two-chord vamp, similar junkie milieu. half-baked Allman Brothers guitar jam on the long way out. Random Thoughts (yes, that’s the title) is a twisted mashup of LA Woman-era Doors, Dark Side-era Floyd and acid funk: it’s the closest thing to Frank Flight here, growly bass poking up through the murk and the smoky organ.

Imagine Hendrix if he hadn’t been a shredder and had an organ in the band: that’s Red Morning, a sort of Fourth Stone From the Sun. The band stagger toward stoner boogie territory, and more Hendrix, with SWLABR. Then they offer a nod to the mean side of the Grateful Dead with The Netherlands. The album’s most epic, final track is Desperate Daze: It’s their Midnight Rambler.

On one hand, this album is like a stoner dad’s record collection: if you know what’s in it, you’ll recognize every stolen lick here. On the other, there’s no denying this band’s epic ability to keep you listening. if you’re, um, in the mood

Soaring, Haunting Folk Noir Band Bobtown Make a Mighty Return to the Stage

Bobtown are the most individualistic folk noir band you could possibly imagine. They have soaring three-part vocal harmonies – and they’re fronted by their drummer. They’ve also been AWOL lately since they’ve been working on a new album. Last weekend, they packed the big room at the Rockwood and played most of the tracks from the record, Chasing the Sun, due out at the end of next month. If the show was any indication, it’s going to be amazing.

Everybody in the band plays a lot of instruments. Bandleader Katherine Etzel began the show on ukulele, then switched to a big, imposing standup drumkit. Karen Dahlstrom played guitar for most of the set but then broke out her banjo, something she rarely does live. Jen McDearman took turns on both lead and harmony vocals while adding percussion and eerily twinkling glockenspiel. Alan Lee Backer switched between electric and acoustic lead guitar while bassist Dan Shuman held down the low end, bolstered on a couple of tunes by stark resonance from guest cellist Serena Jost (who also plays on the record).

They opened with Devil Down, a brightly shuffling tune with thematic if not musical resemblance to Tom Waits’ Down in the Hole:. As Etzel intimated, the new album is slightly more optimistic than the ghostly tales that populate much of the band’s previous output. After that, McDearman didn’t waste any time taking the music back in that direction with Hazel, a banjo number about a crazy woman who’s reached the end of her rope.

Etzel went back to lead vocals for Let You Go, a kiss-off anthem with echoes of the chain gang songs the band were exploring in the early part of the decade. Daughters of the Dust, a spaghetti western bluegrass tune, kept the charming/sinister dynamic going, the women’s shiny harmonies in contrast with the emotionally depleted Dust Bowl narrative. Then they picked up the pace with the Buddy Holly-ish Come on Home.

In My Bones turned out to be classic Bobtown, a chirpy, blackly amusing tune about how to cheat the man in black when he makes a “certain visitation.” With its hushed ambience, This Is My Heart could have been an especially melancholy number from a Dolly Parton bluegrass record. Then the group built to a big, vamping peak with Kryptonite and its Hey Jude-style chorus.

The biggest surprise of the night, with Jost on cello again, was a slow, spare, hazy cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl: who knew the lyrics were so sad? They closed with the night’s most mighty, majestic number, No Man’s Land, sung with gospel-infused intensity by Dahlstrom. In a year of full-frontal assaults on women’s rights from Ohio all the way to the Mexican border, it’s a new national anthem:

No man’s words can still my voice
No man can tell me where I stand
No man’s will can take my choice
I am no man’s land

Avant Garde All-Star Bass Clarinetist Ken Thomson Plays a Rare Greenpoint Gig

Ken Thomson plays reeds – mostly bass clarinet – in genre-defying art-rock/avant-rock icons the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Over the past couple of decades, he’s also led several other ensembles. His album Restless – an aply titled, troubled tour de force duo recording of two of his chamber works by allstar cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Karl Larson – is streaming at Bandcamp. That vinyl record makes a good listen if you’re considering his show tomorow night, June 16 at 5 PM at Arete Gallery where he’s leading his sextet on a twinbill with Larson’s indie classical trio Bearthoven. Cover is $15 – and the G train is running this weekend!

The album comprises two suites: Restless, nd MeVs,. The four-part, title partita rises from a wary, spare, fugal intertwine of cello and piano to an aching intensity and then an unexpectedly catchy, anthemic coda before fading down. The second movement, Forge is a study in contrasting leaps and bounds: the string jazz of Zach Brock comes to mind early on. Remain Untold is a relentleslsy uneasy stroll anchored by Larson’s low lefthand; then the piano and cello switch roles, rather savagely. Bathgate’s long, expressive, vibrato-tinged lines take centerstage over Larson’s mutedly minimal, resonant chords in the conclusion, Lost, building to an aching insistence punctuated by viscerally chilling glissandos from the cello.

MeVs, a triptych for solo piano, begins with Turn of Phrase, a practically rubato series of short, emphatic phrases amid extended pause that give it a glitchy feel. Quiet, calm, distantly Messiaenic resonance eventually prevails over the heavy whacks, slowly crescendoing with more than a hint of postbop jazz.

Part two, Another Second Try comes across as a more expansive remake of the famous Chopin E Minor Prelude, Larson runs steady eighth notes over surreal lefthand syncopation before the cruelling challenging, incisive series of staccato chords in the concluding segment kick in. Most definitely an album for our time.

The New York Philharmonic End the Season with a Turbulent, Epic Coda

In his Brooklyn debut this past evening in Prospect Park, conductor Jaap van Zweden led the New York Philharmonic through an electric, kaleidoscopically detailed, unselfconsciously transcendent version of Rachmaminoff’s Symphony No. 2. It’s impossible to think of a better way to introduce the orchestra to those across the lawn who either hadn’t seen the group before, or couldn’t afford to visit them at their Lincoln Center home base.

There’s a point in the second movement where a bassoon solo signals the symphony’s first bellicose theme. But van Zweden didn’t pull back the string section gratuitously. Resolute yet rather mysterious, it burbled just above the waterline amid a vast, extremely uneasy tide. The Red Sea didn’t part all the way: the orchestra gave this wanderer just enough room to make his way through without much stress. There were innumerable other moments like that throughout the rest of the evening.

The greatest composers like to keep orchestras on their toes and give audiences plenty of bang for their buck along with jokes and insider references for the diehards. Gloomy as most of it is, why is this symphony one of the most popular in the entire repertoire,? For all of those reasons. Rachmaninoff griped to his inner circle about how long it took him to orchestrate it, but as the dominoes fell one by one, the mosaic this orchestra created with it was viscerally breathtaking, in both scope and substance.

It’s a familiar theme in Rachmaninoff: the composer writing his way out of a very dark headspace. The opening movement bristled with a relentless, downcast intensity, livened with endlessly clever exchanges of riffs and a thematic interweave that finally paid off mightily, a wall of pictures at an exhibition, in the concluding movement. In between, the heartbreak of the third movement contrasted mightily with the anger of the fourth, which came across with more aggression than most orchestras tend to give it.

And that ho-ho-ho intro to the last movement? That’s an inside joke, one that may have completely evaded audiences for decades. It’s a reference to the opening motif of his Symphony No. 1, which was infamously performed only once in his lifetime – to a withering critical reaction that devastated him and left him unable to composer for three full years. After dazzling the crowd for the better part of an hour, Symphony No. 2 becomes Rachmaninoff thumbing his nose at anyone who thought he could never pull it off. For the record, the Rachmaninoff 1 is a frequently audacious work, which, had the composer decided to resurrect it during his lifetime, probably would have become a part of the classical canon much earlier than it did.

In front of the orchestra, van Zweden tends to bounce, but not a lot, as if he’s standing on a heavy truck spring that gives way ever so slightly As much strurm ung drang as this piece has, he didn’t exert himself much except when there was a jewel of a detail that had to be pulled from the storm in a split second. And when that happened, van Zweden seized those moments, one by one, whether fluttery ornamentation from the violins after the cartoonish laughter of the final movement, or a suddenly stark, martial stacccato from the cellos in the third. For all the calm in his body language, he’s exceptionally communicative with the orchestra. The audience afterward were marveling about the level of detail, range of dynamics and sheer freshness he and the orchestra had brought to a familiar piece they’d played several times just a few months ago.

There was other material on the bill: operatic buffoonery and jaunty orchestrated bluegrass, along with a couple of miniatures – one unexpectedly close to horizontal music, and the other very baroque – by a pair of gradeschoolers mentored in the orchestra’s Very Young Composers program.

But all that was just a warmup for the crowning jewel in a year that’s seen the ensemble revitalized like never before in this century. Not to be disrespectful to Alan Gilbert, a gifted conductor who in many ways set the scene for van Zweden to take the reins, but over the course of the past season, the Philharmonic’s programming and performances have been more ambitious and relevant than ever. What a great feeling it is to be excited about New York”s hometown orchestra again.

Low-Register Reed Maven Scott Robinson Hits a High Note or Two

Scott Robinson is one of this era’s great masters of the low reeds – specifically, the low, low reeds, the contrabass clarinet and such. But he’s even more than that: it wouldn’t be extreme to call him a master of wind instruments in general. For example, he’s also a competent trumpeter. With that in mind, it’s less of a surrprise that his favorite horn is a vintage 1924 tenor sax he rescued from a Maryland junk shop more than forty years ago. He’s playing that horn at a two-night birthday celebration at Birdland this June 21 and 22 at 7 PM. You can get in for $30; if that seems steep, consider that this is a pretty rare opportunity to get to see him play a whole set (one presumes – you never know) on tenor..

He’s also got a new album out, Tenormore – streaming at youtube – celebrating the sound of that instrument. For a guy whose own compositions are so often imbued with a quirky sense of humor, and are sometimes way out there, this is a very straight-ahead record, in an early 60s Prestige (or late tteens Posi-Tone) vein.

He opens it solo with a wry ascent to the very top of his register, in a spaciously exuberant take of the Beatles’ And I Love Her. Likewise, Tenor Eleven is a sprightly swing shuffle, Robinson’s carefree clusters over the spring-loaded pulse of pianist Helen Sung, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Dennis Mackrel. Fans of Robinson’s irrepressibly weird sci-fi themes may hear this and ask themselves, is it really him?

The group’s slow, expansive remake of Put on a Happy Face is a platform for Robinson’s balmy side, along with some very subtle extended technique and a wee-hours solo from Sung. The band pick up the pace with the briskly strolling Morning Star, Sung engaging in some glittering, emphatic, stride-inflected work, Wind bubbling and Robinson closing with striking, modal bittersweetness.

The tasty, lush noir atmospherics the band use to open The Good Life hardly offer a hint of the genial sway the tune will eventually take on, They return to steady postbop swing with Tenor Twelve, punctuated by Robinson’s punchy riffage, then the sumnery, jubilant, gospel-infused Rainy River with Sung switching to organ. They revisit that mood a little later with their chugging version of The Nearness of You.

Robinson’s wife Sharon guests on flute on The Weaver, a tasty, edgy clave tune  and a launching pad for the bandleader’s canny explorations throughout the entire register of his horn. They close the album with the title track, its coy, clever rhythmic and thematic shifts more reminiscent of Robinson’s further outside work than any of the album’s other cuts.

Hauntingly Triumphant Klezmer and Classical Sounds Fill Central Park

This past evening Central Park was ablaze with music that stretched back as far as several thousand years, if you believe the liturgy. Either way, the best of those ancient Jewish cantorial melodies were as catchy and anthemic as they were darkly rustic, which is the point. The choir isn’t likely to get up to full steam if the tunes aren’t there.

Most of those tunes were sung by the New York Cantors, the trio of  Azi SchwartzYanky Lemmer and Netanel Hershtik flanked by a robust crew of backup singers. This time, rather than inciting a friendly cantorial smackdown like they did two years ago, very memorably, their Central Park Summerstage performance was all about harmony and tradeoffs. At their best, they were spectacular. Hershtik’s operatic baritone soared and implored, echoed by Schwartz from time to time as hometown hero Lemmer gave each a wide berth and stayed subtle and low-key for the most part.

In its heyday, cantorial music was as competitive and thrilling a sport as African-American gospel. This show was more socialist than pugilist, enhanced by the lush, velvety backdrop of a chamber orchestra including but not limited to Michael Winograd and Dmitri Slepovitch on reeds and Ljova Zhurbin on viola.

But as impassioned as the cantors were, the highlight of the night was trumpeter Frank London‘s brand-new suite Freylekhs – A Klezmer Fantasy for Orchestra and Trumpet. He gave it a gorgeous, Middle Eastern-tinged, modal solo intro, then the group entered with a supple pulse, then shifted from a stately minor key sway to a bit of a Klezmatics-style romp (London co-founded that legendary band) and an unexpectedly sweeping, majestic interlude with vivid echoes of Egyptian trailblazer Mohammed Abdel Wahab. They wound it up with an even punchier trumpet solo and a triumphant coda.

There was other music on the bill, but that didn’t measure up: centuries-old ngunim don’t translate easily to a cloying, cliched 80s-style power ballad format. And as if we haven’t already heard enough about the death of the corporate record industry, the night’s emcee announced that Universal Music’s big signing this year is…drumroll…Shulem, a twentysomething Israeli crooner whose seven-digit youtube pageviews may or may not be authentic. His voice is definitely the real deal: the guy can belt with anyone, and held the crowd’s attention with a lustrous contemporary classical ode to his home turf. But even a Yiddish second verse couldn’t redeem God Bless America from its association with Bush-era torture, murder and police state terror, both here and abroad.

Further to the north, it was redemptive to be able to catch the New York Philharmonic playing the final movements of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 (which they’re reprising at 8 PM on Friday night in Prospect Park: you should go). Binoculars would have been a good idea: the Philharmonic in Central Park is probably the year’s biggest event there. With the array of speaker towers extending south of the stage, it was like watching Rachmaninoff at the Isle of Wight, loudly amplfified. But those of us in the back needed that sonic boost. And the music was everything it should be: delicate in the delicate parts, robust when needed, which was most of the time. The melancholy third movement seemed infused with some righteous anger; then again, that could have been the amplification. Maestro Jaap van Zweden brought his usual meticulousness to the music: he has transformed this orchestra like no other conductor in recent memory.