New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: September, 2019

Lynchian Menace and a South Williamsburg Gig From Noir Chanteuse Laura Carbone

Noir singer Laura Carbone’s voice ranges from purr to a soul-infused ache, somewhere between Ajda the Turkish Queen and Abby Travis. In the noir rock demimonde, she’s in good company. Her deliciously sinister, reverbtoned latest album Empty Sea is streaming at Bandcamp? She’s playing Baby’s All Right at midnight on Sept 22; cover is $15

Lead player Mark Lewis; lingering Pink Floyd slide guitar hovers over a wash of ominously reverbtoned jangle and dense resonance in the album’s opening cut, Grace, a slow 6/8 dirge. Cellophane, a syncopated one-chord stomp driven by bassist Brodie White and drummer Jeff Collier, is a throwback to early 90s New York gutter blues bands like the Chrome Cranks. Carbone goes back to slinky 6/8 time with Carnival of Souls organ and a vast, bleak panoraman of guitar textures in the album’s title track: imagine the queen of Coney Island phantasmagoria, Carol Lipnik singing an Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks set piece.

Nightride is a sparse highway-of-death tableau – like the Dream Syndicate stripped to the bare bones – rising to a garagantuan, swirling coda. Old Leaves Shiver is a weird mashup of folk noir and distantly troubled postpunk, with a hint of corporate urban pop. The opening shriek and jagged, dense guitar textures of Crisis are total Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, matched by Carbone’s distorted megaphone vocals.

A dancing bass figure percolates through the blue velvet textures of Tangerine Tree, the album’s most distinctively Lynchian track – curiously, Carbone mispronounces “tangerine” as “tangrin.” The most epic cut here is Who’s Gonna Save You, a swaying, darkly blues-tinged fuzztone anthem that looks back to peak-era early 90s PJ Harvey. Carbone winds up this relentlessly bleak, gorgeously produced collection with Lullaby, a catchy backbeat-driven southwestern gothic tune. This album’s going to be on a lot of best-of-2019 lists at the end of the year.

Cape Verdean Singer Lucibela Charms and Energizes the Crowd in Her New York Debut

In her New York debut last night at Merkin Concert Hall, Cape Verde singer Lucibela delivered a mix of pensive morna ballads and bouncy coladera dance tunes with considerably more depth and gravitas than her limited if stylistically vast recorded repertoire has hinted at so far A sold-out crowd who’d followed those hints, or had seen her before – the home island posse was in full effect for this show – sang and danced along to a dynamically shifting mix of Portuguese-language songs reflecting issues of distance and alienation, and sometimes just good times off the west coast of Africa.

The World Music Institute’s Gaby Sappington – who’d booked this show – explained that she’d chosen Lucibela to open their 2019-20 season and keep the spirit of late-summer vacationing alive, if only for an evening. Yet the most explosively applauded number of the night was a brooding, bolero-tinged ballad where the bandleader finally reached for the rafters with her cool alto voice, channeling abandonment and destitution.

It took her awhile to get to that point. Rocking a mane of an afro and dressed in a simple white-and-beige linen dress and sandals, she sang with an elegant understatement for most of the evening. Her four-piece backing band were tight and methodical. Seven-string acoustic guitarist Ze Antonio alternated between graceful, steady chords, swinging basslines on his low strings, and the night’s most shivery, breathtaking instrumental break. Purposeful, incisive lead guitarist Daya Nieves switched to melodica on a handful of songs, alongside carvaquinho (Brazilian ukulele) player Stephane and drummer Nir, who balanced graceful rimshots and a mist of cymbals over a groove that often slunk into clave.

Lucibela began the night very demurely but as the trajectory of the songs rose from stately morna ballads to more kinetic, often bossa-tinged coladera numbers, she warmed to the audience and by the end of the show had them on their feet and dancing. The night’s funniest song was Profilaxia, a sardonically romping tune about a guy who just can’t get enough of the females. That was her moment to flirt with the dudes in the front row. Meanwhile, the guitars intertwined, the carvaquinho plinked, and influences from across the waves – from dramatic flamenco to stark Romany music to Portuguese fado and French cabaret – filtered through the mix.

The World Music Institute‘s ongoing series of concerts continues this Sept 22 at 8 PM at Merkin Concert Hall once again with Indian sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee and tabla player Ojas Adhiya; you can get in for $25.

Monograms Bring Their Spot-On Gothic 80s Sound to Bushwick This Weekend

Monograms call themselves “New York’s nuke wave.” In an era when rock music has become a legacy style like bluegrass or roots reggae, this four-piece band do a great job emulating the dark side of early 80s British new wave, particularly the Cure around the time of the Pornography album. Monograms’ debut album Living Wire is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the release show on Sept 21 at 9ish at the Broadway, the recently reopened former Gateway space at 1272 Broadway in Bushwick. The noisy Big Bliss play beforehand. Most of the shows at the Gateway were pass-the-hat: the venue doesn’t have a website. so it’s it not clear if that’s the situation, or if there’s a cover charge. Take the J to Gates Ave. and walk back toward Williamsburg a couple of blocks.

The album opens with the opaque Buzz Choir, a swirly, dreampop-tinged take on Joy Division. The second track, Sounds Like Mean Spirit is total 80s goth, frontman Ian Jacobs’ spare, catchy, watery chorus-box guitar over Sam Bartos’ snappy, trebly bass and Rich Carrillo’s skittish 2/4 drumbeat. In the background, Michelle Feliciano’s synth quivers and oscillates.

Likewise, Don’t Fight For It is awash in grey-sky string synth and icy guitar/bass textures: it’s basically a one-chord song. The chugging dancefloor beats and washes of synth in Nose Dive are pure New Order circa 1981. Common Circles has some neat guitar/bass/synth tradeoffs, while the gloomily propulsive Century pulses with fried-plastic textures.

Garbage Can could be an especially guitarish outtake by mid-80s New Order; likewise, the final cut, Pirate Government Inc. is a denser take on early Human League (before that band got all poppy).

For the most part, lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music: it’s all about the chilly ambience. If you have an aunt or uncle who spent time at any of the New York goth palaces like Slimelight or the Cooler back in the 90s, ask them if they have any black eyeliner you can borrow for the Bushwick gig.

A West Village Gig and an Dark, Underrated Gem from Guitarist Cameron Mizell

This blog once called Cameron Mizell the best pastoral jazz guitarist not named Bill Frisell. But aside from last names that rhyme, the two musicians’ talents extend far beyond that demimonde. Quietly and efficiently, Mizell has put together a remarkably tuneful, eclectic, understatedly cinematic body of work. In a world overpopulated by guys who play a million notes where one would do, Mizell’s economical, purposeful style stands out even more. He’s got a new duo album with fellow six-stringer Charlie Rauh and a show coming up at Greenwich House Music School at 7:30 PM on Sept 20. Harvey Valdes, who works a more traditional postbop vein, plays the album release show for his new solo record afterward; cover is $15.

Mizell’s arguably best, most Lynchian and most relevant album so far might be Memory/Imagination (streaming at Bandcamp), a brooding, multitracked deep-sky solo record he put out about a year after the fateful 2016 Presidential election. It opens with the distantly uneasy, lingering title cut, a tone poem awash in reverb and backward masking effects: imagine Big Lazy‘s Steve Ulrich making a 1970s style ECM record.

As puckishly picturesque and Pink Floydian as the second cut, Melting is, it’s also a surreal acoustic-electric portrait of global warming. A Toast is meant to evoke a boardroom full of corporate robber barons congratulating themselves: is the loopiness a snide poke at their groupthink, maybe? Interestingly, the song has a visceral, Indian-tinged sense of longing: maybe even those who destroy the world will also miss it when it’s gone.

The Wind Will Never Blow Us Out, a more minimalist take on pensive Jim Hall-style postbop, offers a somewhat more resilient perspective. A haunting, spikily fingerpicked waltz, Vulnerabilities was inspired by a chance meeting with a homeless vet searching in vain for a power outlet to juice his electric wheelchair. Mizell’s inspiration for the hypnotically echoing The View From Above came from a NASA photo of the earth from space, which had been deleted by the time Mizell went back to try to find it again. “Maybe it made America look too small for the new administration,” he relates.

We’ll Find Our Way Out of This Mess begins as a wry study in how to construct a pretty, folksy melody out of backward masking but then takes on epic, ominous proportions. Mizell, a natire Missourian, reflects on the murder of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests in A Turning Point, an echoey, edgy, bluesy number akin to what David Gilmour could have done if he’d played on Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night soundtrack. The album comes full circle with Decisions, a brighter, more optimistic series of variations on the opening theme. It’s a great late-night listen.

Shapeshifting Art-Rockers Changing Modes Put Out Their Most Savagely Brilliant Record Yet

Changing Modes aren’t just one of the most instantly recognizable rock bands in the world: they’re also one of the best. Over the past ten years or so, they’ve put out an increasingly brilliant succession of sharply lyrical, mind-warpingly eclectic albums that span from quirky new wave to majestic art-rock to ferocious punk. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call them the American Pulp – or to call Pulp the British Changing Modes. The big news about the group’s latest album, What September Brings – streaming at Spotify – is that keyboardists and co-frontwomen Wendy Griffiths and Grace Pullian, guitarist/bassist Yuzuru Sadashige and drummer Timur Yusef have been bolstered by the addition of baritone saxophonist Sawa Tamezane. The new release is also arguably the band’s angriest and most political record yet (think about that title for a second). Griffiths has a short fuse when it comes to narcissists, and she torches several here. Changing Modes are playing the album release show on Sept 20 at 8 PM at Arlene’s; cover is $10. It’s impossible to think of a more entertaining, consistently surprising Friday night rock act anywhere in New York right now.

The album’s opening track, Days, could be described as noir new wave Motown circus rock, but that’s only scratching the surface of how artfully the band blend those styles. The two women’s voices harmonize eerily over an uneasy, altered waltz, the sax adding a deliciously smoky undercurrent:

These are the days I never spent with you
Black eyes and broken wings
White lies don’t give away
Black eyes and broken wings
Butterflies don’t miss a day

Pretty Poisonous has gritty guitar majesty balancing those carnivalesque keys, an allusively snide slap upside the head of real estate bubble-era yuppies. With blippy Wurlitzer, fuzz bass and sarcastic ba-ba harmonies, Tightrope is a delicious dis aimed at a phone-fixated drama queen: It also might be the funniest song Griffiths has ever written.

Corey Booker Blues is not about the mayor and erstwhile candidate: it’s a slinky instrumental, sort of a mashup of Henry Mancini and mid-70s King Crimson, dedicated to Griffiths’ cat – that was his name when she got him from the shelter. Next, the band keep the shapeshifting menace going with another instrumental, 2 1/2 Minutes to Midnight, with some tremolo-picked savagery and more than a hint of heavy metal growl from Sadashige

The band romp lickety-split through 250 Smiles, a sardonic sendup of a catty girl whose “tiny lies accessorize.” Then Pulliam flips the script with January, a pensive tale of abandonment set to an insistent, ornate solo piano backdrop.

Rocket, a sinister surveillance state parable, brings to mind X at their most rockabillyish: “Tell me why the failsafe signal failed/Tell me why the driver never broke a sweat,” Griffiths wants to know. Fueled by Amy Boyd’s shivery violin, Alexander Springs is a more psychedelic take on classic, lush mid-70s ELO, laced with brooding Aimee Mann cynicism:

Wasted summer days on village greens
You wait to see what September brings ‘cause
You’ve been down that lonely road before

Fire has backbeat stomp from Yusef, wary chromatics from Tamezane and Griffiths’ most savagely dystopic lyrics here:

In the line of fire
There’s no reality
As they watch you on their flat screens
A blip is all they see
Caught by friendly fire
As drones divide the sky
You’ll just give in if you never ask why

The cynicism reaches redline in Glide, a sardonically twinkly boudoir soul-tinged nocturne, Griffiths fixing her crosshairs on slacker apathy. The band reach back toward circus rock, with a little Beatles, in Potassium and Riboflavin, a strutting kiss-off number. They close the record with Night Loop, recalling Ennio Morricone’s Taxi Driver score as much as Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch theme music. It’s going to be awfully hard to choose any album other than this as the best of 2019 at this point.

An Urbane, Greek-Adjacent New Live Album From the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center just got back from tour in Greece…and brought a record back with them. Their new album, Odyssey – streaming at PBS – bolsters the argument that more artists should make live albums, classical ensembles included. It’s also genteel party music. 0riginally broadcast on PBS” Live From Lincoln Center, it features both standard repertoire and more obscure material diversely associated with Hellenic culture.

It begins with Tara Helen O’Connor’s dynamically swaying, often broodingly muted solo take of Debussy’s Syrinx for Flute and concludes with a gregariously cheery, occasionally beery rendition of Mendelssohn’s Octet For Strings in E-flat major. The ensemble – violinists Sean Lee, Danbi Um, Aaron Boyd and Arnaud Sussmann; violists Matthew Lipman and Paul Neubauer; and cellists David Finckel and Dmitri Atapine – have a particularly good time with the teenage composer’s clever echo effects in the second movement.

The two partitas in between have a more distinctly Greek flavor. Emily D’Angelo brings an unexpected arioso intensity to the miniatures of Ravel’s Cinq Melodies Populaires Grecques for Voice and Piano, over Wu Han’s nimble shifts from Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics to misty, muted Mediterranean balladry. Then Neubauer teams with Boyd for a quartet of short pieces from George Tsontakis” Knickknacks for Violin and Viola. The only Greek composer included on the album gets a particularly strong interpretation: with the music’s insistently rhythmic, acerbic call-and-response enhanced by excellent recording quality, the duo evoke a considerably larger ensemble.

Then they team with O’Connor for Beethoven’s Serenade in D major, which the extensive liner notes describe as “a bit of nostalgia marking the end of an era.” Well put: Mozart is cited as an influence, and the Italian baroque also seems to be a strong reference in the livelier, more balletesque movements.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – a roughly 180-member, rotating cast of world-class talent – are celebrating fifty years of exploring the vast world of small-ensemble repertoire, in intimate performances that continue year-round from their home base at Alice Tully Hall.

String Jazz Magic at This Year’s Art in Gardens Series

This year’s free outdoor summer concert series are pretty much over at this point, but there’s another going on in three Lower East Side community gardens through the first weekend of October. The organizers call it Art in Gardens. What’s most exciting is that it’s dedicated to jazz improvisation: right now, it’s the only series of its kind anywhere in town. As you’ll see from the schedule, the lineup is a mix of veterans – some of them admittedly on the self-indulgent/Vision Fest side – but there’s plenty of new blood, and new reasons to chill with neighborhood greenery.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s lineup in the garden on 6th Street between Avenues A and B was Sarah Bernstein‘s mesmerizing Veer Quartet with violinist Sana Nagano, violist Leonor Falcón and cellist Nick Jozwiak. While Bernstein never allows herself to be fenced in by the western scale, it seemed that about eighty percent of her compositions on this particular bill were in those familiar tones.

The music was so fresh that it seemed largely improvised, although the group were all reading from scores. The first number featured a series of exchanges of short, punchy, leaping phrases between individual voices. As the show went on, there was considerable contrast between restless, slowly shifting sustained notes and what has become Bernstein’s signature catchy, rhythmic riffage. As evening drew closer, the tonalties drifted further outside: the most recognizable microtonal piece also managed to have the catchiest twelve-tone phrases bouncing around over achingly tense, often rapturously suspenseful washes of harmony.

There wasn’t much soloing until Jozwiak cut loose with a sizzling downward cadenza and then a fleeting rise afterward, an unexpected jolt of very high voltage. Toward the end of the set, there was finally a furious thicket of bowing and a slowly ascending firestorm in its wake. Otherwise, elegance and sheer tunefulness were the order of the day. There were many moments where only one or two individual instruments were playing, and when the whole group were engaged, Jozwiak would often be plucking out a bassline while one or more of the violins offered keening, sepulchral harmonics far overhead.

Pretty much everything seemed through-composed: verses and choruses didn’t come around a second time, except in later numbers: much of the material would have made sense as a suite. Bernstein’s next gig with this crew is Sept 15 at 7 PM at Spectrum; cover is $15. The next Art in Gardens show features poetry and dance in addition to music: the lineup starts at 1:30 this Saturday afternoon, Sept 14 with Rob Brown on alto sax and Juan Pablo Carletti on drums. At 3:30 Val Jeanty plays percussion, backing dancer Patricia Nicholson and at 4:30 drummer Michael Wimberly teams up with trumpeter Waldron Ricks and bassist Larry Roland at the Children’s Magical Garden, 129 Stanton St, just east of Essex. Can’t vouch for the insect factor at this spot, but on an overcast day the bugs were out in full effect on 6th St.; you might want to slather on some Deep Woods Off or the equivalent.

Remembering the Horrors of 9/11 and the Hope Against Hope Afterward at Lincoln Center

Yesterday morning a somber crowd of several hundred people lined the plaza at Lincoln Center to watch choreographer Jaqulyn Buglisi‘s lavish, hauntingly vivid 9/11 commemoration, The Table of Silence Project. The white-clad, roughly 190-member troupe of women and men fluttered brightly out of the grove in back, summoned by the crash of a gong and a simple, emphatic four-note riff signaled by Hazmat Modine trumpeter Pam Fleming and Mulebone flutist John Ragusa. Many of the dancers – assembled from several New York companies – had their faces smudged or made up to reflect some sort of injury. Quickly, hectic anticipation turned to awestruck horror: a few lay on the ground, contorted; others mimed taking photos, fighting off clouds of dust or debris, or searching in vain for loved ones as concentric circles of dancers whirled around them. The choir of women’s wordless voices raised the anguish factor several decibels.

A sudden martial thump shifted the group into lockstep, echoing how the murderous attack on the Twin Towers was used as a pretext for two even more deadly wars of aggression. Yet, even as the ensemble moved in formation, slow and stoic, the dancers’ hands fought against and eventually threw off their invisible shackles. This crew was not going to be force-marched to do anything against their will, in a striking moment of triumph amidst terror.

Each dancer’s costume had cleverly been designed to conceal a white porcelain plate. After a massed series of crouching, thrusting poses, the group moving inward toward the fountain, as if everyone was on an individual axle, then sat crosslegged with their plates in the center of the plaza. What was Buglisi referencing: the bitter harvest of blowback after years of murderous incursions in the Middle East? A hope for some kind of emotional sustenance from above? All that and more, maybe?

At 8:46, the dancers froze in positions, arms to the sky for a minute of silence to commemorate the moment when the first plane hit. As the music -a collaboration between Andrea Ceccomori, Libby Larsen and Paula Jeanine Bennett – returned, harmony was introduced, the forlorn, distant riffs beginning to intertwine along with the dancers. Slowly, soberly, they formed a line and retreated to the grove. Left behind on the plaza, the remaining two women were a contrast. To the north of the fountain, one moved delicately and prayerfully. To the south, the other remained motionless on a riser, a human statue with an upraised bell, announcing the final percussive salvo with a single bright ring. From the perspective of having been three blocks away from Tower Two at the moment it was detonated eighteen years ago, it was impossible not to be moved. The whole video is here.

And beyond the terrrorists who murdered the passengers on the planes and the workers on the towers’ upper floors, we still don’t know for certain who was responsible for the demolitions that killed thousands more. But there’s good news: a lawsuit spearheaded by a group of architects and forensic scientists seeking to reopen the official 9/11 investigation is underway.

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Kiko Villamizar Puts on a Furious, Funny, Politically Woke Dance Party at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez introduced firebrand singer Kiko Villamizar as an artist dedicated to the cause of keeping families together. Although his eclectic, psychedelic tropical dance music addresses other pressing issues, he didn’t waste any time confirming that particular one. The burly, bushy-bearded Colombian-American singer and his slinky five-piece band opened their debut show here this past evening with wih Hasta Que Se Fue, its rumbling chalupa beat underpinning an allusivey harrowing lyric about immigrant families being ripped apart in US concentration camps.

Villamizar blends ancient Afro-Colombian coastal gaita flute music with undulating chicha guitar music along with other styles he grew up with after his family moved from Florida to Colombia. “You don’t have to more your hands like “We Are the World,” but c’mon up here!” he told the crowd, who had been pretty sleepy on this rainy night so far. And suddenly everybody was up on their feet for as the guitarist played echoey, ominous spaghetti western licks over an irresistible cumbia groove. But this was a party for the right to fight: Villamizar’s big anthem addressed the lethal consequences of oil pipelines, which lave contaminated large parts of the world south of the equator.

Villmamizar is also an impresario: he books the annual Wepa cumbia festival in Austin, his home base these days. But it isn’t limited to cumbia, as he reminded with the scampering, skanking El Arbolito, a tribute both to his roots and our endangered forests, a long gaita solo floaitng over the rumbing beat from the bass, drums and traditional tambor alegre.

He dedicated the souful, trickily rhythmic minor-key ballad after that to “the most important person in the universe: her name is Natalie – where are you?” he wanted to know, then imperceptibly shifted the beat into cumbia and then reggae. Villamizar’s sardonic sense of humor is relentless: he explained that an as-yet-unreleased, punchy, syncopated cumbia addressing the South American refugee crisis and the xenophobic Trump response was about “family values.”

From there the band hit a punchy, swinging quasi-ska beat it was like witnesing Peruvian chicha legends Juaneco y Su Combo, but with an otherworldly, swirly edge fueled by the gaita. Villamizar returned  to catchy cautionary tales with Aguas Frias, a swaying eco-disaster parable, then blended Santana-esque psychedelic with hard funk.

After blending what sounded like a traditional call-and-response cumbia with a classic 70s American disco shuffle and a spacerock guitar solo, Villaizar got the crowd singing along with a couple of centuries-old Colombian  trance-dance chants. By now, everybody except the old people and bloggers were up their feet.

“The word ‘ceremony’ doesn’t exist in most of those languages down there, it’s just the way you’re supposed to live your life,” Villamizar explained, then invited up members of the NYC Gaita Club to validate that with another ecstatic processional tune. His Austin buddy Victor Cruz joined them for a thunderous invocation of the spirits and then a communal circle dance by Colombian bullerengue legend Emilsen Pacheco .

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is on Sept 19 at 7:30 PM with Korean janggu drummer Kim So Ra and her thunderous percussion troupe. Get there early if you want a seat.

Lara Downes Takes Aim at the Glass Ceiling With a Lavishly Diverse New Album of Works by Women Composers

The title of pianist Lara Downes‘ lavish, wildly diverse new album Holes in the Sky – streaming at her music page – is not a reference to eco-disaster in the wake of a vanishing ozone layer. It’s a celebration of elite women composers and artists which takes the idea of smashing the glass ceiling to the next level. Some of the album’s grand total of 22 tracks, all by women composers, are complete reinventions. Others among the wide swath of styles here, from classical, to jazz, to Americana and the avant garde, are more genre-specific, Downes shifting effortlessly and intuitively between them.

She’s playing the album release show this Sept 13 at 7 PM at National Sawdust with an all-star cast including but not limited to harpist Bridget Kibbey, eclectic chanteuse Magos Herrera and pianist Simone Dinnerstein. Advance tix are $35 – which includes a copy of the new cd – or $25 without one. Even better, the show is early enough, and the venue is close enough to the Bedford Ave. L train that you’ll be able to make it home afterward without having to deal with the nightly L-pocalypse.

Notwithstanding that classical musicians are typically expected to be able to make stylistic leaps in a single bound, Downes’ project is dauntingly ambitious. But she drives her point home, hard: women composers have always been on equal footing with men, artistically, even while the music world has been a boys club for so long.

Most of the music here tends to be on the slow, pensive side. Downes opens the album solo with the spare, ragtime-inflected gravitas of Florence Price’s Memory Mist. Judy Collins sings the pastoral ballad Albatross with an austere reflection over Downes’ sparkly evocation of guitar fingerpicking. There’s more art-song with Margaret Bonds’ Dream Variation (with an understatedly resonant vocal by Rhiannon Giddens); and Eve Beglarian and Jane Bowles’ Farther from The Heart, sung with similar restraint by Hila Plitmann.

Works by contemporary composers are an important part of this project. The neoromantic is represented vividly by Clarice Assad’s A Tide of Living Water; Paula Kimper‘s Venus Refraction; the late Trinidadian pianist Hazel Scott’s Idyll; Marika Takeuchi’s bittersweet waltz, Bloom; and Libby Larsen‘s Blue Piece, a duet with violinist Rachel Barton Pinel

The American avant garde works here include Meredith Monk’s circling Ellis Island; Paola Prestini‘s spacious, animated Morning on the Limpopo: Matlou Women; Elena Ruehr‘s astringently dynamic Music Pink and Blue; and Jennifer Higdon‘s Notes of Gratitude, with its call-and-response between muted prepared piano and glistening, resonant motives; Arguably the most gorgeous of all of them is the  Armenian-influenced, Satie-esque Aghavni (Doves) by Mary Kouyoumdjian.

Downes proves to be equally at home in the jazz songbook, particularly with a broodingly reflective, instrumental arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s Favorite Color. There’s also the Billie Holiday hit Don’t Explain, with Leyla McCalla on vocals; Ann Ronell’s saturnine Willow Weep for Me; Georgia Stitt’s What Lips My Lips Have Kissed; Abbey Lincoln and Melba Liston’s Rainbow; and Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Just for a Thrill, sung with dusky intensity by Alicia Hall Moran.

Downes also plays a couple of original arrangements of folk lullabies. Herrera sings the Argentine Arrorro Mi Niña,; Downes closes the album with a hauntingly fluttering take of the old Americana song All the Pretty Little Horses, featuring cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing and all-girl choir Musicality. Even for diehard fans of new music, this is an eye-opening survey of important women composers from across the decades.