New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Twilight of Idols

Long ago and faraway in a land not unlike our own, the emperor and his court noticed that fewer and fewer people were congregating in the many temples there. In order to restore this practice, the emperor ordered that all temples be shuttered and replaced with new ones. So the shrines to the cunning Bezos, god of commerce, the scantily-clad Cyrus, goddess of music, and the Kardashians, who with one look could turn a man to stone, were all closed. The new temples were prefabricated, exactly identical and all dedicated to a single new god: the abacus.

Now this abacus was the latest model, and the emperor believed it to be the greatest achievement in the history of the world. It contained millions and millions of beads, most of them so small that they were invisible. It was able to calculate enormous sums in seconds flat. It was decorated with all manner of bells and whistles. It even spoke, in a nasal, mechanical monotone that was said to be the voice of Gates, the most fearsome and powerful of all the gods.

Many people had exhausted their lives’ savings to purchase miniature models of this magical abacus, in order to be mesmerized by its many bells and whistles and to receive orders from the king of all the gods.

One day the miniature abacuses all simultaneously announced that the great abacus had calculated that the land was overpopulated. Townspeople were instructed by the mechanical voice to gather in the village square, where each would have his or her pinky finger measured. Those with pinky fingers longer than five inches would be ruled fit to remain in town. Those with pinkies on the short side would have to throw themselves into the great river.

The device used to measure everyone’s pinky was a glove, a ladies model with a hole at each fingertip. Quickly, it became apparent that everyone who had been measured, except for the great discus thrower Pedro Martinez and a couple of water-organ players, would be taking a plunge in the river.

In the ranks of the crowd of thousands waiting their turn to jump in the river, fenced in by soldiers, stood Cassandra the soothsayer. As the line of condemned townspeople moved slowly toward the riverbank, she came upon Ferguson, who was high priest at the central temple of the abacus. “Nice work,” she said sarcastically, raising her hand to high-five him.

Reflexively, Ferguson gave her a high-five back. “People! Did you see that? Ferguson just matched his pinky up against mine, and mine is even longer than his. But he’s not in line to jump in the river, and we are! This is all a sham!” Cassandra screamed.

The soldiers moved in toward her, but the crowd held them back.

“What is this nonsense about our pinkies? What gives this abacus the right to make us swim for our lives?” Cassandra demanded. “The abacus is not our god. It doesn’t know anything: it doesn’t even have a brain! It’s just a dorky machine. Smash the abacus and everything like it!”

With that, the crowd broke through the barricades. The soldiers fled the city. Ferguson, the emperor and his entourage were seized, strapped onto the catapult and sent flying into the river. The last item to be catapulted into the river was the great abacus itself, whose bells and whistles played a ghastly fanfare as it splashed in the water, then went silent and dark as it sank to the bottom.

In the years that followed, civilization began to flourish again, with an annual parade dedicated to the day the abacus made its final big splash. Shopkeepers and grape growers returned to doing calculations on leaves of papyrus, with quills dipped in red wine. And for years afterward, children were cautioned not to walk through the agora barefoot, for fear of cutting their feet on the shattered plastic and glass from all the broken abacuses. 

Pianist Liza Stepanova’s New Album Champions Brooding New Music by Immigrant Composers

As we’ve been seeing more and more over the last couple of years, many artists most closely associated with traditional classical repertoire have a not-so-secret passion for new music. Pianist Liza Stepanova lays claim to that cred with her new solo album E Pluribus Unum – streaming at Spotify – a collection reflecting her background as as an American immigrant. It’s mix of strikingly purposeful, accessible and rather dark works by her fellow immigrants, including several world premieres. Musically the takeaway is that if you think she’s good at, say, Tschaikovsky, wait til you hear this. And in a year where the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been committing crimes against humanity by forcibly performing hysterectomies on refugee women,, the album takes on even greater relevance.

She opens with An Old Photograph from the Grandparents’ Childhood, a brooding, steadily Chopinesque, chromatically biting miniature by Lera Auerbach. Kamran Ince’s partita Symphony in Blue is a study in stabbing acerbity versus calm, spacious, often mysterious resonance, with a little inside-the-piano flitting. Stepanova’s carnivalesque music-box upper register work is enabled by what sounds like tacks on the hammers.

Chaya Czernowin‘s Fardance Close has the same dichotomy, flickering highs in contrast with low rumbles and even more suspense. Stepanova next tackles two selections from Reinaldo Moya’s South American refugee suite The Way North. The first, La Bestia, follows scrambling upward tangents which grow more allusively ominous. The second, Rain Outside the Church has artful contrast between high pointillisms and more enveloping, low-midrange variations: Debussy is the obvious reference.

The point of Anna Clyne‘s On Track, a surreally produced, propulsively chiming electroacoustic theme and subtle variations, is that change is constant, like it or not: the ending is completely unexpected. Mool, a Lake Michigan tableau by Eun Young Lee, has strikingly understated, spaciously nocturnal phrasing and a distant, austere glitter: it’s one of the album’s most memorable moments.

Badie Khaleghian‘s triptych Táhirih the Pure, dedicated to the tragic 19th century feminist mystic, begins with The Day of Alert, a dynamically-charged, allusively Middle Eastern-tinged prelude built around an uneasily circling lefthand riff. Part two, Unchained is assembled around the album’s most persistent trope, high/low contrasts, in this case magnified by dissociative rhythms. The conclusion, Badasht is a sort of mirror image of the introduction, Stepanova nimbly tackling the daunting, insistent pointillisms ringing out over moody resonance.

Piglia, by Pablo Ortiz is part pensive prelude, part a more subtle take on what Kachaturian did with his Sabre Dance. Stepanova closes the record with Gabriela Lena Frank‘s rather wryly phantasmagorical Karnavalito No. 1. All of this is as thoughtfully and intuitively played as it is programmed. Let’s look forward to the day we get the chance to see Stepanova continue in this very auspicious direction, onstage, in front of an audience!

Long-Lost, Prime, Phantasmagorical Thelonious Monk Rescued From the Archives

About halfway through the version of Well, You Needn’t that Thelonious Monk played at Palo Alto High School in California on October 27, 1968, he launched into a slyly cartoonish parody of a football cheer song. In a split second, bassist Larry Gales – who had been in the middle of a darkly ambered, bowed solo until the bandleader interrupted him – was on it. This was a signal to the cool kids in the crowd. We feel your pain, Monk and his quartet were telling them.

Long before the web was anything more than a dial-up connection for the Pentagon, dodgy field recordings of every jazz icon who ever lived were ubiquitous, marketed to the unsophisticated and the completists for ridiculous prices. This album, streaming at Spotify, is not one of them. Monk may have been a notoriously nocturnal creature, but he’s on top of his game at what was probably the only high school gig he ever played, and the band are right there with him despite the early hour. This is a stereo recording, with relatively minor sonic defects, almost completely free of the dropouts that plague newly discovered tape from so long ago. Even with the ever-increasing glut of concert recordings by jazz hall-of-famers, this is a pretty big deal.

It’s about forty-five minutes of greatest-hits material. Just about the only place that Charlie Rouse’s tenor sax ends up distorting on the recording occurs as the band ease their way into the opener, Ruby My Dear. By the time he spirals up to the top of his solo over drummer Ben Riley’s spring-loaded groove, the problem has been fixed. The song only hints at the characteristic irony, and devious humor, phantasmagoria and momentary detours into the macabre that will follow shortly afterward.

Well, You Needn’t has all of that plus extended bass and drum solos where it seems the rest of the group go out for a smoke or the equivalent. Then Monk sends the band away for a steady, pouncing, unselfconsciously joyous solo take of Don’t Blame Me.

The jovial, extended version of Blue Monk – which really never was more than a reworking of the old blues song Since I Met You Baby – has workmanlike, crescendoing solos from the whole band, then the show hits a peak with a determined, gritty, fanged take of Epistrophy. No pianist ever played Monk with fewer notes than Monk himself, so Rouse seizes the moment to be allusive as Riley has fun with offbeats and wry flurries on the toms. There’s also a momentary solo encore, I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams, the bandleader choosing to end it with a trio of icepick passing tones. He had to cut the song short so he could get back on the road for a gig in San Francisco that night. Familiar as all this material is, it’s prime Monk, straight, no chaser.

Prominent Physician Arrested For Reciting Depeche Mode Lyrics in London Park

On September 26, Dr. Heiko Schoning, a founding member of ACU, the German consortium of pro-freedom scientists and doctors, was reciting the lyrics to the Depeche Mode song Where’s the Revolution at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, where he was handcuffed and taken away in a police van.

In an interview, which you can watch here, Dr. Schoning explains that the violation the police eventually charged him with – after hustling him away to a precinct house at high speed, with lights and siren on – didn’t relate specifically to the lyrics. The doctor was addressing a crowd of more than thirty people – which is against the law under UK lockdown rules – at a pro-freedom demonstration. The demonstration had moved from Trafalgar Square, as Dr. Schoning relates, after police cut off electric power to the PA system through which he was speaking to the protestors there.

Dr. Schoning was held for almost 24 hours before being released. He alleges that both his laptop and phone were confiscated, as well as a copy of Karina Reiss and Sucharit Bhakdi’s bestselling book Corona, False Alarm, which has just been translated into English and is available from Chelsea Green Publishing. Dr. Schoning also asserts that his wrists were injured during the arrest and plans to sue.

One thing the cops missed was the memory stick containing his address to the crowd, which will be posted at the ACU site – Depeche Mode lyrics included.

NYC “Concert Calendar” for October 2020

Once again, this month’s calendar is little more than a sticky note for the fridge since most of the publicly announced shows are jazz and classical, and outdoors.

Continuing a free series of performances in Central Park honoring the legacy of U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis, 10/4, 1:30ish  saxophonist Darius Jones with drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Dezron Douglas at the mall in Central Park, south of the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/9, 7 PM bhangra mastermind Sunny Jain’s Wild Wild East on the elevated lawn at the northwest corner of the Lincoln Center complex

10/10, 1:30ish, the Nicole Glover Trio – postbop saxophonist Nicole Glover, bassist Daniel Duke, drummer Nic Cacioppo at the mall in Central Park, south of the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/10, 2 PM the Calidore String Quartet play a program TBA under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex

10/10, 2 PM badass bassist and jazz composer Endea Owens and the Cookout outside the National Jazz Museum in Harlem

10/11, 1:30ish, high-voltage postbop jazz with the Chris Potter Trio: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Nasheet Waits at the mall in Central Park, south of the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St. Wow – Potter with a chordless trio, this could be killer. 

10/17, 2 PM violinist Jennifer Koh plays a program TBA under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex

10/17, 3 PM organist Austin Philemon plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

10/18, 5 PM Josh Sinton and his trio What Happens in a Year – Sinton on bari sax and bass clarinet with guitarist Todd Neufeld and electric bassist Giacomo Merega – celebrate their debut recording cérémonie/musique at In the Yurt at Courtyard 1 – 2, Industry City, 274 36th St, Sunset Park, $10, R to 36th St

10/18. 5 PM charmingly inscrutable Parisienne jazz chanteuse Chloe & the French Heart Jazz Band play the release show for her eclectic new album at an outdoor NYC house party show, email for address/deets

10/20, 5 PM, not in NYC but fairly close on the Metro North train, a septet of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra musicians perform Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 arranged by Franz Hasenöhrl, plus Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday,at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, 180 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville, free, bring your own lawn chair

10/23, 7 PM anthemic Cuban jazz pianist Elio Villafranca on the elevated lawn at the northwest corner of the Lincoln Center complex

10/23, 8 PM punk/downtown jazz icons Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog play the album release show for their new one from the roof of St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, looking down on the street below (rooftop is not open to the public)

10/24, 2 PM popular gospel/soul singer Alicia Olatuja under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex

10/30, 7 PM Jorge Glem – the Jimi Hendrix of the cuatro – with pianist Cesar Orozco on the elevated lawn at the northwest corner of the Lincoln Center complex 

10/31, 2 PM baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela and his trio under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex*

11/14, 3 PM organist Mark Pacoe plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

12/12, 3 PM organist Maria Rayzvasser plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don.

As artists and audiences become more comfortable with staging and attending shows again, you’ll see more here. There are a few venues in town who have reopened, but so far it looks like they’re adhering to Cuomo’s Nazi lockdowner rules like enforcing a six-foot rule and such, and it’s hard to imagine anybody having any fun under those circumstances. Once all that BS is over, let’s look forward to a joyous return to the Old Normal!