New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: January, 2022

A Colorfully Melodic Big Band Debut by the Sam Pilnick Nonet

If you want to make a big splash with your debut album, you put as many players on it as you can. Maybe you leave no doubt about where the record is going by opening with a nine-minute song which starts with the big riff from Also Sprach Zarathustra.

That’s what saxophonist Sam Pilnick did on the first album by his nonet, The Adler Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. It was not easy to resist being snarky about the album’s central concept: the mysteries of deep space (Pilnick came up with it on his first trip to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium). In all seriousness, Pilnick’s compositions are refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and on the upbeat side: he and his formidable group managed to wrap up recording under the wire in February 2020, just ahead of the plandemic lockdowns.

The title of the opening number, Squawk Box refers to the NASA communication device which seems positively quaint after all these years. That famous Space Odyssey riff becomes a cheery march over an increasingly bustling rhythm, then suddenly the band drop out for a fleetingly sober break by pianist Meghan Stagl. She returns to deliver a longer, loungey twinkle. On bass clarinet, Ted Hogarth adds comfortable nocturnal ambience beneath growing lustre as the group wind their way out with an unhurried optimism. The far reaches of the galaxy have seldom been more inviting.

The album’s second tune, Star Launch opens with an attractively bustling theme, an intertwine between altoist Max Bessesen, trumpeter Emily Kuhn, trombonist Euan Edmonds, and Hogarth on baritone sax alongside guitarist Ben Cruz, bassist Ben Dillinger and drummer Matthew Smalligan. The bandleader races steadily through the song’s first solo, Bessesen raising the intensity to a genial 50s Basie-esque series of flurries which the ensemble ride out on.

Stagl switches to electric piano for extra starriness in Revolving Twins, a series of variations on a gentle, steadily circling riff, Cruz playing Luke S. to Smalligan’s Darth V. for a bit. Dillinger artfully shadows Pilnick’s deliberately paced upward trajectory to a febrile peak.

Kuhn does her best Venus impression in the tenderly resonant ballad Silver Light, and she’s got it, wafting over ambered horns and Stagl’s spacious chords. The moody duo number Constant Companion makes a good segue, the bandleader taking his time closing in on Stagl’s simple, loopy descending progression.

The album’s most epic track is House of the Massive (Pismis-24), inspired by a star system 6500 light years from home. With its hypnotically funky pulse, echoey electric piano, buoyant horns and shreddy guitar solo, it brings to mind late-period Steely Dan. Pilnick returns to spacious ambience with A Light Year, a contented canon for the horns and then takes that theme more bracingly and warily upward in Expanding Universe.

The group conclude with Falling Backwards, inspired by the return of the Gemini 12 expedition. Pilnick chooses his spots over a staggered, energetically syncopated drive and massed brassy atmosphere, Edmonds’ clusters and sailing phrases leading the group to the edge of night. Pilnick’s translucent compositions are a breath of fresh air: let’s hope we get to hear more from this purposeful crew.

American Choir and Andalucian Traditional Ensemble Join Forces to Mesmerizing Effect

One of the most fascinatingly original large-ensemble albums of recent months is Words Adorned, the cross-pollinated collaboration between Philadelphia chamber choir The Crossing and traditional Andalucian group the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble, streaming at Navona Records (click the link and scroll down to the listen button on the left). Donald Nally conducts; the lyrics are in Arabic.

While the tradition of audience singalongs in Middle Eastern music goes back thousands of years, there’s never been an album quite like this: a choral group fond of concept albums with music by contemporary composers joining forces with a starkly dusky, often rustic maqam ensemble. The closest comparison is the Navatman Music Collective, who bring harmony to new Indian music, another otherwise completely harmony-less idiom. Which is not to say that the music here always employs harmonies, but when it does, the effect is striking.

There are two suites on the album. The first is Kareem Roustom‘s new settings of ancient poetry, titled Embroidered Verses, packed with unexpected diversions and false endings. The opening song is Oh People of Andalucia, What Beauty You Have, where suspenseful ripples and flurries from Wassim Odeh’s oud and Hicham Chami’s kanun are quickly joined by the choir. A fleeting, bracing rise from Hanna Khoury’s violin and Kinan Abou-afach’s cello at the end will give you goosebumps.

The second number, a drinking song, begins with a surreal, strutting riff before the chorus and instrumentalists kick in over a jaunty clip-clop rhythm fueled by Hafez Kotain’s percussion. The mix of baroque counterpoint and Arabic maqam modes is surreal, to say the least.

The third segment, a setting of a love poem by Umm Al-Kiram has a gentle, lilting motion, tantalizing accents from the strings, an even more tantalizing Khoury solo and breathtaking contrast between her shivery lines and the crescendoing power of the singers. The bellicose finale begins with a mysterious pulse from the strings, the men of the choir anchoring the most rhythmically complex and harmonically enigmatic interlude here. This time it’s the kanun rippling through the mix which provides the extra bite.

The second suite is Abou-Afach‘s Of Nights and Solace, a collection of poems that begin at sunset and wind up at the break of dawn the following day. Soloist Dalal Abu Amneh‘s assertively articulated soprano blends within an increasingly complex contrapuntal web in the opening prelude, Moonrise.

She brings a visceral sense of longing to the second song, Greet These Faces, over a slinky, gorgeously bittersweet, glittering backdrop, the choir echoing and doubling the melody line: it’s the most hypnotic track here. As you would expect, Forsaken is more desolate, stark and ghostly, the choir using a vast sonic and dynamic range as they rise from basso profundo lows.

A lively but understated instrumental mix of flamenco and dervish dance sets up You Who Left and Passed, blending the playful and the plaintive, spaciousness giving way to robust density. The two groups pack a wild blend of ideas into the rousing, barely two-minute concluding sunrise tableau.

Abu Amneh and the takht ensemble wind up this late-2019 concert recording with When He Appeared, a brisk, stately, haunting song utilizing text by Muhammad Abd Al-Rahim Al-Maslub. It’s rare that music this cutting-edge is just as unselfconsciously beautiful.

Saluting a Brilliant, Individualistic Chicago Blues Guitar Legend

Today’s installment in the ongoing monthlong celebration of all things epic is a mammoth thirty-track career retrospective by one of the giants of Chicago blues guitar. Dave Specter is not as well known outside the Windy City as he deserves to be, but the mammoth double album Six String Soul: 30 Years on Delmark – streaming at Spotify – should go a long way to bring this eclectic, purist player to an audience beyond the diehard blues crowd.

This is a feel-good story: career sideman, revered by his peers, finally decides to front a band rather than just being the guy that everybody in town seems to turn to when they need a sizzling solo. But the side of Specter we most often get to see here is the erudite, purposeful player who’s more interested in telling a story and keeping the crowd at the edge of their seats. Beginning with his work in the early 90s, it’s fascinating to watch him expand his sound, from a terse, Larry Burton-esque mutability, through more intricate, jazz-inspired style and then a fiery return to his 80s roots. Specter is fluent in more styles than you can count, but he’s not a riffbag guy stealing other peoples’ licks: when there are multiple guitarists on a track, there’s no mistaking which one is Specter.

The album opens with an unexpectedly careening, briskly swinging 1991 tune with Specter and Ronnie Earl backing Barkin’ Bill Smith. The final cut is Specter’s simmering, gut-wrenching protest anthem The Ballad of George Floyd, which might be the single most powerful blues song released in the past year.

In between, we get a capsule history of a style of music which on one hand was concretized a long, long time ago, but which Chicago musicians keep reinventing in all kinds of interesting ways. There are plenty of live tracks here, which is where Specter is most in his element (and to his credit, his studio work here is a cut above so many of the great artists of the 90s whose albums were rush jobs helmed by hack engineers and producers).

There’s Sweet Serenity, a swinging soul-gospel number from 1995 with Tad Robinson on vocals. There’s This Time I’m Gone For Good, a slow-burning, anguished soul song with Otis Clay out front, Specter channeling a little Wes Montgomery and some ferocious Otis Rush chord-torturing. There’s Seventy-Four, a slow ballad with Specter swooping and diving around, taking two long solos and building to a fiery, circling coda behind singer Willie Kent.

Specter excels at instrumentals, and there are plenty here. The Stinger is one of the best, a latin funk mashup of Chris Thomas King and Otis Rush, if you can imagine all that. Wind Chill, with Dez Desormeaux on tenor sax, Ken Saydak on organ and Ronnie Earl on guitar is a minor-key gem, part late 60s South Side soul, part Wes Montgomery and part state-of-the-art for the 90s. Specter’s Walk is a brisk, bittersweet stroll; Riverside Ride offers a nod back at summery Steve Cropper Muscle Shoals soul, but with Chicago grit. There’s also a caffeinated, burning take of Magic Sam’s Riding High.

Taken from a live set with Floyd McDaniel, the version of St. Louis Blues here veers from a suspenseful mashup of Wes Montgomery and klezmer, veering back and forth to straight-up ba-bump drive. Specter throws a hilarious quote from Thelonious Monk in toward the end. There are more references to Otis Rush and also Elmore James in Specter’s chordal attack in Get Back Home.

Unleavened Soul ,with Brother Jack McDuff on organ, is a light-fingered bossa blues, again with hints of klezmer plus a low key soulful John Brumbach tenor sax. McDuff chooses his spots; trumpeter Rob Mazurek displays unusual restraint and modal intensity.

The tradeoff between solos from Lurrie Bell to Specter in Bell’s You’re Gonna Be Sorry is a clinic in tasteful playing. Backing Sharon Lewis’ vengeful vocals, Specter finds the least expected stepping-off point to drive In Too Deep to a bellicose peak.

By the time the story reaches the second disc, it’s 1998 and Specter is filling out the space behind crooner Larry Lynn with an unhurried upward trajectory toward a similarly smart Rob Waters organ solo. Right after that we’re treated to Texas Top, a casually paced, expertly assembled update on Booker T instrumental soul, Waters again reaffirming the high level of company Specter typically hangs with.

The most inspiring number on the second disc is March Through the Darkness. a heartwarming, Memphis-style soul anthem written in 2019 in protest of Trump-era divide-and-conquer, although it has even more relevance at at time when we’re we shaking off genuine totalitarianism. Considering how Specter has stepped out as a frontman, as he celebrates in The Blues Ain’t Nothing with Jorma Kaukonen. this is a great gateway to the rest of Specter’s discography and reason to look forward to whatever he comes up with next.

Vivid, Lush, Cinematic Big Band Jazz From Lawrence Sieberth

Pianist Lawrence Sieberth‘s big band album Musique Visuelle – which hasn’t hit the web yet – is aptly titled. There’s a cinematic sweep and an abundance of vivid narrative in his majestic compositions and arrangements. Sieberth likes to take brightly expressive neoromantic themes to unexpected places, has a refised sense of texture and doesn’t shy away from darkness. He recorded the basic tracks in New York with a couple of trios which include bassists Yasushi Nakamura and Ricky Rodriguez, and drummers Jamison Ross and Henry Cole. The symphonic orchestral arrangements were recorded in New Orleans. Much of the album is just piano and orchestra, or the orchestra themselves; when all the musicians are in the mix, the interweave is seamless.

The album’s first number, Sus OAjos Espanoles is a fond ballad that soars on the wings of the strings, Sieberth’s piano coalescing out of starry runs to a tersely chromatic, flamenco-inflected waltz. The brass rises, then recedes for a minimalist, suspenseful piano solo. When the whole orchestra bursts in, the effect is breathtaking. Ernesto Lecuona is a reference point.

The second track is titled Twitter. Is this a snarky commentary on social media? Maybe. Sudden, suspiciously dramatic flares and droll, unfinished piano phrases alternate over rhythms that begin as oldschool 70s disco and shift to a jaunty, brassy, New Orleans-flavored shuffle.

Thorns & Roses is brooding and gorgeous: a bracing, neoromantic orchestral theme gives way to a spare, moody solo piano interlude, the strings adding haunted lustre. Percussionists Danny Sadownic and Pedro Segundo team up to open El Gringo de Fuego, which comes across as a mashup of Balkan brass music and an oldschool charanga, Sieberth building bluesy sagacity into his rhythmic, strutting lines. A tasty. gusty, brass-fueled arrangement fuels the flames on the way out.

Communion, an imperturbable, folksy gospel stroll, has gorgeously accordionsque, reedy textures as the orchestra bounces and sways along. Sieberth opens Threads of the Weaver solo with a baroque solemnity, then Erik Gratton’s flute and the rest of the orchestra come sweeping in. But this concerto for piano and strings follows a considerably darker, more complex thread as it winds out.

Titus Underwood’s oboe floats amiably over the orchestra as Suenos de Amor gets underway, rising to a lush, purposefully syncopated pulse, Sieberth choosing his spots in a spare solo. Once again, the ambiguity and complexity return to destabilize any potential drift into predictable comfort.

Sieberth reaches for Ellingtonian gravitas as Blue gets underway, the subtle counterrythms of the strings fueling a distant unease, the brass capping off a long, elegaic crescendo that the composer eventually brings full circle. The somber mood lifts in Brazilia, but not necessarily the suspense, in this balmy, catchy orchestral samba. McCoy Tyner’s Fly With the Wind comes to mind.

Waltz for the Forgotten begins with a wistful oboe solo over the strings and grows more nocturnal as it moves along: it has the feel of a closing credits theme. Cat & Mouse gives the ensemble a chance to have fun with wry cartoonish flourishes, but those quickly give way to an understatedly disquieted, syncopated sway. They take it out on a jaunty note.

The closing number is Paysage Africain, a briskly pulsing, gusty number spiced with trumpet and vibraphone. The modally tinged oboe solo on the way out is tantalizingly brief. What a gorgeous record, one of the most memorable releases of the past few months.

An Epic, Historically-Inspired Collection of Rarities For One of the World’s Most Soulful Instruments

What better to brighten a dreary January in apartheid-era New York than an epic album dedicated to little-known material for the vastly underrated bassoon? Laurence Perkins knows as well as anyone else who plays a low-register instrument that his axe of choice is just as well suited to somber depths as it is to buffoonery. There’s some of both and a lot in between on his fascinating latest album Voyage of a Sea-God, which isn’t online yet It’s a dynamically vast collaboration with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Carducci String Quartet, among others. Just as ambitiously, Perkins has assembled the program as a musical capsule history of the 20th century.

He takes the album title from a Mozart bio which likened the instrument to a mythical triton blowing a conch shell. He teams up with pianist Michael Hancock to open the record with the moodily expressive flamenco echoes of a real rarity, British Romantic composer Richard Henry Walthew’s Introduction and Allegro,

His fellow bassoonists Amy Thompson, Matthew Kitteringham and Catriona McDermid join him for another rarity, Prokofiev’s blithely strolling miniature Scherzo Humoristique: cartoonish as this is, the textures of the more resonant moments are luscious. A little later, they negotiate William Schumann’s colorful Quartettino for Four Bassoons, from an initial dervish dance, to nocturnal solemnity, a playfully fleeting waltz and a fugue.

One of the better-known pieces here is Saint-Saens’ Bassoon Sonata, with Hancock rising from a chiming triumph to more torrential heights as Perkins stays in wistful mode in the first movement. The second gives Perkins a challenging, slithery workout as well as moments of poignancy over a coy operatic bounce. Yet the baroque-flavored third movement is where Perkins squeezes out the most subtlety and pathos.

Thompson and McDermid return for two segments of Granville Bantock’s Incidental Music for Macbeth, the first a bagpipe-like Scottish air, the second a cheerily strutting “witches dance” for the full bassoon quartet. The string quartet, bolstered by bassist Michael Escreet, violist Susie Meszaros and harpist Eira Lynn Jones join Perkins for an expressively reflective, dynamic performance of Arnold Bax’s Threnody and Scherzo, shifting from a striking sense of longing to more puckish, Gershwinesque terrain, then bouncing and blipping between the baroque and, eventually, a more darkly acerbic chase scene.

This is a long album: there are many more treats here!

Hindemith’s Bassoon Sonata is more tuneful than most of his repertoire, veering in and out of rainy-day focus against Hancock’s steadily waltzing backdrop, then unexpected glitter, goofiness and pastoral touches. Henri Dutilleux’s Sarabande and Cortege for piano and bassoon have a bracing, chromatically-fueled bite matched by moments of creepy phantasmagoria with some devious quotes from more famous works.

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Concertino For Bassoon and String Orchestra, William Goodchild conducting the ensemble, begins with some jarring contrasts between vigorous lushness and Perkins’ introspectively wandering lines, then a more seamless counterpoint ensues. Serioso strings anchor Perkins’ moody march in the second movement; the similarly disquieted third features one of Perkins’ most incisive solos here.

Perkins premiered Alan Ridout’s two Shakespearean character studies for solo bassoon, Caliban and Ariel, in 1974. The former has a gnomic creepiness; the latter is spacious and airy yet far from carefree. The highlight of Andrzej Panufnik’s haunting Concerto for Bassoon and Small Orchestra – inspired by the murder of Polish dissident priest Jerzy Popieluszko – is a long, sparse, woundedly resonant Perkins solo in the second movement. From there, stabbing string motives alternate with methodical bassoon lines, then give way to vast Shostakovian desolation, distantly hopeful austerity, and Gorecki-esque prayerfulness. What a profound piece of music for an era where big pharma whistleblowers are being assassinated.

The last of the piano-and-bassoon pieces is Richard Rodney Bennett’s Bassoon Sonata, the most modernist but also strangely compelling piece on the program, with a persistently restless, sometimes furtive feel. The final track is David Bedford’s Dream of Stac Pollaidh, a Scottish mountainscape which Perkins plays solo with matter-of-factly cadenced, syncopated steps toward the summit.

Wait, there’s more: an enigmatically marching miniature by Herbert Howells. The amount of creativity and singleminded dedication that went into this record is awe-inspiring.

An Epically Genre-Smashing, Deliciously Unpredictable Album From Charlotte Greve

Over the years there have been a ton of jazz records made with a string section, or even an orchestra. But jazz with a choir? Has anyone ever made a jazz album with a choir? Saxophonist/singer Charlotte Greve has. Her latest release Sediments We Move – where she bolsters her quartet of guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, bassist Simon Jermyn and drummer Jim Black with adventurous, endlessly shapeshifting choir Cantus Domus – is streaming at Bandcamp.

This seven-part suite is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes Caroline Shaw‘s new classical work comes to mind when the phrasing gets particularly cellular. Some of the most rhythmically straightforward interludes evoke bands like Wye Oak and My Brightest Diamond, when they straddle the line between artsy indie rock and modern classical music. There’s so much going on in this catchy but endlessly permutating album that what you see here is just the highlights. Conductor Ralf Sochaczewsky does Herculean work keeping the choir on the rails through Greve’s endlessly kaleidoscopic twists and turns.

The first interlude begins with a series of airy loops intertwining at glacial tempos. A delicate guitar figure enters and enlaces the choir’s stately vocals . Bass and drums become more prominent as the choir’s highs and lows coalesce into a quasi-canon. Greve moves to the mic with a stately, gracefully leaping melody over terse, steadily rhythmic bass and guitar, the men of the choir answering. The rainy-day feel warms as Black picks up the energy again. That’s just the first eight minutes of the record.

The second segment has a determined, emphatic sway, Greve’s unaffected, clear voice giving way to uneasy close harmonies from the choir and a simmering distorted guitar solo. From there she takes a carefree sax solo over subtly contrapuntal, looped choral parts, Matsuno finally kicking in toward the end.

A dancing bassline and incisive guitar lead to an unselfconsciously joyous crescendo of voices, then the sound grows more stark as the voices back brief sax and bass solos. Press repeat for extra joy…and whisper en masse when it’s almost over.

The deep-space interlude midway through comes as a complete shock, first with starry guitar, then pensive sax and ambience disappearing into the ether, followed by agitation and roar. Greve’s sax pulls the melody together tersely over Black’s steady tumbles before the nebula sonics return.

Part four opens with a couple of slow, lingering choral themes. There’s extra reverb on Greve’s judicious sax spirals and warmly conversational counterpoint from there, winding down to the most minimalist point here. But Black gets restless…he doesn’t want to let the pull of deep space get the best of everybody a second time around.

Guitar jangle and clang careens over calm resonance as the fifth segment kicks in and motors along: the point where the choir pick on the punk rhythm is irresistibly funny. Likewise, this is probably the first album to feature a sputtering bass solo backed by a towering choir in insistent 4/4 time. Scrambling guitar over an enveloping atmosphere evaporates for a funkier sway, the choir at the center.

Calmly and hypnotically, band and ensemble segue into the concluding portion, the bandleader’s sailing solo introducing a funky/stately dichotomy and hints of circling Afrobeat. Greve’s sax leads a reprise of the lush opening interweave. After a couple of triumphant, well-deserved crescendos, the choir take over with a carefree but unwavering rhythm. At this point, there’s no sense in giving away the ending: it’s not what anyone would expect. Maybe, ultimately, it’s not even an ending.

A Relentlessly Dark, Chilly Soundtrack For a Relentlessly Dark, Chilly Time

Joseph Trapanese‘s epic soundtrack to season two of The Witcher – streaming at Spotify – is a feast for fans of unrelenting, dark music. And yet, throughout the album’s thirty-two tracks, Trapanese works a vast dynamic range, from a whisper to a roar. Plenty of familiar tropes take centerstage: gloomy minor-key vamps, shivery violins, ominously drifting low-register ambience, and the occasional stormy orchestral interlude or horror-stricken swell. There are plenty of less expected sounds as well: gamelanesque belltones, guttural monstrous allusions and rhythms that run the gamut from motorik to Frankensteinian.

Sudden bursts of sound pounce in from the shadows at the edge of a vast desolation. There’s a long sequence that starts out as a surreal, echoey, solitary nocturnal trip on a subway of the mind and grows to a frantic, thundering chase scene. Down-the-drainpipe industrial ambience gives way to stalker footfalls. A funereal Balkan-tinged tableau recedes into the mist and then makes an unexpected return. An oboe sails mournfully above the waves.

Joey Batey, who plays the role of Jaskier in the series, takes the mic for three songs. Burn Butcher Burn is a soaringly vengeful, Elizabethan folk-tinged art-rock ballad. Whoreson Prison Blues is a funny proto-bluegrass tune; there’s another number that seems to be a spoof of mythological faux-Celtic pop.

Etsuko Hirose Plays Thoughtful, Impressionistic Pancho Vladigerov Suites

If Pancho Vladigerov’s music is becoming a meme, so much the better. And if the recent release of two versions of his Impressions suite is only a coincidence, it’s a case of great minds thinking alike. Nadejda Vlaeva’s recording, reviewed here last month, reveled in the composer’s protean individualism, morphing from the High Romantic to the Balkans and portents of where artists like Chano Dominguez would take flamenco jazz. Etsuko Hirose‘s recording – streaming at Spotify – has somewhat more restraint, the advantage being that she focuses on different subtleties in the composer’s portrait of a love affair.

The unhurried initial movement, if anything, is more circumspect than Vlaeva’s version. Likewise, Hirose’s take of the Embrace is a little more spacious but also reaches a triumphant plateau pretty early on and hangs there. The Waltz-Capriccio has more of a contrast between romping joy and reflective glitter, although Hirose also downplays the uneasy Saint-Saens-esque vampiness.

The Caress is very much that, while Elegance is matter-of-factly expressive High Romantic joy. Hirose holds back from dramatic overstatement in Confession, although she lets the jaunty ragtime loose in Laughter.

Ripe little crescendoing waves permeate Hirose’s interpretation of Passion: it’s a rewarding ride. The same for the pervasive darkness in Surprise, even when the rhythm picks up – Hirose draws a straight line back to nocturnal Janacek wanderings. The finale, Resignation has both muted distress and towering angst: what a story Hirose has to tell.

Vladigerov’s Suite Bulgare, Op.21 and the Prélude, Op.15. get a similarly insightful treatment here. The suite’s regally marching, colorfully ornamented, increasingly Middle Eastern-tinged first movement gives way to enticingly allusive, quintessentially Bulgarian tonalities in the misterioso second, Hirose opting to let it trail out with a ghostly menace.

The chromatically gleaming dance that follows seems on the muted side as well, until she launches into a stilleto attack to set up the cheerier if labyrinthine Ratschenitza coda. With the concluding prelude, Hirose reverts to a glistening, expressive Romanticism, arguably a more chromatic take on Rachmaninoff: her execution of those ratcheting climbs is breathtaking. This is a feast for fans of music from the Balkans as well as more harmonically predictable points further west.

Revisiting a Rare Surrealist Relic

One of the most bizarrely entertaining, inimitable largescale ensemble albums to come over the transom here in the past several months is the live recording of Harry Partch‘s “ballet satire” The Bewitched, streaming at Spotify. Recorded by a sixteen-piece group in concert in Berlin in 1980, it’s a dadaesque, often cartoonish suite written as a spoof of musical and societal pretensions. Partch was the quintessential outsider and took great satisfaction in deflating any bloated ego within earshot.

The twenty-minute prologue sets the stage, a defiantly swaying, percussion-heavy, quasi-gamelanesque theme featuring several of Partch’s inventions including the “marimba eroica” and “cloud chamber bowls” along with swooping winds and strings. If Spike Jones did a joint parody of Robert Ashley and Juan Esquivel, it might sound like this. With its persistent clickety-clack phrasing, some might say that you have to be stoned to appreciate this kind of beatnik excess.

Isabella Tercero plays the Witch as an operatic diva, sent to thumb her nose at a long list of hypocrites and other targets of derision, some more obvious than others. She doesn’t get much time singing out in front of the band. The first scene concerns the Transfiguration of American Undergrads in a Hong Kong Music Hall via anvil rhythms, warpy kithara and koto, and ersatz Asian tonalities.

Beyond the titles of the successive variations, it’s often not clear exactly what Partch is critiquing. The Permutation of Exercises in Harmony and Counterpoint turns out to be a comfortable baroque-tinged theme and what sounds like vocal warmups within an increasingly noisy environment. Faux Middle Eastern allusions come to the forefront early on, especially in The Inspired Romancing of a Pathological Liar.

What is The Alchemy of a Soul Tormented by Contemporary Music? Not a happy place to be. It’s easy to imagine a young Terry Riley hearing Partch’s Visions of a Defeated Basketball Team in the Shower Room and having a eureka moment.

The Euphoria on a Sausalito Stairway could be a subtle sendup of suspense film cliches. There is suspense, along with moments of phony jazz, in The Transmutation of Detectives on the Trail of a Culprit.

The haziest interlude is where Partch has a court address its own contempt. From there, a Political Soul wanders Lost Among the Voteless Women of Paradise. Then the ensemble get to pounce and clatter their way through the groupthink of the Demonic Descent of the Cognoscenti While Shouting Over Cocktails. The coda is wry and caricaturesque.

Maybe this is too much to ask for, but the suite also has a visual component involving audience participation and a basketball drill: a DVD might offer additional insight into what Partch is up to here.

Rare Unreleased Psychedelic Funk and Jamband Sounds From a New York Gone Forever

It’s a sweltering night on New York’s Lower East Side in June of 1987: summer has gotten off to a scorching start. Inside CBGB, there’s a good crowd, and they’re in a dancing mood. High on the stage, drummer Bobby Previte lays down a colorful clave. Elliott Sharp and Dave Tronzo play skronky, smoky guitar funk. Bassist Dave Hofstra is too low in the mix, and bandleader Wayne Horvitz adds layers of woozy keyboard textures. It’s the missing link between Defunkt’s jagged dancefloor attack and sprawling mid-70s Can. About four and a half minutes in, the song ends cold.

That’s the opening number, This New Generation, on Horvitz’s fifteen-track initial release in a series of archival recordings, Live Forever Volume 1, The President NY Live in the 80s, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a party in a box. From the perspective of the Orwellian nightmare that 2022 has been so far in this city, what an incredible time and place that was. The door guy at CB’s never bothered to ask customers to show ID, never mind a vaxxport or a muzzle. And if vaxxports had existed in 1987, the crowd would have laughed him off and bumrushed the stage. For the young people of the Reagan era, everybody’s bullshit detector for authoritarianism was set to stun. How far we’ve fallen since then.

The rest of the album is a period piece. In his extensive liner notes, Horvitz avers to how messy and uneven some of it is, but there’s no question this band could jam their asses off. There are also a handful of rare studio recordings as well as a quartet of songs from the earliest incarnation of this snarkily named ensemble, The President of the United States of America, from a CB’s show five years earlier.

The next song is Bring Yr Camera. Tronzo slips and dives and tenor saxoponist Doug Wieselman soars over a gritty groove that could be a 1960s incarnation of the Crusaders. After that, These Hard Times foreshadows what Susie Ibarra would do with Filipino kulintang music, albeit with a harder edge.

There are two versions of Andre’s Mood here. The first is from that 1987 set, a tumbling, blippy, downtown New York take on what the Talking Heads were doing with Burning Down the House. The second is a more skittish, Afrobeat-flavored studio recording with Horvitz’s organ further to the front.

Likewise, there are two takes of Three Crows, a swaying, midtempo funk tune. The live version has a reggae bassline from Hofstra and a snazzy handoff from Wieselman to a jagged Sharp solo; the studio take is a little faster. The final song from the live set is Ride the Wide Streets, which veers further toward frantic punk-funk.

The rest of the studio material here is on the techy side, focusing on Horvitz’s incisively layered, punchy keyboard riffs. There’s Serious, which prefigures that expansive Afrobeat jams of bands like the Brighton Beat, and Science Diet (a reference to cat food), which is short and snarling.

The 1982 CBGB tracks are the most expansive and jam-oriented here. Despite a completely different lineup – Stew Cutler on guitar, Joe Gallant on bass and Dave Sewelson on alto sax – they’re testament to the consistency of Horvitz’s vision. The appropriately titled On and On is basically a reggae tune with a couple of big screaming peaks. Horvitz dedicates the more Booker T-flavored Flat on Yr Back to the sound guy – hmmmm!

Kevin Cosgrove is the guitarist on the two earliest live numbers. Of Thee I Sing is the most haphazard one here – hearing Sewelson’s sax through the board with all that reverb on it is a trip, as are Horvitz’s synth settings. The final number, Boy, is a surreal mashup of New Orleans second-line groove and abrasive no wave. All this is reason to look forward to what else Horvitz has lying around for the next installment.