New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: avant garde music

Vivid, Poignant Rarities and Popular Favorites From Violist Dana Zemtsov and Pianist Anna Fedorova

Violist Dana Zemtsov and pianist Anna Fedorova each grew up as first-generation immigrants in France, so their album Silhouettes – streaming at Spotify – reflects a lot of personal influences and experiences. Their shared affinity for the material here, interpolating short pieces by Debussy among an eclectic mix of more expansive duo works, translates viscerally to the listener.

They risk making the rest of the record anticlimactic with their opening number, Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata. In 1919, the pioneering orchestral violist and composer submitted it to a composition contest, pseudonymously, under a man’s name. She finished second (to a similarly brilliant piece by Ernest Bloch) and earned a lot of press when her identity was revealed. It would become her most successful work in a vastly underrated career.

The duo launch into it with an opulent fierceness that rises and falls, with echoes of of early Bartok and Ravel: their spacious, comfortably starry approach to the first movement’s conclusion is a quietly mighty payoff. They bring a conspiratorial, marionettesque energy to the second movement. Zemtsov’s poignant resonance over Fedorova’s starry glimmer and whisper is just as impactful in the final one.

Dutch composer Arne Werkman’s 2007 Suite for viola and piano has some jaunty boogie-woogie cached in the acidically dancing lines of the opening movement, an occasionally creepy, carnivalesque sensibliity that the duo seize on in the second, and allusions to a moody bolero in the third. They bring the phantasmagoria to its logical conclusion in the Paganini-inspired coda.

Darius Milhaud’s Viola Sonata No. 1 begins with an uneasy stroll and cleverly intertwined counterpoint, Zemtsov and Fedorova reveling in the coy leaps and bounds of the second. The wistfully Romantic waltz of a third movement comes as a surprise, leaving the two musicians to tie things up with a ragtime-inflected wink and a grin in the finale.

A pensive ballad without words contrasts with bracing, Romany-inflected flair and nocturnal suspense throughout the swells and ebbs of George Enescu’s Concert Piece for Viola and Piano. The Debussy pieces begin with La plus que lente, a steady, rather tongue-in-cheek, cynically brooding take on early 20th century slow waltz cliches. The version of Clair de Lune here is rather muted and on the slow side: this nightscape has plenty of clouds. The final piece is the brief, lyrical student work Beau Soir.

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti Playfully and Imaginatively Expands the Viola Repertoire

As a violist, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti is keenly aware of the scarcity of repertoire for her instrument beyond orchestral and string quartet music. So she decided to do something about it with her debut full-length album, In Manus Tuas, streaming at Bandcamp. She takes the title from the centerpiece, a Caroline Shaw composition originally written for violin. Lanzilotti came up with a new arrangement for that one, along with a tantalizing handful of other recent works originally scored for either violin or cello in addition to a world premiere of her own. There are many different flavors on this beguiling and often deviously funny album: Lanzilotti chose her source material well.

She joins forces with pianist Karl Larson for the first of two Andrew Norman works, the five-part suite Sonnets. The fleeting introduction pairs eerie, close-harmonied, Mompou-esque belltones with droning minimalism and a surprise ending. The even more abbreviated To Be So Tickled is exactly that: a coy romp. Part three, My Tongue-Tied Muse is just as vivid, if very quiet and spacious. The two return to wryly romping humor with So Far From Variation and conclude with Confounded to Decay, Lanzilotti’s hazily straining harmonics contrasting with Larson’s moody, judicious phrasing.

Shaw’s piece is a solo work that comes across as a salute to Bach interspersed with gritty harmonics and dynamically shifting pizzicato: the cello-like low midrange is striking. Lanzilotti plays her own composition, Gray, with percussionist Sarah Mullins, who gets to deliver a very amusing intro and foggy drumhead work before Lanzilotti’s muted microtones and overtones enter the picture: they’re Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund up too early with a hangover.

The second Norman work, Sabina, is a quasi-raga punctuated by all sorts of carefully modulated harmonics. Lanzilotti concludes the album with the dissociative harmonies of Anna Thorvaldsdotttir’s uncharacteristically animated, sometimes drifting, grittily oscillating Transitions, originally a work for solo cello.

A New Retrospective Album of Energetic, Irrepressibly Entertaining Dorothy Hindman Works

This blog has always gravitated toward music that reflects the world around us. Even so, over the past nine years, there has never been such a relentless barrage of persistently troubled and often tortured sounds as the year of the lockdown has given us. Today is a welcome break from that. Dorothy Hindman is all about fun, whether in your face or in the distance. She writes meticulously intertwining, generally optimistic, energetic music: she’s a one-woman cloudbreak. She tends to favor wind instruments, percussion, and dancing upper-register melodies, although what she writes in the lows is just as catchy. Her music has a carnivalesque side, but it’s playful rather than macabre. It’s hard to pin down her influences: there’s nobody who sounds remotely like her. Her new album Blow By Blow, featuring a multitude of inspired small groups and a couple of larger ones, is streaming at Spotify.

The Frost Flute Ensemble romp with a meticulous staccato through the first piece, Mechanisms, a clever series of variations on an incisive, pointillistic theme: is this about how much fun we can have with machines, or a cautionary tale about how they tend to take over our lives if we’re not careful?

Baritone saxophonist Frank Capoferri and pianist Lauralie Pow even more irresistible fun trading off catchy bass riffs in Big Fun, Pow both outside and under the piano lid, evoking Paula Henderson and Gina Rodriguez’s legendary New York dance-punk band Moisturizer.

The Splinter Reeds quintet premiere Hindman’s diptych Contents Under Pressure, its cheery, clustering riffs set to tricky staccato syncopation. Flutist Donald Ashworth plays Trembling, an etude with carefree motives and birdsong allusions punctuated by fleeting moments of daunting extended technique.

Drift, performed by the Atlas Saxophone Quartet has the same leaping, balletesque, staccato quality as the album’s opening number, with some richly suspenseful, Bernard Herrmann-esque harmonies and contrasting with tongue-in-cheek goofiness. Lori Ardovino plays Soliloquy for Clarinet, nimbly negotiating its enigmatic allusions to Messiaen, spacious cascades and shivery duotones.

Soprano saxophonist Carey Valente Kisselburg and pianist John Elmquist prance through Lost in Translation, whose title could be a sardonic reference to its variations on lively Indian-tinged themes. The Frost Saxophone Quartet follow with Cascade, a deviously expectant study in contrasts and suspense with a little Gershwinesque pageantry thrown in.

Untitled 1, performed by the Switch Ensemble, comes as a shock, vast Anna Thorvaldsdottir-like waves punctuated by spare piano, winds, washes of percussion and troubled, hovering motives. It’s uncharacteristically dark, yet it may be the strongest piece here.

The Georgia State University Percussion Ensemble tackle the marimba piece Multiverses, addressing the idea of infinite possibilities through intricate, dynamically shifting echo effects: it’s an upbeat, reverse image of Satie’s Vexations. Tapping the Furnace, a rather suspenseful solo drum-and-vocal piece performed by that group’s director Stuart Gerber, recalls the dangerous and often deadly blast furnaces of the 20th century steel industry in Birmingham, Alabama.

Marimba player Scott Deal’s solo take of Beyond the Cloud of Unknowing is similar but more spacious and enigmatic. The Frost Symphonic Winds conclude the album with Fission, Zarathustra throwing a benefit for Mr. Kite, bursting with lively circling horns over hazy atmospherics.

Gamin Creates a Wild New Universe Blending Korean and Western Sounds

Gamin Kang, who performs under her first name, is a master of Korean wind instruments including the piri flute, sheng-like saenghwang and taepyoungso oboe. She’s made a career out of cross-pollinating with magical, otherworldly, centuries-old Korean folk themes. Her latest album Nong – Korean for “jam,” more or less – includes several collaborations with western ensembles and composers, a bracing and often entrancing series of mashups that hasn’t hit the web yet. Her music is unlike anything else in the world – and she hopes this will springboard more collaborations like it.

The album’s opening piece, Mudang – meaning “shaman” – by Theodore Wiprud is an alternately playful and sternly emphatic piece for quavery piri and string quartet. The ensemble Ethel aptly emulate the low rhythmic insistence of the traditional janggu drum and then flutter and flicker, echoing the soloist’s reedy blue notes throughout this strangely resolute mashup of traditional Korean themes and 21st century western string quartet idioms.

On the Courtship Displays of Birds-of-Paradise, a triptych by Anna Pidgorna begins with The Black Sicklebill, its contrasting textures, cascading chords and suspenseful ambience from the reeds of Michael Bridge‘s accordion and the saengwhang, along with ominous knock-knock effects. In part two, Parotia, it’s even less clear where the keening tones of the saengwhang and accordion diverge, at least until jaunty staccato chords and droll birdsong accents kick in. The Princess Marcia (an imaginary species invented by the composer) turns out to be both shy and ostentatious, with a coy sense of humor.

Violinist Omar Chen Guey and cellist Rafi Popper-Keizer join the bandleader for William David Cooper‘s Two Pieces for Piri and Strings. The strings mimic both the quavery intensity as well as the ghostly haze of the piri in the first part; the variations afterward alternate between anxious leaps and bounds, plucky accents, plaintive resonance and then a stark dance. It’s arguably the album’s most striking interlude.

Eun Young Lee‘s Bagooni – Korean for “basket” – features both the piri and saenghwang along with the string duo in a starkly glissandoing, insistently shamanic but playfully contrapuntal and expertly interwoven tableau. Longtime downtown New York jazz artists Ned Rothenberg and Satoshi Takeishi join the leader, who plays both piri and taepyungso in the album’s concluding, blues-based improvisation. The contrast and tension between the Korean reeds and Rothenberg’s bass clarinet and sax over Takeishi’s hypnotically undulating, folk-influenced percussion is bracing but also conversational, through Rothenberg’s keening duotones, a spine-tingling taepyungso solo and a blazing, syncopated coda. In a year where music was sadistically and abruptly put on pause (or potentially on “stop”) by the lockdowners, this wondrously intense album testifies to what can be accomplished when artists are unmuzzled and free to associate..

A Chilly Album of Solo Atmospherics For Our Time From Violinist Sarah Bernstein

Violinist Sarah Bernstein has written everything from microtonal jazz to string quartets to jazz poetry. As many artists have done this year, she’s released a solo album, Exolinger, streaming at Bandcamp. As you would expect, it’s her most minimalist yet, a chilly series of reverb-drenched instrumental and vocal soundscapes that directly and more opaquely reflect the alienation and inhumanity we’ve all suffered under the lockdown – outside of Sweden, or Nicaragua, or South Dakota, anyway.

The album’s first track, Carry This is a series of loopy car horn-like phrases that get pushed out of the picture by noisy fragments pulsing through the sonic picture, the reverb on Bernstein’s violin up so high that it isn’t immediately obvious she’s plucking the strings. It could be a song by Siouxsie & the Banshees spinoff the Creatures.

The second track, Ratiocinations is an increasingly assaultive series of variations on echo effects using a variety of chilly reverb timbres. The third piece, Tree, is definitely one for our time:

Crisis of mixed proportions
Manageable in ways
Mitigated, maximized, handled, contained
Sitting outside the birds have sirens
Fresh city air
The tree has been here awhile,
Has always been here
Before 1984, before 2020

Does Ghosts Become Crowds refer to a return toward normalcy…or a parade of the dead? The mechanical strobe of the grey noise behind Bernstein’s spare vocalese seems to indicate the latter.

The Plot works on multiple levels. On the surface, it’s a lengthy, shivery, blustery commentary – and demonstration – of the music inherent in language, and vice versa. In this case, apocalyptic industrial chaos trumps pretty much everything.

Through Havoc is a series of echoey, crunchy, noisy loops. “How strong is your will? Do you last a few hours?” Bernstein asks in We Coast, a moody study in resonance versus rhythm. She closes the album with its one moment of levity, Whirling Statue, which opens with what sounds like a talkbox.

Given Unlimited Time, Catherine Christer Hennix and Hans Isgren Wrapped It Up in Under an Hour

What if the time available to musicians was unlimited? Not only in terms of how long a venue might be open, or willing to put up with musical self-indulgence, but in terms of eternity? What would music sound like if a beat didn’t have to land, or a there was no limit to how long a tone could resonate…or if the guy behind the sound board was never going to pass out no matter how long the show went on?  That’s what Karlheinz Stockhausen sought to explore with Unbegrenzt, his 1968 score that relies on poetic cues rather than notation.

Fifty years after he proposed it, the idea is just as radical, realized even more radically by percussion duo Catherine Christer Hennix and Hans Isgren in 1974. What’s just as extraordinary as their performance – a cleverly terse, generally calm, metallic experience – is that they had the presence of mind to record it. And that there would be an organization as far-reaching as Blank Forms to track down the original analog recording, and digitize it, and release it this year. That kind of dedication transcends accolades. You can hear the whole sometimes ghostly, fitfully turbulent 52-minute concert as a single track at Bandcamp.

Ironically, Hennix came out of a jazz background: a teenage phenom in her native Stockholm, she’d drummed with some pretty big names before she turned twenty. By contrast to the animated rhythms of postbop jazz, this is vast, magically immersive music.

Computer-generated bubbles filter in and out of the mix as Isgren weaves reverberating quilts of sound while Hennix colors the space with steady, sharply echoey temple block riffs that echo through the electronics, sometimes seemingly despite them. The recitations from a Buddhist text are mercifully spare, leaving plenty of room – that was the point, right? – for Hennix’s electric stalactite drips and allusions to craggy drama mingled within Isgren’s creepy metallic ambience.

Listen closely and you’ll hear points where a seemingly organic thicket of mutedly echoing hits recedes for more mechanical atmosphere, then the humans quietly and defiantly regain control, and gently push into deep space. Much as machines can be useful, ultimately it’s up to us to claim our territory, not the other way around. A delightfully enveloping yet equally chilling sonic metaphor for these times.

Deathprod’s Latest Album: Dark Anti-Fascist Ambience

As Deathprod, keyboardist and electronic musician Helge Sten has built an eclectic, often haunting and provocative body of work over the past quarter century or or so. His latest album, Occulting Disk – streaming at Bandcamp – came out late last year and is his first release since the mid-zeros. It’s described as an “anti-fascist ritual.”

Considering how many we’ve had in the streets this year, we could always use another one. This is a long album: several of the tracks are in the eight minute range or more. How ritualistic is this music? Much of it is a series of loops and variations. Is there discernible anti-fascist content? It’s icy, dystopic and mechanical, which could be construed as a cautionary tale.

This is the kind of album that’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole, rather than a series of distinct parts. It begins with a series of fuzzy loops of bass synth with a little space in between. Sten follows with the eight-part suite Occultation, which begins with shifting, atonal, eerily overtone-laden cloudbanks matched by a series of slow sirening effects. Sound familiar?

Buzzsaw oscillations subtly and glacially drift from the center. Sirens return at higher frequencies along with what sounds like the hum of a blown speaker that can’t be shut off. Dopplers and echoes mingle on a highway, though a very foggy window. Gritty, sustained bits and pieces of chords begin to emerge. An electric lawn mower struggles against something in the grass. Whale song in deep space, echo echo echo echo.

The suite is interrupted by the much louder, relentlessly bleak, practically thirteen-minute soundscape Black Transit of Jupiter’s Third Satellite. The conclusion is where the ritual starts to make sense: imagine Bill Gates, Tony Fauci and Andrew Cuomo adrift in a little boat, bound and gagged, on the Hudson river on a freezing cold January night. There’s historical precedent for that.

Haunting New Sounds From an American Transcendentalist and a Mumbai-Born Jazz Chanteuse

You probably wouldn’t think that one of the world’s most unpredictable pianists would be the first choice for a lot of singers. Au contraire – Ran Blake loves playing with singers and has made many albums with them. Blake personifies the film noir esthetic. His most noir-centric album in this century with a vocalist remains the 2012 cult classic Camera Obscura record with Sara Serpa. He’s also done spine-tingling work with Dominique Eade. And he’s worked with Christine Correa before: their new duo album, When Soft Rains Fall – streaming at Spotify – really brings out the best in both artists , a high point in their long-running collaboration.

It’s amazing how they completely reinvent a bunch of old standards: the two improvise at such a high level that everything on the record might as well be called an original. Correa’s bittersweet, weathered approach to I’m a Fool to Want You, the album’s opening track, is a perfect foil for Blake’s sudden yet sagacious shifts from minimalist blues, to furtive Messiaenesque ice, to his own saturnine gleam.

The two open For Heaven’s Sake as anything but a love song, but they warm it up quickly, even if Blake remains more gremlin than imp. Correa narrates The Day Lady Died as Blake takes this grimly imagistic 1959 Manhattan tableau into a cold, revealing Weegee light with shadows just outside.

The two reverse roles in You’ve Changed, Blake’s steadiness in contrast to Correa’s stricken vulnerability. She matches the shift between Blake’s insistent chimes and muted murk im You Don’t Know What Love Is, then the duo bring an apt phantasmagoria to The End of a Love Affair: breakups are the creepiest thing in the world!

They remake For All We Know with circling, Saties-esque menace: tomorrow truly may never come for all we know. Blake is unsurpassed at lowlit, close-harmonied miniatures, Big Stuff being the latest in a long series.

The bitter quasi-Rachmaninoff chords that open Get Along Without You Very Well – the key to the album – speak volumes, as does Correa’s cynical delivery. Blake plays a clinic in implied melody in Violets For Your Furs – he really makes you think you’re hearing a bluesy ballad – then goes under the lid, literally, behind Correa’s haggard angst in Lady Sings the Blues.

Blake’s insistence contrasts with Correa’s guarded hope against hope in But Beautiful, a dynamic they revisit to an extent in Glad to Be Unhappy, although she’s more vividly cynical in the latter.

Their take of I’ll Be Around – not the Howlin’ Wolf classic – is the album’s most spaciously brief number. They close it with It’s Easy to Remember, where Correa takes centerstage with an a-cappella intro. After all these years, Blake remains best known for his shattering, classic collaboration with the late, great Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around, but he hasn’t stopped finding newer ones. And there’s more where this came from, including a collaboration with another darkly cinematic pianist, Frank Carlberg.

A Chilling Live Recording of a Poignantly Resonant Michael Hersch Suite

With recording studios officially off limits to large ensembles, and musicians for all intents and purposes unable to earn a living playing concerts with large groups, many classical artists have been sifting through the archives for live recordings made before the lockdown. One harrowing gem among them is composer Michael Hersch’s I Hope We Get the Chance to Visit Soon, streaming at Bandcamp. The centerpiece is a fifteen-part suite recorded live at the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 2018.

The concert begins with a new version of an earlier piece for voice, violin, and cello, …das Rückgrat berstend (German for “bent back”), a setting of a Christopher Middleton poem. The concert’s two sopranos, Ah Young Hong and Kiera Duffy alternate German and English phrases over keening overtones from strings and winds which slowly rise to sudden, sharp peaks and then subside, or burst and then vanish. it’s a vivid portrait of madness.

The album’s central suite interchanges texts from correspondence written by Hersh’s friend Mary Harris O’Reilly alongside poetry by Rebecca Elson, each author a woman who died young from cancer. Hersch, a cancer survivor himself, has explored this theme before, notably in his macabre End Stages suite. In a sense, this is a sequel, although the texts add poignancy as the narrative traces O’Reilly’s inevitable decline.

A troubled, microtonal haze punctuated by gloomy piano sets the stage for a quick diagnosis and a good prognosis which soon evaporates. High harmonics linger ominously while bustle and turbulence emerges below, only to disappear. Arioso hope against hope breaks down into calm, but only fleetingly, and then sheer horror ensues with the singers at the top of their range. The sweep of the orchestration grows to a pained, often wistful grandeur as the suite nears the end. As a portrait of uncertainty and terror – not to mention a chronicle of ineffective new drugs failing to help the critically ill – it matches anything the lockdowners have thrown at us this year.

A brave and important work for the inspired ensemble of clarinetist Raphael Schenkel, bassoonist Cody Dean, alto saxophonist Gary Louie, pianist Amy Yang, violinists Meesun Hong Coleman and Anna Matz, violist Joel Hunter, cellist Benjamin Santora and bassist Piotr Zimnik, conducted by Tito Munoz.

Irresistibly Colorful Improvisations from Korean Trio Saaamkiiim

More today from fascinating new Korean label Mung Music, dedicated to taking some of that country’s strangest and most beguiling improvisational sounds to a global audience. One of their initial slate of releases is Ma-Chal (Korean for “friction”), the debut album by electroacoustic trio Saaamkiiim, streaming at Bandcamp.

There are four tracks: Pointy, Moist, Creepy, and the title cut. Pointy begins as an eerily keening series of electronic loops joined by jagged incisions from Yeji Kim’s haegum fiddle. Sun Ki Kim’s drums and small gongs range from suspenseful, to shamanic, to irrepressibly amusing. The improvisation builds to a series of very funny triangulated interludes – maybe that’s why it’s pointy.

Moist has Dey Kim’s stalactite drips and minimalist piano licks paired with an icy mist of cymbals and shifting sheets of sound from the haegum. The rhythm grows boomier and more insistent along with the fiddle: is this iceberg going to rip apart into a million pieces? Just the opposite, as it turns out.

How creepy is Creepy? Increasingly so, as monster-breath sonics push coy evocations of birdsong from the haegum out of the picture and the funereal gong grows more frantic. Gritty, straining tension and looming atmospherics pervade the early part of the title soundscape, then it gets amusing. No spoilers.