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A Rapturous, Slashing New Solo Album From One of This Era’s Most Dynamically Brilliant Cellists

Who is the audience for cellist Ashley Bathgate‘s new solo album, simply titled Ash and streaming at Bandcamp Anyone who gravitates toward thoughtful low-register sounds…and sounds that aren’t so low as well. Bathgate has been one of the most sought-after cellists in 21st century music since joining the Bang on a Can All-Stars back in the zeros. While she seems to prefer pensive sounds and is a brilliant interpreter and improviser in Indian music, she’s also asked to do the impossible more often than not in the world of indie classical and the avant garde. Her extended technique is fearsome, yet she’s known for embracing straightforward tunefulness. The new record, a collection of material written for her, looks back to the Bach suites she’s practiced for years, through the prism of the here and now.

That a composer as celebrated as Andrew Norman would title the album’s opening track For Ashley speaks for itself. Bathgate’s deadpan humor is hard to resist, as the staggered syncopation and sudden staccato mimic a famous Bach theme. The hazy, spacious chords in the midsection offer bracing contrast, as do the increasingly surreal, warpy harmonics as the piece winds out.

Christopher Cerrone’s On Being Wrong is an acerbic electroacoustic piece with echo and doppler effects, Bathgate becoming a one-woman string quartet as she juxtaposes a plaintively slashing, vamping chromatic theme against wary ethereality. Timo Andres’ Small Wonder looks back to Bach very playfully, with sudden rhythmic shifts and jaunty changes in attack, timbre and rhythm, spiced with harmonics and incisive pizzicato.

The album’s most epic piece is Jacob Cooper‘s Ley Line, Bathgate digging into its gritty, steady, ominously hypnotic modal eighth-note runs with a savage determination. It sounds a lot like Julia Wolfe…and that it must be subtly wild fun to play. A Ted Hearne piece with a seemingly random title filters back and forth between techy atmospherics and stark minimalism, Bathgate’s cello taking on a saxophone-like tone at times. The glitchiness of the production toward the end is annoying: nobody wants to suddenly have to check to see if their machine or their phone is melting down.

The album’s final piece is Robert Honstein‘s gorgeous Orison, a slow, tectonically shifting soundscape, textured top to bottom with gravelly murk, fleeting echoes, keening overtones and echo phrases. Beyond the fact that the Ted Hearne piece could have been faded out at about the two-thirds mark, this is a magically fun, entrancing record.

Paul Dresher Brings Haunting New Music and New Instruments to Roulette

Paul Dresher‘s Double Duo made a stop at Roulette last night that included a shattering world premiere played by Twosense, and the New York debut of a couple of brand-new instruments. Joel Davel played the marimba lumina – a digital marimba whose library of samples includes a full symphonic percussion section, and is enabled to mix and match a vast number of timbres beyond the instrument’s typical acoustic range. Dresher and Davel aired out the epic sonic capabilities of the quadrachord, which is basically a giant (i.e. twenty-foot) bass lapsteel. The results spanned the emotional spectrum, from nerve-wracking angst to joyous musical acrobatics, It was one of the best New York concerts of the year, without a doubt.

Variations on an eerie theme circled uneasily and then gave pianist Lisa Moore the opportunity to deliver the gamelanesque loops of Dresher’s Double Ikat, Part II with a Bach-like precision, joined in tight choreography with Davel on the marimba lumina and Karen Bentley Pollick‘s alternately dancing and atmospheric violin. A pervasive Philip Glass influence became clear as the trio took it down from an insistent peak to an elegaic outro, Pollick low and affectingly austere.

Dresher’s Glimpsed from Afar paired the composer on the quadrachord with Davel’s marimba lumina. It was sort of a demo of everything the instruments can do together – swoops and dives, sustained sheets of sound, shivery dynamic shifts, ghostly lulls, sly oscillations, joyous percussion samples bursting from the marimba lumina, pointillistic loops and finally a tightly percussive yet deliriously jaunty outro with both players on the quadrachord hammering away on mallets, a cymbal and other percussion objects placed under the strings. Hypnotic yet explosive, much of it sounded like a more concise take on what Michael Gordon did with Timber, his longscale work for amplified sawhorses, a few years back.

The highlight of the concert was Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate playing the world premiere of Dresher’s triptych Family Matters. Packed with dark chromatics and ominous passing tones, it was a study in contrasts, all of which eventually took on an aspect that ranged from funereal to downright macabre. The duo built subtly out of a dancing theme to a lively but equally agitated series of rises and falls throughout the first part. Then it fell to Moore to keep the steady, almost baroque rhythms going as the piece slowed down, Bathgate employing a viscerally aching vibrato and a chilling sense of longing and loss as its morose dance wound down. Moore took Mood Swings, a harrowing dirge, to a menacing, modal minuet at its peak, then Bathgate brought back a relentless, inconsolable angst with starkly resonant, stygian, sometimes microtonally-tinged lines that were nothing short of harrowing.

The concert wound up with Martin Bresnick’s Fantasia on a Theme of Willie Dixon, which turned out to be simply the minor third interval on which his song Spoonful is based. You know it: Howlin’ Wolf did the original; the Allman Brothers made it famous. Dresher’s hovering electric guitar lines mingles with Moore’s impressionistic piano and Pollick’s jaunty cadenzas and simmering sustain while Davel served as a one-man percussion section on the marimba lumina. It was like early ELO with more challenging tonalities, Moore delivering its most unsettlingly delicious, glimmering interludes.