New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: cello music

Darkly Multistylistic, Cinematic Cello Themes and a West Village Show from Ian Maksin

Cellist Ian Maksin writes catchy, often gorgeously cinematic songs without words. His music is stylistically vast, drawing on sounds from the Balkans to the Middle East to Latin America. He’s more dynamic than you might expect from someone who plays a low-register instrument and is also a rare cello player who excels at blues. There’s still time to get an advance ticket to his show tomorrow night, Jan 5 at 7 PM at the Poisson Rouge: you can get in for $20.

His new album Sempre is streaming at Bandcamp. The title track is an elegant cello take on minor-key Russian barroom balladry, Maksin overdubbing his moody, resonant lines over a lithely plucked bassline. Similarly, the nostalgic waltz Blues au Jardin du Luxembourg has more of a balmy Black Sea summer afternoon undercurrent than any distinctive Parisian flavor.

Vancouver Rain comes across as a loopmusic piece, Maksin’s biting chromatics and blues bookending a break in the clouds signaled by percussionist Andrew Mitran. The brief, acerbically tiptoeing Summer Garden could be Django Reinhardt at his most classical and chromatic.

Maksin is a one-man low string section throughout the tensely spacious, achingly soaring Respiro. The album’s longest and most hypnotic song, Lacrimae Novae begins as a medieval responsory of sorts, then Maksin brings in layers of broodingly chromatic, baroque-tinged melody.

Per Me, Per Te has contrasting layers of cautiously dancing pizzicato against uneasy resonance, set to a familiar four-chord progression: it could be a theme for a real weeper of a movie. Sunset on the Cascade is a pensive Russian/Brazilian mashup with light, Indian-flavored percussion. Maksin winds up the record with the soaringly crescendoing Brand New Page, its acerbically off-kilter chords recalling the edgy new wave-era bedroom pop of Young Marble Giants. Fans of this era’s most accessible, incorrigible Romantics – Ludovico Einaudi, Yann Tiersen et al. – ought to get to know Maksin.

Lush, Low-Register Rainy-Day Sonics from One-Woman Orchestra Maya Beiser

What does the famous Adagio from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata sound like on a cello? Lush, and trippy, and as gothic as gothic gets. That’s how cellist Maya Beiser plays it, overdubbing herself into a broodingly lustrous one-woman string orchestra, with some magical overtones trailing toward the end. And that’s not even the most memorable track on her allusively apocalyptic latest album delugEON, streaming at Spotify.

Beiser’s choice of material is as diversely interesting as usual, with more of a loopmusic influence than ever. The light electronic touches are unobtrusive, mostly limited to sustain effects and subtle rhythmic loops. The album’s centerpiece is Slow Seasons, a stunningly saturnine, somewhat abridged reinvention of the iconic Vivaldi suite, completely transformed by transpositions to the lower registers and tempos at halfspeed or less. She opens with the slow, expressive Autumn, followed by the shivery, rather chilly Summer. By contrast, Spring can’t seem to extricate itself from winter’s icy grip. Winter itself, a delicate canon pulsing along with echoey pizzicato, seems balmy by comparison.

Lkewise, Water is a stripped-down, moodily atmospheric take on a glacially paced, famously apocalyptic Messiaen theme, Beiser’s overdubs imbued with such a cantabile quality that it’s practically a chorale. Then she raises the energy somewhat with a windswept, tectonically shifting take of Monteverdi’s Ah Dolente Partita

Beiser’s Stabat Mater has a dirgey, minimalist rusticity consistent with its medieval origins. The album ends with its most epic yet minimalistically baroque track, Purcell’s When I Am Laid in Earth, its aching rises and falls grounded in Beiser’s most somber textures here. Rainy-day music at the end of the decade doesn’t get much better than this.

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.

Brent Arnold and Aditya Kalyanpur Create an Entertaining, High-Energy Repertoire for Cello and Tabla at the Rubin Museum

Last night at their sold-out show at the Rubin Museum of Art, Brent Arnold and Aditya Kalyanpur had about as much fun as a cellist and a tabla player can rustle up in about an hour and a half onstage. The music definitely wasn’t classical, and there were only a couple of numbers in their energetic yet frequently hypnotic set that sounded remotely Indian.

One of those interludes was a tabla solo. Early in the set, Kalyanpur built frenetic volleys of sixteenth notes and hung with those perfectly articulated beats, making it easy while seemingly waiting for a sign from Arnold to chill. Arnold didn’t give him one. How long was Kalyanpur going to be able to keep this up? Probably indefinitely, at the rate he was going.

Later on, completely deadpan, he moved from a similarly rapidfire thicket of beats to a wryly muted, bubbly, low-register brook, then had goofy fun with slowly oscillating notes that became a booming, strutting, cartoonish portrait of somebody who takes himself way, way too seriously. It got the most applause of the night.

Arnold may be best known for his loopmusic, but there were inumerable passages during the show where he could have stashed away several long, circular patterns in his pedal and then just let them play back. But he didn’t. Witnessing him articulate them live, with subtle variations in attack and tone, was a rare treat in this style of music.

Arnold plucks as much, maybe more than he bows: essentially, this was a drum-n-bass set. The duo made quasi trip-hop out of a famous Thelonious Monk chorus, but without the usual loopy CHUNK, ka-chunk. Arnold’s opening tune, and one of the later ones as well, had a rustic, often wistful Adirondack folk freshness. A couple of slower numbers could have been Palestinian dirges…without the chromatics and microtones. Other than a clever, enigmatic detour into the whole-note scale, and swaths of sustained chords keening with microtones, Arnold stuck wit traditional western tonalities.

The night’s most epic, shapeshifting number seemed to conjure up fishing for increasingly larger and more dangerous prey. Other tunes either alluded to or distantly brought to mind hard funk, and Tunisian rai music, and occasionally the more playful side of two other cellists with a thing for loops, Julia Kent and Maya Beiser. But Arnold is more aggressively rhythmic and less brooding – and has created his own instantly recognizable, entertaining sound.

The Rubin Museum of Art is home to lots of music throughout the year, both in the comfortable basement-level auditorium and throughout the building (the Brooklyn Raga Massive held their annual all-night raga marathon here for a few years). This Sunday, July 21 the museum has free admission all day, with activities for kids plus performances by a Nepalese hip-hop collective and a thunderous all-female Brazilian samba reggae drum corps.

Stormy Solo Cello Transcendence with Tamas Varga at Merkin Concert Hall

Last week at Merkin Concert Hall, the Vienna Philharmonic’s principal cellist, Tamas Varga played a transcendent, majestic solo concert built around Kodaly’s Sonata for Violincello. Aaron Jay Kernis, who was in the audience, demurred that he’d never heard the piece before Varga had commissioned him and two others to write solo works to accompany the Hungarian composer’s “great masterwork,” as he called it. He wasn’t kidding.

It’s a symphony for solo cello, requiring all sorts of extended technique: harmonics, simultaneous pizzicato and bowing, and maddening metric shifts, among other things. But Varga dug in with relish. Complicating matters is that the two lowest strings are downtuned, something that the rest of the pieces on the bill shared. Varga cut loose churning rivers of low-register chords before rising to a regal theme that sounded suspiciously sardonic. Distantly Bartokian acidity and Romany-tinged flair were muted in the adagio section but burst into bracing focus in the climactic third movement, which ended cold and unresolved. Throughout the work, Varga’s pacing enhanced the suspense, through a couple of wry Beethovenesque false endings, stormy gusts, brooding lulls and finally the flames that leapt from his bow.

The new pieces were fascinating as well. Kernis’ Blues for Mr. Z was the most allusive yet most resonantly colorful of the three. The composer related that just as Kodaly had drawn on the folk music of his native Hungary, he’d decided to incorporate some austere minor-key blues, which turned out more often than not to be implied rather than explicitly evoked.

Varga opened with a meticulously altered stroll through Gregory Vajda’s Captain Hume’s Last Pavin for Violincello. Inspired by a seventeenth-century rant by British composer Tobias Hume, it built toward several possible resolutions that never arrived. Laszlo Vidovszky’s Two Paraphrases for Violincello Solo, based on two themes from the Kodaly work, built enigmatically ambered variations and ended with a shout out to the composer’s shape note system which is ubiquitous in Hungarian music education. Did Kodaly get the idea from the American shape note system, which was very popular in religious and choral music in the early 1800s? That merits further study.

Varga closed with a plaintive, calmly paced, Bach-influenced miniature written by his son, who couldn’t make it to the show…because he was in school. How many young composers have such a brilliant advocate for their work as Varga? And how many brilliant cellists have kids who can write as poignantly as Varga’s son?

This concert was part of the High Note Hungary series staged by the Hungarian Cultural Center, who have been putting on some incredible shows around town over the last couple of years. The best way to stay on top of what’s happening is to get on their email list: this one was a late addition to the calendar.

Haunting Ken Thomson Cello and Piano Works at the Poisson Rouge

Manhattan was like a mausoleum yesterday evening, where most likely the smallest crowd ever to witness a Ken Thomson album release show gathered under low, somber lights at the Poisson Rouge. Between the steady downpour outsde and the sobering news that defied the exit polls, New Yorkers were stunned, processing, asking themselves and each other some gravely fundamental questions – such as, should we stay or should we go?

On one hand, the two suites on Thomson’s darkly compelling new vinyl release made an aptly elegaic soundtrack for post-election shock and horror. On the other, both pieces are imbued with a sardonic, even playful wit along with plenty of gravitas. Thomson took a couple of moments onstage as emcee for the night, himself in something of a state of shock. The night’s opening triptych, Me Vs., was played with dynamism and a vivid austerity by pianist Karl Larson, Thomson explained that it had taken on new meaning as “We Vs.” and that he was perfectly ok with that.

Larson gave meticulous attention to its broodingly colorful details. Emphatic, trickily polyrhythmic, exasperatedly minimalist insistence early on gave way to an achingly overcast Satie-esque resonance and then a return to a steady, ominously rhythmic drive, a sort of mashup of Mompou belltones and the outro from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The acidically climactic final movement alluded to the baroque, shifted to stormy neoromantiv cascades, then through more subtly shifting polyrhythms, with a triiumphant coda.

Cellist Ashley Bathgate joined Larson for the second half of the program – and the album – the four-part, aptly tilted Restless. As the moody, low-register first moment slowly brightened and picked up steam, there was a subtle change of roles, the cello taking on more of a rhythmic propulsion while the piano moved futher toward lowlit background color. The duo wove a tight, balletesque lattice, with lots of friendly chemistry and interplay throughout the second movement, then took an uneasy, syncopated stroll that dipped into creepily clustering, murky depths in the third. Bathgate returned to the wounded vibrato she’d employed strongly in the opening movement over Larson’s eerie, close-harmoined chimes, winding up the suite with some enigmatically energetic glissandos, an unexpected end to a rather harrowing journey.

A Brooding, Wounded Masterpiece from Jane Antonia Cornish

Composer Jane Antonia Cornish has scored some big hits (pun intended) with her film music. Her signature style tends to be reflective and atmospheric, meticulous to a fault: a wasted note would be a serious crime in her universe. Her latest album, Continuum opens with Nocturne 1, a starkly minimalist, Lynchian series of very subtle variations on a very simple motif for strings that Angelo Badalamenti would no doubt approve of. As it grows darker and louder, bringing to mind Philip Glass’ Dracula soundtrack, the ghosts of the deep, robust roots of the trees whose wood became cellos and violins begin to flicker, their microtones dancing across the bows of the string ensemble Decoda. Composers tend to write best for their own instruments, and Cornish being a violinist, that strikes particularly true here. For that matter, the whole album – out from Innova and streaming this week at WQXR – is as starkly gripping as its opening track.

Nocturne II opens with such precision and clarity that its sonorities could be produced by winds instead of strings – and then that macabre theme kicks in! The third and final Nocturne is an achingly crescendoing grey-sky tone poem. Again, the cello quintet achieves such a crystalline timbre that they could be french horns.

Cornish’s cinematic prowess stretches across the horizon on Continuum 1, a spacious, moody Great Plains tableau of sorts – it’s tempting to say that it reaches Spielbergian heights. The second movement refers obliquely to the Glassine pulse of the opening Nocturne, with a series of wavelike echo effects as hypnotic as anything Glass ever wrote. The solo cello piece that follows offers a fond nod back to the Bach cello sonatas, adding both Cornish’s signature spaciousness and minutely honed sense of tasty string overtones. The album winds up with Tides, a vivid illustration of waves and echoes. A thousand electronic composers have used machines to follow similar tangents, but Cornish’s triumph is one of echoing nature exactly as it exists rather than through the bottom of a laptop.

And it wouldn’t be fair to end without mentioning the rapturously precise and inspired solo performance by Decoda cellist Hamilton Berry at the album launch party last month at Chambers Fine Art in Chelsea, where he gave voice to an austerely poignant Cornish sonata as well as a colorful solo pastorale by George Crumb that required considerable split-second extended technique.

A Dynamic New Album and a Bushwick Show from Cellist/Singer Patricia Santos

Patricia Santos calls herself a “vocellist.” As you would expect from a distinctive, terse cello player and strong, eclectic singer, she has her fingers in several projects. Most notably, she’s half of the cello-vocal duo the Whiskey Girls and a member of brilliant noir art-rock/circus-rock/latin band Kotorino as well. Santos also has an intriguingly intimate, tunefully diverse new album, Never Like You Think, streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show coming up at 9 PM on May 27 at Max Cellar (downstairs from Amancay’s Diner), 2 Knickerbocker Ave. at Johnson Ave.in Bushwick. It’s close to the Morgan Ave. stop on the L.

The albun’s first track is The One I Should Love, a starkly swaying minor-key blues with just vocals and two instruments, sawing cello contrasting with Andrew Swift’s bitingly resonant guitar. Then the two instruments essentially switch roles. In Your Arms sets Santos’ wryly sultry vocals against a strutting tune that builds to a subtly crescendoing waltz, winding out with a long, hypnotically vamping, pitchblende outro. For You is even more spare, Santos’ warm, balmy vocals paired against a minimalist four-note riff that throws off shards of overtones, especially when she hits a passionate chorus.

Santos keeps the stark ambience going through a raptly dynamic, then unexpectedly explosive take of the classic Mexican folk song La Llorona. Old Hill, another waltz, has a wistful front-porch folk feel grounded by the celllo’s ambered tones. The album winds up with an absolutely knockout, creepy, noisy cover of Kotorono’s Little Boat. The original has a deadpan ominousness: here, Santos teams with Kotorino bandleader/guitarist Jeff Morris, building to a skronk-infested, murderous peak. It’s a cool blend of grit, elegance and raw intensity that aptly capsulizes a captivatingly individualistic debut release.

A Relentlessly Interesting, Tuneful, Paradigm-Shifting Solo Cello Album by Erik Friedlander

Cellist/composer Erik Friedlander is a familiar face from John Zorn’s circle. His previous album, Nighthawks, was an unexpectedly jaunty, bouncy cello jazz response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in New York, seemingly a tribute to this city’s ability to bounce back. His latest album, Illuminations – inspired jointly by Bach and a recent exhibit of medieval illuminated Jewish manuscripts – is quite a change, a stark solo suite of themes and variations. The album is streaming at Bandcamp; Friedlander’s playing the album release show tonight, April 26 at around 7 PM at Dixon Place Theatre at 161 Christie St. on the Lower East Side. Cover is $15

Where Bach’s cello suites more often than not use French dance forms as a stepping-off point, Friedlander’s architecture looks toward Renaissance vocal music – to a point, anyway. The music is far more kinetic than, say, Thomas Tallis, but every bit as haunting, if it’s more tersely tuneful than otherworldly. Much as the individual tracks will go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, there’s a lot going on within them.

The stary, wary introductory theme gives way to a baroque-flavored dance, followed by a pulsing, raga-esque passage. The Middle East is evoked frequently throughout the darker sections here, first in an expansive pizzicato interlude with hints of Armenian and Indian music as well.

A plaintive minor-key theme takes on elements of the baroque and also Indian allusions as it goes on. Friedlander hits a point where it seems he’s improvising, plucking his way toward the top of the fingerboad with some lively spirals. Evocations of Middle East and North Africa mingle with a circular groove straight out of Steve Reich; then Friedlander mashes up acidically rhythmic John Zorn and stately Bach.

From there the suite returns to the Levant, runs through a tongue-in-cheek exchange of plucked and bowed voices and then picks up with an elegant sway, another instance where Friedlander mingles medieval Europe with Orientalisms and makes it all seem perfectly natural. Solo cello works are rare to begin with; ones this interesting, eclectic and chock-full of tunes are rarer still. Fans of Middle Eastern, classical music and jazz should give this one a spin.

Janel & Anthony Headline a Darkly Enveloping Night in Gowanus

Astonishingly eclectic, tuneful guitarist Anthony Pirog is doing double duty at I-Beam in Gowanus on Dec 12. He’s opening at 8:30 with the album release show for his Bill Frisell-influenced debut as a bandleader, Palo Colorado Dream, with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith. That’s Pirog in jazz mode. After that, he’s doing a second set at 10 as half of lushly enveloping, broodingly cinematic duo Janel & Anthony with cellist/multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin; cover is $15. Their most recent album is Where Is Home, which Cuneiform put out a couple of years ago.

In addition to guitars – which he frequently loops – Pirog plays electric sitar. Leppin plays cello (including a specially modified model with resonating, sympathetic strings, like a sitar), but also sarangi, sarod and various keyboards, many of them processed for extra atmospheric sweep. Yet as indelibly associated with Indian music as many of those instruments are, the pieces here are closer to Brian Eno, or Angelo Badalamenti – or, Bill Frisell, in the case of the ornately shapeshifting, brightly jangling opening piece, Big Sur (which for the record came out before the Frisell album of the same title). The album plays like a suite, many of the tracks segueing into each other, others separated by brief, lingering, occasionally Lynchian improvisations.

Leaving the Woods bookends a balmy, summery interlude with apprehensively vamping chromatics that would make a good horror film theme. Mustang Song is a wounded, moody, expertly assembled piece of guitar cinematics with judicious ambient touches. A Viennisian Life blends pensively ambered cello with gamelanesque ripples. Broome & Orchard begins as a somberly bluesy 19th century gospel-inflected tune and shifts to similarly downcast folk noir – a long history of Gotham decline, maybe?

The album’s final fullscale instrumental, Where Will We Go sets Pirog’s apprehensive fingerpicking and slide work over ominously cloudy atmospherics. There’s also a waftingly horizontal interlude livened with backward-masked guitar and a stately rainy-day one-chord guitar-and-cello jam with subtle variations. The backstory behind the album is an all-too-familiar one. Leppin’s childhood home – a bucolic summer camp in the Washington, DC suburbs – was sold and then bulldozed in order to pave the way for McMansions.

Now where can you hear this sonic gem? Well…there are a couple of tracks at Bandcamp and some stuff at youtube for people ambitious enough to sniff this stuff out. Otherwise, I-Beam is where it’s at.