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Tag: concert review

Patti Smith Plays Prophetic Powerpop in Central Park

Have you seen the anti-discrimination signs? They’re popping up in the windows of small businesses all over town. Even on the conformist-AF Upper West Side.

“We shall live again,” Patti Smith intoned to start her Central Park show last night. And encored with People Have the Power. There’s a sea change going on.

Smith’s show had been moved abruptly from the expansive Rumsey Playfield lawn to the much smaller Summerstage arena space. Set time had also been changed: she hit the stage sometime after 8. Likewise, if Antibalas played the park on Saturday, the time and venue had been changed as well. Apologies to readers of the live music calendar here who might have been led astray – some of those listings date back to when those shows were first announced.

Constantly flipping the script is a hallmark of abusive relationships, whether between a couple, parents and children, or on a societal scale. You do the math.

There was another odd kind of arithmetic at play here. Before the lockdown, Smith would routinely sell out a weeklong year-end stand at Bowery Ballroom, at outrageous prices. This show was free. Yet the arena never reached capacity. What’s more, a steady trickle of concertgoers slowly – s l o w l y – being let in by security was matched by twice as many people traipsing out, beginning at the start of the show. And although the party on the slope out behind the space was much more lively, much of Smith’s diehard fanbase had clearly stayed away.

That’s because proof of being part of a lethal injection campaign, which completely stalled out several weeks ago, was required for entry. Europeans come out in the millions to protest fascist takeovers. Australians bust through police barricades. Americans just stand firm and wait it out.

Smith’s set went on for short of an hour. Opening with Ghost Dance was characteristic of this ageless sage, who shows no sign of slowing down. This was the powerpop set: rather than pouncing on the syncopation on the chorus of Pissing in a River, she and the band motored through the changes with a lingering burn.

Although there were quiet moments – it was impossible to hear any of Smith’s poetry, or her remarks to the crowd from outside the space – most of the material was backbeat rock hits, starting with Dancing Barefoot and continuing with Because the Night. Lenny Kaye limited his lead guitar pyrotechnics to a couple of blue-flame solos, moving around edgily against a resonating string, raga style. Speaking of ragas, the night’s longest interlude was a mostly acoustic, Indian-flavored jam which ended with Smith roaring that “The future is NOW!”

Bassist Tony Shanahan’s soaring, melodic lines were serendipitously high in the mix, most enjoyably in his reggae leads in Ain’t It Strange. From there on, it was all rock, beginning with a stripped-down cover of the Stones’ I’m Free wrapped around a verse of Take a Walk on the Wild Side – subtext, anyone? An assertive bit of Horses set up a steady, resolute G-l-o-r-i-a. And soon afterward, it was over. “Patti Smith! A full moon!” a pretty blonde woman enthused to a bearded man on the hill behind the space. “She picked the right night!” he grinned back. Both were off by a day – the full moon is tonight.

A Free Outdoor Show From Eclectically-Inspired Trumpeter Wayne Tucker

Wayne Tucker is known for his electrifying performances as a lead trumpeter in various jazz situations. And before the lockdown, he got around a lot. For a couple of years, he was the not-so-secret weapon in feral, high-voltage Ethiopian jamband Anbessa Orchestra, whose small-club gigs in Park Slope in the late teens are legendary. This blog covered one of them back in 2016, but they played shows after that which were even more spectacular.

For those who’ve seen Tucker raise the rafters, it might come as some surprise that he has a much mellower side. This past spring he was one of the first jazz artists to get back to playing publicly announced gigs, leading a quartet up on a little hill just off Central Park West back in early May. The show was part of photographer Jimmy Katz‘s nonprofit series, which turned out to be a lifesaver for musicians starved for money and for audiences starved for music.

The sky may have been ominous that Sunday afternoon, but the music was balmy. Tucker and the band’s tenor saxophonist played calm, airy exchanges and harmonies over a diverse series of rhythms, with tinges of Afrobeat, salsa and bossa nova. Tucker’s latest album goes in a completely different direction, into trippy, hip hop-inspired corporate urban pop. You can find out which side he wants to have fun with – maybe, all of them – at his gig on Sept 21 at noon at the little pedestrian plaza at Pearl and Willoughby in downtown Brooklyn. It’s about equidistant from the 2/4/R Borough Hall station and the F train at Jay St.

Firey String Sistas Simmer on the Hudson

Jazz played on stringed instruments in general is usually a springboard for new and interesting ideas. After all, string players can sustain notes that horn players have a harder time with, never mind having unlimited access to blue notes. There was a point toward the end of the Firey String Sistas’ rapturously memorable set Tuesday night at Pier 84 on the Hudson where in the middle of a funky, blues-infused swing tune, violinist Marlene Rice went completely off script and took a bracing downward solo that could have been in the quartertone scale.

More likely, it was in whatever scale she was feeling at the moment. Pianist Mala Waldron picked up the handoff and responded with an insistent attack that ramped up the intensity with rhythm rather than avant garde harmony. Drummer Camille Gainer-Jones, whose lithe brushwork gave the set a comfortable wide-angle swing, built a subtly turbulent crescendo while Rice harmonized acerbically with cellist and co-founder Nioka Workman. With jazz clubs officially off limits to all but a small, physically imperiled subcaste of New Yorkers right now, this show hit the spot, to say the least.

The group opened with Waldron on vocals as well as the keys. on one of her famous dad Mal Waldron’s tunes: she’s a fine singer, with a poignant, nuanced, coloristic delivery. Workman and Rice set the stage with their terse harmonies as ringer bassist Melvin Bullock – who’d signed up to be a “Firey String Brotha,” as Workman put it – bolstered the rhythm with his judiciously incisive boom and pulse.

They reinvented Cedar Walton’s To the Holy Land with a starkly resonant, intense rubato intro, then swung it with a rustic, brooding minor key gospel feel. Rice reached for the rafters; Workman went for deep, minor-key gospel plaintiveness.

Waldron sang a loose-limbed, unexpectedly funky take of Round Midnight, her calm reassurance contrasting with the enigmatic melody. The group’s take of I Remember You surprisingly did not have vocals and was more nocturnal, all the way through the solos. Rice’s most sizzling, rapidfire moment came in the original after that. The night’s closing number, a brand-new original, was the most bitingly catchy tune of the night, Gainer-Jones subtly driving the groove from funky syncopation to a persistent clave. Workman introduced the song as being inspired by the “current situation,” and left that to the crowd to interpret.

Fearless Texans Raise Their Voices For Freedom in Austin

Songwriter Five Times August was obviously amped to open Texans for Vaccine Choice‘s massive protest at the Capitol building in Austin yesterday. So amped that as he left the stage, he forgot to tell the audience who he was. It took a vociferous reminder from a woman in the front row to send him back to the mic. You can watch the whole performance, as well as the inspiring parade of medical professionals and activists afterward, at the Highwire.

For someone who over the past year has been writing catchy, corrosively funny, tragically perceptive protest songs, gigs don’t get any better than the chance to play to a robust, impressively diverse crowd of over a thousand people. The guitarist and singer otherwise known as Brad Skistimas opened with his lone cover of the day, an aptly Steve Earle-influenced take of Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down. Then the lyrics and the jokes started flying, fast and furious.

God Help Us All, a spiky, fingerpicked tune, might be the biggest viral hit (pun intended) Skistimas has had so far, no doubt due in part to the hilarious video on the front page of his website.

Citizen fools and brand new rules make everyone a hero now
Keep your distance, no resistance, only do what you’re allowed…
See no evil, bow to the needle, didn’t we turn out great?
Sick is the new hell, poor is the new well, truth is whatever they say…
Divide and conquer, weak not stronger, everybody know your place
Do it now, it won’t hurt, dig into your own dirt, virtue found its grave

His third number was an update on what Woody Guthrie did with This Land Is Your Land. The horror-stricken ballad Jesus What Happened to Us was taken down by youtube, no surprise considering the lyrics. It’s Eve of Destruction with a locked-in, lockdown-era focus: “Keep staring at your smartphone, get dumber every week,” Skistimas taunted.

The funniest song of the afternoon (and most hilarious video he’s made so far) was Outttayerdaminde, a rapidfire Subterranean Homesick Blues flavored broadside that makes savage fun of narcissists run amok on Tik Tok. The quietest and most sobering number was a new one, a sad waltz titled Silent War:

Someone is trying to sell you the cure
Same one who made the disease
And they’ll try to convince you, and make you feel sure
But hey, there ain’t no guarantee
They’ve covered your mouth and tied back your hands
They did it to all of the kids
And nobody knows all the damage it’s done
And won’t ask until the master permits

He wound up the set with the bouncy, defiant I Will Not Be Leaving Quietly.

The speakers afterward were a microcosm of the kind of ordinary heroes who have sprung up around the world in the past year and a half. Physician assistant Miguel Escobar, whose incendiary address to his local muzzlemaniac school board went viral a couple weeks ago, spoke truth to power in both English and Spanish (even if you’re a non-native Spanish speaker, he’s very easy to understand). He takes the mic at 1:19:00.

Irrepressibly upbeat hero nurse Jennifer Bridges – who is suing her former employer, Houston Methodist Hospital for being wrongfully fired for refusing the kill shot, even though she has natural immunity to Covid – is at 2:09:55. The Highwire’s Del Bigtree closed the afternoon with an impromptu challenge to the crowd to take the energy of the rally home with them. He’s at 3:18:21 in the video.

As the irreplaceable and tirelessly entertaining Dr. Pam Popper has revealed, the 70% figure the US government has been throwing around is a lie. The Kaiser Family Foundation study she cites, based on individual state records, puts the actual percentage of the population who’ve been coerced or terrorized into taking the kill shot at less than half that. Bigtree elaborated on a point he made a couple weeks ago on the Highwire, that the roughly sixty percent majority who won’t take the kill shot is not going to budge, and that the PR campaign behind it is dead in the water. Our challenge is to be less of a silent majority, organize and get back to normal, because nobody’s going to do it for us.

Speaking of which, there’s a big protest at City Hall here in Manhattan on August 25 at 4 PM.

Fiercely Danceable Guinean Feminist Rock on the Library Steps in Brooklyn

What is the likelihood that a woman from a remote Guinean village, where child brides are routinely taken by older men, would go on to become one of the most popular hip-hop artists in Africa and then a feminist rock bandleader?

In an era where unlikely heroes are busting out of the least expected places, singer/guitarist Natu Camara is paradigmatic. At her show on the plaza at the Brooklyn Public Library Wednesday night, she led a versatile, slinky band through a catchy, high-voltage mix of politically-charged songs and wound up an increasingly ecstatic show with a dance jam that went on for well over half an hour.

The steady upward climb to that final, sprawling, soukous-flavored outro was as provocative as it was fun. As the sun sank behind the library, the crowd was sluggish. “What’s up, you didn’t have enough coffee?” Camara laughed. “You afraid of corona? OK, then stand behind the line!”

That was the only time she touched on that issue, but she pushed a lot of other buttons that would have gotten her in hot water or worse where she grew up. The former member of the first Guinean all-female hip-hop group, the Ideal Black Girls, spoke truth to power, stepping in place and whirling in front of the band when she wasn’t fingerpicking her big sunburst Gibson guitar.

She began Momi Hidda, her broadside against young girls being married off, in the gentle imploring voice of a child speaking to her parents, before picking up at the end with a righteous wail.

The band behind Camara shifted gears seamlessly through a wide swath of genres. Bassist Kayode Kuti played fat downtuned lines, bent notes and bubbling vats of tarpit melody, often in tandem with the vocals. Drummer Oscar Debe kept the labyrinthine rhythmic shifts on the rails, abetted by a nimble percussionist, while keyboardist John F. Adams moved from lushly orchestral string patches, to reggae organ, phantasmagorical jazz piano and some wry P-Funk style portamento synth. Lindsey Wilson added soulful, often impassioned vocal harmonies; there was also a lead guitarist who played loopy phrases, or simple accents to bolster the beat.

Camara went into brisk late 60s-style rocksteady for Arrabama Di (What Are We Going to Do About It?), a cheerily insistent tune sung in one of seven languages. Her English is strong, and she’s funny. “What is a monster?” she asked the crowd. “You give him your heart, and he squeezes you!” And with that she launched into a vengeful minor-key vamp, soaring up to the top of her register at the end.

Likewise, Wa (an onomatopoeic word – it means “cry”) grew from a muted, gentle couple of verses to a scrambling, triumphant dance tune. My Hiding Place, she explained, was meant more as a metaphor, a philosophical home base as a place of refuge. The best song of the night might have been White Bird, a brisk, resolute dance-rock anthem inspired when a bird landing conspicuously on her windowsill. She took that as an omen, walked away from her dayjob, and the rest is history.

The dance numbers after that offered tribute to Miriam Makeba: Camara had seen her in concert at an early age, had an epiphany and decided to defy the authorities and make music her career. It goes without saying that at this point in history, we need more performers this outspoken and fearless.

Incendiary Guitar in Brooklyn and Queens

Tuesday was a good day for hotshot guitarists in New York. The first played acoustic, the second fronted a sizzling electric band. Each put an individualistic, high-voltage spin on an old tradition.

At one of the ongoing outdoor lunchtime concerts at the little plaza where Willoughby meets Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn, Noe Socha proved he’d been polishing his chops during the lockdown, both on guitar and blues harp. His second set of the afternoon was a mix of expertly fingerpicked traditional blues from across many styles, many of them instrumentals, along with a handful of more outside-the-box, jamband-oriented material.

Playing a duo set with a bassist who provided a slinky backdrop when he wasn’t doubling the melody line, Socha shifted effortlessly from one open tuning to another. The most rustic tunes began in the Mississippi delta, Socha sometimes playing with a slide. His brisk fingerpicking on some of the other songs seemed rooted in both Piedmont and Texas styles. Occasionally, the two musicians would play over a backing track of simple chords. The most adventurous number was a leaping, bounding mashup of Thelonious Monk phantasmagoria and what could have been a darkly simmering Albert King ballad, in a past life. What’s coolest about Socha is that pretty much everything in the set could have been an original: he doesn’t just play the same old standards everybody else does. The sun isn’t just gonna shine on his back door someday. It’s there right now.

Later in the evening, the fireworks were at Gantry Plaza State Park on the water in Long Island City, where Santo Domingo-born Yasser Tejeda & Pelotre roared and slithered through a head-bobbing set of mostly original material centered around several beats from his Dominican home turf. Joined by a bassist who played fat, puffy downtuned lines, Tejeda’s drummer and percussionist – the latter on a big kit with congas and bongos – further energized the big crowd of dancers gathered down front. It’s impossible to remember seeing so many people – at least three hundred, probably twice that including everybody passing through – at this space for a concert. Tejeda may be a popular guy anyway, but New Yorkers are clearly starved for live music right now!

Tejeda brings a fiery psychedelic rock intensity to merengue. If you love the ramshackle improvisation of oldschool merengue tipica but wish it was louder, Tejeda is your man. He loves reverb, an effect that really resonated across the boomy stone plaza. Other times he played through a chorus pedal, using various levels of iciness.

He started the set with a catchy minor-modal bounce that was almost a cumbia. The second number was where he first brought in an achingly majestic David Gilmour-style wail that ultimately looked back to Jimi Hendrix, but without being imitative. Meanwhile, the rhythm section churned out a galloping triplet groove that reminded of qawwali in places: these guys obviously have their ears wide open.

The quietest numbers of the set were a quasi-cumbia take of the Beatles’ Do You Want to Know a Secret, which Tejeda sang in Spanish, and later a spare minor-key original where Tejeda brought to mind the Police’s Andy Summers at his most mutedly somber. The best song of the night was an original instrumental that sounded like Juju-era Siouxsie & the Banshees doing a creepy merengue, Tejeda setting his chorus box to deep freeze. With the rest of the merengues, Tejeda sped up, slowed down, then finally played a cheery old carnival tune from the 1950s that turned out to be the biggest hit with the dancers. In the careening final number, Tejeda quoted liberally from Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sherriff on the the turnarounds when he wasn’t firing off icepick volleys of tremolo-picking. What a party!

Tejeda’s next gig is at the downtown plaza at Willoughby and Pearl on Aug 24 at noon for two sets. Socha’s next non-apartheid gig is Aug 22 at around 8 outdoors at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE. Take the F to Smith/9th. 

Holding Fort with Castle Black in Long Island City

The sun goes down behind a phalanx of shiny steel-and-glass speculator properties close to the water in Long Island City Friday night. On one hand, it’s a good omen to see a loud guitar band playing so close to what on the surface seems to be a high-income residential complex.

But it’s empty. Those condos are just game pieces, hard assets for people who did well in the big pharma boom of 2020 to move their money into before that market tanks. Those boxes weren’t designed for human habitation – rats, on the other hand, should do well there. They make the average public housing project look like Fort Knox.

Speaking of fortresses, Castle Black are the band playing on the back of a flatbed trailer at the edge of the parking lot beneath the empty condos. Frontwoman Leigh Celent’s roaring Fender guitar gives the power trio a punk sound, but they’ve become more of an art-rock band over the last couple of years.

None of the songs in the set follow a standard verse-chorus pattern; one of them is in 9/4 time. Maybe the band name is meant to reflect the labyrinth of bridges in her songs.

This is a new version of the group. Celent is the only remaining member of the original trio, and she keeps taking on more responsibilities. This time out she has keyboard pedals for string synth and organ textures, and that requires a lot of split-second footwork. Most of the time it works. The samples of movie dialogue are extraneous: Man or Astroman worked that shtick to death.

The new drummer is having fun negotiating the sudden metric shifts and tricky changes, saving his furious volleys and flurries for the occasional big crescendo. The new bassist plays a longscale Gibson, with a pick. Like the drummer, he also chooses his spots to go way up the scale as the songs peak out.

Celent’s fragmented imagery tends to be surreal, sometimes ominous or desperate: the punk and the 80s goth influences obviously play a part in that. Between the jangle, and the roar, and the occasional swoosh from the pedals, the sound of the band has come to resemble late 70s Patti Smith more and more, although the rhythmic complexity gives this group a completely unique sound.

There’s tons of new material in the set: Celent obviously went on a creative tear during the lockdown. Radio Girl, one of the more straight-up punk numbers, seems to be a cautionary tale about the perils of fame. There’s another new one, maybe titled Sorry, that has more of late 70s/early 80s postpunk edge. Other songs bring to mind the Breeders. Celent has come a long way since growing up in public, playing the Bleecker Street strip.

The group close the first set with one of their best and most haunting songs, Dead in a Dream. The album version has a finely polished sheen and layers of guitars; this version has a careening danger. The ominousness in Celent’s uncluttered, midrangey voice picks up and they end the song cold.

There’s another set – who would have though that Castle Black had enough material for two sets? Meanwhile, the parking lot is still radiating too much heat to put a beer down for more than a few seconds. Everybody in the band has a tallboy; dehydration is real. From an audience perspective, in this case it meant that time had come to hit the shade, and the train.

Castle Black’s next gig is a very rare acoustic one on Aug 28 at 3 PM at the Greenpoint Terminal Market, on Market St. past Kent Ave on the water. Take the G to Nassau Ave.

A Long Overdue Sonic Healing Ritual in Brooklyn

The sun goes down Wednesday evening behind Grand Army Plaza, welcome relief from the day’s crushing swelter. Heat is still rising from the stairs and courtyard extending to the gold-embellished facade of the Brooklyn Public Library. Feet stumble, brains fog and people collapse in conditions like this.

All the tables on the north side of the plaza are taken. There are a couple rows of chairs, carefully spaced apart. The area could accommodate many more, but paranoia in this part of town runs as deep as Loch Ness. A woman wears a surgical mask over her hijab. Hopefully she’s remembered to bring along a big water jug.

The PA is cranked up loud as Innov Gnawa launch into an undulating, clattering Moroccan gnawa groove. Six guys in regal robes and caps play heavy cast-metal qraqab castanets, flanking their leader and mentor, Maalem Hassan Ben Jaafer, who opens the show from behind a heavy drum slung over his shoulders. In his robe, sandals and blue-green reflector shades, he looks like Omar Souleymane.

One by one, the group members take a turn out front, showing off their fancy footwork as they crouch and strike expectant poses, their bandmates shifting between time signatures with split-second precision. Ben Jaafer has coached them well: they seem to know what’s coming, even though a lot of it is being made up on the spot.

The vocals are vigorous and incantatory: Ben Jaafer calls, the rest of the guys respond. He sings in Arabic, with a rugged, slightly raspy voice, saluting the spirits and engaging them to help us in our time of need. We’ve never needed them more than we do now.

Science tells us that low frequencies have healing properties: they calm our stress, lower our heart rate and our blood pressure. When Ben Jaafer pulls off his drum and picks up his sintir – the three-stringed Moroccan bass lute – the effect of his riffage, as he continues to move matter-of-factly from one rhythm to another, is visceral.

Although Morocco is home to a massive annual gnawa festival, the music is typically played at lila rituals. A lila is a lot of things: an all-night barbecue-and-hash party, a big communal jam, but also, perhaps more than anything else, a healing ceremony. This evening there’s exuberance, even triumph in Ben Jaafer’s voice and a hypnotic earth-heart pulse from his anthemic, blues-tinged sintir phrases. Maybe he’s channeling unseen sources, telling us that everything’s going to be all right even though all the earthly signs are pointing in the opposite direction.

Or maybe that’s a purely personal hope, finding solace amid the barrage of low tonalities punctuating the shamanic clank of the qraqabs. Ben Jaafer winds up the group’s first set much faster than he would have in Fes, where he learned his craft from some of the giants of the gnawa world. And then brought that repertoire here. At the moment, Innov Gnawa are the only traditional gnawa ensemble in North America.

The break between sets also affords an opportunity to crack a 24-ounce Modelo, but off the plaza, out of sight of the police cruisers circling the area. The slow walk toward Vanderbilt Avenue, in the shade, offers another kind of welcome comfort. The subway beckons, and at this point, it’s time to answer that call. Calm withstands the descent into renewed hellfire. Thank you for a restorative evening, Innov Gnawa.

The next show on the steps to the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is Aug 18 at 7  PM with feminist Guinean folk songwriter Natu Camara.

Trans-Global Entertainment With Accordion and Guitar in Downtown Brooklyn

Erica Mancini is an eclectically talented accordionist with a background equally informed by jazz, tango, cumbia and Americana, to name a few styles. She sings in a high, crystalline jazz voice and is a master of passing tones on the keys. Smokey Hormel was Johnny Cash’s last lead guitarist, but also has a thing for Brazilian music and jazz. The two make a good team. Playing a duo set at the little pedestrian mall where Willoughby meets Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday afternoon, they treated a sunstruck lunchtime crowd to a major portion of the innumerable (some would say unlimited) styles suited to their two instruments.

Mancini sang the opening number, a torchy Brazilian tune, in Portuguese. Later on, she spun counterintuitive cascades through a couple of rustic Colombian coastal cumbia instrumentals.

Hormel was especially at home, both voicewise and fingerpicking his vintage National Steel model, on a couple of Hank Williams songs and a jaunty, bittersweet duet with Mancini on the old Lefty Frizzell country hit Cigarettes and Coffee Blues. But he also had fun with an English translation of what he called a Brazilian cowboy tune.

Mancini invited up a friend to sing fetching Carter Family-style harmonies on I’ll Fly Away and then an extended, playful version of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Mancini’s version of another klezmer favorite, Comes Love, was just as wryly cheery. The two didn’t do any Romany swing, or tango, or Mexican banda music, but this was just the first set. It’s anybody’s guess how many other cultures they dipped their voices into in the next hour.

The next lunchtime show on the little plaza is Aug 17 at noon with acoustic fingerstyle delta blues guitarist Noe Socha. Mancini’s next gig is tomorrow night, Aug 13 at 8 PM at Sunny’s in Red Hook, her usual home base these days. Hormel is also at Sunny’s on Aug 18 at 8 with his western swing band.

Ariana Hellerman, the onetime publisher of Ariana’s List, a fantastic guide to live music and summer festivals, runs the series here. In addition to advocating for live music, she also has a passion for dance and is especially proud of the dance series she’s booking further down the Fulton Mall at Albee Square, a series of performances featuring styles from around the world that continues into the fall.

Fond Farewells and New Revelations at This Year’s Concluding Naumburg Bandshell Concert

Tuesday night in Central Park, a collective “awwwwww” swept through the crowd when the Naumburg organization’s Christopher London announced that the East Coast Chamber Orchestra‘s concert with pianist Shai Wosner would be the final one of the summer at the bandshell. What a blessing it has been to have these performances at a time when orchestral music has never been more imperiled. And what a great year it’s been! At this time last year, who would have imagined that we would be in a position to be so celebratory now?

It was a night to revisit familiar Mozartean comfort in newfound intimacy, but also to be entranced by far more recent material. The evening’s piece de resistance was Hanna Benn‘s Where Springs Not Fail, based on a morbid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. Dov Scheindlin, one of the three violists in the orchestral string collective, introduced it as “impressionistic and haunting,” which turned out to be an understatement. With an elegance that would define the night, the group parsed its slow, somber, insistent pastoralia with collegial attention to dynamics, anchored with visceral intensity in the lows.

Bassist Anthony Manzo introduced a mournfully tolling theme, the ensemble rising toward fullscale angst but not quite going there. Eventually a sense of closure, however mournful, appeared. The fade down at the end was obliterated by a passing helicopter. Technology destroying the soul: a metaphor for 2021 from above, literally.

The orchestra found even more angst in Osvaldo Golijov’s 1996 composition Last Round, equal parts boxing parable and salute to the composer’s iconic countryman and foundational influence Astor Piazzolla. As a portrait of the combative godfather of nuevo tango bedridden after a stroke and battling but slowly and ineluctably losing it, it’s set up as a couple of string quartets with the bass in the center as referee.

Sparks flew as agitation rose, then a poignant quote from Piazzolla’s Libertango appeared and was spun through a series of permutations. The sudden glissando at the moment of death was crushing; the group’s rise from a hush to a picturesque series of reflections was a vivid an elegy as anyone could have wanted.

The big hits with the crowd were Mozart favorites, which Wosner played from memory with exceptional attunement to underlying emotion. His approach to both the Piano Concerto No. 114 in E flat and No. 12 in A was unhurried, and spacious, and insightful to the nth degree: he’s really gone under the hood with this material.

He opened the night’s first concerto with a liquid, comfortably nocturnal legato, then left no doubt that the second movement was a love song. The conclusion was irresistibly fun, a puckish game of hide-and-seek, and the strings responded in kind.

The closing concerto was just as fresh and convivial, Wosner taking his time with the lustrous contentment of the opening movement, then backing away even further for a muted tenderness and then a sudden sense of trouble around the corner, a cautionary tale stashed away inside a glittery wine-hour piece for the entitled classes of Vienna, 1782-style. Both of these pieces are as standard as standard repertoire gets – and how rare it is that an ensemble can bring out as much inner detail as Wosner and the orchestra did here.

The pianist encored with a poignant, affectionately paced version of Schubert’s Hungarian Melody, D817. This is it for 2021 for the Naumburg Concerts, but a series for 2022 is in the works.