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Tag: hafez modirzadeh

Magical, Cinematic Jazz Nocturnes From Aakash Mittal at Lincoln Center

“Tonight’s show is going to be very meditative and very beautiful – you’re going to want to soak in the piece, in one full bite,” Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal enthused before Aakash Mittal took the stage with his trio this past evening. She was on to something. “My mind was blown by the variety of artists here,” Mittal agreed, being a regular at the atrium space where Dugal brings in talent from around the world (the Asian American Arts Alliance and India Center Foundation  partnered with Lincoln Center to make this happen) Then the group launched into the world premiere of a piece Mittal had just finished at 11 PM the night before

It’s a shout-out to three artists Mittal has worked with in recent years: avant garde soul singer Imani Uzuri, paradigm-shifting microtonal saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh and similarly legendary drummer/cardiac medicine guru Milford Graves. That eclecticism perfectly capsulized what Mittal is all about: a rugged individualist with sax (and clarinet, and flute) building on some of the catchiest tunes in a five thousand year tradition for something completely new and different.

He began the show on his usual axe, alto sax with a characteristically simple, crystallized, resonant series of phrases as guitarist Miles Okazaki jangled and plinked, Rajna Swaminathan nimbly firing out boomy syncopation on her double-barreled mridangam drum. As this enigmatic tone poem built up steam, it made an apt introduction for the series of nocturnes, each inspired by an individual Indian raga, which followed on the bill.

Swaminathan was energized right from the beginning, so Mittal and Okazaki chilled out before leaping back in and taking the introductory theme skyward, high-voltage bhangra melismatics balanced by punchy pedal phrases from the guitar. Rudresh Mahanthappa at his moodiest and most concise came to mind.

As the trio gently launched into the first nocturne, Mittal’s brooding blue-light curlicues contrasted with Swaminathan’s knock-knock beats, Okazaki again holding the center but pulling hard against it with his acidic chords. Mittal ceded the foreground, hanging on a long, mysterious drone, then picked up the pace with a coyly furtive, noir-tinged melody and variations that methodically drifted toward a tight bhangra pulse.

Okazaki sputtered out basslines and a little muted skronk; Mittal alluded to the slashing chromatics of Arabic modes, finally leiving the mist behind with a couple of wildfire flurries and some otherworldly duotones. Deviously dancing phrases occupied moody ambience; Mittal’s insistence paired off with Okazaki’s resilient chordal steadiness and cheery bubbles, occasionally hinting at Cuban riffage. With the boom from the mridangam, the absence of bass wasn’t a big deal. Ironically, the final nocturne was the sparest yet most hypnotically anthemic.

They pared the sound down to the bone for a plaintive rainy-day duo soundscape, Swaminathan eventually providing some distant thunder beyond the gloom. The funky number after that was closer to straight-ahead postbop jazz, but still Okazaki’s tense modal attack didn’t stray far from the center while the dance grew more agitated.

A flute duo between Mittal and guest Pawan Benjamin drew on Anthony Braxton’s modular writing but even as the notes rose higher up the scale, Mittal’s circular, nocturnal phrasing remained consistent,up to a shadowy ambient interlude where he switched to clarinet. The full quartet closed with a rivetingly microtonal, slashingly melismatic take of Street Music, Mittal’s evocation of late-night jamming in Kolkata, where he studied classical Indian music on a scholarship.

Mittal’s next gig is part of the Brooklyn Raga Massive’s 24-hour raga marathon starting at 5 PM on Oct 5 and going all night at Pioneer Works in Red Hook. And the free, mostly-weekly series of shows at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. continues this Oct 4 at 7:30 PM with firebrand Egyptian accordionist/songwriter Youssra El Hawary, best known for her hilarious Arab Spring youtube hit Piss on the Wall.

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Dan Trueman’s Crazy, Versatile New Keyboard Software Gets a Workout at le Poisson Rouge

Let’s say you’re a keyboardist and sick of the same old notes: as Wadada Leo Smith would say, maybe you feel hemmed in by the “tyranny of the key of C.” Maybe you want to voice the kind of in-between notes that a fretless instrument can deliver…or you want to go inside the piano a la George Crumb…or you’ve got a fondness for microtones or weird tunings in general. But as much as you’d like to bring in a real piano that you can play around with and/or torture a little, there’s no way it’s going to fit through your doorframe, or up the five rickety flights of stairs to your place…and you can’t afford a crane and a crew to pop out the window and put it back in again. Not to worry: Dan Trueman‘s new Bitklavier software, compatible with any MIDI keyboard, will empower you many times over. To illustrate its many capabilities, Trueman has a new album, Nostalgic Synchronic, played by So Percussion‘s Adam Sliwinski and streaming at Bandcamp. The album release show features Sliwinski and So Percussion, pianist Cristina Altamura playing Bach, and Trueman airing out his chops on the hardanger fiddle this Tuesday, October 6 at 7:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge. There will also be Bitklavier workstations set up for adventurous keyboardists to have fun with. Advance tix are $15.

To what degree is this album a demo reel – lookit all the wild things my gizmo can do! – and how genuinely musical is it? Obviously, Trueman is having a ball with all the echo and backward-masking and pitch-bending effects, and as much as his eight etudes here seeem obviously designed with those things in mind, the music is more listenable than you might expect – and trippy beyond belief. An apt comparison is Vijay Iyer‘s work on the actual acoustic prepared piano on Hafez Modirzadeh‘s cult classic Postchromodal Out! album from a couple of years ago. The first track is minimalist, steadily rhythmic and staccato, showcasing how subtly and intricately echo can be deployed, along with minute changes in pitch that are all the more prominent considering the tune’s static quality. The slow second piece mimics the almost glacial shifts of tidal motion, with gentle variances in rhythm – an important and useful feature of the software – and the decay of notes. The third takes a simple, folksy melody and quickly disassembles it, with dizzying, rhythmically altered echo: imagine an acid flashback experience of slapback reverb.

Track four has creepy fun with a steady raindroplet tune. The one after that, a homage to Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, wastes no time shifting from what promises to be a Beatlesque psychedelic rock stroll and then offers a look at how the software could be applied to blues or jazz riffage. Etude six is especially tuneful, a jauntily echoing, balletesque number exploring the software’s rhythmic effect on counterpoint: the point seems to be, “see, you can play Bach with this.” The seventh piece, an old Norwegian folk melody transposed from its original strange tuning to an arguably even stranger new one, relates to how neoromantic phrases can be cut, pasted and staggered. The concluding etude, slow and steady, offers a delightfully menacing hint at where David Lynch could go with this. Let’s see – there’s a new Twin Peaks series coming up, isn’t there?

Amir ElSaffar Unleashes a River of Sound at Lincoln Center

Chicago-born, New York-based composer Amir ElSaffar books a comfortable, classy joint in the financial district, Alwan for the Arts, a hotbed for cutting-edge new music coming out of the Middle East and cross-pollinating with other styles from around the world. This evening at Lincoln Center, the trumpeter-santoorist-singer debuted his new suite, Not Two with a mighty seventeen-piece ensemble centered around the members of his regular quintet Rivers of Sounds: drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Carlo DeRosa, buzuq player Tareq Abboushi, oudist/percussionist Zafer Tawil and tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen. It was a magically epic performance, one which will momentarily be recorded and which is scheduled to be released on vinyl within the year. That’s major news.

As the group slowly rose with a pensively emphatic, mournful signal from the trumpet, were they going to continue in the direction of long-toned massed improvisation, a slightly Arabic-toned take on Karl Berger or Butch Morris? As it turned out, no. The opening segment grew to a sort of take on the distant, august majesty of a theme from another cross-pollinator, Hafez Modirzadeh, with whom ElSaffar has memorably collaborated. As the work went on, multiple themes rose and fell, slowly crescendoing long-toned melodies against an uneasily rippling, relentlessly rhythmic backdrop, Waits augmented by several percussionists including Tim Moore (of the transcendently good Middle Eastern jamband Salaam). ElSaffar’s sister Dena – leader of that group – supplied what was arguably the night’s most plaintive moment, playing achingly raw, sustained lines on her joza fiddle, also adding austere oud and atmosphere on viola and violin. DeRosa did the heaviest lifting of anybody in the ensemble, working up a sweat with endlessly vamping, incisively circular riffs, a couple of times racewalking his scales as he pushed the tunes into a couple of lickety-split hardbop swing interludes.

Abboushi, Tawil and fellow oudist George Ziadeh each got to take long, crescendoing solos against a hushed, anticipatory backdrop, ElSaffar adding more rippling, suspenseful flourishes on his santoor than he did on trumpet. ElSaffar built Gil Evans-like lustre, from the bottom of the sonic register – bass, cello and JD Parran’s bass saxophone – to the very top, with the santoor, violin, vibraphone and pianist Craig Taborn’s insistent, repetitive close harmonies. The rhythms would shift artfully from a stately dirge, to galloping triplets or a circling gait evocative of Ethiopian folk music. The themes embraced Mohammed Abdel Wahab-esque classical  Egyptian anthemicness as well as lingering, otherworldly, minimalist Iraqi melodies and a couple of romps through pretty straight-ahead American postbop tinged with Monk-like modalities. They took it up for an explosive outro and then slowly wound it down at the end. ElSaffar has enjoyed a long association with Lincoln Center, who co-commissioned this work, another impressive notch in the  belt for both.

This show is typical of the kind of coucerts in the atrium series at Lincoln Center: an abundance of styles from across the spectrum and around the world. One particularly enticing upcoming show is the JACK Quartet‘s appearance on April 23 at 7:30 PM where they’ll be playing works by John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, Caroline Shaw and others.