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Tag: jody redhage

Revisiting a Lavish, Exquisitely Textured, Symphonic Big Band Album by Brian Landrus

Listening to one Brian Landrus album makes you want to hear more. It’s impossible to think of another baritone saxophonist from this era , or for that matter any other, who’s a more colorful composer. Landrus’ masterpiece so far is his titanic Generations big band album, which hit the web about four years ago and is streaming at Spotify. A grand total of 25 players go deep into its lavish, meticulously layered, completely outside-the-box charts .

It opens with The Jeru Concerto, equally inspired by the patron saint of baritone sax big band composition, Gerry Mulligan, as well as Landrus’ young son. Right off the bat, the band hit a cantering rhythm with distant echoes of hip-hop, but also symphonic lustre, the bandleader entering suavely over starry orchestration. He ripples and clusters and eventually leads the group to a catchy, soul-infused theme that could be Earth Wind and Fire at their most symphonic and organic.

A tightly spiraling solo baritone interlude introduces the second segment on the wings of the string section, Landrus’ soulful curlicues and spacious phrasing mingling with the increasingly ambered atmosphere and an unexpected, cleverly shifting pulse. The third movement calms again: watch lights fade from every room, until a more-or-less steady sway resumes. The textures, with harpist Brandee Younger and vibraphonist Joe Locke peeking up as bustling counterpoint develops throughout the group, are exquisite.

The conclusion begins with an altered latin groove, the bandleader shifting toward a more wary theme, neatly echoed in places by the orchestra, ornate yet incredibly purposeful. Landrus moves between a balmy ballad and anxious full-ensemble syncopation, cleverly intertwining the themes up to a casually triumphant final baritone solo.

Orchids, a surreal reggae tune, opens with a starry duet between Younger and Locke and rises to a big sax-fueled peak. Arise is even more playfully surreal, a haphazardly optimistic mashup of Kool and the Gang and Gershwin at his most orchestrally blustery. The Warrior has a Holst-like expanse underpinned by a subtle forward drive from the bass (that’s either Jay Anderson or Lonnie Plaxico) as well as incisive trumpet and violin solos and a triumphant march out.

Arrow in the Night is a comfortably nocturnal prelude with a dark undercurrent: things are not always as they seem. With its persistent, top-to-bottom light/dark contrasts, Human Nature comes across as a busier yet vampier take on classic Gil Evans.

Ruby, dedicated to Landrus’ daughter, has as much gentle playfulness as balminess, with puckish accents, a lyrical baritone solo and an undulating rhythm: this kid is fun, but she’s got a plan and she sticks to it. The ensemble close with Every Time I Dream, a catchy, dancingly orchestrated hip-hop theme akin to a more lavish take on Yaasin Bey’s adventures in new classical music, flurrying trumpet pulling the orchestra out of a momentary reverie.

An epic performance from a rotating cast that also includes drummers Billy Hart andJustin Brown, Jamie Baum, Tom Christensen, Darryl Harper, Michael Rabinowitz and Alden Banta among the reeds; Debbie Schmidt, Ralph Alessi, Igmar Thomas, Alan Ferber and Marcus Rojas as the brass; and a string section of Sara Caswell, Mark Feldman, Joyce Hammann, Meg Okura, Lois Martin, Nora Krohn, Jody Redhage and Maria Jeffers.

Wild, Outside-the-Box Orchestral Reinventions of Steely Dan Favorites

Guitarist Andrew Green can shred with anyone, but he’s also a first-rate, imaginative composer and arranger. About ten years ago, he put out a deliciously shadowy album of original film noir-inspired pieces titled Narrow Margin. His latest record, Dime Dancing – streaming at Bandcamp – is an orchestral take on the Steely Dan catalog, both the hits and some deeper cuts. The charts are as playful and clever as the originals, and frontwoman Miriam Waks brings Donald Fagen’s allusively sinister, druggy lyrics into crystalline focus. Suddenly these songs make a lot of sense! What a treat for fans of the Dan.

They open with the radio staple Black Cow. This balmy neoclassical version picks up with the counterpoint between the oboe’s single-note lines – that’s either Dan Wieloszynski or Kenny Berger –  and the strings of violinist Meg Okura and cellist Jody Redhage. Frontwoman Miriam Waks sings it with a coy cynicism, then Green makes bluegrass out of it with some unexpectedly purist flatpicking.

Curto and Waks give Aja a hazy, languid atmosphere with rhythmic echoes of Steve Reich; is that percussionist Vince Cherico on tabla? And who knew that Any World That I’m Welcome To was such a wish song? Waks brings new depth to Fagen’s alienated hippie protagonist over jaunty, string-whipped salsa-rock, with a wry Spanish-language descarga at the end.

Green and Waks reinvent Reelin’ in the Years at what feels like quarterspeed, with enigmatic harmonies and a strikingly wounded vocal. Drummer Richie Barshay’s opening groove in Dirty Work is LMAO funny and too good to spoil – then the ensemble do the song as surprisingly straight-up, bubbly chamber pop with a spiraling, forro-inspired solo by accordionist Rob Curto..

They ease into Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More, reinventing it as a stark, disquieting, baroque-tinged acoustic waltz: Waks leaves no doubt about what happened to Daddy. The most obscure and least memorable track here, Everything You Did gets a strutting vaudevillian arrangement with muted trumpet. Green and crew wind up the record with a balmy, bittersweet, slowly enveloping take of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. Unquestionably one of the most entertaining albums of the year.

Camila Meza Brings Her Disarmingly Direct Voice, Guitar and Unflinching Political Sensibility to the West Village

Camila Meza’s lustrous, wondrous, disarmingly clear vocals mirror the way she plays guitar. For that reason, she’s highly sought after. She’s the not-so-secret weapon in trombonist Ryan Keberle’s group, and also plays a central role in Fabian Almazan’s large ensemble. She’s as vivid a lyricist in English as in her native Spanish; when she sings vocalese, she’s more likely to harmonize with a guitar line than to imitate a postbop horn solo.

That often shatteirngly direct sensibility serves her songwriting well. Her work has a fearless political relevance, inspired by decades of populist songwrirting from throughout Latin America. Her most recent album Traces is streaming at Sunnyside Records. She’s playing a characteristically politically-fueled show with pianist Aaron Goldberg on May 10 at 8 PM at Greenwich House Music School; cover is $15/$10 stud.

The album opens with Para Volar, a bright, gently churning melody underneath her Spanish-language lyrics, an allusively triumphant shout-out to freedom and escape, a common theme in the Chilean-born Meza’s music. Her guitar bubbles and leaps over the lithe rhythm section of bassist Matt Penman and drummer Kendrick Scott, pianist Shai Maestro kicking into his driving low register as Meza’s solo peaks out. She revisits that optimism a little later in the album’s kinetic title track, where she turns up her guitar and cuts loose, more gritty and lowdown.

Jody Redhage’s spare cello and Maestro’s sparkly Rhodes mingle with Meza’s gentle fingerpicking in Away, a wistful, hypnotic duet with Sachal Vasandani. Meza’s precise, clipped vocals leave no doubt as to the deadly consequences in Djavan’s bitter eco-disaster narrative Amazon Farewell, Maestro adding a richly incisive, darkly rippling solo.

Mar Elastico is an enigmatically hazy, summery reminiscence of Meza’s childhood adventures with her sisters, Maestro’s Rhodes front and center; Scott’s distant-tornado cymbals behind Meza’s delicate jangle is one of the album’s high points. She switches to acoustic for a spare solo take of the Victor Jara classic Luchin. an allusively harrowing tale of resilience amidst crushing childhood poverty. 

The uneasy piano-guitar harmonies in Steven Sondheim’s Greenfinch and Linnet Bird give the selfconsciously fussy ballad a welcome gravitas. Meza returns to the expectantly circling, distant yet optimistic intensity of the early part of the album in Emerald: the mantra is “There’s no need to hide now.”

The album’s most elusive yet arguably strongest track is the lush, sweeping Mangata, a metaphorically-charged refugee’s escape anthem, Meza’s stark, emphatic chords against Maestro’s neoromantic glimmer. The album ends with the self-effacingly modest Little Person – the spare, rather trad closing theme from the Philip Seymour Hoffman film Synecdoche New York-  projecting the hope of “finding another little person,” as Meza puts it. What Meza has found here in the US is a fertile crucible for her many talents, all of which are still in their formative stages. Catch her on the way up.

Missy Mazzoli’s Richly Tuneful, Restless, Enigmatic Works Take Centerstage at the Miller Theatre

Missy Mazzoli’s music is hypnotic yet stormy, intricate yet disarmingly transparent. A strong and influential contingent of New York new music fans consider Mazzoli to be the most vital composer so far to emerge in this century. Thursday night, the Miller Theatre saluted her with a “composer portrait” concert of her work for both string quartet and for soloists playing along with prerecorded multitracks. As accessible and vivid as Mazzoli’s compositions are, they require all kinds of extended technique and are far from easy to play – although they seem, as a rule, to be fun to play, and the performers reveled in them.

The Mivos Quartet opened the bill with an alternately kinetic and atmospheric favorite from 2010, Death Valley Junction. Lit up with innumerable, graceful swoops and dives – Mazzoli LOVES glissandos – the piece takes its inspiration from Martha Becket, an octogenarian opera singer who achieved cult status for her one-woman shows in a desolate sagebrush town on the California-Nevada border. The group also ended the first half of the performance with a nimble electroacoustic take of Harp and Altar, a joyously bustling, circling homage to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Violinist Robert Simonds played Dissolve, O My Heart, a very subtle, gentle and distantly plaintive theme and variations based on the famous Chaconne from Bach’s D Minor Partita. Cellist Jody Redhage sang A Thousand Tongues, contemplating issues of honesty and believability in a soaring soprano while playing its remotely disquieted, ambered lines against a hypnotic backing track of electronically blenderized Mazzoli solo piano.  Likewise, Violist Nathan Schram got to interact with a backing track of processed viola by Nadia Sirota – with the piece’s clever waves of call-and-response, Schram couldn’t resist breaking into a grin, and the audience was there with him. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge then took centerstage, joined by the string quartet Ethel for His Name Is Jan, a “work in progress,” as Mazzoli put it, moody tectonic shifts anchoring its irresistibly droll, animated arioso vocals. It’s part of a forthcoming opera based on the Lars Von Trier film Breaking the Waves, scheduled to premiere in Philadelphia next year.

Ethel closed out the concert with a blustery yet elegant world premiere, Quartet for Queen Mab, an aptly trippy portrait of a mysterious sprite who spirits people off to a surreal dreamworld. The next “composer portrait” program at the Miller Theatre is Feb 19 at 8 PM with the Mivos Quartet, Yarn/Wire and Ekmeles playing and singing the thorny, challenging music of Stefano Gervasoni. Mazzoli’s art-rock band Victoire are playing the album release show for their intense, richly enveloping, forthcoming cd Vespers for a New Dark Age at le Poisson Rouge at 8 PM on May 7.

Charming French Tropicalia from Banda Magda

Truth in advertising: the cd cover for Banda Magda’s new album Amour, T’es La? is pink and festooned with palm leaves and tropical fruit. Although what this group plays is not dark – it’s bouncy, upbeat, irrepressibly fun music – it is quintessentially New York and cosmopolitan to the extreme. Frontwoman/accordionist Magda Gianikou writes and sings in French, although her ancestry is Greek. Her core band includes vibraphonist Mika Mimura, guitarist Nacho Hernandez, bassist Petros Klampanis and percussionist Marcelo Woloski. The rest of the players on the album – among them drummer Jordan Perlson, cellist Jody Redhage and violist Ljova Zhurbin – represent this city’s A-list jazz and classical music scenes. Gianikou’s quirky, clever arrangements also include parts for brass, shamisen, hammered dulcimer and concert harp. It’s a party in a box.

The title track – meaning “You There, Love?”  – sets the tone, Gianikou’s chirpy vocals (and solidily good French accent) soaring over bouncy bossa pop. The second track, Asteroide is a sassy, tiptoeing swing tune, Gianikou cajoling a guy to come populate her empty planet. Caramel works a latin disco groove, but in an organic way with lush strings and breathy, come-hither vocals (and a chorus that at first listen sounds like “cassoulet”).

The band brings in echoey Rhodes piano with the lush strings on Ce Soir (Tonight), followed by the jaunty boudoir pop anthem Couches-Toi (Lie Down), building to an unexpectedly lavish waltz midway through. Juin (June) sets a slightly delirious, slightly Indian-tinged seaside resort tableau, while Fond de la Mer (Bottom of the Sea) evokes Jenifer Jackson at her balmiest and most psychedelic.

La Japonaise is an Asian-tinged, drolly festive tale about Mimura’s adventures playing a Montreal jazz bar, dodging seductive men and losing her mallets in the street. Mouche (The Fly) is funkier – she gets in your hair, she may end up in your drink and she wants your body. The catchiest song here is Oublies-La (Forget Her), with its barrage of la-la’s, salsa piano and soaring flute. The album winds up with the dreamy but bouncy Petite Maline (which translates roughly as Little Devil or Little Troublemaker), Gianikou insisting she’s not a bad girl even though she ripped a hole in the roof so she could look up into the sky and see all the bright colors. Gianikou plays the Lincoln Center plaza for free at 7 PM on July 26; later on that night on the stage out back in Damrosch Park, she’ll sing alongside headliners the Kronos Quartet. Banda Magda are at Prospect Park bandshell at 7:30 PM on August 3, opening for salsa jazz legend Eddie Palmieri.

A Chillingly Lynchian Soundtrack from Nathan Halpern

In the New York rock world, Nathan Halpern is known as an intense, melodic guitarist, a member of Kerry Kennedy’s brilliant Ghostwise band and a first-class dark rock songwriter in his own right. The film world knows Halpern as a composer. His most recent project is the soundtrack to the documentary film Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, playing at Film Forum through July 5, on HBO all summer long, followed by a national theatrical release which is still in the works. Halpern is a master of noir, and this haunting, Eastern European-tinged theme and variations establishes him as a sort of 21st century counterpart to Angelo Badalamenti. One word to describe this: Lynchian. Analytically speaking, it’s absolutely fascinating how Halpern develops and orchestrates a series of variations on a series of allusively menacing ideas. But nobody’s going to sit and analyze this: as haunting, Balkan-inflected High Romantic angst, it’s something to get completely lost in. Other than the gypsy music, and Badalamenti – whose minimalist work with David Lynch comes to mind most obviously here – there are echoes of Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock scores, the Tin Hat Trio’s contributions to the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack, and the occasional reference to Bach or Beethoven. In other words, this guy isn’t messing around, diving into the shadows from the first few lingering notes from his piano.

A lot of these pieces are tantalizingly brief, clocking in at just a couple of minutes or even less: how they segue into each other makes it next to impossible to keep track of which is which unless you’re keeping a close eye on which track is playing. There are two main themes. The first, a tensely moody, chromatically-charged melody, features Halpern’s piano and a string section of O’Death’s Robert Pycior (who is credited as co-writer of the main theme and a couple of variations) on violin and viola, Jody Redhage on cello and Andrew Platt on bass plus Thurston Moore collaborator Mary Lattimore on harp. The second is a morosely atmospheric waltz anchored by Halpern’s echoey, often bloodcurdling music-box broken chords. The title theme recurs again and again, strings rising and falling against it, sometimes warmly and lushly, sometimes agonizingly. The waltz channels unrequited love and longing as it recurs and shifts tempos, at one point morphing into a dark little Serbian dance. There’s also a chillingly stately interlude that toys cruelly with a Bach Invention motif; a gleefully dancing Balkan piece led by Pycior’s stark phrasing; and a couple of artful atmospheric passages where droning textures move sepulchrally into and then out of the picture. The orchestrations manage to be simultaneously terse yet enveloping, and are packed with neat, shadowy little touches: is that the choir patch on a synthesizer? No, that’s Lori Fisher’s ghostly, distant vocals leading into that stern, tense Jody Redhage pedal note. And V.S. Nabakov’s water-drop percussion adds a cruel inevitability to a miniature Beethoven-tinged nocturne about the passage of time, lit up by Halpern’s spaciously reverberating, plaintive electric guitar.

What about the film, and Abramovic? She’s a Belgrade-born performance artist, now in her sixties, who’s made a career of putting herself on display: she may be your cup of tea, or she may not. Not having seen the film, it’s not clear to what degree it comments on what she does, if at all, and the soundtrack gives nothing away. The suspense is crushing. The itunes link is here.

32 Concerts in 32 Days: Day 7

Day seven is where the dead-tree media guys all drop out. If they were lucky, newspaper people were union, so they got Sunday off – and if there was a show Sunday, somebody from the news desk (or the mailroom) got lucky and covered it. Last night was another unplanned adventure, usually the best kind, and so was this one. 9 PM on a muggy night out on the upper west side, everybody wants to hang and talk, the Mets game has a typical fatalistic tension, and just like Jose Reyes a couple of days ago, my streak is in jeopardy. My original game plan was to hit Korzo in Sunset Park, which is a hike for a lot of people, me included. Is there possibly a good show in the neighborhood instead? P&G Bar would have been an option a few months ago, but it’s closed now, which is too bad. Cleopatra’s Needle has jazz, and good food, but in the warmer months they leave the doors open, which makes it both a steambath and sonically unfeasible since it’s right next to a bus stop. Here’s where a good plan B comes in: a couple of years ago, the Symphony Space people installed a little cafe on the 95th Street side, which is where the Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble were playing. And who did the cellist in this group happen to be? None other than Jody Redhage, star of Monday night’s concert. With this crew, she’s basically the bass player, picking out a terse, bouncy groove alongside the percussionist, violinist Zach Brock and bandleader/keyboardist Hudson.

Hudson writes catchy, genre-defying instrumentals that ought to be movie themes. Maybe they are movies themes, famous ones, and I’ve just never seen those movies. That’s what happens when you spend your life in dingy clubs instead of at home, glued to the tube. Their first number was a cross between a tango and a jazz waltz, Hudson’s electric piano tones glimmering and reverberating beneath Brock’s bracing, austere, sustained violin lines. A plaintive song without words titled Song for John Lennon was less Beatlesque than simply cinematic, building slowly as Hudson’s piano took on a pensive, longing tone. The rest of the set included a plaintive Belgian accordion waltz – that Hudson played on a melodica over a hypnotic Afrobeat groove – and a little later, a quietly nocturnal tune with a circular cello bassline. Redhage used this as a springboard for an unexpectedly searing solo, moving further and further up the scale, finally furiously joining the cajon player in staccato doubletime until it completely fell apart and collapsed violently on itself. This was as far from the serenity of what she played Monday night as you can possibly imagine. And maybe the last thing you might expect to find at the cafe tucked off to the side of a classical hall on the upper west, further proof of how many great shows are taking place in some unlikely places all over this town, every night of the week.

Unselfconscious, Serene Beauty from Jody Redhage

This past week has been a great one for concerts. In terms of unselfconscious beauty, not to mention accessibility, cellist Jody Redhage’s album release show at Drom last night tops the list. The new record, Of Minutiae and Memory, just on New Amsterdam Records is a hypnotically gorgeous, thematic collection of electroacoustic works. Redhage played all but one of them, singing on several, with ample use of effects and backing tracks supplied by a laptop. Wil Smith’s Static Line, which appeared about midway through the set, was perfectly representative, cleverly setting a couple of drones just enough of a microtone apart to create an apprehensive effect, Redhage then sliding slowly up, then lower, then back up over it to raise the suspense factor.

Like the album, the rest of the show went deeper into dreamy, warmly lush atmospherics, although a close listen revealed innumerable layers of subtle shades that helped establish each piece’s individual personality: they transcend being pigeonholed as horizontal or minimalist. In places, some of the material reminded of Enya, or Sigur Ros, but any similarity ended when Redhage raised her voice. She sings with the round, bell-like clarity of a chorister, a voice that’s just as strong at the very top end as it is three or maybe even four octaves lower. She only went up that high a couple of times, but made those gently soaring ascents count. The album’s title track, by Paula Matthusen, set stately vocals atop gently shifting layers of electronics and processed cello, almost imperceptibly shifting to more intense textures from the cello as it wound up.

Joshua Penman’s aptly titled I Dreamed I Was Floating was next, Redhage’s brightly sustained lines an anchor amidst swirling, shimmering ambience. Missy Mazzoli’s warily mysterious A Thousand Tongues played shifting segments off rhythmically echoey, piano-like accents and another warmly hypnotic vocal passage. The Light by Which She May Have Ascended, by Ryan Brown, a slowly expanding and increasingly pensive round, had the most hypnotic quality of all the songs. Redhage closed the show with Derek Muro’s Did You See Me Walking, setting a Frank O’Hara poem to a tersely accented, wistful theme. What did it feel like to experience about an hour of all this? Absolutely relaxed and at peace, like after a full-body massage – or like taking a vicodin, but without the fuzziness. In a week of harrowing, intense, anguished sounds, this was a welcome respite.