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Tag: kristin hoffmann review

Kristin Hoffmann Plays an Intimate West Village New Year’s Eve Show

If you like art-rock with elegant, baroque-tinged melodies, precisely nuanced piano, hypnotic rhythms and out-of-this-world gorgeous, dynamic vocals, Kristin Hoffmann is playing a New Year’s Eve show starting at around quarter to midnight at her longtime West Village haunt, Caffe Vivaldi at 32 Jones St. just off Bleecker. There are two dinner seatings (VERY EXPENSIVE) before then. The club calendar says “open house 1-3 AM” which can be interpreted any number of ways: assuming open bar might not be the safest bet.

In addition to her sweeping, often achingly intense work as a solo artist, Hoffmann is the singer in NASA’s Bella Gaia multimedia extravaganza, with whom she tours the globe. The Juilliard-trained singer is also in demand in the contemporary classical world: her latest album in that field is her Unfolding Secrets collaboration with cinematic Italian composer Marco Missinato. At her most recent Saturday night Caffe Vivaldi gig, Hoffmann sang one of those warmly neoromantic, colorful themes with a soaring, operatically-tinged intensity, adding just a hint of vibrato at the end of phrase when the music called for a little extra voltage. A little later, she brought the crowd to their feet with an even more high-octane, arioso rendition of Ave Maria.

But it’s her originals that people come out for here, and she played to the crowd. As precise and catchy as Hoffmann’s hooks are, there’s an angst-ridden undercurrent throughout her music. Hoffmann is a Libra: balance is a major theme with her, something she seems to grapple with and manages to achieve through her music’s gusty swells and majestic tectonic shifts. This was an electroacoustic performance, Hoffmann at the piano playing along to orchestration and beats on her tablet, Premik Russell Tubbs serving as a one-man band behnd her on – take a deep breath – lapsteel, alto sax, bass flute and wind synth.

The lingering, resonant washes from his lapsteel grounded several of the songs, notably the suspensefully brooding art-trip-hop of the opening number, The Magic and a later anthem, Falling, about jumping off a cliff – metaphorically speaking. On another song, Hoffmann worked an insistent piano riff that brought to mind Carol Lipnik‘s more minimalist work. As the show went on, Hoffmann aired out her many voices : an impassioned, confident alto, a stratospheric, spine-tingling soprano as many of the songs would hit a peak, and a no-nonsense soul approach on a rousing Aretha Franklin-influenced ballad. She kept that vibe going with a plaintive, similarly soulful take of Joni Mitchell’s River. Meanwhile, Tubbs, who’d been adding judicious textures via his many wind instruments – and a jaunty sax solo on River – went back to lapsteel for his most adrenalizing, crescendoing solo of the night on another big anthem. Hoffmann wound up her first set with a stately lullaby of sorts, a spaciously syncopated mood piece and a similarly nocturnal number that brought to mind the old Cindy Lauper hit Time After Time.

Marco Missinato and Kristin Hoffmann’s Enveloping, Cinematic Suite Debuts in the West Village

Thursday night at Greenwich House Music School in the West Village marked the US debut of composer Marco Missinato‘s orchestral suite Unfolding Secrets: A Symphony of the Heart. For those who might see the title of the piece and assume “Hallmark Channel,” it’s not like that at all. Missinato has built as career as a film composer, and true to form, this is a suite of dreamy, cinematic soundscapes built on slowly unfolding, anthemic themes. Juilliard-trained soprano Kristin Hoffmann, who is best known as a purveyor of moody, soul-searching piano-based chamber pop, delivered mostly wordless vocals with both a stunning nuance and an unexpected power that took the piece to surprisingly forceful heights. That they played seven of the work’s thirteen movements out of sequence only added to the intrigue. Missinato wrote the score; Hoffmann wrote the vocal charts, and quite possibly improvised some of them: she can jam with anyone, which became even clearer at the end of the show.

Hoffmann and Missinato share a birthday, and they were celebrating that and the album release for this project together, Hoffmann backed by a chamber ensemble of pianist Assaf Gleizner, bassist Scott Collberg, cellist Alex Cox, violist Timothy Maufe and violinists Marielle Haubs and Caitlyn Lynch. This was an electroacoustic performance, with a backing track including the woodwinds, synthesized orchestration and occasional percussion missing from the group onstage, plus visuals shot by filmmaker Ashley Rogers (whose short documentary tracing the development of the collaboration between Missinato and Hoffmann was screened before the concert) .

A sweeping, slowly shifting main theme of sorts was followed by an optimistic, occasionally suspense-tinged interlude: “Come with me,” Hoffmann sang brightly, an open invitation. She aired out her lower register during a more dramatic, somewhat more anxious sequence. Hoffmann varied her approach considerably as the music unwound, sometimes with a bell-like clarity, other times with a carefully modulated vibrato that she unleashed for a pillowy touch and then pulled back in, and then back and forth, adding a welcome dynamic charge to Missinato’s soothingly enveloping, warmly major-key shades. A  minor-key canon lit up by Gleizner’s judiciously minimialist upper righthand work introduced a brooding interlude closer in spirit to Hoffmann’s songwriting. And then the music slowly rose to practically operatic heights.

Hoffmann ended the concert with a trio of her own songs: Ghosts, a pensive but ultimately triumphant trip-hop contemplation of overcoming being haunted by the past; Temple, a slowly and passionately rising anthem, and Falling, a bracing but again triumphant exploration of having the courage to let go and take a plunge, emotionally speaking. Then most of the string section exited, leaving Hoffmann, a guest digeridoo player and the rhythm section to improvise what might have been the night’s most exciting number. Gleizner began with a simple variations on a, gleaming, saturnine riff as Collberg worked around a steady pulse, the digeridoo almost a loop, Hoffmann writing a wounded, angst-fueled anthem on the spot, a vivid portrait of alienation amidst chaos and the struggle to achieve some kind of balance despite it all.

Moody, Tuneful Chamber Pop from Kristin Hoffmann

For the last several years, singer/composer Kristin Hoffmann has held down a monthly Saturday night residency at Caffe Vivaldi in the west village. For those who might not be familiar with her career, that’s her home base when she’s not touring the world, supplying music for Bella Gaia, NASA’s spaceflight simulation project, advocating for ocean conservation or creating music therapy pieces. Although she hardly shies away from real-world concerns, her moody chamber-pop songs tend to be more inward-directed, blending neoromantic piano, terse lyrics and Hoffmann’s nuanced, sometimes delicate, sometimes explosive vocals. Her latest project is a towering, epic, symphonic collaboration with composer Marco Missinato, titled Unfolding Secrets: A Symphony of the Heart. She and her collaborator will be playing the album release show for that one on her birthday, October 10 at 8 at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the west village; tix are a ridiculously cheap $10.

Her latest solo album is titled The Human Compass, with more of the intimate, pensive songwriting that’s become Hoffmann’s drawing card. Many of the songs sway along on a slow trip-hop beat, introduced on the opening track, The Magic, with its moody minimalist piano, harmonica and what sounds like a Middle Eastern dumbek drum loop. Hoffmann keeps the trip-hop going with Let Go, which reaches for gothic grand guignol with an apprehensive piano loop, string synth and a choir of vocals on the chorus. Ghosts maintains the misterioso pulse, creepy glockenspiel joining the slinky groove midway through: Hoffmann’s alllusive lyrics are similarly enigmatic and draw you in.

Light and Smoke brings the gothic angst back over ominously opaque yet insistent piano, a muted cry for some kind of hope worth holding onto: “All of these years are passing like a train track running to nowhere,” Hoffmann broodingly observes. Begin Again is a pick-up-the-pieces-and-move-on number, followed by Re-Entry, which sets a searching lyric that wouldn’t be out of place in a Moody Blues song to sweeping, ethereal space-pop with some spine-tingling vocal harmonies.

Between the Veils opens with hypnotic, bell-like piano and nebulous string synth, rising to an angst-ridden, imploring crescendo. It Sings in You goes in a warmer direction, an art-rock lullaby with elegantly ornamented piano. The album ends with The Wind Song, its wary piano and wordless vocals hinting at the majestic heights that Hoffmann hits on her forthcoming symphonic album. The only dud here is a guitar song that doesn’t sound like anything of the other tracks – it might be a cover. So who is the audience for this? Fans of pensive, introspective, classically-tinged songwriting…and whatever’s left of the goths of the 80s and 90s.