New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: leila adu

The Overlook Champion Exhilarating, Riveting Works by Black Composers

Tuesday evening at the Hispanic Society of America, violinist Ravenna Lipchik of the Overlook flashed a knowing grin to her violist bandmate Angela Pickett, seconds before the string quartet launched into the third movement of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Fantasie-Stücke. With a passionate, syncopated pulse, a breathtaking melody burst out from the strings of the four women gathered in the front of the basement-level gallery space. This wasn’t exactly a witchy tarantella, or a slashing Balkan dance, but it had elements of both, blended into a breathtaking High Romantic triumph that quickly became the most exhilarating interlude anyone in New York has played for an audience this year.

Wow.

Admittedly, by normal standards, the number of concerts in this city this year has been the lowest on record since probably the 1700s. Still, this was a reminder of everything that was stolen from us during the lockdown – and what we need to get back, and this new string quartet are at the front of the pack leading the way.

The Overlook dedicate themselves to resurrecting material by undeservedly obscure black composers, and championing this era’s crop. Coleridge-Taylor’s five-part suite – recently recorded by another paradigm-shifting group, the Catalyst Quartet – was the legacy piece. Until recently, this once famous composer, conductor and contemporary of Dvorak and Brahms was largely forgotten outside of the organ demimonde. Judging from the rest of his work that’s recently been revived, he’s long overdue.

Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music is more Slavic than Dvorak and has the same kind of playfulness and intricacy as Razumovsky Quartet-era Beethoven, combined with sometimes stark, sometimes stirring elements of African-American blues and gospel music. This piece had all of that, a gorgeously bittersweet theme and variations along with a devious return to that blazing dance before a somewhat more mutedly heroic coda.

The ensemble – which also includes cellist Laura Metcalf and violinist Monica Davis – bookended the piece with two more recent but equally fascinating works. Guest Tanya Birl-Torres introduced Leila Adu‘s If the Stars Align with a brief meditation suggesting we connect to a comfortable space in between the earth that grounds us, and the world above which gives us life.

Adu is better known as a singer of ornate, soaring art-rock, in a Kate Bush vein, so this was a revelation The music was deceptively simple, built around a series of subtly, increasingly complex gestures that grew into a more complex web, following a steady counterpoint, a series of handoffs and catch-and-follow. There was also a bustling, vividly urban interlude complete with sirens and busy crowds, as well as a flurrying intensity with echoes of Kurdish folk music.

Birl-Torres also served as narrator during the hazy, enigmatic introduction to the concluding work, Shelley Washington’s Middleground. The quartet dug into the piece’s insistent minimalism, akin to a similarly rhythmic but somewhat gentler Julia Wolfe, expanding a steady interweave, its close harmonies and short, emphatic gestures echoing the night’s first piece.

The Overlook’s next scheduled performance is Sept 12 at 4 PM with music by Eleanor Alberga, Florence Price, and Chevalier de Saint-Georges at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, 65 Jumel Terrace about a block south of 162nd St. in Washington Heights, The concert is free; take the A/C to 163rd St.

Leila Adu Brings Her Darkly Surreal Psychedelic Soul to Williamsburg

Leila Adu sings a singular blend of psychedelic soul and art-rock, with frequent and often disquieting detours into the avant garde. Her music has echoes of Kate Bush, and Amy X Neuburg, and maybe Amanda Palmer, and also draws on Adu’s Ghanian/New Zealander heritage. Her lyrics have a bitingly aphoristic, stream-of-consciousness quality in the same vein as Jane LeCroy. The singer has a brand-new ep, Love Cells – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show coming up on June 29 at 7 PM at National Sawdust.  She shares the bill with electronic salad-spinners O Paradiso and the sometimes sepulchrally minimalist, sometimes nebulously intense Nico Turner. Cover is $15.

The ep’s opening, title track is a trip-hop slow-jam number that wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of another, more famous singer with the same last name. “Find your passion ’cause the world ain’t gonna save you,” she suggests. What’s refreshing about it is that the requisite ka-chunk beat is organic rather than synthetic. Track two, Surrogate Suspect is a surreallistically altered take on a creepy circus rock waltz: “There’s lots of marauding idiots out there, look a gift horse in the mouth,” Adu asserts. For what it’s worth, it may be the only song released this year to mention eating pork pies.

Adu wastes no time shifting to horror movie cadences in Satellite Head, an angst-fueled, richly lyrical escape anthem:

Got no money for a taxi and I don’t have a car
But I’m alive
You put a full stop on my life
I used to run at night, now there is no…
I get up a six, travel a twelve-hour day
But I’m around
I’m forgetting your name, but I’m alive
It’s an adult’s game, it’s not all right
I pray that I don’t crystallize

Adu follows that with Je T’Aime, a solo vocal miniature with jaunty, jazzy, multitracked harmonies.

Horror in Black and White takes a sharp turn back to scampering, phantasmagorical menace, a caustic look at racial tension. Adu brings the album full circle, back to loopy trip-hop with The City and the Voodoo Lady and its woozy 90s acid jazz vibe. The album’s persistent unease takes a step back here, at least temporarily, Adu’s ambitious lyrics grounded by her uncluttered, precise, direct vocals. This is one of the most intriguing and individualistic short albums to come over the transom in recent months.