Oldtimers reminisce about the glory days of the East Village in the 1970s, but as violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery reminded last night, the blight of gentrification had already begun to infest the area. Greedy landlords were already hell-bent on evicting residents of the multicultural artistic neighborhood, whose poets, musicians and artists by then were predominantly Puerto Rican. Montgomery’s show last night at the Metropolis Ensemble’s intimate Rivington Street digs with a series of ensembles, just a few blocks south of where she grew up, sent an acerbic shout-out to the LES’s defiant, determined people. It was a cosmopolitan party for the right to fight.
Joined by soprano Mellissa Hughes on vocals, Jessica Meyer on viola, Gabriel Cabezas on cello and Eleonore Oppenheim on bass, Montgomery led various permutations of the ensemble through a series of edgy, incisively melodic recent works. To begin the evening, Hughes’ regal, steady delivery imbued LES poet Bimbo Rivas’ bittersweet mid-70s tribute to his home turf with unexpected gravitas over the strings’ terse counterpoint.
Montgomery’s Duo for Violin and Cello had a similarly concise interweave. She likes to use the entirety of the violin’s range, and that vivid sense of color extends to other instruments as well. Unexpectedly, what was possibly the most riveting interlude of the evening was a still, stygian soundscape which she played with her duo Big Dog Little Dog with Oppenheim. Montgomery’s silken high harmonics contrasted with Oppenheim’s big muddy river, slowly fading out as the bassist bowed her strings right at the tailpiece for a sepulchral wash of overtones that finally vanished into silence. It’s hard to imagine another piece for bass that calls for so much in the upper registers.
Meyer’s Space in Chains, for soprano and viola, shifting from steady, swaying, incisive riffage to clenched-teeth flurries, giving voice to another neighborhood poet, Laura Kasischke, whose contention was that music is “The marriage of rhythm and antisocial behavior.” After Montgomery and Oppenheim’s twin canine project – “We switch off,” Oppenheim deadpanned, explaining who’s the big dog in the band – the group closed with Montgomery’s enigmatically lilting Lunar Songs, utilizing texts by J. Mae Barizo. Whoever thinks that new chamber music doesn’t have any social relevance missed this show.
The ongoing series of concerts at the second-floor space at 1 Rivington St. just east of Bowery continues on Nov 23 at 8 PM with the Attacca Quartet playing the album release show for their new recording of Nathan Schram‘s Oak and the Ghost; admission is $20/$10 stud/srs.