New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: middle eastern music

Brilliant, Haunting New Works From Iranian Composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi

Teheran-based composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi have released an aptly titled, haunting new album Maelstrom, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a diverse but persistently dark collection of works for both solo instruments and small ensembles. The two draw on influences as vast as European minimalism and horizontal music as well as traditional Iranian sounds. In a year of one horror after another – especially in Iran, which was one of the first countries crippled by prppaganda and hysteria – this is indelibly an album for our time. Yet the music here also offers considerable hope and even devious humor.

The first work is Trauma, a Shirangi trio composition played by cellists Ella Bokor and Mircea Marian with accordionist Fernando Mihalache. The strings enter with a syncopated, mutedly shamanic drive that quickly rises to an insistent pedalpoint. The accordion first serves as a wary chordal anchor while the cellos diverge and then return with an increasingly stricken intensity, then wind out with plaintive washes.

Violinist Mykola Havyuk, clarinetist Yaroslav Zhovnirych and pianist Nataliya Martynova play Abbasi’s The Rebellion, beginning more hauntingly microtonal, its austere resonance punctuated by simple, forlorn piano incisions. Eerie, circling chromatics from the piano underscore troubled, anthemic phrases. A couple of vigorous flicks under the lid signals a wounded call-and-response: slowly but resolutely, a revolution flickers and eventually leaps from the desolation. The obvious comparison is the livelier moments in Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time.

By contrast, To Lose Hope – another Abbasi piece, featuring clarinetist Mykola Havyuk and a string quartet comprising violinists Marko Komonko and Petro Titiaiev, violist Ustym Zhuk and cellist Denys Lytvynenke – first takes shape as a hazy cavatina, Havyuk’s crystalline leads balanced by brooding cello and shivery vibrato from the rest of the strings. It’s the most distinctly Iranian piece here. The jauntiness, acerbity and suspense that follow are unexpectedly welcome. The point seems to be that hope is where you find it.

Afrooch, an Abbasi solo work played by violinist Farmehr Beyglou, requires daunting extended technique, shifting back and forth between ghostly harmonics, moody atmosphere, insistently hammering riffs, shivery crescendos and a call-and-response that grows from enigmatic to puckish. The ending is too funny to give away.

The closing composition, Shirangi’s The Common Motivations is a solo piano piece, Sahel Ebae’s low murk contrasting with muted inside-the-gestures, expanding with spacious minimalist accents and eventually forlorn, Messiaenic belltone chords. If this is characteristic of the new music coming out of Iran these days, the world needs to hear more of it.

The Silkroad Ensemble Release a Haunting, Surreal New Osvaldo Golijov Epic

Over the past practically three decades, the Silkroad Ensemble have been the world’s great champions of a blend of music from south Asia, through the Arabic-speaking world and the west. Their latest album, Falling Out of Time – which hasn’t hit the web yet – comprises a single, lavish, thirteen-part tone poem by contemporary classical composer Osvaldo Golijov, which hauntingly dovetails with the group’s esthetic. It may be the most stunningly accessible orchestral work the composer has ever written. It’s certainly the most eclectic, drawing on such diverse idioms as Indian music, classical Chinese theatre, jazz balladry and sounds of the Middle East.

This is a frequently operatically-tinged work, tracing a surreal, grim narrative surrounding the death of a child. Mythical creatures and archetypes are involved. The introduction, Heart Murmur rises from a brooding, skeletal Arabic-tinged taqsim to a darkly catchy, circling ghazal-like melody over a dancing, jazz-inflected pulse and the achingly intertwining voices of singers Biella da Costa and Nora Fischer.

Night Messengers is a stark, increasingly imploring nocturnal tableau, the womens’ voices wary and enigmatic over an all-star string quartet comprising half of Brooklyn Rider – violinist Johnny Gandelsman and violist Nicholas Cords – with violinist Mazz Swift, and cellist Karen Ouzounian.

That sudden, stratospherically high harmony in the enigmatic Come Chaos is a real shock to the system: is that a voice, Wu Tong’s sheng, or a theremin? No spoilers!

Uneasy, fragmentary flickers from the strings followed by Wu Man’s pipa join to introduce the simply titled Step, rising to a harrowing intensity. The Lynchian dub interlude afterward comes as another real shock.

Shane Shanahan’s tabla and the singers’ acidic harmonies take over the hypnotic ambience as In Procession, a portrait of mass bereavement, gets underway, Kayhan Kalhor’s muted, desolate kamancheh solo at the center amid the string quartet. Troubled atmospherics waft and eventually permeate Walking, the suite’s drifting, central elegy, lowlit with echoey kamancheh, Dan Brantigan’s desolate trumpet and Shawn Conley’s spare jazz-inflected bass

An ambient lament featuring spiky pipa in contrast to Jeremy Flower’s synth foreshadows Fly, which with its aching ambience and jazz allusions mirrors the centerpiece. Go Now, the suite’s most immersive, restlessly resonant track, features a long, plaintive kamancheh intro, a similarly aching, vivid duet with the violin. Da Costa reaches for the rafters with the pipa trailing off morosely at the end.

Akeya (Where Are You) is a dissociative mashup of orchestral 1950s Miles Davis, Etta James moan and kabuki theatre, maybe. The ensemble hint at rebirth and redemption in the closing tableau, Breathe. Is the nameless dead boy at the center of the story a metaphor for the hope and joy that was stolen from us in 2020? What a piece of music for our time!

Darkly Glistening, Blissfully Tuneful Improvisation From Pianist Cat Toren’s Human Kind

Pianist Cat Toren’s new album Scintillating Beauty – streaming at Bandcamp – references a Martin Luther King quote about what the world would be like if we were able to conquer racism and achieve true equality. But the title is just as apt a description of the music. Toren has always been one of the most reliably melodic improvisers in the New York creative music scene, and her group Human Kind achieve a similarly high standard of tunefulness here. Jazz these days seldom sounds so effortlessly symphonic.

The epic opening cut is Radiance in Veils, sax player Xavier del Castillo introducing a balmy, Indian-tinged nocturnal theme immediately echoed by oudist Yoshie Fruchter, bassist Jake Leckie and drummer Matt Honor as Toren glistens and ripples spaciously in the upper registers behind them. The bandleader glides into Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics and then pounces hard as the bass and drums develop an elegant syncopation, del Castillo and Fruchter weaving a similar gravitas. Shuddering sax and torrential piano fuel a couple of big crescendos, Toren and Leckie team up for a tersely dancing passage and Fruchter pulls uneasily away from a broodingly emphatic center. The great Lebanese-born pianist Tarek Yamani comes to mind.

The lush, rapturous Middle Eastern ambience continues in Garment of Destiny, from the flourishes of Toren’s solo intro, through Fruchter’s hypnotic oud solo over reflecting-pool piano chords. Del Castillo adds nocturnal ambience and then agitation matching the murk rising behind him.

Ignus Fatuus is a moody midtempo swing number, Toren doing a more allusively chromatic take on Errol Garner, del Castillo taking his most jaggedly intense, spine-tingling solo here. Toren switches to funeral-parlor organ to open the closing diptych, Rising Phoenix, Fruchter leading the band into a reflective calm spiced with Toren’s many bells and rattles. Her switch to the piano signals an increasingly bustling return from dreamland, del Castillo a confidently bluesy light in the darkness. The second part has a bittersweet, rather stern soul-infused sway, Honor and the rest of the band finally seizing the chance to cut loose. In Toren’s view, we all make it to the mountaintop. This is one of the best and most memorable jazz albums of the year.

Frank London and Adeena Karasick’s Darkly Gorgeous New Album Salutes a Feminist Archetype

“You are bringing in the big guns, opening the sluicegates with your hyperdramatic extra sex, a swishy riff, pithy swift grifters…like a feisty zeitgeist, a forever Riviera,” poet Adeena Karasick freestyles, saluting her title character in one of the early tracks on the new album Salome: Woman of Valor, her new collaboration with iconic trumpeter Frank London., streaming at his music page. It’s a psychedelic, globally-inspired, feminist reclamation of the Salome archetype, recasting her as a fearless, indomitable, multi-faceted persona rather than uber-slut. Typically, Karasick’s intricate, wickedly playful, erudite solo spoken world interludes are spaced in between the individual songs here.

The enticement builds over an echoey wash from Shai Bachar’s electric piano, Deep Singh’s tabla and London’s lyrically pensive trumpet in the album’s first musical number, Song of Salome. As it goes on, London channels more of the acerbic, chromatic edge and meticulous melismas that have characterized his sound as one of this era’s great klezmer and Balkan brass players.

Playing with a mute, he introduces a bracing, suspenseful Ethiopian theme over a chilly, techy haze in Garden of Eros, Karasick celebrating the pleasures of the flesh amid the “cinders of avarice.” London shifts to a hypnotic mashup of Ethiopiques, qawwali and Romany psychedelia in Drown Me, exchanging terse, soulful trumpet riffs with a swirly synth as the tabla holds down the groove.

Dance of Desire has a darkly slinky trip-hop ambience, Karasick deviously referencing a half century or more worth of lyrics, from Wilson Pickett to Leonard Cohen as London’s trumpet teases the listener. Bind Me has a gorgeously brooding, contrapuntal Hasidic melody and a metaphorically loaded lyric: this Salome doesn’t like being restrained.

To introduce Johnny, Karasick sends a shout out to Jean Genet and other bad-boy figures before London’s balmy trumpet and tersely circling, uneasy piano enter the picture. Martyrology, a grisly chronicle of Jewish mystics tortured and murdered over the years, makes a chilling contrast, followed by a haunting, Middle Eastern and Indian-tinged interlude from London that brings to mind Ibrahim Maalouf.

London returns to an anthemic mix of murky Ethiopiques and woozy psychedelia in Yes I Will Yes Say Yes. He shifts to the Middle Eastern freygish mode for the undulating Dance of the Seven Veils, part klezmer, part Palestinian shamstep, featuring an imploring vocal cameo by Manu Narayan . The group return to dusky, forlorn Ethiopian ambience to wind up the record with Kiss Thy Myth. Look for this one on the best albums of 2020 list here, scheduled for the end of the year.

Yet Another Haunting, Exhilarating Album From Oud Master Mehmet Polat

Oudist Mehmet Polat hails from the Urfa region of Turkey, a hotspot for cultural cross-pollination for centuries. So it’s hardly a surprise to hear how individualistically he blends traditional Turkish sounds with Arabic, African and Andalucian music in addition to American jazz rhythms. Every year, he seems to put out a new record that always ends up on the best albums of the year page here. The latest one, The Promise – streaming at Bandcamp – will definitely be on the best of 2020 list here next month. In general, it’s Polat’s at his most upbeat and optimistic.

While Polat’s custom-made oud has a couple of extra bass strings, the electrifying opening track here, Firefighters is more of an exploration of the upper registers, peaking out with a series of incisive chords after a long build through enigmatic Balkan-tinged modes over Daniel van Huffelen’s bass and Joan Terol Amigo’s drums.

Polat builds an almost teasing, unresolved suspense in the second track, Nature Hits Back, before spiraling and then descending to the depths over percussionist Ruven Ruppik’s many textures and shifting rhythms. Pathfinder is a catchy, anthemic, dynamically vamping number over elegantly syncopated, boomy frame drum by Alper Kekeç.

Polat teams up with Sinan Arat on ney flute and Kekeç on frame drum again for Footprints, a hypnotically pulsing, mysterious, mostly one-chord jam. Then he completely flips the script with the spare, funky Permission, featuring a starkly melismatic solo from kamancheh fiddle player Elnur Mikayılov.

Polat and the opening track’s rhythm section hint that they’re going into qawwali as Swinging in Hands gets underway, but instead they go off on a bouncy West African kora-inspired tangent and end with a spacious bass solo. The undulating Fidelity to İstanbul makes a good, upbeat segue.

Guest Shwan Sulaiman contributes an expressive, dramatic vocal in Being the Voice over a scampering backdrop with echoes of North African rai music. Polat breaks out his loop and distortion pedals for Symbolizations, the most overtly psychedelic track here.

The real stunner here is Nêterseno, with haunting clarinet and defiantly populist vocals from Mikail Aslan and trebly tenbur lute by Cemil Qocgiri, picking up with a fiery flamenco groove before coming full circle. Polat plays a darkly incisive, melancholy solo over a drone in the lament Nothing Is Yours and closes with My Cultural Womb, a syncopated, edgily modal number reflecting influences from Turkey to Egypt.

“Live Music Calendar” for NYC for November 2020

Moving at a snail’s pace, there are a handful more publicly announced concerts this month than there were last. Due to Andrew Cuomo’s increasingly desperate efforts to maintain a police state at all costs, most artists are still playing under the radar, and most venues that were closed when the lockdown was announced remain closed.

But there are good things happening, most of them outdoors, as both audiences and musicians are waking up to the fact that there was never any need to close venues or cancel performances, ever, this year. Here’s what’s on tap so far this month: more shows may be added to this page, so if you’re really dedicated to getting a concert fix this month, you might want to bookmark this page. Like last month, most of this is jazz and classical music.

And there are tons of artists out there busking – swing by your local park and you never know who  you might see.

11/3, 7 PM epically ferocious art-rock jamband Planta at Terraza 7, $10

11/4, noon violinist Elena Moon Park (with accordionist Nathan Koci on the pedestrian mall on Willoughby north of Jay in downtown Brooklyn

1/4, 7 PM former and future ubiquitous jazz bassist Peter Brendler leads a quartet at Terraza 7, sug don

11/5, 7 PM Venezuelan pianist Cesar Orozco’s Kamarata Jazz at Terraza 7, sug don

11/6, noon, banjo player Hilary Hawke and fiddler/spoons player hilippa Thompson of M Shanghai String Band at Albee Square on the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn

11/6, 7 PM Cuban trumpeter Kalí Rodriguez-Peña leads a quintet at Terraza 7, sug don

11/7, 3 PM intuitive, lyrical pianist  Melody Fader leads a chamber ensemble playing works by Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart at St. Teresa’s Church, 141 Henry St, Chinatown, F to East Broadway, sug don

11/7, 7 PM flamenco jazz group New Bojaira at Terraza 7, sug don

11/14, 3 PM organist Mark Pacoe plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

11/15, 3:45 PM organist Michael Hey plays works by Ravel and others at St.Patrick’s Cathedral, free

11/19, 7 PM  poignant, eclectic, lyrical jazz bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo’s tango quartet at Terraza 7

12/12, 3 PM organist Maria Rayzvasser plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don.

12/20, 3:15 PM organist Jennifer Pascual plays works by Tschaikovsky and others at St.Patrick’s Cathedral, free

 

NYC “Concert Calendar” for October 2020

Once again, this month’s calendar is little more than a sticky note for the fridge since most of the publicly announced shows are jazz and classical, and outdoors.

Continuing a free series of performances in Central Park honoring the legacy of U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis, 10/4, 1:30ish  saxophonist Darius Jones with drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Dezron Douglas at the mall in Central Park, south of the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/9, 7 PM bhangra mastermind Sunny Jain’s Wild Wild East on the elevated lawn at the northwest corner of the Lincoln Center complex

10/10, 1:30ish, the Nicole Glover Trio – postbop saxophonist Nicole Glover, bassist Daniel Duke, drummer Nic Cacioppo at the mall in Central Park, south of the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/10, 2 PM the Calidore String Quartet play a program TBA under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex

10/10, 2 PM badass bassist and jazz composer Endea Owens and the Cookout outside the National Jazz Museum in Harlem

10/11, 1:30ish, high-voltage postbop jazz with the Chris Potter Trio: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Nasheet Waits at the mall in Central Park, south of the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St. Wow – Potter with a chordless trio, this could be killer. 

10/17, 2 PM violinist Jennifer Koh plays a program TBA under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex

10/17, 3 PM organist Austin Philemon plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

10/18, 5 PM Josh Sinton and his trio What Happens in a Year – Sinton on bari sax and bass clarinet with guitarist Todd Neufeld and electric bassist Giacomo Merega – celebrate their debut recording cérémonie/musique at In the Yurt at Courtyard 1 – 2, Industry City, 274 36th St, Sunset Park, $10, R to 36th St

10/18. 5 PM charmingly inscrutable Parisienne jazz chanteuse Chloe & the French Heart Jazz Band play the release show for her eclectic new album at an outdoor NYC house party show, email for address/deets

10/20, 5 PM, not in NYC but fairly close on the Metro North train, a septet of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra musicians perform Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 arranged by Franz Hasenöhrl, plus Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday,at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, 180 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville, free, bring your own lawn chair

10/23, 7 PM anthemic Cuban jazz pianist Elio Villafranca on the elevated lawn at the northwest corner of the Lincoln Center complex

10/23, 8 PM punk/downtown jazz icons Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog play the album release show for their new one from the roof of St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, looking down on the street below (rooftop is not open to the public)

10/24, 2 PM popular gospel/soul singer Alicia Olatuja under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex

10/30, 7 PM Jorge Glem – the Jimi Hendrix of the cuatro – with pianist Cesar Orozco on the elevated lawn at the northwest corner of the Lincoln Center complex 

10/31, 2 PM baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela and his trio under the trees at the back of the Lincoln Center complex*

11/14, 3 PM organist Mark Pacoe plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

12/12, 3 PM organist Maria Rayzvasser plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don.

As artists and audiences become more comfortable with staging and attending shows again, you’ll see more here. There are a few venues in town who have reopened, but so far it looks like they’re adhering to Cuomo’s Nazi lockdowner rules like enforcing a six-foot rule and such, and it’s hard to imagine anybody having any fun under those circumstances. Once all that BS is over, let’s look forward to a joyous return to the Old Normal!

Revisiting Fiery Violinist Briga’s Wildly Eclectic Balkan Album

Quebecoise violinist Brigitte Dajczer, who performs under the name Briga for branding’s sake, put out a 2017 album, Femme, which made the best albums of year page here, Then it disappeared into the abyss known as this blog’s hard drive. If you missed it then, you missed a deliciously entertaining mix of songs from across the Balkans along with several similarly diverse originals. Looking at the international cast of special guests on it, it’s obvious that they knew she was on to something good. She sings in French and several Eastern European languages as well. The album is still up at Bandcamp.

The first track is Ibrahim, a bouncingly bittersweet love song with a break for a wildfire solo by kanun player Didem Bagar. New York’s own Eva Salina supplies otherworly harmonies on the tightly pulsing Albanian song Dada Do Ta Shes, the bandleader opening it with a stark solo over accordionist Alix Noel’s drone. As the song goes on, he switches to synth for wry P-Funk textures, bassist Gregoire Carrier-Bonneau hitting a nimbly syncopated groove in tandem with drummer Marton Maderspach and percussionist Tacfarinas Kichou.

Accordionist Sergiu Popa duets with Dajczer on the fleetingly joyful Romanian song Dragoi. Svetulka Rachenitsa, a breathless south Serbian-flavored dance tune, features alto saxophonist Ariane Morin matching Dajcer’s ferocity; Noel’s eerily blipping keys add an unexpected psychedelic edge.

Guest chanteuse Tamar Ilana opens the slow, haunting epic Pour Pelin – inspired by Marcel Khalife’s Asfour – with a sharply plaintive solo over another accordion drone. Again, Bagar’s kanun ripples and pounces, then hands off to the string section (which also includes cellist Gael Huard) and the music grows more lushly orchestral.

Elfassi is a rai hip-hop tune with an amusing stoner rap in French from Giselle Numba One. The album’s itle track is an icepick-precise mashup of Balkan brass and salsa, Briga’s violin leaping over an undulating, tumbling groove featuring trombonist Rachel Lemisch. Briga and singer/violinist Iva Bittova duet on the stark, stripped-down dance tune Mama Irena.

Cafe Sarajevo is a fond, trippy, North African-flavored disco portait of a party spot there, inspired by rai music legend Cheika Rimitti. Briga really picks up the pace and cuts loose on the rapidfire, strutting minor-key Chanson Moldave…and then they speed it up some more! Eva Salina and Popa close the album with a calmly passionate, benedictory duet. From a New York perspective, this is Golden Fest in a box. May we get a Golden Fest in 2021.

NYC “Concert Calendar” for September 2020

This is more of a sticky note for the fridge than a real concert calendar: lots of stuff going on, but nobody’s talking about it outside of small circles of friends. Most of the publicly announced concerts are jazz and classical since it’s unamplified, outdoors and unlikely to draw the attention of Cuomo’s gestapo.

9/5, 1 PM saxophonist Marquis Hill leads his Quartet at the Mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg Bandshell, more or less mid-park, enter at 72nd St. Then the next day Sept 6, 1 PM saxophonist Michael Thomas is there with his trio.

9/7, 4 PM new all-female string quartet the Overlook play an amazing program of music by black composers: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and others at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, outdoors, 65 Jumel Terrace two blocks east of Amsterdam Ave just off 160th St., A/C to 163rd St 

9/14, 5:30 PM members of the American Symphony Orchestra play rare works by African-American composers including Jessie Montgomery, William Grant Still, Florence Price and others at Bryant Park

9/19, 1 PM the Leap Day Trio with drummer Matt Wilson, bassist/vocalist Mimi Jones and saxophonist Jeff Lederer at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

9/19, 2 PM guitarist Andreas Arnold plays original flamenco compositions and classics at an outdoor house concert in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, free, email for address/deets 

9/19, three sets at 1, 2 and 3 PM a quartet with members of the Harlem Chamber Players, perform works by African-American composers George Walker and Florence Price atop the  Hill of Graves in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, R to to 25th St. go straight uphill. The program repeats on 9/26.

9/19, 3 PM Gail Archer plays rare Ukrainian organ works at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St, at 1st Ave, free

9/20, 1 PM wildfire vibraphonist Joel Ross’ Quartet with saxophonist Sergio Tabanico, drummer Craig Weinrib and bassist Rashaan Carter at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

9/20, 3:30 PM bass goddess/soul singer Felice Rosser’s ageless reggae-rock-groove band Faith outdoors at the Front, 526 E 11th St.

9/21, 5:30 PM members of the American Symphony Orchestra play string quartets by Samuel Barber and Nino Rota at Bryant Park

9/26, 1 PM drummer Nasheet Waits with saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Rashaan Carter at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St

9/26, 3 PM the S.E.M. Ensemble play works by Robert Ashley, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier and Petr Kotik outdoors at 25 Columbia Place on the Brooklyn Prom, take State St to the Prom free, rsvp req if you want a seat

9/27, 1 PM intense saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins with drummer Nazir Ebo and bassist Burniss Earl Travis at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/4, 1 PM saxophonist Darius Jones with drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Dezron Douglas at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/10, 2 PM badass bassist and jazz composer Endea Owens and the Cookout outside the National Jazz Museum in Harlem

10/17, 3 PM organist Austin Philemon plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

10/20, 5 PM, not in NYC but fairly close on the Metro North train, a septet of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra musicians perform Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 arranged by Franz Hasenöhrl, plus Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday,at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, 180 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville, free, bring your own lawn chair

11/14, 3 PM organist Mark Pacoe plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

12/12, 3 PM organist Maria Rayzvasser plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

There may be other outdoor shows going on this month where the artists are comfortable inviting the public – if so, you’ll see them here.

Mahsa Vahdat Releases a Profoundly Multi-Layered Album For Our Time

Why did the lockdowers outlaw live music? For the same reasons the Taliban in Afghanistan and the slave traders in the Caribbean did. The arts are subversive by definition: they encourage people to question their situations, and the lockdowners won’t settle for anything less than total obedience to their most egregious and ridiculous whims. In that sense, Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat’s new album Enlighten the Night – streaming at Spotify – is subversive. Using the words of both iconic Persian poets as well as contemporary lyricists, she celebrates freedom and hope for the future in the face of increasingly grim odds. If there was ever an album for our time, this is it. And what a great title!

Vahdat is joined by a familiar supporting cast of pianist Tord Gustavsen, bass player Gjermund Silset and drummer Kenneth Ekornes, playing arrangements by Atabak Elyasi. They open with The Act of Freedom, a spare, steadily shuffling, bittersweetly minor-key celebration of self-determintion (that’s a very prosaic summary of Mohammad Ebrahim Jafari’s lyric).

Vahdat’s clear, wounded voice channels desolation and longing over graceful solo bass in the album’s second track, Where Is the Home of the Wind, with a lyric by Forough Farrokhzad which could be about a lost love or a lost world – or both. She channels a more muted, haunting resignation, matched by Gustavsen’s haunting, quasi-bolero sparseness in Farewell, a setting of a well-known desert tableau by Saadi.

Vahdat’s aching melismas flutter over stately piano in Precious Cup, a reflection on impermanence and the first of a handful of Omar Khayyam settings. The second, The Roses and the Meadow follows a similar theme more somberly. The most fleeting – and arguably optimistic – of all is If I Were God. Light electroacoustic touches come to the foreground in Lovelorn, which is basically 180 degrees the opposite.

Bootarab – a Rumi poem celebrating enlightened leaders, party musicians and much more – has a balletesque bounce and oud voicings from the piano along with a touch of jazz. The album’s title track, with an allusive Jafari lyric about a triumphantly prowling bird of prey, has otherworldly kamancheh leaps and bounds from guest Shervin Mohajer.

Vahdat’s distantly imploring nuance matches the subtle hope for solidarity in Nima Youshij’s poem The Moon Beams, one of the album’s most Arabic-tinged track. The glimmer of hope in Ney Davoud – the album’s most skeletally epic track and a lost-love lament – is much the same. Gustavsen’s use of close harmonies to mimic the microtones of classical Persian modes is masterful, as is Silset’s crepuscular bowing.

The Dawn, with a lyric by Ahmad Shamloo, is the album’s most grimly metaphorical moment. Vahdat imbues the closing lyric, Simin Behbehani’s calmly defiant I Will Build You Again, My Country with guarded optimism over Ekornes’ clip-clop beat and Mohajer’s plaintive kamancheh. She couldn’t have picked a better moment to release this austere, inspiring record. You will see this on the best albums of 2020 page in December if such a page can exist.