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No New Abnormal

Tag: Vasko Dukovski

Intriguing, Allusively Lyrical Violin Songs From Concetta Abbate

Violinist Concetta Abbate writes imaginatively detailed, concise chamber rock songs – when she’s not playing string quartets, or ambient music. She draws on a classical background as well as an immersion in the New York free improvisation scene. Some of the songs on her new album Mirror Touch – streaming at Bandcamp – bring to mind a higher-register Rasputina, or in more delicate moments, cello rocker Serena Jost or the Real Vocal String Quartet. Much of this material is through-composed: Abbate doesn’t typically repeat herself or stay in one place for very long. She also uses pizzicato as much as she bows: this music has plenty of bounce and groove.

The album title refers to mirror-touch synesthesia, where an individual physically feels a physical reaction when another person is touched (many consider it extrasensory perception). The first song, Creatures, is a diptych, its elegantly vamping, swaying baroque pop shifting to a triumphant, emphatic conclusion. Abbate’s search for solid ground amid the relentless uncertainty of gentification-era New York becomes a rare success story.

She leaps to the top of her expressive high soprano in the precise cadences of the Renaissance-flavored miniature Madrigal. Then she matches a gentle but resolute vocal to more baroque-tinged, acerbically leaping violin riffage in Lavender, drummer Ben Engel artfully handling the subtle rhythmic shifts.

The jaunty latin jazz pulse of September, spiced with Charlie Rauh’s guitar and Abbate’s resonant lines on the low strings of her five-string model contrasts with the song’s troubled lyrics. Sunlight, an instrumental with wordless vocals, slowly coalesces toward Bach out of carefree, leaping phrases; then the energy picks up again.

Building has delicate pizzicato that shifts into ambience and one of Abbate’s most acerbically loaded lyrics:

Notebooks upon notebooks
Cost more than I make
Face upon illusion
Give and take
Will they discover me
Will I be found out

Hazy harmonics from both violin and Vasko Dukovski’s bass clarinet provide a surreal backdrop for the warmly inviting vocals of Overflow. The album’s funniest, most playful number is Mis, an instrumental duet between Dukovski and flutist Leanne Friedman.

Abbate returns to a more broodingly poetic atmosphere with Bit of Rain, which has hints of both trip-hop and 20th century minimalism. She follows that with the album’s most hypnotically circling number, Secrets

Worlds, a solo instrumental for violin and vocals, follows a disquieted path through riffage that evokes Ligeti, Bartok, and also Celtic music. Abbate concludes with the benedictory diptych Forgetful, an apt way to close this fresh, verdant, allusively intriguing album.

The Brilliant, Surreal Roots of Jazz and Third-Stream Sounds Rescued From Obscurity on the Latest Black Manhattan Collection

Since the 1980s, pianist Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra have built a vast living archive of rare ragtime and theatre music from the late 1800s to the early 1920s. Possibly hundreds of these pieces might have been lost forever if not for Benjamin’s tireless sleuthing. He and the orchestra have a new album, Black Manhattan, Volume 3, streaming at Spotify, continuing an amazing tradition that’s just as fun to hear as it is to read about  – his exhaustive liner notes are essential for anyone seriously interested in New York music history.

Benjamin named the series after James Weldon Johnson’s 1930 history of New York black artistic life. This latest volume – the first and second are both streaming at Spotify – follows the pattern of previous editions, a dynamic mix of dance numbers, colorful theatrical themes and ballads, many of them marking the magic moments where ragtime and blues began to morph into jazz.

The composers run the gamut from the legendary to the most obscure. It may come as a shock to discover that the world premiere recording of the original 1900 score of Lift Every Voice and Sing is on this album. Incredibly, it’s been over a century since J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson wrote the iconic secular hymn. It reveals itself as peppier than you might think, sung with operatic passion by the album’s four vocalists: sopranos Janai Brugger and Andrea Jones, tenor Chauncey Packer and baritone Edward Pleasant. For anyone wondering how far afield from the blues the quartet are, the answer is that by 1900, the western bel canto style had become so pervasive in urban areas in this country that most professional singers were trying to emulate it.

The rest of this lavish archive includes a grand total of 22 tracks, from cakewalks to struts to foxtrots. The oldest song is James Bland’s Oh Dem Golden Slippers, published in 1879, its puckish signification matched by the band’s slyly jaunty interpretation. The most recent is a bubbly, violin-driven version of famed pianist Eubie Blake’s I’m Just Wild About Harry, proof that Presidential candidates long before Bill Clinton were mining the pop hits of a previous generation for their campaign songs.

Many of the composers immortalized here were members of the Clef Club, a black counterpart to the fledgling New York music unions of the era. Black musicians here could be in charge of the music at the Ziegfield Follies, and stage Carnegie Hall concerts, but weren’t allowed to join the white-controlled unions. Luckey Roberts, a major Clef Club figure, is represented by a handful of tracks, among them the Tremolo Trot, which is actually more staccato – and Italian. By contrast, his 1919 song Jewel fo the Big Blue Nile, sung by Brugger, is a lavish, orchestrated take on stark 19th century spiritual sounds.

Packer matches the careful, mutedly plaintive cadences of Benjamin’s piano in Gussie L. Davis’ 1896 waltz In the Baggage Coach Ahead, inspired by a morbid poem of the time. A brisk, blustery take of J. Turner Layton’s 1918 hit After You’ve Gone – popularized by Bessie Smith and thousands after her – sits side by side with Will H. Dixon’s  lushly enigmatic Delicioso: Tango Aristocratico, from four years previously. Likewise, the themes run the gamut from Scott Joplin’s perhaps intentionally balmy Wall Street Rag to the boisterously lavish Overture to My Friend from Kentucky, a 1913 musical.

Plenty of marquee names have passed through this band over the years. Vince Giordano is an alum; the great clarinetist Vasko Dukovski gets to flex his blues chops here. The rest of the cast seems to be having a great time, including Keiko Tokunaga and Melissa Tong on violin; Colin Brookes on viola; Lisa Caravan on cello; Max Jacob on bass; Leslie Cullen on flute and piccolo; Paul Murphy and Michael Blutman on cornets; Michael Boschen on trombone; Mike Dobson on drums and Diane Scott on piano. Fans of the surreal third-stream mashups that are being mined by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra – featured on this page yesterday – will find an amazing precedent to all that here.

Meet Jordan Kostov

Jordan Kostov isn’t pushing a new album at the moment, but he makes brilliant music. The Macedonian-born accordionist and composer is a big part of clarinet virtuoso Vasko Dukovski’s deliciously diverse Amniotic Fluid album reviewed here earlier this year, and the songs on Kostov’s Revebnation page are just as smart and eclectic. There’s over an hour worth of music there from throughout his career – haunting film pieces, accordion jazz, Balkan songs, and works for choir and orchestra that typically go on for eight minutes or more. He writes surreal, cerebral, uncanny, dark stuff.

Farina, swaying and pulsing with clattering percussion, alternates accordion and many clarinet voices into a hypnotically psychedelic, lively stew: wheat flour has never been so much fun. Salsa’s Truck, from Kostov’s 2010 album Salsa’s Journeys with his Ensemble Moderne, is a strange epic, its big choruses carried first by an oud and then a big choir, Kostov’s accordion moving between swirling, rapidfire righthand lines and rich, haunting washes of chords. The nine-minute In the Guest House works its way slowly from rainy day ambience to sheer horror.

Unpredictable as the jazzier stuff here is, Kostov still grounds it in the otherworldly chromatic roots of his native region. Cveta, a piece for accordion, bass, drums and brass alternates between a spacious, suspenseful dirge and a jaunty shuffle. Friendship features lots of wryly noisy improvisation from Kostov and a delicious stereo mix that separates his accordion’s many voicings.

There’s also a gorgeously lush, Middle Eastern-tinged, orchestrated theme for accordion, choir and percussion; a moody, windswept ballad with stark cello and bubbly clarinet; an apprehensive nocturne that sets accordion and trumpet over pillowy strings; an uneasy Balkan James Bond theme of sorts (Kostov gets a lot of film work); a tango-tinged piece for accordion and bassoon; a brief, bustling Keystone Kops theme that morphs into a surreal waltz; and a spacy miniature for solo accordion titled Univers. If we ever needed a reminder that some of the world’s most exciting music is coming out of the Balkans, this is it. Check out his bio page for all the projects he’s played with. And for what it’s worth, Reverbnation ranks Kostov and his ensembles as #2 among bands in Kavadarci, Macedonia, raising the intriguing question: who’s #1?

Magical Eastern European Sounds from Vasko Dukovski’s Amniotic Fluid

Vasko Dukovski is one of the world’s most highly sought-after clarinetists. He usually plays concert halls with orchestras and chamber ensembles. But the Macedonian-born reedman also has a passion for music from his native land, as well as Balkan and gypsy tunes. Earlier this year, he put out a deviously entertaining collection of droll folk-flavored themes under the name Amniotic Fluid, with eclectic percussionist Krume Stefanovski and powerhouse accordionist Jordan Kostov. It’s a pretty radical change from the classical and indie classical sounds that Dukovski is usually associated with, less of a display of sensational chops than imagination and wit.

The songs are a mix of moody vamps and less serious ones: the titles, like Sta-Me-Na and China Express Around the World, pretty much give them away. On the lighter side, there’s the carefree groove Svirci Iz Kavadarci (The Bulgarian in Honolulu), a sarcastic Jimmy Buffett lost-in-the-Balkans tune. There’s Salsa’s Journey, which takes a sassy ready-get-set-go riff and develops it into a psychedelic thicket of multitracked clarinet and accordion, capped off with a long, brightly sailing Dukovski solo. And Bace Don’t Kraj is no relation to the Cure: it’s a live trip-hop theme that builds to an allusive noir jazz atmosphere, Kostov blazing through a rapidfire staccato solo over an endless series of tricky rhythmic changes.

The cinematic Cabaret Bombay begins with foghorn clarinet and then morphs from a march into jazzy trip-hop, while Chobarium is more ambient and suspenseful. Vatashkata interchanges brooding gypsy-flavored interludes with a long, lively Macedonian dance. Slinky as it is, Sloga Sarajevo (Peace Sarajevo) has an inescapably apprehensive undercurrent. Muv Let- Melburnshka Tresenica mingles a series of rapidfire clusters with nimble, echoey vibraphone, while the trio turn the traditional Flying Bulgar into a jaunty tango.

But maybe in keeping with the intensity that defines Dukovski’s work, the two best songs on the album are its darkest. Veseliot Oktopod (Cheerful Octopus) starts out with a series of tongue-in-cheek, cartoonish motifs and then turns surprisingly plaintive: clearly, this octopus has issues. And the absolutely creepy, phantasmagorical carnival theme Be Careful Children packs more menace in its barely two minutes than most horror-movie soundtracks. All this goes to show what kind of magic can happen when you put three of the most original players in Eastern European music together and see what they come up with from basically just messing around.