Category: Tracks

Trio Tragico

Andy Biskin, clarinet; Dave Ballou, trumpet; Drew Gress, bass

So just what do statues from a western tourist trap, a food chain, and Easter Island have to do with a CD of three-piece chamber jazz? I have no idea, but Andy Biskin’s quirky cover art for his new release, Trio Tragico, aside, the clarinetist has assembled a collection of level-headed chamber jazz bon-bons. “I Should Talk,” which at around six minutes is one of the longer tracks, is a paced musing between the three instrumentalists, each seeming to know when he should talk, as well as when he should just step off.


The Carnegie Hall Concert Part IV

The Carnegie Hall Concert, recorded live on September 26, 2005, is Keith Jarrett’s 24th solo recording on ECM. When you stop to think about it, that’s a pretty staggering achievement. And it’s all the more impressive because, though you might assume by recording number 24 he’d be basically doing the same thing, he’s not. And now that Jarrett’s solo concert appearances are rare occurrences, the fact that there’s a record label out there meticulously documenting these events for posterity is an absolute cause for celebration.


Second Piece for Violin Alone

Miwako Abe, violin

In this 62-bar miniature, Wolpe positions the violin to coquettishly tempt the listener with just the taunt of a three-note phrase. His program notes further reveal the romantic nature of his thinking: “How many pieces start that way, and then take you on a musical journey, like a symphony down the great Mississippi River…How not to take that trip!Second Piece for Violin Alone harnesses these simple raw materials and leads you on a playful journey through a piece of daydream.



One could imagine that Matt Rogalsky’s meditative laptop improvisations might have been well received in the Dark Ages when Gregorian chant was all the rage. The solemn wash of undulating electronic drone seems well suited to a candlelit cathedral. Imagine the time-space continuum fallout if Rogalsky were to be sent back to the 10th century with a few gigs lined up. Behold the new holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the glowing Apple logo. Take a listen to the slightly foreboding Sprawl (western magnetics) and let your mind ponder possible outcomes.

Simple Motives in Minor Modes

Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, conductor

MMC’s New Century Series, which is now up to 18 volumes, is always a grab bag of various orchestras and compositional voices. No less than six different composers from the U.S. and abroad are represented in the current collection in performances featuring as many conductors leading five different orchestras. But the piece that grabbed my attention this time around was Simple Motives in Minor Modes by California-based composer Robert Reno. Must be something about all that alliteration! According Reno’s program notes, all of the pitch material in this piece, composed in 2000, is based on ascending melodic minor scales except for three pivotal sections which employ an octatonic scale of alternating whole and half steps. That got me even more excited. See if you can hear it…


Fish Lake

Jeremy Udden, soprano sax; Nathan Blehar, tenor sax; Tim Miller and Ben Monder, guitar; Leo Genovese, Rhodes; Garth Stevenson, bass; Ziv Ravitz, drums.

Rolling into track four of Torchsongs, the whole sound world takes a huge shift with the addition of a couple of moody electric guitar lines. In that moment, you might find yourself suddenly transported downtown, maybe in some dive, dancing with your high school girlfriend ten years after the fact. It’s new and old and mostly cool but the nostalgia weighs a little. So pull her in tight and lament what you will. But this is life, this is just how things have played out. So far.


Synchronisms No. 5

Ray Des Roches, Richard Fitz, Claire Heldrich, Donald Marcone, and Howard Van Hyning, percussion; Harvey Sollberger, conductor

Back when the country’s leading scientists and astrophysicists were gearing up to launch the first manned mission to the moon, Mario Davidovsky was busy tinkering in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, brewing up some cosmic energy of his own for Synchronisms No. 5. Expect the sort of well-aged beeps and splats that only carefully spliced tape can provide, woven into a texture of live percussion. It’s out of this world.



Drummer John Hollenbeck follows up his 2005 release, A Blessing, with a similarly inventive exploration of the range of an ensemble he’s calling a jazz big band. Considering the addition of cellist Henning Sieverts, the vocal stylings of Theo Bleckmann, and Hollenbeck’s “not your parent’s big band” arrangements, however, Joys & Desires makes no move to cling to the artistic implications of the jazz band brand. Highlight tracks such as “Abstinence” convey the power and sophistication, and a certain measure of disarming coolness, that such a large ensemble lends Hollenbeck’s music, demonstrating invention quite apart from the usual riffing and take-a-solo structure.


Nine Rare Bits

For those of you who think Nine Rare Bits sounds like an awful lot of melted cheese on toast, you’ve got another thing coming. Unlike British cuisine, Earle Brown’s piece for one or two harpsichords is packed with loads of punchy flavor. At first, the piece sounds like some sort of competition in which contestants earn points by cramming as many notes as possible into little pockets of time. With only slight breaks in the frenzy, the dense textures are only tempered by the fact that harpsichords just aren’t that loud. How to end such a piece? With even more spastic chaos than you started with, of course. Without a doubt Brown’s Nine Rare Bits would clobber Ligeti’s Continuum, as sure as it would be disqualified for doping after the race.


Henry and Mimi at the Y

Leon Theremin’s name-carrying electronic instrument, introduced in 1919, is perhaps the most bizarre electronic instrument of any lasting significance. But at the instigation of Henry Cowell, Theremin almost outdid himself only a decade later when he developed the rhythmicon, an extraordinary 17-key polyphonic keyboard which, through a series of rotating disks interrupting light beams which triggered photo-electric cells, produced single notes repeated in periodic rhythm for as long as keys were held down. In more recent times, Nick Didkovsky created a much more easily navigable online simulacrum of the rhythmicon for Minnesota Public Radio’s groundbreaking American Mavericks Internet series, which in turn inspired each of the nine compositions on this new Innova CD. The one most influenced by the rhythmicon’s pedigree, however, is Henry and Mimi at the Y by none other than the guy who runs Innova, Philip Blackburn. Blackburn’s piece is a tribute to a concert that took place at the San Francisco YMCA on May 15, 1932, at which Cowell and Theremin unveiled the rhythmicon. Also featured on that concert were remarkable quartertone piano works by Mildred Couper which unfortunately were overshadowed at the event, as they are in this composition, by the polymetrical pyrotechnics of the rhythmicon. Try playing this at your next dinner party!