Category: Tracks

Sticky Wicket

Daniel Smith, bassoon; Martin Bejerano, piano, John Sullivan, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums

Thought you heard the last word on neo-bop, guess again. Bebop Bassoon! No, really. Sounds funny right? Actually it’s not a totally unprecedented jazz instrument. Ken McIntyre did some fascinating lower double-reed work from time to time, and a quick Google search on jazz bassoon will take you to the website of sometime Bela Fleck and Paul Dresher sideman Paul Hanso–located at, where else,! Now along comes Daniel Smith, who ups the ante on all of them by putting out an album of covers of classic tunes by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and even Miles Davis’s “All Blues” from Kind of Blue! You’ve gotta hear this to believe it. But IMHO, it’s on Dexter Gordon’s “Sticky Wicket” that Smith’s alternative horn most fully commands center stage. So, what’s next, bebop contrabassoon?


Recessional (for Oliver Johnson)

When Mode Records decides to branch out from their monopoly on traditional American experimentalism, it’s time to pay attention. Only the fourth release on label’s satellite series called Avant, this disc documents Steve Lacy and John Heward performing at the 2003 “Suoni per il Popolo” festival in Montreal. This nearly 40-minute rumination, dedicated to Lacy’s longtime drummer, definitely explains why the late composer-performer had such a loyal following. However, after listening I was left with the question: How the hell did Lacy make his soprano sax sound so flute-like? While I may never know the answer, I do think it’s great that this recording is finally out there for the enjoyment of diehard fans and newbie Lacy followers alike. Give it a listen. You might just be wooed into joining the fan club.


No Myth

Jason Kao Hwang, violin; Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet; Ken Filiano, bass; Andrew Drury, percussion

In “No Myth,” Chinese-American composer/improviser Jason Kao Hwang conjures up the sound world of the erh-hu on an instrument that has much more force—an amplified violin—which allows him to butt heads with three other raucous and relentless improvisors on much louder instruments and not only not get drowned out, but soar. This is music of dramatic intensity, which makes sense coming from this particular free jazzer who has also penned an opera. According to Hwang, each of his compositions is “an architectural narrative providing various stages for musicians to extemporaneously sing their chapter of the story.” Indeed.


Rilke Songs

Peter Serkin, piano

In the days following the death of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, it’s admittedly a bit difficult to split open the cellophane wrapper on this Bridge release of Peter Lieberson’s work. Peter and Lorraine gaze out from the cover photo, he with his arm over her shoulder, and it almost seems necessary to delay listening to the record so that it won’t feel like the last time you’ll meet. That it is the poems of Rilke that Lieberson has set here leaves us no room to ignore such emotion, but also offer us a sort of unexpected opportunity to say goodbye.


The Glass Bead Game

Jon De Lucia’s Glass Bead Game borrows its namesake from a heady Hesse novel, but the musicians definitely stress the last word of the title. Ziv Ravitz (drums) and Garth Stevenson (bass) lay down a solid, cloak and dagger backdrop for playful solos by De Lucia (sax) and Nir Felder (guitar). After a thrilling 5-minute tapestry of sonic plot twists, things dissolve into an introspective dirge, lead by Leo Genovese’s choral-like piano comping, before once again building up the tension which saturates the undercurrent of this zesty little number.


Percussion and Strings

NYC-based Bay Area transplant Dan Joseph’s hypnotic webs of sound are reminiscent of early minimalism and psychedelia. His penchant for the unexpected, however˜like combining harpsichord and hammered dulcimer˜takes what he does somewhere else. Then there’s the music itself, which paradoxically sets up and then demolishes the rigid formalism of process music. Near the end of his 2004 composition Percussion and Strings, a sound emanates from the ensemble that sounds like a gunshot. It’s an extremely unsettling moment made all the more so by the seeming comfort zone which preceded it and, as so, is an extremely apt musical metaphor for the world today.


Why We Seek

The Moscow New Choir; The Russian State Symphony Cinema Orchestra, Timothy Mount, conductor

Despite the fact that the packaging masquerades as some kind of self-help book, there’s no need to be scared of Seek the Eternal. As the subtitle states, it’s simply “an interfaith oratorio celebrating the spiritual life.” And what does that sound like? Well, quite pleasant really. Composer John Schlenck is good at staying within the lines of the tonality coloring book. Expect a tuneful journey, with more prolonged subdominant minor deceptive cadences, rather than the obvious plagal variety.


L’Oreille coupee

Frank Royon Le Mée, voice; Barry Schrader, electronics

I’ve been following Barry Schrader’s electronic music soundscapes on innova for several years now , and they are always wonderful counterarguments to trot out whenever any electronic music detractor claims that music created for performances only involving circuits lacks soul. But Schrader’s latest recording combines his always individual use of electronic sound with the interaction of human soloists. The results of these mostly 21st-century synchronisms show that this once de rigeur medium is still viable these days. My fave is a song from a 1989 cantata in which Schraders’s scrapes and bleeps interact with a countertenor to conjure up Vincent Van Gogh severing his ear: Wow!


And the President Said…

London Symphony Orchestra, Jefferey Silberschlag, conductor; Ben Bradlee, narrator; Victoria Griswold, piano obligato

For whatever moments of horrified distraction George W.’s new vocabulary words have offered the world’s populace, some of our other presidents have managed to string an inspired sentence together when the occasioned called for celebration or the nation was in need of a rallying cry. Composer (I am not making this up) William Thomas McKinley has woven together bits of inspiration as trimmed from the quotable quotes of this country’s past century of leaders, as well as some of their lesser moments (Bush’s famed “No new taxes,” and the Clinton classic “depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”) The music itself also offers some clever patriotic thematic pastiche, making for a fun, largely satirical piece. Though probably not a great idea for the national holiday pops concert, it’s a work that puts a new twist on the Copland-style musical portrait of the P.O.T.U.S.


Ori’s Fearful Symmetry

Though I have never understood this obsession with the iPod shuffle function, I do keep occasion-specific playlists on hand. I get a lot of mileage out of my “Walking In New York” track library, and I’ll be adding several cuts off World on Four Strings. Making the city streets my concert hall here is probably okay with the composer, who constructed the album as “a travelogue of sorts…a dedication to the ever-changing neighborhoods of New York City.” Listening to “Ori’s Fearful Symmetry” at my desk, I’m already having a considerable amount of trouble keeping my feet still. I fear I may feel compelled to wander up to strangers on the sidewalk and ask them to dance. Best cross the street if you see me coming your way.