One of the most moving conversations about music I’ve ever had was with Charles Lloyd. Perhaps the time and place added to the effect (a poetically rainy September 14, 2001, in a cozy Greenwich Village apartment), but really it was Lloyd’s guru-like carriage and soft-spoken insight that I found both inspiring and challenging. His music amplifies that effect exponentially. Clearly, I’m not the first to have had this experience (as Stanley Crouch’s liner notes demonstrate) and Lloyd’s new disc, Jumping the Creek, captures another snapshot of this master improviser at work in the close company of Geri Allen (piano), Robert Hurst (double-bass), and Eric Harland (drums, percussion). Though perhaps one of the more simply constructed tracks on the disc (three minutes of sax with percussion accompaniment), “Both Veils Must Go” is the one I find the most affecting, as if Lloyd has leaned towards me to impart some bit of grandfatherly advice or recalled moment from the distant past.
I’ve devoted a major portion of my life to studying the violin and still get a vicarious thrill out of listening to just about anything written for the instrument (though, thankfully, I haven’t been caught playing air-violin by anyone in the office yet). But even if you didn’t spend your adolescence with a piece of wood tucked under your chin, it would be easy to form an attachment to Leila Josefowicz’s rendering of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen Verlernt. A little showy, a little classic, a little melancholy, but mostly just written in such a way that it fits together as tightly as an aural jigsaw puzzle.
For the new music trivia buffs in the crowd, the title (Laughing Unlearnt) is a quote from the ninth movement of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire.
Daniel Lippel, guitar.
Think of Peter Gilbert’s Ricochet as a sort of virtuoso guitar concerto sans orchestra. Instead, the composer applies a visceral electronic accompaniment of shifting textures—sounds that conjure up the din of a noise show rather than your average concert hall performance. In the end, the composition somehow straddles proper bowtie recital music and sound art through its extreme timbral palette.
This sort of thing really shouldn’t bother me but, given my obsessiveness about numbers, I found it rather odd that only five of the compositions on Capstone’s release of Vox Novus’s 60×60 Project, an assembling of minute-long compositions, were a full 60 seconds and that there are actually 61 tracks on the CD. Most tracks clock in between 56 and 59 seconds, and David Evan Jones’s “Writing Out Loud” is a mere 32 seconds. But to be so uptight about duration misses the point of the endeavor. None of the tracks in the CD booklet notes are numbered, making it hard to keep count, and the notes even suggest putting the disc on random shuffle which guarantees that you’ll never be sure what you’re listening to. So I did the next best thing, I put the CD on as background music as I worked, hoping one of the pieces would cry out to me enough to single it out for attention in the next paragraph.
The one that I absolutely couldn’t accomplish anything during was smack in the middle, track 30, “Imagine Happiness” by Juilliard-trained flutist Elaine Fine. Fine recorded her two children’s voices and fed them through a computer. The result goes from sounding like ’60s psychedelia to the Chipmunks doing the Turtles’s classic single “Happy Together” in only 42 seconds. I kept playing it again and again, once again totally missing the point of this CD!
For a more focused listening experience, the way to go is Capstone’s web page devoted to the disc which offers clearly labeled mp3s of every track, but then you miss out on being able to collect the disc and put it on your shelf.
The Light in the Piazza was the big winner at the Tony Awards this year, fetching best score among its many trophies. Something of a revisit to the idea of Do I Hear a Waltz?, the sole failed collaboration between composer/lyricist Adam Guettel’s grandfather Richard Rodgers and his idol Stephen Sondheim, whose musical sensibilities permeate Guettel’s score. Check out the very Sunday in the Park “The Beauty Is” with its jointy minimalist riffs. But, no complaint. Would that most of the new music coming out of Broadway continue the groundbreaking melodic and harmonic paths of Sondheim rather than try to ape current popular trends with often dubious artistic success!
I love the Brodsky Quartet, and when they joined forces with pop singers like Björk and Elvis Costello on an earlier album, magic happened. But when the Brodsky’s new disc Moodswings arrived, I found myself skipping over all the pop-artist pairings to Meredith Monk’s Gotham Lullaby, and then I was stuck there hitting repeat for quite some time. Written in 1975, this wordless lullaby may have lost some its radical impact, but none of its loveliness. Monk said that recording it with the quartet was an “unforgettable experience,” and so is listening.
You have to admire contemporary composers who choose to grapple with classical music’s sacrosanct past, especially those with the chutzpah to take on the task of adding to a well-trodden repertoire niche. Are there any stones left unturned by J. S. Bach and Benjamin Britten when it comes to unaccompanied cello suites? Well, there must be a few pebbles lying around yet to be discovered. So like a determined prospector, composer Randall Svane decided to hunt in a stripped quarry in search of diamonds. The booty turns out to be these three expressive cello suites that demonstrate Svane’s clear, straightforward approach and admiration towards his material.
The sound of water has allured artists such as Annea Lockwood and Kenneth Atchley to devote significant energy to exploring the infinite textures hidden inside the hydrogen-oxygen mix. For a moment, I thought Lvxus was going to deliver another liquidly rumination. Instead the synth and tape loop duo delivers a 20-minute space-out à la Tangerine Dream. A dip into the liner notes/production credits confirmed my suspicions that the two pieces on the CD were created back in 1988. The refreshing part is to hear something clearly retro in sound without the present-day smack of sentimentality or irony.
It’s hard to believe there is a single scrap of music by Leonard Bernstein that hasn’t yet made it to CD, let alone a complete musical filling an entire disc. Peter Pan is just that. Bernstein was asked to write a few songs for a 1950 Broadway production and, never the introvert, turned in an entire score instead. As a precursor to his landmark shows Candide and West Side Story, Peter Pan will provide endless listening pleasures for folks eager to hear earlier versions of many of their trademark melodic and harmonic twists. Even the one hit song from the show, “Dream With Me,” has echoes of “Tonight.”
Much of Paul Motian’s new disc I Have The Room Above Her has a moody, introspective quality, quite a bit of which comes courtesy of Joe Levano’s tenor sax, though Bill Frisell’s subtler guitar work is no less integral. It’s hard to pick out just one track to love off such a cohesive disc, but the appropriately titled opening tune played by this intuitive threesome, Osmosis Part III, definitely sets the tone. As summer temperatures push up the mercury, it’s a disc to savor late at night when it’s just too hot for sleeping.
(And while I may not be such a fan of liner notes, liner pictures—many of which are included with this disc—give you a great sense of the circumstance under which the music was created. A particular boon for new fans or those who don’t get the chance to catch these musicians live very often.)