Category: Tracks

Scorn not the Sonnet

Victoria Hansen, soprano; The Bowed Piano Ensemble

People already familiar with the mysterious and surreal New Albion recordings of Stephen Scott’s music know that his Colorado College-based Bowed Piano Ensemble is something of a misnomer. What began as a group of Scott’s students venturing inside a grand piano with lollipop stick-sized violin bows has morphed into a full-scale exploration of the instrument’s innards using dislocated piano hammers, guitar picking, finger rubbing, pretty much everything except actually playing on the keys of the piano. Watching them live is like watching open heart surgery performed on a piano. For his latest work, The Deep Spaces, the members of the Ensemble even sing in chorus with soprano Victoria Hansen. What’s going on here?



Approaching improvised music from a decidedly classical vantage point, Jeffrey Agrell (horn) and Evan Mazunik (piano) seamlessly weave together semi-notated passages and stretches of improvisation into pieces that fuse the musicians’ grasp on chord scales and species counterpoint. The album’s title track, Repercussions, displays the elision between genres, keeping things on the buoyant side and displaying an almost Copland-like flair, occasionally digressing into more experimental territory. Put this one smack in the middle of the “adult contemporary” wallpaper that fills cubicals in office buildings everywhere and the outer limits of Tzadik’s catalog.


Piano Sonata in C Major K545

If you thought the “Mozart Anniversary Year” that seemed it would never end had finally, well, ended and that you were out of the woods, I say “Ha!” And so, apparently—with a wink and nod—does Uri Caine. And he’s not shy about it. Starting with the deified one’s greatest hits, Caine and his ensemble play in this pool of familiar tunes without getting blinded by anyone’s particular musical genius. Caine’s adaptation of the Turkish Rondo is perhaps the most inspired track on the disc, but the tired music student trapped inside me gets the most joy out of the Caine’s take on the ubiquitous Piano Sonata in C Major.


The Palatine Building

Okay, so why isn’t Theo Bleckmann a rock star? Aside from the stuff he’s done under his own name, his contributions to Phil Kline’s Zippo Songs and the Bang on a Can triumvirate’s Carbon Copy Building make a really strong case for his status as pop-level icon. Yeah, I know I’ve got funny ears. But forget you’re reading NewMusicBox and just listen to “The Palatine Building” by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and JuliaWolfe. It’s from their collectively composed “opera,” The Carbon Copy Building. (Each of them individually composed each of the sections but, like Lennon and McCartney, no one’s revealing who did what.) But forget all that. Couldn’t this song be a major hit? And if it couldn’t be, there’s something wrong with hits.



Jazz fusion used to mean something a little more specific back in the day, but after a good few years into the 21st century, the term can even encompass albums like Brewed by Noon’s Stories to Tell, which muddles jazz, folk, and world music with a heavy dose of rock and experimental tropes. Just take a look at the group’s lineup: Aram Bajakian, Thierno Camara, Jon Madof, and bandleader Sean Noonan. Now add in some eclectic guest performers˜Abdoulaye Diabaté, Thiokho Diagne, Mat Maneri, Susan McKeown, Dawn Padmore, Jim Pugliese, and Marc Ribot˜and you have something that resembles a menu from one of those strange restaurants you sometimes encounter, like those Chinese/Cuban joints, Pizza/Donuts, Chicken/Waffles, you get the idea. If you’re in the mood for a far-reaching sonic smorgasbord, here’s your ticket.


Friction Systems

Remember the vivid dreams and nightmares you had a child, so much more potent because the understanding that it was “just a dream” didn’t have the experiential backing to make it so quickly believed. Listening to David Gordon’s Friction Systems takes me back to that fantastical sort of world. There are strange birds (woodwinds) in these trees and magical toys (percussion and keyboard) in the cupboards. It’s like taking a step through the looking glass with Tim Burton and Julie Taymor.


Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

I have to admit I’m not particularly attracted to most non-Frank Zappa performances of FZ music, so I was more than a tad suspicious when Ed Palermo’s disc of big band arrangements of Zappa’s music landed on my desk. So much so that I’ve resisted listening to it until the very end of the year. It turned out to be the year’s final musical treat. We’re Only In It for The Money has always been my favorite Frank Zappa album, largely because he takes so many different stylistic turns on it and yet they all somehow sound inevitable. But Frank never considered turning the song “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” into salsa! That’s a simultaneous act of hubris and brilliance!


Tender Warriors

On Charles Lloyd’s live trio outing Sangam, the multi-instrumentalist is joined by legendary tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and percussionist Eric Harland for a session that carves gentle melodies out of numerous percussive sonorities. Check out the opening of the aptly named composition “Tender Warriors” and enter a bizarre musical landscape where the entire world seems to be singing, albeit a melody that is not exactly hummable.


Postcard from Heaven

Victoria Jordanova, harps; Pamela Z, voices

Cage’s prophetically-titled Postcard from Heaven, a mesmerizing, roughly 40-minute 1982 composition scored for 20 harpists, receives its world premiere recording on this new disc from ArpaViva. Originally premiered at Minneapolis’s Walker Arts Center in the early ’80s, it has rarely been performed since, most likely due to the practical difficulty of assembling 20 harpists willing to tackle experimental new music. Jordanova elimates this problem through the miracle of the overdub. While not exactly the same as what Cage originally intended, her approach has given the work new life and, in fact, the work does sound like a postcard from heaven written by John Cage.


Trio No. 2

Margaret Swinchoski, flute; Donald Mokrynski, clarinet; Ron Levy, piano

The industrious New Jersey-based Palisades Virtuosi, a trio of flute, clarinet, and piano, feature a newly commissioned work on every single one of their concerts. Now they’ve collected seven of these works on a new Albany CD. The piece that’s been haunting me the most is a lyrical trio by the late Richard Lane, whose music I’d never heard before. I immediately started scouring the web to learn more about him and came across a series of mysterious photos featuring some of his surviving musical manuscripts, which further added to the otherworldliness of my encounter with his music. Lane’s Trio No. 2 is actually the last thing he ever wrote, and only two of his projected three movements were completed.