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Matthew Shipp Piano Song

Matthew Shipp

Piano Song

Matthew Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass; Newman Taylor-Baker, drums

Thirsty Ear Records

Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a prolific recording artist: he has released dozens of albums as a leader and appeared on dozens more as a collaborator. However, Piano Song, his 2017 recording for Thirsty Ear, will be his last for the imprint and, likely, his last for a US label (Shipp concedes that there may be a few more CDs released out of Europe). Shipp will continue to curate the releases on Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series (a jazz series that welcomes cross-genre efforts) and he will continue to play live. That said, for those of us who are fans of Shipp’s recordings, it is saddening to contemplate that he is nearing the end of the road on this part of his musical journey.

Piano Song is a consistently and engaging valedictory statement. A trio date with two solo tunes (all by Shipp), like much of Thirsty Ear’s output the CD is enthusiastically eclectic in terms of its stylistic profile. While bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor-Baker may not be as familiar to listeners as some of Shipp’s other collaborators, they form a beautifully well-connected rhythm section. Bisio’s solo on “The Cosmopolitan” is supple melodically and versatile harmonically. Taylor-Baker’s snare filigrees and drum fills considerably enliven both that tune and “Flying Carpet.” The rhythm section crafts a fluent and mysterious introduction for “Scrambled Brain.” Bisio employs double-stops in a wide-ranging part while Taylor-Baker coaxes all manner of subtleties from the snare drum, evolving into a more kinetic posture and adding cymbals and toms as the duo continues. This is a noteworthy aspect of Shipp’s approach to the trio: allowing duo subsets of the ensemble to really shine at various moments on the recording.

Shipp’s playing, in addition to having its own original stamp showing, encompasses the work of a wide range of progenitors: Taylor, Hill, Monk, Tyner, and Ellington, just to name a few. Shipp’s short solo at the beginning of the proceedings, and his intro on “Silence of” combine modal and post-bop lyricism. He forcefully swings on “Micro Wave,” a tune that moves from quasi-bop licks to far more dissonant utterances. “Mind Space” finds him supplying fleet-fingered angular lines countered by Taylor-Baker, while repeated notes and chords as well as achingly slow Schoenbergian arpeggiations are accompanied by Bisio’s arco playing on “Void of Sea.” “The Nature Of” features Shipp’s signature low register melodies, in which a bass line is accompanied by a countermelody up an octave or so. Eventually, the piece expands to encompass the upper register too, with vertical stabs added to the duet texture. “Gravity Point” is rife with repetition, with halting ostinatos and tremolos set against a middle register piano solo and furious interplay from the rhythm section. The album closes with the title tune, a poignant ballad that the listener may imagine as Shipp waving goodbye to this chapter. Shipp’s discography is an impressive legacy and, at 56, one senses that he has much more to offer the jazz world in future incarnations.


18 hours ago | |
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The violinist Miranda Cuckson (USA), New York, New York, April 8, 2013. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Miranda Cuckson – Pop Up Concert at Miller Theatre

March 7, 2017

Published in Sequenza 21

By Christian Carey

NEW YORK – Violinist Miranda Cuckson is one of the stars of new music in New York: a fearless, visionary, and tremendously talented artist.  On March 7th, she presented a solo program of 20th and 21st century works in a “Pop Up Concert” at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. In her introduction to the event, Miller Theatre’s Executive Director Melissa Smey pointed out that their “Pop Up Series” has hosted dozens of world and New York premieres. Cuckson’s program was no exception, leading off with the New York premiere of En Soi (2017) composed by Steve Lehman, a Columbia alumnus who is now on the faculty of CalArts. It is a very strong piece, written with a bevy of plucked passages using both hands. This is designed to make the violin resemble an African instrument called the ngoni. To further cement this association, Lehman specified a microtonal tuning and scordatura. Accordingly, Cuckson performed En Soi with one violin and the rest of the program with another.

Two pieces by Aaron Jay Kernis followed. Both showed the Pulitzer prize winner’s absolute command of idiomatic writing for strings. Aria-Lament  (1992) departs from an introduction filled with soft altissimo passages to a gradual buildup of energy in the main section, incorporating meaty double stops and angular allegro melodic lines. A Dance of Life (2010) juxtaposes fast moving chromatic passages with ruminative sections of achingly sustained lines.

Cuckson has performed a great deal of Michael Hersch’s music. A recent work composed specifically for her, the weather and landscape are on our side (2016), demonstrated the composer’s keen affinity for Cuckson’s capabilities. A multi-movement work, it features numerous delicate passages, employing bowing techniques, pizzicato, and harmonics to differentiate gestures. All was not introversion however, as the piece also accorded the violinist dynamic sections which burst forth in eruptive fashion.

The concert culminated with Huang Ruo’s Four Fragments (2006), pieces requiring considerable virtuosity that use sliding tones and melodic patterns from traditional Chinese music. The frequent resemblance to vocalisms from Chinese opera were striking. The Fragments were a thrilling way to end the concert.

Cuckson is an ideal emissary for contemporary music. Assaying a formidable program, her preparation was exquisite and presentation consistently engaging. Miller has more “Pop Up” events in the Spring, including performances by the Orlando Consort, ICE, Ensemble Signal, JACK, and Mivos Quartet. The price can’t be beat – free – and one can even enjoy a libation to boot.


10 days ago | |
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Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima

Misato Mochizuki Composer Portrait

Thursday March 2, 2017

Miller Theatre

By Christian Carey

NEW YORK – On Thursday, March 2nd, Japanese composer Misato Mochizuki was featured on Miller Theatre’s Composer Portraits series. In a concert featuring four U.S. premieres and concluding with a work commissioned and premiered at the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival, the audience was introduced to a range of her work. Throughout, Mochizuki demonstrated a clear aesthetic embodied by an interest in exploring a panorama of instrumental timbres and effects and a flair for dramatic, often quasi-ceremonial, designs.

The earliest work on the program, Au Bleu Bois (1998) for solo oboe, was a standout. Mochizuki uses various playing techniques in an imaginatively constructed trajectory, ranging from microtones to multiphonics through all manner of alternate fingerings. James Austin Smith made this formidable work sound fluent and exquisitely well-shaped. Moebius-Ring (2003) was likewise given a persuasive rendition by Ning Yu, who handled its muscular, seemingly ceaseless, repetitions of corruscating glissandos with mastery. Percussionist Russell Greenberg’s committed and commanding performance of Quark-Intermezzi III featured a catalog of percussion instruments and extended techniques. Unfortunately, here Mochizuki’s penchant for the reiterative moved past the merely confrontational to the assaultive, populating the work with fortissimo thwacks of a tam-tam over and over again and a flock of searing bowed crotales (which appeared elsewhere on the program in a similarly overdosed measure).

JACK gave an excellent performance of Mochizuki’s first string quartet Terres Rouges (2006). Once again, there was a “kitchen sink” aspect to the catalogue of playing techniques featured; in general, editing could be a friend to the composer. However, several of the gestures found a structural place that helped one sieve through the panoply: a strident high violin note that opened the piece and reappeared, transformed, at its conclusion, the exertion of varying degrees of bow pressure, microtonal harmonics, and hammer on techniques reminiscent of the way heavy metal guitarists dig in. Indeed, one could see the members of JACK revelling in the challenges posed to them, acting as a tight ensemble unit.

The concert closed with Le monde des rond et de carrés (2015). Written for Yarn/Wire and first premiered at the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival, it is a piece just as much about ritual and choreography as it is about challenging chamber music. Its beginning is particularly striking. Percussionists Ian Antonio and Greenberg made their way from the back of the hall to the stage, playing crotales and cup bells. Once onstage, they were joined by pianists  Laura Barger and Ning Yu in unison passages, which gradually began to accumulate a more extensive pitch profile as the percussionists moved to mallet instruments. The intensity of the glockenspiel and vibraphone, played in fiercely fortissimo patterns, urged the pianists to their own glissandos and ostinatos. After the aforementioned searing passages featuring bowed crotales, a drumkit was added to the proceedings, first played by Antonio, then with Greenberg joining in. The piece’s climax involves the kit exclusively, with both the pianists joining the percussionists attacking the kit as well, unleashing a bombardment of crashing cymbals and forceful drumming. It was a kinetic and fascinatingly choreographic conclusion to the piece and the concert. Mochizuki has found stalwart advocates in Yarn/Wire and JACK; one can imagine future fruitful collaborations among them.

11 days ago | |
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Here’ a cheerful Monday treat,  ECS Publishing has made available for the 150th year of Frank Lloyd Wright a four-minute introduction to Daron Hagen and Paul Muldoon’s Frank Lloyd Wright opera
Shining Brow.   

The opera concerns events that occured between 1903 and 1914 during the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s life. Wright’s determination to leave his wife and children, his relationship with Mamah Cheney, and the subsequent murders and conflagration at Taliesin, are all part of the historical record. The opera takes Wright to the point at which he vows to rebuild Taliesin in Mamah’s memory.

The opera was commissioned by the Madison Opera, a division of the Madison Civic Music Association. The composer was officially authorized by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Taliesin Fellowship to compose the opera and to have it published.

12 days ago | |
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On Friday, March 3, 2017 wasteLAnd presented the music of Klaus Lang at Art Share LA, in the heart of the arts district in downtown Los Angeles. The occasion was the US premiere of missa beati pauperes spiritu and Austrian composer Klaus Lang had planned to be in attendance, but with the recent immigration crackdown his visa was denied by the US. Inside the theater, clusters of players and singers were stationed around the performance space and the crowd arranged itself along the outside edges of the seating area for the best view.

missa beati pauperes spiritu translates from the Latin as “Blessed are the poor in spirit” comes from the sermon on the mount, as related in the gospel of Matthew. The work is roughly based on the form of the mass, with the text of each of the beatitudes included. Lang explains his approach in the program notes: “I think that a mass is not a theological rational discussion of the bible. Instead, its goal and prerequisite is not to fill the mind with the thoughts and pictures, but to make it empty and poor, for the blessed are those that are poor in spirit, and thereby free.”

In fact the Revised Common Lectionary, followed by most mainline Christian churches, lists the sermon on the mount for the gospel text for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 29 of this year – so this piece was timely. Bell tones and the quiet sounding of a gong by percussionist Dustin Donahue opened the piece, creating a somber, mystical atmosphere complimenting the liturgical season of Lent that had begun a few days earlier. Soon, the other players quietly took their stations and deep, sustained tones were heard in the lower strings that added to the spiritual feeling. In this context, the music of Arvo Pärt came to mind.

At length, cantor Charles Lane intoned a stately “Kyrie Eleison” and the accompanying instruments added their voices in response. The entrances and harmonies were effectively done, given that the players were scattered in small groups across the theater and did not have much visual communication in the darkened space. The strings and trombone were heard mostly in their lower registers while the soprano voice of Stephanie Aston floated high above, a sustained, ethereal presence.

As the piece progressed, a line of text was sung by the cantor and the instrumental accompaniment offered a reflective reply. When the percussion was present, the bells and gong added a touch of the ceremonial while the strings were at times, a comforting presence, or alternately questioning and uncertain. The music was often unsettled, especially in the soprano voice, as if reflecting the tension in the text between the states of poverty, meekness, hunger, thirst and persecution – and the blessedness thus engendered. A number of restless pizzicato passages in the strings also contributed to this, while at other times warm, sustained tones produced a more expectant and hopeful feeling. missa beati pauperes spiritu is a moving and cathartic journey, with all of the conflicting emotions awakened by the text fully realized in this music.

Prior to the beginning of the concert, an electronic sound installation realized by Matt Barbier was heard through speakers as the crowd filed in. This consisted of sustained low humming tones that were fully musical but also hinting at some deep ongoing process. The feeling was warm, but autonomous; benign but not overtly friendly. Intriguingly, the sounds were simultaneously static, yet full of change and never boring. Barbier’s piece nicely set the stage for missa beati pauperes spiritu.

The performers for this concert were:

Charles Lane, cantor
Stephanie Aston, soprano
Matt Barbier, trombone
Dustin Donahue, percussionist
Linnea Powell, viola
Derek Stein, cello
Stephen Pfeifer, double bass
Scott Cazan, electronics

WasteLAnd returns to Art Share LA on Friday, April 7 to present einsamkeit, a concert featuring music by Erik Ulman, Patricia Martinez, Daniel Rothman and Daniel Tacke.

14 days ago | |
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Samuel Barber, one of America’s most celebrated composers, was born on this day (April 9) in 1910.  The young filmmaker  H. Paul Moon has made a full-length documentary about Barber that will be released later this month.

“I went out on a limb with this project, self-distributing, keeping it independent, making sure I got things right without compromise,” Moon says.

The 3-minute trailer below lines up some famous people with their insights on Barber, in this order:  William Schuman, Thomas Hampson, biographer Barbara Heyman, Leonard Slatkin and Leonard Bernstein.

16 days ago | |
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The Stone, the landmark non-profit performance space founded in 2005 by John Zorn and dedicated to the experimental and avant-garde, will move to The Glass Box Theater at Arnhold Hall on 55 West 13th Street, in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village. Arnhold Hall is the performing arts hub for The New School, housing the three performing arts schools of The College of Performing Arts: Mannes School of Music, The New School for Drama, and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

Beginning in March 2018, The Stone at The New School will operate five nights a week, presenting one show a night in The Glass Box Theater, a ground level performing arts space surrounded by windows to the street and Arnhold Hall lobby and designed as part of the gut renovation of much of Arnhold Hall, led by the architectural firm Deborah Berke Partners.

“I think that what John Zorn has created in The Stone is a real deal miracle. The value of providing a sort of temple to serious music making for serious audiences, in an intimate environment without any interference as to what is performed is perfectly aligned with the long-term values at The New School. What is more, the broad range of artists of the very highest quality, who also happen to be masters of experiment and improvisation, is a perfect fit for the three schools of the College of Performing Arts. I have been a friend and fan of Zorn’s for many years and I am extraordinarily grateful to him for making The Stone at The New School possible.”

Starting this June, in anticipation of the formal move to The New School, The Stone at The New School will present two shows a week on Friday and Saturdayevenings (schedule attached).

John Zorn will continue to serve as artistic director, overseeing all of the programming. The devoted network of volunteers who help to run The Stone will remain in place, supplemented by support from The New School staff and students. The Glass Box Theater will provide for the exact same number of seats as the present venue for The Stone, preserving its intimate, affordable, no nonsense, music first ethos.

“I am really excited about this next phase of The Stone. Dean Kessler, Provost Marshall, their team, and I put together a framework for The Stone to continue serving as an artist-centric home and community for experimental and avant-garde artists, where they can perform what they want without any interference. We will continue all of the traditions of The Stone, moving it to greatly improved space, and opening up significant opportunity to draw energy from the students at Mannes, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, The New School for Drama, and the entire New School.”

23 days ago | |
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In 2010,  a 16-year-old African-American child named Kalief Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. a crime he insisted he hadn’t committed. Because his family couldn’t afford bail, he endured three years on New York’s notorious Rikers Island and his case was postponed 31 times before it was dismissed. While being held, Browder spent months in solitary confinement, missed the last two years of high school, and become so despondent that he tied his bedsheets into a noose. In June 2015, Browder committed suicide by hanging himself.  Last year, the New York Legislature passed a bill known as “Kalief’s Law” to ensure that persons arrested receive a speedy trial.  It’s the least they could do.

Composer Judah Adashi is working on a new piece about the Kalief Browder tragedy called Unseen.   This is an excerpt from that work called  “Last Words” which imagines Browder’s final hours, on the night of June 5, 2015. The text comes from a conversation that Browder’s mother, Venida, shared with Jennifer Gonnerman of The New Yorker. Gonnerman writes: “his mother explained that the night before [he took his own life], he told her, ‘Ma, I can’t take it anymore.'”

“Venida Browder fought relentlessly for her son’s release, and, after his suicide, shared his story in support of criminal justice reform,” Adashi writes.  “She died of heart failure in October 2016 at the age of 63. “Last Words” is dedicated to her memory.”

This demo recording features vocals by Matthew J. Robinson, photos by Zach Gross, and audio of Venida Browder, courtesy of The Marshall Project. Unseen is funded by a grant from the Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics.

24 days ago | |
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On February 21, 2017, Tuesdays@MonkSpace was host to Nicholas Chase and Robin Lorentz, in Los Angeles to perform Bhajan, their latest CD from the Cold Blue recording label. Ms. Lorentz played the electric violin and Chase was at the controls of the computer and various audio interfaces. This occasion marked the premiere performance of Bhajan. Both were barefoot and clad completely in white, a refreshing departure from the solid black so often seen at new music concerts.

Bhajan consists of four roughly equal sections totaling some 47 minutes and is based on Hindu devotional music. For this performance all four sections were played continuously and the violin score extended over four music stands.  The first section is Bindu and this begins with a soft oscillating sound from the electronics followed by a few seconds of silence. More beeps and clicks accompanied by a high, repeating Eb violin pattern that anchors the listener against the otherworldly feel in the electronics. The electronics here are performed by Nicholas Chase on a playable interface programmed for the various sounds, but also responsive to the touch. The score is loosely organized to allow the violin to lead, and the coordination between the two players resulted in an unexpectedly tight ensemble. The violin played sustained tones against an electronic counter melody and this allowed some intriguing harmonies to develop as the final moments of Bindu took on a more serene feeling.

Drshti, the second section, has a more reverential feel with a deep drone coming from the electronics and a growling from the violin that approximates the patterns of a chant. There is an air of mystery in this and the interplay between the violin and the electronics borders on  conversational. The third section, Japa, has an almost conventional melody line in the violin. At one point the electronics are initiated by a series of buttons that trigger the sounds accompanying the violin, but the ensemble remained as tight as ever. The remarkable playing of Ms. Lorentz brought even the prerecorded sounds into a full partnership with the violin melody.

This expressive playing culminates in Bhajan, the final section. A quiet electronic drone sounds in the upper registers while the contemplative violin is heard below, and a warm, settled feeling pervades throughout. The electronics are again played by Nicholas Chase, and there is a subtle reprocessing of the violin in real-time that adds to the warm texture. It is the extraordinary playing of Robin Lorentz, however, that lifts this section to sublime sensitivity. The violin leads with extended phrases and the feeling is like drifting quietly away on a flowing stream. Nowhere is there the flash of complex technique, but the virtuosity of touch is unmistakable and transfixing – this section could go on for an hour and not be boring. Eventually the lovely playing fades away, and leaves the audience in a respectful silence.

Bhajan is an exquisite example of just how far skillful playing and computer-based electronics have become integrated. The high level of communication and ensemble in this performance was impressive, with each player contributing to the overall mood of the piece. Ms. Lorentz has an impressive resume and obviously understands all types of music, but none will exceed Bhajan for masterful interpretation.

Bhajan is available on CD directly from Cold Blue Music as well as at Amazon and iTunes.

26 days ago | |
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Anja Lechner and François Couturier Greenwich House, NYC February 18, 2017. Photo by Claire Stefani

Francois Couturier and Anja Lechner

Greenwich Music House

New York

February 18, 2017

By Christian Carey

Five Things to Like About Francois Couturier and Anja Lechner in duo performance

  1. Versatility — These are two musicians who are able to play in a plethora of styles: classical, jazz, world music, et cetera. I first interviewed cellist Anja Lechner for a Signal to Noise feature about the bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi. I was impressed with her versatility then and remain so today. Pianist Francois Couturier is an eminently qualified performing partner for Lechner.
  2. Ensemble — Even though most of their set consisted of composed pieces — Couturier had sheet music on the piano throughout — the improvisational directions that they took the works featured a plethora of surprises and sharp turns into different musical terrain. The duo hardly needed to look at each other to turn on a dime into a new section or tempo.
  3. Variety — The concert included pieces by Couturier, with the back-to-back presentation of Voyage and Papillons creating a swirl of timbres and techniques. Federico Mompou also featured prominently, with renditions of three of his works on the program, including Soleil Rouge, a sumptuous encore. Komitas, Gurdjieff, and a transcription of an Abel piece originally for viola da gamba were other offerings. But the standout was Anouar Brahem’s Vagues, a work that the duo had previously performed with the composer. It brought out a tenderness and poise that was most impressive.
  4. Technique and effects — Both Couturier and Lechner demonstrated abundant performing ability. However, conventional playing was just a part of their presentation. The duo used a host of effects, Couturier playing inside the piano, Lechner supplying all manner of harmonics, pizzicatos, and alternate bowing techniques. This gave the abundant lyricism of their performance just the right amount of seasoning.
  5. Tarkovsky Quartet CD — Happily for those who missed this intimate event, or for those who heard it and want more, Couturier and Lechner appear as members of the Tarkovsky Quartet (which also includes soprano saxophonist Jean-Marc Lerché and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier) on a new ECM CD, Nuit Blanche.


31 days ago | |
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