Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This week in Brooklyn

Tonight I'm going to Sycamore in Ditmas Park to hear my friend Patrick Breiner's excellent trio Sons of Daughters, who are sharing a bill with In One Wind. I expressed my admiration for Sons of Daughters in an earlier post as being a great example of a group of improvisors committed to the "band" concept. They don't read music onstage, they tour, and they even have merchandise like hooded sweatshirts with their logo!

Then tomorrow I'm going to Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg to hear my friend Shannon Fields' new band Leverage Models. If you're interested in left-of-center, creative rock music you should check it out. Also on the bill is Skeletons (playing an acoustic set) and AU.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stravinsky's "Grand Choral"

Igor Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat" is a piece that I keep coming back to and I always find more to love about it. Whenever I get obsessed with a piece of music I always want to play it to try to absorb it as fully as possible. "Soldat" is written for the unusual (and awesome) instrumentation of trombone, bassoon, clarinet, bass, cornet, violin and percussion. I've transcribed small parts of "Soldat" for piano, partly inspired by Christopher O'Riley's incredible arrangements. There's a movement in the form of a chorale, but Stravinsky-ified, flouting the rules of voice leading and producing something that sounds ancient and modern simultaneously.
This is an arrangement using overdubbed tracks of accordion playing each voice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble

Last night I saw a performance by the incredible Nritygram Dance Ensemble at the Joyce Theatre. I was totally blown away by the virtuosity of the dancers and musicians, and by the joyful expressiveness of the entire performance. This ensemble is actually the repertory company of the Nrityagram dance village, located outside Bangalore, India. The village was founded by the Odissi dancer Protima Gauri Bedi on ten acres of farmland, and is similar to an ancient ashram where gurus imparted technique and philosophy to their disciples. The musicians, dancers, and choreographers live together developing their art and also studying yoga, martial arts, Sanskrit and classical literature. The sense of "wholeness" of the performance reflected the close working relationship of the artists. The dance and music were joined in a way that created something really magical.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So Percussion plays John Cage

The percussion ensemble So Percussion was on WNYC's Soundcheck yesterday and performed a version of John Cage's "Credo in Us". It really knocked me out! The collage effect of using an old turntable playing classical music combined with tightly executed ensemble drum passages, an early example of Cage's "chance procedures", created an incredible musical landscape.
You can hear the performance at Soundcheck's website. There's also an amusing video of John Cage playing an amplified cactus.
So Percussion is also performing as part of the American Mavericks series this week in NYC.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Neighborhood Concerts

On Sunday I saw a great violin and piano recital at the Brooklyn Library presented as a part of Carnegie Hall's "Neighborhood Concerts" series. Jennifer Kho and Reiko Uchida played a program of American composers, all but one of them still living. It was my first encounter with Jennifer Higdon's music, they opened with her piece "String Poetic". It was very exciting rhythmically, and there was a passage where the pianist mutes the strings with her hand while the violin plays pizzicato (plucked strings), making a surprisingly similar timbre.
The non-living composer in question was Lou Harrison. I love a lot of Harrison's work (see this post on performing his "Varied Trio"), but I admit that I only liked parts of this piece, called "Grand Duo". One of the highlights was the pianist's use of an "octave bar" used to play smashing clusters of all the notes within an octave simultaneously. This was used to great effect in the "Polka" movement that concluded the piece. There was a very ominous atonal slow movement , which is a side of Harrison's music I haven't heard much of, but he did study with Schoenberg.
There's a few more of these concerts left, go see them!

Friday, March 16, 2012

"The Album" is not dead!

I just started listening to the Roots latest album, "Undun", and it's becoming increasingly fascinating. It's a concept album telling the bleak tale of a criminal's life, starting with his death and working backwards in time. In an age when the common wisdom seems to be that people don't listen to albums anymore, it's great to see works like these being made. ?uestlove had an article on Pitchfork writing about his favorite concept albums. I'll have to give another listen to Stevie Wonder's "Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants."

Some of my favorite concept albums: The Flaming Lips - "The Soft Bulletin", Pink Floyd - "Animals", Kate Bush - "Hounds of Love", Tool - "Aenima", David Bowie - "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust".

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jason Moran - "Promoting the abstract"

There's a short interview with Jason Moran on PBS talking about his new role as artistic director at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. My favorite part is his response to a question about the role of jazz in our culture today, given that the art form has become marginalized.

"We can promote the abstract....Improvisational music and jazz really forces us to focus, it forces us to have an imagination, to create our own ideas about what we're hearing....I want to promote that, that audiences come in as thinkers just as much as the performers are thinkers."

Watch Jason Moran 'Promotes the Abstract' in Jazz on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.