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On Saturday, December 16, 2017 People Inside Electronics presented Electric Eclipse, a concert featuring the Eclipse Quartet and a world premiere by Zeena Parkins. Also presented was music by Mari Kimura, Tom Flaherty, Ian Dicke and Missy Mazzoli. There was a special appearance by shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki, who presented an original work with the Eclipse Quartet. Every seat was filled in the Throop Church Hall, complete with speakers and what seemed to be several miles of cables.

The program opened with Spirit Away the Flesh (2017), by Zeena Parkins and this was the world premiere. The program notes describe this piece as “ an electro acoustic work using quad speaker diffusion that merges field recordings, vintage synth, and recordings of the Eclipse quartet creating a topography for three artists to reveal their motivations for artistic practice.” The recordings began with the sounds of insects and twittering birds, as captured in various locations along the east coast, from Florida to Long Island. Eclipse supplemented this with a series of soft skittering phrases that soon led to a broadly gentle harmony. Spoken text followed from the speakers; the words of the three visual artists were heard throughout the piece. At certain points the quartet players would strike small metal bowls that sent a pleasant ringing sound out into the audience.

Deep, anxious chords next appeared in the strings, and these became agitated, like so many angry mosquitoes. A feeling of uncertainty and anxiety crept in, contrasting with the more reassuring organic sounds from the field recordings. The playing, the field recordings and the spoken texts were all carefully balanced and blended. The feeling throughout oscillated between tension in the strings and the soothing sounds of the bells and rustic recordings. Spirit Away the Flesh is an engaging work, with many interwoven elements that were nicely coordinated and impeccably performed.

I-Quadrifoglio (2011) by Mari Kimura, followed. This is a four movement piece reflecting on the effects of the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. “Quadrifoglio” means four-leaf clover in Italian and the movements of this piece are titled “faith, love, hope, luck.” The program notes state that “I-Quadrifoglio is not only a prayer, but a plea for the international community to keep watch and demand more information; air and water are connected globally and affect all our children’s future.”

I-Quadrifoglio opened with high, thin sounds in the violins followed by sustained tones in a nicely blended tutti harmony. A rolling feel predominated, followed by trills of anxiety and a series of interweaving melody lines. The electronics seemed to quietly echo the playing of the quartet, and this was very effective. The middle movements featured some very lovely passages, expressively played. Contrasting sections of strong pizzicato ricocheted around the quartet and through the electronics. There were extended techniques, rapid phrases and runs that were scattered among the strings, but all were negotiated with just the right amount of liveliness and precision. Towards the end of the piece a dance-like rhythm appeared that morphed into a very complex texture that swirled and surged to the finish. I-Quadrifoglio is a technically challenging piece that draws out many strong emotions while also demonstrating the virtuosity of the Eclipse Quartet.

Recess (2016), by Tom Flaherty, was next. The first movement, “Spin,” began with a strong opening tutti chord and a series of sforzandos that rolled around the quartet, followed by sustained tones that created an anxious feel. The tension continued to build in the rapidly dynamic passages that followed. The tight ensemble of the Eclipse Quartet was nicely balanced with the energy in this piece. For all the innocence of its title, Recess at times stirred memories of early and mid 20th century Soviet era expressionism.

The second movement, “Swing”, while slower and more restrained, continued the sense of tension. A soft echo of the strings could be heard in the speakers, lightly processed by the electronics. A series of descending tones was very effective and lent an almost supernatural air as this movement as it came to a calm finish. The final movement, “Tag” returned to the rapid pace with a frenetic tempo and swirling texture that, like the playground game, seemed unsure as to where it was headed. Exuberant and unrestrained, this is very visceral music and Recess concluded to enthusiastic applause.

(Cycles) what falls must rise (2009) by Kojiro Umezacki followed the intermission. For this piece the composer joined the Eclipse Quartet playing the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese end-blown flute. Cycles is based loosely on a haiku by Masaoka Shiki:

entangled with
the scattering cherry blossoms
the wings of birds

The piece begins quietly, with soft sounds in the electronics and sustained tones from the shakuhachi. The strings enter, producing a reserved, calming feel as if the sun is rising on a still morning. This spiritual sensibility is enhanced by a dramatic melody in the shakuhachi that weaves in and around the sustained chords in the strings. The lower strings follow, taking up the melody that is eventually passed to the violins, producing a more strident and purposeful feel. A strong tutti sound emerges, providing a fine contrast to the quiet mysticism of the opening section. Powerful trills in the strings and strong notes from the shakuhachi increase the sense of tension and drama – like a squall building in intensity. This eventually subsides – to complete the cycle – dying away at the finish. (Cycles) what falls must rise is an engaging work, grounded in traditional Japanese sensibility, yet equally at ease with the western string quartet and contemporary electronics.

Unmanned (2013) by Ian Dicke, followed, an unsettling piece first heard in a 2016 People Inside Electronics concert. Exploring the use of deadly military force by remote control, Unmaned is a work that brilliantly combines contemporary music and electronics with sharp political commentary. Missy Mazzoli’s iconic Harp and Altar (2009) concluded the concert, a stirring musical portrait of the Brooklyn Bridge and the surrounding waterfront.

9 days ago |
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Verisimilitude

Verisimilitude

Tyshawn Sorey

Tyshawn Sorey, drums, percussion, composer; Cory Smythe, piano, toy piano, electronics; Chris Tordini, bass

Pi Records PI70

Tyshawn Sorey has had quite a year of musical accomplishments. After recently finishing up his doctorate at Columbia, he succeeded Anthony Braxton on the faculty at Wesleyan University, won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and received several other major awards and commissions. He has remained active in a number of ensembles, playing a pivotal role on another of this year’s best CDs, Vijay Iyer Sextet’s Far From Over (ECM). Verisimilitude, for Pi Recordings, is his sixth recorded outing as leader. Sorey is joined by pianist Corey Smythe and bassist Chris Tordini in five adventurous and stimulating compositions.

A suitable overture, “Cascade in Slow Motion,” is buoyed by interlocking arpeggios from pizzicato bass and piano and punctuated by supply drummed polyrhythms. Clocking in at four and a half minutes, it is the only relative miniature here. Thereafter, Sorey and his colleagues explore long form music-making. An arco bass solo leads off “Flowers for Prashant,” which then turns into a dovetailing duet. A gradual intensification led by this duet texture takes place, only to hew back to drone-based passages of repeated notes.

Smythe uses electronics and Tordini high-pitched arco lines to begin “Obsidian.” After an extended introduction exploring these timbres, Tordini plays lower pitched glissandos and Smythe sepulcral bass note stabs. Sorey enters with textural percussion: a gong, a host of woody fills, and shimmering cymbals. A fulsome groove is established; Tordini returns to pizzicato bass, Smythe repeats bass register chords, and Sorey deploys a cannonade at the kit. Eventually, pointillism is reasserted with upper register piano chords and throbbing bass notes; Sorey moves back to cymbals and auxiliary percussion instruments. Smythe’s basso reiterations lead to a coda based on the second section. Then there is a gradual denouement, punctuated by long gong strokes and slithering bass register glissandos.

“Algid November” is the half-hour long centerpiece of Verisimilitude and is Sorey’s most ambitious piece for trio yet. Once again, the emphasis is on gradually morphing from one set of textures and playing demeanors to the next. The musical fabric consists at first of a prevailingly soft dynamic and slow tempo, one undergirded with big beats (never amorphous) that contains numerous angular feints and jabs from all three players. Sorey is a master at contrasting the resounding of instruments such as gongs and cymbals with the faster decay of drums and small percussion instruments; all interactions and decays are timed with precision. After a long period in which these juxtapositions are the focal point, Sorey performs at the drum kit with zeal, while Smythe and Tordini operate in a dissonant language of jagged filigrees.

A little less than halfway through, the piece moves from post-tonality to post-bop, with cascading arpeggiations from Smythe and walking lines from Tordini locked in a tight groove that Sorey simultaneously supports and overlays with contrasting elements. Just when one feels their toes tapping, the trio moves sideways in lockstep, back to the big beats of the opener but with a fuller overall texture. Rearticulated verticals, first low and then high, signal yet another change in direction. Smythe’s repeated notes pile up in an ostinato haze and Tordini grooves in still another timeframe while Sorey engages in lithe ornamentation. Two thirds of the way through the piece, a visceral build up leads to a huge crash of cymbals.

Afterwards, the musicians resume the slow tempo and fragile soundscape that began “Algid November.” Pitched percussion, quickly plucked bass melodies, and chiming piano lines give way to rattling reiterations from Sorey and Smythe. It is as if the big crash that signalled the piece’s climax is being allowed successive echos. Interpolations of the swing section, in tiny slices that last merely a breath or two, are juxtaposed with barbed jabs and intricately constructed rhythmic passages. Another gale storm threatens, then is subdued, devolving into muted piano notes and quietly reverberant gong rolls.

The final work on the CD, “Contemplating Tranquility,” opens with the same muted material that closed “Algid November.” Gongs and temple bells gradually coalesce into a new, still slow, pulse stream of pitched percussion, toy piano ,and then grand piano. Glassy piano harmonies are pitted against reiterated soundings of the gong. Smythe gradually adds arpeggios in the low register to replicate the lowest sounding frequencies of the gong. Filling in the registers, Sorey suddenly switches roles, adding trebly unpitched percussion to the proceedings where there had been piano. Toy piano and pitched percussion engage in a duet that is joined by a low rumbling and then sustained upper register arco lines and a generous dose of harmonics from Tordini. Smythe begins to build verticals in a more harmonically conceived direction, buoyed by more consonance — even an octave here and there — from the bass player. As things converge around the low E string of the bass, Tordini then has some fun of his own, throwing in notes that rend the heretofore harmonically grounded passage asunder. While Sorey weaves sustained cymbal passages, pianist and bassist create a duet that ebbs and flows in an ever narrowing dynamic spectrum. Temple bells suggests a possible return to the more contemplative demeanor of the opening. Instead, it is a signal that the meditation is over. Thus ends Sorey’s Verisimilitude, Sequenza 21’s Best Recording of 2017.

21 days ago |
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Dark Queen Mantra

Terry Riley and Stefano Scodanibbio

The Dark Queen Mantra

Del Sol String Quartet; Gyan Riley, guitar

Sono Luminus

On this Sono Luminus CD, Terry Riley’s chamber works are superlatively performed by Del Sol String Quartet. Joined on the title piece by the composer’s son, guitarist Gyan Riley, the group navigates an array of rhythms, many of Spanish origin. Movement titles evoke the Basque region Vizcaino and the paintings of Goya. The final, eponymous, movement builds to an intense conclusion; Gyan Riley incorporates distortion and high volume, matching the whirling dance of the quartet in a rock-inflected finale.

Stefano Scodanibbio, who died in 2012, was a friend to both Rileys. Diamond Fiddle Language (Wergo, 2005), his collaboration with Terry Riley, is a standout in both of their respective catalogues. After his passing, Gyan Riley presented a memorial concert of Scodanibio’s music at New York’s The Stone. He invited Del Sol to play the composer’s Mas Lugares ( su Madrigales di Monteverdi), a work they have since made their own. A five-movement homage to the early Baroque master, Scodanibbio takes his source material on all sorts of fascinating of twists and turns. A virtuoso bass-player himself, Scodanibbio wrote prolifically and eloquently for strings. Channeling and transforming early music was only one aspect of his work – he was well known for extended techniques and as a formidable improviser. This is reflected in Mas Lugares … : The piece isn’t a neoclassical take on its source material. Instead, it is a persuasive update with considerable refashioning.

Originally premiered by Kronos Quartet, The Wheel and Mythic Birds Waltz is more of a minimalist affair than The Dark Queen Mantra. That said, few of Terry Riley’s pieces for quartet are unadulterated minimalism – apart from In C, his is a polyglot musical language. There are a considerable number of extended chords, folk-like melodies, and jazz-inflected wrinkles amid the repetitions. As such, the piece pairs well with the other two on the CD, and serves as a fitting closer.

The Dark Queen Mantra is Sequenza 21’s Best Chamber Recording 2017.

21 days ago |
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Wayne Peterson

Transformations

Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor; PRISM Quartet

BMOP/sound 1053

Composer Wayne Peterson (b. 1927) served as one of his generation’s fixtures on the West Coast music scene where, in addition to several other academic appointments, he elevated the composition program at San Francisco State to prominence. Despite fine recordings of his chamber music, this is his first portrait disc of orchestral music. 2017 has been a year where Boston Modern Orchestra Project, under the inspired direction of Gil Rose, has released a number of fine recordings, including CDs of works by Paul Moravec, David Del Tredici, Stephen Hartke, and Jeremy Gill (more about these in a forthcoming article). All are worthy of recommendation, but it is the Peterson disc that sticks out for me, both in terms of filling in a gap in late Twentieth century repertoire, and in the considerable durability of the works it contains.

Transformations (1985), which resembles a concerto for orchestra, is a marvelous display of timbre, with recurring fanfare-like gestures of repeated notes and chords, punctuated by interjections from percussion, juxtaposed against solo passages and richly overlaid ensembles for each of the orchestra’s sections. Frequent changes in demeanor create an almost kaleidoscopic effect. While the playing is excellent all around, pianist Linda Osborn deserves kudos for tackling a formidable part.

Jazz played an important role in Peterson’s development as a composer. There are jazz influences in all three of the pieces presented here, none more so than And the Winds Shall Blow (1994), a saxophone quartet concerto. PRISM Quartet are the estimable soloists here, often playing ensemble passages with such precision and fluidity that they sound like a single mega-instrument. The saxophone solo passages are where the flavor of jazz most keenly persists, and all of the PRISM members play them displaying a strong sense of jazz history, appropriately inflecting each successive homage to swing, bebop, and modern styles. In other places, quartet and orchestra alike are filled with contrapuntal intensity. Rose balances the many competing elements, artfully complex, and assures that each line receives due clarity.

Peterson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for the last of the selections on the BMOP disc, The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark, but this honor was not bestowed without controversy. Ralph Shapey had been tipped off early that his piece was the music jury’s recommendation, and raised hell when Peterson was selected over him by the board. After many years with only Shapey’s score to consult, I was grateful to finally acquaint myself with the Peterson piece and judge for myself (The Face of the Night… was played only once and a commercial recording wasn’t released at the time – nor has Shapey’s been recorded commercially. In fact, it would be wonderful if BMOP turned its attentions to Shapey on a future portrait CD – they would play his work just as eloquently as they present Peterson’s). As a Shapey scholar, and based on some of the press I had read about the debacle, I’ll cop to a bit of bias: I had presumed that his Concerto Fantastique would win handily: I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. Both are excellent compositions. The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark is expressive and labyrinthine in form where Concerto Fantastique is taut and sectional, but both display a compelling, complex harmonic language and masterful use of the orchestra.

Face of the Night… is cast in two movements. The nocturne form is given a modern treatment not unlike the insomniac reveries of Elliott Carter’s Night Fantasies. Rapid shifts in demeanor betray the stray thoughts that sometimes keep us from sleep or inhabit our dreams. Peterson’s Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark has passages that underscore the portentous quality suggested by its title. However, all is not nightmarish: there are beautiful moments of repose and reflection that suggest the coming darkness is not entirely enveloping: dawn awaits. The work’s climax is stirring and resolute – one imagines bolting upright from bed.

 

Transformations is Sequenza 21’s Best Orchestra Portrait CD of 2017.

22 days ago |
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Luciferian Towers - GSYBE

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Luciferian Towers

Constellation CD/LP/DL

Canadian instrumental post-rock leftist collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor brings something old and something new to the musical anti-fascist fray on Luciferian Towers, their latest recording for Constellation. They are still angry at the political establishment (as are many of us). But they are REALLY angry. Composition titles such as “Bosses Hang,” “Fam/Famine,” and “Anthem for No State,” are bracing sentiments, ones that seem all the more resonant with the determined opposition movements that on the political left the have been emboldened in the wake the double punch of the 2016 election and Charlottesville.

Early GSY!BE output relied on, indeed did a great deal to codify, a certain formula for post-rock: pieces contained one long hairpin crescendo from pianissimo to fortississimo primarily focused on drone-based textures. A penchant for minimalism and martial rhythms remain, but the group’s approach is more texturally varied. True, this time out there aren’t field recordings, but album opener “Undoing a Luciferian Towers” (sic) does include free jazz horns. Bagpipes adorn the album’s closer. Throughout, guitars oscillate and repeat riffs with little wrinkles of variation. Most significantly, dynamics are varied rather than inexorably inclined, with piano sections lingering, forte sections juxtaposed with softer passages, and some of the music cannonading through without significant shading. These changes of shaping and form demonstrate the band’s significant musical development over time. Moreover, Luciferian Towers is a yawp of resistance at just the time that we need its cathartic power. Godspeed You! Black Emperor has created a record precisely for its time, and the Best Rock Recording of 2017.

23 days ago |
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Have you heard Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s The Kid (Western Vinyl, 2017) yet? Inspired by the loss of a friend, it is an electroacoustic journey from childhood to the loss of innocence, Armed with a Buchla Easel and supple voice, Smith articulates the experiences of childhood with winsome lyricism and an effulgent palette of synth timbres. It is easily one of the best electronica albums of late, and I’m naming it my choice for Best “Synth-pop” release of 2017.

23 days ago |
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Randy Gibson

The Four Pillars Appearing from The Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of The Eternal Process in The Midwinter Starfield 16 VIII 10 (Kansas City)

Andrew Lee, amplified piano

Irritable Hedgehog

Composer Randy Gibson is best known for his compelling experiments with intonation. R. Andrew Lee is the go-to pianist for Wandelweiser and minimalist-oriented music. On Gibson’s The Four Pillars Appearing from The Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of The Eternal Process in The Midwinter Starfield 16 VIII 10 (Kansas City), he meets Lee in the middle, creating a mammoth work out of very restricted means. The pitch material of the piece consists of just seven notes: D in all the octaves on a concert grand piano in equal temperament. Added to this are amplification and a small amount of electronic manipulation, designed to add resonance to the overtone vibrations taking place.

Irritable Hedgehog’s recording is a single unedited live performance from 2016 at University of Kansas City Missouri, with electronics realized alongside the piano part. Clocking in at some three-and-a-half hours, Lee deserves credit for a tour de force of stamina, focus and, perhaps above all, musicality in shaping the repeating pitches into countless varied phrases. Gibson is a master of deploying overtones. He has figured out how to exploit the various spaces between D’s to gradate the appearances of the harmonic series’ upper notes, or partials, and to maximize their potential. Shimmering conglomerations of overtones abound in The Four Pillars … it is certainly not a piece just about D! And while pitch serves as a focal point, it is worth mentioning that the piece’s overall shape, labyrinthine in scope, and its localized rhythmic gestures are equally well conceived. Four Pillars is one of the most compelling pieces yet from Gibson, and is Sequenza 21’s Best Drone Recording of 2017.

24 days ago |
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Louis Andriessen

Theatre of the World

Leigh Melrose, Lindsey Kesselman, Marcel Beekman, Steven van Watermeulen, Mattijs van de Woerd, Cristina Zavalloni, vocal soloists

Los Angeles Philharmonic, Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor

Nonesuch 2xCD

Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s 2016 opera, Theatre of the World, subtitled “A Grotesque in Nine Scenes,” is a fantastical portrait of Seventeenth century polymath Athanasius Kircher. Commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a recording of the live performance of this production was released in 2017 on Nonesuch.

In a nonlinear narrative propelled by effusively polystylistic music, played with assuredness and flexibility by LA Phil under the direction of Reinbert de Leeuw, Kircher’s thwarted late life ambition to find a theory for essentially everything is vividly but quixotically depicted. Among the variety of formal and stylistic devices are Renaissance style counterpoint and dances, post-minimal figurations, neoclassicism in the mold of Stravinsky, and oodles of pop ranging from Latin dances to doo wop to Krautrock. Amplified voices alongside acoustic instruments (apart from an electric guitar and synthesizer) allowing for even the most muscular sections of the orchestration never to overwhelm the singing. The vocalists are uniformly up for the significant demands placed upon them by the score. Particularly fine performances are given by Leigh Melrose in the title role, Lindsey Kesselman playing the boy/Devil, and Cristina Zavalloni as a nun who corresponds with Kircher, serving as intellectual foil, inspiration, and even at times confessor.

On a quest for knowledge, Kircher and his companions are misled by the Devil and periodically waylaid by witches and an ominous executioner: hence the grotesqueries. The production’s visuals apparently evoke nightmarish vistas, like an entropic funhouse full of circus mirrors. While a video recording of the opera would be a fascinating document, particularly if the production team were able to further enhance already significant onstage use of multimedia, one still gets a strong sense of the its atmosphere from the audio recording alone. That said, even with libretto and booklet notes in hand, the quick shifts between characters and of plot, demeanor, sung language (I counted seven), and musical tropes makes Theatre of the World a formidable piece to ascertain. Those willing to provide an attentive ear will find themselves richly rewarded by Andriessen’s compelling use of the aforementioned plethora of material to stymy stale operatic conventions and, in their place, embrace a richly hued, multimedia theatrical environment. Theatre of the World is the most imaginative and ambitious piece that LA Philharmonic has commissioned and presented to date. Nonesuch’s excellent CD of it is my pick for Best Contemporary Opera Recording 2017.

-Christian Carey

25 days ago |
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Utopia

Björk

One Little Indian

Björk’s latest album is her longest (clocking in at 72 minutes) and her most daring yet. On past recordings, cadres of female musicians with fierce chops held sway – employing French horns and strings. This time out, a dozen Icelandic flutists are the ensemble of choice. Alongside them is the electronic musician Arca, in an enhanced role as collaborator rather than appearing, as he did previously, once the songs had already been written. These performers are augmented by additional classical musicians and singers, making for a heady mix of timbres.

Where Vulnicura was about personal devastation – Björk’s breakup with her then-partner artist Matthew Barney, Utopia is about the returning of equilibrium, healing, happiness, and even romance. Thus, these two efforts demonstrate both sides of personal vulnerability; the musical differences are stark. Vulnicura’s “Black Lake” is a dark meditation of despair, whereas Utopia’s “Arisen My Senses” contains sensuous melodic lines and an arrangement replete with bird-calls and flutes. The songs on Utopia are intricately designed, containing beautiful variegated textures crafted with tremendous artistry. But the music displays lightness of touch too; indeed, it often floats. Björk’s voice retains a formidable range, both in terms of compass and of the myriad demeanors she flexibly coaxes from it.

Much has been made about Utopia’s ornate melodies and lack of rhythmic propulsion in the press; I would suggest too much. “The Gate” may be an extended track, but it has one of the most soaring, viscerally moving tunes in Björk’s catalog. Likewise, a noteworthy example where propulsive beats play a role is the fascinating “Courtship,” in which Arca puts skittering percussion alongside the flute choir and then juxtaposed against it. In the midst of this mix of sounds, Björk’s voice sits mid-register and the lyrics venture into a narrative “storytelling” mode.

Many stories are told in the course of Utopia. Often, they mirror the vocalist’s own experience of reentering the world of dating and relationships. That Björk at times approaches the idea of love with trepidation and at others with jubilation makes her willingness to share lyrics based on autobiography all the more touching.

In a year filled with revelations of abuse and betrayal, Utopia reminds us that just around the corner from desolation can be restoration and healing; one hopes many will take solace from the album’s message. I do, and In my opinion, it is the best pop recording of 2017.

30 days ago |
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Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan at Winter Jazz Fest 2016.
Photo: Claire Stefani

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan

The Jazz Standard

December 10, 2017

Sequenza 21

By Christian Carey

NEW YORK – Like the dearly departed duo of Jim Hall and Charlie Haden, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan make a sound much greater than the sum of their parts. This is not an issue of amplitude – their set on Sunday December tenth at the Jazz Standard was perfectly scaled for this intimate space. However, in terms of richness of rapport, musical detail, and imaginative improvisation, they can stand toe-to-toe with many larger groups. In part, they seem like a bigger ensemble because of the sheer number of notes per bar that their interplay encompasses and the quick shifts that occur between registers on their respective instruments.

There is another touching and musically fulfilling aspect to the pairing. While Frisell is the “veteran,” chronologically speaking, Morgan needn’t and doesn’t adopt a subordinate role: their interplay is on an equal footing. Frisell and Morgan began with “Days of Wine and Roses,” a venerable pop song turned jazz staple by pianist Bill Evans and memorably interpreted by guitarists such as Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. Here, there was no feeling out process; it was an interweaving dialogue from the get-go. Frisell and Morgan seldom look at one another; such is their sense of each other’s unfolding strategy that they seldom need to do so. They seamlessly “duck” above and below each other, covering several octaves in their musical repartee.

Small Town (ECM, 2017).

Some of the set took tunes from Small Town (ECM, 2017), Frisell/Morgan’s live recording of a March 2016 stint at the Village Vanguard. A standout that appears on the CD is the fetching ballad by Morgan, “Pearl,” a tune with a turn around that contains just a whiff of “My Only Love” and is adorned with chromatic changes. Frisell supplied an original of his own, “Strange Meeting,” originally recorded back in 1984 on the guitarist’s ECM album The Rambler. While Morgan generally takes a polyphonic and harmonic approach to bass playing, here he imitated the pulsations found on the original recording (courtesy of Jerome Harris and Paul Motian), his instrument thrumming with intensity.

Both Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso” and “Subconcious Lee” by Lee Konitz gave the two opportunities to switch gears to demonstrate facility in the bebop idiom. Later, the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” presented another avenue of inquiry long in Frisell’s kitbag: the refraction of Americana and folk music through a jazz lense.

In a year fraught with violence and strife, it seemed especially appropriate for the set proper to end with Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now is Love,” a tender, but not overly sentimental, take on yet another iconic pop song turned standard. Warmly received, the duo returned for an encore from the Bond song catalog, John Barry’s “You Only Live Twice.” You can hear another Bond film theme by Barry on Small Town: “Goldfinger.”

Worthy of mention is the hospitable atmosphere at Jazz Standard. Their “quiet policy” makes it most conducive to listening, and the audience on Sunday readily complied, seeming earnestly engaged throughout. The servers are attentive, but they observe the quiet policy too. In addition, the Standard supplies customers with the best food to be had in a New York jazz establishment. Planning to see Billy Hart in February!

Set list

Days of Wine and Roses (Henry Mancini)

Misterioso (Thelonious Monk)

Pearl (Thomas Morgan)

Strange Meeting (Bill Frisell)

Subconscious Lee – (Lee Konitz)

Wildwood Flower (folk / Carter Family)

What the World Needs Now (Burt Bacharach)

encore: You Only Live Twice (John Barry)

Upcoming concerts by Frisell/Morgan

February 15 Mill Valley CA

(Sweetwater Music Hall)

February 17 Eugene OR

(The Shedd)

February 18 Portland, OR

(Revolution Hall, Portland Jazz Festival)

February 19th Seattle, WA

(Jazz Alley)

1 month ago |
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