Posted by Matt Mendez » 1 Comment »
Even as part of a scene where being more-eclectic-than-thou is a fundamental shibboleth and musical “fusion” projects have long since become the PR-ready norm, Derek Bermel’s chameleonesque versatility boggles the mind. After all, who else on earth can boast of – and this is only a sample – composition studies with Louis Andriessen, William Bolcom, and Henri Dutilleux; years of work as a genre-hopping clarinet soloist, with the chops to play concertos by Adams and Corigliano; early and formative immersion into various strains of “ethnic” music in Brazil, Bulgaria, and West Africa; employment in an innovative multimedia pop band, TONK; longstanding links to the hip hop world, with friends in Chuck D and Mos Def; and substantial service as an educator, having among other things founded the New York Youth Symphony’s composition lab for high schoolers? No doubt all this makes Bermel a singularly lively creative presence and a great musical citizen, witty, generous, and resourceful in equal measure. Yet one still can’t help but wonder: what does such wide-ranging experience mean for Bermel’s own compositional practice? Can it all possibly add up to a coherent and engaging musical language? After all, as any fusty old composition professor would rightly note, the danger of absorbing every last shred of sonic detritus floating within earshot is irremediable cultural overload, the loss of the ability to discriminate between any of it and – by extension – the capacity to fashion one’s own musical identity. Well, if Bermel’s latest full-length portrait disc Canzonas Americanas is any evidence, the fusty types out there needn’t have worried: with his objective, almost ethnographic approach to composition thoroughly assimilating the “source materials” variously gathered from his years of musical globetrotting, listeners are in great hands with Bermel.
Derek Bermel – Photo by James Pomerantz
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Posted by Justin Rito » Add Comment »
A makeshift model of the Brooklyn Bridge built out of old cardboard boxes resides on the front of the new Sō Percussion and Grey McMurray collaboration, Where (we) Live. The imagery is apropos for both Sō and McMurray in that the album is meant to question what “home” can mean. What are its boundaries? How does it evolve, and what creates those evolutions? The album certainly communicates these questions (and many others) as a standalone creation, but the liner notes mention that the music heard here is actually a distillation of a larger project. In their effort to answer the seemingly endless questions that arise from a concept as slippery as “home,” Sō invited artists of all types to “substantively alter our process,” (more on this later).
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Posted by Neal Markowski » Add Comment »
Whenever the key parts of a sentence are the words “Brian Eno” and “new music ensemble,” I cringe a little. Usually, the sentence looks something like this – “New music ensemble X gives a whirlwind rendition of Eno’s masterwork Y” – and no matter what Eno album it is, it’s called a “masterwork” and the rendition is always described as being “a whirlwind performance” or “captivating” or some other adjective that doesn’t actually describe to the reader anything about the musical material or the ensemble. However, Icebreaker’s recording of Apollo with BJ Cole is a prime example of when Eno’s work is not only performed correctly, but is also able to stand on its own as a great piece played by a fine ensemble.
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Posted by Evan Burke » Add Comment »
Evan Ziporyn‘s new recording, Big Grenadilla /Mumbai, manages to be futuristic while playing with tradition, exotic without being artificial. Ziporyn himself, a clarinetist, composer, and core member of Bang on a Can All-Stars, is clearly used to living in several simultaneous musical worlds, and has found a way to fuse them without compromising their essences. Rooted in Romanticism (both pieces are something like concertos, while Mumbai is also a semi-programmatic reaction to the eponymous city’s 2008 bombings), but thick with Hindustani classical music, avant-garde jazz, extended techniques, and minimalist melodies, the two works demonstrate Ziporyn’s unique approach to composing with the sound and energy of improvisation. Joining him in his endeavor are the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, for both pieces, and tabla virtuoso Sandeep Das for Mumbai.
Evan Ziporyn – Photo by Andy Ryan
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Posted by Rob Wendt » Add Comment »
On his new album from Cantaloupe Music, this was written by hand, David Lang treats the piano alternately as a eulogizer and as a medium to commune with the departed. Pianist Andrew Zolinsky’s technique is well suited to tastefully render these finely wrought improvisatory pieces, to sound out the meditative character of Lang’s postminimalism. The range of piano articulation presented here stretches from use of the instrument as pitched percussion all the way to liquid, dulcet burbles. Piano music in the contemporary classical world often embraces jazz tropes, or world music idioms, or past stylistic genres. Lang’s piano voice sometimes recalls the phase music of Reich but is for the most part quite original in its complete metrical flexibility (or complete lack of meter in some cases, it seems), and in the way it exhaustively explores all the possibilities of a spare musical form. The tracks here are all character pieces in my opinion. There are no grand statements; on the contrary, the prevailing voice is one of personal introspection, without a hint of sentimentality.
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Posted by Thomas Deneuville » Add Comment »
Earlier this Fall, Cantaloupe (the record label created 10 years ago by the founders of Bang on a Can) released Florent Ghys’s first LP, Baroque Tardif, following a 2009 EP, Baroque Tardif: Soli. Born in France, Ghys is a composer, double bass player, and prolific videographer.
The title of the album (meaning late Baroque in French) is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a wacky guitar teacher that Ghys’s studied with as a teenager, and who was convinced that Baroque music would come back one day and rule other genres (#Barmageddon… discuss). The overall vibe, though, is DIY Post-Minimalism infused with a heavy dose of 21st century counterpoint.
The album opens with Phase Parisienne and Ghys starts by building counterpoint patterns on the bowed double bass in an additive fashion—layer by layer. They point, at first, towards Reich’s processes but soon haunting harmonics accompanied by hand clapping make the piece almost sound like some minimalist Gnawa music. Awesome. The following track Pull Blanc, Chemise Rouge (White Sweater, Red button-down shirt) introduces another element of Ghys’s very personal idiom: syllables as musical objects. Ghys sings dislocated modal melodies in solfège syllables (fixed do) with a thin voice and each note thus named loses its anonymity, and is treated as a found object. Or maybe is it a reference to the virtuosic practice on the Indian subcontinent to sing complex and improvised melodies on Swaras? Ghys has after all—and among many others—a degree in ethno-musicology…
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