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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Catalyst Quartet, Uncovered, Volume 3, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still, George Walker


The Catalyst Quartet shows itself to be a first class, ultra-musical outfit with their third volume of Uncovered (Azica ACD-71357 download digital only), a well-conceived compilation of historically and artistically important Black composers and their String Quartets. The Third Volume looks at three quartets written between 1895 and 2018, by George Walker, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson and William Grant Still. All three works contain Afro-American rooted materials that undergo various transformation in constructing a Classical or Modern Classical chamber work in more or less recognizably mainstream form.

All that is the case and what ultimately unfolds is nearly an hour of state-of-the-art string quartet music played with spirited brilliance and well balanced expression throughout. The music fills in an important gap in Black chamber music by some of the most important of all US exponents. This is every bit as good as expectations would have it. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Steven Christopher Sacco, Parables and Meditations, A Concerto for Piano and Fixed Media


Steven Christopher Sacco has given us a worthy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano on these pages (see entry of February 12, 2021). Now he returns with Parables and Meditations, A Concerto for Piano and Fixed Media (The Hill Studio CD 198004 702331).  The work was written especially for pianist David Oei, and the music in many ways functions as a kind of portrait of the artist-pianist.

David plays the five solo piano movements unaccompanied. Directly following each are five "Meditations" responding to the piano through digital signal processing conversions of piano sounds via speech sounding of clusters, diphthongs and fricatives as filters for the piano soundings transformed. So five piano-based sorts of neo-orchestral electronics as meditations on each piano movement follows each upon the other piano movements that start each section.

The music is uncanny, lyrical in the best ways, like perhaps a post-Satian landscape, gorgeous and brilliant. The solo piano and the solo electronics each have their profound leaning say in turns unaccompanied, that is to say pure of itself in timbre.The results are magical, some of the most ravishing music of our time I would say happily. Do not miss this! It is a towering achievement and ever worthy of many listens. My strongest recommendations!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Michael Byron, Halcyon Days


Michael Byron is a composer who innovates in the Neo-Minimal, Radical Tonality zone in ways that sometimes suggest, and nicely so, a cross affiliation with Avant Jazz in its spiritual aspects, such as we have heard from mature Cecil Taylor and later John Coltrane, and then from the Minimal school later Terry Riley also, in its hypnotic quality. In this manner the new album of some five lively chamber works steps forward boldly and appealingly. It is a new one on Cold Blue Records, named Halcyon Days, Music for Marimbas, Xylophones, Vibraphones, Glockenspiels, Maracas and Pianos (Cold Blue Music CB0065).

The volume adds to the strong batch of works by Byron that gradually found their way into aural publication (type his name in the search box above for my reviews of recent albums) and we are all the better for it since Byron has his own special voice yet draws upon roots music and tonal lyricism in gratifying resonances.

Performances are championed with flair by William Winant and the William Winant Percussion Group, the Ray-Kallay Duo of four-hand piano performances and Lisa Moore on piano. Getting this music right takes persistence and spirit, and that  is just what they do.

The first part of the program highlights some special music for mallets from the '70s, with clusterings of notefulness in dense testificatory energetics rather than pulse, and nicely hovering over our listening selves. We hear with interest the two solo percussion works, from 1972 the tubular bells of "Drifting Music," and the maracas and marimbas of the 1974 "Music of Every Night."

The three movement "Music of Steady Light" (1978) gives us a spacious soundscape of twittering  and expressive multimallet configurations. You should let this music wash over you while noting how it passes over like a virtual series of celestial weather forays, with a enchantingly expressive way about it.

"Starfields"  (1974) creates a another hovering superstructure via four hand piano configurations. It bears scruitiny and repeated hearings.

Finally "Tender, Infinitely Tender" brings us to 2016 and a solo piano work that enchants wonderfully for a time again and then is gone like all music, stays in the air and then nowhere to be found as Eric Dolphy noted some time ago. It has that endless melody of a cosmic Coltranesque aura to my ears and I myself love to bask in it all throughout.

I recommend you give this one your ears if you respond to the sort of contemplative zone that Radical Tonality excels at. Listen, do. A milestone in the genre.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Kenneth Newby, spectral (golden) lyric


Kenneth Newby has gotten my ears before in the course of this site (see May 30, 2018 review) and for good reason. Today he comes forth with a recent one I am reconsidering after having missed a concentrated listen, namely spectral (golden lyric) (Emergence Trilogy, Volume Three) (Flicker Art Collaboratory FAC 201703), works for string quartet, solo piano and small ensemble. This one comes from 2017 but still very much speaks to us, There are 20 interrelated  works for chamber assemblages, performed nicely by Flicker Ensemble.

This is a brace of rather haunting ambient soundscapes in a mysteriously hypnotic, ritually alive kind of Neo-Minimal manner, spatially open yet coiled round itself like a cosmic folkloric snake eating its tale and its tail all at once.

Every piece is an element in the overall puzzle and the whole thrives as the together thing all 20 parts have become.

Kenneth Newby needs to be heard and this album brings him to us in all its flourishing best. Please listen by all means! Highly recommended. Worth resurrecting!~

Monday, February 20, 2023

Milton Babbitt, Music for Treble Voice and Piano


When you live through a period of music history, which of course we all do, it is not always clear how things will shake out when the years pass and it is the futurel. Like some fellow oldsters I bore witness as a listening self to some of the peaks of High Modernism and now get the chance to go back again to it in retrospect. For that I am happy to report in on an album that helps us further gauge and indeed affirm the stature of a leading light of US High Modern musical art.

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) when I was coming up was mostly known as a brilliant pioneer of Electronic and Computer music in the USA, primarily via his long association with the Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Studio and the iconic RCA Synthesizer. Perhaps only in later times do we truly value his brilliance as a Serialist and instrumental composer of equal stature.

And accordingly on today's recent release we get a lot of exhilaratingly advanced Babbitt music, well performed. I allude to the CD Music for Treble Voice and Piano (New Focus Records FCR 369), with soprano Nina Berman and pianist Steve Beck plus Eric Huebner on the two-piano works.

The CD covers a broad swatch of time from 1951 to 2002. Each composition is a little gem, with voice and piano parts diverging widely in terms of space and time, Vocals tend at times to utilize longer held notes while the piano(s) is a spicy clamor of brilliance, with the bifurcated  soprano-piano sounding making for an enormously complex array in space. If you recall the many fine works Webern put across to us for voice and instruments, this Babbitt seems like a fine rejoinder and an artistic triumph in his own right,

It is hard to imagine better performances than these, though given the hugely detailed music scape it is easy to imagine equally interesting but somewhat different readings.

Anyone wanting to grasp the very high points of the Serialist US school should hear this and no doubt check out some choice Elliot Carter as well, like the String Quartets. This album today scores high for Serialist excellence in the later period. Do not miss it! Bravo!

Beethoven, The Late Quartets, Calidore String Quartet


If you know about chamber music in general you probably know that Beethoven's last String Quartets are considered among the most sublime and intensely personal chamber works of all time. There of course have been many recordings of them over the years. Here is a new version (Signum Classics SIGCD733 3CDs) by the  Calidore String Quartets and it has a freshness to it that helps it all rival the most acclaimed versions, to my mind.

The music is astounding fare, strength-after strength from the 12th Quartet through the 16th and the grippingly profound Grosse Fugue. It is all here and each is given the sort of loving care each deserves. What is most remarkable about the Calidore Quartet's extended focus through it all is how they manage to express all the deep introspection that Beethoven put into these quartets. And they do so without an ounce of excess expression, no heart-on-sleeve desperation so much as a transcendance of human hubris, a springing through vast canopies of structural presence with extraordinary gravitas and panache.

But more than that ever, as you listen, does it all come to you with impeccable spirit. Sometimes Beethoven's last String Quartets will break your heart as at times you feel he is saying goodbye and he was. Yet nobody took leave of life with such beauty and grace as he. The classic bio claimed that there was thunder sounding all around him when he passed. It probably did, for he was more than mortal.

These performances do as much as any to convince you of the depth of his last music. Bravo.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Lei Liang, Hearing Landscapes, Hearing Icescapes


As we travel through the seasonal cycle we experience the natural and cultural elements tied to each. It is a part of our birthright to recognize each element in conjunction with its multi-complemental whole. Major living Modernist composer Lei Liang gives us two major electroacoustic soundscapes that span seasonal and culturo-natural zones of timeliness conjoining multidisciplinary gestalts in two multipart works of importance, Hearing Landscapes, Hearing Icescapes (New Focus Recordings FCR 360). 

The idea is that through a combining of musico-artistic and scientific knowledges we can appreciate a kind of vibrant soundscape inside a broad episteme, or that at least is my take on it all. The granular methodologies include oceanography, Chinese landscape painting and Folk Song, software development, earth science and underwater acoustics. The electroacoustic soundscapes vary between earthy and resonant, or electro-acoustically noisy, or birdcall filled natural landscapes. They combine at times with  instruments in blends uncanny, adding trumpet, flute and/or violin.

Hearing Landscapes perhaps has the more vivid and absorbing sound sequence, but both stand out as poetic, intelligent and evocative. It is a music of impressive strength and lingering profundity if you meet it all halfway, or that is my take on it at least. This is one of the landmark efforts on the New Music scene today.  Take time for this music and it will pay off. Strongly recommended.

You can preorder now at Bandcamp. Official release date is March 10, 2023.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Scott L. Miller, Coincident, featuring Zeitgeist with Joseph Horton and No Exit


Composer Scott L. Miller has in the past few years done some of the most interesting Modern music out there. It is not capitulating, nor is it a rehash of earlier ways so much as a new offering that sounds like the future again, promisingly. (Type his name in the search box for previous reviews.)  So today there is his latest, COINCIDENT (New Focus Recordings CD FCR 337).

The objective on these eight movements for electronic synthesizer and chamber ensemble is to do something in furtherance of telematic music, or in other words in this case multipart music with live chamber ensemble and the composer on remotely constructed electronic synthesizer part with the software program Kyma.

The opening "Coincident Episode 5" has a nice part for intelligently poetic and punky vocal that sets the stage for the other seven heady movements that follow. It is all a specially sonic inventiveness and nicely co-occurring whole that piques the aural imagination and satisfies the wish to plummet ahead to the musical future. Very recommended.

It is yet another feather in the Miller cap, showing us decisively that he is one of our leading voices in  High Modern expansion.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Vivaldi, Concerti per violino X 'Intorno a Pisendel', Julien Chauvin, Le Concert de Laloge


If you think Baroque music need not worry about the aural sweetness of tone, of the period orchestral sound,  especially the strings, maybe you should listen to the fine performances of violinist Julien Chauvin and Le Concert de Laloge as they go forth in the recent CD of Vivaldi's Concerti per violino X "Intorno a Pisendel."  (Naive OP 7546). When we listen to Bach one might note that his level of invention is so high that the brilliance would shine even if played by a consort of kazoos! Someone like Vivaldi on the other hand has a pronounced inventive bent but then too his music almost sounds at times folkish with its lyric but often "down home" expressivity. His music benefits surely by historically informed performance practice.

And in a pronounced way, Chauvin and Le Concert de Laloge give us a rather stirringly enthused and spirited folksy reading of some primo Vivaldi. It is alternately peppy and placid in turn, alternately sweetly singing and heroically brio.

Without fail you who cherish a good sized holding of baroque gems or even if you only seek a few more than you have, here is an example doubtless sure to brighten up your musical world. Get this one! Recommended.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

RAM Tokyo to New York, Six Quintets for Flute, Clarinet, Harp, Percussion and Piano


RAM (Random Access Music) this past December 11, 2022 put on a special concert entitled "Tokyo to New York" in Martha Graham Studio One in Manhattan. Very happily they made a very high quality recording of the proceedings and as happily sent me a CD-R  of same so I could experience it all in spite of being stuck in the bottom of New Jersey at Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway. I've been listening and enjoying the whole of it numerous times and I now report in on it for you.

The concert sparkled with some six quintets for flute, clarinet, harp, percussion and piano as played by, respectively, Lish Lindsey, Thomas Piercy, Tomina Parvanova, Josh Perry and Tengku Irfan. There is a luminescence, a liquidity of sound color to each of these works that to me suggest the poeticism of a thoroughly enchanting musical passage from Tokyo to New York.

Each work has a sound fingerprint of its own all within the sort of Impressionist-shaded High Modernism of contemporary Tokyo and the parallel fine shades of New Music Manhattan from, say, the New York School of Cage, Feldman and so forth through to today.

So we bask in the sonic brilliance of Joji Yuasa and his "A Winter Day" -- Homage to Basho (1981), of Frances White and her "Phases of the Moonflower" (2022), of Gilbert Galindo his "Where are You, Spirit Most High" (2022), of Yoshio Hachimura and his "Breathing Field" (1982), of Masatora Goya and his "Deep Dive" (2022), and finally of Toru Takemitsu and his "Rain Spell" (1982). 

If you think of classic solo Shakuhachi music and classic Japanese Nature Poetry, of classic Japanese woodblock print art, and then perhaps classic Western Impressionist music of Debussy and how in his special ways he carried over the aesthetic of such things to Western music and then the US Modernists, then perhaps we can think of the passage from there and back as a series of full circles.

The music at hand has in its three 2022 premieres and its three Japanese works from the 1980s a fully fleshed out Modern Art of high beauty. The RAM Quintet gives us hauntingly idiomatic readings of this music, winning projections of great soundscaping art. I hope they see fit to release this concert on a commercial recording.  It surely deserves to be heard--and  I hope Random Access Music (RAM) can  give us many further concerts like this  for us to appreciate. Bravo!

Nicholas White, Songs of Innocence, The Raven, The Raven Consort


As the local world ever remains within our sites necessarily, so then what life demands of us can regulate how much we can do at any moment. That in the past year I have nearly completed my first draft of a 1,000 page prose-poetry volume as the first in  a five-volume sequence on music and life, so necessarily I have modified how much time I have spent on reviews. As I start to get my head above water I've been able to identify some of the better review CDs I have been sent over the past year that I have yet to cover. One of them certainly is the two-CD set of vocal settings of two classic poetry texts, William Blake and Edgar Allen Poe's Songs of Innocence and The Raven (MSR Classics MS 1799) as performed beautifully by the Raven Consort of vocalists and chamber instrumentalists.

As it so happens I dearly love both poets and both works, as I do also find the idea of such settings good, like I love Vaughan William's settings of the Blake, even though that  might make me all the more critical of anyone's attempt to make further settings. Perhaps I am. After a good number of listens I must day however that these appeal and surprise and make for memorable music regardless of what has been done or how challenging it is to do right by it all after so much water has gone under our musical bridges.

This is lyrical fare, sometimes ravishing so, and in the main it has a Pomo jauntiness at times that charges our batteries and does away with a heavy ponderousness, yet still has a pinch of gravitas as needed. What captivates and beguiles is the obvious inventive strength of every bit of White's settings. Nothing is exactly High Modernist but you engage and if you are like me it all works so well, you in the end care nothing for hanging on to some style directives and just immerse your ears in the very brilliant tunefulness.

I must in the end recommend this set to those who love vocal settings and do not insist that the music follow a radically new-or-nothing sort of path. Like some Bernstein, White could perhaps find it in hi, write a Broadway Musical that stood the test of time?  That is a tall order. but this music stands out as strong on striking melodic charm and maybe some day he will give us that as well. The performances are wonderful, the music endearing. Bravo for all that,

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Jane Antonia Cornish, Sierra, Vicky Chow


The music of Jane Antonia Cornish is no stranger to these pages. Type her name into the index box above and you will see that there have been three reviews of as many albums over the years. Today, another, Sierra (Cantaloupe Music CA 21174) as nicely performed on piano by Vicky Chow. 

The piano and echo effect goes as far back as Ussachevsky's 1952 "Piece for Tape Recorder" if I am not mistaken. As if to take the idea further in time and place we get a full-throated piano sonance and a light echo-like repetition or drone at times in this Cornish work for solo piano. Arpeggios, tremelo-ed trills and pedal pointed centers give us beautiful pause in this multipart and at times seemingly multiple tracked work. It has that kind of early, cosmic Terry Riley feel to it and so also a kind of maximal lyricism. 

It follows the genre but in creative and inventive ways. The more I hear it the more welcome it becomes to me. Happily recommended.