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Monday, December 18, 2023

Susan Alcorn, Jose Lencastre, Hernani Faustino, Manifesto

Today we roll into the modified Space Age and that robotic vision of Hal in 2001 is closer to our experience than certainly it was when the movie was made. And the music we hear now, is that any closer to the swirls of mad blips, bloops  and barongs that formed part of the score in 2001? Well sure and you might argue that most of 2001 was already present in some form in the culture for which it was made, maybe inevitably we are what we are when we make things. It just was not perhaps as central as the movie made it. So then Ligeti's avant work "Atmospheres" graces the score and of course it was made for initial hearing in a neutral concert venue situation. Well now that we are well past the "New Millennium" these days has our music taken a decisive turn into an all prevailing Space Age? Maybe not entirely as yet.

On the other hand the Modern in Modernism can be said to be a constant in New Music Avant circles. There are of course purely Electronic essays in the Modern Music world, there too are Orchestral and Chamber Classical related musics that can be readily heard out there. On the other end of the spectrum too there is the world of Avant Post-Classic Jazz as we hear it.

A very good example of the latter today we can contemplate on aa a new release from the Cleanfeed Label, an intrepid concern with a substantial monthly release schedule of more advanced Improvisation being played today, with natives from Europe especially Portugal but the rest of Europe very much as well as the East and the US West, sometimes a conglomeration of all, or two of the three or so possibilities. On today's release we have two regions well represented--for the USA steel pedal guitarist Susan Alcorn, a very-much-in-the-limelight artist these days, doing important work, and here also two fellow travelers from Europe involved in such heroic endeavors as well. So making the rest of the trio are Jose Lencastre on alto and tenor sax and Hernani Faustini on acoustic double bass.

Six probing and adventurous pieces make up the whole, all in a free improvisatory style so often a fixture of the Clean Feed way. Susan Alcorn has pioneered an avant style using the conventional steel pedal guitar and she is very much in her element here with the full spectrum of the instrument's note possibilities to vitiate advanced figures that glide like conventional playing of the instrument but then stand out with a good deal of imaginative note spinning and some advanced technique propelling us along as well.

Alcorn is given two especially well healed avant artists with Jose Lencastre wielding an aggressive and exciting stridency making a statement about the ethnicity and forward loving nastiness and then the all-over intensity of the stellar sorts of jazz dates that define where it all is as a modernism should go. Hernani Faustino does all the right things to help enflame and engulf caustic kindling.

Give a listen to the entire album at Bandcamp

Linda Catlin Smith, Dark Flower, The Thin Edge New Music Collective


Linda Catlin Smith is a composer getting attention in good ways with her work in recent years including especially her new album Dark Flower (Red Shift CD). The Thin Edge Music Collective commissioned the works and play them here with just the right (deep) level of understanding and participation. Six interrelated compositions follow a special, long form elevation of tone color and lyrical unfolding, from the larger chamber quintet of clarinet, violin, cello, piano, violin and percussion (wanderer), to dual cello, then cello, piano, violin and viola (dark flower) thereafter subtracting instruments until the finale, a solo piano presence of unbroken dramatic girth.

The music haunts in gripping ways that get you involved the more you listen.  There is a logical unfolding that has some relation to Morton Feldman's Oriental-rug-like opening out, only somewhat less abstract. It is always convincing and poised.  In the end Ms, Smith comes off nicely as a major New Music narrative voice. 

As much as any New Music composer today Linda Catlin Smith here shows us a completely affirming sense of musical discourse, a natural elegance and inventiveness that flows with inevitable charm and poise, in the process creating a tone world that is very original and compelling. Highly recommended.

Stream the whole album at Bandcamp

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Gerald Cohen, Voyagers, New Music for String Quartet, Clarinet and Trombone


Ah, great, somebody I've never heard of has works I've never heard," some reader I've never heard of either might be saying as she confronts this article. OK, so I ain't gonna get rich covering the super new and in fact in the internet focus on immediate and continuous readership, I might be consigning myself to a kind of internet Siberia? Nonetheless I cover things I listen to closely, critically and actually like so you have nothing to lose in the reading of this, I believe. Today I cover another you might not know about, though I might also cover something famous now and again. 

With the exception of a nicely wrought chamber offering of music for clarinet and chamber ensemble, entitled Sea of Reeds, that I covered on these pages on December 17, 2014,  I've not delved into much of the music of Gerald Cohen in my listening over time. But this recording of  Voyagers (Innova 090) confirms my initial impression with a revelation, for his is a distinct and authentic voice in the New Music today. 

The album brings to our ears three substantial works for string quartet, as is as performed by the Cassatt String Quartet on the "Playing for Our Lives" work, with the addition of the clarinet and bass clarinet of Narek Arutyunian on "Voyagers," and with the addition of the trombone of Colin Williams on "Preludes and Debka."

None of these three works are especially Avant Garde in approach. Rather they dwell in a Modernity where there is a wide harmonic spectrum of possibility and a rugged tone color palette and also a healthy dose of the eclecticity of folk and ethnic elements, sometimes what sound like Semitic elements that injects a timeless quality to it all.

What matters in the end is the authentic and dedicated performativity of it all, the highly crafted and careful building of a particular work from the ground up with great care, skill, and eloquently inventive qualities.

Anyone who wants a good example of what is happening in the chamber realms of New Music would do well to check this one out. Take a listen and decide for yourself, but keep in mind that several listens will be necessary to hear these works as they actually reveal themselves. Check this link: