Showing posts from May, 2020

Summertime Blues, a 2020 version

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of summer, but oh! what mixed messages this year as the USA approaches a... Posted by Jay Harvey on  Monday, May 25, 2020

'Reopening-Fever,' a poem of mock-resolve and partial defiance of restrictions

'Blended Lineage': David Bixler's mixed results in suite on theme of tribes

Current political and social commentary tends to tsk-tsk at "tribalism," suggesting a regression from civilized norms.  Pushing back against such connotations, alto saxophonist David Bixler leads a five-man group he calls the Bixtet, supplemented by a string quartet, in a commissioned work on the theme of tribes. "Blended Lineage" ( Red Piano Records ) is a 34-minute suite in which the composer's forces are well- Composer-saxophonist David Bixler distributed, but sometimes seem to be searching for musical substance. Bixler has said he deliberately accentuated the positive (to use Johnny Mercer's phrase) in writing the work. The ferocity and insularity of tribal identity clearly held little appeal to him. Ensemble virtues fade a bit into the background in the finale,"My Soul Swoons Softly," a phrase borrowed somewhat disconcertingly from James Joyce's eulogistic short story "The Dead." Bixler makes this summing-up an alto-sax

Putting a long-form feeling into compact new works: Sebastien Ammann's 'Resilience'

Sebastien Ammann shows off his keyboard chops chiefly in the title tune of his new CD. But it's his composer-bandleader acuity that moves his band, Color Wheel, into applying its own signature to "Resilience"  (Skirl Records ) and making the band memorable. Sebastien Ammann contemplates form and space. The Swiss keyboardist wrote seven of the nine pieces on the recording. Each piece establishes itself; it sets down on a firm footing right away. No wonder he's attracted to the direct quirkiness of Carla Bley's "King Korn Revisited,"  the more notable of the two borrowings. I found the pensive, diffuse work called "The Traveller" a bit inclined to woolgathering, but the personality behind it was clear. This band, often making a point of individualism, still seems well matched internally. Besides Ammann, they are Michael Attias, alto saxophone; Samuel Blaser, trombone; Noah Garabedian, bass, and Nathan Ellman-Bell drums. Blaser has a

Bob Dylan said a mouthful in 'Subterraean Homesick Blues"; here's a mouthful of Covid-19 stuff: 'Subterranean Homeland Blues'

Surterranean Homeland Blues Tony’s in the basement Mixing up the medicine Donald’s tweets won’t relent Bragging about the government Doctor in a white coat License out, laid off Said he’s got a bad cough All his chips are played off Look out for Covid You gotta stay hid No one knows when You can come out again Keep at least six feet away Don’t look for a new friend Reopen protester among armed men Wants 11 explanations, you only got ten. Pence comes blank-faced Always close to Trump placed Giving the boss praise Presidential hopes raised Trump says that many say Must resume by end of May Keep America great, hey! But look out, kid Don’t matter what you did Try to blame the Fake News Why lead? Just refuse Can’t be a shipping clerk Got duties?   Try to shirk Stand still, don’t twerk Stay aloof, that’ll work. You don’t need the media To know which way the wind blows. Ah, get sick, get well

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged (the Trump and "reopen" gang version)

Making a political point through abstract music: What to make of 'Hypocrisy Democracy'?

Dave Glasser' s privileging of political unease, a feeling shared by many nowadays, struggles for musical expression in "Hypocrisy Democracy" (Here Tiz Music). The alto saxophonist builds on the jingle-jangle of his unusual title to set down a critique of the system that both sustains and undermines us. It's not irrelevant that he's the son of Ira Glasser, former  executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. That connection also boosted his musical interests insofar as, through the jazz commentator and Bill of Rights defender Nat Hentoff,  he met and studied with the late Lee Konitz , a key figure in jazz alto sax independent of the pervasive Charlie Parker influence. The music carries no text, so associations with the bandleader's political perspective must be gleaned from the composition titles, where those apply. When I hear "Justice," for example, I'm not sure how justice applies to the music. My main complaint on musical gro

Alto saxophonist Michael Thomas explores the 'Event Horizon'

An "event horizon" is the theoretical place beyond which matter in space vanishes into a black hole. It's a clever title for an expansive exercise in small-group acoustic jazz: Stay just this side of the devouring nothingness and you have exciting matter to deal with, intelligible but on the edge. Musings on the edge: saxophonist Michael Thomas In the case of Michael Thomas' "Event Horizon," that edge is the Jazz Gallery in New York City, where the two-disc set was recorded last August and produced by the bandleader and Jimmy Katz, the photographer and guiding light behind Giant Steps Arts . Eight original compositions, three of them prefaced by solo-instrument introductions, make up the program. Thomas displays a light hand compositionally, putting just enough distinctiveness into the themes to allow improvisation to flow freely from there. He enjoys the services of Jason Palmer, a trumpeter who has just issued his own two-disc set on the label

Happy 250th birthday, darn it all! Gilmore Festival presents Jonathan Biss livestreamed in three Beethoven sonatas

Among the cultural trashing that the current Covid-19 pandemic has added to its overall toll is the scanting of celebrations of Beethoven's 250th birthday. Jonathan Biss comes to Beethoven with a high degree of preparation and insight. Just yesterday, we learned that the elimination of all Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra activities through September 17 meant that an appropriate observance to end its Classical Series — May and June weekends of the piano concertos and the "Missa Solemnis" -- had to be wiped from the boards. Some observers have said, at least since the 200th death anniversary in 1977, that concert life is already a perpetual Beethoven festival, but there's something poignant in the fact that, on a milestone anniversary,  the greatest example of a composer whose adult life was cast in the deepening shadow of deafness cannot be heard now in concert. So the opportunity not to rely exclusively on recordings during the global health crisis depends on

"Goldberg Variations / Variations": Revisiting Dan Tepfer revisiting J.S. Bach

Nine years ago, I reviewed for the Indianapolis Star a recording by the 2007 American Pianists Dan Tepfer sits atop his study of "Goldberg Variations" and variations of his own, Association Cole Porter Fellow Dan Tepfer titled "Goldberg Variations / Variations." The title's  forward slash and  repetition of "Variations" said succinctly what this recording was all about: The original Aria and 30 variations on it that came to be known by a student's name had each of those variations followed by Tepfer's improvised variation on what Bach wrote. I very much disliked the idea and its execution, though I found a saving grace to the extent that Tepfer's idea (and maybe this actual recording) might be useful as a teaching tool. I wish I could find that 2011 review so I could learn just how wrong I was about the work's public viability. I must have been wrong, because "Goldberg Variations / Variations" was greeted with a chorus o

Forget that "lazy river" — we've all had to go up that lazy lifestyle indefinitely, so relax (if you can)

The Berlin Philharmonic's 2020 European Concert was one for the memory books

Up betimes, as Samuel Pepys used to say, to catch the European Concert of the Berlin Philharmonic. Kirill Petrenko is the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. This annual event, celebrating 30 years and normally traveling to distinctive European cities for the orchestra to perform, this time had to stay at home, the Philharmonie in Berlin, and make other adjustments under the unique mandates of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. The 2020 concert was scheduled to have taken place in Tel Aviv, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the collapse of another horror. This was the first live concert I've "attended" in months, shared with many around the world through technological miracles that are helping us stay in touch in this severely isolating era. It was worth being up at 5 to see and hear small contingents of the BPO play to an empty hall under the direction of Kirill Petrenko. Pepys, the diarist of Restoration England whose intimate chronicles  of the 16