AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Douglas Anderson – Chamber Symphonies 2, 3 & 4 [Ravello RR7923]

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rr7923 - chamber symphonies 2 3 4“Symphony” tends to carry the connotation of a large-scale, multi-movement work for a full orchestra. With his series of Chamber Symphonies–works for ensembles as small as three pieces—Douglas Anderson reimagines the symphony as an intimate work based on interrelated knots of pitches and harmonies.

Anderson, a composer and conductor based in New York, studied composition with Mario Davidovksy, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Chou Wen-chung and Charles Wuorinen, among others. His body of work encompasses electronic music, acoustic chamber music, orchestral works and vocal compositions as well as occasional pieces for radio, film and stage. With these three chamber symphonies, he explores polyphonic work for small acoustic ensembles.

As with more conventional symphonies, the three chamber works presented here are made up of multiple parts, often—in the cases of the Second and Third–divided by a cadenza for a soloist. The focus of all three pieces is on melody, as structured by Anderson’s elastic adaptation of serial technique. Anderson constructs pitch sets to use as basic melodic material, but modifies them as needed in order to maximize their melodic effect. At many points during these works, for example, he seems to take subsets of a basic twelve-tone set and arrange them to create a quasi-tonal sound. Consequently, all three works display an essential melodic coherence, the salient features of the rows remaining recognizable throughout the repetitions and variations Anderson has them undergo. One side effect of this transparency is a remarkable clarity of line, which is also facilitated by the small sizes of the ensembles—two trios and a quartet.

Rightly or wrongly, serial composition has long had an unenviable reputation for being opaque and resistant to the untrained listener’s comprehension. But as these three works show, the creative application of serial method can produce music that, no less than tonal music, reveals its structures on its surfaces. Beyond their intrinsic value, Anderson’s chamber symphonies demonstrate the continued relevance of serial and serial-based composition for the creation of profoundly melodic, polyphonic works.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Shulamit – For You the Sun Will Shine: Songs of Women in the Shoa (Rockpaperscissors)

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shulamit22Soon there will be no more survivors. Soon there will be no witnesses left, either. As artist Edmund de Waal wrote, millions were “erased from the texture of life” by the Holocaust. Soon all that will remain is the historical record and our determination to preserve and protect it.

There is already a rather vast library of work composed during the Holocaust, but For You the Sun Will Shine is something quite new, different and essential. Charlette Shulamit Ottolenghi was born and raised in Milan and now lives in Jerusalem. She has been performing these songs written by female prisoners for some ten years now, originally brought to light by the research of Francesco Lo Toro, founder and director of the Musica Judaica Institute in Barletta. It has been suggested that both before and during incarceration, women coped differently than their male counterparts, steeling themselves by sharing imaginary meal preparation and recipes and doing household chores. “(The) men don’t go out… She stands on the long line (for bread)… When there is need to go to the Gestapo, the daughter or wife goes… The women are everywhere… (Women) who never thought of working are now performing the most difficult physical work.” Evidently there were also many who had enough energy to pursue their artistic interests, as well.

chaIlse Weber´s songs were hidden under the dirt of Theresienstadt, dug up by her husband at the end of the war. Ludmilla Pešcařová memorized hers. Another is even gone from the paper record, anonymous forever. Czechs, Germans, Poles, Jews, Gentiles. Nothing can vitiate the obscenity of the Holocaust, but each and every piece of art discovered fulfils the so-called 614th commandment, the moral obligation to negate Hitler´s determination to obliterate Jewish life and creativity. “True respect to these women artists is to treat them as artists,” insists Shulamit, and to sing their songs, not only on Holocaust Memorial Day.

For this recording, Shulamit assembled a tiny ensemble, with the indefatigable Frank London, pianist Shai Bachar and percussionist Yuval Lion. The smallness of it defies the enormity of the subject, while allowing the band to be silly-puttied in arrangement. She sings lullabyes, kaddishes, Brecht-Weillian cabaret, parodies, anthems with a Socialist sway, prayers and death march waltzes, bitter, longing, enraged, despairing. Healing broken music, arrangers London and Bachar are by turns taciturn and elegant, stirring and experimental, trumpeter London especially the vigorous tummler, Bachar constant and nourishing as the rain.

One Holocaust historian cites the words of an anti-Nazi cleric, who quoted Luke 19:40 as his testament – “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” As the number of Holocaust deniers and relativists outnumber its historical victims, witnesses and perpetrators, our existential duty is to listen – otherwise the texture of our life becomes ever more threadbare.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Nimrod Borenstein – Suspended Opus 69 (Solaire Records)

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SOL1001-1500x1500px-500x500String orchestra score for the troupe Gandini Juggling’s ballet “4×4 Ephemeral Architectures”, this is the world premiere recording of Nimrod Borenstein´s Suspended Opus 69, by das freie orchester Berlin (founded by Solaire label chief Dirk Fischer) under the baton of Laércio Diniz. Borenstein (b. 1969), who began his musical training at the tender age of three, originates from Tel Aviv, grew up in Paris and eventually moved to London. He is currently an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music and has dozens of works to his name.

Clad in green-shifting-red tattersall (designed by brother Alec), the disc in its sturdy slip case is accompanied by an Alice Munrovian compilation of texts, all of which this reviewer chooses to enjoy with a glass of wine after having absorbed this new voice (to him at least) with fresh ears and a mind untainted by insight or preconceived notions gleaned from the booklet.

The nine movements (plus a mood-setting violin prelude, moving from on high down to the bass) of this forty-minute work comprise a picnic celebration of post-sacred music, excited strings a paean to enlightenment, to the light (and a little dark) entertainment – tango, waltz – of a world of harmony still within reach, as easy to pluck as the long-stemmed roses of the violas. Borenstein clutches eighteenth-century fulsomeness and various modernists and contemporaries (Grieg, Stravinsky, Pärt) in the same warm embrace. Shapely and sophisticated, kinetically optimistic (though briefly “Annoyed” – ants at the picnic?) and ambiently contemplative, Suspended Opus 69 is swirling, epicurean, delightful. In its well-structured accessibility, it would also serve perfectly as any young person´s introduction to the orchestra.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Naima – Bye (2016; Cuneiform Records)

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Jazz-inflected Spanish threesome Naima returns with their fourth album, Bye. While the group’s choice of instrumentation (with Enrique Ruiz on piano and synths, Luis Torregrosa on drums, and Rafael Ramos Sania on bass) is not new, their approach to the piano trio is anything but conventional.

Naima does not shy away from comparisons to The Bad Plus, which is perhaps the most well-known piano trio of the last decade or so. And like that outfit, Naima gives a nod to the jazz tradition, but then departs for more adventurous waters. Nonetheless, Ruiz, Torregrosa, and Sania explore deeper oceans and harsher weather. While there is an element of playfulness to some of the nine tunes on Bye, there also is an underlying darkness as well. They go on to bridge tense atmospheres with tightly-coupled rhythms and catchy, yet angular, melodies. In addition, their use of synths adds a level of aggression and dissonance to the mix.

Content-wise, six of the tracks are originals, two with alternative takes included. Naima also covers Elliot Smith‘s Can’t Make a Sound, which is a highlight of the album, and Jaga Jazzist‘s Animal Chin.

The result of all this is a release with broad appeal – traditional jazzheads and fans of the avant-garde alike will find much to enjoy on Bye.

AMN Reviews: Pellerin, Boss & Magliocchi – The Sounding Door [Plus Timbre PT021]

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pt0212015The twelve relatively brief pieces making up The Sounding Door, a trio work by Guy-Frank Pellerin, Matthias Boss and Marcello Magliocchi, represent a variety of inspired chamber improvisation grounded in the textural multiplicity afforded by similarly pitched but timbrally different instruments.

Although each participant is a multi-instrumentalist—Pellerin plays three different types of saxophone as well as bone flute and clarinet; Boss contributes violin, flute and voice; and Magliocchi plays guitar, percussion and a sound-producing sculpture created by M. Andrea Dami—the tracks are never crowded but instead leave space for each individual instrument to develop its voice in tandem with the others.

Most of the pieces focus on the interplay of Pellerin’s reeds and flute with Boss’s violin. The juxtaposition of the violin with the soprano and sopranino saxophones creates a musical tension built on the simultaneous convergence of pitches and divergence of timbre, which often serve to emphasize the brightness of the violin. By contrast, the track Incertitude Rêvée puts the violin against the clarinet’s lower register, the latter taking on the unlikely function of a pseudo-cello in an updated continuo. Un Bicchiere di Spumante features plucked violin and baritone saxophone against a shimmering background of cymbals and other metallic percussion—quite possibly a case of the sculpture audibly asserting itself in the mix.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Vaults of Zin – Kadath (2016; Bandcamp)

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Hailing from Denton, Texas, just outside of the Dallas / Fort Worth area, Vaults of Zin is a four piece experimental metal band with a throwback twist. The lineup consists of Rob Buttrum on drums
, Greg Dixon on guitar and electric violin
, Shane Hutchinson on bass and vocals
, and Stephen Lucas on synthesizer. Rather than a straight-forward assault, Kadath features the complex songwriting of a 70’s progressive rock band. The group rounds out this approach with heavy guitars, a prominent synth attack, and aggressive vocals. Some of the singing is in the so-called “cookie monster” style, which can be hit or miss with some listeners.  Nonetheless, two of the five tracks on Kadath are instrumental, and the vocals are not a major part of the other three.

Perhaps the band’s most apparent influence is late-70’s Magma. The fourth track, Lankotan, in particular, exhibits low-frequency angular rhythms and synth weirdness that would be at home on the latter group’s Udu Wudu release. Thematically, Vaults of Zin also is a few parts H. P. Lovecraft – their name comes from that author’s writing, as does this album’s title. Consequently, the music’s brooding structures and dark overtones should not be surprising. Further comparisons could be made to Toby Driver‘s Maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot, as well as Japan’s Happy Family and France’s Nebelnest.

It has been five years since the first Vaults of Zin album. Despite this long layoff, there is no evidence of a sophomore slump. The entirety of this 50-minute album is a joy, and already a standout in what promises to be a crowded set of 2016 releases.

AMN Capsule Reviews: Akpatok / Logan Hone’s Similar Fashion / Troum

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Akpatok – Two Winters, Two Springs (2015; Bandcamp)

Two Winters, Two Springs is a minimalist debut from the Polish Akpatok Ensemble. This small group features ululating drones and rhythms from hurdy-gurdy, shepherd bells, and gongs. The album clocks in an just under one hour across six tracks. The aesthetic exhibited here is to simplify the compositional process by limiting the group’s musical vocabulary to that of the three aforementioned instruments. The hurdy-gurdy takes the fore on some tracks, laying down a subtle, multiphonic texture. The percussion plays a lead role on certain other tracks, evoking a primeval atmosphere. Missing is a combination of the two types of instruments, which would have been interesting. But, Akpatok’s “less is more” approach is certainly appealing, especially to those who prefer their music meditative, or in the Deep Listening vein.

Logan Hone’s Similar Fashion (2015; pfMENTUM)

Reedsman Logan Hone is joined on this release by Lauren Baba on viola, Gregory Uhlmann on guitar, and Jesse Quebbeman-Turley handling the drums. While California-based, the quartet is heavily influenced by the New York creative jazz scene, particularly, Tim Berne and John Zorn. Recorded in early 2015, this self-titled album has a “live in the studio feel” with a charming lack of refinement. Instead, you hear the group as they were meant to be heard – in the raw. Structurally, they move seamlessly between composition and free improv, contrasting one approach to the other. Logan and friends roll between tracks of prickly complexity, and lighter-hearted, playful meanderings. Similar Fashion exhibits commendable instrumental interplay, especially between the clarinet and guitar.

Troum – Acouasme (2015; Cold Spring Records)

Germany’s duo known as Troum (“dream”) is back with a new slice of dark ambiance spanning six long tracks. If anything, Acouasme harkens to a high-point in the genre’s existence, the early 2000s. But the music here is not retro in any sense. Instead, Troum dovetails ambient with industrial to form scraping soundscapes of abandoned cities and haunted caverns. This is not brutal music – instead it is a subtly evolving exploration of dreams, nightmares, and psychosis. Synths wash over scrobbling rhythms – artificial winds blowing across shifting sands. A very strong release.