AMN Reviews: Lewis Nielson – Axis [Mode Records 283]

283-nielsonThe music of Lewis Nielson, who recently retired as chair of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music Composition Department, pushes the fragmentary language of modernism to a breaking point and couches it in contemporary timbres.

Nielson’s work can be highly expressive—his Il Romanticismo di Lucrezia e Cesare (2014), a theatrical piece for double bass, soprano and tape, appropriates the grand emotional sweep of opera and turns advanced double bass technique to equally dramatic use. By contrast, the three recent pieces collected here, composed between 2005 and 2010, largely eschew dramatic rhetoric and instead tend to rely on the accumulation of piecemeal gestures which gradually gather up into a whole. In a way they recall what Carlo Ginzburg called the “intuizione bassa”—the inductive leap by virtue of which a full picture suddenly appears out of scattered traces.

The string quartet Le Journal du Corps (2010), performed by the JACK Quartet, is an episodic work in which the four voices occasionally converge but more often seem to operate independently. It begins sparsely, testing the silence with tentative stabs of sound, and slowly gathers momentum and mass. Nielson intersperses rapid runs, droning chords and brittle harmonics with the “unmusical,” quasi-industrial sounds of creaking and grinding. A few minutes away from the ending there’s a chant-like sung part drawing on text taken from a play by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire. Nielson’s choice of text makes explicit the quartet’s anti-imperialist programmatic intent. Tocsin (2009) is a similarly programmatic work of assembled and disassembled pieces. The all-percussion work, performed by red fish blue fish, uses changes in sound density and dynamics to illustrate the coalescence and dissolution of crowds during periods of political upheaval. Finally Axis (2005), for solo percussion and string quintet—for which cellist Emily Du Four joins JACK—is a concatenation of nervous spasms of sound, the restless pizzicato and scuffled bowings of the strings playing off of percussionist Steven Schick’s unsettling attacks on drums and cymbals.

Daniel Barbiero

Anthony Braxton’s Quintet (Tristano) 2014 Reviewed by Alexander Hawkins

English: Lennie Tristano, ca. August 1947. Pho...

Source: LondonJazz, another detailed review by pianist Hawkins.

There are also macro-level parallels between the Tristano and Braxton senses of time. Simultaneity of musical events – a central element of Braxton’s language – is certainly a cousin of the extreme polyrhythmic approach deployed by Tristano in his seminal Turkish Mambo. Tristano also made use of multi-tracking himself (e.g. Descent into the Maelstrom), as Braxton did on a January 2nd 1971 recording of Composition No. 16. And Tristano’s ‘after the event’ manipulation of the sound source – such as in the speeding up of the basic tracks of Line Up, or in his collaged Requiem – has parallels in the Supercollider algorithms Braxton has derived for the processing of live audio in his Diamond Curtain Wall Music.

This Week in New York 


Either/Or and pianist Taka Kigawa performs the music of György Ligeti.
Tuesday, April 26 at 6:00 PM
Miller Theater, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY

This NYFOS concert features music by Latina composers Rocío Sanz, Odaline de la Martínez, Beatriz Lockhart, Gabriela Lena Frank, Clarice Assad, Dolores Castegnaro, María Grever, Chabuca Granda, Ernestina Lecuona, Elena Walsh, Joyce Moreno, Consuelo Velásquez, Margarita Lecuona, Violeta Parra, and Susana Baca.
Tuesday, April 26 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $40-$55, $10 students
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center, 129 West 67th Street, New York, NY

Guitarist Jason Vieaux is joined by pianist Gloria Chien, violinist Kristin Lee, violist Richard O’Neill, bassist Donald Palma, and cellist Nicholas Canellakis to perform works by Mario Davidovsky, William Bolcom, Thomas Larcher, Vivian Fung, and John Harbison.
Thursday, April 28 at 7:30 PM
Tickets $35
The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center,165 W. 65th St., New York, NY

ensemble mise-en presents a portrait concert featuring works by Russian composer Edison Denisov. This concert is a continuation of a series of portrait concerts presented in partnership with the Jordan Center for Advanced Russian Study at NYU. The program includes Denisov’s Two Pieces for Three Instruments, Sextet, Dedicace, and Widmung.
Friday, April 29 at 5:00 PM
The Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY

The Look & Listen Festival opens with the percussion and piano quartet Yarn/Wire performing Chiyoko Szlavnics’s Mind is Moving. Also on the program is pianist Saskia Lankhoorn performing selections from her recent ECM release entitled Dances and Canons, and a performance of J. Alexander Brown’s Music for Double Bass.
Friday, April 29 at 8:00 PM
BRIC House, 647 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY

Gender in Music HackathonGender in Music Hackathon
Explore the role of gender in music, through data, performances, and rapidly going through the full lifecycle of creative projects. Talks at Noon, hacking all day, 8pm demos of hack projects.
Saturday, April 30 at 12:00 PM
Spotify, 45 West 18th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY

Cellist Kate Dillingham performs music by Arvo Part, Michael Vincent Waller, Nick Storring, Linda Catlin Smith, and Olivier Messiaen.
Saturday, April 30 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $15, $10 students/seniors
Spectrum, 121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY

In honor of Look & Listen’s last 15 years, day two of the Festival is a “retrospective” concert featuring selections from an array of past Look & Listen events. Harpist Bridget Kibbey performs Kaija Saariaho’s Fall. She is then joined by oboist James Austin Smith for Elliott Carter’s Trilogy. Also on the program is members of Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble and The M6 performing selections from Book of Days. Finally, there will be a performance of Driving Force by Zibuokle Martinaityte.
Saturday, April 30 at 8:00 PM
BRIC House, 647 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY