Dan Visconti’s Lonesome Roads (CD Review)

Dan Visconti
Lonesome Roads
Scharoun Ensemble Berlin; Horszowski Trio
Bridge Records CD


Lonesome Roads is Dan Visconti’s first solo disc.  Just thirty, the composer certainly has lots of talent and relishes the challenges posed by projects inspired by disparate musical styles. In particular, Visconti loves to combine American traditional music with various strains of concert music. When his postmodern magpie approach works, as it abundantly does on the title piece, a seven-movement suite at turns rhapsodic, folksy and hypermodern, the results are affecting. Similarly, Low Country Haze mixes clarinet in Coplandesque Americana mode with flute rasps and bends, punctuating percussion, and neo-romantic string swoons.


Elsewhere, there’s some inconsistency. While the individual sound schemes are the most adventurous assayed by the composer, the juxtapositions found in Fractured Jams feel forced, and the results, particularly in the closing ragtime movement, underwhelm. “Remembrances,” a post-romantic piano ballad, in places is overly sentimental; even schmaltzy. Black Bend, a piece for amplified string quintet that’s a showcase for the first violin, is even more problematic. It is an object lesson for one of the challenges facing polystylistic creatives: if you transplant a highly identifiable element into another medium, it may not work out well. So, all emerging crossover composers repeat after me: bluesy box riffs and Berlin-based string ensembles do not, based on the evidence supplied here, appear to mix well. If the accompaniment doesn’t swing it doesn’t matter how fiery the fiddle hoedown is down front.


Like Black Bend’s tale of two dissimilar demeanors, one sizzling and another mawkish, the Lonesome Roads CD leaves a decidedly mixed impression of Visconti’s work.



RIP Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Fond memories of seeing Dave Brubeck at Berklee, Scullers, Newport, receiving his honorary degree at Manhattan School of Music, and, best of all, going with my brother Tyler Carey to the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts to hear him. Tyler encouraged me to go backstage and get an autograph. When Dave heard that I was a composer, he had me sit down and talk to with him about classical music for a good while. A very kind soul and talented pianist, composer, and group leader.

Dan Deacon: an App for America

Dan Deacon


Domino Records


America is electronic musician Dan Deacon’s third full length recording, and his first for the Domino imprint. It would be easy for someone uninitiated with Deacon’s previous work to assume that this is a “rah-rah” type of artistic statement, but those familiar with his usually dense and sometimes frenetic music are forgiven if they wondered if there was some tongue in cheek joke intended by the title.

There’s not: Deacon intends the album to be an exploration of his experiences as an American, albeit one of a more left-leaning, even countercultural, mindset than the artists who are usually found putting “America” in their albums’ titles. According to recent interviews, including one in the New York Times, Deacon’s initial response to the post 9/11 era was to feel disassociated from his national identity. Over time, realizing that, despite wrestling with or flat out rejecting many of the Bush era’s policies and value systems, and some that have persisted under the current president, Deacon found that he couldn’t escape an association with his country of origin, even when travelling abroad. America is a musical work based on this reintegration experience.

A somewhat puzzling aspect of the Times profile linked above: it emphasizes a narrative of Deacon as a burgeoning contemporary classical composer that seems to soft pedal his formidable capacities as a creator of effusive, if at times knotty, electronica by making it sound as if this aspect of his work might be moving into the rear view mirror. To be sure, Deacon has a sheepskin from SUNY Purchase in electronic music composition and credits on crossover events such as Merkin Hall’s Ecstatic Music series. That said, there’s no need for an either/or juxtaposition. Even in the midst of the album’s formidable “B side,” a four movement suite titled USA, Deacon hasn’t left his beats at home. What he’s done instead is to integrate them into a fabric that gives a nod to the wide dynamic spectrum of concert music and incorporates some of its instrumentation into a porous, even shape shifting, musical fabric. These are songs writ large, with an artist gaining greater depth of awareness, exploring nuances of arrangement, and striking a pose that serves as a sharp contrast to any homegrown jingoist ideas about music-making.

Alongside the release of America, Deacon has also released a free Dan Deacon app. Featuring a synthesizer loop program, spectrogram, dB meter, and links to other Deacon activities, it’s a fun addition to one’s smart phone or tablet. I’m lobbying for the designers to add the ability to take a picture of the spectrographs you create, which would make it very useful for composers.

Dan Deacon App video

Andrew Bird: Fever Year Trailer (Video)

Earlier this Spring, the documentary film Andrew Bird: Fever Year was screened at fourteen festivals. Containing interviews, concert footage, and capturing rehearsals of works in process, it looks to be a fascinating corollary to Break it Yourself, Bird’s latest studio album (out now via Mom and Pop). Would love to review a screener of the film (anyone?).

Friday and Saturday: ACME at the Kitchen

ACME: The Music of William Brittelle & Mick Barr

William Brittelle. Photo: Murat Eyuboglu

Album Release Concerts for Brittelle’s Loving the Chambered Nautilus

World Premiere of “ACMED,” written for ACME by Mick Barr of Orthrelm

Friday, May 11 at 8pm & Saturday, May 12 at 8pm
The Kitchen | 512 W. 19th St., NYCTickets: $12 at 212.255.5793 x11 or www.thekitchen.org

Birthmark: “Stuck” (SoundCloud)

When we talk about the “indie classical” phenomena on Sequenza 21 and Signal to Noise, as we’ve done a fair bit in recent times, we’re often referring either to concert music composers who incorporate elements of indie pop or classical presentations that incorporate or are created by pop musicians. But increasingly, musicians with both feet firmly planted in the pop arena make music that can just as easily be called “indie classical.”

The record companies may market these releases as pop, but the songs contained therein have arrangements that use concert instruments deftly with a composerly aesthetic. And, unlike some great pop albums that outsource the band charts, the “songwriters” do their own arranging, often playing much of the material themselves. Thus, it’s worth remembering that the classical crossover phenomena is, happily, a busy two-way street. And while this is nothing new (Frank Zappa is just one notable antecedent), it’s certainly a resurgent phenomena that’s fostering fertile music making.

A case in point is Birthmark, a project whose principal songwriter is multi-instrumentalist Nate Kinsella. The track below, “Stuck” (an embed from Soundcloud), is a preview from his forthcoming third LP Antibodies, which will be released via Polyvinyl.

With hushed vocals accompanied by strings, winds, and mallet instruments aplenty, it would fit right in on the Ecstatic Music series or a release on Brassland or New Amsterdam. Kudos to Polyvinyl: it’s nice to see more labels branching out into this polystylistic milieu.

Bedroom Community Releases New Sampler (BandCamp)

Been behind on what’s new with Bedroom Community? Check out the embed below for a stream of their latest sampler. It’s available for purchase on their BandCamp page.