Imani Winds: Terra Incognita

Imani Winds

Terra Incognita

E1 Music

Terra Incognita is woodwind quintet Imani Winds’ fifth recording for E1. It consists of three newly commissioned pieces by composer-performers primarily associated with the jazz tradition. This past year on Sequenza 21, we’ve been talking a lot about ‘indie classical’,’ a genre that incorporates rock instrumentation and signatures into a concert music context or, conversely, invites classical instruments and formal signatures into the indie rock arena. But it’s important to remember that jazz has a long and storied history of interweaving its various paths with concert music, dating back at least one hundred years (or more!).

Jason Moran’s Cane reflects an awareness of this cross-pollination. A four-movement suite, it’s a tone poem based on his family’s ancestral home in rural Louisiana. And while one can certainly detect jazz signatures in its lilting rhythms and engaging harmonic palette, acknowledgement of neoclassical composers such as Stravinsky and Hindemith also abound. It’s a tip of the hat to early 20th century composers who crossed over from the other side of the stream – incorporating early jazz into their scores.

The title track is the first piece Wayne Shorter has written for an ensemble other than his own groups, but it too shows a deft awareness of scoring for winds in a concert music context. One particularly hears a tinge of Impressionism in Shorter’s language – a whiff of Ravel’s harmonies – something he’s displayed for many years in elegant jazz originals.

Paquito D’Rivera not only composed Kites for Imani Winds, but he also appears as a guest clarinetist with the group; they’re also joined by pianist Alex Brown. D’Rivera’s score pits the syncopated rhythms of Latin jazz against piquant harmonies and ostinati reminiscent of early Stravinsky. It’s a very attractive amalgam, and a tricky arrangement. The performers handle Kites’ frequent flurried runs and quick changes of mood deftly and with considerable musicality.

Terra Incognita suggest that jazz and concert music can still blend into a hybridized form of music containing considerable eloquence.

Missy plays the Midwest

Victoire, a Brooklyn based quintet of female alt-classical performers, is currently doing a mini tour in the Midwest to support the impending September release of their album Cathedral City on New Amsterdam. Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes are taking their show on the road, performing selections from Matt’s opera Little Death Vol. 1.

Missy Mazzoli and company have been kind enough to allow us to share the title track from the LP on File Under ?’s Tumblr here. The track combines vocalizing courtesy of Missy with skittering glitchy percussion and a somewhat jazzy harmonic background. Kind of like Julee Cruise meets BoaC on Steely Dan’s patio, sharing drinks with Matmos

Missy Mazzoli tours the Midwest

Victoire with Matt Marks & Mellissa Hughes,Brian Harnetty, and The Wet Darlings
Sun., Aug. 8, 8pm, $10 adv./$12 door
583 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43215

Mon., Aug. 9, 6:30pm, Free
The Dusk Variations Series
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park
N. Michigan Ave. & E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60602

Victoire with Pantree Owl
Tues., Aug. 10, 8pm, $5, 18+
The Bishop
123 S. Walnut St.
Bloomington, IN 47404

Victoire with Matt Marks & Mellissa Hughes & Lord Scrummage,
Wed., Aug. 11, 8:30pm, $5, all ages
The Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID)
5141 Rosa Parks Blvd
Detroit, MI 48208

Guggenheim gets Dark

Andrew Bird

This summer, the Guggenheim Museum in New York has been running a new concert series. Rather than the uptown modernism of Works and Process, they are presenting crossover pop with classical leanings. The Dark Sounds series has already featured Beirut (one of my indie pop faves) last month.

Andrew and Ian in the Sonic Arboretum

This coming week (on August 5th), another luminary of indie-dom is appearing at the Guggenheim. Andrew Bird certainly fits the polystylistic hybrid tag. An accomplished violinist as well as a guitarist and vocalist, his music sits astride pop, classical, jazz, and folk. For the Guggenheim performance, he’s joined another eclectic artist: Ian Schneller is active as a sculptor, inventor, and a luthier. Together they are creating a piece called Sonic Arboretum.

A work for violin, loops and a plethora of horn speakers of varying sizes, Sonic Arboretum is a sound environment that will engage listeners in an immersive and multileveled fashion. (Specimen Products has a page listing technical details about the speakers and their deployment here.) Schneller’s vision was of tall trees (big horn speakers) as well as a ground canopy of smaller horn units, creating a sort of surround sound on steroids!


Here’s Bird performing with the horn speakers in two videos from 2008.

Sting’s Symphonicities: new CD, concerts at the Met

As David Itzkoff reported in the NY Times yesterday, tonight and tomorrow, Sting will be appearing at the most venerable of venues: the Metropolitan Opera House! But instead of being backed by his own band, reuniting with the Police, or even engaging in a revival of his Elizabethan-era lute song collaboration with Edin Karamazov, he will be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They will be presenting selections from Sting’s new album Symphonicities.

Sting plus symphony

The Deutsche Grammophon recording reprises Sting’s back catalogue, treating a dozen songs from his work with the Police and as a solo artist to full blown orchestral renditions. Abetted by conductor/arrangers Rob Mathes and Steven Mercurio, Sting refashions some of his biggest hits — Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Roxanne” among them — as well as lesser known songs: “I Hung My Head,” “The Pirate’s Bride,” etc.

Given Sting’s longstanding interest in classical music – his first solo effort included liberal quotations from Prokofiev – and his recent forays into concert repertory – singing Dowland and Schubert, narrating Prokofiev and Schumann – perhaps a symphonic project was inevitable. And some of Symphonicities works quite a bit better than most pop-orchestra collaborations. Those songs which previously included classical instrumentation, such as “Englishman in New York” and “When we Dance,” actually serve to more fully realize the proto-symphonic ambitions of the pop originals to stirring affect. Repertoire from the brooding Soul Cages LP, such as “We Work the Black Seam,” with its darkly hued harmonies and a more expansive formal design than your average pop song, also lend themselves to orchestration.

By now, Sting’s versatility and curiosity are well known. These two traits alone are enough to explain his willingness – some scoffers might say temerity – to tour with a renown orchestra and appear at one of the most important opera houses in the world. But Symphonicities also serves as a reminder of why Sting has in recent years steadily moved away from more straightforward pop ventures and toward crossover projects: to preserve both his voice and his hearing.

In his late fifties, Sting still possesses a suave croon, and the ballad numbers on the DG recording are served well. But he’s no longer entirely comfortable above the staff. Even a bevy of background singers can’t save “Every Little Thing She Does (is Magic)” from sounding strained. On “Roxanne,” Sting abandons the upper register altogether, murkily riffing on the tune in a faux-improv down the octave. Since the song’s clarion – stratospheric – cries were a signature element of its appeal, one cannot help but feel a little let down.

That said, the care with which the music on Symphonicities has been prepared, and the musicality which both singer and ensemble display in abundance, set it a cut above many crossover affairs.

Sophie Hunger makes US debut at Joe’s Pub

Singer-songwriter Sophie Hunger appears at Joe’s Pub in NYC on Thursday (details here). Hunger is supporting her new album, 1983, with a show that features songs from this effort and her other recordings, Sketches on Sea (2006) and Monday’s Ghost (2008).

Hunger is a multi-faceted performer. She can play rock riffs on the guitar one minute and folksy harmonica solos the next. But my favorite of her several musical roles is when she accompanies herself at the piano. Like Norah Jones with a bit more edge, her playing includes jazzy voicings amid carefully shaded alt-pop changes.

Here she is performing “1983″ and “Train People” from the new LP.

It Ain’t Necessarily (Just) So

I’m still reveling in the memory of So Percussion’s appearance with the Orchestra of the League of Composers last week. And here’s a new recording of music of another sort altogether!

So’s latest collaboration is with Baltimore electronica duo and frequent Björk collaborators Matmos. On Treasure State, a recording for the Cantaloupe imprint, they create a patchwork quilt of found object percussion, glitchtronica beats, synthetic signatures, and complex rhythmic structures. Despite the multifaceted nature of the proceedings, the underlying groove remains eminently danceable.

Here’s a taste of their work: a YouTube clip from their recent show at Le Poisson Rouge.

Preparing for the orchestra reading

Next winter is our biyearly orchestra reading by the Westminster Community Orchestra. My colleagues Stefan Young, Benjamin Boyle, and I have put our heads together to come up with this little checklist for student composers preparing for their first reading session. What do you think?

Composers: A Dozen Ways to Avoid Disaster

  1. Check and double check score for correct notation and ranges of instruments (avoid impossible notes or techniques).
  2. Switch scores with another composer for proof reading. Use MIDI playback to check your piece by ear.
  3. Proofread parts as well: Don’t trust Finale/Sibelius to do it for you! Be sure that you have provided parts in their appropriate transpositions.
  4. List instrumentation so rehearsal ordering can be arranged.
  5. List duration (there’s never “enough” time so this is important!)
  6. Parts:  large enough for easy reading (watch page turns if necessary)
  7. Number measures and insert rehearsal letters for rehearsal efficiency.
  8. Be fastidious about tempo/metronome marks/dynamics/articulations!
  9. If you are not sure about an effect have an alternate reading ready to insert after listening.
  10. Scores: spiral (or similar) binding, include a cover: use heavy paper for easier handling.
  11. Bring extra copies of score and parts to reading. People forget things and your colleagues will want to follow along with the score.
  12. Know your score inside and out. Time is of the essence! If asked a question by the conductor or a player at the reading, be succinct, polite, and accurate. If asked for feedback, direct your brief comments to the conductor: do not call out individual players.

Beacons of Ancestorship


Beacons of Ancestorship

Thrill Jockey Download Thrill 210


Circa twenty years since its founding, Tortoise releases its sixth full length recording, Beacons of Ancestorship. The band’s first LP of new material since 2004′s It’s All Around You, Beacons also follows The Brave and the Bold, an eclectic collaboration with William Oldham on a multifaceted selection of pop covers, and 2006′s lovingly curated career-spanning boxed set A Lazarus Taxon. The members of the band have also been busy touring together and separately inhabiting a plethora of side projects and other musical outfits. Thus, while the five-year wait is understandable, one’s glad to see this project come to fruition. Beacons of Ancestorship is a rare beast for a mature effort. Strongly identifiable as Tortoise’s, it shows the group mindful of its legacy while simultaneously pushing at their musical boundaries.

In and of itself, this is remarkable; Tortoise’s polystylistic approach to music-making has, from its inception, encompassed a wide variety of amalgams and juxtapositions. But from the album-opener, we are reminded that the postmodern, post-rock, jazz-meets-minimalism catchalls that the press has long employed to try and pin down the band have always fallen woefully short of fully descriptive. After an undulating drum ‘n bass duet intro, with a killer riff introduced in the bottom octave, “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” unfolds section after section as fragmentary episodes; a mélange of IDM club signatures, minimalist reiterations, polymetric rhythmic assemblages, and liberal doses of motoric, edgy synth loops, proggy string pads, and rock guitar riffs alike. The one constant amidst the kaleidoscopic changes: the evolving beat structure is still visceral enough to keep your head bobbing throughout. The coda wears its Reich on its sleeve, with phase-like shifts modulating insistent arpeggios into an incandescent shimmer.

“Gigantes” also weaves its way through an impressive assortment of polystylistic material; similarly, rhythmic underpinning allows for a host of distantly related sections to coalesce. Less successful in this regard is “Yinxianghechengqi,” where the use of juxtaposition blunts some of the more powerful buildups of the piece. Still, its thunderous walls of sound demonstrate an affinity for avant exploration that can take the group on thrilling musical excursions. “deChelly” is a all-too-brief example of delicate soundscaping.

The impressively fluid and virtuosic “Prepare Your Coffin” and “Penumbra” are somewhat reminiscent of the outstanding fusion of jazz and progressive rock found on David Sancious’s albums in the Seventies. Riffs played in guitar and bass, doubled in octaves, ornately metered yet constantly propulsive drumming, intriguing chord progressions and extended keyboard voicings, and soaring guitar solos placed up top. Both fusion and prog have been much-maligned over the years – post-rock’s continuation of their confluence has been as well – and the zesty yet airy arrangements of “Coffin” and “Penumbra” suggest that the detractors of these genres have, at best, painted with too broad a brush.

“Northern Something” is one of the cuts that pushes against the aforementioned boundaries of Tortoise’s language. Edgy, reiterated riffs and a militaristic drum refrain create a bellicose (perhaps current events-inspired?) ambience. “Monument Six One Thousand”   adds Middle Eastern-inflected rhythms into the equation, pitting their undulating flexibility against brash quarter notes articulated as piquant rhythm guitar downstrokes. “Minors,” stands in stark contrast to these two. A carefully shaped, elegantly rendered piece, its funky rhythmic underpinning sidles up to lyrically deployed solos, affecting harmonies, and the album’s most winning melodies.

An excellent installment, well worth the wait, Beacons of Ancestorship is easily the best material Tortoise has released since 1998′s TNT.