Dan Friel: “Valedictorian” (SoundCloud)

Feeling a bit sluggish? The late summertime blues got you down? You won’t be after hearing the Dan Friel song “Valedictorian” via the SoundCloud embed below. It’s a triple espresso’s worth of instrumental indie pop pep.

Dan Friel’s Valedictorian/Exoskeleton EP is out via Thrill Jockey on October 16th as a 12″ vinyl release.

Jeffrey Biegel’s Christmas album (CD Review)

A Steinway Christmas Album: Music for the Season

Jeffrey Biegel, piano

Steinway & Sons

I’ll admit that this holiday season snuck up on me a bit. And while it’s taken me longer to get into the spirit than usual, I’m grateful to have had this CD at hand. It’s been an excellent aid to snapping out of the winter blues.

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel presents a classical crossover album of holiday chestnuts that is a cheering antidote to its all too ubiquitous nemeses: holiday schlock music. The latter’s execrations include forced gaiety and dubious associations with conspicuous consumption. Via prominent commercial placement, this mortal sin of Christmastime has even befallen many good holiday albums past. Instead, on A Steinway Christmas Album, the tunes are presented adorned only with a tasteful amount of music tinsel, in sparkling arrangements that are eminently adroit, showing off Biegel’s nimble dexterity without ever obscuring the underlying original pieces.

Even if you think you’re so sick of “Sleigh Ride” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” to never want to hear them again, the classy music-making here may yet charm you into changing your mind. Besides, things always sound better on a 9′ Steinway Concert Grand, don’t they?

Levin Torn White (CD Review)

Tony Levin - David Torn - Alan White


Lazy Bones Recordings

This is a serious super group that delivers on its potential. Besides being session musicians to the stars and leaders on their own projects, bassist Tony Levin, guitarist David Torn, and drummer Alan White have played in countless groups associated with progressive rock, jazz fusion, and improvised music – King Crimson, Yes, and Liquid Tension Experiment chief among them. But this is their first recording together as a trio. And while it is indeed a powerful sound that they make, the music on Levin Torn White is intricately constructed and adventurous in a way that few modern day power trios can hope to emulate.

There’s more than a dash of the spirit of King Crimson – particularly its later lineups – alive in the music created here. Levin, of course, was the Crimson bassist for much of this time period, but Torn and White channel some signatures of Fripp and Mastelotto too. The guitarist’s own atmospheric improvisations are of course distinctive in their own right. But on the ethereal track “Convergence” they can also reasonably be likened to Fripp’s soundscaping. Meanwhile, Torn’s shredding on “Ultra Mullett” emulates the tart dissonances and skronkish squalls one heard from Thrak era Crim.

White propels the action with his characteristically forceful and energetic playing. But he’s able to turn on a nickel with each time change and unorthodox mathy metric configuration on the menu. I’ve long been an admirer of Tony Levin’s work, but he outdoes himself here, laying down thrumming low end and staccato Chapman stick filigrees that crackle with vivacity.

If you’re someone who thinks that fusion and prog – particularly of the instrumental variety – is rife with noodly indulgences and bathetic compositions, this release is strongly recommended as a corrective of your misapprehensions. Those already among the converted will find much in which to delight here. One hopes it isn’t a one-off collaboration: these three seem to be just getting started!

Glenn Jones featured on Weekend Edition (CD Review)

Glenn Jones
The Wanting
Thrill Jockey

This past Saturday, guitarist Glenn Jones was on NPR’s Weekend Edition promoting his new album The Wanting (out on Thrill Jockey). The upshot of the Jones piece was that he had “stepped out of John Fahey’s shadow.” It’s true that Jones collaborated with Fahey, and is a fellow traveler to Robbie Basho, Jack Rose, Stephen Basho-Junghans and other “American Primitive” acoustic folk string-slingers. But once you hear him, you’ll likely think that his shadow itself looms plenty large.

The Wanting is Jones’s solo debut on Thrill Jockey, although we certainly expect from this relationship than a single release. A point of nostalgia for me: it was recorded in an intimate space: a fourth floor apartment in Allston; a Boston suburb that was my stomping grounds in grad school. While I didn’t hear Jones during my time there, I did get to hear many a stimulating solo guitar set at Beantown coffeehouses and bars. But nostalgic connections or not, the musicality and versatility brought to bear on The Wanting is undeniable. Jones plays all of the instruments himself: acoustic steel string guitar, six-string, 10-string and bottleneck, and 5-string open-back banjo. The tunes are originals, but they contain soulful resonances and folk-inflected affinities that make them seem timeless and, quite quickly, fondly familiar.

Check out the video clip and MP3 below: it will likely make you want The Wanting. Better yet, catch Jones live on his upcoming tour (dates follow).

Glenn Jones – Of Its Own Kind (edit) by thrilljockey

Tour Dates:

Oct 14 Boston, MA Villa Victoria
Oct 16 Chicago, IL The Hideout
Oct 17 Iowa City, IA The Mill
Oct 18 Dubuque, IA Monk’s
Oct 19 Bloomington, IN Russian Recording
Oct 20 Lexington, KY Collexion
Oct 21 Louisville, KY TBA
Oct 22 Knoxville, TN The Pilot Light
Oct 23 Asheville, NC Harvest Records
Oct 24 West Columbia, SC Conundrum Music Hall
Oct 25 Atlanta, GA TBA
Oct 26 Atlanta, GA Grocery On Home
Oct 27 Chapel Hill, NC The Nightlight
Oct 28 Takoma Park, MD Potts-Dupre Schoolhouse
Nov 1 Brooklyn, NY Zebulon
Nov 3 Easthampton, MA Flywheel
Nov 5 State College, PA Schlow Centre Region Library

Still, but still lively (CD Review)

Aidan Baker

Still Life

Prima CD 002

Aidan Baker is probably best known for his soundscapes that involve droning guitars and ample distortion. But this time out, on his Prima full length Still Life, the Toronto native left the guitars at home altogether. Instead, he performs all of the instruments himself, focusing on piano, electronic manipulations, upright bass, and drums.

Still Life contains four compositions, each exceeding ten minutes in duration, that combine the gradual, inexorable drive of slowcore with inflections of a modern jazz rhythm section and flourishes of avant-classical. Baker doesn’t shy away from crunching dissonance where required. A signature example is the opening of “Refuge from Oblivion,” where cascades of punctilious piano disrupt the calm surface that pervaded the previous track.

Often, multiple layers of rhythm compete for supremacy, creating a multifaceted, but never cluttered, interplay. All the while, there is a slow-brewing underlying pulse that undergirds the whole with a supply architectural sensibility.

Artists seeking to combine experimental music and jazz should take note of Aidan’s fluent amalgamations.

Hauschka: “The Key” (Video)

Salon des Amateurs
Fat Cat CD

Hauschka’s latest recording, Salon des Amateurs, continues his path of prepared piano explorations. But it includes additional layers of instruments, with a host of collaborators that includes John Convertino and Joey Burns (Calexico), and occasional Sequenza 21 blogger (and world famous violinist) Hilary Hahn.

Likewise, much has been made of its allusions to electronica and even dance music (the album is named after a club in Hauschka’s hometown Düsseldorf). But rather than seeming out of place, this becomes yet another facet of the musical landscape of Salon des Amateurs; playfully integrated with imaginative wit.

Grails: “Deep Politics,” Heavy on the Strings (Review)

Deep Politics
Temporary Residence Ltd.

A common (mis)perception in pop music is that the inclusion of a string section inherently softens the edges of a band’s sound. On their past couple of LPs, Portland instrumental rock group Grails has confounded this notion, keeping propulsive rhythms in the mix of their already eclectic palette while deftly incorporating copious amounts of strings. One of the bands founding members was a violinist, so the presence of solo strings in Grails’ music is not new to longtime listeners, but composer-performer Tim Harris’ layers his stringed-instrument performances on Deep Politics in such a way as to give the impression that a larger cohort is playing. And through the magic of mixing, the strings are able to hold their own against percussion, vociferous guitar outbursts, and copious analog synth textures (including some lovely vintage Mellotron parts).

In addition to unabashedly reveling in these walls of sound, the band also channels European film music, particularly the work of Ennio Morricone, providing a new and unexpected twist. It’s not every day one hears heavily thrumming riffs such as those on “Future Primitive” and “All the Colors of the Dark” pitted on the same album against the exotic lyricism and tasty keyboard work found on “Daughters of Bilitis” or the post-psych rock jamming of “Almost Grew my Hair” (quite a knowing reference!).

In lesser hands, such disparate strands might seem too extravagantly far flung to cohere. But under the potently creative attentions of Grails, this eclecticism creates a marvelously well-rounded and imaginative sound world and spurs some of their most interesting work to date.

Laurie Anderson: “Flow” (Soundcloud/DL)

Congratulations to Laurie Anderson on her Grammy nomination for the song “Flow” (Best Pop Instrumental Performance). It’s the last track on Homeland, her latest Nonesuch release.

The label’s been kind enough to offer “Flow” for stream or download via Soundcloud.

Laurie Anderson – “Flow” by Nonesuch Records

Brinson’s Race: an Interview with Frank J. Oteri

This Thursday evening, the Locrian Chamber Players are presenting a concert at Riverside Church in New York City. The program features music by Harrison Birtwistle, Judith Shatin, John Luther Adams, and Frank J. Oteri. Frank is a fixture on the NY scene. He’s the composer advocate for the American Music Center and is Founding Editor of their web magazine New Music Box. Frank is indeed a persuasive advocate on behalf of other composers, but he’s not asked about his own music nearly often enough. In the interview that follows, we focus primarily on Brinson’s Race, the piece that appears on Thursday’s concert. But along the way, we are given a window into Oteri’s approach to composition and his harnessing of a veritable smorgasbord of musical interests and influences.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Herman

CC: First, let’s talk about the dedicatee. Who’s Robert Overstreet? How did you meet him?

FJO: Robert Overstreet was a fascinating man who collected art and taught for many years at Auburn University in Alabama where he was Professor Emeritus of Communication and founded The Reader’s Theatre. All his students called him “Doc.”  After he retired, he moved to back to where he grew up, in rural Georgia where he maintained a small farm. We first met in 1996 and since then had had countless conversations about art, literature, music, travel, and martinis–he had at least one every day. He wrote tremendous letters (all handwritten). He was one of the last people with whom I maintained a mail correspondence; although I regret that I was far less prompt in answering his letters than he was in answering mine. He died in December 2005.

Could you tell us a bit about Brinson’s Race – the place? How did you come to decide to write a work about this location?
Over the years I had the pleasure of making several visits to his country home, an estate called Brinson’s Race, in Emanuel County, one of only two counties in Georgia to vote against secession prior to the American Civil War. Overstreet’s family lived on this land since that time and the land even includes a family cemetery. Since Robert Overstreet’s death, his daughter Laura Overstreet Biering has maintained Brinson’s Race as a family farm as well as a retreat. She set up a nice website for it that gives some more detailed history of the place and even talks about my piece of music (http://www.brinsonsrace.com/).

Trumpet plus SQ is an interesting combination – one that you don’t see on concerts too terribly often. How did you decide on the instrumentation?

Every year Robert Overstreet used to present a chamber music concert in nearby Twin City which consisted of works from the standard repertoire.  After hearing a recording of my 1985 song cycle Two Transfers for tenor and string quartet, he asked me to write a piece especially for one of his concerts scored for trumpet and string quartet. As far as anyone knows it was the first world premiere in Twin City. While the trumpet and string quartet idea was completely his, I think clash between a solo brass instrument and a closely-related group of strings is an interesting sonic metaphor for the clash of me, the ultimate city dweller, discovering a place that is so deeply rural.

The way you use it reminds me in certain places of Ives’ Unanswered Question. Not necessarily linguistically, but in terms of having the trumpet ‘work against’ or run ahead of the strings in certain places. Was Ives a touchstone for the piece? Were there others you’d like to mention?

Ives has always been one of my personal heroes. There are many other role models for this piece, among them, believe it or not: Arnold Schoenberg, Milton Babbitt (the first movement actually incorporates a serial approach to duration, albeit one that does not sound as you might expect it to), Philip Glass (the early strict additive process pieces), John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow, Elliott Carter and Johannes Brahms, to some extent though admittedly it might be hard to hear their influence in here, and even Ornette Coleman and J.S. Bach.

But perhaps the biggest touchstone for me about this piece is that it was the first new piece I started and completed in the 21st century and, in retrospect, it marked a new phase in my composition. It was the first piece I composed after my performance oratorio MACHUNAS and the first lengthy piece of instrumental chamber music I had composed in a very long time.

Also, Brinson’s Race was the first substantial new piece of music I conceived of after starting to work at the American Music Center. In my first year at AMC, I had a lot less time to compose and I was still trying to complete the vocal score for MACHUNAS. Then I had a very heavy case of writer’s block for musical composition. The amount of music I was being exposed to was daunting and rather intimidating. The polystylism of Brinson’s Race I think is a direct result of being exposed to such a variety of music. In addition, it began a new interest in very formal design that has remained a hallmark of almost all the music I have composed since then.

In the notes for the first movement, you mention it being serial in some ways, though not sounding like what we generally consider serial music’s palette.

My departure for the piece was two-fold. I wanted to convey specific impressions I had of Brinson’s Race as well as Robert Overstreet, in so far as such things can be conveyed in a piece of abstract, instrumental music.

The first movement is a response to getting lost in his fields and is an elaborate palindrome based both on a tone row and on minimalist additive process. At the onset each of the stringed instruments has a very strict rhythmic articulation–the first violin emphasizes every two beats, the second every three, the viola every four and the cello every six. They only come together every twelve beats. The harmonic rhythm follows a scheme suggestive of the sestina’s retrogradus cruciform


but in reverse

using on a chaconne-like basis the first six notes of a tone row. First six beats then five then four then three then two then one.  Then one then six then two then five then three then four, etc. As the material develops, the other six notes of the row enter as passing harmonies between the original six and eventually the original six drop out and the music “modulates” to the second hexachord. Then the whole thing goes back to the beginning, in reverse. Are you still with me?

Sure, and that type of a multistage process helps to explain why this doesn’t necessarily sound ‘serial’ in a dogmatic sense: it’s very fluid.

Let’s turn to the middle movement, where you work things out quite differently. It has a very specific, goal-oriented, type of aleatoric process. (By the way, having heard Locrian on several occasions in quasi-improvised scenarios, most recently doing a bang-up job with a Malcolm Goldstein piece, I’m eager to hear their rendition of this!)

The second movement is indeterminate and is inspired by visit to the family cemetery. The cemetery is surrounded by a fence, but outside the fence there were additional graves, only one of which was marked with a name: Pharabe Chance. It turns out that Pharabe Chance was a freed slave who after the Civil War became a second common law wife to Overstreet’s grandfather. Because of the prejudices of that time, she was never really an official part of the family–she remained outside as she did in that graveyard. I’m not sure if he ever did, but Robert Overstreet frequently talked about wanting to tear down that fence. The music does.  I call it “Fair Be Chance.” The score is simply a set of verbal instructions. The strings are instructed to play notes that are consonant with each other, but the trumpet must clash. As the strings in turn attempt to blend with the trumpet, it veers off again. And on and on until eventually they finally all blend.
The final movement is very old fashioned and might be the biggest shock of all. It’s unabashedly tuneful, diatonic, and metrically regular – in fact it’s a waltz.  It’s a set of variations, some homophonic some highly contrapuntal based on a rather simple tune that by the end might be something of an earworm to people. The idea was to develop the tune through a potpourri of American styles in chronological order as a metaphor for how some things change, e.g. the world, and some things don’t, e.g. the land at Brinson’s Race.

On an even more geeky level, though the first movement uses a row, it begins and ends firmly in D. The middle movement has no key, so it could be said to be in the key of 0. The final movement is resoundingly in C. That spells out “Doc.”

You’re known as a composer who enjoys these kinds of polystyistic endeavors. Would you mind telling us a bit about how you weigh these amalgams; what determines how these at first seemingly disparate elements are fitted together?

In a way these three movements sound like the music of three different composers. But I do hear these disparate styles fitting together to tell this story. I guess here Ives is a role model again. His 4th Symphony, which has always been one of the most important pieces of music to me, also presents three very different movements following the initial brief introductory movement. Those movements have been described as three possible answers to a question. I conceived of Brinson’s Race in that same spirit.

How did the Locrian Chamber Players find out about the piece? What’s it like working with them?

I chatted about the piece with David McDonald a number of years ago. Ironically, if memory serves, we were at Keens, one of my favorite old New York bars which dates back to 1885. I say ironically because the one time I saw Robert Overstreet in New York City I took him there and he loved it. The space is filled with historic memorabilia including what purports to be the actual theatre program that Abraham Lincoln was holding when he was assassinated.

You’re on a program that includes a varied mix of pieces: John Luther Adams, Harrison Birtwistle, and Judith Shatin. Do you enjoy being on concerts that are programmed with some catholicity?

Absolutely. JLA has been something of a mentor to me for many years now, going back to when he served as President of the Board of the American Music Center. My conversations with him about music and visual art over the years have been a deep source of inspiration. And in fact I remember how excited I was to tell him about all the theory that went into Brinson’s Race when I had first composed it. I’ve known and admired Judith’s music for years as well. Birtwistle’s aesthetics are quite different from my own, although one of my favorite scores of all time is the music he composed for an extremely authentic British television adaptation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia. But that is the joy of new music nowadays, the endless variety of possibilities.

What do you think is Locrian’s specific contribution to NYC’s music scene?

I love the idea of focusing only on music composed in the past decade which is Locrian’s M.O. And of course now that it’s 2010 that means that Locrian only performs 21st century music. So I’m particularly delighted that the first piece of mine they’re doing is my first 21st century piece!

If you were asked to curate a Locrian Chamber Players program – one of music written only in the last ten years – which pieces would you recommend to them?

Sorry to sound like I’m backing away from this one. I have over 15,000 recordings in my home and bring home even more every week. And during the regular concert season, I’m frequently at as many as five concerts a week, usually to attend premieres: as many as I can. There have been so many amazing pieces of music composed over the last decade – I’d be hard pressed to narrow it down to one evening’s worth of material.


The Locrian Chamber Players

Thursday, August 26 at 8PM in Riverside Church (10th floor performance space)
Free admission
The Program:

Harrison Birtwistle

John Luther Adams
“Nunataks” (NY Premiere)

Frank J. Oteri
“Brinson’s Race” (New York Premiere)

Judith Shatin
“Run” (New York Premiere)

Ken Sullivan
“Strayhorn’s Short Yarn” (World Premiere)

David Macdonald
“Pieces” (World Premiere)

The Players:

Calvin Wiersma and Conrad Harris, violins; Daniel Panner, viola; Rob LaRue, cello; Sycil Mathai, trumpet; Emily Wong, piano; Anna Reinersman, harp.

A reception will follow the concert

Nels Cline Singers’ Initiate

Nels Cline Singers
Cryptogrammophone 2xCD

Guitarist Nels Cline is perhaps best known currently for his work with the folk-rock band Wilco, but he’s had a long career as an avant-jazz instrumentalist. His Nels Cline Singers is a tongue-in-cheek moniker. And while they may not sing, the power trio – Cline is joined by bassist Devin Hoff and Scott Amendola – certainly know how to jam. On Initiate, NCS’s fourth recorded outing, they present a disc of studio recordings and a disc of live cuts.

Cline elicits a wide array of sounds from his axe in a flurry of furious soloing on “Floored:” whammy-bar histrionics, bullet-fast tapping, and a mean imitation of a blues harp! On “Boogie Woogie Waltz,” Cline’s pacing is more deliberate but the palette is no less varied, nor the climax any less potent.

But the group doesn’t limit itself to its power trio instrumentation. Hoff plays double bass as well as electric, and Amendola incorporates percussion from a wide range of ethnicities into his kit. “Divining” features mbira: African thumb piano. On “King Queen,” a less organic element makes an appearance; a synth-loop accompanies Cline’s Santana-esque solos.

NCS is capable of fetching delicacy too. Their diaphanous reading of Carla Bley’s “And Now the Queen,” is particularly finely wrought. But listeners will probably remember them best at full tilt, on a raucous tune such as Amendola’s “Scissor/Saw” or Cline’s avant-rock (Sonic Youth-inspired?) “Thurston County.”

Courtesy of our friends at RCRDLBL, download “Floored” from Initiate below.