Ljova’s Lost in Kino (CD Review)

Lost in Kino
Various Artists
Kapustnik Records CD

Probably most of us have sat through a film where the music seems to clash with the onscreen visuals; one that seems disconnected from the plot and just generally uninspired. Then there are film scores that, even without the movie playing, allow us to ‘see’ the scene; we’re transported. This is the kind of music one finds on Lost in Kino, the third CD release from the versatile Ljova. Violinist, violist, composer, and arranger Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin shares twenty-four musical sequences from film scores he composed in the years 2005-’11. Arranged programmatically to have a light music “A side” and a more serious “B side” (with the “obligatory” happy ending for a final “closing credits” cut), Lost in Kino draws upon many musical styles: all of them adroitly arranged and energetically performed by Ljova and a host of collaborators.

Ljova’s experience performing Eastern European folk music looms large. Romashka, a band devoted to the performance of Gypsy music, appears on a dozen of the CD’s selections and master cymbalomist Kalman Balogh provides a memorable guest turn on the track “Satul Dintre Noi.” Other styles represented include a country-inflected piece titled “Old Men,” with flourishes from banjo player Mike Savino, as well as a downright bluegrass hootenanny on “Pickle Porker Polka,” courtesy of Ljova fiddling alongside the alt-country band Tall Tall Trees. Asian music adorns the track “Doctor Wrong,” with guest appearances by my favorite pipa player, Wu Man, and shakuhachi player Kojir Umezaki. “The End (Baby you Got to Get Up)” is a rousing way to close the proceedings, featuring boisterous singing from Sarah Natochenny and a chamber orchestra sized cohort of musicians.

Forget those film scores supplied by racks of sythesizers. Ljova has got the right idea: capture the scene using live musicians as actors in sound. As the principal performer and as a composer/arranger, he shines on Lost in Kino. Recommended.

Ellis Marsalis – A New Orleans Christmas Carol

Ellis Marsalis

A New Orleans Christmas Carol

ELM Records CD

On his latest CD release, the Marsalis’s pater familias, pianist Ellis Marsalis, shares a selection of holiday favorites. Those looking for New Orleans jazz in the ‘early jazz,’ rather than geographical, sense of the term may be surprised by the idiom here, which is certainly neotraditional and straight ahead, but by no means a retrospective of historical styles. At seventy-seven years of age, Marsalis’s  pianism remains compelling, with eminently tasteful voicings and economical soloing that embellishes this program of holiday songs while keeping their memorable melodies front and center.  His ballad playing is particularly affecting on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is filled with lovely chordal shadings.

His youngest son, percussionist Jason Marsalis, is certainly an asset at the drum kit, lending latin-tinged syncopation to “We Three Kings” and buoyancy to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman;”  He and Roman Skakun share vibraphone duties. Both bassists, Bill Huntington and Peter Harris, provide staunch support as well. Only the two vocal cuts, “A Child is Born,” sung by Cynthia Liggins Thomas, and “Christmas Joy” Johnaye Kendrick, underwhelm; the fault lies in the leaden singing, not the perfectly fine accompaniments. Program these two out of the playlist, and you have a rewarding collection of familiar and genteelly rendered holiday classics.

Help MNMP reach 100 donors

In a mailing yesterday, I wrote on behalf of Manhattan New Music Project’s 100 donor December initiative. The letter is quoted below. I know everyone is inundated with funding requests at this time of year, but if it’s a cause and organization that moves you, I hope you’ll help them continue their mission to help both kids and new music composers, performers and teaching artists. I did.

It’s December 23rd. Hanukkah is here and Christmas is just hours away. As you scramble to find the perfect last-minute gifts for your loved ones, will you consider one more? The gift of music?

For young students from low-income communities with little access to the arts, and for composers and musicians trying to make their voices heard in difficult times, MNMP’s education and performance programs are as precious as anything that might fit into a stocking (or a sleigh).

Last week, you heard from one of MNMP’s teaching artists about how creative expression enriches her students’ lives. This week, we spoke to a recent collaborator about MNMP’s impact on the professional musicians we serve.

Christian Carey (right) with fellow composer Hayes Biggs.

Meet a Composer: Christian Carey

Christian Carey (pictured, right) is an active composer and music theorist, as well as a Contributing Editor at the classical music blog Sequenza21. In October, Sequenza21 and MNMP joined forces to bring the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) to Joe’s Pub, performing the work of eleven composers chosen through a call for scores. “We wanted this to be an inclusive and community-building experience,” says Carey, “so I’m particularly proud that we agreed from the outset to make it an open call: no entry fee, age limit, or geographic restrictions. This allowed many composers who don’t often get a chance to participate in competitions, which often include high fees and age requirements, to be included. We ultimately received over 260 eligible entries, from as far away as the UK, Italy, South America, and even Uzbekistan. We even got a review in the New York Times in which Steve Smith praised our community-building activities!

ACME’s Clarice Jensen.

“On the night of the concert, I heard over and over again from the composers about how impressed they were with their experience. Several of them remarked that they rarely, if ever, had had the opportunity to hear their pieces performed after their initial premieres; and certainly not by musicians of the caliber of the members of ACME.

“What our organizations were able to do together made a big difference in these artists’ careers and provided them, and the audience, with a memorable musical experience that they will cherish. That’s why even in the tough economic times we are all currently experiencing, events like these are so important and sorely needed.

Tonight at Roulette: McPhee and Cyrille

Andrew Cyrille

Tonight at Roulette in Brooklyn, two free jazz icons appear on the Interpretations series. Drummer Andrew Cyrille is joined by guitarist Elliott Sharp and electronics artist Richard Teitelbaum. Meanwhile, saxophonist Joe McPhee’s Trio X, which includes Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen, performs the long form piece Eroc Tinu. A tribute to Cecil Taylor, the work will also feature special guests Steve Dalachinsky, Hilliard Greene, and Roy Campbell.


Joe McPhee Trio X: EROC TINU

Andrew Cyrille, Elliott Sharp, & Richard Teitelbaum

Thursday October 13, 2011
8PM at Roulette, in Downtown Brooklyn!
509 Atlantic Ave (corner of Atlantic and 3rd Ave)

Purchase tickets online at Roulette.org and enter to win one of two copies of Trio X’s new 5-CD set “Live On Tour 2008″ on CIMP Records!

Upcoming Events:
Nov 10:  Ralph Samuelson & Yoko Hiraoka // Jin Hi Kim, Samir Chatterjee & Thomas Buckner
Dec 15, 16: Wadada Leo Smith 70th Birthday Celebration

For more information on Roulette Brooklyn:
509 Atlantic Ave (corner of Atlantic and 3rd Aves in downtown Brooklyn)
2, 3, 4, 5, C, G, D, M, N, R, B & Q trains and the LIRR
General admission: $15 / $10 Roulette Members, Students, Seniors
Tickets can be purchased online:  www.roulette.org

Joel Harrison premiere at Roulette

The newly revived Roulette (on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn) is the site for a premiere this coming Friday (details here). Guitarist-composer Joel Harrison’s Still Point – Turning World (a veiled reference to a line from “Burnt Norton,” one T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets) is a polyglot work for diverse forces. In addition to Harrison’s jazz quartet, it also features the Talujon Percussion Quartet, and Anupam Shobhakar, who plays the sarode, an Indian stringed instrument.

Still Point… requires its performers to be in a flexible collaboration, reveling in polystylism. “Crossover” is a term that’s overused and sometimes misused these days. All too often the results of less cohesive collaborations find the musicians from multiple styles working at crossed purposes or, worse, musicians from different traditions uneasily try on each others’ chops for size.

One doesn’t get this sense from Harrison’s creative activities. Instead he seeks likeminded musicians who are interested in creating a sophisticated synthesis of different genres, based on mutual support, respect, and plenty of listening to one another.

He says, “I’m willing to bet that in ten years time, many more musicians will be comfortable playing both jazz and classical, and performing music from many traditions.”

Harrison’s ensembles aim to be pathfinders in this regard. Come to Roulette on Friday and witness these musical frontiersmen!

Pat Metheny: What’s it All About (CD Review)

Pat Metheny - Nonesuch

Pat Metheny

What’s it All About

Nonesuch CD

Using a specially strung baritone guitar (with both the lower strings common to the instrument and some higher strings replacing octaves to give things a special shimmer), What’s it All About, Pat Metheny’s latest solo outing for the Nonesuch, imprint inhabits an unusual and evocative sound world.

The material presented is something of a departure as well: for the first time in his recording career, Metheny doesn’t include one of his own compositions on a release. Instead, he explores ten “new standards:” songs from the popular canon, many from the sixties and seventies. Some are iconic, like “The Girl from Ipanema,” which is given an ambling, gauzily ruminative rendition. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” receives a beautifully hued, impeccably voiced, and eloquently  paced performance. Others like, “Betcha’ By Golly Wow” might not be as familiar to listeners, but they make for equally compelling listening.

In today’s record business, glitz and glamor and high volume too often rule the roost. By contrast, this is a gentle and unassuming CD, which reveals its riches with successive hearings.

Re: ECM beautifully re-imagines (CD Review)

Ricardo Villalobos
Max Loderbauer

ECM Records 2211

Using jazz as source material for electronica/remixing is nothing new. In addition to hip hop samples by crate-digging DJs, and several one off collaborative projects, labels have gotten aboard and opened their archives. Blue Note has released several remix albums while, for their Blue Series, Thirsty Ear frequently pairs electronica artists with avant jazzers. The former releases more or less ause jazz recordings as fodder for sampling/remixing, albeit iconic fodder. The latter are often engaging and collaborative in nature.

Re:ECM takes what I would consider to be still a third approach to jazz recorded sources. Drawing upon ECM Records’ capacious vaults of treasures, it unleashes two of today’s abundantly creative electronic musicians, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer. Given wide latitude in their selection of material, the duo draw upon sessions by several fine jazz musicians on ECM’s roster, such as John Abercrombie, Stefano Bollani, and Paul Motian. The ECM New Series is also represented by contemporary classical composers Arvo Pärt and Alexander Knaifel.

The resulting two disc set of tracks is not made in the spirit of remixing choice ECM tracks in toto; nor is it meant to be a sample-fest that spotlights the artists rather than their sources. Instead, Villalobos and Loderbauer treat the recordings as compositional material: to be reworked and developed. Their approach is respectful; their manipulations made deftly and without the heavy-handedness one finds on some of the Blue Note remixes. Most striking here is the microscopic lens brought to details from the sources: breathy wind attacks, string noises on a harp, gently percussive articulations from a jazz drum kit. Indeed, some of Re: ECM’s best moments are accomplished via “addition by subtraction.”

While the artists themselves weren’t playing live for Villalobos and Loderbauer, there is a third presence on these recordings that bridges the gap between creators and recreators. Producer and ECM label head Manfred Eicher supervised the mastering of Re:ECM. Given his association with the source recordings the first time around, his involvement lends an air of authenticity to the proceedings. One can hear his presence as well. In virtually every respect, this sounds like an ECM disc: production values, sound world, ambience, and creative aesthetic.

Too many crossover projects end up feeling like a fish out of water. On the contrary, Re: ECM is the real deal. Here’s an idea: next time around, get Villalobos and Loderbauer into the studio with some ECM recordings artists. The possibilities are tantalizing!

Interview with Mimi Goese and Ben Neill

Songs for Persephone: Mimi Goese & Ben Neill

Take a seductive voiced art-pop singer and a post-jazz/alt-classical trumpeter. Add fragments of nineteenth century classical melodies, electronics elicited by a “mutantrumpet” controller. Then add influences ranging from ancient Greek mythology to the Hudson River Valley. What you have are the intricate yet intimate sounds on an evocatively beautiful new CD: Songs for Persephone.


The Persephone legend is one of the oldest in Greek mythology, with many variants that provide twists and turns to the narrative and subtext of the story.  In the myth, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. During her absence, vegetation is unable to grow in the world; fields fall fallow and crops cannot be harvested.


To break this horrible time of famine, the gods come to an understanding with Hades. Persephone is eventually freed, but on the condition that, if she has eaten anything while in Hades’ realm, she must return to his kingdom for a certain length of time. Thus, each year she must remain in the underworld one month for each pomegranate seed that she has consumed. This serves to rationalize, in mythic terms, the change of seasons, times of decay and renewal, shifts in light and weather; even the autumn foliage and the falling of the leaves.


Vocalist Mimi Goese and trumpeter Ben Neill have updated the Persephone story, while retaining its iconic essence, on their new recording Songs for Persephone (out now on Ramseur Records). As one can see from the pomegranate on the cover, (a visual designed by Goese), the duo is mindful of the legendary Persephone’s history; but they are not hung up on providing a linear narrative.

In a recent phone conversation, Goese, who wrote the album’s lyrics, said, “The artwork that I did for the cover, featuring the pomegranate, is one acknowledgement of the myth of Persephone. And there are other images that I found in the lyrics. But we were interested in using what was evocative about Persephone to create our own story. That’s sort of how the myth evolved too – one storyteller picks up the thread from another down through the years.”


They started work on this music some five years ago, but originally presented it as part of a theatrical production by the multimedia company Ridge Theater, starring Julia Stiles. In 2010, it was produced at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival.


The theatrical presentation and the mythological story behind it are only two strands in a disparate web of influences that resonate with Songs for Persephone. Both Goese and Neill make their home in the Hudson River Valley. Both for its stunning natural surroundings and its history as a home for artists of all sorts, the valley is rich with reference points. Neill feels that these are subtly imparted to the music.


In a recent phone conversation, he said, “I found myself particularly interested in the Hudson River School of painters. These Nineteenth Century artists depicted the local landscape and the changing of season with a dimensionality and symbolism that seemed to have an affinity with what Mimi and I were after in Songs for Persephone.”


For Neill and Goese, these extra-musical influences – artwork, nature, and theater – are an important part of the music’s genesis. But the polystylistic nature of their music making adds still another layer to the proceedings.


Goese says, “I started in dance and theater and later moved to performance art. Singing came along later. But I don’t have the musical background or training that Ben has – I’m self taught.”



She doth protest too much. Goese’s voice provided the steely, dramatic center to the work of late eighties band Hugo Largo. One part art rock and another dream pop, the group incorporated bold theatricality and ethereal experimentation, releasing two memorable full lengths, Arms Akimbo and Mettle, and the Drums EP, an alt-pop connoisseur’s delight. She’s also collaborated on several occasions with Moby and, under the moniker Mimi (no last name) released Soak, a solo album on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label.


Goese is a powerful singer, but Songs of Persephone brings out the lyricism her voice also possesses. Cooing high notes and supple overdubbed harmonies are juxtaposed with the more muscular turns of phrase. Experience plays a role in Goese’s tremendous performances on the disc. But she also credits the musical creations of her collaborator Neill with spurring on her inspiration.


“Ben has been a terrific person with whom to work,” Goese says. “He’s inventive and willing to try new things. From the moment we first performed together, at a concert nearly a decade ago, I’ve felt an artistic kinship with him.”


One can readily hear why Neill’s music would be an engaging foil for Goese. His background as a producer, and his years of work designing the mutantrumpet, have encouraged Neill’s ear toward imaginative soundscapes. His 2009 album Night Science (Thirsty Ear) is an example of Neill’s nu-jazz arrangements and soloing at their very best.


On the current CD, Neill’s playing remains impressive; but his arranging and collaborative skills come to the fore. There are intricate textures to found, on which Neill’s trumpet and electronics are abetted by strings, bass, and drums, but it’s the melodies, floating memorably past, one after the other, that are most impressive here. Some of the melodic lines he crafts are imitative of the voice in their own right: it’s no accident that some of the most inspired music-making on Songs for Persephone are when Goese and Neill create duets out of intricately intertwined single lines.


Neill says, “The classical materials that I used as the basis of the compositions on Songs for Persephone were melodies from the Nineteenth century: from opera and symphonic music. Many of them were from relatively the same era in which the Hudson Valley painters worked. I found it fascinating to juxtapose these two genres that were in operation more or less at the same time.”


He continues, “I’d describe the material as fragments of melodies: small excerpts rather than recognizable themes. None of them are treated in such a way that most listeners will be able to say, ‘Hey that’s Berlioz,’ or ‘That sounds like Schumann.’ They were meant to be a starting point from which I would develop the music: it’s not a pastiche.”


At 7:30 PM on September 27th, Goese and Neill will be having an album release party at the Cooper Square Hotel, part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon series.  Goese says, “It’s an interesting space – we’ll have glass windows behind us, which is unusual as compared with a more conventional stage. But it’s fun performing in non-standard venues. It allows you to try different things and to bring different elements into the mix in terms of theatricality, lighting, and the way that you play off of each other. I’m excited to see how Persephone changes as we take it into various performing spaces.”


-Composer Christian Carey is Senior Editor at Sequenza 21 and a regular contributor to Signal to Noise and Musical America. He teaches music in the Department of Fine Arts at Rider University (Lawrenceville, New Jersey).