Archive for the “ETHEL” Category

Exactly a year ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing violinist/composer Cornelius Duffalo of ETHEL. The string quartet is a forerunner of the current movement interested in transforming how we experience classical music in the 21st century, questioning boundaries between tradition and technology, performer and audience. (See also my article here.)

Made up of traditionally trained, classical musicians, ETHEL has taken a post-classical personal approach to broadening the spectrum of their music making which the New Yorker calls “vital and brilliant.”

Their music represents a Pan-American exploration- reaching from Jazz and Native American influences, to New York’s contemporary responses to 9/11. Performing at alternative venues has also become part of ETHEL’s performance style, playing for younger audiences, who rather frequent pubs, than concert halls.

Their latest album Heavy (in answer to the previous Light) for the Innova-recordings label, recorded on April 24th at Joe’s Pub, feels like a celebration of the group’s longstanding and personal collaboration with composers of the contemporary New York music scene.

Dorothy Lawson, ETHEL’s cellist and founding member, describes the development of the group and shares her observation on the different aspects of this album. “We clearly have grown as a group; it is interesting for me to observe how different this album is compared to our first ones. The very first recording called Ethel we did after six years of performing together and we were still forming ourselves.

It was a document of the composers who helped us to get started as a group, like John King or Evan Zipporin. Four years later, Light was much more relaxed and lighthearted, more imbued with pop colors and rock. But this one now, Heavy, represents the post-classical world fully. It’s related to classical in its architectural way of designing music, in its generation through processes rather than stanzas. The classical mindset is about taking you on a journey or inquiry of some sort, taking the time for the problems and the solutions that the composer finds. The influences or composers we are pulling from do not convey traditional styles, or mainstream classical layers. We could call it a blend, which of course still does not really describe anything specific and we often did struggle with words to describe our personal style. But we clearly went through a transition – now people say this sounds like ETHEL. We are opening our platform to other cultures and it’s a process of true cultural exchange and a way to live with music in a special way.”

Some of the material on Heavy was performed by ETHEL beforehand, long before they were committed to the recording’s eighteen months long process.  The recording includes works by Julia Wolfe, John Halle, John King, David Lang, Kenji Bunch, Marcelo Zarvos and Don Byron. The group’s longstanding member, violinist Mary Rowell, is featured on the release, but left ETHEL last year. She will make a guest appearance with ETHEL for John King’s No Nickel Blues featured on Heavy, at the release to be held at Joe’s pub.

 

But it is now violinist Jennifer Choi’s part, who has since become the newest ETHEL member, to perform all other works featured on the CD. “Being with ETHEL this past year, has been an eye opening experience for me,” says Choi, who describes herself as a big improviser and is immensely attracted to ETHEL’s multicultural approach to music, thereby supplying her with much added, creative stimulus. “It is new music to many people; the new album pays homage to New York City, but it’s not really limited to the New York experience. It is quite refreshing and people all over the United States can relate. And there is always a meaning behind our programs. As the newbie I was attracted to its American mix. For so many years we brought all the European composers over. Now there is a big wave of fresh, contemporary American music that should be interesting internationally, now.”

Supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Greenwall foundation, Heavy, according to ETHEL co-founder, violist Ralph Farris, serves as “homage to New York City, its people and its music.”

 

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(also published on Urban Modes)

ETHEL will soon be reunited with our dear friend and collaborator Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the 2012 Winter Jazz Fest (January 7th @ Zinc Bar). Ayelet has composed a deeply heartfelt piece for ETHEL and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi entitled Shiv’a . We’ve been developing Shiv’a for over a year now, and recently recorded it. This January’s concert marks the beginning of a series of live performances of the piece.

Ayelet’s style combines tuneful folk influences with moments of abstract improvisation. Her tone color choices are unusual and interesting. In this interview she discusses her music, her projects, and the fascinating relationship between her music and her dreams.

Dufallo: Can you discuss Shiv’a – your inspiration for the piece, and how it came together?

Rose Gottlieb: Shiv’a is a meditation on the process of mourning. It referneces Jewish and Buddhist mourning rituals. I composed it following several deaths, including that of my good friend, drummer and percussionist Take Toriyama. It took a while to piece together the seven movements of Shiv’a, and to find the right “language” for it (the movements vary from graphic scores to traditional scores, with improvisation sections). It’s a very special piece for me, as it’s my first long instrumental composition.

Being a vocalist, I’m used to working with text, and in this case the composition process was very different from anything I had done before. Since there were no words, the way in for me was visual. Each movement in the piece is like a sketch that draws an image with sounds and textures. The titles of the seven movements reflect upon a quotation from the book of Kings:

There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks […] but the Great Spirit was not in the wind. After the wind — earthquake. But the Great Spirit was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake — fire. But the Great Spirit was not in the fire. And after the fire — a voice of thin silence.

The movement titles also reflect the four elements of nature, being slightly jolted and out of place — Geshem (rain), Ra’ash (earthquake), and Esh (fire). Air is referenced through the use of a unique instrument that was made specifically for Shiv’a by installation artist Michelle Jaffe: the “Blanket with 49 Bells (BW49B).” My dream life is at least as “real” to me as my waking reality… When I started composing Shiv’a I had an incredible,  powerful dream of a blanket with bells on it, that was moved by the wind. Michelle took on the task of bringing this sound-sculpture into physical reality, and the BW49B is now an integral part of Shiv’a. The bells signify a soul that keeps ringing in the world after the body has passed…

Dufallo: Can you tell a little bit about your musical history?

Rose Gottlieb: From childhood through the end of high school I studied to be a classical flautist. When I was about 14 I started “flirting” with improvisation — first as a flautist, then as a vocalist. Saxophonist Arnie Lawrence moved to Israel in the 1990’s, and performing with him solidified my direction into the realm of vocal jazz and improvised music… About a year before I started singing I started having a recurring dream of swirling colors — a large, intricate orchestral piece would be playing, causing the colors to move. Every time I awoke from that dream I experienced a great frustration about not having the skill to “transcribe” this sub-concious composition… I decided to start writing music, in order to be able one day to write that piece that was asking to be born… Of course, once I started composing, the dream stopped. I’m still hopeful this piece will come to visit me again some day…

Dufallo: What are some exciting upcoming projects?

Rose Gottlieb: With Shiv’a – I’m very much hoping it will now have life as a performed piece. I feel that the combination of ETHEL, Satoshi Takeishi, and Michelle’s BW49B will be a real treat to see on stage. We’re starting this journey on the night between the 7th and 8th of January at Winter Jazz Fest (Zinc Bar, 12:15 AM). The album is in the mixing stages, and will be released toward the end of 2012/early 2013.

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, ETHEL, and Satoshi Takeishi rehearse Shiv'a

Aside from Shiv’a I have a few exciting projects in the works. On March 28th my composition for trombone and piano, Carry On — Check In, will be premiered at Carnegie Hall by pianist Vered Reznik and trombonist Haim Avitzur.

In Israel I recently recorded Betzidei Drachim / On the Roadside — a project that features my settings of Israeli and Palestinian poetry. The music is a cross-over of jazz, prog-rock, and middle-eastern music… This project features my long standing collaborator, pianist Anat Fort, as well as Ihad Nimer on oud and violin, and several other leading Israeli musicians.

With Mycale — John Zorn’s a capella vocal quartet — we’re touring the US and Europe, and working on new materials. We’re also gearing up for an exciting 2013 — Zorn’s 60th birthday year!

Outside my musical life — I recently shifted my base (once again) to London, where my husband works as an animator. I am grateful every day that music is my life and I have such incredible people to share it with…

 

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“The composer’s job is to create a context for music-making to reflect the emerging consciousness.”  Hafez Modirzadeh

ETHEL performs music of Hafez Modirzadeh
By Cornelius Dufallo
Also published on Urban Modes

Hafez.jpgHafez Modirzadeh, a visionary saxophonist, theorist and composer, has been developing his own style of inter-cultural improvisation for three decades. His mentors and collaborators have included Ornette Coleman, some of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the great Iranian violinist, Mahmoud Zoufonoun.  ETHEL first encountered Modirzadeh in 2007, and the two parties felt an immediate artistic sympathy.

Since that time, Modirzadeh has created a body of work for saxophone, flutes, karna, string quartet, trumpet, santur, tombak, daf, and voice. On July 23, 2011 nine musicians came together to perform this music at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. The lineup included ETHEL, Mili Bermejo (Mexican Argentinian jazz vocalist), Amir ElSaffar (Iraqi – American trumpeter), Faraz Minooei (Iranian santur player), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (Iranian percussionist), and the composer himself on saxophone and Karna. The unforgettable event, which Modirzadeh entitled In Convergence Liberation, was met with enthusiasm from a large audience, and all nine artists spent the following two days together at Open Path Studios in San Jose, recording the music for a forthcoming CD.

Matching-SpiritModirzadeh’s work combines fascinating musical and philosophical concepts. “Composting” (a specific type of improvisational dialogue based on pre-existing written material), “matching-spirit” (a process of group improvisation using shared interval structures), “intoning” (a technique of improvising within a unison, playing with the higher partials of the overtone series), “tetramodes” (a carefully calibrated microtonal system based on a synthesis of ancient and modern approaches to intervallic relationships), and  “Makam X”  (an overarching and inter-cultural musical system of various partials of the harmonic series) were some of the techniques that the nine musicians shared and practiced together. Rhythmic meters of 17/4 (5+5+7) –inspired by Persian poetry — were the foundation for improvisations that defied cultural boundaries. Persian modal systems, Iraqi maqam, Andalusian musical traditions, aspects of Indonesian gamelan, and references to western classical composers from the past three centuries were all called upon in this collaboration.

Tetramode
In 2009 Modirzadeh described his musical aesthetic this way: “It begins with a few ideas sounded together, each one in an incomplete fashion, as if light were peering through traditions’ tattered curtains.”  More recently he has started to speak of a “Convergence Liberation Principle,” which is directly inspired by the gathering at Tahrir Square, which he considers “the most concrete and brilliant example”  of Convergence Liberation. Musically speaking, the concept is connected to a dual approach of honing individual style, while also transcending all cultural distinctions. The strategies that we used to translate these concepts into sound were mostly intuitive. We each drew from our own years of discipline in our respective traditions, but we also abandoned that discipline to make ourselves totally vulnerable. The process was mysterious, but we could all clearly feel a deep connection to our nature as social animals. For a few days we rejected the concepts of right and wrong; instead, we created a group dynamic based entirely on trust.
Members of the Convergence Liberation Band
(From left: Cornelius Dufallo, Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh, Mary Rowell, Dorothy Lawson, Ralph Farris,  Amir ElSaffar, Hafez Modirzadeh)

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