Posts Tagged “New Amsterdam”

VictoireCD cover

Cathedral City

music of Missy Mazzoli

New Amsterdam Records


Victoire is Missy Mazzoli: compositions, keyboards, piano, melodica, toys; Olivia De Prato: violin; Lorna Krier: keyboards; Eileen Mack: clarinet; Eleonore Oppenheim: double bass, electric bass

  1. A Door into the Dark
  2. i am coming for my things
  3. Cathedral City
  4. Like a Miracle
  5. The Diver
  6. A Song for Mick Kelly
  7. A Song for Arthur Russell
  8. India Whiskey

Victoire is an ensemble that is hard to categorize. On the one hand, this is an instrumental chamber group that (on this album) is championing the music of one of its members. Mazzoli’s compositional voice is clear and focused, she definitely has something to say. The textures of the music, the timbres in the ensemble, the use of synthesizers and electronics, though, make Victoire appear less like a conventional chamber ensemble and more like a “band.” Unlike Build, a similar genre-bending group on the same label, Victoire’s connection to either the “chamber music” or “popular music” worlds is much more fluid. You can love or hate this group based on whichever camp you find yourself.

But enough about what Victoire is not. Mazzoli’s compositions are smooth and flowing with a aura of emotional detachment. Harmonies are comforting, long lyrical lines are abundant, and Mazzoli finds exciting ways to provide rhythmic propulsion without a dedicated percussionist. The music simmers. Distorted guitar in A Song for Mick Kelly could have plunged that track into some real spleen-venting thrash but Mazzoli shows excellent restraint and control. This isn’t minimalism, this isn’t pop, this is simply Mazzoli. Her compositional voice is distinct and highly listenable. Events unfold slowly, unhurried, but never lagging or taking too long.

Each player in Victoire blends extremely well with the various synth and electronic sounds that form the sound world of each track. I am especially drawn to the juxtaposition of bubbling synths and the lyrical line of the double bass in Like a Miracle. The various breathy and hollow synth sounds are well chosen for their blend.

Many vocal elements permeate the compositions but again, there is a distancing of those emotionally charged elements from the listener. i am coming for my things replicates an answering machine message rich with emotional potential. India Whiskey uses the same technique of distancing a vocal element by manipulating a “number station” recording of a male voice counting over radio static. This static becomes the rhythmic motivator of the track as well as a timbral touchstone for the synths and instruments. I fear that a lot of the discussion about Victoire is going to revolve around the “what are they/what aren’t they.” I would much rather put that conversation aside and focus on their product: Intriguing music of our time, expertly crafted, performed, and produced.

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Build  CD Cover


Music by Matt McBane

New Amsterdam Records

  • Behavior Patterns
  • Dissolve
  • Ride
  • Swelter
  • Cleave
  • Anchor
  • Maintain

Build is Andrea Lee, cello; Ben Campbell, bass; Matt McBane, violin/composer; Michael Cassedy, piano; Adam D. Gold, drums/percussion.

Build’s second album is far from sophomoric.  I had the pleasure of reviewing their first album and I find this second release to keep all the best aspects of Matt McBane’s compositional voice and add more sophisticated instrumental textures and more compelling dramatic shapes. The strings have a more distributed use of pizzicato and bowed playing, tracks feature more subsets of the ensemble, the percussion is invigorated with a restrained use of the drum set and a broader sound palette of percussion instruments, and in general McBane employs more variety in the orchestrational vocabulary.  While each track stands squarely on its own, there are plenty of distinct dramatic chunks that cross over individual track boundaries. The ensemble plays with a tight sound, everyone in sync with the needs of the music before them.

Behavior Patterns establishes a fairly static yet compelling harmonic world.  Build does us the favor of NOT resolving these harmonies and just lets us chill in them for a while.  Dissolve then dissipates the tension left over from Behavior Patterns. In some ways, I hear a fond connection to side-scrolling video game music in the driving sections of Dissolve (I could totally play Ninja Gaiden to this) and a wonderful sense of release as Dissolve splashes down and does what the title suggested it was going to do.  Ride is a mellow flowing melodic interlude before the meatier Swelter set gets going.

The three Swelter tracks work as a single dramatic arc (fast, slow, fast) and Swelter 3 has been made available for free download. Swelter 1‘s frenetic and irregular groove is infinitely listenable, especially as the texture thins and the soaring cello melody rises over the top of said groove. Swelter 2 turns to lighter and thinner textures and Swelter 3 turns the grooves back on.  These three tracks emulate one of the points of growth in this disc; all three are scored for cello, piano, and drums.  Within that subset of Build, Matt McBane finds additional textural life and a true chamber music sense of discourse.  You don’t realize that the ensemble is pared down at all.

I hear a similar multi-track arc in the end of the album.  Cleave is, to be blunt, f*$&ing incredible.  The simplest materials (piano ostinato, tight and irregular glissandi in the strings, militaristic drums) grow and build and expand inexorably to Cleave’s high point.  The music is haunting, sorrowful, mesmerizing, and hits me in an intensely personal space.  When it starts, I can do nothing but listen. Following Cleave, Anchor is the most abstract and disjointed work.  The replacement of vibraphone for drum set and the fragmented ensemble (often in disjointed pairs and trios) keep the track lively but without a massively driving force. Fragments of distorted cello bubble under the surface, glassy and timeless intervals hang in the air, the bass gets expressive bowed lines, hocketing abounds in the middle; the whole piece seems to be the ensemble asking the “what haven’t we done on this album yet” question and creating elegant answers.  To end the disc, Maintain is Build at its most straight forward.  Resonant open intervals pulse forever forward, pushing the album towards a very satisfying harmonic and gestural goal.  The directness of the line may come across to some as slightly corny in a quasi-film score sort of way but I thoroughly enjoy the plain and direct motion.  After the ride we’ve had since Cleave I find the stable and hypnotic push towards the end the perfect closer.

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CD coverNewspeak

sweet light crude

New Amsterdam Records

listen to the album online here

  • Oscar Bettison: B&E (with aggravated assault)
  • Stefan Weisman: I Would Prefer Not To
  • David T. Little: sweet light crude
  • Missy Mazzoli: In Spite of All This
  • Pat Muchmore: Brennschluß
  • Caleb Burhans: Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI

Caleb Burhans, violin; Mellissa Hughes, voice; James Johnston, piano, synth, organ; Taylor Levine, guitar; David T. Little, director, drums; Eileen Mack, co-director, clarinets; Brian Snow, cello; Yuri Yamashita, percussion.

Newspeak website

The amplified and politically-charged ensemble Newspeak puts its best feet forward in their first album.  First we fall victim to Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with aggravated assault), showing what happens when Cheating, Lying, Stealing grows up, smokes PCP, grabs a crowbar, and heads out lookin’ for a good time.  The aggressive and driving texture abates a bit but maintains a strained and tense tone throughout.  The work starts strong and escalates towards a speed-metal influenced frenzy of epic proportions.  A double pedal on the kick drum sounds mandatory for performance.  B&E is a raw and visceral experience but it also showcases the ensemble’s blend and cohesion in a remarkable way.

Newspeak is not a one-trick pony.  Stefan Weisman’s I Would Prefer Not To, influenced by “Bartleby the Scrivener,” is as trance-inducing as B&E was spleen-venting.  Mellissa Hughes restricts her voice for a perfect blend with the glassy sound world and detached affect present in the piece.  The title track of the disc, David T. Little’s sweet light crude, also features Ms. Hughes’ vocal talents but this time she is able to open her instrument up more with a more full and expressive sound.  This love song hits all the marks one would expect from a Broadway rock opera except that its subject is oil.  I find the aesthetic crosses a toe over the line of cheesy a few too many times for my taste but the overall package is attractive and engaging.

One of the great unifying features of this disc, and Newspeak in general, is their political message.  I don’t mean that you should listen to their music because of their political message, but rather that Newspeak is making music that is relevant to today’s topics and tastes.  Sometimes the political message is overt, as in sweet light crude, but other times the messages are more oblique and open to interpretation.  The focus is primarily on great art as opposed to propaganda.

In Spite Of All This hinges on a repetitive sigh figure in the violin while the ensemble springs to life and recontextualizes the solo.  Caleb Burhans breathes exquisite emotional life into the line, making it always sound like an organic entity no matter how many times we hear it.  Missy Mazzoli’s compositional voice is strong and I find this piece more attractive every time I listen to it.

Pat Muchmore’s toccata Brennschluß captures the energy of a firing rocket as well as the feeling of something hanging weightless in the atmosphere.  Ensemble blend is again at a premium here in both the rough and prickly rhythmic sections and the smoother floating moments.  Mellissa Hughes’ voice crafts this work into a rugged and tightly constructed monodrama influenced by a certain amount of thrash metal.

The final track, Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI, directs the ensemble towards the sullen and morose.  The electric guitar is the dominant melodic voice and Taylor Levine transmits the mood in exemplary fashion.  The musical language is more “crossover-friendly” for lack of a better term.  Tonality is in play, the sad mood is directly communicated, and it is easy to mentally picture workers leaving the plant for the last time.  The piece ends with an unresolved feeling, almost inviting you to loop the CD and start over (which I usually do).

This is not a collection of composers and composer/performers writing posthumously but instead a gathering of topical works in an unabashedly contemporary language.  I have no doubt that, as Newspeak continues to pursue this path, the works that come out will be works that endure.  Groups like Newspeak make me laugh in the face of the “Classical Music Dead” folks.

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