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April 2015

Vijay Iyer Trio at The Jazz Standard

by Nick Stubblefield

Vijay Iyer, Jazz Standard
Photo by Stephen Pisano

In his still-young career, Vijay Iyer has amassed an impressive set of credentials, and is known for pushing creative boundaries beyond what's generally accepted as jazz. Personally, I'd heard little of Vijay's music before, so when I stepped into the Jazz Standard to catch his trio last Wednesday, I had little idea of what to expect. To Iyer's credit, he makes music unlike any I've ever heard. 

Iyer was joined on stage, as usual, by Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Crump was the standout, giving a high-energy, all-in performance -- a contrast to Iyer's somewhat-rigid performance style: clean, precise, calculated. He stuck to his own post-modern material, never falling back on standards that casual jazz fans might be familiar with. It was experimental, in the best sense of the word.

The night began with a playful, highly syncopated work, with plenty of interplay between Iyer and Crump. Despite odd meters and unpredictable rhythms, the piece grooved hard. In fact, much of the program was filled with toe-thumping grooves.

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Julia Wolfe Wins the Pulitzer Prize for "Anthracite Fields"

Julia Wolfe and John Adams, New World Symphony
Somehow, I missed last week's announcement that Julia Wolfe, co-founder of Bang on a Can, won this year's Pulitzer Prize for her oratorio Anthracite Fields, inspired by the coal miners near where she grew up Pennsylvania. With this award, Julia becomes the second of the three BOAC founders (after David Lang), as well as the second woman in three years, to win the Pulitzer. And, with last year's winning composition, John Luther Adams' Become Ocean, having been released on BOAC's Canteloupe Music label, there seems to be little question that the award has completed its shift away from the academic stranglehold it once suffered under. 

In speaking with NPR's Tom Huizenga, Wolfe conveys the significance of the Pulitzer, both for her and for musicians:

"I've always been someone who challenges the system and tries to reach for something beyond the status quo, not do business as usual. This idea that you go your own route is very strong inside of me and so when you get recognition, the thing that is gratifying is that somebody says, 'Hey that's great. We appreciate what you're striving for.' This is one of those moments where the light shines on that so I would hope it supports that, supports reaching for something outside of the box."

A brief preview of Anthracite Fields and an excerpt below. 

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Duke @116

10071-DEL-ICON-flatDuke Ellington, who was born this day in 1899, was by any measure the greatest composer this country has ever produced. Over a career that spanned more than half of a century, Ellington composed more than 1,000 works, many of which belonged more in concert halls than jazz clubs (which is where they ended up; see below.) In an era when jazz wasn't considered "real" music, Ellington, through his charm and sheer productivtity, proved otherwise. (Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 but no award was given; he was posthumously awarded a special Pulitzer in 1999.)

Since the day I launched this site, I've had a quote from Duke at the top of the page which sums up our general approach: "There are two kinds of music: good music...and the other kind." Eight years on, I believe that more than ever. 

In case some of you out there might still need convincing, check our this concert by the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1958. As good as it gets. 


Australian Chamber Orchestra at Zankel Hall

Australian Chamber OrchestraThe chamber orchestra is a unique musical animal, combining the fleetness of a string quartet with the power of a full symphony orchestra. Once the standard performance ensemble of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the chamber orchestra has experienced a renaissance e over the past few decades, courtesy of crack bands like the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and New York's own Orchestra of St. Luke's

Add to that list the Australian Chamber Orchestra, who performed Sunday afternoon at Carnegie's Zankel Hall. Regarded as one of Australia's leading ensembles since it was founded 40 years ago, the ACO has been led for the past 25 years by lead violinist and artistic director Richard Tognetti, who performs with the buoyant enthusiasm of someone half his age.

The ACO began with Tognetti's own string arrangement of Prokofiev's piano cycle Visions fugitives, Op. 22. Performing while standing, the ACO, dressed stylishly in black, exuded energy and confidence in this music, filled with Russian fire. 

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