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March 2017

April 2017

Jazz Preview: Kevin Eubanks at Birdland/ Vijay Iyer and Friends at The Greene Space

EubanksPhoto Credit: WEMU

Kevin Eubanks might be best remembered for the 15 years he spent as the bandleader on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but his career as one of today's leading jazz guitarists goes all the way back to the early 1980's, when he played with such luminaries as Art Blakey, Slide HamptonMcCoy Tyner and others. Eubanks is appearing all this week at Birdland in support of his new release, East West Time Line with an all-star lineup featuring Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Dave Holland (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums). Tickets and info on the Birdland website.

Polymath pianist Vijay Iyer keeps a pretty busy schedule, but that didn't stop him from accepting the directorship of this year's Ojai Music Festival in California, where he's curated a lineup that reflects his own varied interests in jazz, classical and beyond. Tomorrow night at the WNYC Greene Space, Vijay offers an Ojai preview with several of this year's performers, including composer-trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, drummer-composer Tyshawn Sorey, violinist Jennifer Koh, and pioneering composer/scholar George Lewis. Tickets and info available on the Greene Space website.

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Opera Cabal Performs Ken Ueno's AEOLUS at National Sawdust

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There is a change happening in opera. Once the province of coloratura sopranos and heldentenors belting at the top of their lungs, opera is beginning to embrace all sorts of singing and instrumentation, including colloquial styles you might associate more with Music Hall of Williamsburg than the Met. Du Yun's Angel's Bone, which just won the Pulitzer Prize, weaves together everything from plainchant and Renaissance music to screaming punk rock songs (sung by Elysian Fields' Jennifer Charles.)

Ken Ueno's AEOLUS, which had it's premiere last Friday at National Sawdust, is a series of impressionistic scenes cobbled together from Greek mythology, literary fragments and Ueno's own hazy memories. Ueno appeared throughout, both in ponderous voiceover and in person, wandering around the stage mumbling and throat singing through a megaphone, occasionally playing a drum sample on his iPhone. FLUX Quartet played music that alternated between eerie dissonance and Morton Feldman-like drone. 

But, the clear standout of this performance was Majel Connery, who sings in a sultry, low voice that sounds like a cross between Fiona Apple and Portishead's Beth Gibbons. Connery's stylized voice is many things: intoxicating, exotic, hypnotic (as in the song/aria/whatever "There is No One Like You"). What it is not, by the narrowest of definitions, is operatic, though Connery did demonstrate moments of lyricism as she navigated AEOLUS' higher ranges. 

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Britten's War Requiem at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

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"My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity ...

All a poet can do today is warn."

- Wilfred Owen

At first, I thought the timing of Thursday's performance of Benjamin Britten's War Reqiuem at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine - in early Spring, with the forsythia and daffodils sprouting - was a bit odd. But, as the Rev. Patrick Malloy, St. John the Divine's Canon for Liturgy & the Arts, reminded us before the performance, April 6 was the 100th anniversary of the day the United States entered into World War I - the same war that Wilfred Owen, whose poetry Britten weaves through the Latin Mass for the Dead, fought and died in. Rev. Malloy also made note of Tuesday's chemical weapons attack in Syria, emphasizing that the horrors of war are still around us. (More on that later.)

The War Requiem, as noted in several previous performances, is without question one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century: a majestic work of searing power and sublime, oracular rapture. Here, the combined choirsters of St. John the Divine, the Manhattan School of Music Choir, and the Oratorio Society of New York - all led by Director of Cathedral Music Kent Tritle - delivered a visceral performance that was done in only by the overly-reverberant acoustics of the soaring cathedral interior (which were also apparently an issue at the work's premiere in 1962.) Among the soloists, Met Soprano Susanna Phillips - who impressed in Britten's Peter Grimes in 2013 - was the clear standout; she was joined by tenor John Matthew Myers and baritone Matthew Worth.

I was grabbing a slice nearby afterwards when a TV broadcast the news that we had just launched a military strike against Syria,m; it had apparently taken place during the performance. Britten's message at that moment could not have been more resonant - or more foreboding. No matter how many times we hear it, we never seem to learn.

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