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The New York Philharmonic Returns to Live Performance at The Shed

by Steven Pisano

New York Philharmonic at The Shed, 4/15/21(All photographs by Steven Pisano)

The year 2020 will be remembered as a vacuum in the New York City performing arts world for quite some time. For more than a year, the city's varied musical nightlife has been shut down. No soaring violins, no beating drums, no squealing guitars. Considering how profusely rich the city was with music before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is almost too difficult to comprehend how long we have been without live, in-person music.

But recently, the city has begun to experience more and more live performances, both in-and-outdoors, and they could not have come too soon!

Last Thursday, the New York Philharmonic offered their first indoor performance in more a year at The Shed, the cavernous performance space located in the fast-developing Hudson Yards neighborhood. Numerous safety protocols were in place, as they will be for the other live programs The Shed is offering this month, including music and comedy. To gain admittance, all patrons needed to provide proof of full vaccination, or to a recent negative PCR test result. Everyone wore a mask. And, after the concert, the audience was allowed to leave by rows, like students being dismissed from a school auditorium.

For these performances, the Philharmonic was guest-conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, former music director of the L.A. Philharmonic and current conductor of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. Salonen can be a subdued presence on the podium, with hands held high like a bird's wings and little of the fiery gesticulations and stabbing of the air that some other conductors are known for. But it was clear how moved he was to be in front of an audience again, even if that audience was a mere 150 people (in a venue that can hold 1200). In a sign of the times, Salonen read notes from his phone that he had written for the occasion.

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Composer Portrait: Caroline Shaw with Attacca Quartet and So Percussion

by Steven Pisano

20200206-DSC02492(All photos by Steven Pisano)

Simply put: What can't Caroline Shaw do? As a violinist, she seems just as much at home playing a Mozart quartet as she does a sweet Southern spiritual. As a vocalist, both solo and as a member of Roomful of Teeth, her clear, pure voice would be just as at home in church as it would be on a pop stage. And, as a composer, she became youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for Eight Voices; she added a Grammy to her shelf last year for her album Orange, performed by and with the Attacca Quartet. (Check out this live performance of Orange at the Greene Space last April.)

Now 37 years old (though she seems much younger when you meet her) last week's "Composer Portrait" of Shaw at the Miller Theater seemed perfectly timed as a sort of mid-career retrospective. She seems to be working with everybody these days, from the New York Philharmonic (who has commissioned a piece from her as part of its Project 19 initiative celebrating female composers) to Kanye West. And while that kind of range can sometimes come across as gimmicky, for Shaw it is just an organic part of her all-encompassing musical world, wherein collaboration is an essential part of artistic development.

The Miller program was divided into two parts. The first half of the night was devoted to the Attacca Quartet (Amy Schroeder and Dominic Salerni on violins, Nathan Schram on viola, and Andrew Yee on cello) playing three of her string quartets--"Entr'acte" (2011), "Punctum" (2009/2013), and "Blueprint" (2015). Attacca (pronounced a-tock-a) has a special affinity for Shaw's work, which was fully on display last summer when they performed an all-Shaw program for an uptown Crypt Session

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Winter Jazzfest Brooklyn Half-Marathon

 

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Keyon Harrold

 by Dan Lehner

It’s hard to believe, 16 years in and with improvised music culture consistently moving out of Manhattan, that this was Winter Jazzfest’s first foray into Brooklyn, but the Williamsburg/Bushwick terrain felt instantly home and welcoming for a shorter, less expansive, but no less engaging “half-marathon” of performances. The Bushwick venues required a train ride, but the Williamsburg venues were refreshingly close to each other and spacious, making the process accessible and relaxed. 

Though he might be a thoroughly cliche examples of a jazz musician, there aren’t actually a lot of trumpet players who genuinely seem to channel the spirit of Miles Davis, but Keyon Harrold is a notable exception. Harrold’s set at Rough Trade bore some of the hallmarks of the Prince of Darkness - sly and pointed upward climbs, heated and ringing single notes, a sort of devotional energy and rock n’ roll bravado - but with a wide and twisty harmonic palette and 21st century technological attitudes. Harrold even cribbed a little bit of Davis’s wry pop-melodicism, peppering originals with quotes from old classics like “My Favorite Things” and newer classics like OutKast’s “Spottieottiedopalicious”. Not to be boxed in the past though, Harrold ended his set with a blistering rendition of Childish Gambino’s 2018 song “This is America”, translating the unmelodicized trap chorus into a punchy, searing statement.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon - Saturday

by Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

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Greg Osby and Lakecia Benjamin at Le Poisson Rouge

A warm Friday gave way to an even warmer Saturday - making Winter Jazzfest seem almost like Spring Jazzfest, encouraging causal wandering between venues and neighborhoods. Fortunately for attendees, there were plenty of reasons to get out of their comfort zones (literally and physically) to check out what each venue had to offer. 

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L-R: Matt Brewer, Steve Lehman, Damion Reid

Starting at Zinc Bar, saxophonist Steve Lehman’s trio with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid is well-known for its icy precision, darting between the cracks of rhythm and harmony. But the addition of pianist Craig Taborn opened up even further dimensions to Lehman’s aesthetic map. Taborn countered Lehman’s intensity with a certain softness, allowing Lehman’s microtonalities to become even more pronounced, and he even seemed emboldened by the piano’s presence to round out some of the hardcore edges. Nevertheless, velocity was still the name of the game in Lehman’s group, the group’s energy bounding and stopping on a dime, through Lehman’s originals and one particular burning version of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design.”

 

Helen Sung Winter Jazzfest 2020
Helen Sung and Kush Abadey

Over at The Dance, Helen Sung was trying out a new configuration as well with her “Sung With Words” project. Not only was this a new instance for the acclaimed pianist to work with vocals (in this case, the adept and nimble Christie Dashiell) but also to adapt pre-existing text - in this instance, the poetry of former NEA chair Dana Gioia. Giving the audience a preview of the poem first, Sung's adaptations were diverse and layered; interpolations of the text would sometimes be in full, Mingusian avant-blues song form, sometimes reduced to the hush of single notes and cymbal scrapes. The musical landscape was, on its own, intricate enough - Sung utilized saxophonist Steve Wilson not only as a solo voice, but as a harmonic technique, locking in with right hand piano lines in unexpected ways. Not to be left out of the fun, Sung even had Wilson and herself contribute lush background vocals for a tune, giving Dashiell's interpretations even more depth.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2020 - Friday Recap

 

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Charles Altura, left; Jure Pukl, right

by Dan Lehner 

An unseasonable warm spell may have made for an odd environment for Winter Jazzfest this year, but encouraging people to not merely park themselves in one space always yields the best results. The landscape of WJF this year was sprawling but manageable (the festival no longer utilized the New School auditoriums but a series of relatively convenient galleries and performance spaces in NoHo and the villages) and there was plenty of reason to go wandering.

Jure Pukl kicked off an early set at The Dance (a new addition to the map) with a stimulating quintet set. Pukl’s music had a maximalist, go-for-broke inventive quality built around easy-to-latch-onto ideas, anchoring the ambition of its performers with a catchy ideas, preventing it from losing focus. A robust tenor player, Pukl made long ropes of dense harmonies through the range of his horn, but was also adroit at a melodic gentleness. The same can be said of his bandmates: vibraphonist Joel Ross did a tremendous job of coalescing exciting melodic ideas out of the knotty logic of Pukl’s music and guitarist Charles Altura nestled his wide swath of intervallic ideas within the scope of prettiness and taste.

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