ALBUM REVIEW: First by yMusic & Son Lux

by Seth Tompkins

First, a collaboration between the chamber ensemble yMusic and Ryan Lott, the founder of Son Lux, is a unified expression of a narrow set of aesthetics. That is not to say that First lacks depth; on the contrary, First explores its chosen aesthetics comprehensively. The result is a release that listens like a concept album. Therefore, it is no surprise to see that yMusic’s stated goal for this project was to “build a record of chamber music which emulates the flow and structure of a rock album.” At that, they have succeeded.

Like other releases that are designed to work as wholes, First is best absorbed in one sitting. The expressive nuances and subtle aesthetic variations that fade in and out throughout the album are much more apparent when the music is taken as a whole. Of course, most of the tracks are quite effective on their own, too.

The compositional predilections of Ryan Lott are obvious in First.  In particular, the use of “repetitive structures,” background “pads” of sound, and the emergence of a noticeably more expressive lead line are frequent in First. Also present is the technique of juxtaposing highly active and fast accompaniment figures with bass lines and harmonic pads moving at a much slower speed on top of the same rhythmic framework. The difference here is that the overriding use of acoustic instruments by yMusic creates a different flavor of intimacy than that seen in the music of Son Lux. The two are certainly related, but also deliciously different.

 

There are a few moments when compositional elements not seen in Son Lux’s music make appearances on First. The most notable of these is the inclusion of contrapuntal writing in Sunset Boulevard. Perhaps the slightly more “classical” flavor of yMusic’s setup inspired Lott to lean more on this technique largely associated with music of the past. Whatever the genesis, it works.

Ryan Lott’s love of acoustic instruments is obvious in the music of Son Lux. Furthermore, it seems that he has found a perfect partner with whom to explore that interest more deeply in yMusic. The players of yMusic execute Lott’s with remarkable facility and fearlessness. The woodwind technique on First deserves special praise, as does the trumpet playing. Many of the licks on this album are beyond tricky, but yMusic makes them seem like no big deal.  This attention to excellence and detail is absolutely necessary in order for Lott’s intricate musical designs to sparkle.

One particularly pleasing element of this project is how the first and last tracks (Eleven and Paris, respectively) encapsulate the release as a whole. While the last piece includes some of the familiar characteristics of the first, it is tempered with elements of the intervening tracks. This synthesis of ideas yields a satisfying conclusion that recalls the boldness of the opening while remaining informed by the complexity of the entire album.

Moments that are both simple and beautiful are rare in First, and most of them dissolve or morph into moments of increased emotional complexity. While these simple moments are cathartic, the real beauty here is in the complexity and tension that leads from one exhalation to the next.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, October 14 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

1045-bates-cover-1600Mason Bates: Mothership (BMOP/sound)

Some combinations are wonderful despite the unintuitive relationship of their component parts.  Mason Bates’s Mothership contains such a combination.  You wouldn’t think that live electronics, a full orchestra, and NASA spaceship sound samples would go well together with the sound of the guzheng, but they do.  So sit back, grab some cream cheese for that hot-dog, and enjoy Mothership. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10am hour today to hear this piece.


Philip Glass: Etude No.12; Bruce Levingston, piano (Sono Luminus)

dsl-92205-dreaming-awake-coverI‘m a total nut for minimalism and usually turn to it when working, running, cooking, commuting, exploring, just about anything. So, I was thrilled to discover Dreaming Awake, a recently released 2-disc journey of Philip Glass’ piano music guided by Bruce Levingston. Ten of his etudes are tucked in between and around The Illusionist Suite, Wichita Vortex Suite (with guest vocals from Ethan Hawke), Dreaming Awake, and Metamorphosis No.2, for an asymmetric but balanced collection.

I hope you catch Etude No.12 on Second Inversion today. Whereas his first 10 etudes were written primarily as exercises for improving technique, his later etudes are more expressive and emotional. No.12 to me is characteristically “Glass” in many ways – repetitive, steady, with rhythmic, driving arpeggios, and also a somber depth. The musical colors are incredibly poignant in this tribute to American painter Chuck Close, who temporary lost (but later regained) the ability to paint due to a spinal aneurysm. Glass depicts this emotional battle in the music, Levingston communicates it with is playing, and the producers at Sono Luminus record it with such mastery, yielding a stand-out new release in the contemporary classical realm. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Stephen Suber: Soleil; Ars Brunensis Chorus (Centaur)

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The best music is music that convinces you there is no other music in the world.  This week Stephen Suber’s “Soleil” did that for me.  He describes the composition as “an orchestral piece without the orchestra,” using only the dynamic human voice to create rhythms and harmonies that grow more complex as the piece continues.  Baritones sub as the double bass, tenors become cellos, and percussion is provided by plosives, sibilants, and fricatives.  This composition is from his album Starlit and, when asked about it in an interview, Suber refers specifically to “Soleil” when he states that the singers “came so close to reading my mind.  They nailed it.”  With a review like that it’s no wonder he cites this as his favorite work from the album! – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Richard Reed Parry: Heart and Breath Sextet;  yMusic and Nico Muhly
(Deutsche Grammophon)

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Richard Reed Parry is one of those musicians who really writes from the heart—in this case, literally. His “Heart and Breath Sextet” throws all time signatures out the window and instead instructs the performers to play, well, to the beat of their hearts.

The piece comes from his introspective opus, Music for Heart and Breath: a series of compositions which uses the performers’ hearts and lungs as the performance parameters. Each musician is instructed to play with a stethoscope (and very quietly) in order to stay in sync with their own heartbeat, thus resulting in a beautifully irregular ebb and flow—a soft and serene watercolor come to life.

And as you can imagine, no two hearts beat exactly in time. For this sextet, performed by yMusic with Nico Muhly on piano, the result is a pointillistic effect: starts and stops are staggered, melodies fall out of sync with one another, harmonies bend delicately up and down.

And every once in a while, one of those softly sighing melodies falls in sync with your own heart and breath—a gentle reminder of just how musical it is to be alive. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.

ALBUM REVIEW: Balter/Saunier by Deerhoof and Ensemble Dal Niente

by Jill Kimball

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We live in a world where musical groups of every genre often craft signature sounds in order to make themselves more marketable. That’s all well and good for those who find one band’s sound and fall in love with it. But for those of us who prefer unpredictable music, it gets monotonous.

If you fall into the latter group, you probably appreciate the rare but always exciting cross-genre partnership—that glorious moment when two musical groups from different realms team up and produce something truly original. Sometimes it happens with Sufjan Stevens and yMusic. Other times, genres cross within the same family, as has happened with classical pianist Jeffrey Kahane and his more indie-inclined son, Gabriel.

This time around, the collaboration is a jointly-produced full album by the Chicago-based chamber collective Ensemble Dal Niente and the San Francisco avant-rock band Deerhoof. The two groups had an unlikely meeting in 2012 and found common musical ground immediately…so together they set to work on a recording project with Brazilian-American composer Marcos Balter. The result is an album that is by turns ambient and avant-garde, rocking and bebop-ing, lilting and crazed…in a good way.

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Deerhoof.

The centerpiece of the album is Balter’s “MeltDown Upshot,” an incredible mashup of musical genres from across the globe. In other hands, this piece might sound overwhelming, but Deerhoof and Dal Niente are just chill enough to make it work.

The first two movements of “MeltDown Upshot” could be classified as ambient, but don’t mistake the word “ambient” for “boring.” The dreamy opening, “Credo,” spills seamlessly into “Parallel Spaces,” still floaty but with a tinge of sinister foreshadowing. “Ready,” with its frenetic Chick Corea-like jazziness, erratic meter and hazy lyrics (“I dream of sound in color / I dream of light in sounds”) is a sonic outlier in this piece and seems to represent the meltdown at its manic climax. A more organized mania comes in “True-False,” a fast-paced, string-plucking homage to Philip Glass-style repetition. The piece calms down again with “Home,” a delightfully indie take on João Gilberto’s Brazilian bossa nova. The last two movements take us back to the strange, dreamy vibes of the beginning. The sixth movement, “Cherubim,” is the clear highlight of the piece, somehow gathering all of Balter’s jazz, pop, rock and avant-garde influences together into three minutes of pure indie-rock bliss. With its driving percussion, earnest and unpolished vocals and wholly unique instrumentation, I have no doubt university radio hosts all over the country will be clamoring to get their hands on the single.

Ensemble Dal Niente.

Ensemble Dal Niente.

Balter’s other piece on the album, “Pois Que Nada Que Dure, Ou Que Durando,” is set to text by Ricardo Reis (one of the many pseudonyms of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa). It’s a simultaneously gloomy and carefree ode to the transience of life, a proclamation that it’s worthless to focus on the uncertain future and much better to live in the moment. In this piece, we’re transported back to the creepy ambience that bookends “MeltDown Upshot” with despondent, ghostly vocals and minimal instrumentation.

The album closes with a 20-minute suite called “Deerhoof Chamber Variations” by the band’s drummer, Greg Saunier. It seems to pull together a few elements of Balter’s major piece—there are some repeated pizzicato sections and moments of sinister dissonance—while also referencing melodic themes from Deerhoof’s more well-known songs. It’s really fun to hear their music reworked with harp, brass and strings; it lends the music a whole different, albeit mellower and more ethereal than usual, edge.

It’s such a treat to hear two very different musical groups jam together and take rare sonic risks. Based on the quality and depth of the music heard on Balter/Saunier, I don’t think this will be the last we hear of the Deerhoof/Dal Niente collective.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts Seth, Geoffrey, and Maggie M. each share a favorite selection from the Friday 4/15/16 playlist! Tune in at the indicated times below to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Lisa Bielawa: “Hurry” from The Lay of the Love (Innova)

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Lisa Bielawa’s Hurry is a breathless recounting of the composer’s impressions of a Boris Pasternak poem, translated to English from the original Russian. I love how Bielawa seamlessly transitions from the sparse, bare and wide-open chamber music textures of the work’s opening sections to the larger, lyrical, almost orchestral sounds later in the piece. It’s an all-star cast on this recording, featuring some of my favorite powerhouse musicians such as pianist Benjamin Hochmann and clarinetist Anthony McGill. – Geoffrey Larson

Check out the first stanza from Boris Pasternak’s poem:

Hurry, my verses, hurry; never
have I so needed you before.
Round the corner there’s a house
where the days have broken rank.
Comfort there’s none and all work’s stopped
and there they weep, ponder and wait.

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this recording.


Shara Nova: “A Whistle, A Tune, A Macaroon” from yMusic’s Beautiful Mechanical (New Amsterdam)

homepage_large.cbf92e9bComposer, songwriter, and mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Shara Worden recently changed her name to Shara Nova—and it couldn’t be more appropriate. In Hebrew, Shara means “song”—a pretty serendipitous name for a singer-songwriter—and in Latin, Nova means “new.”

Throughout her career as a full-time contemporary classical chameleon, she has recreated herself and her music again and again, exploring the furthest reaches of the classical genre. She’s created and fronted her own avant-garde rock band, My Brightest Diamond, composed and starred in her own 21st century baroque chamber opera, “You Us We All,” and collaborated with composers and artists as diverse as the Decemberists, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Sufjan Stevens, Colin Stetson, David Byrne, and many, many more.

“A Whistle, A Tune, A Macaroon” showcases a collaboration with another powerful force in contemporary classical: yMusic. Though we don’t get to hear any of Nova’s vocals on this track, her soaring, songlike melodies and keen ear for experimentation are unmistakable in this composition. Exotic flute and clarinet idioms dance above pizzicato basslines to create a new work that is every bit as whimsical as its title. Suffice it to say, it’s a new song you do not want to miss. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this recording.


Matt McBane: “imagining winter” from Build (New Amsterdam)

build-buildViolinist and composer Matt McBane’s ensemble Build is a favorite of mine. This week, I’m pleased to present you with their track imagining winter, composed by McBane. I’ve been very busy lately, so I’ve been focused on keeping my head down and digging in to make it through to Memorial Day weekend.  That is why I connected with this particular piece this week; this music seems to be the sonic equivalent of my recent state of mind. More generally, with characteristics of minimalism, cinematic music (a la Les Triplettes de Belleville), and subdued jazz elements, this piece is an excellent soundtrack for your solitary urban adventures, whether that means a focused day at the office or a surreptitious exploration of forbidden places. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this recording.

 

New Music Concerts: March 2016 Seattle * Eastside * Tacoma

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list drop us a line at least 6 weeks prior to the event.

Program Insert - March 2016 - onesided

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

Seattle Composers’ Salon
Informal presentation/discussion of works by Jeremiah Lawson, Sean Osborn, Nicole Truesdell, Neil Welch & Marcin Paczkowski.
Friday, 3/4, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

STG Presents: José González (Seattle Premiere) with yMusic
González’s melodies & lyrics will be reframed by new chamber orchestra arrangements in a collaboration with yMusic.
Sunday, 3/6, 7:30pm, Moore Theatre | $37.50 (+ fees)

Inverted Space: Mystery Concert (Long Piece Fest)
For those looking for a bit of an aural adventure, this concert’s works will be announced from the stage.
Tuesday, 3/8, 7:30pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

Universal Language Project: SCRAPE
The innovative ensemble Scrape (15 bowed strings, harp & electric guitar) perform new works by Jim Knapp and Brian Chin.
Friday, 3/11, 8pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue (3/11) | $10-25
Saturday, 3/12, 8pm, Velocity Dance Center (3/12) | $15-25

Northwest Sinfonietta: Mass in the Time of War
Artistic Partner David Lockington conducts Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis alongside music by Haydn and Mendelssohn.
Friday, 3/11, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall (3/11) | $20-40
Saturday, 3/12, 7:30pm Rialto Theatre, Tacoma (3/12)| $20-60
Sunday, 3/13, 2pm, Pioneer Park Pavillion, Puyallup (3/13) | $40

STG Presents: Well Strung
An evening of string quartet music fusing pop and classical music from Madonna to Beethoven.
Wednesday, 3/16, 8pm, Neptune Theatre | $28 (+ fees)

UW World Series: Jeremy Denk, piano
This MacArthur “Genius” Fellow performs music by Bach, Bolcom, Tatum, Ives, and much more in between.
Friday, 3/18, 7:30pm, Meany Hall | $45-50

The American String Project Chamber Players
Barry Lieberman, Maria Larionoff, and friends reunite to perform Ligeti’s String Quartet No.1 and Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op.127.
Friday, 3/18, 7:30pm, Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Seattle Rock Orchestra: Electric Light Orchestra Tribute
SRO pays tribute to their upbeat and imaginative compositions, drawing from their extensive discography.
Saturday, 3/19, 8pm, Kirkland Performance Center | $40

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Director’s Choice
A performance of new ballet works featuring music by American singer/songwriters including Andrew Bird & Sufjan Stevens.
Various days, 3/18-27, McCaw Hall | $37-142

NW Symphony Orchestra: Poteat, Benn, Beyer, Medina & more
This program features female composers Angelique Poteat, Hanna Benn, & Kari Medina and soprano soloist Alexandra Picard.
Saturday, 3/19, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church | $12-15

Washington Wind Symphony: Of Commoners and Kings
This program will showcase David Holsinger’s dynamic composition In the Spring, at the Time When Kings Go Off to War.
Sunday, 3/20, 2pm, Kirkland Performance Center | $6-16

Tacoma Symphony Orchestra: Water Passion After St. Matthew
TSO presents the Water Passion by Tan Dun, a refreshing blend of Western classical music & traditional Chinese ritual.
Sunday, 3/20, 2:30pm, Pantages Theatre, Tacoma | $12-80

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Videos of 2015

2015 was all about the videos here at Second Inversion! We hosted 22 recording sessions and produced a total of 44 videos! We connected with musicians from Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Montreal, Los Angeles, Austin, Paris, Denmark, Malaysia, Colombia, and Indonesia! You can peruse them all on our video page, but here are the top 5…

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#5: Third Coast Percussion and Joshua Roman at Town Hall, Seattle

#4: Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz at the Tractor Tavern

#3: yMusic in our studios

#2: Friction Quartet in our studios

#1: Ashley Bathgate (Bang on a Can All-Stars) in our studios

Stay tuned for videos in 2016 of local musicians playing Steve Reich, SO Percussion, Gabriel Kahane w/ Brooklyn Rider, and more!