Seda Roeder’s Black and White Statements (CD Review)

Black and White Statements: The Austrian Sound of Piano Today

Seda Roeder, piano

Gramola

The follow-up to Listening to Istanbul, Seda Roeder’s CD spotlighting Turkish composers, Black and White Statements provides a wide-ranging overview of Austrian composers who write for the piano. Roeder is a champion of composers of many nationalities and stylistic backgrounds. On Black and White Statements, a couple of the works are quite severe; in particular, Mattias Kranebitter’s Drei nihilistische Etüden über eine Liebe der Musikindustrie is a tough sit. But most composers prove themselves adventurous and thoughtful, rather than assaultive, in crafting their miniatures. Many ably employ Roeder’s considerable prowess.

For example, Liszten to … Totentanz doesn’t settle for a pun(-chline) to win over listeners; it is clever, well-crafted music as well. The piece, by Johanna Doderer, channels the virtuosity of the Liszt work it cites into a postmodern cascade of ostinati that serves as departure and wry comment on the original. Similarly, Dla Rajun by Manuela Karer pits jazzy chordal interjections against more vigorous textural moments and passagework to create a witty juxtaposition of elements. Other composers are decidedly less interested in conventional pianism. Karlheinz Essl’s aphoristic Take the C Train uses the piano as a percussion instrument and allows Roeder the chance to evoke some train horn like keening from it as well. On the other hand, Rupert Huber’s Teardrops IIa lavishes traditional imagery upon the listener; but his reliance on irregularly repeated patterns and distant-sounding resonances allow the “teardrop” motif to avoid lapsing into sentimentality.

All in all, Black and White Statements suggests that the piano miniature remains a lively laboratory for compositional ingenuity, and that there’s much of that to be found in Austria.

31 Memorable Recordings from 2013

File Under ?’s Best Recordings of 2013 (in no particular order)

Yvar Mikhashoff, Panorama of American Piano Music (Mode)

Robert Levin and Ursula Oppens, Piano Music 1960-2010 – Bernard Rands (Bridge)

New York Polyphony, Time Go By Turns (BIS)

Julia Holter, Loud City Song (Domino)

Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner, Signs, Games, and Messages (Cedille)

Christopher O’Riley, O’Riley’s Liszt (Oxingale)

Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)

Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven (Warp)

Lewis Spratlan, The Architect (Navona)

Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)

Stile Antico, The Phoenix Rising (Harmonia Mundi)

Gloria Cheng, Calder Quartet, The Edge of Light – Messiaen/Saariaho (Harmonia Mundi)

Pierre Boulez, Complete Works (DG)

Phosphorescent, Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

The Knife, Shaking the Habitual (Rabid)

Ian Pace, The History of Photography in Sound – Michael Finnissy (Métier)

Chris Thile, Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1 – J.S. Bach (Nonesuch)

BMOP, Lamia – Jacob Druckman (BMOP Sound)

Joshua Perkins et al., Inuksuit – John Luther Adams (Cantaloupe)

Jeremy Denk, Goldberg Variations – J.S. Bach (Nonesuch)

Ensemble musikFabrik, Tongue of the Invisible – Liza Lim (Wergo)

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Shadow Man (ECM)

Craig Taborn Trio, Chants (ECM)

Carolin Widmann, Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, Violin and Orchestra – Morton Feldman (ECM)

Matt Mitchell, Fiction (Pi)

Bryn Roberts, Fables (Nine Eight)

Caroline Chin and Brian Snow, Tre Duetti – Elliott Carter (Centaur)

R. Andrew Lee, November – Dennis Johnson (Irritable Hedgehog)

Spektral Quartet – Chambers (Parlour Tapes)

Kronos Quartet and Bryce Dessner – Aheym (Anti)

New York Virtuoso Singers – 25×25 (Soundbrush)

Matt Mitchell – Fiction

File Under Best of 2013

Matt Mitchell

Fiction

Matt Mitchell, piano; Ches Smith, drums and percussion

Pi Recordings

The pieces on Fiction, pianist Matt Mitchell’s debut recording as a leader, began as etudes. Composed by the pianist in an attempt to integrate his notated composing and his considerable prowess as an improvisor, they soon took on a life of their own as creative work well beyond exercises or technical craftsmanship. Add energetic percussionist Ches Smith into the mix and you now have a combustible duo creating some of the best ‘out’ music of 2013.

Mitchell has played with some of the greats in modern and experimental jazz, from Dave Douglas to Tim Berne. Smith has an even more diverse pedigree, working with rock and pop artists as well as jazz musicians. Going head to head on Fiction, one can readily hear why Mitchell and Smith are so in demand. It isn’t just chops, though both have them aplenty and for days; it is the creative mindset with which they approach and embrace music-making. It leaves one with the impression that the album is a fully embodied, eminently expressive, and original statement – no mean feat when you consider that it is also challenging fare that requires a great deal from its listeners. Recommended.

O’Riley’s Liszt

File Under Best CDs of 2013

O’Riley’s Liszt

Christopher O’Riley, piano

Oxingale

During the past decade, Christopher O’Riley has been quite busy, hosting From the Top, concertizing, and recording his adaptations of pop songs by Radiohead, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith.  But he hasn’t released an all-classical CD since a Scriabin disc in 2004. That is, until 2013, when his two-CD recording of music by that barnstormer of barnstormers and finger-buster of finger-busters, Franz Liszt, saw the light of day.

When it comes to Liszt’s solo piano music I will admit to something of a blind spot. But O’Riley has made me a convert. His sense of the “long line” keeps the extravagances of this music in service to the pieces’ overall structures. Moreover, the tremendously nuanced dynamic shadings and seemingly effortless virtuosity that are consistently on display are most impressive.

The connection between Liszt and O’Riley as arrangers is made clear by the program’s inclusion of transcriptions of Wagner, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and Berlioz. But I suspect that there’s more than this affinity that brings Liszt into O’Riley’s wheelhouse at present. After all, he’s been away from recording classical music for awhile and instead has been serving as a mentor to one prodigy after another. What better way to show he’s still “got it” as a straight up classical virtuoso? This recording not only handily demonstrates that, but it whets one’s appetite for what surprises he may next have in store for us.

Bryn Roberts – Fables

File Under Best of 2013

Bryn Roberts

Fables

Nine-Eight Records

 

I first heard pianist Bryn Roberts this year, supporting Dar Williams in a gig at Symphony Space. I was struck by the many ways that he expanded on Williams’s deliberately unfussy harmonic language with coloristic voicings and embellishments that still allowed the music to remain uncluttered but greatly enhanced the quality of the overall texture in an intimate duo setting. From the stage, Williams announced Roberts’s latest recording, Fables. I sought it out directly afterward and am very glad I did so.

Roberts as jazz pianist has some things in common with Roberts as pop pianist. He adds sumptuous voicings and runs to the harmonic progressions of the set of (mostly) originals found on Fables, but never in an obtrusive or self consciously virtuosic way. Instead, whether he is soloing or comping, Roberts displays consummate musicality. One can say the same for his supporting artists, saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Orlando LeFleming, and drummer Jonathan Blake. They even manage to make the venerable standard “In the Still of the Night” lively again, the quartet simmering in an uptempo rendition of the Porter tune.

In the pocket of mainstream jazz with an adventurous outlook, Roberts’s Fables is one of my favorite releases of 2013: recommended.