How to Live?, Modern Nature’s recorded debut, is out now on Bella Union.
Modern Nature Tour Dates: Wed. Dec. 18 – Bristol, UK @ Friendly Records End Of Year Party Fri. Dec. 20 – Southend, UK @ South Records End Of Year Party Thu. Jan. 9 – Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong Fri. Jan. 10 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle Sat. Jan. 11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade Sun. Jan. 12 – Boston, MA @ The Lilypad Mon. Jan. 13 – Burlington, VT @ The Monkey HouseTue. Jan. 14 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le ‘Ritz’ P.D.B. Wed. Jan. 15 – Toronto, ON @ The Monarch Thu. Jan. 16 – Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Fluxx Sat. Jan. 18 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry Mon. Jan. 20 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups Tue. March 3 – Brighton, UK @ Green Door Store Wed. Mar. 4 – London, UK @ Omeara Sat. Mar. 7 – Antwerp, BE @ Trix Bar Mon. Mar. 9 – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso Wed. Mar. 11 – Barcelona, ES @ Sala Vol Thu. Mar. 12 – Madrid, ES @ Siroco Fri. Mar. 13 – Oviedo, ES @ Lata De Zinc
On Saturday October 17th, the Byrne:Kozar Duo is performing “A Lady” at the NienteForte Festival at Tulane University in New Orleans (7 PM at NOLA Sidebar).
On October 25th, the recording Composers at Westminster (WCC19109) will be released via digital platforms. I coordinated the project and two of my Magnificat Antiphons, performed by Westminster Kantorei, and three of my Jane Kenyon settings, performed by Victoria Browers and J.J. Penna, are among the programmed works. The program notes are below.
“Composers at Westminster”
The five composers featured on this recording are full-time members of the composition faculty at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. The programmed selections display a range of musical styles and works for different forces: three of the college’s choirs as well as voice faculty, pianists, and visiting string artists.
Stefan Young is not only a composer but an estimable pianist. He performs some of his own piano pieces from a musical diary called Thoughts for the Day: here we get a peek at his ponderings for January. Young also plays in Ronald Hemmel’s string quintet Night Moves, a work written to accompany dance. The Other World is Young’s choral settingof an ancient Egyptian text (in translation), performed by Schola Cantorum, conducted by James Jordan. Clarum Sonum, a group of recent graduates, contribute Jay Kawarsky’s setting of Rami Shapiro’s poem Unending Love.
Joel Phillips is represented by two Christina Rosetti songs, performed by voice faculty member Victoria Browers and pianist J.J. Penna, as well as a setting of William Blake’s beloved poem “Little Lamb,” performed by Westminster Choir, conducted by Joe Miller. Two of Christian Carey’s Seven Magnificat Antiphons are performed by Kantorei, conducted by Amanda Quist. They are settings of ancient Latin texts that traditionally are sung during Advent. Carey’s first of two groups of Jane Kenyon songs are also performed by Browers and Penna.
Composers at Westminster celebrates the creativity of its faculty. It serves as a document of just some of the many collaborations they regularly undertake with Westminster faculty and students and in the wider musical community.
The Other World – 5:27
(text: Egyptian, 3500 BC, translated by Robert Hillyer, music by Stefan Young, Copyright 2018)
Westminster Schola Cantorum, James Jordan, conductor
2- Press Onward – 3:24
3- Sleep, Little Baby – 3:38
(poems by Christina Rossetti, music by Joel Phillips, copyright 1999)
Victoria Browers, soprano; J.J. Penna, piano
4-O Sapientia – 2:20
5-O Oriens – 2:45
(texts – 5th Century Latin, music by Christian B. Carey, GIA Publications, copyright 2019)
Westminster Kantorei, Amanda Quist, conductor
Ronald A. Hemmel –
6- Night Moves (Piano Quintet) – 10:55
(music by Ronald A. Hemmel, copyright 2014)
Leah Asher, Maya Bennardo, Meagan Burke, and Erin Wright, strings; Stefan Young, piano
J. A. Kawarsky
7- Unending Love – 3:41
(poem by Rami Shapiro, music by J.A. Kawarsky, copyright 2015)
Clarum Sonum, conducted by Rider Foster.
Stefan Young – Thoughts for the Day – January
(music by Stefan Young, copyright 2018)
8- Jan. 4. Vigorous – 1:52
9- Jan. 11. Driving – 1:43
10- Jan. 28. Slowly – 1:00
11- Jan. 31. Remembering Peter – 2:20
Stefan Young, piano
Christian B. Carey – Three Kenyon Songs
12- Song – 2:17
13 – Otherwise – 4:32
14- Let Evening Come – 4:13
(poems by Jane Kenyon used by kind permission of Graywolf Press,
music by Christian B. Carey, File Under Music, copyright 2019)
Victoria Browers, soprano; J.J. Penna, piano
15- Little Lamb – 4:09
(poem by William Blake, music by Joel Phillips, G. Schirmer, copyright 1997)
Westminster Choir, Joe Miller, conductor
Total timing: 54 minutes
Dr. Stefan Hayden Young is Professor at Westminster Choir College. He received a B.M. from Rollins College, certificates in harmony, piano, and solfège from the American School of the Arts, Fontainebleau, France, an M.M. in piano from the Juilliard School, and a Ph.D. in composition from Rutgers University. Commissions have included the Haverford Singers and NJMTA. He has written for various media including orchestra, band, choir, chamber ensembles, voice and piano, and a variety of solo instruments. He has also served as director of music and organist at a number of churches in New Jersey and on Martha’s Vineyard. At Westminster, Dr. Young is director of the Composition Week summer session, coordinator of the student composition concerts, and coordinator of the composers’ project with the Westminster Community Orchestra. In 2003, his Anthology of Art Songs was released onCD.
Joel Phillips is Professor at Westminster Choir College where he has taught since 1985. Phillips has received a number of commissions well as awards, the latter including annual recognition from ASCAP, the G. Schirmer Young Composer’s Award, and a BMI Award. His choral works are published by G. Schirmer, Inc., Transcontinental Music Publications, GIA, and Mark Foster Music (Shawnee Press).
Dr. J.A. Kawarsky is Professor at Westminster Choir College. He received a B.M. from Iowa State University, and an M.M. and D.M.A. from Northwestern University. He has written for all genres including solo instrument, orchestra, band, choral, vocal and theater. Prayers for Bobby. for choir, orchestra, narrator and soloists, has received numerous performances throughout the United States and Canada and was recorded by the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus and members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC. Iowa State University premiered the alto saxophone and orchestral winds piece, Fastidious Notes. 17 universities throughout the United States commissioned the symphonic band work Red Training Reels. The cantata Sacred Rights, Sacred Song has been performed throughout the USA and Israel. Navona Recordings released Kawarsky’s 2018 portrait CD, Spoon Hanging from My Nose. Yelton Rhodes Music, Transcontinental Music, and Southern Music publish his compositions.
Ronald A. Hemmel is Professor at Westminster Choir College. Dr. Hemmel received his B.M. in Music Education from Westminster Choir College, his M.M. in Music Theory/Composition and Organ Performance from James Madison University, and his M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. He is a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists. Before coming to Westminster, in 1994 he directed the music program at Woodberry Forest School. His compositions include works for solo instruments, voice and piano, choir, and both small and large ensembles. Several of his choral works are published by Yelton Rhodes Music, G.I.A. Publications, and Transcontinental Music Publications.
Christian Carey is Associate Professor at Westminster Choir College. He has created over eighty musical works in a variety of genres and styles, performed throughout the United States and in England, Italy, and Japan. Performances of his compositions have been given by ACME, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, C4, Cassatt String Quartet, Chamber Players of the League of Composers, loadbang, Locrian Chamber Players, Manhattan Choral Ensemble, New York New Music Ensemble, Righteous Girls, Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, and Westminster Kantorei. His score for the play Gilgamesh Variations was staged at Bushwick Starr Theatre in Brooklyn, NY. For Milton, a flute/piano duo,has been recorded twice, for Perspectives of New Music/Open Space and New Focus Recordings.
In recent years, pianist Ethan Iverson has been collaborating with a number of artists, particularly elder statesmen of the jazz tradition. In 2017, he appeared at the Village Vanguard with trumpeter Tom Harrell. The performances were document on Common Practice, Iverson’s most recent ECM recording. In addition to Harrell, the CD’s personnel includes bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson, longtime associates of the pianist.
The common practice to which the title refers are jazz standards, mostly from the Great American Songbook but also bebop originals. The group investigates a range of styles, from ardent balladry on “The Man I Love” to smoky lyricism on “I Can’t Get Started” to puckish wit on “Sentimental Journey.” Harrell and Iverson display imaginative recasting of harmonic changes throughout, but especially on vigorous versions of “All the Things You Are” and “Wee.” Iverson contributes two tunes, “Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed from Teaneck,” both blues with twists and turns of the form.
On Wednesday, October 16th, the quartet reunites for two sets at Jazz Standard (details below). Their take on jazz’s common practice is not to be missed.
Ethan Iverson Quartet featuring Tom Harrell
Wednesday, October 16 - shows at 7:30 and 9:30 PM Jazz Standard 116 E. 27th Street, NYC Tickets here
Ethan Iverson – piano Tom Harrell – trumpet, flugelhorn Ben Street – bass Eric McPherson – drums
Odyssean Ensemble, Colm Carey, director; Christian Wilson, organ
William Byrd is often associated with Catholic church music, contributing three masses and collections of propers. He also composed one of the finest collections of Anglican music, a “full” or “long” service of the music for the daily offices. After his death, it was dubbed “The Great Service.” One can readily hear why in this superlative debut recording by Odyssean Ensemble, directed by Colm Carey. Written for two vocal quintets – placed on either side of the chancel – the piece is a feast of antiphonal effects with many vocal combinations and a plethora of contrapuntal techniques. Byrd was mindful of reformers’ insistence on textual clarity and primarily syllabic declamation; all of these peregrinations are accomplished while incisive text-setting is maintained.
Singing from a new edition of the piece prepared by Andrew Johnstone (who also contributes informative liner notes), recorded in a sumptuous space, Odyssean Ensemble deploys a warm sound with impressive diction. Carey’s shaping of the piece yields spry rhythms and elegant phrasing. A selection of English anthems appealingly augment the program. In addition to accompanying the singers on the lovingly reconstructed St. Tello instrument, organist Christian Wilson contributes a nimble reading of a Fantasy by Byrd. Devotional texts, read by the actor David Suchet, are a welcome inclusion. The recording is an example of fastidious detail to history breathing new life into an underserved work. One hopes that a recording of Byrd’s masses will be soon to follow.
NEW YORK – ECM Records has released a number of great solo bass recordings. The label’s producer, Manfred Eicher, was himself a bassist, and he has invited a number of fellow low string players to record for ECM. Barre Phillips is a pathfinder in the genre, releasing one of the first solo bass recordings, Journal Violone, on Opus One in 1968. Eicher and he have been keen collaborators for many years, beginning in 1971 with a duo recording of Phillips with Dave Holland, Music from Two Basses, the first of its kind, which was followed by a number of solo and ensemble outings for ECM. In 2018, the imprint released what was announced as Phillips last solo CD, End to End, which he called the last entry in his “Journal Violone.”
It has been more than thirty years since Phillips last performed in New York. Originally from San Francisco and long a resident of France, much of the bassist’s career has been made playing in Europe. On Monday, May 20th, he appearedat the Zürcher Gallery, an art venue on Bleecker Street in lower Manhattan. The crowd was standing room only and contained a number of jazz and experimental music luminaries. They were attentive and enthusiastic throughout.
Phillips turns eighty-five in October. In his performance on Monday night, he appeared energetic and fit. He easily hoisted a sizeable double bass to his shoulder, and deftly moved it around to play its entirety: not just the strings. His playing and demeanor are vibrant, inquisitive, and often imbued with puckish humor.
The bassist gave a veritable masterclass of standard and extended playing techniques. The latter appear prolifically on End to End, among them high harmonics, different varieties of strumming such as plucking notes with both hands, a number of approaches to bowing, microtones, glissandos, and all manner of percussive playing. However, the CD intersperses these with a fair bit of cantabile playing. Less of that was on offer live. Instead, with a mischievous twinkle and disarming banter, Phillips went to work showing what it meant to “do your own thing” when, as he described it, career paths in more traditional jazz and classical music were denied him.
Each piece, most of them improvised but some selections fromEnd to End that had been crafted into compositions, centered on a different palette of techniques. At times Phillips played his instrument caressingly, seeming to coax delicate high notes and thrumming vibrations from the strings at a pianissimo dynamic. At others, he virtually attacked the instrument, scratching it from stem to stern with his bow. If a luthier were in attendance, they would have likely had a panic attack.
There was considerable variation in the harmonic vocabulary employed. Some of the music was in the ‘out’ post-tonal language of free jazz. Phillips also supplied an etude of octaves, another of open string drones, a third a chameleon-like shift to Eastern scales and gestures, and on “Inner Door, Pt. 4,” a plaintive modal jazz solo grounded in double-stopped fifths. Here, as elsewhere, Phillips displayed a penchant for executing a long, unerringly controlled decrescendo, bringing the music to a whispered close. Zürcher was an ideal location in which to hear these small details: an intimate space but one with good acoustics.
It is unfortunate that New Yorkers haven’t had more opportunities to hear Barre Phillips up close and personal. His performance was an unforgettable experience. Phillips joins Mat Maneri, Emilie Lesbros, and Hank Roberts for a performance on Saturday night at 8 PM at Brooklyn’s I-Beam. One more chance …
Pianist Matthew Shipp has recorded prolifically, but Signature is the first outing of his current piano trio. Joined by bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, Shipp thrives in this configuration, one of the most celebrated and venerable in jazz history. Indeed, taking the piano trio to new places seems tailor-made to his adventurous style and superlative musicianship.
All of the pieces here are improvised first takes. The title track hews the closest to a more traditional approach, with post-bop chord voicings and engaging colloquy between the three performers. Pleasing twists and turns in the sequencing make for welcome surprises. The collaborators take solo turns that intersperse group ventures. Bisio’s “Deep to Deep” serves as an arco droning intro to “Flying Saucer,” in which the piano and bass lines are both nimbly played yet forcefully delineated while the drums provide a propulsive underpinning; a thunderous, virtuosic excursion. Baker presents a New Orleans inflected solo called “Snap.” As if to belie its lineage, the drum solo is followed by the group in a contemporary mindset on “The Way,” which begins suavely only to build to somber cadence points that sound like dissonant chorales. A return to delicacy allows room for Bisio to take an arcing solo, only to have it washed away by a stentorian oscillating pattern from Shipp. This encourages a convergence on an ostinato which builds the piece to a boisterous climax, with fleet soloing matched beat-for-beat by rollicking rhythms.
“Stage Ten” features Shipp performing inside the piano against a swinging bass line from Bisio and drumming by Taylor Baker filled with fills. It is an arresting melange of modernity, both of the classical and jazz varieties, like Henry Cowell meeting Thelonious Monk. “Speech of Form” finds Shipp playing solo in a vein of chromatic, modally inflected jazz that he has mined before and returns to here with good results. “Zo #2” is an uptempo number that owes debts both to Bud Powell and Cecil Taylor. Shipp’s elegant pirouettes and unison octave lines are complemented by skittering drums and articulate bass.
“New Z,” another solo, gives Taylor Baker an opportunity to use world music percussion alongside shimmering cymbals. The CD concludes with “This Matrix,” the most extended cut on the date, clocking in at more than sixteen minutes. Driving playing, with quick angular melodies punctuated by booming clusters, “This Matrix” is an excellent example of the trio at its best: ardent, musically sophisticated, and capable of turning on a dime. The piece builds to a tremendously dexterous double time section. It is followed by a languorous solo from Bisio that starts a long denouement, gradually reintroducing the entire trio in a coda of poignant delicacy.
Signature is very much an album of 2019, in which jazz seems more capable than ever of acting in dialogue with its long tradition while simultaneously forging promising pathways forward. Shipp has a large discography, but each successive release captures the moment in which it lives, epitomizing the essence of improvised music. Recommended.
NEW YORK – On February 10th, the Boston-based early music ensemble Blue Heron made one of its regular appearances at the Music Before 1800 series at Corpus Christi Church in Morningside Heights. Directed by Scott Metcalfe, an ensemble of a dozen vocalists performed five selections, all votive antiphons, from the Peterhouse Partbooks.
Copied by John Bull during the reign of Henry VIII, the partbooks now reside at Peterhouse College of Cambridge University. The tenor book is missing, as are large sections of the treble book, but musicologist Nick Sandon has spent his career reconstructing pieces from the collection. Apart from a few performances and recordings made by British and Canadian ensembles, Blue Heron have been the principal advocates for this rediscovered cache of polyphonic music written for the Catholic Church. Bull compiled the music just a few years prior to the establishment of the Church of England, which brought with it entirely different liturgical practices that rendered the music obsolete. Many partbooks were destroyed during the ascendency, successively, of Anglicanism and Puritanism. This makes Sandon’s contribution all the more noteworthy, in that it restores enough music to significantly add to the choral repertoire available from the pre-Reformation period.
Blue Heron recently released The Lost Music of Canterbury,a five-CD boxed set of music from the Peterhouse Partbooks with selections by a range of composers, from the well-known Nicholas Ludford to the entirely obscure Hugh Sturmy. The quality of both the music and recorded performances is extraordinarily high. Blue Heron have a beautiful sound custom crafted for this repertoire and display impeccable musicianship. Sadly, none of the antiphons presented on the Corpus Christi concert have yet been recorded by Blue Heron. Indeed, there is a massive amount of music left in the Peterhouse collection yet to be documented. While the group has moved on to other projects – they are currently at work on recordings of the complete songs of Ockeghem and works by Cipriano de Rore – one hopes that at some point funding might allow them to commit the votive antiphons from the Peterhouse repertoire to disc. They proved most compelling in a live setting.
Votive antiphons were extra-liturgical and traditionally performed in the evening, after Vespers and Compline, by a group of singers gathered around an altar or icon. Marian antiphons were most common and were represented on the concert by two pieces, Arthur Chamberlayne’s Ave Gratia plena Maria and Ludford’s Salve Regina. The former is a vibrant piece articulating a thoughtfully expanded trope of the “Hail Mary” text. Described by Metcalfe as “a word salad,” it does indeed contain a great number of independent lines in overlapping declamation. The sole piece attributed to its author, it provided a tantalizing glimpse of the idiosyncrasies permitted during this time of musical innovation and diversity. Ludford’s uses a more traditional text and is gentler in demeanor; as Metcalfe suggested, a valediction wishing those gathered to hear the antiphon a peaceful evening.
The other three antiphons invoked various saints. O Willhelme, pastor bone, by John Taverner, was the lone short work here, clocking in at around three minutes; the rest were each about a quarter of an hour in duration. The piece has a fascinating backstory for those who study the history of the Tudors. It was written for Cardinal College, Oxford, where Taverner was instructor of the choirboys, to its patron Saint William, Archbishop of York. It also includes a verse uplifting Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who founded Cardinal College. Yes, that Cardinal Wolsey, the one who ran afoul of Henry VIII because of his thwarted attempts to obtain a divorce for the monarch. The piece itself is full of Taverner’s characteristic sustained high lines and contains some lovely harmonies.
One of the composers that Sandon has helped to reinvigorate with his scholarly writings, as well as score restorations, is Hugh Aston. Blue Heron have been champions of Aston since 1999, their founding year. The composer is well-represented on the Lost Music of Canterbury, which, among several pieces, includes his own Marian motet, Ave Maria dive matris Anne, a work of eloquence and fervent yearning: one of the highlights of the CD set. The concert program featured Aston’s O baptista vates Christi, a supplication to Saint John the Baptist. One can see why Blue Heron would like to sing O Baptista: the text asks for protection for the choir, and what choir doesn’t sometimes need protecting? Of course, no such safeguards were necessary at Corpus Christi Church: Music Before 1800 attracts a friendly audience for the group.
While the aforementioned antiphons impressed, the most remarkable composition on the program was the first one the group performed, O Albane deo grate by Robert Fayrfax. This piece features prominently in Fayrfax’s output. He also fashioned a setting of it dedicated to Mary, O Maria deo grata, with the same music but different words, and used its material as the basis for his parody mass Missa Albanus. The words here commemorate Saint Alban, traditionally considered the first British Christian martyr. Metcalfe usually allows the music to speak for itself, limiting himself to brief introductory remarks. However, before beginning the performance of O Albane, he gave a short demonstration of just a few of the myriad musical treatments by Fayrfax of the plainchant on which it is based. This proved most illuminating, as one could look forward to hearing the hymn fragment interwoven into the counterpoint at key places in the work. Equally enlightening was Metcalfe’s post-concert talkback, in which he fielded questions on a variety of topics, from Reformation worship practices to score restoration to sixteenth century tuning in England. I look forward to hearing Blue Heron again very soon. On March 9th,I will be making a pilgrimage to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to hear them sing Ockeghem’s Missa Prolationum. Look for coverage here on the site.