Sample notable new music releases from 2014, according to clarinetist and music producer Isabel Kim. Since starting with New Sounds and WNYC, Isabel's earbuds have become a permanent part of her body. Her excellent skills and keen ears have been keeping New Sounds afloat throughout the fall of 2014, whilst the "staff" has been away. Here are some of her notable music finds for the past year.
The Bad Plus: Rite of Spring “Introduction” and “Augurs of Spring”
Stravinsky had jazz and rock music running through his veins even in the early 20th century, and The Bad Plus brings these elements out in their take on The Rite of Spring. In the Introduction, the band’s playing fades in and out of vintage Rite recordings with the help of some electronics. The sounds of a heartbeat and a gasp brilliantly transport the story through the eyes of the girl that is to be sacrificed. The trio adds in unusual tempo changes in “Augurs of Spring,” but they’re surprisingly effective.
This is a live recording from Durham, NC and it's for the whole first half:
Jacob Cooper: Silver Threads
Silver Threads started off as one song set to a Matsuo Bashō haiku, and then expanded to a six-song cycle. Cooper asked 5 contemporary poets to write text inspired by the original haiku to set the rest of his 5 songs. The very sensuous text for “Wefted Histories,” written by Tarfia Faizullah, is appropriately delivered by singer Mellissa Hughes. Hughes’ lower vocal range in this track has a lazier just-woke-up vibe and it is a nice resonating contrast to the distortion, pitch bending, and staccato of the electronics. Gorgeous singing by Hughes and beautiful use of electronics by Cooper.
Sample “Wefted Histories” from the Nonesuch site, and listen to "Silver Threads":
Simo Lagnawi: The Gnawa Berber
Based in the UK, Simo Lagnawi is of Berber heritage and learned Moroccan gnawa grooves and ahwash chants in his travels through North Africa. This area is where the most interesting percussion music is coming from, and Simo keeps up on these complex rhythms on the guembri (a three-stringed bass lute).
This is “Tagna”:
Busman’s Holiday: A Long Goodbye
This brother duo has a busking folk vibe by themselves, but they are backed by orchestral instruments in this album. Halfway through “Bones I,” the chamber orchestra becomes more raucous and new musicky and they eventually take over. It ends on an intense Shostakovich-like coda and finally two gentle notes on the piano. It’s very unexpected--the first time I heard it, I had to double check that I wasn’t listening to 2 different things at the same time. What I love about this song is the gorgeous and textless chorale before the madness occurs. Listen to “Bones I”:
Yom: Le Silence de l’Exode
Based on the mythical Exodus of the Jewish people guided by Moses out of Egypt, this powerful album-long work features the writing and virtuosic playing of French composer/klezmer clarinetist Yom. Every minute of Yom’s playing (on a Turkish clarinet in G) in this hour-long piece blows my mind. Here's “Révélation”:
Florent Ghys: Télévision
Florent Ghys is a DIY one-man band--he recorded this whole album by himself in his bedroom in Brooklyn and in a bathroom in New Hampshire with his bass and a few other toys, including his voice, his hands, simple percussion instruments, and hair dryers. He went one step further and created fun videos for all 13 tracks, so that you can experience the album as if it were on television. In "Blazer et/ou Cravate," he puts together a collection of weather reports from around the world and plays along with the reporters, exposing the surprising musicality and rhythm of natural speech and the pitch contours of different people and languages. Télévision is a clever and playful DIY album, and once again, Florent proves how much more immensely creative he can be with less.
Julia Wolfe: Steel Hammer
I was so impressed by this evening-long work when I saw it at the New Sounds Live show in October. Based on the legend of John Henry, Wolfe incorporates sounds of Appalachia scoring banjos, jaw harps, dulcimers, and wooden bones, and layers contradicting text on top of each other from the different hearsay of John Henry’s origins, height, race, etc. Wolfe asks for a lot from the performers, but the Bang On A Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval can tackle anything and own it. This is “Destiny”:
Piers Faccini & Vincent Segal: Songs of Time Lost
Besides the few original songs by this pair of long-time friends (Piers on guitar/vocals and Vincent on cello), the tunes on this album come from all over the place like 13th century Italy, Alain Peters’ Creole songs, cowboy singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, and a German melody sung by Marlene Dietrich. “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” is believed to be adapted from a W.C. Handy tune, but Piers first heard it from an old Mississippi John Hurt record. I listened to this track once or twice while reviewing the album for New Sounds and it was stuck in my head for weeks. There’s a short lyric slipped in there--“Please don’t let my good girl catch you here or she might shoot you, cut, and starve you too”-- but the innocence of the song is not lost.
Listen to “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor”:
Colin Vallon Trio: Le Vent
This Switzerland-based group has filled my modern Bill Evans Trio void. Their compositions are genuine and thoughtful. “Juuichi,” written by the group’s bassist Patrice Moret, has the slightest rhythmic unevenness deliberately put in here and there. That tiniest push and pull within a beat couldn’t have been written out on paper, but that limp is felt perfectly together within the trio and it's beautiful. I could listen to this track on repeat all day.
Khaira Arby:Timbuktu Tarab (2013)
Khaira’s roots are in traditional Malian music, but she mixes in rock and the modern sounds of electric guitars and drumkit along with the traditional sokou, n’goni, and calabash instruments. She has a powerful voice physically and politically, addressing feminist issues in her music. I think she can take over the world with that voice. “Goumou” is the best mix of old and new that I’ve heard this year.
Isabel Kim is a clarinetist and music producer based in New York City. As a member of The Nouveau Classical Project, Hotel Elefant, Arabesque Winds, and This Ambitious Orchestra, she has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Issue Project Room, Merkin Hall, Galapagos Art Space, BRIC House, (le) poisson rouge, and the NY Fashion Week shows of Pamela Love, Gretchen Jones, and NOVIS. Recent engagements include Experiments in Opera with "The Truth" podcast, "WOW" opera based on the Milli Vanilli scandal, and the world premiere of John Luther Adams' "Sila" at Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival.
Isabel has recently been obsessed with finding ways to mesh art with science. She is currently planning a week-long synesthetic installation/performance called "Mysterium Novum," combining new music, art, dance, perfume, dance, fashion, and interactive technology. This production is a modern realization of an unfinished project by synesthetic composer Alexander Scriabin, and will come to life 100+ years after his death.