The mercurial voice of Uri Caine‘s pianism met the polished ensemble work of the Prism Saxophone Quartet last week at the WXPN World Cafe here in Philadelphia in a program presented by Live Connections.

It’s always a pleasure to hear a jazz musician work over a standard tune – knowing the underlying structures of a piece helps you grasp more clearly what the artist is doing. But for Uri, “standards” include the European classical canon. And so he started with the Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545. It was more of a fantasia on the materials of the piece rather than an embellishment of a straightforward circuit of the form, though at times a good bit of the structure could be traced beneath the busy textures. There were moments when pulses moving at different rates of speed gave a quasi-cubist perspective, looking at the same material from two angles simultaneously. The playful wit of bringing Mozartean gestures into contact with bits of stride or with bebop harmonies, with the resulting contrasting textures juxtaposed at lightning speed, required both pianistic and improvisational virtuosity.

Uri was more restrained when he played over two pieces by Jacob TV, whose work I had not previously encountered. Postnuclear Winterscenario No. 10 was restrained and remarkable pretty, given that title, while Pitch Black combined recordings of Chet Baker’s voice with Andriessen-esque minimalism. There were two short movements by Matthew Levy, harmonically sensitive and beautifully written for the quartet. The program closed with the premiere of a big suite by Uri for both he and Prism, The Book of Days. The seven movements had moods suggested by the particular time of day and day of the week. “Friday 5 pm” evoked rush hour, while “Sunday 11 am” was time for the players to take it to church. The writing was lively and imaginative but quite dense, and seven movements of that kind of density, combined with a harshly amplified piano, made for a listening experience that was a bit wearing. But there was superb playing and vivid compositional thinking throughout.

l to r: Uri Caine, Zachary Shemon, Robert Young, Matthew Levy, Taimur Sullivan

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Definite word of this didn’t come in before I sent out my recent e-newsletter (what? you aren’t signed up? go to the home page, scroll down to the lower right and click), but I am happy to report that Emmanuel Music will do my motet One With the Darkness, One with the Light at Emmanuel Church’s 10 AM Eucharist on April 26. Emmanuel is at 15 Newbury Street in Boston, MA. This is a happy coincidence as I will be in town to attend the performance of my Oboe Quartet in Brookline that evening.

The motet is based on a lovely text extracted from Wendell Berry‘s sequence “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer“, found in his Collected Poems, 1957-1982, a poem I first came across in the anthology Upholding Mystery, edited by David Impastato.

Peggy Pearson and members of the Apple Hill Quartet gave the first performance of my new Oboe Quartet in Newburyport, Massachusetts this past Sunday, and Mark DeVoto reviewed the concert for the Boston Musical Intelligencer. A “csárdás with bebop chords underneath” is a memorable phrase and even more insightful than Mark might think, given the number of wedding receptions with a central European flavor I played during my student days in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, affairs at which my desire to be playing jazz had to be repressed while we performed the ethnic dance numbers that were expected of us. I’m not too sure I hear the Hungarian aspect of my quartet, but the bebop is definitely there. You can hear the piece in Peterborough, New Hampshire on April 25, and in Brookline, MA on April 26.

– The Prism Saxophone Quartet and pianist Uri Caine collaborate in a program at the World Cafe this Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 PM (The program is repeated in NYC on the 17th.) I’m going to be writing a piece for Prism and piano myself for next season.

Bowerbird is presenting an evening of “visual music” by composer and video artist Matthew Greenbaum at Temple University’s Rock Hall this coming Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 PM. The program features pieces that combine live performer with video. You might see this an extension of the live performer plus electronic sound genre so brilliantly cultivated by Matthew’s teacher Mario Davidovsky, but Matthew’s language – both sonic and visual – is very much his own.

– On April 19 at 3 pm, at the Curtis Institute, Network for New Music offers pieces by Michael Hersch, Jan Krzywicki and David Ludwig in a collaborative program bringing together Network with Curtis and the Print Center.

 

 

– The musicians who will premiere my Shadow Memory at SongFest this coming June have been chosen: soprano Lisa Williamson and pianist Rami Sarieddine will give the first performance in Thayer Hall at The Colburn School on June 3.

– fine composer and Penn alum Matthew Schriebeis is blogging at Sound Dialogue.

– much food for thought in Night after Night’s Symphomania post. The complete playlist for the event is here. What would you have included in – or omitted from – that list?

I just got in from the Orchestra 2001 performance of George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening. Nearly 41 years ago to the day, James Freeman, Gilbert Kalish, Richard Fitz and Ray DesRoches gave the first performance of the piece for the opening of Lang Hall at Swarthmore College, and tonight Freeman and Kalish were reunited to perform the work, alongside percussionists William Kerrigan and David Nelson. This is one of Crumb’s most successful pieces in which the expanded piano idiom he developed in the two books of Makrokosmos solo pieces is utilized for a work of epic scale. The finale of the piece, “Music of the Starry Night”, is deeply moving, orchestral in conception and dazzling at its climax with ecstatic layerings of ringing sound.

The performance was very fine, as one would expect from these musicians, though I wish the piano amplification was stronger. After the last quiet notes died away, the members of the ensemble and the audience kept silent for a remarkably long time – no one wanted the moment to end. Finally some called out “Bravo” and we were released back into daily life.

Here is the setup before the concert, showing the glass wall at the back of the Lang stage:

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and another view from the side:

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Note the crotales on the timpano head, ready for the gliss effect at the end of the first movement:

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Gil Kalish, Jim Freeman, George Crumb and Crumb expert Steve Bruns (L to R) at the pre-concert chat:

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the ensemble about to start the 4th movement (Jim Freeman has his kalimba at the ready, Gil Kalish his guiero):

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time for a bow (George has his hand on David Nelson’s shoulder, then Bill Kerrigan to Dave’s left):

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There was, Lord help us, Crumb Cake after the show – imprinted with a facsimile of the score of the last movement! (when cutting a slice I pointed out the George that I had decided to make a cut in his score):

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And here I am with my teacher, colleague, friend (sorry about the blur):

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