Monday, March 02, 2009


I knew I'd be attending concerts on back-to-back nights this weekend and briefly considered holing up in the coat-check area. In truth, though, I wasn't assigned to review either of this weekend's performances; I attended Bang on a Can All-Stars on Saturday after interviewing guest artist and composer Glenn Kotche, and my tickets to Portuguese fado artist Mariza came from a friend who won them and was unable to attend. Both were a treat, though I felt the All-Stars were poorly served by the Perelman Theater's audio setup.

In the program's first half, which featured works by Bang on a Can's three founding composers (David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon), the sound mix favored guitar and drums to the detriment of the other instruments. One had to strain to hear cellist Caroline Stinson and bassist Robert Black during loud, raucous numbers and quiet, ruminative ones alike. Of the three first-half pieces, I liked Gordon's "For Madeline" (I'm guessing on the spelling; the piece's title was announced from the stage) best. Keening slides from clarinet, cello and guitar glided over a tense, oscillating pulse in the piano and marimba, eventually giving way to a radiant but frantic "B" section. Wolfe's "Lick" was a fun, disjointed romp with a tidy, thoughtful finish akin to turning down the volume knob on a stereo. Lang's "Sunray" had a promising start with chiming, delicate patterns tinged with dissonance, but the close was a tad bombastic.

The second half featured Kotche in a few takeoffs on Steve Reich's music and in two of Kotche's own compositions. His "Clapping Music Variations" was hard to parse; a backing electronic track seemed to play Reich's original "Clapping Music" along with other sounds as Kotche and All-Stars drummer David Cossin played new spin on the source material on their kits and, later, on Indonesian percussion. The altered riffs disappointingly lacked the tension and pared-down focus of Reich's original, but Cossin's transcription of "Music for Pieces of Wood" compensated -- a booming, visceral ride through mutating polyrhythms. I was enthralled.

Kotche's charts were more subtle but still captivating. "Snap" attained the soul-inspired groove that Kotche sought, with parts of it sounding like a playful, amped-up tango and others filled with nudging, insistent pulses. His transcription of "Mobile," the title composition from his 2006 album, was more Reichian than Staxian, with shifting, swapping patterns criss-crossing the ensembles and a fine-grained sense of voicing and orchestration. Some of the kalimba-based riffs were stuck firmly in my head for the remainder of the evening -- a good sign of a catchy piece and, in this case, a successful one.

A write-up of Mariza will come later this afternoon.

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