On January 11, the AMOC offered a chamber music program at the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation on the lower east side. The Foundation is a beautiful art gallery, and the recital room was packed to hear five players from the American Modern Opera Company perform four pieces without pause. It was a conceptual and theatrical event, with recent work arranged around a piece of core repertoire, the Charles Ives piano trio.
An expanded arrangement of Three Études by Matthew Aucoin began the program. Pianist Conor Hanick played one “straight” before being joined by flautist Emi Ferguson and percussionist Jonny Allen. This music was solid, disjunct, of the moment; a good opener.
The Ives trio was essayed by Hanick, violinist Miranda Cuckson, and cellist Coleman Itzkoff. It’s one of Ives’s best pieces, a classic by any standard, and it was thrilling to hear a high level performance up close in a small room.
I was sitting next to Scott Wollschleger, the composer of Secret Machines, Nos. 1 & 2. Many of Wollschleger’s compositions are slow process pieces, quite dissonant, even “punk,” but underneath the groaning and moaning lurks a truly refined sense of harmony. Now united as a full band, the five musicians bent to the task and the room reverberated with controlled chaos. Scott’s a friend, as is Miranda (I wouldn’t have been aware of this concert otherwise) and I experienced a moment of self-conscious pleasure simply by remembering that I knew some of the hippest people in town.
The tension was released by Robert Honstein’s Unwind. All the musicians stayed onstage and unspooled mellow polyrhythmic counterpoint in pure diatonic harmony. It was just what we needed, almost a “rock and roll coda.” I hadn’t been to an AMOC concert before but they frankly blew me away.
Lenny White is 70, and celebrated with a bevy of gigs at the new joint in Park Slope, Made in New York. I finally got there for the last set, a trio with George Cables and Alex Blake. White called this the “hood trio,” as they grew up playing in Queens together.
It was a high-energy set of burning modal jazz: Business as usual since about 1968. They even played Cables’s famous “Think on Me,” a song that entered common-practice repertoire on Woody Shaw’s Blackstone Legacy featuring both Cables and White.
Nobody is getting any younger but everyone sounded up on their chops. Lenny White is a swinger — at this point, he is much closer to Big Sid Catlett than so many young players only comfortable with even eighths — but, of course, he owns funky beats and stuff to make the steady syncopations pop, just the way he did for Return to Forever or on Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay.
White’s an interesting personality. One of his most outrageous discs is The Adventures of Astral Pirates (which includes Alex Blake on bass). My buddy Guillermo (a real connoisseur of the genre) considers Astral Pirates one of the greatest fusion LPs. Fusion has kind of returned to the New York scene in recent years, so it’s good to go back and remember how big and bold this stuff was back then. Hell, this stuff is still just impossible….
In general I approve of the bookings at Made in New York: It’s great to have a new joint in Brooklyn for masters of the tradition.
Porgy and Bess has been a unqualified hit for the Metropolitan Opera this season. I hadn’t seen a staged version in decades, so it was refreshing to enjoy such a high-end production. This is indisputably George Gershwin’s best concert music, and the score is also full of songs (“arias”) that are as familiar as the hit Gershwin tunes birthed on Broadway.
The opera is essential Americana. I suppose it is also almost by definition “problematic” from a few different modern viewpoints, but music this good has a way of carrying the day over all objections. It was nice to see so many black people in the audience. There are always a few at the opera — more then you might think if you never go — but naturally, when it’s an all-black cast, the audience responds.
Eric Owens and Angel Blue were wonderful in the leading roles. Janai Brugger, Latonia Moore, Denyce Graves, Frederick Ballentine, Alfred Walker, and Donovan Singletary all had moments to shine. David Robertson conducted and the production was designed by James Robinson.
I ran into pianist Bill Charlap at the interval. Bill is famously a deep student of American composers, so I joked to him, “I guess you are checking out these voicings.” He looked at me solemnly and replied, “This score has every voicing you will ever need.”
Apparently extra performances of Porgy and Bess have been added thanks to overwhelming demand.