Moby's 'Reprise' feels like a complete collection / riff magazine
Posted: May 25, 2021 12:00 AM
riff magazine's Roman Gokhman writes.....Moby had enough hits just off his 1999 album, Play, to last a lifetime. But the DJ/producer extraordinaire, whose career has now spanned three decades, has never been one to let his songs rest. He's explored music-making in numerous sonic spaces over the years, and his latest, Reprise, takes some of those biggest hits, as well as early career successes, and reimagines them in either orchestral or acoustic environments-to resounding success. Half of the 14 tracks on Reprise come from Play, as well as Moby's other mainstream hit, 2002's 18. Also represented in this collection are 2005's Hotel, 2013's Innocents, 1992's self-titled debut and 1995's Everything Is Wrong. It's but a small sampling of Moby's varied work, but when presented in string-heavy arrangements and supported by an updated cast of characters-from the well-known to the emerging-Reprise feels like a complete collection. READ THE FULL riff magazine REVIEW
Vijay Iyer captures a prophetic and present sound on 'Uneasy' / 88.3WBGO
Posted: May 25, 2021 12:00 AM
WBGO's Greg Bryant writes...Vijay Iyer's latest album, Uneasy, is a striking document of synergy and awareness. Iyer, along with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, musically calls attention to a global state of angst and disarray. The music is dark and contemplative, but the rhythmic drive also suggests energy, optimism and forward motion. "Artists end up being right at the forefront of change," Iyer says. "They're always going to be right on the edge finding out what is possible." The trio of Iyer, Sorey and Oh possess a deft command of the instruments, yet this trio's musical acumen lies in their ability to breathe together. The steady pulse of "Retrofit"; the rhythmic re-imagining of Joe Henderson's arrangement of "Night and Day"; and the blues and roots excavated in "Combat Breathing" all flow with a living, human sound. Recorded at the end of 2019, Uneasy feels just as prophetic as it feels of the present. Iyer's ability to look ahead and embrace tradition is steeped in a long line of mentors and collaborators that include members of the AACM, M-Base and Asian Improv aRts collective, and are no strangers to art as social commentary. Iyer also exhibits a self determination and willingness to pass along musical wisdom just as masters Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Steve Coleman and Amiri Baraka did with him. In this chat, Iyer is also clear on the need for self-reliance, community and access to arts in the post-pandemic musical landscape. "We're a part of something larger than ourselves," he says. "We have to take care of each other - to put that first." LISTEN TO THE 88.3WBGO - Newark NJ SEGMENT
The endless curiosity of Chris Thile / The New York Times
Posted: May 25, 2021 12:00 AM
The New York Times Giovanni Russonello writes.....At his first in-person performance before a New York audience in over a year, the mandolinist Chris Thile spent a lot of time with his instrument on his lap, listening. Half-encircled by a sizable but well-spaced-out crowd at the East River Park Amphitheater last month, Thile welcomed an assortment of New York-based artists to the stage. Some, like the members of the pop-soul band Lake Street Dive, were familiar collaborators; others, like the poet Carl Hancock Rux, he'd just met that day. He introduced them all with the kindly salesman flair of a consummate radio host - which in fact he was, until the pandemic put the kibosh on his syndicated variety show, "Live From Here," the successor to "Prairie Home Companion," which Thile had taken over from Garrison Keillor in 2016. Then, sitting by the side of the stage for much of the show, he took part as a listener as much as a performer. At 40, Thile has been the leading mandolin virtuoso of his generation since before its members could legally drink. After becoming a prodigy on the Southern California trad-music scene in the early 1990s, Thile has stayed endlessly busy. He's found his way across most of the stylistic divides that might present themselves to a mandolin player from the bluegrass tradition. But during the pandemic, Thile took a rare cue to stop, slow down and dial back. Sitting outside a coffee shop blocks from his home in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn on a recent afternoon, he said that throughout the past year - one of activism, upheaval and isolation - he had found himself longing for the chance to listen, just as much as to perform. Thile's quietly powerful new album, "Laysongs," out June 4, ends with a Hazel Dickens ballad, "Won't You Come and Sing for Me," for a reason. "I like that she's saying ‘for,' instead of ‘with,'" he said. "She's implying that she wants to listen to those people," he added - whoever they may be. As the host of "Live From Here," he welcomed a smattering of guests each week, mostly musicians and other performers, and relished his role as a kind of participant-observer. "It was my job to be turned back into a listener, and then show people: ‘Hey, I heard this thing that I think you might like,'" he said. "I had to constantly be on the hunt for new sounds." The show was abruptly canceled last year, amid pandemic-related financial constraints at American Public Media, but Thile hopes to carry that work with him going forward: "I would love to think that - fool us once - we're not going to take being able to listen to one another for granted ever again." THILE WAS RAISED in an evangelical Christian household in Southern California, and grew up playing in the bluegrass-and-beyond band Nickel Creek; its songbook catalogs, among other things, the evolution of Thile's relationship to God, and his bandmates' too. Nickel Creek's self-titled third album, released when Thile was just a teenager, went platinum, and put the trio near the commercial center of a rising alt-folk movement. A few years later, he started the Punch Brothers, with the goal of infusing bluegrass' country craftsmanship with classical and jazz techniques. In 2012, he won a MacArthur "genius" grant mostly on the power of his musical strides alone. In more recent years, when not focused on the radio show or playing with one of the two bands, Thile collaborated regularly with the banjoist Béla Fleck, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other laureates of what you might call contemporary American concert music. His big outlet for that these days is the Sony Masterworks-signed all-star group Goat Rodeo, which also includes Ma. He hadn't seen - let alone played with - any of them for months when he and an engineer, Jody Elff, headed into a decommissioned church in upstate New York last summer to record "Laysongs." It's Thile's first fully solo album, just his voice - still boyish after all these years - and his mandolin. Co-produced with his wife, the actress Claire Coffee, it's his most directly personal work yet, and also his most potent reckoning with spirituality and Christianity. Specifically, Thile said, he was troubled by the question of what it means to build community in a world where our politics have grown so plainly defined by exclusion and parochialism. "I would say it's centered around communion, and a yearning for it, and a mistrust of it," he said, pausing his chipper cadence to search for the exact right words. "When we come together with people that we love, or with our fellow like-minded human beings, we also then immediately start demonizing non-like-minded human beings," he said. The album is an attempt "to push back against that element of exclusion that comes with building community," whether in church or in politics, and against how "we then isolate ourselves with those people that we love." At its center sits a three-part suite, "Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth," which he wrote after revisiting the Christian writer and theologian C.S. Lewis's "Screwtape Letters," a satire that imagines a conversation between a demon and his nephew. Thile's suite begins with a single mandolin string, repeatedly plucked, then gives way to two, then three. Finally it blossoms out into a rustling chord, which Thile attacks in frustrated swipes. Then he starts to vocalize: "Ha, ha, ha." In the suite's windy, self-scolding lyrics, Thile sends up the folly of certainty - wagging his own fear of death in his face, daring himself to wonder how deeply it has influenced his beliefs. Throughout the disc, you can hear his big questions hanging in the stillness of the old church's once-sacred air. Thile said that with both his instrumental playing and his lyrics, he wants to communicate, but not push a worldview. "I want the gestures to be clear," he said. "I want to give people clear, defined building blocks. And now you get to put them together." "Here are some things that I'm thinking about," he said. "What do you think about it?" NICKEL CREEK BEGAN in 1989, as the Nickel Creek Band, when Thile was 8 and his friends, the fiddler Sara Watkins and her brother, the guitarist Sean, were about the same age. (Thile's father, Scott, played bass and was an official member in its early years.) All three children were wunderkinds, but Thile stood out for his chutzpah and ostentatious talent. He was already winning bluegrass competitions, playing the instrument with a remarkable precision and speed usually matched only by banjo pluckers and bluegrass guitarists. Playing the instrument of the genre's inventor, Bill Monroe, he took it well past the role that Monroe and acolytes like Marty Stuart had established. The group's first album, "Little Cowpoke," released in 1993 when Thile was 12, barrels through old country-western repertoire and bluegrass picking; a few tracks have been bootlegged onto YouTube, but it's now a collector's item. So is the follow-up, "Here to There," released in 1997, which softened up on the traditionalism and leaned toward gentler songs about Christian faith and devotion. Like Thile, the Watkins siblings had grown up in a fundamentalist household, and in their telling, the security of their faith was part of their bond. But as they traveled the world, they encountered a wider range of humanity, and their thinking adjusted. Thile said he felt the effects in his music immediately. "The further away from fundamentalist Christianity I got, the further away from athleticizing the act of music-making I got," he said. "For a long time there was a real desire to be ‘the best,' whatever that means. And falling away from the idea that there was a hard-and-fast ‘right way' just blew the doors off my concept of music-making." The group's music began to reflect new lines of questioning, particularly the songs written by Thile. On "Doubting Thomas," from Nickel Creek's 2004 album, "Why Should the Fire Die?," he reckons with religion through mortality. "What will be left when I've drawn my last breath/Besides the folks I've met and the folks who know me?" he sings. "Will I discover a soul-saving love/Or just the dirt above and below me?" In the mid-2000s, after more than a decade of often-constant touring, Nickel Creek went on a long hiatus. All three of the band's members fanned out to work on independent projects and engage new collaborators, but Thile's pace stood out, Sara Watkins said in an interview. She marveled at his "stamina for musical development, his stamina for the pursuit of what he's going after." "He has an insatiable appetite creatively," she said. Thile buried himself in the Punch Brothers, a group that he'd pulled together with the goal of executing a complex, four-movement suite, "The Blind Leaving the Blind," that he wrote in a daze as he processed the dissolution of his first marriage. It wound up setting a new standard in progressive bluegrass. The five-piece band - a wrecking crew of young talent in traditional formation: mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and bass - could nimbly handle Thile's jump cuts between sections and his layering of harmonic modes. "It was like all of a sudden getting the keys to a Lamborghini, or a spaceship," the banjoist Noam Pikelny said in a phone interview. "You want to take the turns as fast as possible. You want to do what you could never do before, now that you have the brain power and the instrumental prowess." If Nickel Creek's sometimes-fatal flaw was its completely unconstrained willingness to give you what felt good, the Punch Brothers' was its disregard for that, in favor of whatever had the most ideas packed into it. But as that band has grown more comfortable, its arrangements have grown airier, less abstruse, and Thile has learned to admit more of his bandmates' contributions. Pikelny said that receptivity to others' ideas had become one of Thile's big strengths. "Even if the initial seed wasn't something that he thought of, seemingly in just a moment, he internalizes this thing and a whole puzzle appears in his mind of how he could put this together," Pikelny said. Both the Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek remain active, and in recent months Thile took separate retreats with each to work on projects that should soon lead to new LPs. The Punch Brothers rehearsed and ultimately recorded an album of material by the guitar luminary Tony Rice, who died just weeks later. With Nickel Creek, which has not released an album in seven years, the band members brought their families with them for a full retreat in Santa Barbara, Calif., and took their time. They got as far as writing a handful of songs, a process they have always closely shared, and will find time to record them sometime soon, as life allows. "Every time we go away from a Nickel Creek tour, we live lives, dig into our other projects that challenge us in different ways, and then when we come back these are things we can add," Watkins said. "These songs can kind of be born out of that reconnection." PHOTO: Clement Pascal
The Oniros Film Awards Q&A's with animated short director; Christina Teenz Tan
Posted: May 24, 2021 12:00 AM
We had the great pleasure of interviewing Christina Teenz Tan, one of the directors of the animated short: Fantasy of Companionship between Human and Inanimate, recently awarded at the Oniros Film Awards. The movie is a touching story about the friendship between a young girl and Alan, a plush inanimate with a soul of a baby lion, that aspires to become independent by gaining artificial intelligence. It's been fascinating to watch Al's story unfold in the animation through music and paintings, but even more getting to know the scientific realm and research behind the script. READ THE Q&A
Conspirare's June Season Finale: Songs for Seasons presents the world premiere of Kile Smith's 'April Showers'
Posted: May 21, 2021 12:00 AM
Conspirare will close this season with Songs for Seasons, a concert centered on hope and renewal and hosted by artistic director Craig Hella Johnson. Conspirare singers Stefanie Moore, soprano, Laura Mercado-Wright, mezzo-soprano, Dann Coakwell, tenor, and Simon Barrad, baritone will be performing. The concert features the world premiere of April Showers, a song cycle by composer Kile Smith. Smith says of the music, "I am composing brand-new music to popular songs from after the Spanish Flu epidemic and World War I. They tell of loss, loneliness, dreams, love, and hope, and speak just as strongly now-in our physical and emotional separations-as they did then." Austin Haller will join the quartet of Conspirare singers at the piano for the world premiere of April Showers. April Showers the second commission Kile Smith has created for Conspirare. His first Conspirare commission, The Dawn's Early Light, sets text by Native American Sarah Winnemucca and Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangled Banner" and is included on Conspirare's most recent album, The Singing Guitar. The concert evokes late Spring and early summer, exploring the sense of conclusions and beginnings with music. The Conspirare quartet will be featured as soloists in music from G. F. Handel, Marc Blitzstein, Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. Craig Hella Johnson will serve as pianist. In the spirit of the times and this commissioned work, these solo presentations will feature music and texts that balance the desire for hope and the promises of spring during this time laden with great loss and unprecedented disruption to "normal" life. Craig Hella Johnson reflected on these solo songs, saying that "our artists share solo songs spanning a century, each song reflecting an aspect of the seasons and cycles of our lives. This intimate vocal art form has the capacity to draw us in for a closer view and to stir our imaginations. As we look toward live concerts next season, we close this season with a special vocal chamber music experience, highlighting the expressive range of the human voice and the beautiful talents of these Conspirare artists. We are excited to share this fresh and innovative new work by Kile Smith and we look forward to coming together with you for a sweet early-summer music gathering." Artists captured their videos remotely. Robert Harlan and John Stinson, who previously collaborated with Conspirare for Conspirare Christmas 2020, will create the concert video. Each concert stream will be followed by a live post-concert talk with Craig Hella Johnson, Kile Smith, and the artists. About the Artists: Los Angeles, CA-based Stefanie Moore is a longtime Conspirare singer and is featured in "We Tell Each Other Stories" from Considering Matthew Shepard and on numerous Conspirare albums. Stefanie Moore's vocal spark and flexibility are accompanied by a musicality, intelligence, and sense of humor that make her performances "standout" (San Antonio Express News), "soothing and lovely" (Austin American Statesman), and "graceful" (Santa Fe New Mexican). Laura Mercado-Wright, an Austin, TX-based mezzo-soprano, appears regularly with Conspirare and has performed as a soloist on numerous occasions, including on the Grammy®-nominated album, Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings. Her work has been lauded by the New York Times as "superb", "dramatically astute" and "stunningly agile". Dann Coakwell, tenor, has been praised as a "vivid storyteller" (The New York Times), with "a gorgeous lyric tenor that could threaten or caress on the turn of a dime" (Dallas Morning News). Coakwell has performed as a soloist across Europe, Japan, and throughout the Americas, under many renowned conductors. He can be heard as a soloist on the Grammy-winning album The Sacred Spirit of Russia, Grammy-nominated Hope of Loving, and Considering Matthew Shepard (Harmonia Mundi 2016). The versatility of "gorgeous voiced" baritone, Simon Barrad, has been heard across the United States and Europe in opera, Lieder, and oratorio concerts. He has recently sung with such companies and festivals as the Marlboro Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Bach Festival. Hailed as "always remarkable" by the Austin Chronicle, Austin Haller is a music director, conductor, organist, pianist, arranger, vocal coach, and tenor, based in Austin, TX. Particularly recognized for his artistic creativity and deep sensitivity at the keyboard, Austin serves as Organist for the Austin Symphony, and he performs regularly with the Grammy®-winning choir Conspirare. About Conspirare Conspirare is a professional choral organization under the leadership of Craig Hella Johnson. Inspired by the power of music to change lives, this ensemble engages singers from around the world who join voices to deliver world-class, extraordinary live musical experiences and recordings. Their discography includes 13 commercial albums and 19 self-produced live albums. Johnson and Conspirare were awarded a 2014 Grammy® for Best Choral Performance for The Sacred Spirit of Russia album and have been nominated seven other times. Conspirare's most recent recording, The Singing Guitar, was recorded with the Los Angeles, Texas and Austin Guitar Quartets. The BBC's Andrew McGregor featured the album on Record Review, saying, "The singing of Craig Hella Johnson's ensemble Conspirare combined with the delicacy of shifting textures of twelve guitars is intriguing and emotionally effective... I found this a really moving setting for an unusual ensemble." Conspirare was awarded the Texas Medal of Arts in 2019. Based in Austin, Texas, they perform an annual concert series and tour in the United States and abroad. About Craig Hella Johnson Craig Hella Johnson is the Founding Artistic Director and Conductor of Conspirare and Music Director of Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble. Known for crafting thought-provoking musical journeys that create deep connections between performers and listeners, Johnson is in frequent demand as a guest conductor of choral and orchestral works. Johnson joined the faculty at Texas State as Artist in Residence in fall 2016 and is currently Professor of Practice. A composer and arranger, Johnson's first concert-length composition Considering Matthew Shepard was premiered and recorded by Conspirare for a 2016 CD release. Johnson's accomplishments have been recognized with numerous awards and honors. Notably among them, he and Conspirare won a 2014 Grammy® for Best Choral Performance, Chorus America awarded him the Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art in 2015, and the Texas State Legislature named him Texas State Musician for 2013.