Author: Olivia Cipriano

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For Massas by Viegas Pellerin Corda Orrù

I follow an experimental music blog on blogspot called Caliper Music. As I was searching for a recording to write about, I came across this really interesting piece called For Massas by Viegas Pellerin Corda Orrù (João Pedro Viegas, Guy-Frank Pellerin, Silvia Corda, and Adriano Orrù). The artists who created this piece are all trained jazz musicians with an interest in radical idea of free improvisation. Free improvisation is a musical technique in which the musician, or in this case musicians, improvise with no rules or logical precedent. Some people refer to free improvisation as a genre, but there is no logical technical music connection between any one piece. But it is arguable that the musical process constitutes the genre. I believe that it is a musical school like modernism or “post-modernism” in that the way you think about it connects the ideas. But it is also hard to classify recent experimental music because we lack the understanding of historical context that we use to classify music of the past.

For Massas was dedicated to the friend and supporter of the collaborators Paulo Albano, nicknamed Massas, who died shortly after the recording of the improvisational session. Conceived using this technique of free improvisation, For Massas was recorded live at Livraria Ler Devagar (in Lisbon, Portugal) on May 14th, 2015. I believe the location is a bookstore and experimental music space for artists in the area. Released on Pan y Rosas on May 2nd, the recording features João Pedro Viegas on bass clarinet, Guy-Frank Pellerin on soprano and tenor sax, Silvia Corda on piano, and Adriano Orrù on the double bass. The four tracks on the recording are La prima frase (the first sentance), notre réponse (our response), Massas diz mais Música (Massas says more music) and Encore. In the recording you can hear how the instrumentalists use a combination of traditional and extended performance techniques. This is especially apparent in Silvia Corda contribution on piano. You can hear her play traditionally but also pluck and scratch the strings on the inside of the piano, and strike the wooden part of the piano for a percussive effect. Adriano Orrù uses his instrument similarly, running his nails up and down the strings and using the body to create new percussive sounds. Also, he often uses the Bartók pizz technique as well as the slapping strings technique commonly used in Jazz and blues music. The woodwinds use some experimental performance techniques as well, but are limited in comparison. I really enjoyed when Pellerin slowed his breath enough on the tenor sax and created a vibrato with his reed.

The artist start off kind of slowly, as if they are trying to get a feel for the direction of the where the improvisation was going. Similar to when we tried the indeterminate singing pieces in class. But after about a minute they became a more cohesive unit. You can tell the instrumentalists are really listening to each other by their use of dynamics, empty space and layering. Certain parts of the music have more color while others feature a single instrument. This is similar to Jazz styles where some instruments will stop playing while one takes a solo. The result is this really interesting atonal piece, that juxtaposes space with sound and chaos. Music like this is really interesting to me because of how unique it is to that certain point in time. It evokes a visceral reaction, and forces me to really think introspectively. I think that is the point of it, there is no theme or motiff to hold onto for reference. It displaces and isolates the listener, partially because its not “enjoyable” in the traditional sense but also because there isn’t a single thread that can be followed. This isn’t the kind of music you can get lost in, or analyze. It isn’t for everyone, but I was drawn to it for some reason. Whether it was because I needed something new to hear, or because I needed something that made me think about myself, I am glad I found it.  If you enjoy finding new music I suggest following Caliper Music if you aren’t already. I will definitely be looking out for these artists (short bios in hyperlink) in the future and you should too!

 

Also here is a link to the recording on the blog if you would prefer not to download a zip file: http://calipermusic.blogspot.com/2017/05/viegas-pellerin-corda-orru-for-massas.html 

Universal Melody Brass Band

I went to see the Universal Melody Brass Band at The Stone curated by Steven Bernstein. Finding the venue was an experience of its own. From the outside the Stone looks like an abandoned shop; and the only thing that informs you that you have come to the right place is a bumper sticker on the door. Once inside you’ll see how small the venue really is. Chairs are pushed and cramped together surrounding a small circle of instruments and music stands, and by the time I arrived it was almost full. But none of that mattered once they began to play.

Run by Steven Bernstein (playing trumpet), Universal Melody Brass Band also features Frank London (trumpet), Art Baron (trombone), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Matt Darrio (sax), Oscar Noriega (sax), Marcus Rojaz (tuba) and Billy Martin (drums). They played a variety of Jazz favorites as well as original compositions by Steven Bernstein. Unfortunately there was no programs, cell phone use was prohibited and the venue was very dark so I couldn’t write down the names of any the pieces performed. However, one piece that really interested me was one of these original compositions. It was heavily influenced by Slavic music, which is similar in its use of modes.  But because it was a brass band the instrumentation created a musical juxtaposition. A brass band in such a small space created another surprising juxtaposition. At first this big sound was quite jarring and hard to process. However, the sound soon washed over me and the effect was that the audience became one with the space. Being so close to the musician and on the same plane created an intimacy that can’t be replicated in a recital hall or on a stage. I actually felt displaced from my body during certain pieces because I was so caught up in the music, especially during the piece I mentioned before. In such a space with such a big band, you might expect that the soloist might be hard to hear but Bernstein managed to arrange the pieces with such a balance and fluidity that I couldn’t even hear when the other instruments backed off and came back in.

This group was also different because instead of having one or two main soloists, all of the musicians were virtuoso soloists on their respective instruments. And each musician had their own style of improvising which made for these really distinct transitions between solos. While the trumpets and sax solos were all fun to listen to, what really caught my eye was Marcus Rojaz on the tuba. Due to the nature of such a large instrument continuously fast moving passages are nearly impossible. That being said Rojaz combats that quality by creating these harmonically complex improvisations often sharpening the forth scale degree and flattening the 6th unexpectedly. And rather than playing long held out notes, or slower moving continuous passages, he uses the negative space (rests) to create more interesting rhythmic phrases. The trombone player Art Baron used a similar rhythmic style, but also incorporated quick slides into his improvisations. Bernstein played mainly a valved trumpet but also had a slide trumpet on certain songs. When he took solos on the slide trumpet he combined the fast moving phrasing common to the trumpet with fun glissandi.

Overall going to see the Universal Melody brass band was a treat. I would definitely recommend anyone to go and see them if they are ever playing in New York City again. However, if you do go you should definitely find a venue that is in a smaller space. I would have definitely enjoyed watching the group on a stage, but it would have lacked the intimacy that I experienced at The Stone. And in terms of a venue, if there is any experimental group or artist you would like to see, check out The Stone to see if they are playing. Trust me, the venue is an amazing experience of its own. Just make sure that when you go that you bring $20 in cash. Tickets are not available in advance.

The Miraculous Mandarin Suite

I listened to Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra play a concert at Carnegie Hall. Although the company’s repertoire mainly consisted of Romantic works, they played my favorite piece by Bela Bartok, The Miraculous Mandarin Suite. The other works that were played included Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1, Strauss/Alfred Grünfeld’s Soirée de Vienne (paraphrase on Die Fledermaus), Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”, and Josef Strauss’ Frauenherz (A Woman’s Heart) Polka-Mazur Op. 166. Although all the these works were well done, the Bartok was by far the most interesting. As a dancer growing up I would watch many ballets and had the chance to watch this ballet performed in Prague. It stood out in my mind as it was not the kind of music that I was used to dancing to at the time, and overall a strange strange story. Everything I had been exposed to musically had been mostly tonal and graceful up until that point, Bartok changed the game. I didn’t even realize that people could dance to music like this. And even though the music was strange, it slowly grew on me. Now I listen to this piece years later as a musician, and I am immediately drawn back into that theater.

I think that part of what make a piece like The Miraculous Mandarin Suite so memorable is that the music itself is extremely visual. Bartok is able to replicate such specific emotions through his music, so that you almost don’t need the dancers to tell the story. The ballet is about a prostitute who is kidnapped by three criminals and forced to seduce men so that the criminals could rob them. The first man they trap is old and poor, the second is young and poor. They both are jumped and thrown out, but the last man is a wealthy Chinese man (the mandarin). He is jumped and the criminals try to murder him, but he is kept alive by his longing to embrace the prostitute. Once the two are united, the mandarin’s longing is fulfilled and he begins to bleed out and die. The ballet’s dark plot-line is evident in the music and although the suite is not the entire ballet, the story is still portrayed effectively through the music. I was transported back to the setting of a run down city with the chaotic opening. When the clarinet begins its solo, I could see the seductive dance of the prostitute from her window. Each time the criminals attacked, you could feel the victims fear through the tension in the music. I highly recommend listening to this piece on the wqxr website. The link is: http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/vienna-philharmonic-orchestra-plays-brahms-schubert-bartok-carnegie-hall/ . I would skip to 1 hour and 49 minutes in so that you can hear the introduction to the piece, if you don’t want to listen to the other works.

Overall the concert was not cohesive enough. The juxtaposition of the romantic works against the modernism of Bartok was definitely dramatic, but it was too different. While all of the works had some folk influences, the execution together did not translate well. Standing alone each piece was excellent but played side by side it didn’t make sense to me. I think that the piece would have been better placed in the context of other modernists of his era. That being said I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of The Miraculous Mandarin Suite.