Saturday, April 21, 2012

Symphony of Souls, etc.

Symphony of Souls at Brecht Forum
Last Saturday, I saw Jason Kao Hwang's Symphony of Souls performed by the composer and his 38-piece "improvising string orchestra" Spontaneous River. The room at the Brecht Forum (on the far western edge of the West Village) was small enough that the orchestra took up about half of it. Even if every seat had been filled, the audience to performer ratio still would've barely topped 1:1. While I enjoyed watching the musicians at close range and being immersed in the sound, it is a shame that we don't live in a time and place where a piece like this could've been played in a big hall and touched off a Rite of Spring-like riot.

Though it has been done by Braxton and others, it still seems like a major accomplishment to put together this large of a group of musicians who can creditably improvise while making their way through a complex score. Yet this wasn't a Dr. Johnson's dog-walking-on-its-hind-legs type of thing, but a fully-realized, powerful piece of music that moved confidently through improvised and written, fragmented and unison sections, producing thrills and surprises that seemed to be shared by audience and performers. In his composition, Hwang seems to have handled the basses (there were 6 bassists) and drums particularly well, deploying them to power some strongly rhythmic passages that provided effective contrast to the relatively open spaces featuring acoustic guitars (which I'm tempted to describe as "post-Derek Bailey") and solo improvisation. Although individual solos were not a dominant part of the work, I thought the violins stood out in this area, with a particularly fine solo early on from (I believe) Mazz Swift.

A few more things heard and seen recently:

This East Village poetry walk audio guide, written up by the NY Times and featuring a soundtrack of John Zorn music and narration by Jim Jarmusch, makes for good listening even if you're not actually walking the route. If you're not up to speed on the so-called "Second-Generation New York School", this will put you on the path (literally and figuratively).

All too appropriately, soon after listening to the poetry walk, which talks about the changing neighborhood, I heard that the Lakeside Lounge is closing at the end of this month. The Lakeside, just off the corner of Tompkins Square Park, was a place I never went to enough, but I did see some excellent shows there and the jukebox certainly lived up to its reputation.

I'm not a big fan of Charlie Rose (I can't completely trust a man  who rocks the loafers-with-no-socks look), but I have to commend him for putting together a fine hour of TV in tribute to Christopher Hitchens. The panel was made up of Hitch pals Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, and the poet and journalist James Fenton. As to be expected, the anecdotes flow like Hitchens' favored Johnnie Walker Black.

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