Someday soon, when ape-like creatures with digital watches are rummaging through the artifacts and wreckage of our civilization, the music of Synthetica will serve as a fitting backdrop. Synthetica is a blast of pearlesque dissonance, of controlled chaos, of understated beauty. I was moved. I parked in back of the Little Theatre Café Thursday night so I could inhale a brownie the size of my head without freaking out other patrons and hitting them with chocolate shrapnel, but also to listen to the band unencumbered by sight. In fact, I've opted for a black square in lieu of a photo for this week's column so you can contemplate the visuals that the duo conjured for yourself.
Synthetica -- made up of Eric the Taylor and Sonam -- paint in wide sonic strokes from a collision of swirling electronica and analog punctuation. Taylor manned the laptop and Sonam, in a sort of call and response, plugged in organic sounds and passages from an impressive arsenal that littered the floor like a Gypsy garage sale. Taylor's wall of sound was as soothing as it was unnerving as it occasionally threatened to take off. Sonam riffed, mixing a cast of tones and characters from recorders, conch shells, congas, cymbals, a busted accordion, and a trumpet. It had me dreaming of Bix Beiderbecke thumb-wrestling with Lenny Bruce in the Vatican as a chorus of swimsuit models sang Sophie Tucker tunes in pig Latin.
Alas, there were no vocals (none with words, anyway) so the pictures you saw in your head (if you had, ahem, shut up long enough to listen) were different from the placid Polaroids that this duo planted in mine. You might call this outfit weird and abstract, but by not adhering to conventional structures, Synthetica's layers and passages conveyed some of the most beautiful sounds I've heard.
Grant Geissman is having a great time making music and one listen to his new album, "Bop! Bang! Boom!," is enough to prove that the fun is infectious. Actually, it starts even before you listen. All of the album's artwork is by the great illustrator Miles Thompson who has perfected (or maybe invented) the "cool, daddy-o" school of art, harkening back to a beatnik-inspired1950s that I'm not sure ever really existed. The package even includes absurd collectable cards.
Most of the album's tunes are wonderfully slinky, featuring the kind of inverted, playful melodies that seem to turn in on themselves in the catchiest possible ways. For instance, "Q Tip," Geissman's tribute to Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova" (which is also reminiscent of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder"), showcases Geissman's trademark melodic twists. The tune also boasts a great solo by saxophonist Tom Scott, who you might remember from Carole King's 1970s tunes like "Jazzman." Scott is just one of the great guests on the album: Guitarists Albert Lee and Larry Carlton duel with Geissman and bassist Leland Sklar, pianist Russell Ferrante and the legendary Van Dyke Parks (on accordion) all appear on different tracks.
If you remember Geissman from Chuck Mangione's "Feel's So Good," on which he played one of the most delicious guitar solos ever recorded, you will be happy to know that he's as agile as ever, zooming over the strings with double-stops and everything else possible on the instrument. But he is by no means one-dimensional. Geissman proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt when he picks up a nylon string, classical guitar and plays the beautiful "Un Poco Espanol."
Charles Mingus occupies a special place in the pantheon of true jazz visionaries. A brilliant composer capable of orchestral majesty, he never strayed far from the vernacular musical vocabulary at the root of jazz. No matter how tight the horns are, the rawness of the African American experience always comes through. The full spectrum of his talent is amply on display in the new 10-disc box set from Legacy. The set not only covers Mingus' most prolific period, the late 1950s and early 1960s, it also includes some of his greatest albums: "Mingus Ah Um," "Mingus Dynasty" and "Let My Children Hear Music."
Many of Mingus' greatest and most familiar compositions are here, and we are provided with new insights into them thanks to an excellent essay by Mingus' widow, Sue Mingus. For instance "Better Git It In Your Soul" was originally "Better Get a Hit In Your Soul," as in a "hit" of heroin. And it's common knowledge that "Fables of Faubus" was written in protest of the racist governor of Arkansas at the time, Orville Faubus, but I didn't know that Mingus had written lyrics (calling the governor a nazi, among other things) that Columbia Records would not allow him to include on the album.
The box set contains two CDs of alternate takes and, although Sue Mingus acknowledges they might be of interest to collectors, she writes that she fought the inclusion of material that Mingus considered unworthy of release. The late Teo Macero, who produced many of these tracks, probably would have agreed with her. He was upset with Columbia Legacy when they resurrected his discards from classic Miles Davis records and released them.
Also included here are two invaluable live recordings. The first is "Charles Mingus And Friends In Concert," a flawed but still wonderful performance recorded at LincolnCenter in 1972. The 23 "friends" include Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz and Gene Ammons on sax, James Moody on flute and Randy Weston on piano, Dizzy Gillespie, vocals and Bill Cosby as MC. I thought I knew Mingus well but there were revelations here like the great rendition of his "Ecclusiastics."
The second, "Mingus Epitaph," recorded at LincolnCenter in 1989, 10 years after Mingus' death, is the result of a decades-in-the-making commission by Gunther Schuller, who pieced together and conducted the work. To do so, Schuller employed a dream team of 29 musicians, including Wynton Marsalis and Randy Brecker among the six trumpets, George Adams and Bobby Watson among the saxophonists, and Roland Hanna and John Hicks on piano, to name a few.
Needless to say, there are gems at every turn. Among them is "Non-sectarian Blues," the only known collaboration between Mingus and Dave Brubeck. In a fascinating, apparently improvised duel between the master of earthiness and the king of chamber jazz, Mingus's bass riffs and shouts seem to spur Brubeck into a little wildness of his own.
George Thorogood roared thoroughly bad-ass to almost 8,000 fans at the final installment of the 2012 Party In The Park series Thursday night. At 62, the Deleware Destroyer still has it, switching from lowdown, gutbucket bluesman a la Hound Dog Taylor to a flashy showman reminiscent of Little Richard.
Thorogood offers nothing new, but honestly his fans -- myself included -- only want to hear his savage guitar boogie and post-vaudeville, hepcat shuck 'n' jive. He is typically no frills -- a minimalist to the max -- yet his stage set up, with all its computer-driven lights and video screen, looked like a giant Lite Brite. It seemed more U2 "Zoo TV" than Junior Kimbrough juke joint. No matter. Close your eyes and Thorogood stands alone with that gruff and grizzled voice that suits his age now more than it did when I first saw him at the War Memorial (a mere stagger-stagger-crawl from last night's show) more than 30 years ago.
The Veins now features a father/son act, with Jet DiProjetto on guitar and his son Zane on drums. Man, how time flies; first I realize I've been going to rock shows for more than 30 years, next I see a little bastard who it seems like only yesterday, I saw on his dad's shoulders at a KISS concert in Buffalo, beating the hell out of the drums. The junior DiProjetto is mechanically similar to his uncle and former Veins drummer, Rob Filardo, but has his own sense of style and presence. It occurred to me, as the band pounded out its powerful, heavy rock in the antithetical light of day, that I don't think the band has any songs that aren't in a minor key. No biggie, I'm just sayin'.
Saturday night at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, five finalists took the stage with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in the final round of the 2012 Eastman Young Artists International Piano Competition. Two hours and considerable applause later, the first prize was awarded to Leonardo Colafelice of Italy (age 16), whose final round performance was the first movement of the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30. Colafelice has won more than 50 piano competitions since 2005.
The first, second, and third place winners each received a medal, a cash prize, and a full-tuition scholarship to the Eastman School of Music. The second prize was awarded to Junhui Chen (China, age 17), who performed the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, first movement. And the third prize was awarded to Kate Liu (Singapore/USA, age 16), who performed the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16, first movement.
The other two finalists were ChaeyoungPark (USA - Kansas, age 15), who performed the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26, first movement, and Dong-Won Lee (USA - Washington, age 18), who performed the Brahms Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15, first movement. These two finalists won a $750 cash prize.
Less than a week ago, the five finalists were part of a field of 20 contestants, ages 15-18, from countries around the world, vying to win more than $500,000 in cash prizes and scholarships. Each contestant had performed in two preliminary rounds plus one master class, all of which were open to the public.
Having attended several rounds in the Hatch Recital Hall, I had already made notes on different contestants on the various required elements. Each contestant performed works from each period (Baroque, Classical, Romantic), and each contestant had choices from among French, Russian, and Spanish, Latin, or North American composers.
Although not one of the judges, and recognizing that I did not hear all of the preliminary rounds, I do still want to offer high praise for several performances that delighted this lover of contemporary music. Sang-Won Kim (Korea, age 17) performed a work that suited him well, namely, "Masques, Op. 34," third movement, titled "Serenade de Don Juan" by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). Another piece that caught my ear for her finger dexterity and sense of phrasing was performed by Katelan Tran Terrell (USA - Texas, age 18), who performed the Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983).
And I would like to make special note of the performance of finalist Chaeyoung Park in the second preliminary round of a selection from "Makrokosmos, Volume I, Gemini - Dream Images (Love-Death Music)" by American composer George Crumb (b. 1929). Park performed the only composition by a living, American composer out of more than 160 works programmed, and she did so with grace and lyricism in a piece with those notorious contemporary markings like "silence for 3 seconds" (instead of traditional music notation of rests metered through time signatures).
Truly my only disappointment on the final evening was the thought of having two wait two years until the next competition. Congratulations to artistic director Douglas Humpherys, the panel of international judges, and the staff at ESM for another outstanding opportunity for young pianists to share their talents with the public and to prepare for their futures in classical music.
Click here for City's original feature on the ESM piano competition.
[ Pop/Rock ]
All Time Low Saturday, October 13. Water Street Music Hall, 204 N. Water St. 7 p.m. $20-$22. 325-5600, waterstreetmusic.com.
[ DJ/Electronic ]
Foam N' Glow Party Saturday, October 13. Main Street Armory, 900 E. Main St. 6 p.m. $25-$40. 232-3221, rochestermainstreetarmory.com.
[ Pop/Rock ]
Melissa Etheridge Sunday, October 28. Auditorium Theater, 885 E. Main St. 7:30 p.m. $25-$100. 222-5000, rbtl.org.
There is no mistaking the power of New York City's Helmet, the now-legendary heavy outfit fronted by its lone original member, guitarist-vocalist Page Hamilton, and featuring a constantly revolving cast of other members. This in-flux line-up has never been a problem for Page, as I've seen Helmet three times now and his attack is still intact. The band's amazing set at Warped Tour a few years back soared skyward as the band pummeled the kids along with the older punk fans (both older fans, and fans of older punk) with its beautiful brutality. However, the band's Water Street Music Hall show this past Saturday shook the walls, leaving the fairly large crowd nowhere to hide -- we all needed helmets.
It amazes me that even after all these years (the band formed in 1989), Helmet stands alone in its "thinking man's metal" proto-grunge, dropped-tune mayhem. But honestly, Helmet is brilliant and untouchable. Opening the show was a band to watch, Anchorage, Nebraska, from Rochester (I know, it's confusing). Anchorage is bringing back grunge's disenfranchised sound and stance to clubs here in town. It's way raunchy and cool.
The John Cole Blues Band played to an oddly modest crowd at the Dinosaur later that night. With my ears still ringing from Helmet's onslaught, I was soothed by Cole's soulful voice and his terse, simple picking style on his old Jazzmaster. He makes it sound so easy. I assure you, it is not. Whereas a lot of blues players create flurries around the notes that matter, cluttering them with flash and fluff, Cole trims the fat as he cooks -- but the sizzle remains. Phoenix, Arizona-based Tom Grills (brother of locally based slinger Steve Grills) joined Cole on stage for a little back and forth and boogie. Again, it was cool.
It is shameful when a reporter reviewing a concert doesn't know the spelling of the…