A look at folk, classical, world and jazz on the rise and causing waves around the globe.

OHMA – Between All Things

On Between All Things, two young musicians from Southern California make a jazz-leaning set of instrumentals so pretty that they edge into New Age. OHMA sets down fusion-y dream sequences, buoyed by tropical syncopation and fluttering with magic realism.

OHMA’s two principals are Mia Garcia and Hailey Niswager. Garcia plays a warm, lucid guitar, both electric and acoustic, synthesizing smooth jazz, bossa nova and R&B. Niswanger, a hotly tipped reedist out of Berklee (a Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award winner and a Downbeat Critics Poll regular), contributes thick swaggering throbs of saxophone and fluttering idealizations of Latin flute. There are also keyboards, percussion and electronics, though it’s not clear who is playing these. The music is sleek, glossy, enveloping and unvaryingly gorgeous–so unvarying in fact, that you might welcome some dissonance. 

The tracks aim at otherworldliness, with their swells of angelic altered vocals, their feverish runs of saxophone. Song titles like Seeing What Is Beyond, and A Portal to All That Is hint at their gnostic ambitions. The best tracks are the ones that introduce a hint of friction, like the clanging, metallic beat of In Essence that sets a languid guitar reverie to dance. Everything & Nothing lets a series of breathy, buzzy sax tones ground its space rock explorations, then juxtaposes antic guitar figures with the chilled serenity of flute. – Jennifer Kelly

Igor Levit – Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude

On Igor Levit’s double album Tristan released on Sony Classical, the pianist explores nocturnal themes of love and death, fear, ecstasy, loneliness & redemption in the music of Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler & Hans Werner Henze. It includes Levit’s first concerto recording with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under Franz Welser-Möst with the album’s central work Henze’s “Tristan” for piano, electronic tapes and orchestra.

The five works, including Liszt’s Liebestraum no. 3 and Harmonies du Soir, as well as transcriptions of Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan und Isolde and Mahler’s Adagio from Symphony no. 10, span a period of 135 years (1837 to 1973) and represent very different genres. Only one of these works was originally conceived for piano solo but Igor Levit’s exploration of borderline experiences in our lives – death in Life (2018), spirituality in Encounter (2020) and now, with Tristan, the link between love, death and our need for redemption – inevitably means that it is not just masterpieces for the piano that are central to his concern but, above all, compositions in which certain thematic associations find their most personal expression.

Levit’s own thoughts revolve less around the themes of love and death as such than around the experience of night and of the nocturnal as a dark alternative to our conscious actions by day. “Night has so many faces. It can signal a place of refuge or the loss of control, it signifies love and death, and it is the place where we feel our deepest, most paranoid fears,” says Levit. “The Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth Symphony contains a famous outburst of pain in the form of a dissonant chord, and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is all about a kind of emotional nuclear meltdown. All of the piece’s essential actions take place at night. In his reminiscences, Hans Werner Henze likewise recalled his work on Tristan as a time of nightmares and of dreamlike hallucinations.”

Hans Werner Henze’s Tristan – described by the composer as a set of “Preludes for piano, tape and orchestra” – is a raptly refined hybrid work comprising passages for solo piano and electronics and is a concerto, a symphony and a piece of music theatre all wrapped into one. The present recording of this work was made during the concerts that were given in Leipzig in November 2019.

Liszt’s nocturne in A♭ major – his Liebestraum no. 3 – derives from a setting of melancholic lines by Ferdinand Freiligrath: “Oh, love as long as you can love! / Oh, love as long as you could crave! / That hour is fast approaching when / You’ll stand and weep beside the grave!”

The same sense of nocturnal despair is also found with Mahler, who in late July 1910 was working on the opening movement of his Tenth Symphony when he discovered that his wife was having an affair. Igor Levit performs this Adagio in a little-known piano transcription by the Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson, whose great Passacaglia on DSCH he has done so much recently to promote.

Only in Harmonies du soir, the eleventh of Liszt’s twelve Études d’exécution transcendante, is there any sense of reconciliation, a peaceful counterweight to the ecstasies and nightmares experienced by those Wagnerian and Mahlerian figures who in Wagner’s own words are “devoted to the night”.
Presto Music

Marina Allen – Superreality

On her debut album, Candlepower, Los Angeles singer/songwriter Marina Allen illuminated her gentle, crystalline vocal delivery with a highly lyrical, sophisticated songcraft deeply indebted to the ’70s singer/songwriter pop of artists like Carole King, Laura Nyro, and Karen Carpenter. A year later, Centrifics expands upon this stylistic base, lightly incorporating the influence of artists spanning Meredith Monk and Joanna Newsom. The record was engineered and produced by Chris Cohen (Deerhoof, the Curtains). A song like the bittersweet piano ballad “Getting Better” still dwells in the ear-pleasing realm of her debut, but opener Celadon begins with a bass-and-piano ostinato that underscores a string arrangement and an often glissando-free, piano-like vocal melody.

This type of attention to technique was evident on Candlepower but appears in higher-contrast forms on Centrifics, such as when she explores her higher vocal range on the lithe Or Else and the resigned lower end on Halfway Home. The latter song still selectively employs vibrato and dynamics while delivering world-weary lyrics like “I get tired of the song, the metronome and yearning/I get tired of the day, forgetting and remembering/I get tired of me.” The dreamy celesta and intimate singing performance that define New Song Rising seem to transport listeners to another venue entirely, as does the flute-ornamented vocalise of the quiet Smoke Bush, with its arpeggiated acoustic, then later buzzy electric guitar, and 12/8 rhythmic structure. Elsewhere, the melancholic, saxophone-bolstered retro-pop of Foul Weather Jacket Drawing finds Allen’s voice double-tracked. Despite these slight diversions and subtle experiments, one couldn’t be faulted for wondering if Allen may have missed her calling as a Schoolhouse Rock composer in the tradition of Lynn Ahrens — a testament to her irrepressible melodic instincts. – Review by by Marcy Donelson

Roopa Panesar & Shahbaz Hussain – Raag Miyan Ki Malhar

Sitar player Roopa Panesar is certainly one of the most important musicians to have emerged in the British Asian diaspora over the past few years. She possesses an intensely lyrical style on an instrument that still has relatively fewer female exponents than one might expect. Having chalked up an impressive international career, in 2020 she dazzled everyone with her dexterity when playing sitar for AR Rahman’s Slumdog Millionaire Suite for the City of Birmingham’s Symphony Orchestra. Panesar’s playing style is the one associated with the late maestro Vilayat Khan, of whom she is an ardent devotee and, on the notes for this album, she acknowledges being inspired by him.
Appropriately called SUBHA (morning), the album features ‘Rag Ahir Bhairav’ and ‘Rag Gujri Todi – two well-known early morning ragas as well as the any-time raga ‘Rag Bhairavi’. Superbly accompanied by tabla maestro Ramdas Palsule and Kaviraj Singh on tanpura (drone), Panesar is as confident and lucid as one has come to expect with all her music and, in this instance, she expresses a profound sense of calmness laced with an inexplicable exhilaration. ‘Rag Gujri Todi’, which is presented in a medium as well as a fast tempo (and also a shorter radio edit version), succeeds in completely enveloping the listener in what becomes quite the perfect soundtrack for an early morning meditation. — songlines.co.uk