A look at music on the rise and causing waves around the globe.
Lorelei Ensemble and James Kallembach – Antigone mvmts 11-12
Only Antigone gets billed in the title of this cantata by James Kallembach for female chorus (Lorelei is an eight-voice group, ideal for reasons explored below), cello quartet, and soloists. The work does tell Antigone’s story, from Sophocles and from Greek mythology, in three parts, titled “Two Sisters” (Antigone and Ismene), “The Arrest of Antigone,” and “The Death of Antigone,” plus a choral Latin prologue. However, each of the three parts carries an epilogue from the writings of German student Sophie Scholl, who was guillotined with her brother in 1943 for anti-Nazi activities. Kallembach writes that Scholl’s writings “seemed to meld directly into the words of Antigone,” and indeed, he has compiled an exceptionally effective libretto.
The topic of Scholl was arrived at jointly by Kallembach and Lorelei conductor Beth Willer, but the Antigone scenes were added by Kallembach himself, and he delivers on what he promises in juxtaposing these two diverse figures who questioned authority, with fatal results. Part of it is that he chose a fine translation for the Antigone sources (it is not specified other than to say it is in the public domain), modifying it slightly for dramatic effect. More important, though, is Kallembach’s overall conception. The speeches of King Creon and Antigone’s sister Ismene are set as solos, but those of Antigone and of Scholl, as well as the basic narrative, are sung by the chorus, sometimes reduced to a trio. The effect is to make the stories into something of a Greek drama, heightened by tonal, antique harmonies that give the music a tragic, sober quality. Although the work is just half an hour long, it feels dramatically complete, and it is to be hoped that this recording will prompt further performances, perhaps in university settings. The sound from the acoustically fine Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts, is superb. — AMG
Marcelo Maccagnan – Black Hole Sun
Fusing contemporary jazz with the Brazilian music of his homeland, and rock and electronic music of his youth, bassist Marcelo Maccagnan presents his latest album, Night Tales, on July 29th. Based in New York City, the bandleader brings together some of the city’s rising stars for a record whose influences run the full spectrum from Milton Nascimento to Third Rail and Donny McCaslin. This self-titled “Progressive Jazz” is perhaps representative of a city which welcomes musicians from every corner of the world – as is the line up; featured guest vocalist Simona Smirnova hails from Lithuania and joins Korean pianist Sukyung Kim, French drummer Maxime Cholley and Malaysian guitarist Andrew Cheng.But whilst the music embraces this melting pot of styles, it never loses sight of the improvisation and communication central to jazz. Intricate grooves, soaring riffs and wailing guitar lays the foundation for glorious, high-energy solos and group interplay. And, in a nod to his early years as a rock musician, the album’s sole non-original composition (Black Hole Sun) is from American band Soundgarden, showcasing just how creative the modern musician can be when interpreting songs into a whole new ballpark.
Opening track Creatures of Habit features a powerful vocal cameo from Simona Smirnova, whilst Gungi (Japanese for ‘flock’ or ‘herd’) showcases a group connection and musical synergy that only hours of performing together can create. Bringing together various styles into one cohesive whole, Night Tales offers something for hard-core fans of both jazz and rock, as well as everyone in between. – Jazzfuel
Meridian Brothers – Metamorfosis
What kind of group writes songs about a Kafkaesque metamorphosis from human to robot? The answer is the imaginary outfit El Grupo Renacimiento, an allegedly “legendary” salsa band from the 1970s, though in reality the modern-day creation of Colombia’s Meridian Brothers. The Meridians themselves are but one identity of Bogotá’s Eblis Alvarez, a prolific, shape-shifting musician who over two decades has championed both the avant garde and tradition, mixing psychedelia, electronica and rock with Latin styles, especially Colombia’s own cumbia.
Here, Alvarez and his sidekicks enjoy themselves with a fantasy playlist from El Grupo Renacimiento, its numbers ranging from anti-police protest to addiction to broken love, the lyrics given a surreal twist and each cut paying tribute to one of salsa’s many subgenres. For example, Triste Son sends up Cuban son, complaining of “grey fateful melancholy” to a cha-cha beat. Poema del Salsero Resentido warns: “The rhythmic apocalypse is coming”, while Metamorfosis sings of becoming “transhuman” to a percussive overdrive. Although the album is an affectionate Latin Spinal Tap – there’s a short, cartoon mockumentary to go with it – the rhythms are taut, the music playful. Appropriately, it’s out on the revived iconic Ansonia label, its first new release in 30 years. — Guardian
Sofiane Pamart – Dear
Times are strange for emerging stars in the classical music world. Sofiane Pamart, the Moroccan-French piano prodigy who was one of the ten most-streamed classical artists in the world last year and is set to play a major UK debut headline show at the Barbican on 17 July, has found a route out of the refineries and elite spaces and into the public sphere via a series of collaborations with leading Francophone rappers, including the breakout 2018 album Pleine Lune with Belgian hip hop artist Scylla. With the boost in profile under his belt, his solo compositional work enjoys an elevated platform, and in justification, the music itself continues to set him well above the fray; 2019’s Planet, a gold seller in his homeland, is now followed by his finest work to date, a disarmingly personal and confessional body of work.
Letter lays its stall out before you even press play: its 18 tracks are titled by one word, together revealing a sentence straight from Pamart’s heart: “Dear public, your love saved me from solitude forever. Sincerely, Sofiane. P.S., I wrote this album in Asia.” Almost inevitably, the solitude referenced is at least partially related to Covid, but these are tracks that delve deep into Pamart’s character, his entire history offered up as a palette and brush, his memories and passions lending plentiful inspiration for this hour of tranquil, assertive brilliance.
These tracks are pointedly uncomplicated, targeting the parts of us that are easiest to access, but hardest to satisfy. The album is enchanted by childlike wonder throughout, from the delicate eyelid blinks of ‘Dear’ to the swirling, passionate ballroom of ‘Me’. There are, of course, precedents for such top-line piano expression, from Chopin to Satie, Glass to Frahm, but Pamart seems unconcerned by what anybody else might have thought about. ‘Solitude’ is a case in point; there is truly a sense of an individual in isolation, but where others may have fallen into mournfulness, Pamart finds the contentedness, and we as listeners are wrongfooted by his own idiosyncrasy. A true composer’s touch. — loudandquiet.com