Spring 2013: New Amsterdam Records has many exciting releases scheduled for the spring of 2013, starting in March with Nadia Sirota’s Baroque and Jace Clayton’s (also known as DJ /rupture) The Julius Eastman Memory Depot, and continuing in April with Darcy James Argue’s sophomore release with his bang band Secret Society, Brooklyn Babylon.
It’s not hard to understand why celebrated violist Nadia Sirota chose Baroque for the title of her sophomore album, out March 26th on New Amsterdam Records and on Bedroom Community in the UK/EU. The follow-up to Sirota’s 2009 debut First Things First (a New York Times record of the year), Baroque is as intricate and ornate as its name suggests, adorning Sirota’s singular interpretive voice with dynamic electronic processing at the revered production hands of Valgeir Sigurðsson and Paul Evans. Built on works written expressly for her by some of the most widely respected composers of her generation–Daníel Bjarnason, Paul Corley, Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, and Shara Worden–Baroque shows Sirota fusing each composer’s unique voice with her own, then complemented by expert production to create a fully immersive experience that is captivating and original.
Baroque opens with Judd Greenstein’s “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” for seven violas, a response to the Golden Record shot into the solar system in 1977 by NASA and meant to share the sounds and images of humankind with alien life. The piece is a lush and affecting meditation on what it would mean to teach the emotion and agency of the Earth’s music to another life form, with Sirota performing the seven separate viola parts. Shara Worden’s velvety ”From the Invisible to the Visible” follows, featuring recent Westminster Abbey assistant organist James McVinnie; then Missy Mazzoli’s ”Tooth and Nail”, a hypnotic blend of electronic textures and deft performance. Nico Muhly’s contribution, “Étude 3″, lays down mellow R&B pressed up against bursts of brisk viola, contrasted by Paul Corley’s fluid and ethereal “Tristan Da Cunha”. The album’s finale is Daníel Bjarnason’s stirring viola concerto “Sleep Variations” — a compilation of Sirota performing eleven different viola lines edited and layered into 14 minutes of sonic tossing and turning that is likely to be considered one of the greatest triumphs of his composing career.
Jace Clayton (also known as DJ /rupture) will release his new album, The Julius Eastman Memory Depot, on March 26 on New Amsterdam Records. On the album, Clayton again brings his sense of compassion, wide-eyed exploration, and razor-sharp intellect to the table, but instead of using a variety of sources for inspiration, for the first time, Clayton has chosen a single, if multivalent, subject for his artistic dissection: the life-including music-of gay African-American composer Julius Eastman.
The Julius Eastman Memory Depot is an auditory repository for the sonic ideas explored in the live performance. On both, Clayton pulls acoustic and digital sounds toward each other by running the the music from each piano through a laptop, where he uses custom-built digital tools informed by his acclaimed Sufi Plug Ins project-one such tool uses the overall volume of the pianos to simultaneously adjust a drone being generated by their pitches-to create an electronic layer built entirely on the pianos’ sound.
Clayton chose to focus on two of Eastman’s longest piano works for the album, “Evil Nigger” and “Gay Guerrilla”, to allow himself as much opportunity as possible to explore the sound and range of the piano, Eastman’s rhythmic and muscular writing, and the internal dynamics of each piece. Recorded with virtuosic pianists David Friend and Emily Manzo at New York City’s world-class Merkin Concert Hall, the pianists’ impeccable instincts gave Clayton freedom to focus on his subtle (and in some cases, dramatic) electronic explorations of the piano’s sonic possibilities. The result is two arresting, labyrinthine new songs created by the two pianos and their own electrified and transformed versions that extend Eastman’s vision for multiple pianos into a truly original type of listening experience.
Clayton’s sole purely original composition on the album,”Callback from the American Society of Eastman Supporters”, acts as a bridge between the album and the live performance, and portrays how the precariousness of Eastman’s work life echoes and resonates with the precariousness of jobs nowadays more than ever. Inspired by the way in which Eastman’s song titles often used humor and confrontation to demonstrate that the world of classical music and the world-we-live-in are intermingled and inseparable, Sufi vocalist Arooj Aftab begins the coda in dry corporate-speak then expands the song with spiritual depth, adding intensity to the piano music while and simultaneously welcoming in the world.
The Julius Eastman Memory Depot proposes a celebration of music-in-motion, of the fragile and the strong and those who live in the outskirts, of that which for various reasons resists easy historicization but deserves to be remembered, reinvented, and set alight anew.
Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue and his innovative 18-piece big band Secret Society will release their highly anticipated sophomore album, Brooklyn Babylon, on April 30th on New Amsterdam Records. The follow-up to their critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated debut, Infernal Machines (2009), Brooklyn Babylon shows Argue “expanding his sonic palette as never before” (Tad Hendrickson, Wall Street Journal).
Weaving together progressive jazz, early-American popular styles, Balkan folk musics, and the sounds of Brooklyn’s diverse contemporary music scene — from the dance-punk of LCD Soundsystem and experimental indie rock of Dirty Projectors to Missy Mazzoli’s blend of post-rock and quirky minimalism — Argue creates a vividly evocative musical narrative that is at once timeless and unlike anything heard before. Argue’s Secret Society is one of the most admired ensembles in contemporary jazz, having toured in Europe, Brazil, and North America and been twice featured at the Newport Jazz Festival. Its members include in-demand instrumentalists such as John Ellis, Ingrid Jensen, Ryan Keberle, and Sam Sadigursky.
Brooklyn Babylon was conceived in collaboration with Croatian-born visual artist Danijel Zezelj, whose narrative inspired Argue’s mash-up of musical styles. Zezelj’s artwork places the action in a larger-than-life, mythic Brooklyn, where past, present, and future coexist. Plans are afoot to construct an immense tower — the tallest in the world — right in the heart of the city. Lev Bezdomni, a master carpenter, finds himself torn between his personal ambition and his allegiance to the community when he is commissioned to build the carousel that will crown it.
The 53-minute work shows Argue taking a novelistic approach to long-form composition: a prologue, eight chapters separated by brief interludes, and an epilogue. The album opens with the actual sounds of Brooklyn — a sonic collage of recordings of the borough captured on Argue’s portable digital recorder. The ensemble gradually comes into focus and introduces the Prologue, from which every subsequent musical theme in Brooklyn Babylon derives. Argue reconfigures these themes using a broad array of techniques, inflected by contemporary indie rock, classical music, and jazz, particularly from the often maligned 1970s: the earthy avant-garde of Dewey Redman and Lester Bowie; the intricate large-ensemble sounds of Thad Jones and Don Ellis; and the sophisticatedpopulism of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Waltzes, marches and — naturally — fairground carousels also fold into the mix.
WINTER 2013: New Amsterdam Records has many exciting releases scheduled for the winter and spring of 2013, starting with Sam Sadigursky’s Words Project Volume IV, which will be released on February 26.
Several things set Words Project IV apart from the other three albums in Sadigursky’s Words Project series: it is entirely acoustic and Sadigursky restricts himself to only playing saxophones and clarinet. Most importantly, instead of using a cast of singers as on previous recordings, he solely features vocalist Christine Correa.
There are cheerful and contemplative art songs on this record in equal measure. “Speak, sir, and be wise” says Carl Sandberg’s quatrain Basket, Christine Correa’s voice as careful as the poem in a song that encapsulates Sadigursky’s phraseology. Pared down piano and drums lead us into Runaway, an edgy song of exploration. The Bestiary Suitereminds one of Pictures at An Exhibition as it musically mimics the movements and thoughts of personified animals. The piano in Nothing helps the vocal gain confidence and as it does so, the other instruments lend force to the argument: “If we the flesh…come to an end, why not they as well?”. What Do Women Want is a surprisingly quirky song, lots of foley-like noises remind you of street sounds, while the fragile vocal thinks about her wishes: “I want to walk like I’m the only/ woman on earth and I can have my pick.” A memorable, pensive piano motif leads us seamlessly into Fear, where the shudders of the lyric pass from instrument to instrument. The melody of Make the pie higher! is written over the chord changes to Cole Porter’s ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’. Unravelling counterpoint conjures up an audience listening incredulously to whatever mangled phrase Dubya came up with during his presidency. Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz is an upbeat song with a twist: “It’s the doubled-up doggone happy people…they do bust hard”. The band members sing Bertold Brecht’s Motto together as if to convince themselves “there will be singing” in the dark times. An uplifting Simple Love Song “that limns the years” concludes the album. The softly rumbling cymbal, the rippling piano, the lilting vocal all confirm: “this is the love that makes it right.”
Read an extended interview about the album here.