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Live From New York: Sō Percussion, Jack Quartet, Mette Rasmussen, Tashi Dorji & Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Live From New York: Sō Percussion, Jack Quartet, Mette Rasmussen, Tashi Dorji & Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Martin Longley By

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Sō Percussion/Jack Quartet
Carnegie Hall
March 6, 2018

Down in the Zankel Hall part of Carnegie, a pair of New York's finest moderne classical quartets united for a concert of works by Philip Glass, plus the lesser-known composers Donnacha Dennehy and Dan Trueman. The Glass number was a US premiere (for the Jack Quartet), the Dennehy a global premiere (for Sō Percussion), both of these co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall. The Trueman piece was an extended composition that took up the entire second half, uniting Jack and Sō. Dennehy founded the Crash Ensemble, and Trueman co-founded the Princeton Laptop Orchestra.

It must be pointed out that String Quartet No. 8 sounded not too dissimilar to what might be expected from Glass, although it breezed by for a comparatively short time, operating in a more compressed fashion. The changes and evolutions came sooner, and lasted less, the nap of their fur being subtly perturbed. Sometimes the string parts suggested brass lines, but this might be similar to the imagined tonal resonances created during the course of such minimalist music. The piece possessed a mournful quality, singing along with several pauses for contemplation, although Glass himself describes it (curiously) as 'playful' and 'whimsical.'

Irish composer Dennehy's "Broken Unison" mixed the linear chiming ripples of vibraphones with violently, though sparingly, struck big bass drums, operated by foot-pedals. Marimba warmth spoke of Steve Reich, this piece a descendant, with tiny chime glockenspiels, and weighty bass punches, the percussive equivalent of playing at far left and right key-extremes on a piano. Resonant bowing on the sides of vibe-bars, prior to a climactic gamelan-styled race, with twinned glockenspiels, twinned bowing, and one bass drum, brought the forces towards a densely shimmering oneness, inevitably peaking in a satisfying way.

Trueman's "Songs That Are Hard To Sing" actually included a small amount of fragile vocal work, Sō diversifying with a jazz-type drum kit, two keyboards, and a musical saw. The Jacks sat centre-stage, providing a more traditional string quartet core, around which the percussionists felt free to fringe with the unexpected. Pitches were shifted through sheer physical means of concentration, prompting a slight uneasiness in the collective audience stomach, as themes came and went, traipsing with a kiddie-melody cheeriness, but decelerated and unsettling. Trueman seemingly aims for the familiar, but warped, unsettling, making a swooping descent, as a clanking procession, like the timepiece so roguishly disemboweled in Charlie Chaplin's 1916 short, The Pawnshop.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor/Liberty & Tashi Dorji
Brooklyn Steel
March 12, 2018

The recently opened Brooklyn Steel acts as if the old d.i.y. tradition has mushroomed into an overground existence, yet another converted factory space in an industrial East Williamsburg district. It's a further walk than most from the closest subway station, and BS looks like it's squatting in a tumbleweed hinterland. Once inside, though (if we can negotiate and emerge from the near full anal-search favoured by its security guards), it's revealed as a fully-equipped gig-venue, with massive lighting rigs and a powerfully balanced sound system, all the better to hear the nuances of a maximally-layered band such as Godspeed. All the better to herd the audience into a largely featureless pen. Sadly, the beers are risen up to around the $10 mark, a tendency that's becoming common on the rock venue scene during the last year.

Godspeed's performance hasn't really evolved much since the last time your scribe witnessed them in 2015, at The Music Hall Of Williamsburg, a much cosier housing. Despite their new album which features a few near-rock-out psychedelic guitar solos, the live set still swells out of the group mind, with multiple axes not clearly definable as individual parts, crafting a near-symphonic landscape of carefully sculpted atmospherics, via guitars and violin. The ebbs and the flows are similar to those experienced via minimalism, but this is different palette, licking with a scaly tongue. The flickering double-screen, manually projected movies emanated a similar vibration as of old, and seemed to be the same works that were displayed last time around. Your scribe even ended up on the left-hand side balcony, echoing his relative position last time, and intensifying the eerie experience of repeat.

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