Meredith Monk: Basket Rondo; Eric Salzman: Jukebox in Tavern of Love
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Monk: Basket Rondo - Salzman: Jukebox in the Tavern of Love
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Basket Rondo by Meredith Monk and Jukebox in the Tavern of Love by Eric Salzman and Valeria Vasilevski were both created especially for the six singers of The Western Wind. Both explore new areas of vocal technique and expression while retaining the deep expressive appeal of the human voice at its most basic. Celebrating its 45th anniversary, The Western Wind, noted for its performances of early music, has also been a leader in the performance of new work, much of it written especially for the group. Meredith Monk is perhaps the most original and innovative vocal talent to appear on the scene in recent years. Although many of her works were created for her own unique talents, she has recently been working with other performers to widen her scope and appeal. BASKET RONDO, like most of her work, combines resonant, spiritual overtones with off-beat humor and a social conscience. The title has very specific meanings for the composer who wanted to evoke a pre-industrial community of people working together as a kind of work song. Other sections were based on what she calls a natural kind of resonance meant to evoke a sense of nature or space. The madrigal comedy was an early genre of Renaissance music theater in which a band of vocalists got together to tell stories. One of the most popular of these, The Boat From Venice to Padua by Adriano Banchieri was a staple of The Western Wind repertory for many years but it needed a contemporary counterpart. Eric Salzman, a pioneer of the new music theater, was a logical choice to update a sixteenth-century art form. Valeria Vasilevski provided the text for JUKEBOX IN THE TAVERN OF LOVE which takes place in a New York bar during a severe storm and blackout. A group of strangers a poet, a dancer, a rabbi, a nun and a Con Ed worker has sought shelter and to pass the time each tells a personal story humorous, tragic, touching about life and love. Only after an evocation of the poet Rumi do the lights come up on again; as they leave the bar they are again strangers but, in some special way, transformed. Jukebox was premiered at New Yorks Tenri Center followed by a run at The Flea Theater in Tribeca. It was also performed at Bargemusic in the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge.
[Jukebox] effectively blends elements of barbershop-quartet harmonizing, cabaret, Renaissance sacred music, polyphony, Tin Pan Alley and avant-garde effects powerful evocative --Vivian Schweitzer, New York Times
Salzmans music is full of wit and high spirits. At times its contemporary dissonances seem a sendup In the song for the Broadway gypsy its melodies and rhythms seem very much Tin Pan Alley. At times, as one would expect of as formidable a figure as Salzman, the music was more learned the tone is fresh and entertaining challenging and refreshing. --Howard Kissel, New York Daily News
When you initially hit play on the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble's latest album, featuring Meredith Monk's Basket Rondo and Eric Salzman's Jukebox in the Tavern of Love, you may think you're listening to a bonus track off of a Roomful of Teeth situation. However, as the album unfolds, theatrics take shape to reveal talents that are a testament to the sextet's unique sound.
Since 1969, the Grammy-nominated, New York-based vocal group has performed styles ranging from rock 'n' roll to religious music to jazz. They are active educators in the New York City public school system and have over 20 recordings to their credit.
In Monk's eight-movement Basket Rondo, acrobatic a cappella parts weave together in a colorful work that will have you swaying along. (Much of the work is in five though, so your swaying will be of a quirky variety.) Often the voices hocket up a storm to form one melodic line, yet their differences are meant to show through. In Monk's words, the piece paints a picture of "a pre-industrial community of people working together, doing handwork together."
Basket Rondo was written collaboratively over a number of years with the members of Western Wind, drawing on the group's improvisation sessions.
Eric Salzman's madrigal comedy Jukebox in the Tavern of Love, with a libretto by Valeria Vasilevski, features an unlikely crew in a bar on a rainy night during a Con-Ed outage. We meet a Broadway dancer, a nun, a Rabbi, a poet, a utility worker and a bartender with a pseudo-Italian accent, all of whom are inspired by the real-life personalities of the members of Western Wind.
The characters each tell their stories, which are centered on the theme of love, and these stories lead into songs, which range from a feisty rendition of the Dies Irae to a dance set to old school Harlem jazz, complete with hand clap accompaniment.
The two pieces on this album are quite different and may be best geared towards two separate audiences, however they share important similarities, such as a strong influence from Renaissance music and a high level of performance. This is an album that's worth a listen. --WQXR, Q2 Album of the Week, May 2014
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Eric Salzman is a composer and producer with a long successful career. New music aficionados might remember his releases on the Nonesuch label in the 70s of two theater works, The Nude Paper Sermon and Civilization and It's Discontents. Happily both these pieces have also been made available by this same label in CD format (I have both on vinyl). The present piece is a sort of cross between madrigal opera and radio play. Perhaps less far out than the earlier pieces but extremely well done and entertaining to boot. Very nicely produced and recorded. This is a must have.