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George Grella

George Grella is a composer and a writer. He’s played at Carnegie Hall and CBGB, contributes to domestic and international publications, and wrote the book Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. He is the Rail’s music editor.

In Conversation

RIDE IT, OR GO UNDER
HENRY THREADGILL AND JASON MORAN with George Grella and Raymond Foye

Jazz, at its best and most essential, is a way of making music that is embodied in the musicians, in what they are imagining and playing in the moment. A fundamentally oral tradition, and one of the most sophisticated of its kind, jazz is far less ably served by written and recorded documents than almost any other kind of creative human activity. Jazz is the players; know jazz by following them, seeing them, hearing them.

Read This

Music fans are free to like what they like, while music critics, if they’re worth anything, have to be able to explain why they do or don’t like something in a way that might convince someone else. In that sense, Alex Ross is a true music critic and worth quite a bit.

THIS WAS POP

Every generation claims that the pop music it heard when young was classic, and the stuff kids listen to nowadays is crap. Pure crankiness? Well, in the case of pop music of the last forty years, it may be true.

MET 2.0

Lincoln Center is different nowadays. Outside, there is a sleek new fountain and a Parisian-style grove.

Low Art and High Drama at the Met

The 2009–2010 Metropolitan Opera season began with arguments over Luc Bondy’s new production of Tosca. The most aggrieved party was Franco Zeffirelli, whose work Bondy’s replaced.

REGARDING HENRY

The roots from which a jazz musician grows are important and interesting to follow, and since virtually the entire history of jazz has been captured by recording technology we can hear the players that other players listened to, followed, imitated, and then moved away from.

BAM Agonistes

In the mid-1980s, I lived on Ft. Greene Place in Brooklyn, a sketchy block in a neighborhood that mixed the grand and the rough-and-tumble.

Songs for Swinging Babies

I’m not a witch; I’m you. Like you, I want to make sure that my musical taste is informed but not stiff, critically based but wide-ranging, privately elite in feel. And I want to make sure I can imprint that taste on my baby, so that not only will she be the hippest among her peers, but that her hipness will reflect back on me. Yes, I’m you: a Brooklyn parent.

ALAN PIERSON: Making “Brooklyn's Orchestra”

The biggest news about music in Brooklyn this year didn’t come out of Williamsburg, BAM, or the banks of the Gowanus Canal. The source was the offices of the moribund Brooklyn Philharmonic, which announced the appointment of Alan Pierson as its next artistic director. It was a classic case of an arts organization acting boldly, rather than just talking a good game.

The Return of the Brooklyn Philharmonic

The Brooklyn Philharmonic’s new Music Director, Alan Pierson, has been clear about his desire to make the ensemble “Brooklyn’s orchestra” and to do so by making music in neighborhoods throughout the borough. More than a traveling show, the orchestra will be making music that has something to say to the culture and history of each neighborhood.

The Meaning of the Village

The answer is simple, really—so obvious that the harder you look for it, the more you work the problem, the easier it is for it to pass by unnoticed, hiding in plain sight. In the midst of a country that labels and commodifies every banal feeling and notion and sells it as culture, it is common to overlook the fact that music, every moment of intentional sound and listening, has meaning

Brooklyn is Burning

One of the new things at the Brooklyn Philharmonic is C.E.O. and Managing Director Richard Dare. He spoke to the crowd briefly before the Phil’s closing concert on June 9 and alluded to the stir he’s created with his series of energetic and opinionated essays on the state of classical music and arts organizations.

Brooklyn’s Children are Singing

For decades I’ve gotten the question, “My son/daughter wants to learn music; what’s a good way to start?” There are all sorts of ways to answer this. The parents are usually thinking about piano lessons, which works, but my answer is to have their children learn to sing.

BAM Next Wave, Part I

In the 1980s I witnessed a lot of dreary performance art, which in retrospect might have been amusing except for all those minutes and hours lost, never to return. To think of the constructive things I could have been doing, like drinking beer, masturbating, or listening to Bob Murphy broadcast a Mets game.

The Producer As Critic

Now that everyone has GarageBand, or Ableton, or Renoise or REAPER, or Ardour, and now that everyone has a SoundCloud or Mixcloud account, or is a member at Indaba—yes, I’m guilty many times over—everyone is a music producer.

Zorn @ 60

Musical time is different than the flow of time in which we swim, and so the distance between John Zorn’s 50th birthday celebration and this month’s 60th is better gauged by concepts like magnitudes or dimensions rather than mere years.

The Danceification of Electronic Music

I have two things open in front of me as I write this. On my computer screen is an application window for Reason 7, a digital audio workstation that emulates the look and methods of a hardware-based electronic music studio.

Diary Of A Mad Composer

I seethe when I hear Rand Paul or any of our professional ignoramuses explain to us how a country so rich that it can afford their sinecures cannot pay back miserly levels of support to people who have already contributed to the unemployment system.

Diary of a Mad Composer

River-run, past ghosts and memories—that kind of feeling haunted me on a damp, chilly night in mid-January, stepping out of the premiere of Kamala Sankaram’s strong opera, Thumbprint, then rushing down to the NYU Law Library to check in for Winter JazzFest.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of April in New York City.

THE OUTSIDER
Allen Lowe Against the Jazz Tradition

Fine arts and literature each have a well-established academic and commercial establishment that defines—through teaching, curating, buying and selling, and criticism—what it means to be working inside them. “Outsider Art” for them could be something as innocuous and tautological as a painting or a book that was created beyond the limits of what the establishment has set as normative.

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Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the months of December and January in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

October Listings

Don't miss this month's selection of live performances in New York.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Making music is a social activity. There are exceptions, of course, but ever since human beings started to make music, we have done so with other people, whether in a concert hall or a social ceremony.

Diary of a Mad Composer

This seems to be a golden age for writing about music. The monetary costs to blog, or publish a book, are almost nil (once you have a computer). That leaves inclination, time, and effort, which is a technical way to define passion.

Diary of a Mad Composer

The Metropolitan Opera is decadent and depraved. That's not entirely the Met’s fault: the house is a reflection of the values of its milieu, the world of grand opera. But the Met helps to create and shape this world, which means that the institution has the power (through money, influence, and its place in the public imagination) to affect the confluence in which it stands.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Musically, Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe is known as art song, meaning it’s a set of songs, based on some kind of poetry, written a long time ago in a language other than English. In this case, the songs come together to tell a complete story, like a concept album.

Diary of a Mad Composer

When I was at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, there were times when I went to my composition lesson with Conrad Susa, we would sit down, and Conrad would look at me and say, “don’t you just get sick of music?”

Diary of a Mad Composer

“If only everybody in the world read The New Republic, the world would solve all its problems.” – Ian Buruma Those words—spoken to neo-liberal warmonger, and New Republic contributing editor Paul Berman, and for which I will eternally love Ian Buruma—I would paraphrase as: if only everybody in the world embraced political art …” The appeal of political declarations—whether they come from the endless herd of white men in blue suits yammering on TV or in the pages of political journals, or from an artist painting a slogan in the wilds of, well, there are no wilds left in New York City—is that of a consumer product: a simple, easy to swallow meme that provides instant satisfaction because it goes down agreeably.

Diary of a Mad Composer

I’ve been listening to the blues lately, a lot of blues. I was filling out my ballot for DownBeat magazine’s jazz critic’s poll, and when I got to the blues artist and blues album categories, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Record labels are dead, and good riddance—they controlled and exploited musicians for decades, stole their income, and stifled their musical creativity. So the story goes. It’s true, but it’s also not true. Things aren’t that simple.

Trust in the Label(s)

Look for most of these labels at good record stores, and there are still a few, especially Downtown Music Gallery in a basement space on Monroe Street in Chinatown. You can also order straight from the labels.

Whadda You Got?

Welcome to the new Brooklyn Rail music section. If you don’t notice anything new, if it seems fully congruous with what you’ve been reading for the past few years, then we’re doing our job right.

What Are They To You?

For every culture there’s a counter, in every niche there are yet further discrete splinters, internal disputes that boil down to who has the purest values. Then there are the rare instances of individuals who are cultures solely of themselves, who are sympathetic to this group or that, but who ultimately never conform to anything except their own view of things.

Scenes From The Class Struggle

I must confess; I'm an imposter. I am sincere, and my intentions are good—I am a music maker, and the importance of the art and my values around it are my foundation for criticism. And I’m no dilettante; I have performed over the decades at classical venues, CBGB, and weddings. I compose music that others play. My dedication is serious. Why else write hundreds of thousands of words for less than starvation wages? But as a critic, I’m an imposter. Without comped access, there’s no way I could afford to see any of the musical events I attend. In a way, I’m in disguise as an audience member.

Fake Music For Fake Times

America is a fake country. As a political state, its beginnings were multicultural, multi-lingual, and built on an economic foundation of feudal exploitation via slavery and indentured servitude. Perhaps that explains the virulence of the idea that Americans are, and have always been, white English speakers who worship a (Protestant) Christian God and have earned everything they have.

Out of Time

The joke is right there: it’s ambient music, in a church!

Deep in the Groove of History: The Art of Conduction: A Conduction Workbook

Butch Morris was resolutely on the outside, though from a distance, and with the advantage of time, it seems clear that he wanted to be on the inside, like all artistic innovators who see their work as the most natural, understandable thing in the world.

Blood Memories: Matana Roberts at the Park Avenue Armory

Maybe music is the best means to tell stories.

Swiss Beats

“Like the fella says, in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love—they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” – Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man

Notes Toward the Death of New York

Nobody misses being mugged, but that danger was part of the every day reality of New York City in the ’70s and ’80s. Anyone could get mugged, pretty much any time or any place, including the old Times Square that, through the Vaseline lens of memory, has somehow been transformed into an object of sweet nostalgia.

Do Not Seek For Things Outside Yourself

For anyone who came to Tyshawn Sorey’s own records through his incredible drumming—what seemed a superhuman ability to take the complex sequenced rhythms of IDM, like those from Autechre, play them back and make them swing—in groups led by Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman, and others, the quality of his composing was (and still is) stunning and disorienting.

Highly Selective Listings

October Listings

October’s Highly Selective Listings

Highly Selective Listings

December/January Listings

Winter Listings

Winter Jazzfest

The Known and the Unknown: Winter Jazzfest marathon, January 11-12, 2019

We are all going in different directions. The simplicity of that statement from John Cage disguises how deep it is, how it runs counter to the trends of human experience. We are individuals insofar as we act as such.

Highly Selective Listings

February Listings

The Rail’s February Music Listings

Elliott Sharp’s IrRational Music

Artists and critics on the vanguard these days are suppose to be past the idea of genres, other than to set them up like bowling pins to be scattered by the force and momentum of insight and truth.

Highly Selective Listings

March Listings

The Rail’s Highly Selective March Music Listings

Nothing’s Bad Luck

The irony, of course, was that after so many years trying to kill himself with booze and drugs, it was fucked up when Warren Zevon, sober and otherwise healthy, contracted mesothelioma, the terrible cancer of the lungs that delivered the coup de grace.

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April Listings

 

Pay the Artist

Roscoe Mitchell needs no more accolades, he's been lauded many times over for what he has created through decades. Yet he does need to be rewarded, meaning he needs to get paid.

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May Listings

 

Mark Berry's Arnold Schoenberg

It is no criticism of Berry's fine book and clear, illuminating thinking that at its close I did not find Schoenberg any more pleasing. Rather, to his credit, Berry explained to me why I like so little of Schoenberg's music.

Highly Selective Listings

September Listings

September’s Listings

TIME:SPANS 2019

When Milton Babbitt wrote his article, “Who Cares if You Listen?” he unleashed a virus that has proven itself as robust and contagious as the flu. Published in High Fidelity magazine in 1958, the article quickly turned into a totem representing both every piece of new composing that audiences didn't even want to try to listen to and also how irrelevant those audiences were supposed to be to modern composers—and vice versa.

The Shed is Falling Down

Two things about The Shed are unsurprising: the banality of its programming and its shoddy construction—making money is the most banal pursuit, and so The Shed reflects both Hudson Yards' purpose and values as well as the cost-cutting and trimming that's all part of being a real estate developer.

Cecil Taylor, Home At Last

December 1989, sitting next to my best friend at the time, young men drawn to exciting and daring artistic ambitions that we couldn’t quite understand. We’re in Town Hall, witnessing Cecil Taylor and Max Roach playing a concert celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their historic live recording at the Miller Theatre.

Cage at 100

If you surveyed the concert programs of orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music ensembles across the country, then sorted the statistics, you would think that the center of gravity in classical music was slowly rotating through Central Europe—with occasional vacations to France, Italy, and Russia—as it did from the early 18th to early 20th centuries.

BAM Next Wave, Part II

We live in a post–Bang on a Can musical world.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of May in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of June in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the summer in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of September in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of October in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of October in New York City.

Highly Selective Listings

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of February in New York City.

Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events

A thoughtful, discerning, and carefully compiled list of the most notable, promising and unique musical events for the month of March in New York City.

All Gates Open: The Story of Can

One weekday afternoon some time in the spring of 1989, if I've not lost too much to the vagaries of memory, I was in my Fort Greene apartment, trying to occupy myself constructively during one of my frequent stretches of unemployment. I know it was a Monday, because I tuned in to Tony Coulter's Monday Afternoon New Music show on WKCR, and heard the most mesmerizing and unclassifiable music I had yet encountered.

In Conversation

DANIEL LOPATIN with George Grella

The music that Daniel Lopatin—likely better known as Oneohtrix Point Never—makes doesn’t truly have a name at the moment.

Highly Selective Listings

November Listings

November Listings

Steve Lehman Makes History

Steve Lehman is not the first jazz musician with a Ph.D. in composition—that distinction probably belongs to Mel Powell—nor is he the first to make jazz with the formal and structural tools of the Western classical tradition.

FALL MUSIC SCENE
New Venues New York

In the past few years a number of new venues have popped up in and around New York, run by musicians and curators who understand the pivotal fact that it matters where and how you hear music, that spaces matter for a performing art.

MEREDITH MONK
A Vocabulary for the World

What does it mean to be a composer? Like many words, its definition and cultural significance have accrued through the ages. The definition—someone who writes music—is plain enough, but the way the word has been used in Western culture for the last 300 years

Time Cycles

Philip Glass’s new memoir, Words Without Music, is an absorbing, graceful, and humane window into the interior life of one of our most important and arguably most famous composers. It also reads—and this is in no way Glass’s intention or fault—as a sad, even despair-inducing silhouette of an economic and social environment, and the room within it for a deeply committed life of creative work, that no longer exists in New York City, and probably not anywhere in the United States.

Diary of a Mad Composer

I don’t think it’s possible to gauge even the approximate extent to which we take electricity for granted. Many of us take vacations where we unplug from the digital world, but still have lights to turn on. We can go camping, and even do so with our phones turned off (do we actually leave them behind?), or any GPS device. But the last time civilization as a whole contemplated a world without electricity was during the murmuring panic about Y2K, which was a dud everywhere except for our bizarre imaginations.

Selling Out to Freedom

52nd Street is gone, Slug’s is gone, even Sweet Basil is gone, but there’s still something of a jazz world around, populated by musicians, fans, and habitués.

Masters of Their Own Reality

Which came first, the string quartet or the String Quartet? There’s semantic and historical interest in the answer. It’s fair to say that the String Quartet, as a compositional genre, began with Haydn.

Winter Jazzfest

Diary of a Mad Composer

The first notes I heard in the Winter Jazzfest were the elegant, intelligent, muscular sounds of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and his ensemble, Sicilian Defense.

Five Pieces at the Kitchen
The Beautiful and the Good

Beauty is underrated. Beauty used to be an important value in music, but one of the peculiar, and most significant, anomalies in the history of classical music is how beauty came to be distrusted and disregarded.

To Have Not And to Have: O17, Philadelphia, September 14 - 25

John Cage’s Europeras 1 and 2 were scheduled to premiere at the Frankfurt Opera House on November 15, 1987. Three days before opening night an unemployed, former East German resident broke into the building, looking for food, and ended up setting a fire that gutted the place.

Songs About Fucking and Killing: Diamanda Galás at Murmrr Theatre, October 31

At the end of Diamanda Galás’s generous and delicious encore to her spell-binding Halloween show, she sang “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill” and “Gloomy Sunday.” A man in the row behind me wept loudly.

Music: A Subversive History

Songs about fucking and killing—that would have also been an appropriate subtitle for this scintillating new book from Ted Gioia. He’s already written three valuable books about the place of music in society and human experience, Healing Songs (2006), Works Songs (2006), and Love Songs: The Hidden history (2015). Music: A Subversive History builds on those by digging down into the fundamental nature of music, how it is made and how it affects us.

MATA YOUTH, 2014 EDITION

MATA Festival 2014 was the biggest yet, a week of events centered around six straight days of concerts at the Kitchen (April 14th – 21st). The Rail brings you exclusive coverage of all the concerts.

COMPLEXITY, STRANGENESS, AND CHARM:
Noah Creshevsky’s Archives

You could say that Noah Creshevsky sits at the crossroads of the world. He lives in a comfortable apartment—where he keeps his composition studio—a short walk from Times Square, and his music and compositional career are an intersection for several important directions for music, old and new, high and low, traditional and technological.

Diary of a Mad Composer

August meant a working vacation for me. I was out of the country, but someplace no one thinks of for R&R: the medium-sized, post-industrial Moravian city of Ostrava.

Do We Deserve Beethoven?

You can buy Beethoven in a box. Lots and lots of boxes, or on individual flat discs of various sizes. You can rent him, temporarily and in the moment, through your computer or other streaming device. That is, you can own him, but do you deserve him?

Mark Stryker: Jazz from Detroit

Ask the question, where does jazz happen, and the likely answer will be New York (or New Orleans, for the historically minded). No one is going to mention Detroit, not even dedicated jazz fans.

OPUS POSTHUMOUS: On Robert Ashley

We remember a person most acutely in the sharp period after we learn of their passing. After reading about Robert Ashley’s death on Kyle Gann’s blog Postclassic, I went scouring music and book sites to see what recordings and writings of his I might be missing.

Undiscovered Lands

In this issue, we explored far and wide to bring you a group of talented artists, each with strong and unique voices, who deserve to be heard and known by larger audiences—enjoy this guide to our discoveries.

My Year in Music

Every year, I feel fortunate to realize that there is such a consistent stream of interesting, worthwhile, and enduring music being made. The combination of new music and new thinking about older music is a testament to the inherent musicality of human existence: music defines our souls and our civilizations.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

2016 began January 10, the day David Bowie died, and concluded October 13, when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Hearing With Your Eyes

Let me begin by dispensing with Walter Pater: occasionally the plastic arts do indeed achieve the condition of music. You can go hear for yourself at two concurrent museum exhibitions in New York City, one for Harry Bertoia, the other for Stuart Davis.

Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion

Steely Dan played the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on the first of July, 1974—there's a live recording—and the MC introduced the band thus: "Ladies and gentlemen, here by popular demand and at great expense to the management, you may like them—personally I don’t—from Los Angeles, California, Steely Dan!"

Highly Selective Listings

Our June Listings

Highly Selective Listings

This summer’s highly selective listings

MATA April 18, 2014
Lives in Miniature

This is my fifth year attending a MATA Festival concert, and though the organization’s steady expansion is welcome—six nights of concerts in 2014, and around 1,000 scores submitted—one key element that has been prevalent across the years continues to be puzzling: the overall conservatism of young composers.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Noise and silence initially appear to be opposite and antagonistic extremes, but in musical terms they are two sides of the same page, using different means and different language while sharing the same values.

Modern Miles

Bitches Brew is a great work of abstract music inside the sounds, beats, and riffs of commercial music, and one of the most unique documents of the recorded era. The effect the album had on jazz and rock was shattering, disruptive in ways that make an abject mockery of the contemporary vainglorious use of that word by people who only wish to make money.

Winter Jazzfest

Diary of a Mad Composer

I want to get the facts out of the way first: the New York City Winter Jazzfest is one of the finest festivals of its kind. It’s the jazz event that this city—the center of the jazz universe—deserves: it expands across the history of the music, from trad to free to fusion, and when it reaches outside of jazz it ignores smooth pop and diluted rock, blues, and folk in favor of musicians who work with improvisation: Colin Stetson, Bill Laswell, the Ex, Dither, Kaki King. Jazz is not commercial music, and the non-jazz in the festival is in no way commercial filler.

Downtown International
Nostalgia in Tompkins Square and Suoni per il Popolo, Part II

I refuse to believe that the combination of age and the passing years is confusing me: I remember July and August in New York as the time when surprising and often enlightening new and experimental music was constantly churning the humid night air.

Diary of a Mad Composer

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni premiered in the fall of 1787. The complete original title was Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, or “the libertine punished, Don Giovanni to be precise.” The Don is a rapist and murderer with a particular taste for underage girls, and he’s eventually dragged to hell by the ghost of the Commendatore, the father of Donna Anna, the woman Giovanni is trying to rape as the opera begins.

Highly Selective Listings

Highly Selective Listings

Live performances around the city this month

A Tribute to Steve Dalachinsky

Steve was a force of Nature, driven by compassion & curiosity. He was opened to everything & everyone. He was naked inside & outside with no boundary between.

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NOV 2019

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