Discs: Yeasayer, Yvar Mikhashoff - The Buffalo News

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Discs: Yeasayer, Yvar Mikhashoff



Good Evening Washington DC: Live at the 9:30 Club

[Secretly Canadian]

3 stars

A Brooklyn band fitting roughly within the framework of indie-rock, Yeasayer is also that rarest of entities in the world of modern pop – a musical democracy. The role of frontman and “primary musical visionary” is split between multi-instrumentalists and singers Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder all but equally. This makes Yeasayer unusual, but what truly sets the band apart is its attention to musical detail, it’s refusal to take the low road in terms of arrangements and production, and its keen ear for harmonies.

Yeasayer made its reputation through ornate recording studio constructions, so a certain amount of trepidation on the part of the band’s fans when it comes to live performance would be understandable. Can the group reproduce its wonderfully weird intricacies on the concert stage? Or will proceedings take on a far less lush, detailed aspect?

“Live at the 9:30 Club” answers the question rather emphatically. If Yeasayer in the recording studio is able to craft a sonic landscape that sounds at once futuristic and rooted in the traditions of alternative music, then live, those landscapes benefit from the addition of visceral power and dynamic interplay.

After a mildly sinister introductory sonic collage that sounds like a slew of answering machine greetings run amok and fighting for the listener’s attention, the band kicks into “Fingers Never Bleed,” a tune that marries prog-rock tendencies to EDM maneuvers in a manner that comes across as effortless. That ability to blend aspects of “techno” with organic, real-time musicianship is one of Yeasayers greatest gifts, and it’s at the core of “9:30 Club’s” power. It’s there again in “Longevity,” a lovely slab of electro-pop that stutters and skips through several rhythmic motifs, as vocal harmonies and glossy synths provide welcome ear candy.

Later, “Reagan’s Skeleton” updates the skinny tie new wave of bands like Japan and Bill Nelson’s Red Noise, and again, the inventively manipulated synth sounds reward the attentive listener with delicious sonic minutiae. (Yes, “9:30 Club” sounds absolutely amazing on headphones, where the smartly panned mix wraps around the listener’s cranium, lending a transportive quality to the performance.)

“Fragrant World” may well remain Yeasayer’s crowning achievement in the recording studio, but the unfailingly compelling marriage of nervous tension, dread and ebullience that makes that album such an indispensable one makes the jump from studio to stage successfully. As a result, “9:30 Club” is a most welcome addition to the band’s catalog.

– Jeff Miers


Yvar Mikhashoff

Panorama of American Piano Music: From Antheil to Zappa, 1911 to 1991


4 stars

What a unique and magnificent achievement this is.

Yvar Mikhashoff was much cherished by colleagues in Buffalo’s classical community – and elsewhere – for the best of reasons. There was no one quite like him and that applied to just about everything he did, too.

This four-disc set is finally appearing complete even though Mikhashoff died of AIDS in 1993. It is, in fact, intended as a way to observe the 20th anniversary of the pianist and polymath’s death.

In truth, it is, by no means, the only huge and encyclopedic set of 20th century American piano music but it is, by far, the most unusual. The selection encompasses, as the disc cover proudly proclaims, 48 composers, 62 works and four hours and 34 minutes of music.

It is in the individual pieces selected that Mikhashoff’s set is both uncommonly rich and unique. There are no less than four pieces by John Cage here as well as a generous selection of works by the “school of Cage” (Earl Brown, Christian Wolff and Mikhashoff’s UB Music Department colleague Morton Feldman, who became Varese professor of music the year Mikhashoff arrived).

And if you think that plots out the prevailing musical geography, forget it. There are pieces that Mikhashoff commissioned (Lukas Foss’ 13-minute “Solo” the longest included) as well works by “Kitten on the Keys” composer Zez Confrey, the Grateful Dead’s Tom Constanten and Frank Zappa. There is a gloriously generous helping of the marvelous but still often overlooked rhapsodic dissonance of Ornstein, Ruggles and Rudhyar at the same time as music by the formidable and popular American alumni of Nadia Boulanger’s tutelage (Copland, Thomson). And, a Mikhashoff specialty, all manner of famous mavericks and American musical tinkerers and eccentrics of genius (Conlon Nancarrow, Henry Brant, Wallingford Riegger, Roy Harris, Henry Cowell).

And while we’re at it, you can’t forget minimalists LaMonte Young and Philip Glass. (What? No Steve Reich? Nope.) “The Alcotts” from Ives’ Concord Sonata is given one of the tenderest readings you’ll ever hear. At the same time, said Mikhashoff student Haydee Schvartz, Mikhashoff played Crumb’s “Tora! Tora! Tora!” movement from his “Makrokosmos” so vigorously that the piano was “trembling” afterward … He left the piano completely out of tune and Gary Shipe had to come to tune it.”

Don’t expect immaculate playing here. It was, said producer Brian Brandt, sometimes recorded “endlessly” for days because they had the UB concert hall booked for entire days, thus making for “heady, marathon affairs” where “there was no clock to watch. Yvar always seemed to have the energy … Yvar worked quickly, sometimes recording only one or two takes of a particular piece or section. These were often not sessions of meticulous exactitude going after every note perfect.”

Mikhashoff, according to annotator Drew Massey, wanted “a sound as from a salon with a lot of carpets, and a Bechstein-type piano: cozy, warm, woolly.” And that’s what you hear – an epic but most intimate musical traversal of North America.

– Jeff Simon



B-flat Sonata and Impromptus

Performed by Rudolf Buchbinder

[Sony Classical]

4 stars

This is one of the most exciting piano discs I have heard in a long time – and from a veteran pianist, no less. Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder doesn’t get talked about a lot over here, but he is one of the greats, with a style that is his own. You know how some pianists prefer period instruments? Buchbinder, in contrast, enjoys his grand piano. He loves its power and volume, and he’s not afraid to use it. As he tackles this music – Four Impromptus Op. 90, and the famous B-flat Sonata, D. 960 – you get the idea he is playing it exactly as he wants to.

He loves bombast, sometimes when you least expect it, and also when you least expect it, he will linger unexpectedly to smell the roses. He’s free with his tempos. He even throws in a few shockers – the low trill in the first movement of the sonata, right before the recapitulation, is a fierce, slamming, double-forte thunder. I have never heard anything like that, and I have been listening to this sonata for a long time. You might not agree with everything Buchbinder does. But I like how he sees the music from unusual angles and brings out unusual things. It is refreshing to have someone playing with such liberty and beauty.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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