Album Reviews: Jody Redhage & Fire in July – Ancient Star | Nadia Sirota – First Things First (New Amsterdam)


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  1. MP3: Jody Redhage & Fire in July – This November
  2. MP3: Jody Redhage & Fire in July – The Botticellian Trees

Ancient Star is the debut album for cellist, composer and vocalist Jody Redhage and her chock full of brass and percussion ensemble: Fire in July. If you’d like to try before you buy, Fire in July plays An Die Musik on Thursday, November 19 at 8pm (more info and tickets). In the meantime, here’s my take on this jazz-fueled riot of mod poet motets:

If you’re looking for an album that resonates like a happy child, one singing more for joy of sound than sense, you’ve got 14 tracks of good music. Strangely enough, the title track  ”Ancient Star” does the least for me. The constant repetitions of the line “It’s a strange courage you give me/Ancient star” just don’t rock my world or soothe my soul. Are we supposed to hit profundity? I’d hate to blame the poet William Carlos Williams, since he provided the words for Redhage to voice. Fans of Laurie Anderson and Lorenna McKennitt alike could find a new songstress to follow. The vocals tend toward thin piping, but come near the clean purity of an 11-year old who is about to become a castrato. Still, you can’t beat the overall bright and colorful timbre in this music. The frivolity borders on the fantastic, and deftly avoids ho-hum derivation.

I kept waiting for Jody’s unbridled cello, which I finally get hardcore in Track 13:  ”Zip.” The wickedly fast solo work would look and sound fierce live, but feels orphaned on the album. Fire in July throws in mostly fun bagatelles, populated by lyrics like “cherry blossom make-believe” that crest with pop-sounding cheery drums or trumpet fanfares. Whimsy is the main show here, with a side of mysterium. I like when the crew flies forward into jazz riffs, but other times I find myself longing for the deep solidity of Palestrina’s layering of tonal lines in a Renaissance madrigal. That Redhage attempts to draw the forms together with rhythm over melody is laudable. This ambitious, intriguing project shows potential to blossom live — as we get with most improvisers. I’d take in the show if you want to hear how a cello gets tight with a vibraphone that loves a trombone who harkens to the bass clarinet.

Release date: Sept 15 2009

Track list:

  1. Sometimes There’s God So Quickly (6:04)
  2. Rum Point (5:12)
  3. Ancient Star (9:32)
  4. As the Cat (1:45)
  5. Dawning of Day(5:35)
  6. This November (6:31)
  7. This is Just to Say (1:21)
  8. Sister, My Sister (4:42)
  9. Calming (2:19)
  10. The Botticellian Trees (5:16)
  11. Elevation (2:13)
  12. I Wonder Why (5:15)
  13. Zip (1:34)
  14. Greenport Slide (6:11)

firstthingsfirsthiresNext up from New Amsterdam: the debut recording of a Baltimore School for the Arts (2000) grad: violist Nadia Sirota. Shall we call it the usual story of a hometown girl makes good? Probably, seeing as she’s escaped from Baltimore and seems to dwell in the heart of Brooklyn forevermore. You’d sooner find her playing Le Poisson Rouge than here, but we’re doing what we can to convince her to share the goods down South. Until then, you’ve got her album: First Things First.

For starters, the better your stereo system, the happier you’ll be. This atmospheric set of seven works hinges on subtlety; it deserves the best. No way in hell the MP3 is really gonna do the trick. As for mood, this one’s best enjoyed on a quiet summer’s twilight or a misty winter day.

Of the two albums, Nadia’s really shows you what a string instrument can do. Nadia has the help of cellist Clarice Jenson for the opening track and the Chiara String Quartet for the closer. She gives her viola a full workout. Technical mastery rules without frills and trills.

First Things First offers serious depths. You might call it “traditional” post-modern, if there exists such a category. I venture the great atmosphere is due in no small part to its being recorded at Smith College’s Sage Hall. Tones resound and billow forming a substantial fabric built from one continuous thread that runs throughout the diverse composers: Nico Muhly, Judd Greenstein, and Marcos Balter.

Marcos Balter’s “Live Water” has all the spunk of a P.J. Harvey song infused with gentle mystery. Whispers and tensions flit through shimmering echoes. Nico Muhly’s “Etude” and “Etude 1A” whip by with verve. Three tracks separate the pair, giving us sophisticated comic relief and welcome continuity. You can tell Nadia’s bow bristles with curiosity for the next big reach. If you secretly enjoy shadowy alleys at night or enjoy reading Charles Baudelaire poems, you’ll love the fluid heft of this album.

Label: New Amsterdam

Release date: May 19 2009

Track list:

  1. Duet No. 1, “Chorale Poiting Downwards” (10:10)
  2. Etude 1A (03:42)
  3. Ut (05:20)
  4. Escape (14:04)
  5. Live Water (06:05)
  6. Etude 1 (03:34)
  7. The Night Gatherers (12:59)

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One Response to “Album Reviews: Jody Redhage & Fire in July – Ancient Star | Nadia Sirota – First Things First (New Amsterdam)”

  1. DU132 says:

    Sam Buker, your review of the Jody Redhage CD is accurate as it stands but I believe there is more there that needs to be considered and will add many dimensions to what now seems a shadow.

    Here are my impressions and thoughts and why I like the Ancient Star CD more with each playing.

    I really like the experiment that Jody Redhage is doing with her voice on her Ancient Star CD.

    Jody Redhage – Ancient Star

    1. Sometimes There’s God So Quickly – With the second alliteration of the word “Extraordinary” in the first song during the first listening of the CD I was surprised at Jody’s use of her voice. I concluded that the literal meaning of the lyrics were secondary to the effect of her voice – notes, pitch, vibrato and the texture of the words. The literal or interpreted figurative meaning was not as important as the tempo ,feel, SHAPE of the words as formed by her vocal instrument. This seems new.
    Many Jazz singers use non words this was the integration of the feel, shape,texture and sometimes meaning of real words but only to serve the music. Her voice is one of the lead instruments. This is interesting.
    After about five or six listenings of the CD I looked at the lyrics in the CD liner notes. The lyrics (poetry) do relate to the feelings evoked by the pieces, but they are not always used directly. Again, the music is the primary focus in most of the pieces.

    2 Rum Point (5:12) – just fun
    3 Ancient Star (9:32) – I agree with your interpretation of the words not making sense but for me it didn’t matter (see comment about the first track). Literal or figurative word meaning was much less important in this song than in the previous two. This I guessed was another experiment. The words did seem to evoke a vague sense of attitude or general feeling that corresponded with the music. The first song was a little more mystical, the second up beat, this one like wondering about the grandeur of being under the canopy of the sky. Not deeply serious more curiosity. Not making sense didn’t bother me.

    4 As the Cat (1:45) – the meaning of the lyrics matches and are necessary for the mood evoked in the listener. Thus the lyrics are clearly spoken. In this piece the lyrics literal meaning and symbolic inferred meaning are crucial for full appreciation.

    5 Dawning of Day (5:35) – vocal use with instruments more typical of “regular works”

    6 This November (6:31) – simple, grand, clear and important commitment. Does it belong in the album? – It’s her debut CD; I say it’s up to her.

    7 This is Just to Say (1:21) – playing with poetry

    I think there is a very interesting experiment here. The complexity of using a voice as an extremely flexible instrument whose timbre and musical characteristics can change then using through matching or contrasting the word sounds (phonemes) and the sequence of them with played instruments seems to lead to a lot of experiments and many layers of complexity. A real challenge would also be to evoke emotions that then also correspond to the literal or symbolic interpretation of the lyrics.

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