26 September, 2018

Roxy Coss Quintet, Niklas Sivelov

Two Events Around Flushing

Downtown Flushing is now basically a large Chinatown. Culturally speaking, Queens has always been lacking in comparison with other outer boroughs, like Brooklyn. However, occasionally, there are some worthwhile events.

The Future Is FemaleSeptember 23, Flushing Town Hall
Roxy Coss Quintet
Original Compositions

The Flushing Town Hall has particularly interesting jazz events this year, especially its Lioness series showcasing women artists. First up was Roxy Coss (event listing), an accomplished saxophonist and composer noted for her stand on gender equality in jazz (see her Blog).

The band played only Coss' original compositions, and they were varied and interesting, particularly the rather "progressive" (rhapsodic and dissonant) number composed after the election of Trump, which is on her latest album, The Future is Female (allaboutjazz review). Her sax sound has finesse, and is rich toned and powerful. I particularly enjoyed the sophisticated guitar playing of the other lead, guitarist Alex Wintz. Bassist Rick Rosato plays soulfully. The small gallery (L-shaped) is nice but I found the sound mix to be a little bass heavy, and the guitar and bass overwhelms the excellent piano playing of Miki Yamanaka, who can only be heard well in her few solo's. The drums of Jimmy McBride were rather too literal to my taste. Overall, the quintet makes great music, and the $5 admission was hard to beat! I am going to other events in this series!

September 24, LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College
Niklas Sivelov, piano

Wonders never cease! Here is a Danish pianist (also composer) who has been completely off my radar; indeed even Google does not tell you much. And yet, this is one of the best piano recitals I have heard.

Right from the declamatory start of the Bach Partita No. 2 one knows this is a pianist of substance. Dramatic, finely spun, yet with nothing forced (an absolute no-no in Bach for me), the opening set the tone for the piece. the dance rhythms are naturally rendered, yet at times spontaneous and almost jazzy. The counterpoints and the balance between the two hands are always perfect. This is Bach playing of the highest order, and I have never heard better, live or on record.

The Beethoven Op 111 is equally awesome, opening also in a dramatic declaration. Sivelov's excellent technique ensures there is no ugly struggle, yet the uncommonly inventive music is deeply probed and hugely satisfying. The program I have to say is highly intelligent, and his playing makes us aware of the dance and jazzy elements common to both pieces. Bravo!

After a brief intermission, Sivelov plays a group of Scriabin, Sonata-Fantasy No. 2, Deux Morceaux (Op 57 and 59), and Feuillet d'album, Op 58. which are all rendered with the utmost color; the sometimes abruptly shifting vistas always sound interesting and never drifting, as they can be in lesser hands. The last piece was stirring account of Bartok's Sonata. As before, Sivelov's rhythmic command is unassailable.

The pianist is a bit of an eccentric (perhaps that accounts for his obscurity). His soft shoes do not go with his tux, but one understands why he wears them, as he is prone to tap on the floor. Even more unusually, he vocalizes extensively, but the sounds are not the usual sing-along type (Glenn Gould), nor moaning (Keith Jarrett), rather hoarser and closer to hissing and forceful exhalation. These antics can be distracting, but I'd gladly put up with them when the playing is on such lofty grounds.

This was a free lunch time recital on campus; the small LeFrak Hall is beautiful and cosy, and acoustically excellent. The program is going to be repeated at Town Hall today (also free); I almost feel like going again.

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