Tag Archives: Olivier Messiaen

February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs plus previews – Edmund Finnis premieres new piano trio on Britten Sinfonia English mini-tour (12th,13th, 15th February) – plus looks at Edmund’s imminent ‘The Air, Turning’ album and Markus Reuter’s imminent ‘Heartland’ album

8 Feb

A new Edmund Finnis composition is doing the rounds on a Britten Sinfonia micro-tour next week, taking in concerts in Cambridge, London and Norwich. The piece is a piano trio nestled in amongst a programme of compositions which examine chamber music’s historical connection to, and evolution from, Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1. Starting with this sonata, the concert progresses through Leoš Janáček’ ‘Pohádka’ and Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Le merle noir’, with the piano trio then preceding a performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s ‘Sonata for flute, violin and piano’. The performers are flautist Emer McDonough, violinist Thomas Gould, cellist Caroline Dearnley and pianist Huw Watkins.

I can’t find a title – or indeed, much more context and background – for the piano trio beyond this, although all will probably be revealed at the time. At the London date, Edmund’s also providing more details in a ticketed public talk with Dr Kate Kennedy before the concert begins. I’ve previously noted his compositional style as “flow(ing) from the luminously minimal to frenetically eerie orchestral jousts”, so he should have plenty to talk about.

Britten Sinfonia: At Lunch 2 2018-2019 – Bach, Janácek, Messiaen, Finnis and Martinu

  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP, England – Monday 12th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 1.00pm
    – information here, here and here (Edmund Finnis in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy, 12.15pm – free event – information here)
  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrew’s Plain, Norwich, NR3 1AU, England – Friday 15th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here and here

Edmund Finnis: 'The Air, Turning'

Edmund Finnis: ‘The Air, Turning’

Meanwhile, the first recorded collection of Edmund’s compositions – ‘The Air, Turning’, which has been six years in the making – is out on 9th February on NMC Recordings. Besides the sensual title composition (an orchestral work inspired by the concept of how music’s sound vibrations thrum and manipulate the atmosphere around us), it includes five other Finnis works. There’s the slow-ringing string orchestra piece ‘Between Rain’ (as performed at the Roundhouse and at ‘Organ Reframed‘ in 2016); the crepuscular, haunting ‘Shades Lengthen’ violin concerto; the blossoming ensemble work ‘Parallel Colour’ (in which clarinet, piano, strings and percussion drip and swell like heavy dew in an unexpected spot of bluster) and his ‘Four Duets’ for clarinet and piano.

Players include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the London Contemporary Orchestra, violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The more electronic/electrophonic side of Edmund’s work isn’t really present (for a few examples of that, visit his Soundcloud page), but it’s nodded to via the violin-plus-reverb concert hall piece ‘Elsewhere’ (which was touched on in here around two years ago when I plugged its second ever performance by Daniel Pioro). All in all, it’s exciting music – simultaneously translucent, muscular and subtly cerebral, with a rare quality of mystique and engagement.


 
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Seeing that I’ve drawn myself into writing about Edmund’s album, I’ll add something about Markus Reuter’s upcoming string quartet project ‘Heartland’. This isn’t out on record for a couple of months but has just begun to tease on Bandcamp, although Markus was good enough to send me the whole recording this week to listen to. This isn’t the first time Markus has created music which has disengaged from his usual electrophonic world of direct sound-processing and touch guitar, or in which he hasn’t felt the requirement to be present as performer. That would have been the orchestral version of ‘Todmorden 513’ a few years ago: a dense slowly-evolving soundpool built from algorithmic processes, assuming a vast, eerie and slightly melancholic ritual character to overlay its logical progression.

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Across the sixty minutes and eight sections of ‘Heartland’, algorithmic processes are once again the driving engines: mathematics lurk within the extended composition, with fractals, magic squares, and other numerical devices defining its elegant form. The piece, however (beautifully recorded in Berlin’s Kirche Zum Heiligen Kreuz, Berlin last October by the Matangi Quartet) brings more to the listener than an appreciation of structures. Beyond the initial brain-tickle, it seems that different listeners are inspired into different psychoactive responses. Active voyages of discovery seem to be a common theme. Various sleevenote contributors compare the journey through ‘Heartland’ to a Jungian river-ride through the collective subconscious, or to a Kubrickian Star Gate trip; while in the teaser video, Matangi violinist Maria-Paula Majoor appreciates the essential character of ‘Heartland’ as being “contemplative, maybe, (but) not very sure… I like that, in music… I think it’s nice to feel there is a doubt…that also gives the space for interpretation, and also for the listener to create (their) own interpretation”, and cellist Arno van der Vuurst comments that the music seems to be “searching for something”.


 
On a superficial level, ‘Heartland’ sometimes also suggests a bridge between the technical perfection of Bach baroque and the programmatic patterning of New York minimalism. It’s true that that particular bridge has already taken some heavy traffic, and from many different composers; but in Markus’ case he seems to have built his own separate bridge across the same river, and it’s only a part of the architecture and living space which the piece enables – it’s by no means its raison d’être. For initial promotion, Markus has mostly restricted himself to talking about translating processes into music, and about how his algorithmic/fractal note rows (and what progresses from them) work like carefully decorated modes or ragas; but the twinkle in his eyes suggests more. On the literary side, there are explicit references to Scarlett Thomas, short stories and sad goodbyes, and implicit ones to Thomas Mann: Markus also talks about “music that is there already and only needs to be uncovered”, and he’s clearly revelling in his opportunity to go wherever he wants and that “people want to be surprised, and they kind of like the fact that I’m an explorer.”

Matangi Quartet: 'Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland''

Matangi Quartet: ‘Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Heartland”

Due to my own circumstances, I often find that I have to run much of my music-listening time in parallel with entirely unassociated work time. In some cases this works fine: the higher levels of my brain are usually bored with lying fallow while other tasks have to be done, and the business of processing and appreciating music occupies brain space which would otherwise make me rattle and rebel. However, I do find that certain kinds of music are tougher to listen to. Much of contemporary classical music is too immediately information-dense, too neurotically intellectual – and, in a strange way, simultaneously too directly assertive and too demandingly needy for to be able to split my attention while listening to it. (Oddly enough, I have a similar response to hip hop).

‘Heartland’ is certainly full of coding, but when I ran it through the mill of listening necessity I’ve described above – while concentrating fiercely on a pile up of day-job things which needed to be fixed – I found that it also had surprisingly calming qualities. In particular, it had qualities of order – as if the pulse and pitching of the music was putting things right without relying on the usual structural/dramatic clichés to which I respond. While ‘Heartland’ is full of detail and mechanism, and while Markus is particularly open about that, much of its devicery is camouflaged: the piece does not anxiously assert its complexity and importance. Instead, I found it subtle and confident in its own intelligence, like the workings of a brain; not the chaotic, nervy dramatisation of an unbalanced mind, but something more Apollonian, with a matter-of-fact humanity. On this particular pass I didn’t feel skilled enough to analyse everything in it, but from the off I felt the structures and the processes… and also felt that I was somehow sharing in them.

This might not be a purely rational conclusion (and a different week might produce a different flexion of the imagination) but for now I’m sticking to it. Perhaps, beyond its number processes, ‘Heartland’ is a self-contained flexible map for an inner journey; perhaps, for me, it works as a set of complex mental debugging routines generated and given impetus by the chug of bow on string and the singing self-contained musicality that’s propelled string quartets in common for three centuries (and which has built a proportion of my own responses for about a sixth of that time). To these ears, this mind, ‘Heartland’ is a generous piece. It inspires a kind of serenity, even a kind of hope.

‘Heartland’ is out on Solaire Records on 12th April, and can be pre-ordered here and here.


 

January/February 2019 – upcoming classical gigs around Britain and Ireland – Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands (23rd January); Scordatura’s Clara Schumann evening (3rd February); Gyða Valtýsdóttir’s ‘Epicycle’ tour (29th January to 3rd February)

18 Jan

Nonclassical open their year with their annual Battle of the Bands at their live homebase in Hackney’s Victoria performance pub. Six competitors will be duking it out for industry attention and more Nonclassical gig opportunities. As usual, they’ve been chosen from the permeable space where contemporary classical touches on other musical forms, on other arts and on current concerns.

Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands, 23rd January 2019

There will be two solo performers. Woodwind specialist James Hurst will be swapping between alto saxophone and alto recorder to perform his own ‘The Descent of Ishtar To The Underworld’, a guided, Bronze Age-inspired improvisation. Reylon Yount, a San Franciscan Chinese-American yangqin player and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, will be performing the diasporan-influenced sound exploration ‘Rituals and Resonances for Solo Yangqin’ by Chinese-British composer Alex Ho, which “attempts to engage with the paradoxical sense of nostalgia one may feel for a place one did not grow up in” via “an exploration of the relationship between sound and its resonance.”



 
Three collectives are also competing. Chamber ensemble Scordatura Women’s Music Collective champion and perform the work of female composers, both living and dead: on this occasion, they’ll be performing ‘Las Sombras de los Apus’ by Gabriela Lena Frank, a cello quartet in which each instrument plays in a different tuning. The recently-formed New Music group 4|12 Collective will be playing James Saunders’ Instruments with Recordings (with a lineup of viola player Toby Cook, flautist Epsie Thompson, accordionist Giancarlo Palena, bassoonist Olivia Palmer-Baker, trombonist Benny Vernon and tuba player Stuart Beard).

Rita Says & The Jerico Orchestra (performing Paragraph 7 of ‘The Great Learning’ by Cornelius Cardew) have been around a little longer: over the past decade, they’ve been working at “defin(ing) a connection between fine art performance practise and the history of contemporary music”, exploring a spontaneous blend of physical action and visual interaction to create and conduct pieces.


 

Finally, there’s composer/performer and Filthy Lucre co-founder Joe Bates, who pitches his camp on the faultline between contemporary classical music and avant-rock, hip hop and electronics; and whose artistic interests include “desire at a remove” and “the decline of classical music’s social prestige and the possibilities for its future.” His music blends contemporary classical structures and instrumentation options with “intense, still, driven riffs” and harmonies from rock and other pop forms. On this occasion, he’ll be playing pieces from his microtonal synthesiser suite/EP ‘Flim Flam’.

 
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If you’re sympathetic to Scordatura’s role as feminist music historians and curators, you might like to know that they’re popping up again in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in early February – as part of the Abbey Chamber Concerts series.

Scordatura, 3rd February 2019

Their 3rd February gig, titled as “Celebrating Clara” (and utilising a shifting duo/trio/quartet formation of clarinettist Poppy Beddoe, violinist Claudia Fuller, cellist Rachel Watson and pianist Thomas Ang) ostensibly showcases Clara Schumann, the similarly talented but undervalued composer-pianist married to Robert Schumann. They’ll be playing one Schumann piece – the Piano Trio in G minor – and possibly some of her clarinet work, but the remaining programme slots are given over to the work of other female composers. Contemporary composer Cecilia McDowall’s chamber piece ‘Cavatina at Midnight’ is followed by the Victorian ‘Piano Suite in E major’ by Clara Schumann’s contemporary Ethel Smyth.

The last piece is by Fanny Hensel ( ‘Fantasia for Cello and Piano’) a.ka. Fanny Mendelssohn, whose life was a sometimes-uncomfortable reiterating mirror of Clara’s. Both were similarly talented intimates of established composers (one a wife, the other a sister); both had surprisingly encouraging husbands; both were also tutored and driven by demanding fathers who established excellence in them. Both, too, were ultimately constrained as composers by the discouragements and domestic responsibilities forced upon women of their times, with the men in their families often acting with a frustrating mixture of systematic positive pressure and patriarchal forbiddings. (Felix Mendelssohn, for instance, was a devoted, championing brother who found that he drew the line at Fanny entering the canon of published composers.)

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Gyða Valtýsdóttir 'Epicycle' tour (Britain/Ireland), January/February 2019Overlapping these two concerts is a British/Irish mini-tour by Gyða Valtýsdóttir – still known as the former cellist for Iceland experimental pop band Múm even though she only played on two of their albums and has been out of the band for sixteen years.

Having immediately returned, post-Múm, to her classical roots (formally studying, graduating and applying herself to classical cello) Gyða’s spent the time since then in the genre-stepping world of the modern post-classical musician. Outside of the classical gigs, rent-paying but artistically respectable engagements adding stringwork to records or tours by Sigur Ros’ Jónsi, Damien Rice and Colin Stetson have alternated with assorted film, dance, theatre and installation music around the world, as well as bouts of free improvisation gigs. Allied with her twin sister and ex-Múm bandmate Kristín Anna, Gyða also added a “reciprocal twin” component to Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s 2015 song cycle ‘Forever Love’, conceived and delivered with performance artists Ragnar Kjartansson.

Although Gyða’s latest personal release (last year’s ‘Evolution’) features her own compositions and a return to her Múm-era multi-instrumentalism – and although some of those songs will get an airing – this tour focusses mostly on her 2017 solo debut ‘Epicycle‘, a two-millennia-spanning exercise in musical commonality and reconfiguration originally intended as “a gift for friends” on which Schubert, Schumann and Messiaen rub shoulders with Harry Partsch, George Crumb, Hildegard von Bingen and the nineteen-hundred year old Seikilos Epitaph. The album was an Icelandic smash hit and a talking point elsewhere: a classical debut recorded with the immediacy of a jazz record and with a broad-minded disregard for purity, bringing in upfront studio processing techniques and stylings/instrumental responses from other traditions from jazz to ancient folk to experimental post-rock.

On tour, she’s performing with her Epicycle trio, also featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (on guitar, synthesizer, percussion and anything else which needs playing) and drummer Julian Sartorius, both of whom played on the record.




 
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Dates:

Nonclassical presents:
Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, E8 3AS London, United Kingdom
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Abbey Chamber Concerts present:
Scordatura: Women’s Music Collective: ‘Celebrating Clara’
St Nicolas’ Church, Market Place, Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire OX14 3HF
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 3.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gyða Valtýsdóttir – ‘Epicycle’ tour:

  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PG, England, Tuesday 29th January 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Metropolitan Arts Centre, 10 Exchange St West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ, Northern Ireland, Thursday 31st January 2019 – no further information
  • Dublin Unitarian Church, 112 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, D02 YP23, Ireland, Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL, Scotland, Sunday 3rd February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

January 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – the Baroque At The Edge festival (5th to 7th January); three string quartet premieres and a Shostakovich from London City Quartet (27th January)

23 Dec

News on an intriguing long-weekender of a festival coming up next month…

Baroque At The Edge, 5th-7th January 2018
“Imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Vivaldi a folk-fiddler, or Handel a minimalist… A brand-new event from the creators of the highly successful London Festival of Baroque Music (artistic director Lindsay Kemp and manager Lucy Bending, working in partnership with LSO St Luke’s) the Baroque At The Edge festival invites leading musicians ranging from classical to world, jazz and folk to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them. No rules, no programme notes, no lectures: all you need to know is how to listen.”

There are three virtuoso duet concerts. The first features German recorder player Tabea Debus and theorbo lutenist Alex McCartney performing Telemann’s Solo Fantasias, alongside specially commissioned new pieces from Colin Matthews (‘Meditation’), Laura Bowler (‘TV Man’) and Fumiko Miyachi (‘Air’). The second is a part-improvisational teamup of lutenist Thomas Dunford and Persian percussionist Keyvan Chemirani, crossing and blending the sounds of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century European Baroque masters with similarly dazzling and spiritual Persian compositions. The third and last brings together Bjarte Eike (of raw folk/Baroque crossover ensemble Barokksolistene) and jazz pianist Jon Balke (of Magnetic North Orchestra).







 
Opening the festival, delightfully eclectic pianist, programmer and prime musical communicator Joanna MacGregor will deliver a concert “celebrating birds, ground basses and chaconnes” and consisting of nineteen pieces spanning four-and-a-half centuries – not only the Baroque (handsomely represented by Alessandro Poglietti, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Henry Purcell, Louis-Claude Daquin, François Couperin and Johann Pachelbel), but the Renaissance (William Byrd), the Romantic movement (Franz Liszt, Leoš Janáček), Modernism (Olivier Messiaen), minimalism (Philip Glass) and the fanning-out of contemporary classical (Harrison Birtwistle, Hossein Alizâdeh, Sofia Gubaidulina).


 
Warm, witty universal percussionists O Duo (Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell) will be leading a family-friendly open-to-all percussion workshop with a baroque twist, while Paolo Pandolfo gives a solo viola da gamba recital embracing fantasies and popular dance-tunes of the sixteenth century, brushes with Bach, Telemann and the French baroque, and Paolo’s own captivating 21st-century improvisations.



 
Perhaps most absorbingly, vocal ensemble The Marian Consort (accompanied by lutenist Jamie Akers and solo actor/onetime ‘Casualty’ star Gerald Kyd) will deliver the London premiere of Clare Norburn’s concert-drama ‘Breaking the Rules‘, an acclaimed concert-drama exploring the last agonies of the seventeenth-century composer Carlo Gesualdo (a boundary-crossing influence on artists including Igor Stravinsky, Aldous Huxley, Werner Herzog and Frank Zappa). Having jealously murdered his first wife Donna Maria D’Avalos (along with her lover), Gesualdo poured his pain into deeply and unconventionally expressive music of torture and regret. ‘Breaking The Rules’ promises “(a) sound-track to Gesualdo’s mind on the final night of his life, as he contemplates his own mortality and the tumultuous events which have led him to this moment.”


 
Dates for ‘Baroque at the Edge’ (all other information is here):

  • Joanna MacGregor – LSO St Lukes, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England, Friday 5th January 2017, 7.30pm
  • Tabea Debus & Alex McCartney – St James Clerkenwell, Clerkenwell Close, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 0EA, England, Saturday 6th January 2017, 1.00pm
  • Paolo Pandolfo – LSO St Lukes, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England, Saturday 6th January 2017, 4.00pm
  • The Marian Consort: ‘Breaking the Rules’ – LSO St Lukes, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England, Saturday 6th January 2017, 7.00pmtickets
  • Thomas Dunford & Keyvan Chemirani – LSO St Lukes, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England, Saturday 6th January 2017, 9.30pm
  • O Duo Family Workshop – LSO St Lukes, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England, Sunday 7th January 2017, 10.30am
  • Bjarte Eike & Jon Balke – LSO St Lukes, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England, Sunday 7 January 2018, 12.30pm

* * * * * * * *

London City Quartet, 27th January 2018Much later in the month, over in a lofty Arts & Crafts Movement Anglo-Catholic church in west Kensington, the London City Quartet will be playing four string quartets: one of them an established twentieth century classic, the other three brand new works.

West Kensington Music Team presents:
London City Quartet: “Bomafescho.”
St. Cuthbert’s Church (Earls Court), 50 Philbeach Gardens, Earls Court, London, SW5 9EB, England
Saturday 27th January 2018, 5.00pm
– tickets & enquiries via email here or via telephone (020 7101 4479)

Programme:

Dmitri Shostakovich – String Quartet No. 1
David Bozzo – String Quartet No. 2
Brian Martínez – String Quartet No. 1
Peter Fender – String Quartet No. 1 (Thredony Quartet) Op. 30

There hasn’t been much more that I could dig up about this, either from the slightly bewildering WKMT homepage or elsewhere; but as appetite-sharpeners here’s a recording of David Bozzo’s previous string quartet (as played by the Billroth Quartet), a Martinez piano prelude, and a rendition of the Shostakovich by the Fitzwilliam Quartet. (Peter Fender, modestly, seems to restrict his own video output to examples of his conducting and training rather than his compositions.)



 

September 2016 – upcoming gigs – multimedia Messiaen in Sheffield with ‘Sounds of the Birds’ (21st)

16 Sep

Following yesterday’s post regarding imminent piano concerts in London, here’s news about one in Sheffield. Part of Sheffield University’s ongoing Festival of the Mind this month (and part of the university’s Sound Laboratory series), it’s a free show blending one of the twentieth century’s major piano works with new visual content and scientific context. Not an offer you get every day…

* * * * * * * *

'Sounds of the Birds', 21st September 2016

“Birdsong is something that most of us hear every day, but how much notice do we really take? As part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind, the language of birds will be translated for solo piano in a unique, immersive and multi-sensory two-hour performance providing a mesmerising meditation on music, nature and landscape.

“Our adventure through science, music, nature and imagination is led by Tim Birkhead (ornithologist and Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Sheffield), with pianist Noah Kang performing Olivier Messiaen’s monumental masterpiece ‘Catalogue d’Oiseaux’, which reproduces the songs of seventy-seven different birds (from the brightly insistent call of the skylark to the menacing tones of the tawny owl). The performance will capture the magic of birdsong, whilst immersing the audience in bold new visuals (inspired by Tim’s research and realised by Sheffield-based design team Human) which follow the music’s original task of vividly capturing the birds’ interactions with a series of stunning French landscapes.

“The concert itself starts at 7.30pm, with Professor Peter Hill providing a pre-concert talk about Messiaen and birds at 6.10pm.”

Festival of the Mind presents:
Tim Birkhead/Noah Kang/Human: ‘Sound Laboratory: Sounds of the Birds’
Firth Hall @ University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, England
Wednesday 21st September 2016, 6.10 pm
– free event (but requires pre-booking) – information

On the offchance that you weren’t already aware of this, Peter Hill is himself a celebrated interpreter of Messiaen’s piano works. Here’s part of his own version of the ‘Catalogue’.


 
Sound Laboratory (Department of Music, University of Sheffield)
 

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