Larry Chernicoff's Windhorse ensemble
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 5, 2004) – In its dynamic twists and turns, with surprises around every musical corner, Larry Chernicoff’s new CD, “October” (Windy Planet Music), packs the punch and excitement of artful, progressive rock without beating a listener over the head with excessive volume or pyrotechnics.
Rather, Chernicoff’s 10-piece group, Windhorse -- a large, all-acoustic chamber ensemble or a miniature orchestra, depending on your perspective – serves the composer and bandleader with shimmering, colorful renditions of contemplative music that boasts the dynamism of jazz and the dimensionality and proportions of classical music.
Windhorse’s group interplay can be stunning, as on “Light Years,” which opens with a duet but turns into a number featuring multiple counterpoints of rich, vibrant tonal colors, before Chernicoff offers a fleet solo on vibraphone.
Chernicoff, who lives in Alford, composes from a broad, cross-cultural palette that draws from multiple traditions as well as from nature. “Talking Rain” is a stately composition with a classical feel showcasing guest harpist Carol Emanuel, who has worked with John Zorn, Marty Ehrlich, Bill Frisell and other jazz notables and who lives in Great Barrington. Cinematic in scope, it’s not surprising to read in the liner notes that it was originally written for a dance. “Sailor and Siren” is a miniature drama, and the title track builds to a slowly pulsing climax worthy of Philip Glass.
“Timeless” is one of the disks more experimental pieces, a structured improvisation in which the musicians, including bassoonist Janet Grice, clarinetist Tim Moran, violinist Esther Noh and oboist Charles Pillow, are given only four notes to draw upon for their parts. Untethered to any fixed meter, the musicians conjure up a profoundly wistful mood, setting up a contrast for “East 13th Street,” the upbeat tune that follows. A frisky, jazzy strut through the East Village fueled by bassist John Lindberg and percussionist Tony Vacca, “East 13th Street” is downright Ellingtonian in the manner in which Chernicoff engages the different instrumentalists in the role of urban characters. The clear shapes, solid colors and head-turning array of voices in the piece bring to mind the work of painter Piet Mondriaan.
The album closes with a hint of gospel on “Last Dance,” featuring a bluesy saxophone solo by Moran and inspirational, jazzy piano by Karl Berger, who co-produced the album with Chernicoff. Other instrumentalists who round out the ensemble include cellist Tomas Ulrich, Tom Varner on French horn and Benjy Wertheimer on tablas.
In the past, Chernicoff, an alumnus of Berklee College of Music who has been involved with the Creative Music Studio Orchestra for 30 years, has incorporated state-of-the-art electronics into his performances. On “October,” he has taken whatever lessons there were to glean from electronics and translated them back into the acoustic realm, so that “October” boasts a fresh, glistening organic quality.
The recording, released in the Hybrid SACD format, has a terrific, warm live sound. Even when played back on a conventional CD player and mid-range sound system, the depth and vibrancy of the instruments are remarkable.
Chernicoff and his ensemble, Windhorse, will perform at the Berkshire Museum on April 10 at 8. In the meantime, “October” is available at Tune Street in Great Barrington, the Bookstore in Lenox, and on cdbaby.com. For more information on Chernicoff, visit www.larrychernicoff.com.
Dub Is a Weapon
Jazz-laced horn lines dance with electric guitar leads over the sinuous, pulsating, reggae-fied bass grooves and echoey percussion in a typical number by Dub Is a Weapon, the New York-based dub reggae all-star ensemble, featuring Dave Hahn, guitarist with Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and Larry McDonald, whose resume reads like a list of the greatest stars of reggae, including stints with Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and the Skatalites, as well as artists including Gil Scott-Heron, Taj Mahal and Shemekia Copeland.
In dub reggae, the bass and drums, already at the forefront in reggae, take the full-fledged lead, as the other instrumentalists fade in and out. Originating as a studio-based concoction, dub has only recently jumped from studios onto concert stages. Dub Is a Weapon is a pioneer in the field of live dub, performing in such groundbreaking New York clubs as the Knitting Factory, Joe’s Pub and S.O.B.’s. Dub Is a Weapon brings it cosmopolitan sound to the hinterlands with a show at Club Helsinki on Saturday at 9.
North County band Plum Crazy has a new CD out called “Remember That Time.” Catch them playing at Key West in North Adams tonight and the Red Herring in Williamstown tomorrow night. Cousins Jeb and Clayton Colwell, better known as local acoustic rockers Hector on Stilts, are at Helsinki tonight at 9. Late additions to Helsinki’s February calendar include punk-mambo group Babaloo on February 14 and the Jim Payne Band, led by the legendary funk drummer and producer Payne, who has worked with Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Medeski, Martin and Wood, on February 21. The Mercy Brothers, led by legendary Boston r&b vocalist Barrence Whitfield and featuring guitarist/songwriter Michael Dinallo, formerly of Radio Kings, bring their roots-rock stylings to Helsinki on February 27.
Not since the Charlie Daniels Band has the violin played such a key role in a rock group since Zox hit concert stages a few years ago. Conservatory-trained violinist Spencer Swain colors the Providence, R.I.-based group’s original reggae-infused rock songs, written and sung by frontman Eli Miller. Originally formed at Brown University in 1999, the group takes its name from drummer John Zox. Bassist Eli Batalion rounds out the foursome, whose peppy, poppy melodies and silly lyrics recall Phish. The band’s first CD, “Take Me Home,” includes a clever, Zox-ified version of Pachelbel’s “Canon.” Zox performs at Amherst College’s Keefe Campus Center tonight at 8.
(Club Helsinki, 528-3394; Berkshire Museum, 443-7171; Amherst College, 542-2000; Red Herring, 458-2808)
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 6, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]
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