East Meets West in a New York Debut
By: Zachary Woolfe
Oct 21, 2015
John Zorn, that most New York of New York composers, made his name in 1985 by nodding to the West with “The Big Gundown,” an album of Ennio Morricone covers. Traveling eastward for its New York debut on Tuesday, the young Los Angeles ensemble wild Up returned the favor. It opened “West,” its raucous, grungy, irresistibly exuberant concert at Roulette in Brooklyn with a bit of Morricone’s “Il Mercenario,” complete with players rolling tumbleweeds down the aisles.
That gesture was of a piece with this group’s boisterously theatrical sensibility, which draws out the vitality in the works it plays. Many of those pieces are written by members of the ensemble or frequent collaborators, giving wild Up, led by its founder, Christopher Rountree, the feel of a fun-loving, exceptionally virtuosic family.
At Tuesday’s concert, part of the American Composers Orchestra’s Sonic festival, one of wild Up’s violinists, Andrew Tholl, contributed the lush, low-key “Three Meditations on California Girls” — winks at songs by Katy Perry, the Magnetic Fields and the Beach Boys. Mr. Tholl’s “corpus collosum” alternated serene passages with violent shocks.
That juxtaposition — of peacefulness and pummeling — was also a feature of Andrew McIntosh’s piano concerto “Yelling Into the Wind,” which ended with a passage of harsh chords before a final suave fragment from the soloist (Richard Valitutto). Nicholas Deyoe’s “A New Anxiety” contrasted filigree lightness and explosive loudness (and a hyper-amplified bassoonist, Archie Carey) without seeming to strain for effect.
The more consistently calm pieces — Chris Kallmyer’s “this nest, swift passerine” and Julia Holter’s “Endless Song for the End of Summer” — were less effective showcases for the ensemble’s talents. Better was Jen Hill’s subtle, ominously hushed “In Memoriam My Liver,” with a remarkably restrained, nearly unending soft one-note trumpet solo from Jonah Levy. An elegiac cover of the punk band Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare” featured Maggie Hasspacher playing double bass as she also sang ethereally, evoking West Coast lo-fi.
There was a moment in the early 1980s post-punk scene, I was told on Tuesday, when some New York bands distinguished themselves by adding saxophones to the mix. The Los Angeles group Fear responded at the time with gleeful mockery in the song “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones.”
But when wild Up played a wild, squealing cover of the song at Roulette, it felt more like a celebration of the Big Apple than a critique. On behalf of my fellow New Yorkers, I hope this was the ensemble’s first visit of many.
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