Sneak Peek Audio Leak: Ken Thomson’s Sextet

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Naomi White.

Ken Thomson’s music dances at the crossroads of contemporary classical and jazz—filled with boundless verve, blistering improvisations, and contrapuntal complexity. When he’s performing, his energy shines onstage—and when he’s writing music, it leaps off the page.

Though the clarinetist and saxophonist is perhaps best known as one of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Thomson’s new album of original compositions, titled Sextet, features him performing alongside a hand-picked cast of jazz all-stars: saxophonist Anna Webber, trumpeter Russ Johnson, trombonist Alan Ferber, bassist Adam Armstrong, and drummer Daniel Dor.

The album begins with Thomson’s own arrangement of György Ligeti’s melancholic Passacaglia Ungherese before spiraling through a collection of six original groove-driven compositions that float freely between the rigor of through-composed music and the spontaneity of improvised solos.

We’re excited to premiere a track from the brand new album ahead of its September 7 release date. Click below to hear Thomson’s “Phantom Vibration Syndrome.”

Learn more about the music from the performers themselves in the trailer below!


Ken Thomson’s Sextet comes out September 7 on New Focus Recordings. Click here to pre-order the digital album.

Sneak Peek Audio Leak: ‘Endeavour’ by Tristan Eckerson

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Damian Lemański & Ulka Dzikiewicz.

Tristan Eckerson is a pianist, composer, and DIY musician in every sense of the term. He writes, mixes, and masters his own music, creates his own album art, and arranges his own international tours. After working with 1631 Recordings on two previous albums, Eckerson is releasing his newest work, Dream Variations, independently on July 6.

The twelve short piano solos on the album draw inspiration from music as wide-ranging as Beethoven, Sigur Rós, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Tigran Hamasyan. With a passion for film scores and soundscapes, Eckerson strives to create music that is as accessible and relaxing as it is complex.

This describes his piece “Endeavour” perfectly. Starting with a bittersweet and beautifully simple melody layered over rich, percussive chords, “Endeavour” evolves into a multi-textured piece that juxtaposes mournful moments with flashes of hope. 

We’re thrilled to premiere “Endeavor” right here on Second Inversion. Plus, learn more about the album in our interview with the composer below.

Second Inversion: What was the inspiration behind “Endeavour”?

Tristan Eckerson: It’s hard to say what the inspiration behind this particular piece was, because I really approached this entire album as a succession of pieces that were all strung together in a stream of consciousness type fashion—hence the album title.

I was really inspired by listening to some piano pieces by Ryuichi Sakamoto—how simple, elegant, but harmonically rich they were, and how they were so minimal, but not at all boring or simple musically. I also liked the idea of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and just having a lot of shorter, succinct pieces that kind of flowed into one another and were variations of one another. And so “Endeavour” just ended up being one of those pieces.

SI: Dream Variations works to stretch the boundaries of solo piano composition. What elements have you employed to subvert listeners’ expectations?

TE: I think in the contemporary classical genre right now there seems to be an aversion to using jazz influences of any kind. And since I love a lot of jazz music and jazz harmony, but don’t really have any interest in writing straight ahead “jazz” music, I’ve been very drawn to incorporating jazz harmony and modal harmony into a contemporary classical setting. Again, going back to the influences of Ryuichi Sakamoto, and also Ravel and Debussy—I just want to give listeners something that they aren’t used to in terms of the depth of harmony I’m using and the types of moods that it’s creating.

SI: This July you are releasing Dream Variations independently. What are the challenges and rewards of working within a DIY framework?

TE: The challenges are that you’re doing everything yourself—so if you aren’t putting in 100% in a particular category, then no one else is going to pick up the slack. I’ve had to learn a lot of things that I really would have rather left to someone else—non musical things. But the reward is that because I’m doing everything independently, I retain much more control when it comes to how to do things and of course intellectual property rights, royalties, and everything concerning the business side. And also when you do everything yourself, even if you aren’t an expert in every area, it’s very rewarding when you actually start seeing results, because all those results feel like very personal achievements.


Dream Variations comes out July 6. To pre-order the album, click here.

Video Premiere: Oracle Hysterical’s ‘Helen’

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Euripides’ tragedy Hecuba tells the story of the queen of Troy’s descent to vengeful violence after her city is destroyed and her children are killed during the Trojan War. This ancient Greek play is the inspiration for Oracle Hysterical’s new album Hecuba, the latest in a series of projects by the group that seek to breathe new life into classic literature with contemporary music.

Oracle Hysterical is comprised of five composer-performers: twins Doug (double bass, viola de gamba) and Brad Balliett (bassoons), Dylan Greene (percussion), Elliot Cole (keyboards, guitars, vocals), and Majel Connery (keyboards, vocals). Hecuba also features guest percussionist Jason Treuting on drum kit.

The first song on the new album, “Helen” gives the perspective of the woman who is said to have started the Trojan war: Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who eloped with Prince Paris of Troy. Connery’s smooth, sultry vocals flow in long, legato lines over subdued, mournful chords and melancholy ostinatos from the bassoon, guitar, piano, and double bass. The percussion stands out in the gentle, continuous flow of sound, adding texture and intensity.

The result is a work that is quiet and subtle, but dramatic, with a beautifully bittersweet indie-rock sound. “Helen” translates the power and pain of a very old story into something that feels new and universal.

We’re thrilled to premiere the video for Oracle Hysterical’s new single “Helen,” created by Four/Ten Media.

Learn more about the new album in our interview with bassoonist Brad Balliett.

Second Inversion: What drew you and the group to Euripides’ Hecuba as an inspiration for the album?

Brad Balliett: We describe Oracle Hysterical as ‘part band, part book club’ because we are constantly turning to literature for inspiration. One member of the group will read something that they feel would make a great musical project, and the other members take up the suggestion and get to work on some music! In this case, Doug Balliett, who is a major fan of Greek drama, brought a passage from the Euripides play to a summer work session and we developed the song Helen together. We had such fun creating that song, and were so pleased with the results, that we embarked on a journey to set an album’s worth of passages from or inspired by the play. The incredible drama and pathos of the play, along with the beauty of the language, kept us continuously engaged and inspired.

SI: “Helen” and the rest of the album prominently feature talented vocalist Majel Connery. Were the vocal lines tailored to suit her unique sound? How did the source material shape the vocal lines?

BB: Like a large portion of the music Oracle Hysterical creates, all of the songs on Hecuba were written collaboratively. For most of the songs, Majel devised her own vocal lines in working sessions with the rest of the band. A lot of times she would improvise several versions and we would decide together on the most compelling line. Sometimes we all worked together to craft a specific line based on the harmony. The timbre of Majel’s voice is almost impossible to describe—something otherworldly. We are lucky to have her unique sound in our ensemble.

I think that the source material inspired us to attempt to wed an archaic, monumental sound (one that reflects the enormous distance between us and the original text) and a contemporary style (one that shows that the immediacy of the emotions of the play are still as visceral now as they were back then). This is a fine line to walk, but it was a joy to balance these feelings.

SI: Between the unique combination of instruments, the literary source material, and your rock-leaning sound, Oracle Hysterical’s music can be hard to classify. How would you describe your music in general? How would you describe “Helen”?

BB: We draw from an enormous range of influences: Baroque music, Romantic music, various current pop and rock groups, the Beatles, certain kinds of world music, and so on. The result is a kind of music that is difficult to put into a single genre, which suits us just fine. Among the various titles we’ve heard applied to our sound, I’m a fan of ‘Baroque Indie Pop.’ “Helen” occupies a world that variously turns towards rock, minimalism, art song, and hyper-produced pop. Hopefully, for the listener, the genre titles fall away and the song is left as a single musical object.


Hecuba will be released May 11 on the National Sawdust label.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Daniel Rhode’s “Return” ft. GVSU New Music Ensemble

by Seth Tompkins

The beautiful and complicated images that accompany the music of Daniel Rhode’s Return allow for just enough ambiguity to yield a fascinating experience. As the title track of the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble’s forthcoming album, this video premiere uses Rhode’s pensive electroacoustic soundscape to pull the listener into a small but profound exchange.

The subject removes her makeup, presumably at home, presumably with a person for whom she cares.  They share intimate but relaxed physical contact.  She returns to her natural state, in her home, with her closest person, unadorned by a coating of foreign substances.  She literally and figuratively lets her hair down.

These images, paired with Rhode’s music, might suggest a complex and nuanced emotional journey—one that encompasses the opposed relaxation and deflation that are often associated with returning home after an intense or exciting group experience.  Perhaps there is even trauma in the recent past.

However, consider the possibility that, like Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Return might actually be joyful, despite the audio’s solemnity.  Perhaps the quiet, peaceful, yet revelatory bliss of discarding the physical and emotional elements of a public persona is what the video is intended to show.  Or perhaps we’re not meant to know.


Grand Valley State University New Music ensemble’s new album Return comes out on Oct. 27. To pre-order the album, please click here.

Sneak Peek Audio Leak: “Disarm” by Tristan Eckerson

by Maggie Molloy

Composer and pianist Tristan Eckerson is a bit of a nomad—both literally and musically. Moving from city to city since his teenage years, he’s developed an ear for musical exploration and a willingness to follow the melodies wherever they lead him.

His compositions draw musical inspiration from around the world, distilling it through the uniquely tender, quiet introspection that only solo piano music can express. The music itself is nomadic, balancing a restless, forward momentum against moments of silence, reflection, and restraint.

Eckerson’s new album Disarm, which comes out September 16 on 1631 Recordings, features a collection of solo piano works which blend elements of minimalism and modal jazz with more traditional classical idioms.

But you don’t have to wait until September 16 to get a taste. We’re thrilled to premiere the title track off the album right here on Second Inversion. Give it a listen and read through our interview with Eckerson below.

Second Inversion:  What was the inspiration behind “Disarm”?

Tristan Eckerson: I had been getting really into modal writing and listening to a lot of Chick Corea, and I wanted to do a piece that was modal all the way through—so that was the basis for “Disarm.” I also think it was inspired by listening to a lot of Alberto Ginastera for the same reasons. I didn’t want to get into tonal harmony at all, but I still wanted to do something that had some variation, a chord progression, and excitement.

SI: How would you describe the sound of this piece?

TE: It’s definitely modal and you could say it has a modern, minimalist sound, at least to me. It also harkens back a little bit to Ginastera, or at least that’s what I hope. I think it’s energetic and I was really trying to fuse the sounds of jazz and world with contemporary classical—to make something that wasn’t outwardly “jazzy,” but that incorporated elements of modal jazz, was composed, and could still fit into the world of what’s considered “contemporary classical” music.

SI: How does this piece relate to the rest of the album?

TE: I think it is the lynchpin of the album. I wanted to do something minimal, ethereal, and modal, but also contemporary, genre-bending, and exciting. And I think that “Disarm,” being the title track, is a fusion of all of those things. Some of the other pieces have elements of one or the other, but “Disarm” combines the many elements that I like in classical and contemporary music into one composition.


Tristan Eckerson’s full-length album Disarm comes out September 16 on 1631 Recordings. Click here to view tour dates for his European tour in September.

SNEAK PEEK AUDIO LEAK: I sang you to the moon by Gregg Belisle-Chi

by Maggie Stapleton

Second Inversion presents new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre… and we mean NEW. Sneak Peek Audio Leak is your chance to stream fresh sounds and brand new music of note with insights from our team and the artists.

photo-4-by-andrew-nicholl

Gregg, Chelsea, Raymond, and Carmen. Photo by Andrew Nicholl.

I sang to you and the moon is a brand new release from guitarist and composer Gregg Belisle-Chi, featuring vocalist Chelsea Crabtree, trumpeter Raymond Larsen, and bassist Carmen Rothwell. This quartet is a fusion of two preexisting groups – Gregg and Chelsea as a singer-songwriter duo & Tyrant Lizard, a trio of Gregg, Raymond, and Carmen. 

The sonic landscape of this project captures overlapping musical influences from both groups’ past traditions with their hometown musical heroes Bill Frisell and the Fleet Foxes. It also dives gracefully into an interdisciplinary world, melding the poetry of Carl Sandburg. It’s a little bit jazz, a heaping spoonful singer-songwriter, a splash of folk, and seeping with originality, above all.

Second Inversion is thrilled to give you a Sneak Peek Audio Leak of the first track, Between Two Hills, prior to the album’s release on December 21!

You can hear this music live at their Royal Room release show on Wednesday, December 21 at 7:30pm (no cover, but all donations go directly to the musicians).

photo-by-

Gregg Belisle-Chi. Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

SNEAK PEEK AUDIO LEAK: Symphony Number One

by Maggie Stapleton

Second Inversion presents new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre… and we mean NEW. Sneak Peek Audio Leak is your chance to stream fresh sounds and brand new music of note with insights from our team and the artists.

symphonynumberone

Symphony Number One is Baltimore’s newest chamber orchestra dedicated to performing and promoting substantial works by emerging composers. Led by Music Director Jordan Randall Smith, Symphony Number One brings together great composers of the past, virtuoso performers of the present, and the leading compositional voices of the future.

Their new album, more, is released on December 16 but we’re thrilled to offer a Sneak Peek Audio Leak of one of the selections: The Promised Burning by Andrew Posner.

 

Inspired by the Sabbath poems of writer and activist Wendell Berry, it’s a musical representation of man-made environmental destruction and the profound grief that future generations will feel en masse when the effects of this destruction are painfully obvious. It is a call to awaken from the delusions that we are separate from the Earth and that its resources and ecosystems are expendable tools in our fruitless attempts to satisfy our greed.

The album features music by two other young, talented composers. Timelapse Variations by Natalie Draper and Light Cathedral by Jonathan Russell round out this sophisticated third album from an ensemble with a very bright future ahead.

583f1e9470a81L-R top – Natalie Draper, Jonathan Russell;
L-R bottom: Andrew Posner, Jordan Randall Smith