On Tuesday, June 1st, 2021, celebrated folk-trio Sons of the Never Wrong (Sue Demel, Deborah Maris Lader, and Bruce Roper) are set to release their newest album Undertaker’s Songbook on their own label, Sons 3 Records. The album will be available digitally on all major platforms, and on CD via their newly revamped website: sonsoftheneverwrong.com 

Their ninth studio release (and eleventh overall) launches a 12 month long celebration in 2021-22 of their 30th anniversary as a group. While much of the album was worked on apart (as a result of the pandemic), these 15 songs find them closer than ever. 

Recurring thematic elements include love, loss, land, sea, saints, and martyrs. While often dark, Undertaker’s Songbook is anchored by an unwavering sense of hope and strikingly resonant harmony.  Both cinematic and intimate, this new body of work finds the trio bravely exploring the outer-reaches of their musicianship, while also maintaining the signature Sons’ sound.

Lead preview track Muddy Muddy River displays Sons’ inimitable blend, rife with nuance and lilt. A gospel-tinged mid-tempo in the vein of a reflective Natalie Merchant tune, bluesy hooks abound, carrying the listener along.

Listen to “Muddy Muddy River” on SoundCloud

Shorebird is a sincere, piano-led ballad that celebrates the interpretive skills and vocal acrobatics of member Sue Demel. A solo performance, she sings alongside a beautifully arranged piano part by John Erickson, invoking the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Rickie Lee Jones. Demel also takes the lead on her composition Set Us to Praying, a sparse, spiritual waltz dedicated to the late John Prine.

Om Not This Time finds Bruce Roper’s sobering vocal dancing around a playful rhythmic verse. Demel and Lader create a vocal soundscape against a bed of tablas and gritty guitar. The song itself masterfully blends a brooding synth style with boozy late-night horns, and a grounded, Tom Petty-like vocal performance. 

Deborah Lader’s apt closer In The End earnestly recalls a Jane Siberry-styled meditation, building into a wall of layered voices that include neo-folk singer Karen Savoca. With an underpinning of octave mandolin and a cool, confident drum pulse, the song’s lyric and uplifting melody round off the record with a reassuring calm.

For more about Sons of the Never Wrong, please visit: sonsoftheneverwrong.com

To request a copy for review, please email Peter McDowell: [email protected]

On May 28, 2021, Los Angeles-based Argentine pianist Fabio Banegas is releasing his new album, Bottiroli Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 2 · Nocturnes, on Grand Piano, the specialist piano label distributed by Naxos. The album notably includes narrations from Mr. George Takei — respected actor, author, and activist best known for originating the role as Star Trek’s Hikaru Sulu.

Fabio Banegas’ newest release displays not only his well-regarded abilities as a pianist, but also his sensitive and thoughtful curation sensibilities.  This volume – the sequel to Vol. 1’s Waltzes – features all world premieres, and continues Banegas’ passion for celebrating the rich, colorful work of his late mentor,  José Antonio Bottiroli (1920–1990). And like Bottiroli, Banegas also hails from Rosario, Argentina, and both have been acknowledged for their contributions to Rosario’s culture. 

Photo by David Carlson

Banegas has made it his mission to highlight “hidden gems” in the compositional world. In 2011,Banegas archived Bottiroli’s works, placing him with the unique authority to curate and establish the legacy of his compositions. This installment features Banegas’ interpretations of Bottiroli’s sparkling nocturnes. The composer had a deep fascination with the night sky and outer space, and these selections paint beautiful, vespertinal scenes.

Selections like Nocturne in  G♭ Major, B59 recall the best of Debussy; while the Six Album Pages exhibit Satie-like, impressionist insights. Elegantly waltzing in pentatonics is the first ‘page’ — specially dedicated Banegas by Bottiroli. (“To Fabio, surely its best interpreter.”)

Image courtesy of George Takei

The record closes with Five Piano Replies: selections that display Bottiroli’s lyrical prowess. Choice collaborator George Takei enters, lending his iconic timbre to sincere, sage, and resonant narration. His legendary connection to Star Trek — a beloved franchise that intelligently promotes exploration, peace, and awe of the universe — makes him a fitting ambassador for these celestially-inspired works.

Takei’s stellar interpretive skills as a narrator should come as no surprise: from his extensive stage and voiceover work, as well as his own personal love of poetry, he more than has the gravitas to deliver Bottiroli’s words. (Incidentally, Banegas and Takei met queuing for an architectural tour in Chicago, and became good friends, bringing this project full-circle as a celebration of cherished people in Banegas’ life.)

Entitled Bottiroli Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 2 · Nocturnes,
the album includes the following works:

※ 1 – 3 Tres Penas de 1984 (‘Three Sorrows From 1984’)

※ 4 – 9 Seis Hojas de Álbum (‘Six Album Pages’) (1976–77)

※ 10 – 13 Cuatro Piezas de 1974 (‘Four Pieces From 1974’)

※ 14 – 15 Dos Nocturnos en el Sol Bemol Major (‘Two Nocturnes in G♭ Major’) (1978/1984)

※ 16 – 20 Cinco Réplicas para Piano (‘Five Piano Replies’) (1974–80)

For more about Fabio Banegas, please visit fabiobanegas.com
For more about George Takei, please visit georgetakei.com

To request a copy for review, please email Peter McDowell: [email protected]


Humanity First: We Are All In This Together

Jenny Q Chai incorporates her exceptional artistry with striking visual elements, including NASA data visualizations, to highlight climate change and COVID-19 challenges. Includes two Bay Area premieres.

Sponsored by San Francisco’s Ross McKee Foundation and featured as part of their Piano Break series, Bay Area and Shanghai based pianist Jenny Q Chai will perform a free evening length concert on Friday, May 7, 2021 at 5:00 pm, Pacific time (8:00pm Eastern time).

This concert will last under an hour and will be broadcast by way of rossmckeefoundation.org/event/jenny-chai-2021-05-07. Pre-registration is not required.

At the conclusion of every Piano Break, the audience can meet the artist and ask questions in a live Zoom Green Room: rossmckeefoundation.org/zoom .

Entitled Humanity First: We Are All In This Together, the concert includes the following works:

Jarosław Kapuściński — Oli’s Dream
György Ligeti — Musica Ricercata No.1 with NASA global warming data visualizations
György Ligeti — Musica Ricercata No.7 with NASA global warming data visualizations
Milica Pavlovic*Paranosic Bubble (in trouble) with bubble machine and lights
Stephen SondheimInto the Woods (arrangement by Andy Akiho)
(with paintings by Camryn Connolly)
Jarosław KapuścińskiSide Effects, with photography by Kacper Kowalski

This will be Ms. Chai’s first solo virtual concert, her first concert designed during the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. and her first concert in 2021. *Work by Pavlovic is a Bay Area Premiere.

In Chai’s words, “Globally, we are experiencing the same kind of difficulties, and yet trying to survive, to adapt, to thrive and to hold on to hope. It is a heightened time for us to remember to unite together as earthlings. We must take care of our earth, global health systems, strategizing, communications and planning, in order to survive together.” Last year, Chai gave a TEDx talk, When Classical Music Meets Technology. Chai believes that art needs to reflect the current state of our world, and to raise awareness in people about social issues.

For many years, Chai has been creating thematic programs for issues to reflect our current society, such as her global warming program Acqua Alta which she toured and performed for six years. The works in the May 7th concert by Ligeti, Pavlovic and Kapuschinski’s Side Effects originate from this program. Chai’s performance of the Ligeti works use NASA’s data visualization on global warming’s effect on water. Side Effects is an AI interactive intermedia piece with visuals shot by aerial photographer/pilot Kacper Kowalski, about the earth as its seasons change from summer to winter. The remaining works address humanity: Oli’s Dream is also AI interactive, as it types out a poem about our hopes and dreams with tenderness. The Into the Woods arrangement mirrors how Chai felt about the messiness of being in the US during the pandemic under the Trump administration. 

For more about Jenny Q Chai, please visit jennychai.com
For more about the Ross McKee Foundation, visit rossmckeefoundation.org

In October 2020, New York City based Composer David Claman is releasing his new album, Gradus, on Albany Records. A thirteen track collection of new recordings of compositions and interpretations from throughout Claman’s whole career, Gradus borrows from a canyon of inspirations: from Indian Classical to electronic experimentation. The album also gathers performances from several celebrated musicians, including India’s singing priest Paul Poovathingal, twice GRAMMY®-nominated flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, New York’s New Thread Saxophone Quartet, guitarist-composer Steve Mackey, and vocalist Sunita Vatuk, Claman’s wife and collaborator.

Loose Canons II opens the album as a preview towards the end, where it is reprised in more movements, taking as its model Johannes Ockeghem’s Missa Prolationum. Here, a continuous three-part composition is presented by three electric guitars with sustain devices, leading into an interpolation of Jimi Hendrix, before completely dissolving the canon.

The one-minute track Brit finds Claman narrating a famous passage from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, surrounded by an unlikely ensemble of computers, cellphones, toys, CD players, microwaves, all recorded with a telephone tap. Claman conjures Melville’s allegorical ‘sea of the human soul’ with his own ‘ocean’ of electromagnetic sounds.  Literary allusions continue in both From a Dream and Rescue The Dead, featuring soprano Elizabeth Farnum singing the text of the late American poet David Ignatow. Claman again finds joy in contradiction, nuance, existentialism, and importantly, open interpretation — a concept that he takes in the aptly titled Liberties Taken. There, the New Thread Quartet plays through Tiruvottiyur Tyagayya’s Sahana Raga Varnam, adding in newly arranged elements, while preserving much of the work’s original character.

With musicians and inspirations from all walks of life, Gradus presents a throughline in Claman’s work that he says, “speaks to each other across decades, continents, and centuries of shared influences.” Claman, a self-described ‘hard-core atheist’ adds nevertheless that the works evoke an underlying and unspoken yet certain spirituality. Just in time for our very uncertain world.

For more about David Claman, please visit davidclaman.com

To inquire about a physical or digital review copy,
please write to [email protected]

This year, Toronto-based vocalist Fides Krucker‘s first foray into improvisatory composition Vanishing is released in the United States and internationally on guitarist Tim Motzer’s own 1k Recordings imprint.

Made up of spontaneous compositions, the album finds the musical unit of Krucker and Motzer exploring six surreal, melancholic, and emotionally charged tracks they dub as ‘lost worlds’ and ‘sonic films’. Born of five days of improvisation in 2017 in a Philadelphia heatwave, Vanishing’s six tracks are intended to present wordless stories and ‘conversations’ between the musician’s organic interplay. Of the compositional process, Motzer notes that, “[regardless of] the choice of a key or mode, the parameters of loops, or microphones; it did not take much for one of us to begin and the other to follow. Twice—when one voice was not enough—Fides added a second improvised line.”

Vanishing opens with the brief “Scintilla”: Krucker’s voice sings with crystal clarity on simple vocables, as Motzer’s plaintive guitar crawls in, and the song comes to a natural, grieving crescendo. Throughout the rest of the album, Krucker continues to masterfully present various haunting colors from her voice: hums, lilt, sob, twang, fry, chant, breaks, drones, and operatic wails that veer into glossolalia. She evokes the broad kinship of other vocal pioneers like Patty Waters, Cathy Berberian, and Lisa Gerrard — all while maintaining her own identity. 

Similarly exploratory is Motzer, who sympathetically uses prepared guitar, e-bow, and electronic elements to ensure an immersive, otherworldly soundtrack. On the title track “Vanishing”, he uses reversed sounds and a Spanish-like guitar feel for a beautiful underlay; whereas on “Ruins” and “Eema”, both artists weave unnerving but engaging dark, synthetic atmospheres with real-time loops and modification.

New York-based drummer Jeremy Carlstedt joins the duo on both “Density” and the title track, adding sensitive textural support throughout. Of “Density”, Krucker says, “it was made after a conversation about Trump — that’s why it is so heavy — and that was Summer 2017. Things are so much worse now. There is a grieving in the album and a sharing of culture…”

Advanced praise from a previously limited Canadian release of Vanishing comes by way of Innerviews, where Anil Prasad paints Krucker’s voice as both “lovely” and “elastic” — and All About Jazz, whose Geno Thackara boldly glows, “Fides Krucker’s voice is less an instrument than a force of nature.” The Whole Note’s Andrew Timar also described the album as “cinematic in scope”, pegging the musicianship as “superb”. Timar also quips, “some days taking a walk on the sonic wild side is what the doctor should order.”

Vanishing is now available for download and streaming on Bandcamp: https://1krecordings.bandcamp.com/album/vanishing

A special CD pressing is also available, signed by the artists. The CD is limited to 200 copies, and includes an 8” x 12” poster. Photography for the album was provided by Avraham Bank, and designed by Yesim Tosuner of Backyard Design.

Works on the album are:
1 Scintilla・2 Vanishing・3 Ruins・4 Rime・5 Density・6 Eema

For more about the artists, please visit fideskrucker.com and timmotzer.com

To inquire about a physical or digital review copy,
please write to [email protected]