recent review of Jukebox from Cadence Magazine
“Fans of contemporary and early vocal music are well-served on the most recent release by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble. They feature two recent pieces: Meredith Monk’s “Basket Rondo” and Eric Salzman’s “Jukebox In The Tavern Of Love”….
Salzman’s piece is subtitled “A Madrigal Comedy” perhaps inaugurating a new genre. It surely is unique. It involves six characters (an Italian-American bartender, a nun, a Broadway dancer, an Orthodox Rabbi, and Irish poet and a utility worker) who meet in a bar in New York City during a summer blackout. With the ethnicity factor, it sounds like a bad joke is about to be sprung (did you hear the one about…) but the ethnicity is actually deftly handled as each singer reveals her/his character and story. The libretto is by Valeria Vasilevski and the comedy can be mildly funny as when the chorus sings about “romping with my baby” while the dancer shouts out tap dance steps….But what makes this worth hearing is the ensemble’s execution of the material. There are some interesting interludes with multi-part madrigal harmony and counterpoint. The ensemble blends beautifully and the writing is quite good. It’s an unusual piece, to be sure and worth hearing, especially by those with a taste for contemporary vocalizing.
New recording of “Jukebox in the Tavern of Love” is cited by Gramophone 2014 Awards issue as a best of year!
The new Western Wind recording of two commissioned works — “Jukebox in the Tavern of Love” (Eric Salzman; text by Valeria Vasilevski) and Meredith Monk’s “Basket Rondo” — has been selected in the current 2014 awards issue of Gramophone as a best of year. Here is an excerpt from Daniel Rosenberg’s review of this recent Labor/Naxos release:
“Salzman takes advantage of the [Western Wind’s] versatility and vocal gifts in Jukebox in the Tavern of Love, a ‘madrigal comedy’ with a libretto by Valeria Vasilevski. Set in a New York bar, the narrative introduces a series of characters (bartender, nun, dancer, rabbi, poet, utility worker), each of whom tells a story as the remaining observers react in Greek-chorus mode.
“The score is a delicious stew of musical styles, showing Salzman’s range as a composer and his ability to tickle the funny bone (with thanks to Vasilevski’s droll text). It’s a tour de force for the intrepid members of the Western Wind, who are as suave in the Renaissance-inspired material as they are swinging in Salzman’s jazzy concoctions.”
Gramophone, published in the UK, is the leading English-language publication covering the recording field. You can find the whole review at http://www.exacteditions.com/browse/345/365/40157/3/5/0/M%20Monk%20Salzman
“This is, so far, my Best New Record of 2014. Get it!”
These are the final words of Lynn René Bayley ‘s review of “Jukebox in the Tavern of Love” (Eric Salzman; text by Valeria Vasilevski) and “Basket Rondo” (Meredith Monk), commissioned and recorded by the Western Wind and released by Labor Records and Naxos as LAB 7094.
Here is a longer except from that review:
“…one of the oddest yet most refreshing discs I’ve heard in years… the music [of Jukebox in the Tavern of Love] is a lot of fun to listen to, based somewhat on Monk’s aesthetic, somewhat on polyphonic madrigals, but all of it constantly evolving and morphing.…there follows first a dancer singing nonsense lyrics in a peculiar rhythm, then a tune titled “When I romp with my baby tonight” that begins as a solo but becomes a fugue when other voices enter one at a time. Weird stuff, but good weird stuff! Next comes the song of a rabbi, “Do you know what a DP (displaced person) is?” This, too, evolves into its own polyphony as he describes how he wanted to become a Jesuit priest: “You can’t; you’re Jewish…a Jewish Jesuit will never do!” The nun then tells the story of her late aunt, who left her a pile of love letters and a confession that she was a lesbian. The poet sings a toast to love in all its forms, then a four-part madrigal (led by the rabbi) on the words “Salute amore” before the Con Ed worker (Consolidated Edison, the New York power and light company, for those who may need a translator) drinks and sings a toast to love: “Wine is the balm of lovers, come pour a cup for me…Awaken, lovers, listen!” It’s a wonderful, enchanting piece, difficult to put into words. You really have to hear it to appreciate it.
This is, so far, my Best New Record of 2014. Get it!” [© 2014 Fanfare]
–Lynn René Bayley
new review of “Civilization & Its Discontents”
From New Music Connoisseur, Vol. 20, #2
CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS
By Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman
Labor Records [LAB 7089]
By Nancy Manocherian
It’s years now I’ve had a vinyl copy of Civilization & Its Discontents (not Freud’s version), but sadly no turntable or incentive to pursue a path to such an antique on which to play the LP. So when I was asked to write about the newly minted (or re-released) CD, I was eager to listen to the celebrated recording written and composed by my colleague and collaborator, Michael Sahl, and my friend, Eric Salzman. Given the full disclosure contained in that last sentence, I won’t pretend I can be entirely objective about this work; I am, I think, spiritually tied to their politics and humor, something so deeply ingrained that I feel it must stem from our common Eastern European roots. Jewish humor is a fact, but I also believe there is universal truth in all things tribal, no less from these two composers with a gift for commentary, political and otherwise.
After reading the CD jacket and all the accolades, I wondered, how could I possibly add something that hasn’t already been said? I then listened from the opening line — “Boys and girls come out to play, the moon shines as bright as day–” I thought (despite knowing better), I was in for some kind of torturous version of Freud’s famous book. Suddenly — maybe 40 seconds in — the music took a turn for the better. I’d been had…I found myself curiously transported. Of course, I reminded myself, this is Michael and Eric.
From the rhyming lyrics — hilarious and unexpected, to the voices — operatic without cloying drama, to the music — melodic yet edgy and modern, I was drawn into the spell of cliché turned on its head, bopping along to the various twists and turns of the rhythm and sound. The character of the music is as unique as its creators. I am sure this was a radical piece at the time of its first release, but it still holds up as a post-Rent musical dramatization of the time in which is was conceived.
“If it feels good, do it,” was the anthem of my generation. This glorious refrain speaks volumes about the 70’s as well as sums up Freud’s ideas about repression of instinct and its consequences on the individual. In fact, Civilization & Its Discontents is like Rent before Rent was Rent and out-Bohemes La Bohème in the same way; by contemporizing the human struggle for freedom. The title, Civilization & Its Discontents may have been plagiarized, but the content came from the astute powers of observation and creation of the two brilliant, zany guys who conjured it.
Listening to it on a CD gives it new life as fresh and timeless as any modern classic.
New reviews of Labor Records releases
New reviews of the Labor Records releases — “Civilization & Its Discontents”, “The Nude Paper Sermon” and “Wiretap” — are in the current issue of the American Record Guide. They can be found here and here. If the copy comes up small you should be able to enlarge the type to a readable size. Like the other reviews of these releases, these are very insightful!