Nocturnal Voyages Through Many Eras and Textures

06.14.11
Brooklyn Rider
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Strains of Bartok, Britten, Radiohead and Pink Floyd echoed through the musically omnivorous soundscape that unfolded in the first of two sets at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday evening, blurring genres and centuries into one enigmatic, continuous sequence.

“Was It All a Dream?,” the title of this imaginative hourlong program, reflected the nocturnal hues of the works, played with panache by the excellent Ensemble ACJW (the performing arm of the Academy, a program run by the Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall and the Weill Music Institute).

Members of the ensemble arranged selections by Chopin, Radiohead, Vienna Teng and Thelonious Monk, whose “Round Midnight” opened the program on a sultry, soulful note. The Monk arrangement segued into a spirited interpretation of Britten’s Phantasy for Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello, with the oboe part elegantly rendered by Toni Marie Marchioni.

Oscar Bettison’s riotous “Breaking and Entering (With Aggravated Assault)” lived up to its title, shattering the decorum with brash, pounding rhythms and jam-session ebullience, punctuated by the slashing frenzy of Yves Dharamraj’s electric cello.

The fiery Prestissimo from Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, with its jagged rhythms and energetic rock band pulse, seemed a natural continuation. There was a sudden lull with a gentle version of Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, the melodies shared among piano, woodwinds and brasses.

The boundaries became ever more amorphous as the dreamscape expanded, drifting from full-blooded, atmospheric arrangements of Radiohead’s “Melatonin” and Ms. Teng’s “Pontchartrain” to a brief echo of Pink Floyd, which unfurled seamlessly into the Renaissance. Listeners were brought back to reality with an elegantly wrought arrangement of John Wilbye’s “Draw on Sweet Night,” a madrigal written in 1609.

The enigmatic vibe continued in a 10:30 set, in which the adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider offered a hypnotically beautiful interpretation of the Suite from Philip Glass’s soundtrack for the film “Bent.” The eight short movements (which the group recently recorded on a Glass disc) include fast ones featuring the composer’s trademark ostinato patterns and pulsing energy and poignant slower ones variously offering a soulful cello melody, a harmonically rich, choralelike episode and a haunting violin solo.

The gifted ensemble then joined the singer-songwriter Christina Courtin and her four-man band for a dozen songs. The cellist Eric Jacobsen and the violinist Colin Jacobsen (brothers and members of Brooklyn Rider) also collaborate with Ms. Courtin, a Juilliard-trained violinist, in the Knights, a versatile chamber orchestra.

Brooklyn Rider played the gentle introduction for the nostalgic “Rainy,” the first of Ms. Courtin’s appealing folk-tinged numbers, in which she sometimes played guitar. Her unaffected voice sounded mellow and introspective in soulful songs like “Rainy” and “February,” taking on a more emotive and occasionally hard-edged hue in the more extroverted selections. The set also included a lively cover of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door.”