Yesterday, my friend Rachel Swirsky introduced me to an excellent musician named Gabriel Kahane. I am a big fan of singer-songwriter-composer-types who work within a “new music” or “contemporary composition” or “art song” framework, and/or who are heavily influenced by “new music,” etc, but also by pop and rock. Kahane is this sort of artist. Rachel also compared him to some of her favorite writers-of-musical-theater-for-smart-people-who-feel-things-deeply-but-sometimes-obliquely, like Stephen Sondheim and Robert Jason Brown. Kahane’s “Craigslistlieder,” which can be downloaded for free via a link on his website, is not to be missed. It uses texts from anonymous Craigslist posts set to artful compositions. It reminds me of some of the best “formalist” fiction in its poker-faced absurdity, which is at once hilarious, poignant and obscene.
Check him out, and while you are at, lemme recommend a few more gnarly, complex songwriter-composer-vocalist-singers.
To save time, I’m going to curate this Dennis-Cooper style, and just copy and past bios and/or critical quotes from artists’ websites instead of generating my own text.
Corey Dargel is a Texas-born, Brooklyn-based composer, writer, and singer whose gentle assault on pop and classical idioms creates a tension that pervades his music. Deadpan and detached vocals reveal heartbreaking intimacies, awkward and obtrusive drum patterns struggle against fragile harmonies, vocals and music uneasily opposing each other as songs stumble to their ends. The New Yorker magazine calls him “a baroquely unclassifiable” composer of “ingenious nouveau art songs.” Salon praises his songs’ “rococo ingenuity” and “sustained bursts of lyrical brilliance,” and according to Gramophone magazine, he has “a compositional sense guaranteed to keep close listeners on their toes. Words and music are truly equal partners….”
Emily Bezar: –Do you call it Jazz, Art-rock, Fusion, Cabaret, Modern Opera? Emily Bezar’s prismatic music defies convention around every unpredictable curve. Her intricate songs are rich with jazz harmony and classical vocal precision but they flirt with pop structures and burn with the intensity of rock. They are honest and true, full of passion, elegance, conflict and order. She has sung Mozart and Ravel, Weill and Joni Mitchell, Gershwin and Sondheim, but she’s most at home in the sound world she creates around her own voice — some alchemic and magical combination of these influences.
Eisa Davis –Versatility manifests itself throughout her life: Eisa is also an award-winning actress and playwright who was named a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. A member of both the prestigious Actors Studio and playwrights’ organization New Dramatists, Eisa has moved easily from roles on film and television shows like The Wire and Law and Order to having her plays presented around the country at theatres including the Hip Hop Theater Festival. Her theatre aesthetic—and sense of narrative—shapes what you hear on her solo debut…On Something Else, you’ll hear a hint of Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, maybe even Gershwin. You might think you’re hearing the soundtrack to a one woman musical or feeling the breeze at a Paris café. South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim might take some credit for Eisa’s unabashed simplicity, and one glimpse of the flagstone sidewalks in her Brooklyn neighborhood reveals all the joy and heartbreak emanating from these ten songs.
Carla Kihlstedt has played the violin for most of her years on this planet. It is the vehicle that has brought her through many approaches to music-making from her beginnings in the classical world, through various music schools — Peabody Institute, Oberlin and San Francisco Conservatories — and on to her present hydra-headed musical life. She is a composer, an improviser, a singer, and a member of several ongoing projects, including 2 Foot Yard, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Tin Hat, The Book of Knots, and Causing A Tiger, each of which has its own very particular and distinct logic.
Amy Kohn — “Listening to the music of Amy Kohn is like entering a very private universe of sound – something very intimate, special and beautifulȈer music makes uncommon demands on the listener moving between several parallel musical worlds (20th Century Classical – the Broadway Musical – modern jazz and of course the perennial singer/songwriter performing her own music). One can hear the influences of Charles Ives, Erik Satie, Carla Bley, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Laura Nyro and especially Kate Bush. These are quite eccentric influences yet somehow Amy is able to create from such a disparate palate her own exquisitely molded individual voice (as a pianist, singer and lyricist/songwriter). This is real music.” (from liner notes by Michael Jefry Stevens)
Imani Uzuri –Recently featured as TRACE Magazine’s ‘Beautiful’, ecletic, bohemian IMANI UZURI is one who defies category. She has performed at numerous international venues/festivals including LINCOLN CENTER, CENTRAL PARK SUMMER STAGE, PERFORMA07, London’s BARBICAN CENTER, THE BLUE NOTE, JOE’S PUB, Japan’s WORLD FESTIVAL OF SACRED MUSIC, SOBs, THE UNITED NATIONS, BLACK LILY FILM AND MUSIC FESTIVAL, LE LIEU UNIQUE, BAM, NYC CULTUREFEST, THE APOLLO THEATER, THE WHITNEY MUSEUM, Atlanta’s NATIONAL BLACK ART’S FESTIVAL, BOWERY BALLROOM, and Morocco’s FESTIVAL D’ESSAOUIRA. UZURI’s recordings/collaborations include HERBIE HANCOCK, JOHN LEGEND, 4-HERO, TALIB KWELI, SLY and ROBBIE, BILL LASWELL and KING BRITT. Television appeareances include DAVID LETTERMAN performing with PETER GABRIEL and the AFRO-CELT SOUND SYSTEM. UZURI’s stunning debut album ‘HER HOLY WATER: A BLACK GIRL’S ROCK OPERA’ (available on ITUNES) features 18 sweeping and captivating songs. She is currently developing a provocative musical theater piece of the same title based on its music, while incorporating coming-of-age memories from her youth in rural North Carolina, multi-media video montage and anecdotes from her nomadic travels around the world of which she has just completed 2 SOLD OUT performances at the LEGENDARY APOLLO THEATRE! It has also been successfully showcased at Joe’s Pub, THE HIP HOP THEATER FESTIVIAL, THE KITCHEN, NEW JERSEY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (NJPAC) and Philadelphia’s PAINTED BRIDE.
“…An almost ominous sense of suspense and mystery has always been a part of Hasko’s shtick. From her early acoustic days with only a piano and her voice, Hasko has branched out to include synthesizer and a bevy of computer-generated bells, horns, strings and hollow overtones. Her classically trained voice slithers and climbs, sometimes panting, often cooing and usually brushed with vibrato. More often than not, Hasko slathers her songs in static… Hasko describes herself as shy, but on record and on stage, she’s anything but. Her two LPs (2001’s Live at Studio 43 and 2006’s Seeds from the Twisted Pear) are blissfully avant-garde…”
“…Call it a homecoming: Reba Hasko, who will perform as part of this evening’s “Night of Experimental Pop Songs,” was born right here in the Capital Region. Sure, the singer-composer-pianist has moved on- to the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, to San Francisco, to her current home of Berlin, Germany- but we’re proud to call her one of our own. Hasko’s music is a mixed bag- on one track, she’s part Gary Numan, part Soiuxsie Sioux; on another she’s a further-out-there Tori Amos. It’s creative and challenging stuff- not for everyone, mind you, but highly recommended for those who prefer their pop sans bubblegum…”