9 min read

In Search of Lost Time

Stray thoughts about timeliness, service, the creative urge, and the never-ending search for equilibrium.
In Search of Lost Time


Working at a news organization, the days run away: You start your morning thinking that you know what work you plan to get done that day, but then end up spending substantial portions of your day contributing your part to news briefs about Tony Bennett and Marilyn Manson, or long hours chasing and corroborating facts and updates about Morgan Wallen, or having some small hand in a lovely obituary for someone like Jim Weatherly, who you might never have known by name, but whose work has resonated throughout most of your life.

Understand, I’m not complaining. This isn’t even an unfamiliar scenario; days like these weren’t unknown at the Boston Globe, certainly. On the whole, my work-to-life ratio has never felt better. But what’s fallen by the wayside, at least in the last 30 days, is my capacity for doing the kind of personal contemplation and advocacy that prompted me to start this newsletter. As a friend pointed out to me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t even managed to post one of my customary weekly playlists since late November. Somehow, even that small, personal gesture had morphed into something effortful and time consuming.

Lately, I’ve put some serious thought into how I might continue to pursue this particular area of my creative urge, both for my own sake and also in recognition of the subscribers who’ve supported this work. One idea that’s occurred to me is to try to be a little more casual about what I present and how I present it. Especially at the start, I treated this new iteration of Night After Night like any publication, trying to establish regular features – interviews, news items, streaming picks, record reviews and listings, and so on – that would appear on a dependable schedule.

That kind of rigor appeals to me greatly, but now it also seems to prevent me from sharing news and reflections on a timely basis—and being timely is at the very heart of providing a useful service. That’s why, starting this week, I’m going to try loosening up the rigidity in favor of timeliness—which I suppose means treating this newsletter less like a publication, and more like a blog or Tumblr or social-media platform.

As ever, I’m counting on you to let me know what you think.

On the Radio

Maryanne Amacher (Photograph: Peggy Weil)

I didn’t assign, edit, or produce the excellent story Alysson McCabe reported for NPR about Sisters with Transistors, a new documentary film by Lisa Rovner about the women pioneers of electronic music, from Clara Rockmore to now via Daphne Oram, Pauline Oliveros, Delia Derbyshire, Laurie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue, and Suzanne Ciani, among others. But I’m glad to have helped it along the way just a little bit, and I’m happy to have heard it. Read the article, listen to the story embedded therein, and then sign up to receive news about upcoming viewing opportunities.

From Turnpike to Troost

For the record: I hate that I missed “For the Record,” my weekly column about new and upcoming recordings, last Friday.

Granted, Feb. 5 was the first Bandcamp Friday of 2021, so lots and lots of people were talking about music and recordings. There were other reasons why Friday’s post didn’t appear, which are personal and substantial. Still, there were a couple of items I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t get around to completing last weekend.

For instance…

Mark Helias, Tony Malaby, Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, and Ches Smith playing under the New Jersey Turnpike. (Image: Kevin Reilly)

Burning to play with other musicians during the long months of pandemic and quarantine that cleared everyone’s calendars in 2020, saxophonist Tony Malaby hit the road—specifically, a patch of asphalt under a New Jersey Turnpike overpass not far from his home in Jersey City. Having tested the spot with a trio in July, Malaby returned with a rotating cast of friends and neighbors for spontaneous sessions witnessed mostly by skateboarders and curious passers-by.

Now, Malaby is starting up a new series of releases via Bandcamp to share some of his street-team undertakings. On Turnpike Diaries Vol. 1, which arrived on the first Bandcamp Friday of 2021 – Malaby unpacks his tenor and soprano saxes to mix it up with a quintet of longtime collaborators: Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Michael Formanek and Mark Helias on basses, and Ches Smith on drums.

“My walk to the spot with both horns on my back was so full of joy and  anticipation because I was going to throw sound with some of my favorite  improvisors and mentors–my Jefes,” Malaby states on his Bandcamp page.

The playing is totally free, but has a focus and cohesion familiar to admirers of Berne’s trio Paraphrase and Helias’s Open, Loose (in which Malaby played for a long spell). The saxophonists are seasoned collaborators, the conversation between the bassists merits close attention, and Smith is a versatile percussionist who knows when to drive, when to whisper, and when to lay out. It’s a strong start to a promising series.

Brad Farberman (Photograph: Medium)

Brad Farberman is someone I got to know initially during my stint editing at Time Out New York as a freelance writer who contributed excellent brevities on sundry topics near the intersection of swing and groove. He’s still writing excellent things for a variety of outlets, not least the streaming service Tidal. But I’ve since learned he’s also a guitarist of substance and style, active in bands like Middle Blue and Big Feet. On Twitter he’s a fount of solid musical advice, salted with an abundance of “Brad jokes”—like dad jokes, but with a record collection you’d actually envy.

Last Friday, Farberman posted a special new project, for which he’d tapped a bunch of ineffably hip friends – Tim Kuhl, Jon Madof, Hank Shteamer, Prana Crafter, Ben Goldberg, Dave Sewelson, Claire Daly, and so on – for the first volume of a new anthology series. Stay in Shape addresses an artist’s fundamental need simply to play, preferably for listeners. But it also recognizes the need for places to play, which is why the proceeds from each monthly installment will benefit a performance space trying to stay afloat during these long, dark pandemic months.

The first volume, released last Friday, has raised $500 (and counting) for Troost, a currently shuttered Greenpoint café. The second, coming on March 5, will help out an as-yet unnamed New Orleans venue.

Other spaces, other sounds

It can be hard to remember sometimes that worthy albums still arrive regularly on labels not represented on Bandcamp. I’m especially smitten right now with Saudade, a new collection of orchestra and chamber orchestra works by the talented Lithuanian composer Žibuoklė Martinaitytė, whose chamber music I’d admired on previous releases from Music Information Centre Lithuania and the American independent label Starkland. This new album, issued last Friday by the Finnish label Ondine, features four powerful, arresting compositions, played beautifully by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, with conductor Giedrė Šlekytė and pianist Gabrielius Alekna.

Thomas Buckner (Photograph: Chris Bowen for Mutable Music)

In December, I posted something brief and earnest on Facebook: “Thomas Buckner is a Living Treasure.” If anything specific had prompted that sentiment, most likely it was because I’d been listening to music by Robert Ashley, in whose opera ensemble Buckner did some of his most exceptional work. I was grateful to see hearty response, but hardly surprised; as the brilliant pianist Joseph Kubera commented under my post, Buckner is “[a] major new-music supporter, promoter and performer, not to mention a kind and generous soul. I am grateful for his friendship and support over decades.”

At 79, Buckner remains curious and industrious, and two new recordings illuminate different facets of his art. Conversations with My Soul, issued last Friday on the Navona label, collects vocal works composed by Bun-Ching Lam, using poetry by Shelley, Heine, Rimbaud, Else Lasker-Schüler, Han Shan and Etel Adnan. The disc includes 11 succinct songs for voice and piano or chamber ensemble, plus the 20-minute title piece, for voice and string quartet. The music is ravishing, Buckner’s performances noble, nuanced, and heartfelt.

Buckner’s knack for footloose improvisation comes to the fore on Voicescapes, a fantastical meeting with the Danish vocal improviser and composer Randi Pontoppidan. The album – which came out in January on Chant Records, run by New York musicians Jon Madof and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz – offers nine duets and one Pontoppidan solo, with voices occasionally accompanied and enhanced by electronic intervention. The music is eruptive, meditative, and whimsical by turns. The singers enjoyed one another’s company, clearly, and their mutual delight is infectious.

Now streaming

“Since I was a child, I have possessed a kind of synesthesia with numbers,” the composer and violist Catherine Lamb told me in a feature I assembled for National Sawdust Log in December 2019. “When I first began to count, I imagined a long thread extending upwards, and when looking up, at some point I began to see a curve forming in the line, until eventually the line transformed into an infinite spiral, with my foot planted at the number one,” she continued. “The first time I discovered Erv Wilson’s 1965 organization of the overtone series as a logarithmic spiral, the image immediately resonated with me as a lucid means to describe harmonic space as numbers in repetition and interaction, generating/blooming outwards with each new prime and composite.”

The occasion was JACK Frontiers, a pair of concerts the intrepid JACK Quartet was to present at The New School that month. I had the privilege of conducting a brief onstage interview with Lamb and JACK violinist Austin Wulliman, after which I got to hear an astonishing rendition of divisio spiralis, a new piece Lamb had composed following her epiphany with Wilson’s spiral diagram.

“Retuning our instruments to create new patterns of resonance,” JACK violinist Christopher Otto related in my article, “we slowly descend for over an hour, journeying through harmonic landscapes that can be crystalline and fuzzy, throbbing and placid, using microtonal tunings based on the overtone series of a 10 Hz fundamental.”

This evening at 8pm EST, the invaluable Brooklyn new-music space Roulette hosts a performance by JACK of Lamb’s divisio spiralis. I definitely plan to watch—and am wondering already how the cosmic murmur of Lamb’s piece will translate via digits, circuitry, and ether.

There’s another JACK Quartet online event coming up soon, by the way: a free Miller Theatre program devoted to works by Helmut Lachenmann, on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 7pm EST. That composer’s String Quartet No. 3 (“Grido”) was on the very first public concert presented by JACK, and it returns now alongside two solo pieces, Toccatina and Pression. RSVP here.

The newest issue of the New Yorker includes two upcoming streaming events well worth knowing about. I wrote about a three-concert series from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by music director Andris Nelsons in his first appearances with the ensemble in more than a year. The concerts pair Beethoven symphonies with contemporary works by living composers, and include chamber-music bonuses.

My colleague Oussama Zahr wrote a preview of Save the Boys, a new work by Tyshawn Sorey commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, performed by countertenor John Holiday with pianist Grant Loehnig. To say that a recently released video preview shows promise is to sell things short by an order of magnitude… which is another way of saying I’m dumbstruck by the gorgeousness of this singing, playing, and composing. The complete piece arrives Friday, Feb. 12, on the company’s platform, operaphila.tv.

As always seems to be the case these days, there are plenty of online events happening that are well worth your attention. I’m especially intrigued by Musical Utopias #3, a multimedia festival jointly presented by Ensemble Klang and Korzo Theater, which this year revolves around a theme of “creative conversations.” The festival includes six new works, including collaborations by Matthew Wright & Claron McFadden, Maya Verlaak & Avenue Azure, and Maarten Altena & Pavla Beranova. It starts on Saturday, Feb. 13, and runs through Feb. 21; for more information, go here.