Naxos of America Begins Distribution of Cutting-Edge New York Label New Amsterdam Records

On October 27, Naxos of America began distribution of cutting-edge New York-based label New Amsterdam Records. Founded as a haven for young New York composers and performers whose music traditionally has slipped through the cracks between genres, New Amsterdam was the brainchild of composers William Brittelle, Judd Greenstein, and Sarah Kirkland Snider.

New Amsterdam Records is a non-profit model service organization run by independent musicians whose goal is to support talented colleagues by functioning as truly “pro-artist”—without the conflict of interests present in conventional record labels. To that end, the vast majority of proceeds from all music sales go directly to New Amsterdam artists in order to help them develop sustainable careers.

In its first year of existence, New Amsterdam’s recordings have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and in New York magazine, MUSO magazine, and Time Out New York. The Sunday New York Times cited their first group of releases in two separate year-end “best-of” articles. The label’s first 12 albums have garnered radio airplay and glowing reviews from major media outlets around the country (including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.). New Amsterdam also has become a major concert presenter in New York, putting on sold-out shows at venues such as Joe’s Pub, Le Poisson Rouge, and Issue Project Room, as well as a new monthly chamber music show, Archipelego, at the Galapagos Artspace in Brooklyn.

“A smart young chamber group that straddles a line between contemporary classical music and indie rock.”

—WNYC’s Soundcheck

“Striking a balance between the old and the new has rarely sounded this good.”

—Newsweek

Hailed as “a deft young group gaining attention” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker), NOW Ensemble is a dynamic band of performers and composers dedicated to chamber music for the 21st century. With their unique instrumentation of flute (Alex Sopp), clarinet (Sara Budde), electric guitar (Mark Dancigers), double bass (Peter Rosenfeld), and piano (Michael Mizrahi), NOW Ensemble brings a fresh sound and new perspective to the classical tradition. The music performed by the ensemble reflects the diverse backgrounds and listening experiences of its members. They play in concert halls, art museums, rock clubs, and jazz venues—for large audiences and intimate gatherings—acoustic and “plugged in.” Over the course of their five years in existence, NOW Ensemble has developed a reputation for performances that are as lively and engaging as they are rigorous and technically sophisticated.

For their debut album, entitled NOW, the group chose seven works by four composers, three of whom are members of the ensemble—Patrick Burke and Judd Greenstein, along with guitarist Dancigers. In addition, the group chose to present a piece by their good friend, the ascendant Nico Muhly. The resulting disc is both a compilation of the band’s core repertoire from its early years and also a highly listenable, smoothly-flowing album that “combine(s) the formal elegance of chamber music with a pop-honed concision and rhythmic vitality” (Time Out New York). NOW Ensemble has performed works by many of today’s most prominent young composers, commissioning over 40 pieces, and has played on some of the country’s most vital new music series, including the Bang on a Can Marathon, Wordless Music, Undiscovered Islands, Pittsburgh’s Music on the Edge, Sarasota’s New Music New College, and the Carlsbad Music Festival, as well as the 2008 Festival International de Chihuahua in Chihuahua, Mexico.

“Rustic folk melodies, gangly dances and pulse-oriented workouts on woodblocks and marimbas—as well as flowerpots, rocks and a wheelbarrow—interspersed with quirky narratives.”

Time Out New York

“Draw[s] on a tremendous variety of sounds and musical traditions.”

Sequenza 21

The highly esteemed, New York-based percussion quartet So Percussion has teamed up with fiddle/guitar duo Trollstilt for an album that combines the innovative and edgy sounds of contemporary music with ancient Norwegian fiddling. The artists employ multi-media percussion, guitar, Hardanger fiddle, spoken word, and electronics in a unique and compelling collection of music. The album also features the vocals and spoken word of writer, composer, performer, director, and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rinde Eckert. Five (and-a-half) Gardens contains a DVD portion featuring motion paintings (a series of paintings strung together with computer animation) set to the music from the album.

Five (and-a-half) Gardens is the brainchild of composer Dan Trueman (of Trollstilt), whom PopMatters calls “the most fascinating musician on the face of the Earth.” In a similar style to So Percussion’s most recent album, Amid the Noise (Cantaloupe Music, 2006), Five (and-a-half) Gardens features instruments made from materials such as flower pots, plumbing tubes, and cell phone microphones, as well as traditional percussion instruments, fiddles, and guitars. These instruments are combined with electronic samples, processed sound, and spoken word to create a multi-layered sonic effect. The juxtaposition of traditional folk and percussion music with electronic and computer-synthesized sounds results in a unique listening experience.

Dan Trueman, professor of music at Princeton, is also a co-founder and director of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), an ensemble of laptop musicians with six-channel spherical speakers and various control devices. Trueman was awarded a major grant from the MacArthur Foundation for his work with the orchestra. He also is a member of interface, an electronic improvisation ensemble. Their first CD, /swank, was released in early 2001; their DVD, RECORDING FIELD, H, with guest Pauline Oliveros, was released by the Deep Listening label in 2003.

“Invigorating, innovative but immediately approachable… [with] an unguarded quirkiness and a sense of accidental poetry.”

—Philadelphia Inquirer

“Dargel sings in a modest, sweet-toned, conversational way, and writes songs whose lyrics and melodies are at once wistful and wry, tender and irreverent… giving voice to the lives and relationships of his subjects.”

—New York Times

Corey Dargel is a “baroquely unclassifiable” (New Yorker) composer, lyricist, and singer of “elegantly skewed” (Time Out New York) electronic art-pop songs that stir the heart and delight the mind. His gentle assault on the pop idiom 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.

Dargel’s Other People’s Love Songs is based on an earnest, sentimental concept: All 13 songs were commissioned by individuals as gifts to their significant others. Dargel—acting as reporter along with his regular duties as composer, lyricist, and singer—interviewed the couples and learned all about their histories, personalities, quirks, private jokes, and emotional lives. He spun this tender data into music and lyrics that encompass a universe of feeling: not only gratitude, as one would expect from songs written as gifts, but generous measures of wistfulness, longing, frustration, and pride … and, in some cases, regret, sadness, and resignation. The real-life subjects of these songs range from celebrities to the “couple next door.” Newlyweds, long marrieds, gay couples, siblings, daughters, mothers, and others stepped forward to commission these songs. The album is hardly a mere compilation, however; it is a unique and deeply emotional exploration of the many angles of love and relationships. At times, the songs are almost voyeuristic in their intimacy.

Corey Dargel has performed on bills with Joanna Newsom, Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett), Grizzly Bear, Anti-Social Music, Eve Beglarian, Phil Kline, Nico Muhly, William Brittelle, Margaret Lancaster, and the American Composers Orchestra. His music-theater piece about love and voluntary amputation, Removable Parts, premiered in September 2007 at HERE Arts Center in NYC and was hailed by The New York Times as “almost perversely pleasurable … pleases on almost every level … with an intelligent grace that is as moving as it is impressive.” Dargel’s latest composition, Thirteen Near-Death Experiences, is a 50-minute art-pop song cycle about hypochondria, commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and performed by Dargel and ICE.

Infernal Machines is the debut studio recording by New York’s acclaimed 18-piece steampunk big band, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, a group The New York Times’ Nate Chinen describes as “calibrated for maximum intrigue, with a sound that suggests Steve Reich minimalism as well as orchestral jazz in the lineage of Bob Brookmeyer (one of Mr. Argue’s mentors).”

This release, which takes its name from a John Philip Sousa quote about the dangers of music technology, features new, definitive studio recordings of material Argue and the band have been developing since their first gig in 2005. “No swing-era revivalist,” writes Time Out New York’s Hank Shteamer, “Argue draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music with his band, Secret Society. Yet his complex, emotionally-charged pieces handily transcend pastiche … the album ought to not only raise Argue’s profile, but also serve as a reminder that big-band jazz needn’t be a fossil.”

“A nearly perfect creative synthesis between tradition and innovation.”

- BBC

“Big band music for folks who like Jimi Hendrix and Parliament Funkadelic. This is unlike any jazz I’ve heard before.”

- Paste Magazine

“This is a seriously great band, with a tremendous rhythm section, a beautiful blend of brass and winds, chops and enormous reserves of power. The soloists are outstanding, particularly Ryan Keberle’s tasty, funky trombone on ‘Zeno’ and Ingrid Jensen’s searching trumpet on ‘Transit.’ The album comes to an intense and unresolved end, not unlike Mingus’ ‘Black Saint and the Sinner Lady,’ which just leaves one reaching for the replay button. Because, to repeat something else, this is a seriously great record, one of the finest examples of new jazz I’ve heard in the past decade, one of the finest big band records ever made, one of the finest jazz records I’ve truly ever heard.”

- The Big City

Despite the inherent obstacles facing a big band leader in 2009, composer Darcy James Argue is one of the most visible and respected musicians in New York. Part of that success comes from the broad-spectrum popularity of his blog, also called Secret Society, which covers relevant political issues as well as musical ones. Musically, as allaboutjazz.com’s R.J. DeLuke recently observed, “he’s garnered critical praise from just about everyone who has heard the band.” Critics have called him “a young jazz master” (The New Yorker) and noted his penchant for “mixing jazz harmony, rock edge and postmodern angst into a new music creole” (Tom Greenland, AllAboutJazz-New York). “The morning after,” declared Montreal Gazette reviewer Juan Rodriguez, “I was still stunned at what I’d heard—clearly some of the most ambitious and compelling sounds I’ve ever encountered in the past 40 years.”

Argue’s extensive resume also includes arranging work with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, featuring jazz/soul vocalist Lizz Wright, alt-country artist Shelby Lynne, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. The recipient of a variety of commissions and composition awards, Argue accepted the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award, in May 2009 at Canada’s National Jazz Awards in Toronto. Learn more at http://secretsociety.typepad.com.

Musicians

Erica vonKleist (flute, alto flute, soprano and alto saxophones), Rob Wilkerson (flute, clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones), Sam Sadigursky (clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones), Mark Small (clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone), Josh Sinton (clarinet, bass clarinet and baritone saxophone), Seneca Black (lead trumpet), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Laurie Frink (trumpet), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet), Tom Goehring (trumpet), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Mike Fahie (trombone), James Hirschfeld (trombone), Jennifer Wharton (bass trombone), Sebastian Noelle (acoustic and electric guitars), Mike Holober (piano and electric piano), Matt Clohesy (contrabass and electric bass), Jon Wikan (drum set, cajon, pandeiro and percussion).

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