Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter 11/13/13

IVA BITTOVA / GYAN RILEY / EVAN ZIPORYN - Eviyan Live (Victo 126; Canada) Featuring Iva Bittova on voice, violin & kalimba, Gyan Riley on acoustic guitar and Evan Ziporyn on clarinet & bass clarinet. This was the first set at the Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville Festival, recorded earlier this year in May of 2013. It was also a perfect opening set for the 29th Annual Victo Fest, the beginning of the extraordinary and unique four day festival that I have attended every year since 1987. I am a longtime fan of Czech vocalist and violinist Iva Bittova who introduced to many of us at the old Knitting Factory opening for Fred Frith (& Tom Cora), whose movie, 'Step Across the Border' featured Ms. Bittova. Gyan Riley is the son of Terry Riley, who he has collaborated with and who has a couple of great discs out on the New Albion and Tzadik labels. Mr. Ziporyan is the great clarinetist and composer who has recorded several great discs for the Bang on a Can/Cantaloupe collective/label. Each member of the trio contributed songs as well as having group improvisations. Live, it was difficult to tell where the written parts ended and where the improv began. This is the magic of this music and it was in great abundance here. Anyone who has ever seen and heard Ms. Bittova in concert knows how charming she can be and on this disc the entire trio is enchanting throughout. As with all CDs on the Victo label, the sound and balance is quite perfect. What was and is special about this is that the trio are playing all acoustic instruments on a large stage, yet the music is warm and feels intimate, as if they were performing in our living room or here at DMG on a Sunday evening. If any of you out there need some warm, enticing, thoughtful and engaging music to brighten up your day, this is the disc for you. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

Guitarist Gyan Riley, clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, and vocalist-violinist Iva Bittova are among the most interesting and unclassifiable composers on New York’s bustling new-music scene, each one a dominant personality with a trademark sound. Riley, son of pioneering minimalist Terry, is an excellent acoustic guitarist whose compositions braid disparate traditions (classical, Brazilian, fingerstyle folk) into a cogent, stately hybrid. Ziporyn, a Chicago native, cofounded the influential Bang on a Can festival and for years anchored its house band, the Bang on a Can All-Stars; he writes dynamic minimalist pieces that often incorporate elements of Indonesian gamelan music, a particular passion of his. The Czech-born Bittova, a fierce creative force, invests her skeletal compositions with an exciting mix of eastern European folk and improvisational whimsy. Last year they formed the collective Eviyan, to which they each contribute compositions; all three members subsequently reshape them, both with new arrangements and with improvisation. They haven’t gone into the studio yet, but the live material on their website is vibrant and peripatetic, its multifarious compositional approaches blending to provide an effective launch pad for the spontaneous, intimate interplay that’s the group’s raison d’etre. . —Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

"There was lyricism and tenderness woven into the program ... starting at the beginning: famed Czech violinist-vocalist Iva Bittova is at the heart of a fascinating, culture-crossing trio, with New Music clarinetist Evan Ziporyn and nylon-string guitarist Gyan Riley (son of composer Terry Riley)."

- Thursday, June 27, 2013, JOSEF WOODARD
Santa Barbara Independent

Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville 2013

(the 29th FIMAV New Music Festival in Victoriaville, Quebec)

Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter

The first concert on Thursday was a new trio with Iva Bittova (violin & vocals), Evan Ziporyn (clarinets) and Gyan Riley (acoustic guitar) at the Cinema Laurier. Ms. Bittova has played at Victo just a couple times previously, 1989 (where she played in a duet with Pavel Fajt & sat in with Frith's Keep the Dog) and 1999 (played a duo with Vladimir Vaclavek). This was the first appearance of both of her collaborators: Evan Ziporyn (long associated with Bang-on-a-Can & a great composer) and Gyan Riley (son of Terry Riley with a few fine discs of his own). The concert began with Iva on voice & thumb piano by herself and it was a most enchanting opening. This is an all acoustic trio and the sound was superb. Iva often sings in a charming child-like voice that has a way of plucking our heartstrings. Although Mr. Ziporyn is a master clarinetist, his playing here was often stripped down making each note count. Sometimes he would provide the rhythmic pulse by tapping on the keys of his bass clarinet. Mr. Riley is also a virtuostic acoustic guitarist and each of his handful of solos were amazing. It seems that the songs were mostly skeletally written so that each member could add to the flow or structure and then embellish from there. The last piece, "Farewell" had lyrics written by Chris Cutler with a slightly twisted melody that left us all mesmerized. Ms. Bittova is originally from Czechoslovakia so that some of the melodies she used had a rich blend of Eastern European and/or a Klez-like flavor. This trio should have their debut disc out by the end of the year. I can hardly wait. A perfect Victo opener.

- Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG, 6/6/13

In trio’s debut, exploratory musicians turn inward
By Jeremy Eichler, March 4, 2013

"Distilled insights of a hybrid music come of age"

read full review (PDF)

Photo © Matthew J. Lee Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE — The new ensemble Eviyan has as its core three independent-minded composer-performers: Evan Ziporyn (clarinet), Iva Bittová (vocals, violin), and Gyan Riley (guitar). On Saturday night, the group threw itself an impressive coming-out party at Ziporyn’s home base, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches and directs the Center for Arts, Science and Technology.

The music Eviyan plays is harder to describe, in a way, than its genealogy. Bittová is a singer with one foot in the world of Eastern European folk music and the other in the contemporary avant-garde. Riley, whose father is the minimalist pioneer Terry Riley, is a nimble guitarist with an exploratory ear and a technique steeped in both Western and Indian classical traditions. And Ziporyn has built his career from the outset around ideals of cultural cross-pollination, in his own work as a composer for both Western instruments and Balinese gamelan, and in his active performing life as a clarinetist. In the latter category, Ziporyn has played for two decades with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, a quintessentially genre-bending New York ensemble of which he was a core member.

The All-Stars once aimed to take contemporary concert music out of its secluded cultural niche, and over the years proved quite successful in that task, at least within the band’s own orbit. That art music could hit you with the edginess and menacing power of grittier genres seemed to have been part of the point. With Eviyan, the vibe is mellower, the tone of the musicianship reflecting perhaps some distilled insights of a hybrid music come of age.

The trio, in essence, is a flexible vehicle for its members’ own compositions, which collectively draw from classical, folk, jazz, post-minimalist, and non-Western traditions. For Saturday’s set in MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, the results were soulful yet sophisticated in sensibility, and deeply skilled in their delivery.

Bittová’s riveting singing is itself a kind of performance art, a sui generis language made up of floating pure tones, raspy cries, reedy notes, and guttural punctuations. Even when singing in English, frequently over her own violin playing, the words reach the ear more as stylized sound than as comprehensible phrases. Many times on Saturday, Ziporyn’s keening clarinet lines took on a correspondingly vocal quality. The trio overall played with a rapport and coherence that belied its short resume.

The performance also benefited from the presence of two guests, the alert bassist Blake Newman and the tablaist San-deep Das, whose virtuosic playing injected discreet surges of rhythmic adrenaline. There can be an awkwardness when certain classical musicians pack their bags for grand tours of distant musical genres, whether bluegrass, klezmer, tango, or jazz. By contrast these players are traveling nowhere in this newest project, except possibly inward. The music speaks with an unforced eloquence. Eviyan will appear again at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival this summer. One looks forward to watching this group evolve.

Before Eviyan’s set, the Angolan-born, Lisbon-based instrument maker Victor Gama made his first Boston-area appearance with three of his own remarkable instruments — the acrux, the toha, and the dino — demonstrated through several meditative selections from his own composition, “Pangeia Instrumentos.”

Boston Globe

Evan Ziporyn continues his musical experimentation
By David Weininger, March 1, 2013

read full preview (PDF)

Two decades ago, clarinetist and composer Evan Ziporyn cofounded the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The sextet was the house band for a collective intent on pushing past the balkanized environment in which contemporary music seemed to be mired. Like Bang on a Can itself, the group — with its innovative instrumentation of cello, bass, clarinet, keyboards, guitar, and percussion — seemed to define eclecticism. It’s a measure of how influential they were that a similar lineup seems almost orthodox today.

“I’m not claiming that we were the first or the only ones to do anything,” said Ziporyn recently, “but when we started, you didn’t see contemporary classical groups that had an electric guitar next to a cello. You didn’t see groups that were doing really serious reexaminations of popular music, working with jazz musicians to the extent we did, reaching out of the little ghetto that contemporary music was. There’s tons of groups doing that kind of thing now, and that’s great. . . . The whole world has really changed.”

It was partly because things had changed so much that Ziporyn decided to leave the All-Stars this past fall. It was part of a creative shakeup for him that involved taking on the directorship of the interdisciplinary Center for Art, Science, and Technology at MIT, where he’s been on the music faculty since 1990.

Another part of his reorientation was the formation of a new trio called EVIYAN, with violinist and vocalist Iva Bittová and guitarist Gyan Riley. The trio’s second-ever show, and local debut, happens on Saturday at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. For this performance they’ll be joined by tabla player Sandeep Das and bassist Blake Newman. (“Having done one show as a trio, we’re expanding to a quintet,” joked Ziporyn.)

He’d worked with both Bittová and Riley in other contexts, though those two hadn’t ever met. Bittová had done a number of projects with the All-Stars over the years. “Every time I played with her I thought, I have to do more of this,” Ziporyn said. “It just felt that way on an almost molecular level — I need to make music with this person.” He’d had a similar feeling with Riley — the son of composer Terry Riley — who had played in a piece Ziporyn wrote for his gamelan ensemble at MIT. “There was a level of rapport in the playing and in the sensibility that was just very evident.

“So I just asked them to meet,” he continued: “Let’s get in a room together and see what happens. And it was just immediately clear that there was a lot of creativity and a lot of the kind of playing I wanted to do. We walked out of the room and we had a group.”

All three are well-traveled musical adventurists. Ziporyn’s composing encompasses Western traditions and Balinese music, while Bittová’s style melds the folk music of her native Czechoslovakia into a kind of elemental avant-garde. Riley’s playing draws on both classical guitar and Hindustani music.
All of which raises an interesting, and somewhat vexing, question: What exactly is it that they play together?

“The genre crossing — that’s the strength of the group,” Ziporyn replied when asked. But he admitted that “in a way it’s also our weakness, because how do you define it? How do you tell people about it?

“What I love about both their playing is that it references this really wide range of things — from classical music to jazz to pop to non- Western music,” he went on. “And not in a way that I think of as being glib but more as expressing who they are as musicians — what they listen to, where they come from. And that’s the way I approach it too." The three write all of the group’s music, and the compositions balance notation and
improvisation. Perhaps most important to Ziporyn is the way in which each piece, regardless of who wrote it, becomes the trio’s own once the three musicians begin working on it. “Once we get into rehearsal, it’s all of ours. We’re not starting from, I’m the composer and therefore I make the final decisions. Once we’re grappling with the material, we’re all grappling with it. It’s not the way I can work with everybody. But there’s a level of respect, of trust, in the room that lets us do that.”

It remains to be seen how frequently the group will work. While Ziporyn hopes that the trio will play together a lot, the three members of EVIYAN live in different places — Ziporyn in the Boston area, Riley in New York, and Bittová in the Hudson Valley — and all have other projects. They’ve planned a short tour this summer — including a performance at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival — and are planning more gigs for the fall.

“Last fall, all I wanted to do . . . was see what would happen if I got them in a room, and I left with a band. What we’ve done is to carve out rehearsal periods and gigs, and every time we do it, there just seems to be more and more in there. So I’m hoping it goes somewhere.”

Time Out New York Critics Pick

Music professor debuts trio in MIT concert
Evan Ziporyn's EVIYAN mixes elements of classical, folk, jazz, minimalist and global traditions. (read article)

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