CHESKY The New York Rags • David Chesky (pn) • CHESKY 359 (41:32)
CHESKY Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra.1,2 Concerto No.2 for Violin and Orchestra.1 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra2. String Theory • Read more class="SUPER12">1Tom Chiu (vn); 2Dave Eggar (vc); AREA 31 • CHESKY 353(56:24)
David Chesky first made his mark in the music world as a record producer, issuing a series of highly-regarded audiophile LPs, among other things making available once again certain early stereo RCA recordings in superior pressings. In the intervening several decades, he has been enhancing his reputation as a composer with a distinctive voice, and I believe it’s safe to say that once you’ve absorbed his style, you’ll be able to recognize as his even works you’ve never heard before.
The New York Rags comprise a collection of 18 rags for solo piano, all drawing upon people and places connected with “The Big Apple.” From the opening “The New Yorker,” Chesky will have you hooked. This ear-catching series is an enticing conflation of elements of Conlon Nancarrow, Dave Brubeck, William Bolcom, and others, combined in Chesky’s inimitable way. A large part of the attraction of these pieces is the composer’s ingenious use of bi- and poly-tonality throughout them. Some of his rhythms go ragtime one better, ramping up the rhythmic vitality of the typical rag a notch or two. Each rag makes its impact in a short time: only one of these rags is as long as three minutes. Certain of them, including the “Broadway Boogie-Woogie,” bring in other non-rag rhythms and patterns. Only occasionally does the energy level subside a bit, as in “Fifth Avenue.” The composer explains his predilection for up-tempo pieces: “That’s the way New York is. Everybody’s fast.”
Chesky has also worked some musical puns into the pieces: each of the rags named after the numbered streets and avenues (Fifth, Seventh, Fourth, Third) are based upon those respective intervals. And, indeed, “The Circle at Fifth” sounds as if he is traversing the circle of fifths.
Chesky proves himself a pianist of considerable abilities in the execution of these works, none of which sounds in the least easy to negotiate. Unfortunately, the notes give no biographical information on Chesky, either as pianist or composer. Searching online, I discovered he studied piano with John Lewis (of Modern Jazz Quartet fame) and composition with David Del Tredici. Lewis’s tutelage explains Chesky’s adept execution of jazz rhythms throughout this music. The piano sound is exemplary, certainly no surprise from the producer of more than 500 audiophile quality LPs and CDs to date.
The second CD under review here combines three of Chesky’s concerted works, concertos for violin and cello and the two in a Double Concerto in a disc entitled String Theory. The very brief program notes to this CD are worth quoting in toto, in part because they are much easier to read in the font used by Fanfare than they are in the conglomeration of point sizes and colors that they are in the booklet (feel free to make a copy of this review and paste the paragraph below into your copy of the CD):
“David Chesky’s three new concertos have redefined the role of the modern string soloist. By fusing the classical concerto form with the modern harmonic language of American rhythmic jazz, these innovative works extend theoretical parameters to realms reserved only for the few pioneers truly revolutionizing their instruments today. Tom Chiu and Dave Eggar are by turn chamber soloists, free jazz experimentalists, and poetic sound abstractionists who bring a volcanic rock-and-roll energy to these works, transcending the typical concerto. Fiendishly difficult passage work and extreme timbral ranges present a new athleticism to the musical virtuosity as the soloists debate, collide and duel with the orchestra and also with each other. Throughout, Chesky’s poignant juxtaposition of primitive power of urban groove and the elegance of classical refinement reveals the birth of a new genre in American music.”
So, is this just underserved hype by the annotator? No, I think not. All of the rhythmic energy of the rags transfers over to these concerted works as well. I don’t doubt that the passage work is sometimes “fiendishly difficult,” too, although how it would compare in that regard with some of the trickier technical passages in, say, the Tchaikovsky Concerto I wouldn’t be able to say without taking my violin in hand with the respective scores in front of me. I can certainly affirm that soloists Chiu and Eggar play these pieces with particular passion, precision, and aplomb, as do the instrumental forces backing them up. There is not much in them that I would call true “melody,” but somehow these concertos don’t seem to suffer because of it.
This treasure chest of Chesky will delight many, but likely not all, of Fanfare’s readers. If you are possessed of the disinclination to jazz, as I know at least one of my Fanfare colleagues is, these won’t be for you. But others will find them a joy from beginning to end, as I did. For you, I give both CDs not a Bronx cheer, but some sort of very positive New York whoop.