Grand Band at LPR (A Review)

Clockwise from left: Izzy O’Connell, David Friend, Paul Kerekes, Blair McMillen, Vicky Chow and Lisa Moore (Grand Band) performing at Le Poisson Rouge, August 7th, 2012 (Photo courtesy of Karen Chester)

Grand Band
Featuring Lisa Moore, Isabelle O’Connell, Vicky Chow, Blair McMillen, David Friend, and Paul Kerekes, pianos
Le Poisson Rouge, NYC
August 7th, 2012

Whatever your thoughts are about all-piano duos or ensembles (MY first thoughts are of acts like Ferrante & Teicher or The 5 Browns, though I also enjoyed Anderson & Roe), this first-ever full concert set at Le Poisson Rouge by the NY-based new music ensemble Grand Band, the group that was co-founded by Isabelle “Izzy” O’Connell and Lisa Moore, and was done so for the Bang On a Can Marathon, has been an electrifying blast of teamed-up keyboard prowess that for me had much more the effect of Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis when they played a hot rock and roll riff together on an old TV special.

When the group made their debut as Grand Band at the BOAC Marathon at WFC’s Winter Garden in June, they had 6 Steinway & Sons grands rented out at their whim, but for this affair, they had to settle for the next best thing–digital Yamaha pianos (and one Roland). But I can say this for sure–the sound of these keyboards still came across like 6 grand pianos in that room, perhaps a bit drier than at the Winter Garden, but they definitely made the right adjustments for volume calibration.

On this program of mostly minimalist pieces, the Grand Band showed that they are capable of being “the best 6” of the best players of the new music genre right now. Lisa Moore, Vicky Chow, Blair McMillen, David Friend, Paul Kerekes and Izzy O’Connell are all very active as players and music makers both solo and within other ensembles, but having said this, perhaps this group could have been even more exciting if you also included pianists like Kathleen Supové, Bruce Brubaker or Cory Smythe that are just as active with the genre in the Metropolitan area. Maybe if they decide to extend the lineup and make it 9 pianists, I would be up for that! But anyway, this 6 did a fabulous job!

Julia Wolfe‘s “my lips from speaking” was up first, and the sound of the digital pianos in the more intimate club atmosphere made the piece a great deal more aggressive and guttural. Once the piece takes off, it is difficult not to move along to it as if Aretha Franklin took the stage.

“Closing”, the final movement from Glassworks by Philip Glass is a gorgeous piece that brings minimalism into a colorful dreamworld. Had Grand Band played this on six acoustic pianos, they would have managed to make it just as beautiful, but I could hear that they took advantage of the extra-added sounds on the Yamahas (adding a vibraphone patch) that made it bear a closer resemblance to the chamber version.

Kate Moore‘s “Sensitive Spot”, a piece originally written for solo piano and prerecorded accompanying piano tracks was a chance for the six players to switch from music in unison to something much more lugubrious and layered.

The seemingly-short concert wrapped up with the Steve Reich epic “Six Pianos”, and having missed it at the marathon, I was very happy to finally hear them do it live. Perhaps one of the greatest uses of a repeating phrase, “Six Pianos” was done in a brilliant 20-minutes-plus tour-de-force that had me dancing. Yes, Steve Reich’s “Six Pianos” is indeed an engaging activator of helpless dancing, and Grand Band were literally proving during this piece that they would certainly not be out of place at SXSW.

The thing about this full-concert by Grand Band, which, by the way, I hope is not a one-time thing, is that they played differently here than at the Winter Garden. The Steinways were sonorous pianos that rung out in the space of that venue, but although the players were in no way disconnected by the large architecture of the pianos, at this show it was a whole ‘nother scenario as they seemed to have a much deeper connection, and this very well could have made a big difference in their performance. Vicky Chow told me afterwards that it did seem more connected because of the closeness, but that “nothing beats the grand pianos”, so, guess we’ll be seeing both Steinway and Yamaha working with them in the future.

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