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Cellist Maya Beiser explores ‘classic rock’ on a new innova album

Evan Ziporyn playing his clarinet at the Apple Store Soho at a concert in 2012
Evan Ziporyn playing his clarinet at the Apple Store Soho at a concert in 2012
Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

This coming Tuesday (August 26) innova will release Uncovered, a new album (currently available for pre-order from featuring Israeli-born cellist Maya Beiser. The Editorial Reviews section on the Amazon page describes this as “an album of classic rock tunes re-imagined and re-contextualized in stunning and multi-layered performances.” Composer Evan Ziporyn is responsible for most of the re-imagination and re-contextualization with arrangements of recordings by Led Zeppelin, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Muddy Waters, Nirvana, and AC/DC. Most of the tracks involved multi-tracked recordings of Beiser’s cello work; but, where Ziporyn deemed it appropriate, she worked with backup from drums (Glenn Kotche or Hubert Zemler), bass (Jherek Bischoff, Otto Briner, or Dave Cook), or calabash (Ryan Meyer). Ziporyn himself added his own work on clarinet and bass clarinet to his “uncovering” of King Crimson’s “Epitaph.”

The attentive reader will probably have noticed that, unlike Amazon, I put scare quotes around “classic rock” in my headline for this article. As one who has invested a considerable amount of my “digital ink” in writing about jazz as “chamber music by other means” (particularly when it involves chamber ensembles that are equally adept when they move into the jazz domain), I feel it necessary to say a bit about the mindset I brought to listening to this new album. Most important is that, unlike jazz, rock, as it evolved in the post-war decade of the Fifties, has always been primarily a commercial endeavor involved with popularizing sources that were not (and never intended to be) particularly popular on their own merits.

The basis for that commerce involved taking the music of one cultural group, whose demographics had very little “market potential,” and “re-contextualizing” it for another cultural group whose marketing potential could be cultivated into a goldmine. To paraphrase Mick Jagger shamelessly, the motto of this effort could be stated as “I know it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but I can sell it!” I feel it is important to establish this cultural distinction because Ziporyn’s work straddles both sides of it: The world of Muddy Waters is so far from that of Led Zeppelin that they may as well be in alternative universes. (Those who question the validity of this assertion are invited to take a close look at Taylor Hackford’s documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll and observe how thoroughly clueless Keith Richards was when he tried to play alongside Chuck Berry.)

The point is that there are some strongly opposing schools of thought about the making of music that underlie the tracks on this recording. The good news, however, is that, in addition to being one of the most interesting (in my own humble opinion) founders of Bang on a Can, Ziporyn is particularly learned in the anthropological studies of the work practices of making music. (He is also the study of a fascinating anthropological analysis of his own studies with a gamelan master, to which he gave the equally fascinating title “Getting It Wrong.”)

Thus, if we are to think of a model of the work that Ziporyn put into this “uncovering” project, the best source might be how Béla Bartók took the results of his ethnomusicological studies with Zoltán Kodály and “re-imagined and re-contextualized” the “collected data” into music for a wide variety of different concert settings, covering the full gamut from opera to chamber music. In that context the ten tracks on this recording constitute a far more modest effort, but they are still admirably impressive. It is also important to remember that the efforts of Bartók and Kodály (not to mention Franz Liszt) to bring music from “indigenous sources” into the concert hall were regarded as rather revolutionary for their time, even if we now take them for granted as part of the concert experience.

Equally impressive is the fact that, while Uncovered is clearly the product of studio engineering that is just as skillful as Beiser’s cello technique, Beiser is about to embark on a tour that will include music from this album. She will make this tour with a far more modest rhythm section consisting only of Gyan Riley on bass and Matt Kilmer on drums. It is thus fair to say that the “concert” version of Uncovered tracks will differ significantly from the recorded version in execution but may still successfully capture the spirit of the album. The plans for the tour are as follows (the asterisk indicating those engagements at which selections from Uncovered will be performed):

*September 4, 2014 – Le Poisson Rouge – New York, New York

*September 7, 2014 – FringeArts – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

*September 10, 2014 – Yoshi’s San Francisco – San Francisco, California

*September 12, 2014 – Largo at the Cornet – Los Angeles, California

*September 13, 2014 – Santa Ana Sites + Logan Creative – Santa Ana, California

*September 15, 2014 – Portland State University: Lincoln Hall, presented by PICA – Portland, Oregon

October 23, 2014 – Museum of Modern Art – New York, New York

*November 8, 2014 – Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, presented by WPAS – Washington, DC

*January 22, 2015 – ARTS San Antonio – San Antonio, Texas

January 29, 2015 – The Jewish Museum – New York, New York

February 7-8, 2015 – La Jolla Symphony – San Diego, California

*February 13, 2015 – University of Florida – Gainesville, Florida

*March 6-7, 2015 – Texas International Theatrical Arts Society – Dallas, Texas

March 14, 2015 – DePauw University – Greencastle, Indiana

*April 15, 2015 – Northwestern University – Evanston, Ilinois

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