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«Schoenberg on the Beach»

Schoenberg On The Beach is American, New York-based composer reeds player Jeff Lederer’s chamber jazz song cycle based on the works by composers Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and his disciple Anton Webern (1883-1945). The album includes texts that Schoenberg and Webern associated with their compositions by poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Stephan George, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Giraud, Wilhelm Weigand and Jakob Harringer. The title of the album refers to beaches that offered relief to Schoenberg’s respiratory illness as well as to where Lederer grew up, the beach in Pacific Palisades, California, not far from where his math teacher, Larry Schoenberg, the son of Arnold Schoenberg, and the beach in Coney Island where Lederer relocated later on. Lederer adds that the early vocal music of Schoenberg has an uplifting and romantic quality that is right at home on the beach, and Schoenberg had written several songs based on themes of the seaside during his early years.

Lederer cast a stellar group of musicians for the challenging arrangements of Schoenberrg and Weberen songs and compositions – partner and frequent collaborator vocalist Mary LaRose, cellist Hank Roberts, vibes and electronics player Patricia Brennan, double bass player Michael Formanek and drummer Matt Wilson. Marty Ehrlich plays bass clarinet on one piece and turntablist ArkturEyE created fascinating interstitial sound collages by remixing archival audio from Coney Island (using sound sources derived from a 1950’s release of field recordings from Coney Island amusement parks produced on the Riverside label in 1959 by Orrin Keepnews) close to the adopted home of Lederer in Brooklyn. Lederer himself plays on clarinet and flute. The album was recorded at the Samurai Hotel in Astoria, New York, in January 2023.

Schoenberg On The Beach opens with the title piece, introduced by a soundscape of birds and electronics, and with a text of Rilke. This piece captures the spirit of the album – well thought and imaginative arrangement of Schoenberg’s «Am Strand” Op. 14 no. 3», but it swings with poetic momentum and highlights the sensual, theatrical delivery of La Rose, matching Schoenberg’s original «sprech-stimme» with the vocal legacy and phrasing of a jazz singer,  and a beautiful solo of Roberts and the great rhythm section of Wilson, Brennan and Formankek. Webern’s «Blummengruss» (from 8 Early Songs for voice and piano no. 3, with a text by Goethe) adapts a softer, still seductive rhythmic vibe, stressed again by Brennan’s vibes and Wilson’s drums and percussion. Later on, Schoenberg On The Beach also explores Schoenberg’s deep interest in the human psyche, best known through the celebrated cycle of songs «Pierrot Lunaire» (1912), with texts by Belgian symbolist poet Giraud. The electronic soundscapes turntablist ArkturEyE created from field recordings of Coney Island’s Luna Park (which opened in the same year) correspond beautifully with the poetic texts of Giraud and radiate a touching yearning, lyricism and vulnerable sense of longing.

Lederer employs brilliantly the strong and personal improvisational gifts of LaRose, Roberts, Brennan, Formanek, Wilson and Ehrlich, and his thoughtful, poetic arrangements play with strict forms and freedom and move seamlessly between swinging jazz to caressing bossa nova and expressionist soundscapes and are united by a romantic sense of love, loss, nature and the beach. The album’s last «Summer Weariness» (from 3 Lieder Op. 48, text by Harringer)

ends with a fading electronic soundscape, leaving the listeners contemplating the silence, wondering what they have just heard. And soon after the listeners may check the original performances of Schoenberg And Webern’s compositions.

Eyal Hareuveni

Mary LaRose (voice), Jeff Lederer (clarinet, flute), Hank Roberts (cello), Patricia Brennan (vibraphone, electronics), Michael Formanek (double bass), Matt Wilson (drums,  percussion), Marty Ehrlich (bass clarinet), ArkturEyE (turntables)