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Johnson, Max : When the Streets Were Quiet (New Focus Recordings)

Better known for his bass work with his own free jazz trio and quartet, or as a sideman for Simon Nabatov, Chris Pitsiokis, &c. this album reveals another facet to the musician, presenting a chamber music album of strings, reeds and piano, where his role as composer and conductor brings life to works with references to Messiaen & Kafka.

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product information:

UPC: 690277900938

Label: New Focus Recordings
Catalog ID: fcr354
Squidco Product Code: 33007

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2023
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold 3 Panels
Recorded at The Bunker, in Brooklyn, New York, by Aaron Nevezie.


Lauren Cauley Kalal-violin

Carrie Frey-viola

Maria Hadge-cello

Lucy Hatem-clarinet

Fifi Zhang-piano

Max Johnson-conductor, composer

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Artist Biographies:

""Flawless" (Critical Dance), "simply amazing," and "spellbinding." (Rochester Fringe Festival), violinist Lauren Cauley Kalal enjoys a diverse career performing as both soloist and chamber musician. Passionate about the evolution of contemporary music, Lauren has worked with numerous established composers the likes of Samuel Adler, Hans Abrahamsen, Beat Furrer, Michael Gordon, Georg Friedrich Haas, and Philippe Leroux, as well as with dozens of young, emerging composers. She has given premieres at Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, Rodolfinum, and the Mozarteum. Lauren has performed at festivals such as Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Impuls, June in Buffalo, Klangspuren Schwaz, and New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival. She has appeared with Ensemble Signal, Talea Ensemble, Periapsis Music & Dance, and the [Switch~ Ensemble]. Lauren received her BM and MM from the Eastman School of Music, with additional studies at the Bauhaus Universität and the International Ensemble Modern Academy in Austria.

-Mivos String Quartet Website (

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"Carrie Frey (viola) is an active performer and educator, focused on working with open, inquisitive musicians and composers and encouraging creativity in her students. An enthusiastic proponent of new music, she has premiered over 200 pieces. A founding member of string trio Chartreuse and string quartet Desdemona, and recent addition to the Rhythm Method, she also coordinates the chamber music program at Bloomingdale School of Music. In New York City, Carrie can be heard with a number of new music ensembles, including Wavefield, Talea Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Echappé, Cantata Profana, Heartbeat Opera, Wet Ink Large Ensemble, toy piano/toy viola duo Wind-Up Elephant. As an improviser, she performs with Simone Baron's ensemble Arco Belo and with electroacoustic trio Hierophant. As an orchestral musician, she has played with the American Composers Orchestra, the Greenville Symphony, and the Savannah Philharmonic, and at festivals around the world, including the Lucerne Festival Academy and Lucerne Festival Alumni Orchestra in Switzerland; Britten-Pears Festival in the UK; Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC; and Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Her debut sonata album, The Grey Light of Day, with pianist Robert Fleitz, was released by Wild Iris Productions in 2016. Carrie is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory (BM) and the Manhattan School of Music Contemporary Performance Program (MM), and is currently pursuing a DMA at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York."

-Carrie Frey Website (

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"A versatile cellist and champion of current music, Maria Hadge has been described as a "stunning" and "brilliant" musician, performing with a natural spunk. Her playing has taken her around the globe, working with early-career and master composers. A resident of New York City, Hadge is an active freelance musician who feels equally at home with contemporary music, free improvisation, and musical theater. Recent credits include Beauty and the Beast, Sound of Music, Into the Woods, Bright Star, and Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish at Stage 42.

Miss Hadge performs as a core member of Ensemble Mise-En, which regularly promotes works by emerging composers, participates in residencies and festivals around the world, and collaborates with established composers. As a member of Luminous Sounds, she plays pop arrangements and classical tunes for private events and weddings in New York City and Long Island. In early 2022, Hadge joined forces with flutist Kelley Barnett to create Spira Duo, which commissions and develops music for contrabass flute and cello."

-Maria Hadge Website (

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"Lucy Hatem is a Brooklyn-based clarinetist and teacher with a wide range of interests. She loves chamber music and working with living composers; she has also worked as a music librarian and attended festivals such as Fresh Inc. She currently teaches at St Ann's School."

-Mansi Shah website (

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"Originally from the Washington DC area, NYC-based pianist and educator Fifi Zhang has performed in venues throughout New York City, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Steinway Hall, as well as concert halls in Finland, Spain, South Korea, and Poland. She has premiered several works by contemporary composers and has collaborated with dancers of New York City Ballet.

At age eleven, Fifi made her debut with the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic playing the Saint-Saëns G minor concerto, as the national grand prize winner of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Concerto Competition, and is one of a handful of musicians to have won both the Junior (2008) and Senior (2010) divisions of the national MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) high school competition. She has spent summers at the Banff Centre's Piano Master Classes, Sarasota Music Festival, Chautauqua Institute Piano Program, and New Paltz Piano Summer, and has been a finalist in the Juilliard Concerto Competition.

An alumnus of the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange, Fifi holds a BA in History from Columbia University and an MM in Piano Performance from Juilliard. She also attained a performance diploma from Mannes School of Music. Former teachers include Ursula Oppens, Pavlina Dokovska, Matti Raekallio, and Julian Martin.

Fifi is currently a doctoral candidate at CUNY Graduate Center, where she is working on a critical examination of classical music performance through a phenomenological lens. She also maintains a private teaching studio, giving piano lessons to students of all ages and levels."

-Fifi Zhang Website (

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"Max Johnson is a bassist, composer and bandleader based in New York City. Known for his big sound, eclectic style and prolific output, Johnson has made a name in both the jazz and improvised music world, playing with legendary luminaries Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Muhal Richard Abrams, among others, in addition to becoming a first call bluegrass bassist, playing with legends Sam Bush, David Grisman, the Traveling McCourys & Tony Trischka. With 6 albums, and over fifteen hundred concerts under his belt, Johnson has proven to be an unparalleled force on the bass, and a unique, exhilarating voice as a composer.

Growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, Johnson learned about music at an early age from his father, Glenn Johnson, drummer/composer of the band Leisure Class. At age 13, Max took up the electric bass, and after performing with local bands in Montclair, NJ, he joined the School of Rock in 2004, where he had the incredible opportunity to tour internationally and perform with Jon Anderson, John Wetton, the Butthole Surfers, Adrian Belew, Vernon Reid, Andrew W.K., Ronnie Spector, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and a long list of others. Johnson then attended the New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in 2008, where he studied bass with masters Henry Grimes, Mark Helias, Reggie Workman, Cameron Brown & Marji Danilow; and composition with Jane Ira Bloom, Tim Berne & Bill Kirchner. While studying there, he began performing professionally in New York City, building a name for himself as a bassist and bandleader in the improvised music world, and a first call bass player in the bluegrass scene. Johnson continued his education at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he recieved his Master's degree in classical composition under Jonathan Bailey Holland, John Mallia and Roger Zahab.

Although young in age, Johnson has already crafted a unique sound and vision as an improviser, and is rich in experience, having performed with John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nels Cline, Candido Camero, Henry Grimes, William Parker, Butch Morris, Karl Berger, Bobby Sanabria, Sylvie Courvoisier, Erik Friedlander, Mary Halvorson, Joseph Jarman, Kenny Wollesen, Elliott Sharp, Angelica Sanchez, and many others. As a bassist with a non-stop touring schedule, Johnson has performed over one thousand concerts throughout North America and Europe, including top festivals and performing arts centers such as Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Lollapalooza, Quebec City Festival, Bern Jazz Festival, and many others. Max Johnson has been featured as a sideman on over twenty-five recordings, including the platinum-selling Night Castle by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

An active bandleader, Max Johnson has six records to his name: Elevated Vegetation (FMR), The Invisible Trio & Something Familiar (Fresh Sound-New Talent), featuring Kirk Knuffke on cornet & Ziv Ravitz on drums; The Prisoner (NoBusiness) featuring Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri & Tomas Fujiwara; and Quartet (NotTwo), with Mark Whitecage on alto saxophone and clarinet, Steve Swell on trombone, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Big Eyed Rabbit, his collaborative trio with Ross Martin and Jeff Davis, also released their debut album in 2014, Big Eyed Rabbit (NotTwo). His albums have been positively reviewed in the New York Times, NYC Jazz Record, JazzTimes, and other publications. El Intruso International Critic's Poll voted Max Johnson #1 Newcomer Musician in the 2012, and #2 Bassist and #4 Musician of the year in their 2014 poll."

-Max Johnson Website (

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track listing:

1. Minerva 10:29

2. Nine O'Clock When the Streets Were Quiet 14:20

3. String Trio 16:49

4. Echoes of a Memory 10:44
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"On When the Streets Were Quiet, composer, bassist, and bandleader Max Johnson turns the focus to his finely wrought chamber music. Active in many contexts, Johnson is voraciously eclectic and impressively versatile. The works on this collection betray little overt reference to his wide range of stylistic activities, instead zeroing in on his craft centered approach to composition. With an emphasis on counterpoint, imitative textures, structural markers defined by instrumental relationships, and broad arcs of direction and activity, Johnson creates lush, intricate works that balance an elegiac lyricism with well considered rigor. The featured performers are violinist Lauren Cauley, violist Carrie Frey, cellist Maria Hadge, clarinetist Lucy Hatem, and pianist Fifi Zhang.

"Minerva" for clarinet, violin, viola, and cello opens the program with swooping lines that snake between the instruments of the quartet. Punctuated arrival notes articulate the direction of the composite line; splashes of harmonic color emerge from the living canvas of activity. When the texture thins out, a pointillistic klangfarben reveals itself more clearly, spinning out one thread of melody as its tone color constantly morphs. The ensemble sections of Minerva are set off by expressive solo and duo passages, contrasting the hybrid expression of the tutti sections with moments of intimate drama. A dense climactic section releases the work's accumulated energy with a torrent of layered lines (perhaps reflecting the influence of Johnson's mentor and dedicatee of the work, composer Jason Eckardt) before the piece finishes with a poignant cello solo.

The clarinet takes a central role in "Nine O'Clock When the Streets Were Quiet", joined by violin, viola, and cello. The strings provide an ominous pad of closely spaced intervals over which the clarinet plays a searching figure in an initially compressed register that patiently expands over four minutes, intensified by accents and sudden tremolos in the strings. In the second section, the clarinet drops out, as the strings weave around each other in a similarly small register, like reptiles slithering in the mud. This time the cello and viola widen the register, driving towards an arrival, while the clarinet and violin provide long, connective tones. The sustained textures become the primary idea in the subsequent section, and indeed the remainder of the piece, as the texture slowly settles into the intense closely spaced intervals from the opening to close, this time in a higher tessitura. Johnson's sound painting of a nighttime streetscape is one of tense apprehension and foreboding.

Johnson's String Trio is organized into multiple sections delineated by solos, pitch areas, and texture, and is primarily written in a harmonic language that evokes the early 20th century transition from extended tonality into free atonality. It takes a surprising turn at the five minute point to a setting of a Barber-esque melody, briefly referencing a familiar kind of mid-century, wide-eyed Americana. An accented four note chromatic figure interrupts the reverie and anchors the following contrasting section, returning the piece to the thornier pitch landscape, now accompanied by vigorous rhythmic interplay. Percolating pizzicati animate the texture before the work closes with a return to the hopeful material from its midway point, acknowledging and integrating some of the harmonic ambiguity from the other sections of the work in a final progression that ends unresolved on a minor ninth between cello and violin.

"Echoes of a Memory" opens with the clarinet and viola trading off sustained lines, supported by ethereal chords in the piano. The middle register emphasis of the instrumentation is subverted by high sustained notes in the clarinet and clarion harmonics in the viola. Flowing lines in alternating unison between piano and one of the other instruments propel the texture forward towards a torrent of interwoven independent lines. Johnson returns to the watery chords in the piano and sustained tones in clarinet and viola for the close of the piece."-Dan Lippel

Related Categories of Interest:

Compositional Forms
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Quintet Recordings
Chamber Rock
Stringed Instruments
Recordings by or featuring Reed & Wind Players
New in Compositional Music
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