New Amsterdam Presents Dual Album Release Show: The Knells / itsnotyouitsme and Theo Bleckmann
45 Bleecker St.
New York, NY, 10012
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM
The Knells is a grand statement of purpose coming from Brooklyn-based artist Andrew McKenna Lee. A seasoned performer and composer who has showcased his talents in esteemed venues including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Lee created The Knells to be a working reconciliation of the multitude of different musical styles he has absorbed: as a rock guitarist who has performed alongside legends Billy Idol and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones; as a singer/songwriter; as a serious concert music composer; and — as he is most widely known — a classical guitar virtuoso.
The Knells is the name of both Lee’s adeptly-composed hour-long song cycle as well as the hybrid ensemble Lee assembled to perform the project, consisting of three stunning female vocalists (Nina Berman, Amanda Gregory, Katya Powder), dual electric guitars (Andrew McKenna Lee, Paul Orbell), drums (Michael McCurdy), mallet percussion (Jude Traxler), electric bass (Joseph Higgins), and the critically lauded Mivos String Quartet. Blending Renaissance polyphony, symphonic lieder, jazz, classic and progressive rock, and even ‘60s Motown vocal music, The Knells finds Lee expanding his creative scope, embracing many of the stylistic streams that have come to define modern song in a remarkably cohesive and unique experience.
Lyrically, The Knells pays homage to the classic idea of the thematic “concept album,” and examines some of the personal and eternal questions that define and confound the human search for meaning and significance. In service of this overarching theme, The Knells confronts such specific ideas as one’s perception of the passage of time, the illusive nature of progress, the power of perspective in deriving meaning from one’s own life, and the circular and ultimately transcendental — if somewhat violent — beauty of nature.
Sonically, The Knells finds Lee employing a veritable armada of instruments, sounds, and ideas to explore the wide dynamic range of the amplified ensemble. Softer chamber music passages for strings, bowed percussion, and quiet guitars frequently contrast with louder, more rhythmically driven passages. The constant throughout is a trio of female vocalists that deliver hypnotic incantations — sometimes homophonically, and at other times in complex contrapuntal arrangements.
The Knells was chosen for the title of the project for its connotations of sound (i.e. the ringing of a bell), its associations with death, and the way these two elements play into the overall fabric of the work. This interplay is further enhanced by the album artwork, which was designed by renowned artist Shepard Fairey. Overall, the album is an adventurous and rewarding exploration of the sounds and significance of the world around us.
Previously, Lee has released two commercial recordings. His debut release on New Amsterdam Records, Gravity and Air, was named one of the year’s “Top Ten Best Classical Albums” of 2009 byTime Out Chicago. Released the same year, Solar/Electric also met with critical praise, most notably from composer Steve Reich, who declared Lee’s realization of his work Electric Counterpoint, “a magnificent performance beautifully recorded.”
This I, is the fourth recording from itsnotyouitsme, the duo of the two prolific and highly regarded New York musicians guitarist Grey Mcmurray and violinist/composer Caleb Burhans. In the midst of successful solo careers, Burhans and Mcmurray began playing together in 2003 under this moniker, blending and distilling their mutual love of everything from Brian Eno to J.S. Bach and Pink Floyd. Since then, the pair has carved out a unique niche in the musical scene with their ambient, post-rock, jazz-tinged and genre-defying instrumental soundscapes.
Like the duo’s first three albums on New Amsterdam Records — walled gardens, fallen monuments, and everybody’s pain is magnificent — This I continues itsnotyouitsme’s exploration of ambient sound worlds, but for the first time, creative voices outside the Mcmurray/Burhans mind meld are welcomed into the fold. The duo welcomes two highly influential and widely admired artists, bassist Skúli Sverrisson and vocalist Theo Bleckmann, to expand itsnotyouitsme’s sonic horizons and breathe new life into their compositional process.
Culled from one continuous performance, This I shows itnsotyouitsme pushing its signature flowing textural landscapes, slowly shifting harmonies, and polished timbres into a new world, adding in layers of poised but powerful intensity that showcase the gifts of the album’s guests. The result is a multidimensional work that moves from light to dark and back again, using harmonic blending and vocal layering to explore and contemplate the ample space in between. Whether delicate or forceful, each moment meditates on the power of restraint to create an enveloping and otherworldly emotional experience. As Mcmurray himself explains, “We are a small band that makes wide music. We expel our selves slowly so that we can smile with our sadness strongly.”