Contempo Singer/Composer Neuburg Stellar

By Paul Hertelendy
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of June 26-July 3, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 75

What impresses me most about Amy X Neuburg is not that she’s an exquisite lyric soprano who can even dip down to the baritone register, nor that she’s always in pitch, nor that she’s a techno whiz, nor that she animates contemporary repertory as though written for her. Not even that she’s also a damned good composer of song. Yes, she’s all of that.

It’s her hands—-as expressive as any actress’s, opening up like flowers coming into bloom, complementing a low-key vocal manner, constantly shifting. Never a show, ever  enriching, ever radiant.

This gifted Bay Area singer interpreted 10 commissioned songs from the past two years, backed by the Paul Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band in a dazzling multi-media program heard June 25 at Z Space in the Mission. She is a mesmerizing presence, lucid and luminous, with real warmth of voice to unreel the expressiveness. She invites comparison with trail-blazing artists heard earlier such as Dawn Upshaw, Laurie Anderson or Diamanda Galas.

This set of “Songs and Images of Now” launched by the Neuburg-Dresher pairing, from 10 different composers, has to go down as one of the Bay Area’s top contemporary-music experiences of 2016.

These are songs of detachment, not of love or passion. Texts are syllabic fragments torn out of some mosaic, or multiple repeats, or overheard conversations. One of them is a 1,300-word philosophical treatise analyzing photographs. Ultimately, I believe Neuburg could make music out of reading from the Chicago phone book, or from a catalogue of farm machinery.

Her own texts involve delicious juxtapositions, such as
“Then the deal was sealed with a covert kiss,
But no animals were harmed in the making of this.”

Reflections on obsolescence run strong in works by Jay Cloidt, Pamela Z and Dresher, and on the “me” society by Melody Sumner Carnahan and Lisa Bielawa.

In a stimulating assignment, Dresher asked each of the composers to tie in to one or more photo projections, in the candid, unvarnished manner of photographer Diane Arbus.

These were accompanied by Paul Dresher’s septet, a mix of electronic and natural-sound instruments, often providing a gamelan-like pitter-pat accompaniment, with Dresher on electric guitar.

Once again, Dresher pushed the boundaries of contemporary concerts and brought off a laudable night—with major partnering by singer Neuburg.

Paul Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band and singer Amy X Neuburg. With projections, in recent songs by 10 composers. June 24-25, at Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. For info on Dresher: go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016
Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.

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