Saturday, April 1, 2017

CD Review: Iconoclast, "Driven to Defiance"

"NYC Jazz Record", April 2017
CD review by John Pietaro
Here’s a duo born of Downtown when that geographic designation meant much more than simply “below 23rd Street”. And well before the bistros and condos. This is grassroots music, as pure as the old Palace Hotel. Driven to Defiance? Iconoclast was bred on it. Alto saxophonist/violinist Julie Joslyn and drummer Leo Ciesa create explosive free music and soaring melodies that mingle gorgeously on an unpredictable playlist. The duo is a grand array of sound now celebrating their 30th anniversary. And there’s much to celebrate.  “Nothing Untold” is a 6/8 Ciesa statement played on toms with timpani mallets deftly variated with subdivisions and bending tempo building toward a mournful alto melody. One hears the Middle Eastern influence within a complete and incisive work. Like many of the original Downtown artists, Iconoclast recognizes the strength in relatively short statements as established by the punk and no wave bands they shared many a stage with in the ‘80s-90s.  Of note is “One Hundred Verticals”, a slow boil into gripping fire music. Joslyn’s violin playing is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s foray into that instrument, albeit with a modern classical outline ever present. Searching, possibly archaic tunes make frequent appearances as do other melismatic themes. At times while Joslyn is serenading, Ciesa carefully drops in broken blues piano, tabla-like drumset parts or a mix of classic New Thing and devastating industrial percussion. “You’re So Very Touchable” is a warm love song with a sensuous alto resounding over delicate drumming, but no Downtowner worth their salt would allow this emotion to ruminate; “Spheres of Influence” barks at the ear with the impact of a time when avant garde jazzers jammed with punk rockers in unheated squats. And Joslyn’s spoken word is used to dramatic effect on “Part of the Hour”, a work of expressionist, surreal poetry with a very strong Ciesa piano score that feels like ‘30s Hanns Eisler.

For more information, visit This project is at Michiko Studios Apr. 7th. See Calendar. 

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