Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Halloween Makes an Early Appearance at Merkin Concert Hall

Last night at Merkin Concert Hall was a gleefully fun and surprisingly nuanced concert of Halloweenish orchestral works that transcended being pigeonholed as such. Sure, it was impossible not be drawn into the fun as conductor/composer Charles Coleman scrunched his face into a triumphant, “yessssss!” expression as he signaled a series of macabre, pulsing tritones from the violins as the world premiere of his symphonic poem Carmilla for String Orchestra got underway. But there was plenty of subtlety and sophistication that tends to get trampled in this kind of music: while there was an abundance of menace on the program, it never really went over the edge into grand guignol.

Anchored by heavy washes of bass and cello, the piece quickly shifted into more plaintively neoromantic territory before hitting a hypnotic, rhythmically minimalist coda that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Julia Wolfe catalog. The full orchestra followed with William Maselli‘s deliciously fun Visions of Sabbath, a mashup of classic Black Sabbath themes. How familiar the ensemble members were with the source material became obvious in an instant, from who was dealing with it like any other task, and who couldn’t resist a grin. One of the bassists and a violist in particular were having a ball with the artful interweave of motives: the signature chromatic theme that opens the band’s first album; riffs galore from Electric Funeral and War Pigs,and a playfully blustery arrangement of the verse from Iron Man, to name a few. And when they reached the point where one of the clarinets voiced a couple of Ozzy lines from The Wizard, pretty much everybody was cracking up. “This initial effort may well be expanded on in the future,” the program notes hinted. Bring it on!

The final work was Maselli’s two-act opera Draculette. It’s a highly thought out piece of music, and it was well executed. Bloodily surreal as the storyline is, there was less bombast than expected. Maselli’s main themes developed out of a cinematic progression of the utmost simplicity that rose and fell with a Moussorgsky-esque unease, punctuated by several more bittersweet interludes, a couple veering into lively, carefree Italianate operatic territory, others with a vividly anthemic art-song quality that reminded of Elvis Costello at his most ornate. Did Maselli immerse himself in a Prokofiev opera before tackling this? That wouldn’t be a surprise.

Coloratura soprano Olga Zhuravel sang the lead role, holding the center with a fang-baring luridness. High soprano Micaela Oeste got less time in the spotlight but made the most of it: one particular spine-tingling, stratospheric, chromatic phrase of hers was worth the price of admission alone. The guys – baritones Brad Cresswell and Kevin Glavin, and tenor John Bellemer – were given goofier roles and thus less opportunity to explore as much emotional terrain as the women. Which made sense considering the storyline: unsympathetic characters are easier to kill off. In the spaces between, brief solos made their way cleverly and purposefully throughout the orchestra: Tomina Parvanova’s harp, BJ Karpen’s oboe and Allyson Clare’s viola in particular were standouts. Meanwhile, a series of microphones hung overhead: if the engineers soundchecked this right, the orchestra and singers got a dandy live recording out of it.

October 5, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intense Paradigm-Shifting Sounds from Salim Ghazi Saeedi

One important rising composer who’s doing genuinely visionary work in microtonal music, helping to integrate sounds from the Middle East into jazz and rock, is Tehran-based multi-instrumentalist Salim Ghazi Saeedi. His latest album namoWoman is an often otherworldly creation. It’s considerably more raw and roughhewn than, say, recent albums by David Fiuczynski and Hafez Modirzadeh, both artists to which he compares favorably. Aside from the fact that Saeedi plays all the instruments on the album – guitars, keys, basses and drums – what’s most amazing about it is how through-composed it is. Thematic variations recur frequently but always change shape, melodically and dynamically. It’s a dark, bracing, uneasy roller-coaster ride.

Saeedi’s main axe is the guitar, which he multitracks using two basic tones: a ringing, watery timbre that he typically uses to deliver plaintive, judiciously picked microtonal phrases and ringing sustained lines, along with a gritty, crunchy, distorted tone that often takes centerstage with a sneering, occasionally comedic flair. That tone, and its bombastic allusions and head-on assaults, poses the question of whether this is heavy metal, or jazz, or Persian art-rock. Ultimately, the answer is all of the above.

Saeedi’s unorthodox use of both piano and bass is also extremely clever. Saeedi leans heavily on the piano’s lowest keys, whether to anchor the music in a murky, overtone-spiced ambience, or for basslines. By contrast, Saeedi utilizes the bass’s entire sonic spectrum, frequently bowing eerily elegant viola melodies in the upper registers. A few of the tracks have trebly-toned, judiciously played electric bass along with the occasional electronic keyboard motif. All this contrasts with the savage, distorted guitar lines: whether or not that dichotomy is deliberate or not (two sides of the same coin, maybe, one profound and the other profane?), it’s inescapable.

Throughout the nine-part suite, Saeedi establishes individual voices within the arrangements, with all kinds of melodic interweaving and conversations: piano ripples respond to bass bubbles, cello-flavored lines hand off to the guitar, or to the drums. Without knowing it, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that guitar is Saeedi’s primary axe, considering how graceful, dexterous and propulsive his bass work is; his piano lines are terse, imaginative and serve an important part of the musical backbone. If there’s any criticism of this, it’s that Saeedi swings on the guitar and especially the bass but not the drums: a percussionist with a proficiency equal to Saeedi’s on those two instruments could have been useful here. Then again, percussionists capable of playing such eclectic compositions are hard to find anywhere, let alone in traditional Persian music.

Bluesy allusions give way to suspenseful not-quite-minor, not-exactly major Persian intervals; rhythms tend to be straight-up but not always, one interlude bouncing along on a tricky groove that would be perfectly at home in Macedonia or Greece. Pensive, moody guitar echoes until it’s bludgeoned out of the picture as the distorted roar takes over, and then recedes, a constant game of good cop vs. bad cop with an occasional exchange of roles. There’s simple, insistent staccato guitar riffage straight out of the Pantera playbook, and also spacious, distantly anguished David Gilmour-inflected phrasing. The High Romantic, the gothic, the gypsy and the jazz – think Cecil Taylor in extreme deep space mode – mingle and echo and at their most cohesive, haunt the hell out of you. Little flourishes like a jaunty melodica vamp, hints of surf rock and Mediterranean psychedelia lighten the darkness while enhancing the surrealism of it all. Who is the audience for this? Middle Eastern metalheads; fans of Persian music who need a jolt of energy, and any fan of loud, dark sounds laced with fearless humor. There is no one in the world who sounds anything like Salim Ghazi Saeedi: where he takes these ideas in the future promises to be a pretty wild place.

January 10, 2013 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/9/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #479:

Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori

This one’s for the smoking section. By the time these Japanese stoners came out with this sludgy, creepy 1971 five-part suite, they were arguably heavier than Sabbath. Some of you may find this ugly and heavyhanded; the band alternates between bludgeoning blues and morbid, funereal dirges. The lyrics are in Japanese. Part one of the suite sets the stage for the slightly more Hendrix-inspired part two. Part three might be the high point, doom rock with Asian motifs; part four blends funk and even jazz touches into the murk; the concluding movement foreshadows where King Crimson would be in five years. Call it metal, or art-rock, or proto-goth, either way it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a random torrent via Lysergia.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/6/11

Every day, pretty much that is, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #511:

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

At the risk of losing our entire subscriber base, here’s something that might be kind of obvious to some of you and completely offensive to the rest (don’t worry, we’ll be back with more obscure stuff momentarily). In order to “get” Led Zep, you have to remember that they were a bunch of hippies, consequently, they didn’t take themselves all that seriously (especially the goofball singer). Ironically, this is the one place where they reached for epic grandeur and actually nailed it, particularly on the magnificently arranged, utterly chilling Ten Years Gone and the eleven-minute bluesmetal epic In My Time of Dying. The rest of this sprawling 1974 double album is eclectic to the extreme: woozy stoner metal like Custard Pie, Sick Again (a prototype for AC/DC) and the tongue-in-cheek prog-rock Houses of the Holy; In the Light, with its almost nine-minute, twisted Indian vibe that the Beatles reached for but never quite achieved; Trampled Under Foot, which sounds like Stevie Wonder gone metal; the delicate instrumental Bron-Yr-Aur; the gentle, bucolic Down by the Seaside; the completely sick funk-metal of The Wanton Song; The Rover, a midtempo riff-rocker; Night Flight, a 1971 shot at a pop hit with swirling organ; an amusing Beggars Banquet-era Stones ripoff, a jam with the Stones’ keyboardist, and, oh yeah, that song from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Here’s a random torrent.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/3/11

This coming weekend is our last blowout of the year. We realize that all the time we’ve spent on the road this year, coupled with starting a brand-new blog to catch some of the spillover from this one, would take its toll on our daily coverage for awhile, and we apologize. More of the usual reviews and concerts coming next week. Til then, every day, pretty much that is, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #514:

Motorhead – No Sleep Til Hammersmith

How does Motorhead manage to sound so titanic with only one guitarist? Lemmy’s wall-of-sound bass chords. He plays bass like a guitarist, which enables whoever’s on guitar – in this case, Fast Eddie Clarke, in his last stint in the classic original lineup – to take off and go way, way out into the bluesmetal ionosphere as much as he wants. This raw, cheaply produced but intensely adrenalinized 1981 live set – which went to #1 on the British charts – includes the longer anthems like Capricorn and Bomber that the band was beginning to introduce alongside their more punk numbers like their signature song, Stay Clean (what a joke that title is), The Hammer, Overkill and of course Ace of Spades. The best track is actually a mammoth version of We Are the Road Crew, the irresistibly catchy tribute to the guys who lug all the gear and never get any credit; the band also tackle a cover of Born to Lose and actually avoid embarrassing themselves. Why’d we choose this one? Only because everybody else seems to choose Ace of Spades. Here’s a random torrent.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/31/11

Getting closer to where we should be, every day, as our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #517:

Iron Maiden – Live After Death

“Scream for me Long Beach!” Bruce Dickinson howls again and again. By the time the standard bearers of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM for short) made this double vinyl monstrosity in 1985, they were a well-oiled machine in the midst of a tour that would take them around the world more than once in over a year. It’s basically their greatest hits live done by the classic lineup with the two-guitar attack of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, with the unsurpassed, nimble rhythm section of bass god Steve Harris and Nicko McBain on drums. Every facet of the band is represented: the pounding, punkish Aces High, Die with Your Boots On, Running Free and 22 Acacia Ave.; the artsy, classically-flavored epics Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Powerslave and Phantom of the Opera (no relation to the musical); and catchy, anthemic classics including Run to the Hills, 2 Minutes to Midnight and of course The Number of the Beast. Tuneful, melodic and intelligent, this band transcends any metal stereotype. Don’t confuse these guys with another great British band called Iron Maiden, a proto-metal group from the late 60s/early 70s. Here’s a random torrent.

September 1, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 8/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #526:

The JPT Scare Band – Past Is Prologue

Legendary in the midwest, the Kansas City power trio of drummer Jeff Littrell, bassist Paul Grigsby and guitarist Terry Swope recorded most of this between 1973 and 1975. While none of these tracks were officially released until 2001, the band was a cult favorite of the “cassette underground” for years. The opening track here, Burn In Hell, a forest of tense, flanged minor chords, was actually recorded that year and shows that the band was keeping up with the times. But it’s the old stuff that’s the most riveting: Sleeping Sickness, practically fourteen minutes of virtuoso Texas blues with metal flourishes, ten years before Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the art; the wildly Hendrix-inspired proto-noiserock of I’ve Been Waiting and Time to Cry (which clocks in at a modest 12:59); Jerry’s Blues, which sounds a lot more like Jimi than the Dead; and the riff-rocking psychedelia of Titan’s Sirens. Recently reunited, the band played their first show in thirty years earlier this summer and are reputedly as scary as ever. Most of the tracks are streaming at myspace (without ads, happily); here’s a random torrent via Cavites Pride. The album, along with the equally good, bizarrely titled Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden, is also still available from Ripple Music.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ripple Music’s First Anniversary Free Sampler – Get It While You Can

In this age of independent music, do we really need labels at all? If you want to sell more than downloads and unload physical product in a country where you don’t live, or probably won’t be visiting soon, a label can be useful. And good branding never hurts – Norton does garage rock; Tzadik does every shade of klezmer and sometimes the Middle East; and Ripple Music have carved themselves a niche as purveyors of tasty, retro 70s stoner rock. Considering how much great stuff these guys have put out over the last year, the answer’s yes, these guys actually fill a need, unlike the parasitic corporate labels.

Ripple Music went for cred right off the bat by signing Poobah, whose 1972 proto-metal classic Let Me In they reissued last year. And they wasted no time scoring midwestern acid rock cult favorites the JPT Scare Band, who just played their first gig in 35 years if you can believe it. In this age where virtually everything audible online is free, and most commercial radio stations won’t go near good original music, how does a label stay in business? Like a drug dealer. They turn you on to their product for free and then let you decide, heh heh. Their freebie right now is a first anniversary sampler available for free at their bandcamp site, featuring bands whose material they’ve released or reissued, often on vinyl as well as digitally, in the past year, along with previews of a couple of upcoming releases. It’s a cool mixtape for 7-11 parking lots.

As usual with this kind of stuff, the more fun the bands let themselves have, the better the music is (which applies to pretty much any style when you think about it). “70s rock preservationists” Stone Axe are a mighty good choice to open the album with Riders of the Night, a period-perfect, LOL Spinal Tap party scenario. They’re “busy blowing smoke rings around the midnight sun,” and the guitars do the same. Surprisingly, Mighty High, Brooklyn’s funniest self-described regressive rock act don’t go as hard for the comedy as they usually do, although their track, Don’t Panic – It’s Organic, is smoking. Imagine it’s 1973, Blue Oyster Cult is trying to channel Chuck Berry and kicking out the best guitar solos on the entire compilation, evil chromatic Deniz Tek style.

The JPT Scare Band’s contribution, It’s a Jungle, really is a time trip. It has the feel of a vinyl rip – that sidewinding, trebly, melodic bass and those Spooky Tooth metalfunk hooks are killer. And is that a qanun (Arabic hammered dulcimer) slapping the lo-fi synth upside the head? Surprisingly, Poobah is represented by one of the less ferocious tracks from Let Me In, although this one shows off the rhythm section: it’s not just Jim Gustafson guitar pyrotechnics. But Venomin James’ Bullet Juice delivers buckets of evil via a delicious Sabbath-style chromatic riff and a razorwire wah solo that leaves you wanting more. And Mos Generator’s moonshine-running anthem Stone County Line injects fresh blood into a bunch of hallowed 70s moves, with some blunt instrument Bill Ward-ish drums.

There are a couple of ringers here. Modern Day Moonshine offer a soulfully shuffling update on the Grateful Dead’s Cumberland Blues, while Bay Area songwriter Kevin Beadles’ Sharkskin sounds like a metal spoof done as bluesy, swinging, late 70s Rhodes piano pop. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Tubes album. There’s also Tripdavon’s By the River, which merges southern slide guitar rock and blues overtones; riff-heavy Scottish band Iron Claw, which would fit in fine with the Nazareth catalog; and Vancouver band Fen’s Queen of the Mountain, pensive and apprehensive with lots of dynamic shifts – these guys sound like they used to listen to grunge but left it behind. There are a couple of duds, but what do you expect for nothing? Get it while it’s still available.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two Cool Singles from Fun, Entertaining Brooklyn Bands

Spanking Charlene have a brand-new version of Dismissed with a Kiss – the title track to their deliciously fun album – just out on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool. How cool is that? The pay-radio conglomerate SiriusXM ran a yearlong “best unsigned band contest,” which we had no idea existed. And Spanking Charlene won! Imagine that. When is the last time a band that didn’t suck actually won some kind of contest? Maybe never? And as you can hear from the single (at the band’s reverbnation), it’s a lot of fun. We’re partial to the Eric Ambel-produced original because it’s on the album, one of the first ones we ever got in the mail back when we started the blog in 2007, but this is killer. Charlene McPherson’s wounded wail is as seductive as ever and Mo Goldner’s guitars roar and sizzle. They’ve got a new album due out this fall, titled Where Are the Freaks which is something to look forward to, ostensibly a blast from a much cooler East Village NYC past.

Strange Haze also have a new single out, Let Me Hear the Dropping Pin, available at cdbaby both as a download AND on purple vinyl, which we obviously recommend. It’s as hilarious as pretty much everything the Brooklyn stoner retro-metal band has ever come up with. It’s kind of a three-minute history of weedhead music from, say, 1964 to 1974. A fuzztone funk intro and classic garage riffage sets the stage for the woozy one-liners, which begin with “I don’t have nothing to do today, but I got all day to do it, so I got to get away.” The rest are just as good, or…at least as surreal. The band has the oldschool, rolling, kinda funky early 70s groove down cold and some musical jokes to go with the lyrical ones, and of course a guitar solo. It might sound like an insult to say the higher you are, the more fun this is, but that’s the point.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soda Shop’s First Compilation Kicks Ass

If you’re wondering what the cool kids across the USA are listening to, chances are that some of it is right here. Last month our colleagues over at the Soda Shop put out a massive free compilation - the first in a series – that you should get your hands on if you like metal or the louder fringes of stoner music. The corporate media are trying as hard as they can to make you believe that anyone over age eight actually listens to Kesha, or that anyone actually enjoys Arcade Fire instead of merely pretending to because they don’t want to seem uncool in front of their trendoid friends. The reality is that metal is bigger than ever, and maybe better than ever, because the new wave of bands who play it have gone back to the source, the motherlode of it all, Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi should be proud of what he spawned here, yet while most of the bands here have the sludgy slow stoner groove, double and tripletracked solos and chromatic riffage, they aren’t ripoffs either. This is a LONG album, sixteen songs, most of them well over five minutes a clip and most of them various shades of excellent. A couple of them are spoofs, but most of them are straight up pure adrenaline.

Period-perfect early 70s style band Stone Axe open this up with riff-rock on the off beat. Is it a Sabbath homage? A parody? Maybe both. Meat Charger, by Boston’s Gozu, sets lazy drawling Skynyrd vocals over crunchy riffs, more artsy than their smoking Meth Cowboy/Mr. Riddle release from last year. Ohio band Lo-Pan’s Dragline works a long psychedelic 1-chord intro into brain-melting, galloping torrents of guitar triplets, while Brisbane band Shellfin get even more hypnotic, proving that you don’t even have to change chords at all, at least until the overtones are ringing so loud it sounds like a guitar orchestra. And when they do, it’s pretty macabre. Seattle power trio Mos Generator also keep it simple and smart, from the War Pigs echoes on the intro, a catchy bass solo and the ridiculously tuneful, too-brief guitar solo out.

Dayton, Ohio’s Blaxeed, “a heavy drinkin’ hard rockin’ no frills 4 man rock-n-roll band” are represented by the swaying, slightly funky Whiskey Warrior, and have the balls to quote the Beatles. Devil to Pay, from Indianapolis, offer the fuzztoned riffs and doomy lyrics of High Horse, with a juicy brief wah-wah solo to wind it up. The best of all of them may be Cleveland band Venomin James’ Cosmonaut, sounding like Pantera covering Sabbath, some cooly ominous backing vocals lurking toxically in the background and a ferociously charging, doublespeed bridge – if you like this, also check out the scorching live version of their song Abu Graib.

There are also some great songs here that don’t reference Sabbath at all. The funniest track here, Brooklyn band Strange Haze’s Straight Dope, is pure early 70s satire, complete with “soulful” blues harp. This band’s lyrics are off the hook – on this one, the singer wants to walk you “down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine – sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child…” Luder (German for “little shit”) hail from Detroit, springing from the ashes of the band Slot, and add a dreampop/shoegaze vibe with bassist Sue Lott’s ethereal vocals over layers of crunch and echoey swirl. California trio Whores of Tijuana do a funny punk/metal-meets-ghoulabilly number. And another Detroit band, Chapstik, offers a punishing blast of mostly instrumental metal/hardcore a la the Bad Brains but more chromatic. The compilation starts to run low on gas toward the end, with some nu-metal and grungy stuff that stands out like a sore thumb. But the beauty of this compilation is that you can cherrypick the good stuff, and there’s plenty to choose from. Besides, it’s free. Spread the word and keep your eyes open for Volume 2.

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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