Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Serena Jost at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/21/07

Arguably the best show we’ve ever seen her do. We’ve given Serena Jost a lot of space here this year, because she’s earned it. A cellist by trade, she did a long stretch in Rasputina before hanging out her own shingle. Tonight she started out on acoustic guitar, then switching to piano, then to cello and so forth. The songs in the set, a mix of new material and stuff from a long-overdue full-length cd were a richly melodic grab-bag of styles, from jazz to chamber-rock, with bits of gospel and surf music added for extra spice. Jost’s work is very intricate and very playful, and it was clear that the band of Julian Maile on reverb-drenched Fender guitar, Rob Jost (no relation) on upright bass and Rob DiPietro on drums were having a great time up there (after a crowd of fans, the bartender and another great songwriter each took a turn at the sound board, trying to get it working properly – the sound is always hit and miss here).

One accident of having dodgy sound was that it forced Jost to run her acoustic through the club’s little Peavey amp which was turned up to where it was about to break up into distortion. How fortuitous that was: suddenly the songs had a grit and a growl they’d never had before, and they liked it! One of the highlights of the night was the bouncy, irresistibly catchy piano pop hit Vertical World, which as it turns out may be about how New York is changing for the worse – Jost’s lyrics are very subtle, so it’s hard to tell – but at the end of the second verse, she ends up sardonically grinning, “here I am, in Krispy Kreme!” Another tune, I Wait, is something of a mini-epic that turns into a surf instrumental about halfway through. Maile played a mix of finely refined skronk and classic Ventures licks, ending his solo with some fast tremolo picking a la Dick Dale. Serena Jost jumped in and continued the solo, playing the same lick staccato on cello and the effect was mouth-watering. Her almost-namesake on bass (whose name is pronounced with a J instead of a Y) played sinuous, fast fills, sneaking in effortlessly to make a contribution to the melody whenever he had the chance. DiPietro felt the room perfectly and didn’t hit too hard, although he had plenty of opportunities to contribute to the songs’ crescendos and nailed all of them. It’s always more fun when the band themselves are clearly having a good time: tonight was a prime example. Serena Jost is doing a cd release show early next year, watch this space for details.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: James Apollo at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/20/07

“They should do at least one song in Spanish,” remarked one of our crew. What a great discovery. James Apollo and his terrific band sound exactly like the late, great NY band Industrial Tepee in their more subtle moments. They do one thing and one thing only, and they absolutely nail it. They’re Southwestern gothic, with haunting, mariachi-inflected melodies, the occasional tango beat and a quietly dusky, otherworldly feel. We’d stopped in for a drink, still flying from another concert we’d just seen, feeling cynical to the point that we were all dreading whoever might be playing here tonight. Although Banjo Jim’s has had a good run lately – they’re picking up a lot of the spillover from the songwriters who are leaving the Living Room in droves – their stock in trade is still generally the kind of generic lite FM songwriters you hear piped over the PA in shopping malls.

Apollo sang and played acoustic, backed by an excellent lead player who played lush washes of sound on lapsteel, and occasionally on a Telecaster, using an ebow for sustain. From time to time, he’d flick on a percussion device that looked like a kick pedal but sounded like a rattle. Apollo’s rhythm section didn’t waste a single beat all night. His upright bassist delivered a pulsing, propulsive groove and his drummer, playing with metal brushes, set the haunting, hushed tone from which they never strayed. Every now and then he’d throw in a couple of judiciously placed thumps on the kick and the snare, or a rimshot or two, to keep things interesting, and he made them all count. Tonight was a great example of the best that can happen when guys with jazz chops decide to play rock: it was a clinic in subtlety and counterintuitive, smart musicianship.

With admirable restraint, they resisted the urge to turn one of the songs they played mid-set into straight-up rockabilly. The following cut, I’ve Got It Easy, from Apollo’s latest album Hide Your Heart in a Hive could have been early Calexico, or Friends of Dean Martinez with a vocal track, all sunburnt and slightly hallucinatory. They wrapped up the set – ten songs, all of them good – with a couple of numbers with a somewhat Tom Waits-ish, bluesy feel. Check out this band and share our delight in running into them, completely by accident.

[postscript: Banjo Jim’s happily grew edgier in the time since this review appeared, the Lite FM singer-songwriter types apparently staying home in Long Island or going back to the Living Room. We rated Banjo Jim’s Best Manhattan Venue in 2010]

December 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s 1984 All Over Again

According to a report yesterday in the Washington Post, the FBI plans to hire a private firm to assemble the world’s largest biometric database. The database will retain information already in the FBI’s system, in addition to fingerprints and other biometric information such as retina scans and digital photographs of immigrants, individuals whose employers have fingerprinted them, children and college students.

Note that the information will be maintained not by the FBI – who presumably have an interest in maintaining a database that could prove useful in investigations – but by a private firm, whose sole interest is profit, and who would have zero accountability to the citizens of the US – including anyone whose information lands in the database. Even in the most benign of circumstances, just think what a marketing firm could do with that information. Or how a HMO, or credit bureau, or lender might be able to use it.

 

Word to the wise: if you’ve been fingerprinted for any reason, proceed with extreme caution. What’s perfectly legal today may be a capital crime under the next Bush regime. And if you – or your children – have managed to escape the fingerprint net, make sure nobody gets their inky paws on yours.  

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Rant | Leave a comment