Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Art Review: Anthony Pontius at 31grand, NYC

There’s a lot to like in Anthony Pontius’ oils on display here through May 24. This series centers frequently goofy, cartoonish, anthropomorphosed animals onto dark, nebulous, out-of-focus forest backgrounds for a feel that is Simpsons and Twin Peaks simultaneously. A two-headed dog chases its own face, a guillotine looms beneath the dripping trees, a killer’s goofy, fuzzy-bearded face leans in from a stick-figure body. These paintings are surreal, psychedelic as hell and the more compelling the more you stare at them, the backgrounds especially. Playful yet eerie, the visual equivalent of a mix of the Ventures’ minor-key hits. In the back room Pontius also has several wry, Edward Gorey-esque pencil sketches on display. Yet another rousing success for 31grand, a welcome addition (some might say antidote) to the neighborhood.

[postscript – 31grand Gallery is sadly now closed – one of their curators went on to join the similarly edgy Black and White Gallery in Chelsea]

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April 25, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monica Passin/Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/08

It’s no secret that New York has one of the most vital, thriving country music scenes anywhere. Forget any snide commentary you may have overheard about urban musicians playing country: if anything, the music coming out of the New York country scene is far more traditionally-oriented than most anything Nashville is producing these days. Tonight’s bill paired two of the more popular country acts in town. Monica Passin, frontwoman of long-running Rodeo Bar honkytonkers L’il Mo and the Monicats played mostly solo acoustic, with occasional help from a couple of women who sang harmonies, and the New Jack Ramblers’ amazing lead guitarist. She’s pretty much everything you could want in a country singer: pretty voice, good songs, good taste in covers and backing musicians. Her best song was a minor-key rockabilly number – the first one in that style she’d ever written, she said – possibly titled This Cat. The lead player used Passin’s ominous chord changes as a springboard for a riveting, intense, jazz-inflected solo that drew roars of appreciation from the crowd. On the last song, Passin invited Lisa, the bar owner up to sing harmonies, and as it turned out she’s actually good! Not since the days when Juliana Nash ran the show at Pete’s Candy Store has there been a bar owner who’s been able to show off such a soaring, fearless voice. Bands in need of a frontwoman ought to stop by the bar: she won’t embarrass you, and if all else fails you’ll always have a place to play.

Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers aren’t exactly under the radar, maintaining a hectic gig schedule in addition to the regular Sunday night residency they’ve been playing at Hank’s for what seems forever. They’re a rotating crew of some of the best players in town: the weekly Sunday show originated out of necessity, as this was the only night everybody in the band didn’t have a gig. Tonight, backed by just lead guitar and upright bass (their awe-inspiring pedal steel player Bob Hoffnar wasn’t available, and you really don’t need drums in a small room like Banjo Jim’s), Kershaw ran through a mix of what sounded like covers but probably weren’t. The guy’s a hell of a songwriter, a prolific, versatile writer as comfortable with western swing as honkytonk, rockabilly or stark, Johnny Cash-inspired narratives. Tonight’s show was the western swing show, driven by lead guitarist Skip Krevens, whose ability to burn through a whole slew of styles was nothing short of spectacular, everything from jazz to rockabilly to blues. He made it seem effortless. They gamely ran through the old standard Smoke That Cigarette in addition to a bunch of originals, some recorded, some not, closing the first of their two sets with what has become Kershaw’s signature song, Moonlight Eyes. Originally recorded with his first band, the fiery, rockabilly unit the Blind Pharaohs, it’s a genuine classic, something that sounds like a Carl Perkins hit from 1956. Kershaw has played it a million times, but still manages to make it sound fresh, the ominous undercurrent beneath its blithe romantic sway more apparent than ever tonight, stripped down to just the basics.

And what was even more apparent was that both of the acts on this bill would probably be big stars in a smaller metropolis: here, they’re only part of a widespread, talented scene.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Russian Carnival Ensemble at Trinity Church, NYC 4/24/08

From the first two folksongs on the bill, it seemed that this show was going to turn out like something you’d see on a Sunday afternoon at some suburban “arts center” in central New Jersey, most of the $60 seats taken up by squirming gradeschool kids dragged out for a shot of “culture” by their yuppie parents. The Russian Carnival Ensemble once appeared on Good Morning America (or its equivalent – they’re all the same, anyway), and the schmaltz they played early in the program could well have been on the audition dvd that got them the gig. But the show got better from there. Despite the fact that this seemingly sexagenarian Russian-American folk ensemble is probably best seen on their own turf, playing to an expatriate crowd who would object if the program was dumbed down, the remainder of the show gave them myriad opportunities to show off their sensational chops and interesting arrangements. Led by Tamara Volskaya, a spectacularly fast, virtuosic player whose axe is the domra (a small Russian stringed instrument that looks like a cross between a mandolin and a balalaika), the group ripped through a mix of their own arrangements of both classical and traditional pieces. The bassist played a large, hollowbodied, triangular instrument whose sides looked to be at least six feet long, definitely the largest bass on this side of the Hudson and maybe on the other as well. In addition to an excellent accordionist who sat impassively while casually spinning off lightning-fast trills, the group – wearing matching traditional costumes – had two other string players alternating between guitar, domra, balalaika and occasional percussion.

Other than a blistering, barely minute-long version of the Flight of the Bumblebee, the classical pieces weren’t all that interesting (in case you’re guessing, yes, they did the Lone Ranger theme). Traditional Russian dances, however, are their strong suit, and listening to them blaze through a handful of freilachs reminded of how much of a Russian influence there is in klezmer and gypsy music, and vice versa. In case you haven’t noticed, Lucid Culture has been off on a serious gypsy music tangent lately, and the pieces the group played this afternoon hit the spot perfectly, especially the encore on which what Volskaya wailed furiously, its melody a lickety-split series of sixteenth notes. The group also played a piece introduced by Volskaya as a world premiere, its quiet, eerie ambience quite a contrast with the ebullience of the rest of the program, hinting that this ensemble is capable of vastly more than they showed playing to an audience obviously unfamiliar with the material.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments