Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Duel Amid the Pews

“Is there anyone else who needs to leave?” grinned classical guitarist Bret Williams, “Like the guy in the back there?” He was referring to the screaming rugrat who’d erupted in rage at the end of the La Vita/Williams Guitar Duo’s first song, an anonymously springtimey piece by Brazilian composer Sergio Assad. As welcome as it is to see classical music on a program outside of the usual midtown concert halls, the infant slowly wheeled outside by a lackadaisical mother never would have made it past security at Carnegie Hall. Apparently, the church fathers at St. Paul’s Chapel today were too nice to turn her away. And this was somebody who obviously wasn’t homeless. Memo to parents: you had a choice, you had the kid, now you pay the price. No concerts for at least four years (for the kid, anyway).

What started inauspiciously got good in a hurry. Duetting with Williams was Italian guitarist Giacomo La Vita, whose fluid, brilliantly precise playing made a perfect match for Williams’ lickety-split yet subtle fingerpicking. The two ran through two pieces by Manuel de Falla, the romantic, flamenco-inflected Serenata Andaluza and the swaying, 6/8 Danza Espanola, then did two Scarlatti pieces that La Vita had arranged himself. In music this old, the emotion is in the melody, not the rhythm, and both of them dug deep into the stateliness of the tunes to find it.

The high point of the show, and probably the drawing card that got the audience in here on a cold, rainy Monday was Astor Piazzolla’s 1984 Tango Suite, another original arrangement for guitar. It’s unclear if the pantheonic Argentinian tango composer actually knew Charles Mingus personally, but the third piece in the suite definitely had the same kind of defiant scurrying around that the great American jazz composer was known for, beginning with a chase scene, running through all kinds of permutations to arrive at a fiery chordal ending. The two parts which preceded it began darkly reserved, then became expansively jazzy.

“We usually have an intermission, but we have to get up to the Upper West Side to teach,” explained Williams. “To a bunch of kids who probably haven’t even practiced. We’ve got to be there at 2:30!” And with that they burned through yet another of their own arrangements, this for De Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, an orchestral piece every bit as volcanic as the title would imply. An impressively good crowd, especially for the time of day and the drizzle outside, responded with a standing ovation. Obviously, fans of acoustic guitar music will like these guys best, but they cover vastly more terrain than most of their colleagues, a savvy move because it will earn them more of an audience. One hopes enough to eliminate the need to rush off to a midafternoon private-school teaching gig after they’ve finished playing a great set.

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April 28, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting the A-List

Sometimes a plan B isn’t enough: you also need a plan C. Rachelle Garniez at Joe’s Pub was the unanimous choice tonight. But the show was sold out. By that time, plan B, Hazmat Modine, were probably already halfway through their set at Drom. After some discussion, a decision was made to head out to Hank’s in Brooklyn, where a couple of favorites, Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. and Ninth House were on the bill. The former are a trio that might be mistaken for rockabilly by a lot of people, but what they play sounds actually straight out of 1953, not 1958 (decades in dog years and maybe the equivalent of a century in terms of what happened musically over that time).

Frontman/lead guitarist Michael McMahon didn’t joke with the crowd as much as he usually does, maybe because he didn’t have any new stage patter ready. In addition to the trio’s matching brown pinstriped suits, matching bolo ties, and delightfully authentic stage props, posters, flyers and beer coasters, McMahon makes very clever, period-perfect repartee with the audience. For example, tonight he introduced an instrumental about hot dogs as something you might hear at Forbes Field, where his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates played in the 50s.

Otherwise, they were as boisterous and reliably funny as always. It’s amazing how tight these guys are, especially since they don’t have a drummer. Among their best songs: the snide Mr. Romance and the understatedly hilarious country gospel parody Read It in a Book, whose punchline depends equally on lyrics and music (the joke’s so good it wouldn’t be fair to give away). They also did their biggest crowd-pleaser, a genuine classic, the uncharacteristically snarling I Hate You. The lyrics may all be wickedly literate double entendres, but there’s no hiding from the message. Great stuff, especially with Ninth House next on the bill.

Who didn’t have their keyboardist with them, so violinist Susan Mitchell, their not-so-secret weapon, stepped in and in addition to her usual slashing gypsy melodies, she also played evil sheets of ambience to compensate for the lack of the organ and string synth. From the first screaming chords of their usual opener, Long Stray Whim, a song about ditching everything and getting the hell out of town, they were on a roll. The band that used to be sort of the American Joy Division continue to jam out their catchy Nashville gothic stuff, great songs like Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me and Mistaken for Love, versions of which appear on both the most recent Ninth House album as well as frontman Mark Sinnis’ debut cd, Into an Unhidden Future. As with the opener, they went with their usual closer, a blistering cover of Ghost Riders which in the hands of a less angry, bitter band could easily have turned into camp, but with Mitchell screeching up a tornado and guitarist the Anti-Dave blasting the crowd with his big Fender Twin amp, it was pure punk rock, straight out of the early Social Distortion catalog. People were dancing. The price of draft Schaefer may have gone up a dollar here (four bucks for a Schaefer, can you believe), but it didn’t matter, plan C turned out just fine. Ninth House play Lucky Cheng’s on May 9 at 10 PM. That’s not a joke.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | Leave a comment