Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sadistic Lullabies: Mariana Sadovska and Borderland at Joe’s Pub, NYC 5/22/08

Popular Ukrainian actress Mariana Sadovska is a passionate advocate and goodwill ambassador for the eerie, gypsyish folksongs from the remote villages of her native land. What was most striking about her show at Joe’s Pub last night was how relevant she made them for an urban, non-Ukrainian-speaking audience. Many of these songs involve conjury – for fertility, the change of seasons, the harvest – and unsurprisingly have an otherworldly, magical feel to them. Accompanying herself on Indian harmonium and backed by her terrific jazz trio Borderland (German natives Jarry Singla on piano, Sebastian Gramss on bass and Peter Kahlenborn on drums), Sadovska delivered the songs dramatically and fervently. Moving in a split second from a whisper to a wail, crying, growling and, once in a while, shrieking, she showed off a vocal style more evocative of Nina Hagen or Diamanda Galas’ recent work than, say, Lydia Lunch. There were also echoes of Bjork and, on one long, trancelike number, vintage Patti Smith circa Radio Ethiopia: clearly, Sadovska has listened widely in creating her utterly individual, idiosyncratic arrangements of this material.

Sadovska learned it the old-fashioned way, going from house to house a la Allen Lomax, asking for songs. As she told it, villagers welcomed her and even took her in, as if seeing in her a new messenger for their centuries-old songs. While her often hypnotic, gypsy-jazz versions likely stray considerably from their roots, her passion for the music is contagious: it ought to resonate with fans of the current gypsy music craze. And crazed much of it is: among the songs she and the band played tonight were a lullaby in which a mother prepares her newborn child for the day she sics him or her on the enemy, a fertility song with a somewhat familiar, chromatic gypsy melody and all kinds of tricky time changes, a long, eerie witch’s incantation and a love song with an unlikely melody which she and the band used as an encore after the audience wouldn’t let her leave the stage without one.

Playing prepared piano, Singla went inside the instrument to pull and hammer on the strings to add strangeness. Gramss bowed and plucked his bass in the highest registers for a violin effect while Kahlenborn propelled the unit with considerable fervor. Although the show started slowly on what seemed a slightly contrived note for a couple of songs, the final three-quarters of an hour was fascinating and frequently entrancing to experience.

May 23, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mamie Minch – Razorburn Blues

Not what you might expect. As devilishly funny, irrepressible and irreverent as the former Roulette Sisters frontwoman is live, a lot of this album is rivetingly dark. Mamie Minch’s solo debut is a sparse, terse collection of both original and classic acoustic blues songs, several of them imbued with Minch’s signature wit, but it also shows off an altogether different side of her writing. As any good blueswoman knows, the blues can pack a mighty emotional wallop, and Minch sings with an unflinching honesty, even anguish in places. Minch’s soulful, passionate alto voice resounds over old-school instrumentation including her own National steel guitar, Andy Cotton on upright bass, another former Roulette Sister, Karen Waltuch (who was the original string player in Golem) on viola, Patrick Farrell (Ansanbl Mastika) on accordion and Bob Hoffnar (Amy Allison, Buddy Woodward’s Nitro Express), who graces the album’s final cut, on pedal steel.

The cd kicks off on an auspicious note with a Minch original, Razorburn Blues, an exasperated catalog of indiginities every woman can relate to. The next track, another original entitled Fortified Wine Widow is a sad, downtempo country blues spiced with Waltuch’s viola. The songs’ narrator regrettably admits to playing second fiddle to “that lady he loves best,” be it Mad Dog or whatever her good-for-nothing boyfriend is consuming. As Minch tells it, she leaves him to sleep it off because she can’t stand sleeping beside someone who’s so enslaved to drink that he can resist her charms.

On the sad, slow waltz Astroland Tower, vividly set in a Coney Island of the mind, ninety years ago, Minch evokes the desperation of someone who has nothing left to lose. “Strap me in, I’m feeling fearless,” she intones, “the great height we will, climb stark against the sky,” as if she doesn’t care if the chains of the stories-high amusement park ride will hold her in place or send her spiraling earthward. It’s her Wall of Death, resonator guitar mingling with Waltuch’s emotion-drenched viola work. Another original, Border Radio (originally recorded with the Roulette Sisters on an Edison cylinder, for a still-to-be-released compilation cd) is an authentically old-school country tribute to the powerful US-owned stations situated on the Mexican border who popularized legends like the Carter Family back in the 20s and 30s. And the imaginatively, shape-shifting Poor Girl Blues has the same rapid, split-second time changes that characterized the best of Memphis Minnie’s work.

Minch also ably tackles several blues classics, including Pallet on Your Floor, which is usually played as a come-on. Minch’s interpretation gives her narrator real depth, bemoaning the conditions that she has to deal with sleeping on her own: perhaps she’s looking simply to trade a pallet instead of hooking up with the guy who owns it. She also runs through a particularly chilling, death-obsessed version of the traditional blues Crow Jane, a rousing, authoritative take of Don’t Speak to Me and an inspiringly defiant take of Black Dog Blues, a defiant girl-power tale told from the point of view of a prostitute who refuses to let her pimp push her around.

Hard to think of a better debut album we’ve heard this year, impressive evidence of how today’s best blues players, Minch among them, continue to make the blues mutate and evolve, pushing the envelope while remaining true to the honesty and raw emotion of the original source. And the album comes in a charmingly retro package: the cd booklet’s first print run is a handmade, numbered series run off on a 1930s letterpress. Mamie Minch plays the cd release show for Razorburn Blues at Union Hall in Park Slope at 9 PM on May 27.

May 23, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | 1 Comment