Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara – Soul Science

Feel-good story: a friend of British guitarist Justin Adams gives a copy of one of his albums to renowned Gambian singer and ritti (one-string fiddle) player Juldeh Camara. Camara promptly calls Adams, hoping to collaborate. Adams is flattered and immediately agrees. It turns out that Adams has known Camara’s playing for a long time, having heard him, uncredited, on an album of traditional music. Within a half-hour of meeting, the chemistry between the two musicians is electric, and they starting writing songs. Fortuitously, they made an album out of it.

 

What it sounds like is Ali Farka Toure on speed. Adams has gone on record as saying that he eschews flashy playing, but that’s not exactly true. As the lead guitarist in Jah Wobble’s band in the late 80s and early 90s, Adams dazzled with his ability to play an astonishing number of different styles, and wasn’t exactly averse to setting the crowd ablaze with a solo or two. But having come up during the punk movement, Adams also plays with a remarkable terseness, preferring to bring an idea or emotion to life rather than indulging in any kind of overt ostentation. For the most part here, it’s Camara who gets to show off his blazing speed and love of rapid runs punctuated by double stops, or hammer-ons as the stylistic device would be called in guitar terminology. This album is syncretism raised to a power: the melodies may be mostly hypnotic, African desert blues, but intermingled with tunes and motifs from literally all over the map. One of the tracks on the album begins with languid, expressive blues guitar straight out of the Junior Kimbrough songbook – and then Camara comes in with his fiddle, playing an Irish jig melody. Another song is set to a straight-up Bo Diddley beat. They also do a one-chord boogie that could be proto-John Lee Hooker. Musicologists will have their hands full with plenty of chicken-or-the-egg questions here, but regardless of whether it was the African or the westerner who brought it to the party, it’s all good. This culminates as the album goes along, particularly when the two players lay down a trip-hop beat. Except that there’s no drum machine: it’s just a swinging 4/4 beat, emphasis on the one and the three. To call this psychedelic is a vast understatement.

 

Camara sings and writes the lyrics, a mix of indigenous languages. The cd’s lyric booklet provides a somewhat literal translation, revealing a considerable sense of humor. In one song, he pokes fun at tribal names, accusing the Jawos of gluttony. But, “In as much as I tease the Jawos, they are also great people. They love their culture and they adore and promote their musicians.” Go Jawos!

 

In Ngamen (Let’s Dance), Camara promises that “If you wish, I can stay up and play all night for you. Or, if it happens to be morning, I will play til noon.” And on the following track, he urges us to “remember the people of Fuladu; they love to party.” Anyone who feels kinship with the people of Fuladu (or who enjoys Ali Farka Toure, or Tinariwen, Toumast or their brethren) will enjoy this album immensely.

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July 30, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | 1 Comment

Newsville Washington with Lisa Lost and Frankie Monroe Live in NYC 7/30/08

This summer’s latest reminder that if a band can perform even reasonably well under nasty circumstances, they’re definitely worth seeing at a more comfortable hour of the night in an airconditioned club. Ever see a singer-songwriter with a good melodic sense play solo and wish they had a good band behind them? Today Newsville Washington had the good sense to do just that. Washington writes catchy, tuneful, upbeat pop with an occasional ska or rocksteady edge and sings in a pleasant, thoughtful voice with just the hint of a rasp. He also has something of a social conscience, starting his outdoor, noontime set at Liberty Park in the Financial District solo, backed by just a beatbox, delivering a Linton Kwesi Johnson-inflected rap deploring guns and violence. Then he picked up his acoustic guitar and played a politically charged number possibly titled World of Denial before bringing up the rest of the crew.

 

Which was the story of the day: Washington had brought along Lisa Lost and Frankie Monroe from DollHouse. For a couple of years around the turn of the century, the noir rockers were arguably the best live band in New York. With their eerie three-part harmonies, ominous tunesmithing and surreal lyrics about suicide attempts, monster marriages and people who only come out at night, DollHouse pretty much ruled the small clubs until they broke up a couple of years later. Playing with Washington, Lost played rock-solid rhythm through a watery chorus effect pedal and sang characteristically crystalline harmonies while Monroe – one of the smartest bass players in all of rock – essentially served as lead guitarist while propelling the unit with his innovative, surprise-packed, fluidly reggae-inflected lines. They ran through a bunch of pleasantly breezy originals, a couple of love songs and an aptly timed number about chilling out during the summer when it gets too hot to function.

 

“I think we should all support the troops,” Lost said emphatically while introducing a somewhat darker song possibly called Soldiering On. “We should make sure they get the hospitalization, and the medical care they need. We should bring them all home – we don’t belong over there anyway.”  Spoken just a stone’s throw away from the belly of the beast, Wall Street, her comments took on a special significance.

 

Then they played the DollHouse classic Smile. It’s a fast, upbeat, pretty ska number on the theme of unity and coming together that bounces off an irresistible, major-to-minor hook and builds from there. Lost sang it with the same effortless joy as she did in her old band, a poignant reminder of a better time and place before 9/11 and the explosion of multimillion-dollar plastic luxury condos. After about 45 minutes under a makeshift tent provided by the Parks Department, the trio called it an afternoon. The only thing marring the show – other than the awful weather – was the drum machine that kept cutting in and out throughout the set, inevitably returning in places where it was especially unwelcome. Lost and Monroe both have excellent timing: why even bring the thing?

 

Aside from that, if intelligent, fun songwriting is your thing, Washington is someone well worth seeing. Especially if he has Lost and Monroe behind him.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Moody Blues at River Stage, NYC 7/30/90

[Editor’s note: it’s not like we haven’t been out in awhile. The Lenny Molotov/Les Chauds Lapins doublebill at Pete’s last Thursday was a sonic fiasco but excellent nonetheless. A trip upstate over the weekend proved to be no respite from the heat. Back on Monday, we decided to treat ourselves to Chicha Libre’s last Barbes show of the summer (they’ll be back in September after a tour), and then a quick couple of trains over to Williamsburg to catch Rev. Vince Anderson’s first set. But all of these people you know, that is, if you know this site at all (if you don’t, we’ve given these acts a lot of press, because they’re so good: you can find out all about them if you go to the index). In the meantime, to keep the front page fresh, here’s one from way, way back in the day.]

Veteran cosmic rockers the Moody Blues gave a sweeping, majestic performance – far from being over the hill, the band looks better than ever, and the chemistry between band members is impressive. It’s hard to imagine another band looking so relaxed and having such a good time onstage. Their new sound is a mix of lush synth orchestration combined with frontman/guitarist Justin Hayward’s powerful, jangly rhythm playing. The sound mix was superb, especially for an outdoor show, allowing Hayward’s invariably interesting solos and Marty Willson-Piper style chordal work to cut through the huge, majestic wash of string synth. With such an interesting treatment, all the old chestnuts sounded brand-new. They opened with Never Comes the Day, a surprising choice considering that it was an album cut that didn’t get radio airplay, but it set the tone of the night as they dug in and cranked it up loud. Nights in White Satin (without the long spoken-word intro on the album, or the gong at the end, for that matter) was the big crowd-pleaser, also turned into a big, blazing rocker in contrast to the lush, uber-romantic version on the album. Likewise, an energetic version of Tuesday Afternoon was short and sweet. The Voice was surprisingly hot, driven by fiery, distorted Hayward guitar work. Story in Your Eyes was as loud and driving as anticipated, but not up to the level of fury on the record. The high point of the night was a towering, guitar-driven version of I Know You’re Out There Somewhere. With all the cheesy electronics and slick production, the single doesn’t pack much of a punch, but this did. Stripped down to just the four band members – who’ve been together as a unit since Days of Future Passed – along with the duo of backup singers and Patrick Moraz on keys – it was reinvented as a janglerock anthem, Hayward playing his big, vintage red Gretsch with propulsive, clanging fire. Ultimately, it’s a song about redemption, about finally finding your muse after having lost it for a long time, and the longing and exhilaration of that struggle couldn’t have been more intensely put across than it was tonight.

They closed the show segueing from Legend of a Mind into The Question and then their usual closer, the riff-rocking Ride My See-Saw. By the end of the show, we’d finished a whole bottle of rum, smoked probably a pack of Newports and then, seeing the popcorn stand unattended, made off with a gigantic, four-foot brick of crunchy deliciousness that would ultimately last more than a week. No doubt all this enhanced the overall experience.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | Leave a comment