Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 11/30/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #604:

Burning SpearColumbus

For almost forty years, Burning Spear AKA Winston Rodney has been making brilliant, socially conscious roots reggae. This is arguably his finest song, a wicked slap upside the head of anyone who ever claimed that Columbus “discovered” America. “What about the Arawak Indians?” Spear asks pointedly over one of his most memorable melodies. The album version is fine, but check the usual sites: Spear fans are compulsive collectors, and there are many sensational live versions out there. One particular ten-minute version from Manhattan Center in 1994 with a spectacular piano intro is the best we’ve heard to date.

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November 29, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Teslim’s Hot Debut

Bay area duo Teslim’s new cd is one of the most exciting albums to come over the transom here in recent months. Although it’s all acoustic it’s almost punk rock in its wild, reckless abandon, a couple of virtuoso American musicians having a great time with Middle Eastern modes and motifs.  Violinist Kaila Flexer is an intriguing, genre-blending writer whose previous work has much in common with Jenny Scheinman’s instrumental compositions. Multi-instrumentalist and luthier Gari Hegedus is a primeval force wailing on a museum worth of stringed instruments –  oud, lute, Turkish saz, violin, viola and also percussion – mixed together here into waves of lush jangle, clink and clang with the violin soaring around it. The backstory here is really nice – Flexer called on Hegedus once to sit in on accordion at a gig on very little notice, and then discovered what kind of talent she was dealing with – and what kind of chemistry the two musicians had. The rest – this cd – is history. Prepare to be lifted out of your seat: what doesn’t levitate you will soothe and captivate you.

 

It opens with Camila’s song, peaceful bucolic bluegrass as Kayhan Kalhor might have done it. The cd’s second cut, Ajuar de Novia Galana/Timrxou Street Dojo (a tribute to Hegedus’ Greek luthier friend and aspiring ninja) is a partita, its first part dark and stately, violin over lute, picking up the pace with Hegedus slamming out staccato chords as Flexer adds ambience above the fray. It ends on a beautifully climactic note. Track three, El Meod Na’ala is a march of sorts punctuated by somber dumbek over what sounds like saz, building to ferociously beautiful heights: it’s the kind of track you can play over and over again and never get sick of. After that, Knight of Cups slows down, plaintive violin over minimalist layers of stringed instruments. Azade builds to a fiery dance that just keeps climbing to a sudden, unexpected ending.

 

There’s also an improvisation here, appropriately titled Taxim, layering ambient violin over meandering oud, followed by the bracing, upbeat Stone’s Throw. Kiana’s Waltz builds attractively from its oud intro, violin carrying the melody, then turned over to a harp. Another partita, Elk/High Tide/Yetierre builds slowly and melodically to another dance with gorgeous chromatic work from Flexer with hypnotic violins swirling over the beat of the dumbek. After the gorgeous oud waltz Aley Givah, Petalouda  explodes with oud right off the bat. It’s another scorching dance with layers and layers of jangling fretted instruments, screaming out for the repeat button on the cd player after it finally wraps up. The cd concludes with For a 5/Karsilamas for Sara, a tune for flutes (essentially a Scottish bagpipe melody set a couple of octaves higher), picking up at the end with violin and a lot of strumming. Wow – where were we – get the cd and see for yourself. Watch this space for NYC dates; Teslim’s next show is Dec 20 at 8 PM at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus.

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review – Max Raabe & Palast Orchester – Heute Nacht Oder Nie

Classically trained retro croooner Max Raabe is a big name in Europe. Working strictly in grand style, this is a characteristically ambitious effort (the title translates as Tonight or Never), a double live cd of classic and obscure swing jazz, cabaret, Weimar blues, dancehall numbers and some ballads, most of them from the 1920s. Had Raabe decided to record them in mono with a few pops and crackles, collectors would be going nuts over this stuff. He and his crew have done their homework – this really sounds like the genuine article. It’s not going to appeal to everybody: many will find Raabe’s mannered delivery stilted and completely over the top (rather than singing in character, he is the character). But fans of this stuff won’t be able to resist. For Raabe, life is indeed a cabaret to be savored in all its exquisite decadence. His Teutonic accent only adds to the period ambience. And he’s funny (this is a guy who once did a deadpan, fully orchestrated cover of Oops I Did It Again). His backing band, Palast Orchester is topnotch with lush strings, buoyant horns and incisive, tasteful piano, banjo or tuba authentically filling in the low frequencies. Ultimately, this is festive party music, best enjoyed after a holiday gluwein or three. Most of the songs here are short, three minutes at best. Some have a nostalgic feel, others are exuberant, with a few comedic numbers and instrumental interludes (which are actually the cd’s best moments – this orchestra really cooks). 

 

There’s a fast, amusing oompah song here titled My Little Green Cactus. Their version of Kurt Weill’s Song of Mandalay is more restrained than Brian Carpenter’s but still good. Dream A Little Dream bounces and plinks along, closer to the original than the Mama Cass hit. Likewise, the version of Alabama Song here benefits from a straight-up treatment, far funnier than Jim Morrison’s. Occasionally Raabe will pull out all the stops and show off his operatic chops; one song features a solo on the spoons. The tuba also takes center stage on a couple of occasions. Campy? Sometimes, yes. But it’s a good party. Fans of the A-list of the American oldtimey revivalists – the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jolie Holland, the Moonlighters, les Chauds Lapins et al. will enjoy getting acquainted with Herr Raabe and his mischievous crew.

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Song of the Day 11/29/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #605:

Penelope Houston – Living Dolls

The Avengers’ frontwoman has also enjoyed a spectacular good if vastly underrated career as an acoustic songwriter. This is one of her best early solo songs, a darkly imagistic, minor-key tableau, figures hiding in the shadows in some nameless terror state. Even more relevant today than when originally released in 1985. From the cd Birdboys (also still available on high-quality cassette!).

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment