Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Brooklyn Rider at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 12/10/08

Playing to a standing-room crowd in the back room of a Brooklyn bar, innovative string quartet Brooklyn Rider delivered a riveting, intense performance of some impressively eclectic material ranging from traditional Iranian and Armenian folksongs to classical and contemporary compositions. As visceral and intense as most of the set was, and as ever-present as the temptation to simply cut loose and go for the jugular must have been, the quartet managed to stay within themselves, maintaining a remarkable restraint and an uncannily subtle sense of dynamics. This made the crescendos – and there were a whole lot of them – all the more exhilarating.

 

They began with Ascending Bird, a traditional Persian tune from their innovative and sensationally good new cd Silent City, a collaboration with noted kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor. The melody illustrates a sort of Icarus myth and was as rousingly fiery and stormy as the recorded version, violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen dexterously blending textures, whether plucking or playing wild sheets of melody. They followed with a set of their own arrangements of Armenian folksongs from their debut cd Passport. Most of these were very dark, including a couple of sad waltzes, one of them highlighted by some eerily emphatic doublestops from violist Nicholas Cords.

 

They then tackled Bartok’s Second String Quartet. Those sitting closest to the band had no choice but to confront the demons: this is an unabashedly violent, angry and strange work, a brave and marvelously affecting selection. Seizing on the typically Bartokian atonalities and a series of jarring ninth intervals, they built to a big, insistent devil’s choir of tritones, cellist Eric Jacobsen bringing a percussive, fiery attack to the low frequencies. As the second movement began, they brought out every bit of knowing suspicion in the opening theme, climbing to a mocking crescendo as the disonnances grew, all the way to a sarcastic, faux-Beethoven four-note coda: the end, goodbye. By contrast, the third movement was exhausted, mournful, defeated, a study in clinical depression. Bartok from a distance may seem offputting and weird; Bartok in this group’s hands became impossible to look away from. The audience didn’t know how to respond.

 

Composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, leader of another sensationally good string band, Ljova and the Kontraband was in the audience and at this point interjected some welcome, characteristic humor: the seat next to him was empty, so, echoing Rod Blagojevich, he announced that he was auctioning it off to the highest bidder. The band rewarded him for his participation with a stirringly slinky version of a Finnish tango that he’d arranged, remarkable in its evocation of Piazzolla. The group further demonstrated their versatility on a Norwegian folksong that alternated between big-sky ambience and a rousing dance, the lush, hypnotic Ljova partita Plume (also from Passport) and closed with an intriguing cover of the Cafe Tacuba hit La Muerte Chiquita, Jacobsen’s subtle, deftly placed slides and accents enhancing its eerie ambience. For anyone wishing for another rare chance to see this group literally up close and personal, they’re playing Nublu on Ave. C on Dec 17 at 9.

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/11/08

If you’re going out this week and wonder where our constantly updated NYC live music calendar went, it’s here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1.

Thursday’s is #593:

REM – Disturbance at the Heron House

Today we go mainstream, 80s style – but good – with this slow, methodically jangly, lustrously growling anthem from Document, the 1986 album where they turned up the guitars for the first time. This is one of the first REM songs with any kind of antiwar, anti-authoritarian feel, amorphous as the lyrics may be. Available wherever files are shared.

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Elvis Costello – Momofuku

“I don’t watch tv,” said Elvis Costello, recently discussing his new tv show. “I wouldn’t watch it.” Consider: the greatest English-language songwriter in the history of the universe has to take a cheesy cable talk show host gig to pay the bills. Sign of the times or what? If there’s been one single must-own cd released this year, this is it, if only to get the King off the small screen and back in the studio or on the stage where he belongs.

 

Musically and lyrically, this ranks just below his dozen or so best (name another songwriter with a dozen classic albums to his credit: Richard Thompson, maybe? You have to look hard to find another). Put another way, it’s one of the best albums of the year. This is yet another of Costello’s periodic returns to his new wave roots, lots of loud melodic guitar and organ. Ostensibly conceived, written and recorded within the span of a week on a long stray whim after recording a Jenny Lewis cameo, that claim probably has only a small basis in fact (Costello demos his material to what would be certain death for any other composer). However, there’s a directness, a freshness and terseness here that ranks, if maybe not with Armed Forces, then certainly on par with Punch the Clock or Trust. Vocally, Costello has worn as many different hats as he’s put on as a songwriter and this one finds him back in slightly restrained punk/pop mode a la When I Was Cruel or Brutal Youth with the occasional detour into second-generation, second rate R&B. Most of this is a welcome return to Costello the psychopathologist finding the inner twistedness of everything he encounters with characteristically slashing, effortless grace.

 

He comes out swinging with No Hiding Place, distorted guitar and organ roaring into a catchy upbeat chorus, a broadside about the shallowness of celebrity:

 

Next time someone wants to hurt you

Or set alight your effigy

Don’t call on me to help you out

Don’t come crying to me for sympathy

You stay there with your daubs and scratches

While I summon up the red machine

I’ll be handing somebody matches

And carrying a can of kerosene

 

It sounds a lot like My Little Blue Window, from When I Was Cruel. The next track American Gangster Time is punkish with trebly Farfisa organ, like something from This Year’s Model but louder and a whole lot ruder. Like pretty much every other human being on earth, Costello can’t wait til the Bush regime is over, and this is an appropriate sendoff, complete with graphic description of a blowjob. Turpentine, with its clanging distorted guitar over fast rumbling percussion is a rueful look back on a lifetime of boozing (Costello doesn’t drink anymore) that manages to avoid being maudlin.

 

 

With the same bouncing beat as When I Was Cruel and some blippy organ, Harry Worth knowlingly chronicles the disillution of a marriage: “He said did you hear that noise, well that once was our song.” Costello really pushes his vocals on the fiery, distorted guitar narrative Stella Hurt, right from the start and that Hendrix quote that he loves to use. This one tells the bleak story of a singer used and then forgotten by an autocratic regime, with a long noise guitar outro. Mr. Feathers is piano-based noir cabaret as LJ Murphy would do it, building to a poppy Penny Lane chorus, a twisted look at a lecher. 

 

Kicking off with a haunting 12-string intro and a troubling, complex series of chords, layers of guitars and piano over Pete Thomas’ steady backbeat, Song With Rose guardedly looks for some hope in the same vein as some of Steve Wynn’s recent work:

 

Love like a wraith never made me afraid

Consoled as I was by that shade

 

Then Costello follows that with the snide, matter-of-factly despairing Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve, an impressively feminist parable where Eve says get the hell away from that guy, he’s no good:

 

I came back looking for my man,

Wandered everywhere and then

Stood outside and gazed upon a beautiful garden,

A shimmering pond

See the sunlight on the leaves that dapple

Do you see my little teethmarks on the apple?

Don’t close the door on my hand I’m offering

There is always someone on the outside

Doing all of the suffering.

 

The only real clunker on the cd is My Three Sons, a pretty melody with wretchedly sentimental lyrics. Unless this is a sarcastic song about George Bush Sr., it’s just plain awful. Still, after more than three decades since My Aim Is True came out, it’s nothing short of astonishing that Costello can still reach back and deliver the same power, intensity and relevance that he does here. You’ll see this as a rare concession to something popular (relative term, these days – if he was so popular, he wouldn’t have to do that tv show) on our top 50 cds of the year list at the end of the month. 

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment