Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 12/18/08

If you’re going out this weekend 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 #587:

Dead Prez – They Schools

A hip-hop companion piece to Schools Are Prisons by the Sex Pistols/Ex-Pistols. This is a terse, defiant and spot-on look at why so many inner city residents find public school absolutely irrelevant, simply a type of incarceration preparing kids for life behind bars and nothing else. From the 2000 cd Let’s Get Free.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Zikrayat – Live at Lotus

Zikrayat is Arabic for “memories.” Led by virtuoso violinist Sami Abu Shumays, this New York-based Middle Eastern combo have admirably dedicated themselves to reviving classic and obscure songs from the golden age of Egyptian cinema, from the late 40s to the 60s. This live cd, recorded completely acoustic so as to recreate the feel of the originals, does justice to the material while adding a brilliant, even psychedelic improvisational edge. Since most of the fourteen tracks here are songs from movies, the version of the group that recorded this (they’ve gone through numerous lineup shifts) included a trio of dancers whose occasional percussion and vocal contributions only enhance the songs’ authentic feel.

 

Most of what’s here is beautiful, haunting Levantine dance music driven by hand drum and percussion, violin and ney flute sailing over the hypnotic, sometimes rumbling beat, low frequencies anchored by the oud. On one song, Shumays switches to rababa, the rustic-tinged traditional Egyptian fiddle. The group handle the melodic interplay with a playful aplomb, violin and flute frequently doubling each others’ lines, working both sides of a call-and-response with each other or with the vocals. Ghaida, the vocalist is nothing short of sensational: when she takes off and vocalises an improvisation, the crowd responds immediately to her eerie yet warmly intimate trills and glissandos.

 

The cd opens with the beautifully slinky nocturne Yamma I Amar Aal Baab from the romantic film Tamr Hinma, the piece that Shumays credited with inspiring this project. A thoughtful, exploratory, subtly crescendoing oud taqsim (improvisation) by Brian Prunka follows, then after that another hypnotic film song, Imta Hataaraf, featuring several gripping vocal breaks by Ghaida.  Sardonically, the cd liner notes characterize the famous Mohamed Abdel Wahab number Aziza as “the most overplayed belly-dance piece in the repertory,” yet Zikrayat’s interpretation manages to breathe new life into its dark intro and outro while not taking any chances with the predictable, somewhat cheesy midsection. There’s also a somewhat Western pop tune, a delectable and all-too-brief ney solo from Bridget Robbins and a stunning closing cut featuring Shumays’ rababa, ominously booming drums and a trick ending before it fades out. World music fans will devour this. If there’s any one criticism of the cd, it’s that when the pace picks up and the drums really kick in, the oud is sometimes inaudible. It would be easy to say that the problem could have been fixed by close-miking the oud, but it’s also possible that would have been a moot point considering the sonic quality – or lack thereof – in the room.

 

While Zikrayat’s present lineup is considerably stripped-down, the music never ceases to entrance and captivate, as a recent Barbes gig proved. Shumays is also an intriguing and innovative composer whose passion for this kind of music is matched by an equally improvisational, exploratory feel. Watch this space for upcoming NYC area shows.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Aimee Mann – Fucking Smilers

[Editor’s note: we’re scrambling to play catchup here. With our end-of-the-year best-of lists coming out next week, it wouldn’t make sense to have anything on the list that we hadn’t found worthy of a full review. Right? Therefore, this one, a bit, umm, behind the eightball…]

If you’ve ever visited the “about” section here (above), you’ll remember that Lucid Culture isn’t supposed to be the place to look for the latest news on Aimee Mann (plenty of other sites offer all that and more: we like it better deep in the shadows, under the radar). So this is old news about Aimee Mann written for all three of you who don’t already have this cd. In two words: get it. The cd cover says @#$% Smilers, no doubt a concession to the Walmarts of the world. Probably the best guess as to what the Sad Eyed Lady of La-La Land really means is “Fucking Smilers” – “Fuck Smilers” is too punk rock, it doesn’t fit with her trademark sotto-voce exasperation. Musically, this is pretty much the same as what she’s been doing for the past fifteen years or so, a mix of beautifully melodic, lyrically-driven, slightly Beatlesque ballads, mostly slow to midtempo. What’s new is the mix of vintage 70s synthesizers and electric piano here, much in the same vein as on REM’s big 1999 comeback cd, Reveal. You’ll recognize the settings from a lot of cheesy 70s AM radio hits, but in the capable, purist hands of bassist/producer Paul Bryan they don’t sound cheesy at all. Mann’s chords still shift ominously from major to minor; her voice has grown even darker, taking on an even greater wariness and subtlety. It may have taken her more than a decade, but she’s become one of the alltime great song stylists.

 

But the rage hasn’t subsided one iota. The cd’s opening track Freeway is a typically cynical swipe at La La Land yuppies, with an outro that goes on far too long. Borrowing Time is Mann at her offhandedly savage best, a cautionary tale about the worst kind of golddigger, the kind who’ll leave you with a child support bill, vintage 70s synth filtering in over a bouncy Penny Lane beat. The stark, 6/8 It’s Over, the slow piano ballad Medicine Wheel, the ragtimish duet Ballantines and the subtly gorgeous Columbus Avenue all share a quietly gloating schadenfreude, watching irresponsible men pay the price of their selfcenteredness (one of them puts his kid on amphetamines). Little Tornado is a stark, death-obsessed acoustic song, wishing the little twister would pick up speed and wreak some real damage. Mann also reverts to familiar territory with a couple of urgent, somewhat desperate “get the hell out before it’s too late” anthems, 31 Today and The Great Beyond, echoes of Ghost World from Bachelor No. 2. What else is there to say about this: add this to the pantheon along with Magnolia and Lost in Space and the rest of Mann’s consistently brilliant output.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Matt Keating – Quixotic

His best album, one of the most sonically delicious cds of 2008. Since his 1993 debut Tell It To Yourself, Matt Keating has been making gorgeously melodic, jangly rock, sometimes veering off into Americana (as was the case with his previous one Summer Tonight, reviewed here in our infancy). Much like his contemporary Steve Wynn, Keating’s songwriting is sharply literate, frequently dark and menacing. This double cd is a career-defining moment, a lush blend of guitar textures, evocative imagery and vocals loaded with tension, apprehension and alienation. To find an album this long and loaded with as much good stuff, you have to go all the way back to 2000 and another career-defining double cd, Wynn’s Here Come the Miracles. This is that good. Keating plays most of the guitars and keyboards here along with some sensationally terse, incisive lead work from guitarist Duane Jarvis and an equally terse rhythm section of Jason Mercer on bass and Jordan Richardson on drums. The result mixes catchy janglerock anthems with eerie, 60s style noir songs along with a couple of garage-rock numbers and countryish tunes.

 

By the numbers: eight big anthems, ranging from fiery and ferocious (the anti-Iraq war broadside Sorry Son) to ominous and bitter (the cd’s concluding cut Book of Changes); a soul song with a sweet 60s feel; three noir 60s style numbers with haunting, twangy reverb guitar and dark lyrics; a snarling, retro garage riff-rock song; four brooding, cynical country-flavored tunes (the best being the vivid, 2008 depression-era summertime tableau Leave or You Leave It Alone); a torchy, organ-driven blues with a long psychedelic outro; a tongue-in-cheek, macabre instrumental fragment as Owen Bradley might have done it; and a scorching, slow, slashing anti-conformist satire, Skin and Bone:

 

Sold my soul to the company store

Sold my soul but they wanted some more

So I gave my body to an early grave

Think of all the money we’ll save

Go man go, get before it’s gone

Then just fall asleep on the lawn

Wake up in the morning dew

Blame the grass just ‘cos it grew

The ground underneath gave way…

Went to the cave, rolled back the stone

All I found was skin and bone

 

And a partridge in a pear tree. Get this for the Elvis Costello fan in your life who’s grown weary of Costello trying to become his dad; sneak this into the hands of the Tom Petty or Daughtry fan in your life and raise their expectations a little. You’ll see this on our best cds of 2008 list in a week or so. Matt Keating is a fiery, charismatic live performer; fresh off an East Coast tour, he’ll undoubtedly be doing a New York date or two in the next couple of months, watch this space for details.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Memoriam – 31Grand Gallery

Edgy Art Central is closing. For nine years, Megan Bush and Heather Stephens pushed the envelope, giving more space to irreverent, important, funny, provocative, cutting-edge artists than practically any other gallery in New York. They were good when they were in Williamsburg and when they made the move to Ludlow Street last year, there weren’t many shows or openings that we missed. It was at 31Grand that we discovered the extraordinary work of Francesca Lo Russo, Barnaby Whitfield, Jason Clay Lewis, Jeph Gurecka and many others.

 

According to their press release, “Megan Bush continues to work as an independent stylist while chasing after Polly the chihuahua and 4-year-old Henry. Heather Stephens continues to art direct at the Wall Street Journal and is joining Black & White Gallery in Chelsea.” Black & White share Stephens’ edgy vision and ought to benefit tremendously. The closing party at 31Grand is Saturday Dec 20 at 6; join us and we’ll reminisce.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Art, New York City | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 12/17/08

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. Wednesday’s is #588:

Steve Ulrich and Jeremiah Lockwood – The Children Rejoice

Written by Lockwood, the multistylistic guitar genius behind Sway Machinery, this absolutely gorgeous, twangy, reverb-laden instrumental gets really eerie with just a hint of klezmer. One of the best tunes that this duo used to play during a riveting series of shows around NYC circa 2006-07, Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Ulrich adding his own trademark sinister touch. Unreleased, although there are a few bootlegs kicking around.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment