Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Claudia Acuna Sextet at Rose Bar, Brooklyn NY 12/30/08

Game plan was to peek in to catch a little of what Brooklyn Rider violinist Johnny Gandelsman and his violist cousin Ljova from the Kontraband were up to at Barbes before heading over to Williamsburg. This time out it was just the two of them making their way through some Mozart, a trio of Martinu madrigal arrangements and then a Ljova original with characteristic passion matched by steely elan. As it turned out, it would have been possible to stick around for their whole set and even have time for a stop afterward at the wonderful oldschool donut shop on 7th Avenue by the subway, considering that Chilean/American jazz chanteuse Claudia Acuna and her brilliantly terse backing band didn’t hit the stage til an hour after their schedule showtime. But no matter.

 

Throughout her hourlong set, Acuna showed off a casual sophistication with a raw, soulful edge and an impressive social awareness. She doesn’t play coy or seductive; hopes and dreams are what she’s all about, and she’s generous about sharing them. In her matter-of-fact mezzo-soprano, she took a thoughtful, heartfelt, heartwarming excursion through a mix of older and more recent material, saving any kind of vocal embellishment for where she absolutely needed to drive the point home: unlike a lot of jazz singers, lyrics are crucial to this performer. As intricate and cerebral as the show was with its tricky time signatures and subtle but frequently intense interplay, ultimately it was all soul music.

 

The band played seamlessly: because of the similarity between the textures of the guitar and Jason Lindner’s electric piano, it was often hard to tell who was playing what. They opened with a bubbly, amusing tune titled Cigarrito, amusingly chronicling the misadventures of a guy who rolls his own. Color de Suenos (The Color of Dreams) was half flamenco, half George Benson, edgy with a slow burn as the guitarist added dark accents over Lindner’s cascading Fender Rhodes. The dreamy, hopeful Tulum built to a nice crescendo, Acuna’s steadfast vocalese holding it together as the intensity grew.

 

Acuna likes cold endings, and the offhandedly caustic La Mentira (Liar) made excellent use of one after one of Lindner’s spacey, echoey Rhodes solos. She also sang a couple of numbers in flawless English: one over a pulsing, straight-up groove, imagining a better world than the painful, poverty-stricken one we live in, and a prayer delivered over a steady reggae beat, eventually coming down to a lusciously fat, minimalist bass solo (when the bassist takes the best solo of the night, you know either something’s dreadfully wrong, or the band is flat-out amazing).

 

The night’s best songs came at the end. The first opened with a vamp reminiscent of the Bill Withers classic Use Me, Lindner’s electric piano rivulets shadowing the guitarist’s tersely aggressive, almost hostile melody line. The encore was the high point of the night, pounding, dark and fiery with distorted guitar. When it came time for Lindner to solo, he turned his distortion up for a horror movie setting, climbing to angry crescendos punctuated by roaring bass chords. And then it ended, much too soon. Watch this space for upcoming shows by Acuna and her band.

 

And if you’re a latin music fan and you haven’t been to Rose Bar lately, you ought to. The sound is excellent and the vibe is remarkably casual for a club that draws as much first-class, big-ticket talent as they’ve had here over the last several months. 

 

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bill Frisell – History, Mystery

Hey, have you heard the latest Bill Frisell cd? He’s not the kind of artist we usually review here, because to do so would be somewhat redundant. The guitarist routinely takes a weeklong stand at the Vanguard and sells out, and does the same at much larger halls around the world, so he doesn’t exactly need any more press than he already gets. But in case you don’t know him, you should. How to describe? Sort of the anti Al DiMeola. Every year, Frisell leads the league in the Fewest Wasted Notes category. He makes everything he plays count. Unsurprisingly, his style is thoughtful and exploratory, with a warm, conversational vibe. He set the paradigm for that on his 2004 double live cd East, West, which is like being in Frisell’s living room for a late night hang –  everybody’s had a bunch of wine, then Frisell plugs in his guitar and starts exploring. This one follows in the same vein but much darker: the eerie opening chords sound straight out of the Big Lazy songbook.

 

Also a double live cd, it’s arranged as a suite with a lot of recurring themes. The first cd centers around two recurrent melodies, Probability Cloud and Struggle, both considerably apprehensive. Led by the string section (Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and vet Hank Roberts on cello), the supporting cast here typically goes for a somewhat austere, ambient feel, cornetist Ron Miles or saxist Greg Tardy stepping out with some boisterously bluesy playing when the mood calls for it. The rhythm section (Tony Scherr on bass and the redoubtable Kenny Wollesen on drums) follows Frisell, keeping it beautifully terse and simple. And Frisell keeps it counterintuitive. The Baboucar Traore African desert blues gets a light, breezy blue-sky treatment; the Sam Cooke standard Change Is Gonna Come, by contrast, starts out with a sweet, purist vibe and then gets dark fast. Frisell knows that change is scary, change looming in the distance, barrelling down on you in the same lane at sixty miles an hour and you’d better do some changing yourself, quick. And then he brings the darkness back quickly with Monk’s Jackie-ing.

 

The album’s second cd is much the same, with a couple more recurring themes, this time more upbeat and traditional-sounding with the cornet and sax taking a higher profile. But like East, West, it’s the first of the two cds that you come back to time and time again: if you could call it an “album side” – actually, it’s a whole album – it’s one of the alltime great ones. Frisell is about to embark on a weeklong stand at the Blue Note starting January 6 through 11 with a couple of other first-class composers, drummer Paul Motian and iconic bassist Ron Carter, a unit especially likely to work up some serious alchemy.

 

See you here tomorrow. Happy New Year!

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/31/08

Our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. New Years Eve’s is #574:

The Coffin Daggers – Mr. Moto

The best version of what may be the greatest surf rock instrumental ever, even if the Coffin Daggers never officially released this particular one. Theirs is scorching punk rock with distorted guitar and eerie Wurlitzer organ, sounding something like Hunter S. Thompson gingerly getting out of bed, gun in hand, the shadows just beginning to fall outside. Not at the usual mp3 sites, although frequently bootlegged. Surf around (pun intended) and see what you find!

December 31, 2008 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | Leave a comment