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

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