Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: David Kalhous Plays Scarlatti, Beethoven, Janacek and Schumann at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 2/7/09

Saturday at Bargemusic, Prague-educated pianist David Kalhous delivered a program whose stylistic diversity was matched by its surprises. The two Scarlatti sonatas that opened the program were a study in contrast, major and then minor, both performed with the requisite agile counterpoint. Next on the bill was Beethoven’s Six Variations in F, Op.34, which you know even if you don’t recognize it – it’s been a fixture of dinnertime classical music programming for, well, centuries, if you count parts of two of them. It’s not deep, in fact there’s a smug self-satisfaction to it. But it goes well with wine, and it’s fun to play, and there are passages, particularly the nocturne that opens the suite and then recurs at the end of the final movement where a player can stretch out and even get a little rubato and no one will be the wiser. Kalhous played it like he couldn’t wait to get it over with, metronomic, way too fast, absent any meaningful dynamics. One can only wonder why he chose it in the first place.

 

By contrast, his take on the three parts of Janacek’s In The Mists was masterful, intense, passionate and spot-on – perhaps he’s a performer who needs something substantial to bring out everything he can deliver. From the only slightly restrained macabre of the opening Andante, through the eerie cascades of the Andantino and then the somewhat mistitled, suspenseful Presto, Kalhous illuminated it with every veiled shade of menace he could conjure. He closed on an only slightly lighter note with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, all twelve variations. While these were written as exercises, they build somewhat bitterly and dramatically. And with their constant, insistent, fast staccato passages, they’re not easy to play. Kalhous tackled them with a resoundingly successful, cool confidence. He’s a talent you should see, especially if the program has an edge to it.

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February 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 2/6/09

Supposedly it’s a big blogosphere faux pas to review too many shows by one band because it smacks of fandom. Well, dammit, we ARE fans of the Disclaimers. They’re one of those killer bands whose songs are so catchy and so intelligent, and who put on such an intense live show that everybody wonders why they’re not famous. Woops, that’s 80s thinking: it’s been a long time since a major label signed a good band (last time we said that about a band, their independently produced cd got a great distribution deal – here’s hoping lightning strikes twice). This band has everything: tunes, tight musicianship and two charismatic frontwomen in Naa Koshie Mills and Kate Thomason. Thomason set the place on fire last time out; last night was Mills’ turn to steal the spotlight, immaculate in a two-tone black-and-white pencil dress and coordinated stockings (black on the left, white on the right), in addition to a real flower hair accessory to match her co-lead singer and also a big ostrich feather. She also sang and played violin, trombone and keyboards, a pretty good average for somebody who was so under the weather that she had to go off mic and clear her throat when she wasn’t crooning in that effortlessly breathy style of hers.

 

The rest of the band kicked ass too. Keyboardist/guitarist Dan Sullivan didn’t have his Leslie pedal with him, but he still wailed when it came time for his solo in the best song of the night, the scorching, sarcastic janglerock anthem Tiptoe. They’ve rearranged a lot of their songs lately:  Below the Belly of the 7 Train, their opener, now has a macabre organ intro from Sullivan, and a lot of dynamics – they don’t just barrel through it anymore. They did another one that had a beautiful Elvis Costello keyboard pop ballad feel, another equally gorgeous new jangly garage rock song called The Damage Is Done and even a Springsteen cover, a stunningly successful version of No Surrender. When Thomason sang “No retreat, baby, no surrender,” it was as much cajolement as defiance: disbelief was simply not an option. They closed with a typically fiery, snidely powerful version of their usual closer, Get Out of My Nightmares, fueled by Mills’ usual frenetic staccato violin crescendo at the beginning and then at the end. The place wasn’t as jampacked as it was last time they played here but there was a decent crowd, the sound was pristine as always and the crowd was into it. And maybe because of the depression or the cold night, Bedford Avenue was pretty much clear of trendoids and tourists. A sign of things to come? Let’s hope so.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lux Interior – An Appreciation

As pretty much everybody knows by now, Erick Lee Purkhiser AKA Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps died this past Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 62.

 

The Cramps made their mark in the punk scene in the late 70s, which was their moment. Backed by his wife-to-be Poison Ivy’s percussive, clanging, macabre retro guitar, Lux Interior’s mad Elvis persona was completely in touch with the original menace of 50s music, taking it completely over the top. Thousands of punkabilly and ghoulabilly bands followed in their wake; none could ever match the Cramps in intensity or flat-out imagination. Lux Interior was fearless, funny and a consummate showman, a wild live performer who would vault amplifiers, stick the microphone in his mouth, assail the audience or simply stumble around in what appeared to be a drug-induced stupor but which was more likely than not a carefully contrived part of the act. He took an iconic American persona, twisted it inside out and made it forever his own. There may have been a lot of kitsch associated with him but he was anything but a kitschy performer. There will never be another like him.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The JD Allen Trio – I Am I Am

This is one of those rare and beautiful moments in music history. The idiom and the performance may be pure jazz but the concept is pure classical, a theme and variations. Its distant cousins are the Mexican Suite and Sketches of Spain, whose darkly thematic, richly melodic majesty the JD Allen Trio’s latest cd, I Am I Am, shares. It is not an overstatement to put tenor player Allen in the company of Ellington and Miles: this album belongs in that pantheon. If someone has to step up to the plate and declare this a classic, let us be the first to do the honors.

Three things you should know about this cd:

1) There’s a narrative arc to each of the songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word, no lyrics necessary – as well as an overall narrative for the entire suite.

2) Allen is all about melody, although he and his cohorts, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, aren’t averse to a quick sprint around the block when the mood strikes.

3) To steal a phrase that Brad Mehldau has used voluminously, this is an Art of the Trio album. August and Royston are every bit as essential to this project as Allen is. Royston is an aggressive player in the Tain Watts vein – here, he’s like a baseball catcher who beats a path between home plate and the pitching mound. He’s completely in the game. In the same vein as Jim White of the Dirty Three, Royston colors these songs like a pianist, filling in the spaces between the notes and punctuating the phrases as much if not more than simply providing propulsion. One of the most striking aspects of Allen’s arrangements is how he gives all the darkest sections – and these are everywhere – to August. Which for a bass player is like winning the lottery. August digs in for everything he’s worth, with smoldering chords, eerie chromatic passages and stark staccato pulses like bare branches against a winter sky. Then there’s Allen, who as often as not steps around the brooding pools of sound. What he’s doing is not implied melody per se, but it has the same effect, drawing the listener in to the point of practically becoming a participant. One can only imagine what another, bigger band, or a group in a different style of music might do with the songs here: the possibilities are endless.

From the first four, elegant notes of the atmospheric, almost rubato title track, the theme builds pensively and deliberately. The cd’s second cut seems almost a ruse: after blowing by the theme, the trio take a quick sprint in a classic 60s vein. Then the melody returns with a vengeance, sax and drums feeling around for their footing gingerly as the light dims while Royston keeps the path, such as it is, clear of traffic. By the fourth track, Titus, Allen continues to embellish the theme, August anchoring it with casual, chromatically-fueled chordal menace. Royston takes over center stage next, on Louisada, with a methodical, subtly climactic solo that winds up with an almost surf edge (this seems to be a band that listens widely and eclectically). From there, the tension builds again, Allen taking on more of the darkness, passing the baton to August and then, when least expected, he quotes the Godfather Theme. Track nine, Ezekiel has the band trying to outrun the main theme’s latest permutation, but there’s no escape. The suite wraps up with characteristic understatement, opening with a catchy, wary bass introduction, building to a haunting, insistently and unforgettably anthemic ensemble piece, closing with a simple bass chord. There’s also a bonus track afterward that seems to be something for the closing credits, a rather less menacing tune with a considerable resemblance to the opening melody of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond.

All the way through, the understated, seemingly effortless power of the playing, the counterintuitive intelligence of the arrangements and the terse brilliance of the compositions are all breathtaking. Like all the great albums: Kind of Blue, London Calling, From South Africa to South Carolina, ad infinitum, this is a cd that ought to get into a lot of peoples’ DNA, that will enrich lives for time out of mind as it’s passed down from generation to generation. Until then, getting to know it will be like being initiated into a secret society. This album is all you need to get in.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/7/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s is #536:

Lou Reed – Kill Your Sons

 

Bellevue treated me pretty good

Creedmoor was even better…

All those drugs that we took, they really were lots of fun

But when they shot me up with Thorazine

I’d just smoke and talk like a sonofagun

Dontcha know they’re gonna kill, kill your sons.

 

Remember, this was 25 years before Prozac. The 1973 album version is on Sally Can’t Dance; mp3s are everywhere you would expect. The link above is a neat live take from Italy, 1983 with the late Robert Quine on lead guitar.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , | Leave a comment