Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mendelssohn in the Romantic Century: Gail Archer at the Organ at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University, 2/18/09

Organ virtuoso Gail Archer is no stranger to regular readers here: her series of Messiaen recitals around New York last year drew a lot of notice, the final concert making our Top 20 concerts of the year list, and sharing the #1 spot on Time Out NY’s list (nice to see our colleagues over there paying attention!). This year, she’s moved from the haunting, otherworldly tones of Messiaen to the vigorous, optimistic melodicism of Mendelssohn, this being the 200th anniversary of his birth. The series, titled Mendelssohn in the Romantic Century explores the composer’s place in his era, which is interesting because although these days he often gets lumped in with the Romantics, he was retro at the time. Mendelssohn once remarked that he thought it ironic that it would take the son of a Jew to ressurect interest in Bach, and his organ works, including two sonatas that Archer tackled with playful abandon, look straight back at old Johann Sebastian (there’s actually a family connection: Mendelssohn’s mother studied piano with a J.S. Bach protege).

 

The first of these recitals at Central Synagogue last month saw Archer pulling out a rare, all-too-brief piece by Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny. Last night, the Barnard College Music Department Chair ran through a strikingly different program of mostly happy, upbeat material. Mendelssohn’s Sonata #3 was aptly ebullient, ending on a quieter yet equally warm note with the adagio; Sonata #2 was a methodically confident stroll through somewhat darker territory. Then the program got truly Romantic with a choice trio of Brahms Choral Preludes (One, Two and Ten), old hymnal melodies and variations ranging from wistfulness in the first to a more mysterious vein in the tenth. She closed the evening with Max Reger’s Morningstar Prelude, a knotty, cerebral, difficult tour de force and met the challenge with aplomb, even pulling out all the string stops for a spine-tingling crescendo at the very end. Archer continues the series on March 11 at 7:30 PM at Central Synagogue in midtown: classical music fans would be crazy to miss it.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Clayton Brothers – Brother to Brother

Beautifully oldschool, golden-age late 50s/early 60s style jazz by this highly regarded mostly family unit. Everybody in the Clayton Brothers has a distinct persona, although they all break character and surprise from time to time. Bandleader/bassist John Clayton is the suave one; his sax-playing brother Jeff is the party animal. Trumpeter Terell Stafford is the hard hitter, drummer Obed Calvaire (John Clayton’s “adopted” son) the no-nonsense purist with a BS detector set to stun, with pianist Gerald Clayton (John’s kid) the clear star of the show, a powerhouse player with a vivid, often plaintive tone and a devious sensibility that really rears its head live but also cuts through the arrangements here from time to time, as if to say, did you just hear me do that? Are you listening? In so doing, he sets the standard here: they’re all pushing each other hard, and having a good time in the process. This is a great ipod album.

 

It’s a concept cd, a tribute to brother combos in jazz throughout the ages: the Joneses (Elvin, Hank and Thad); Cannonball and Nate Adderley; Monty Alexander and his singer brother Larry; Kenny Burrell and his bassist brother Billy, and others. As you’d expect, there’s a chemistry in the playing here which lights a fire under the crew who aren’t actually blood relatives. The first track is an Elvin Jones tribute, Wild Man, a Jeff Clayton tune punctuated by numerous false endings and some marvelously terse playing by Calvaire that spins off plenty of Elvin tropes without seeming derivative. Stafford and Gerald Clayton both put a bright, vivid spin on it.

 

With a marathon swing in its step and a nod to the Nat Adderley classic More Work, John Clayton’s Still More Work lopes along tirelessly for over ten minutes, highlighted by another glistening Gerald Clayton solo. A cover of Nat Adderley’s Jive Samba gets a wickedly suspenseful treatment, driven by hypnotic, pulsing bass and a Jeff Clayton solo that hints at suspense just enough to create an atmosphere of unease; the Jeff Clayton jump blues Big Daddy Adderleys pays tribute to the whole family, buoyed by playful solos by just about everybody. 

 

The best song on the cd is Kenny Burrell’s Bass Face, done here with a gorgeously terse, catchy So What kind of vibe with sax and trumpet in tandem, counterintuitively melodic, chromatic bass and a noir Twin Peaks feel at the end. From the Keter Betts (Ella Fitzgerald’s last bassist) songbook comes the popular comedy number Walking Bass (bassist goes out to tie one along and brings the bass along – lookout world!), then a plaintive, Monty Alexander-inspired version of the old Broadway standard Where Is Love, and a latin-inflected Jeff Clayton tune, the Jones Brothers, wrapping up the cd on a high note with soulful contributions from the whole crew. Get this for your jazz snob friend who thinks the world stopped when we lost Trane; or for your avant-inclined friend who never heard the classic stuff done like this. All of the players in the group maintain busy schedules with and outside of this project: watch this space for New York dates.

 

In the same way that classical composers plied their craft throughout the ages, this ArtistShare cd was put out by a base of fans who backed the production (anybody remember Bowie bonds?): it ought to pay dividends that extend beyond the excellence of the music.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ten Pound Heads

Ten Pound Heads play purist, dark, artsy, ballsy rock with the kind of lush, gorgeously intricate arrangements you hardly ever see anymore since record labels stopped putting bands up in the studio for months on end. Layers and layers and layers of guitar, ringing, roaring, clanging, pinging, strumming: you name something a guitar can do, it’s on this cd. Sometimes psychedelic, sometimes startlingly direct, either way this is a stunningly smart, potent album. Songwise, the whole cd has an indelibly New York noir feel, both lyrically and musically – this is the great long-lost mid-70s Blue Oyster Cult album, only smarter.

 

The first cut is All Hands On Deck, a darkly growling, pounding midtempo rocker more than a little evocative of Steve Wynn’s great first band the Dream Syndicate at their mid-80s peak. There’s a long outro where finally at the end the band falls out marvelously, dropping down to just the hypnotic acoustic guitar lick that’s been propelling the whole thing. This World follows, a sad, downbeat ballad with a thoughtful blend of acoustic and electrics.

 

Johnny Box O’Doughnuts is a big garagey riff-rocker, a spot-on funny noir New York character study about a wannabe gangster. Another riff-rocker, the wah-wah driven Snake in the Grass sneers at the creeps who make up a large percentage of the drug underworld. The beautifully ominous Paint Manhattan Black motors along on a fast eight-note new wave bassline over an eerie current of organ and guitar. Sweet, brief heavy metal outro. The tensely suspenseful Back to L.A. maintains the gleefully evil vibe, getting several steps closer to completely unhinged on the pummeling Hell or High Water. Finally, we get an extended guitar solo and it hits the spot head-on.

 

With its understatedly melancholy, George Harrison-inflected chorus, One for the Record speaks for generations of good musicians who put on thousands of good shows but never quite made it (one suspects this may be true of some of the band members). After the tongue-in-cheek My Guitar Is an Alien, the cd wraps up with the brooding What You Said, hauntingly stark electric guitar over funereal drums. Behind the board, Martin Bisi does an admirably purist take on what Sandy Pearlman (fans of the Dream Syndicate – or the Clash, for that matter – will appreciate the reference) might have done in the producer’s chair. If nothing else, this album has lasting power: it will be a hit with the cognoscenti and haunt some of the best obscure corners of the internet for as many years as it’s around. Watch this space for NYC area live shows.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

First-rate noir rock by probably the first-ever good band to be frontpaged at the CMJ site. On My Blacks Don’t Match, Gaines’ second cd, the musicianship is terrific, the songs are inspired and tuneful, the arrangements are purist and even the production is first-class.  If you can get past the vocals with this – indie rock types won’t notice or care, but purists will have a hard time with some of them – you’re in for a real treat. The weak link here is Gaines himself, who sang perfectly fine on his previous cd Hit or Miss but now seems to be flailing all over the place for an identity – he can’t decide whether he wants to be Nick Cave or Tom Waits, when who he really ought to be is himself. Drop the pose, drop the persona, guy, you’ll be glad you did someday.

 

Much of this cd will remind New York fans of the weary, 4 AM gutter jazz poetry of Blasco Ballroom spiced with anthemic Nick Cave Romanticism, Leonard Cohen gloom, boozy Waits saloon jazz and even the ominous nocturnalia of Botanica. The cd kicks off with Nightshade, a fast noir blues with a gypsy tinge a la Firewater before they went all South Asian. Track two, She Says She Does is sardonic, minimalist and dismissive, somewhere between Steve Wynn and vintage Iggy with acoustic guitar and a vintage soul horn chart. “The hits get harder/The kisses get shorter/Find me a porter/I can’t carry these bags anymore,” Gaines complains.

 

The snide anti-nostalgia anthem Good Old Days (Wash Away) builds to a fast, scurrying chorus with more horns soaring over dirty guitars: “What’s so good about the good old days?” Snowdrift is a dead ringer for Nick Cave in stark ballad mode, guitar feedback ringing eerily in the distance for extra ambience. The low-key noir vibe continues with the laid-back Tripped Down Memory and its tasty bed of watery flanged guitars.

 

Hey Napoleon, with its Peter Gunn bassline, Keystone Kops horns and careening guitar reverts to a vintage Firewater feel; Midnight, which follows, brings it down again with its strung-out wee-hours atmospherics: “I see no reason why I should be sincere.” The Litterati is an imaginative, pretty spot-on spoof of an unlikely target; Hallelujahville is a smartly sarcastic, swaying country ballad that screams out for a deadpan, unaffected lead vocal. The cd winds up with the Lou Reed-inflected Very Different Times and and the actually somewhat anguished Speechless: “I broke my fingers keeping them crossed for you/And the cross I bear is broken too.” Give this band credit, they really know their noir. This is one of those albums that sounds better the later the hour and the smaller the crowd – and foreshadows even better things for the band as they evolve. Darren Gaines and the Key Party play the cd release show for this one at 8 PM on March 14 at the Gershwin Hotel.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/19/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Today’s song is #524:

Midnight Oil – E-Beat

Late-period  brilliance from the legendary Australian art-rockers’ Breathe cd, 1996, Jim Moginie doing double duty adding both eerie lead guitar and eerie oldtime analog synth while the band clangs and roars behind frontman (and current Australian Environment Minister) Peter Garrett. You want prophetic? “We gotta prick that bubble in the shopping arcade.”

February 19, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment