Lucid Culture


CD Review: Chango Spasiuk – Pynandi: los Descalzos

Last year it was chicha music from Peru, this year it’s chamame, hill country music from the north of Argentina that’s the latest style to be plundered from El Sur. As with Chicha Libre, Argentinian accordionist Chango Spasiuk, the guy doing the plundering here adds his own individual, intelligent touch to the style. Blending violin, guitar and sparse percussion in the background along with his squeezebox, the cd (whose title is regional slang for “country bumpkin”) is a mostly upbeat, rousingly rustic mix of originals offering an inspired update on a style little-known outside its own turf. Spasiuk is best-known as an intense live performer, projecting himself here as a strong yet tasteful ensemble player, letting the violin or the guitar carry most of the melody. 


The cd kicks off with a happy, upbeat dance, Terra Colorada and then the darkly beautiful, atmospheric tango-inflected El Camino, in 12/8 time, ending with spooky, distant violin washes against starkly incisive acoustic guitar. Spasiuk’s Suite Noreste is a sprightly theme and variations featuring a big violin cadenza. Track five, Senor O, with sparse, mournful accordion and then sparse, pensive guitar segues into a beautiful, sad waltz appropriately titled Tristeza. From there on it’s back to the happy stuff with Infancia (Childhood), violin playfully gliding in the background behind Spasiuk’s warm, predictably nostalgic chordal work.


The clouds return with another pretty waltz, Viejo Caballo Alazan, a vocal number, then the pace picks up again. The rest of the album alternates waltzes – Panambi (Mariposa), i.e. Butterfly being a highlight, building from a wrenchingly beautiful waltz with vocalese to a big crescendo and then back again – alongside simple, straight-up dance numbers. Spasiuk is a big star in Argentina, doing with this what Carlos Vives did with vallenato in Colombia. The style may not be well known yet, but this cd is accessible enough to gain a wide following with the gypsy music crowd or for that matter latin music fans in general. Be the first on your block to know what it is. Chango Spasiuk plays Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on Mar 27 at 7:30 PM.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Bill Frisell and Viola Boldt at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/3/09

In a rare duo show with Viola Boldt – a Lucinda Williams sidewoman who plays violin – Bill Frisell reaffirmed his reputation as the most important and most captivating jazz guitarist of our time. In the same vein as his performance on the landmark double live cd East/West, it was a characteristically casual yet absolutely riveting show, like being in his living room. Literally, because Barbes is a small place. It was no surprise that for anyone who arrived close to showtime, it was impossible to get inside the small inner room where the two were playing until at least a half-hour into their long, practically two-hour set. Mixing originals with some surprising covers, the two let the melodies unwind slowly and conversationally, Boldt aptly providing atmospheric, sometimes stark sheets of sound against Frisell’s deliberate, warmly melodic, thoughtfully chordal pacing.


Frisell’s style has evolved to the point where it is neither highly ornamented nor particularly flashy. He adheres to the principles of minimalism – not a single wasted note – yet his sound is full, no matter how few notes he may be playing. His tempos were typically slow and ruminative, yet he always remained a step ahead of the listener, using mostly downstrokes and employing nonstandard tuning [sounded like dropped D – anyone at the show actually get close to the stage?]. What was most impressive was that he didn’t even employ his trusty loop pedal, nor for that matter any effects: it was just a man and his guitar and a violinist who understood perfectly what was going on and became an integral part of it.


Most of the show featured Frisell’s trademark melodic, invitingly contemplative, Americana-inflected sonic vistas, the high point being a gorgeous, understatedly clanging cover of Ventura by Lucinda Williams. As the outro came around, Frisell grinned and effortlessly worked his way around the scale in a cozy circle of major thirds to end it on a subtly triumphant note. They maintained the upbeat feel on a blues number that Boldt grinningly recounted having to remind Williams how to play. The duo also ran through a tersely ominous series of permutations on the opening theme to Frisell’s superb History/Mystery cd from last year.


Boldt is also an excellent singer, delivering tastefully uncluttered, clear vocals on a couple of tunes. And she matched Frisell’s trademark deadpan humor on a playful jam on You Are My Sunshine that they used to close the set. Shows like this are yet another reminder why we New Yorkers stay put, year after year despite all the hassles.


Frisell’s upcoming tour kicks off on March 15 at the Continental Club in Austin, returning to NYC on May 12 for a six-night stand at the Vanguard with his Trio featuring Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Boldt is back at Barbes playing with another excellent Americana-inflected guitarist, Robbie Fulks every Tuesday in March at 7ish.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans

by Vanessa Lee Raymond

The self-titled Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans is yet another plume in the cap for the New York chanteuse and her impressively multistylistic Americana band. Their uniquely gritty, soulful sound, established in their rigorous NYC performance schedule and 2007 release, “When the Glow Starts to Go…” only gets more grimy and more sultry on this, their latest cd.

In this album Haltigan successfully presents a wide breadth of feelings and rhythms. “Knocking at the Door” boils at a tempo propelled by the clean trumpet lines of Joe Ancowitz, then slows to the speed of a swoon at the chorus. Songs like “Hole in My Heart” and “Heavy Cream” are a molasses of moodiness; “Where the Animals Used to Play” is a delicate confection; “Missed the Day” a campfire lullaby; and “A Mermaid’s Tail” a jaunt into the as-yet-unexplored territory of nautical jazz. Each composition reveals yet another facet of Haltigan’s peculiar musical gem. And lyrically, she couldn’t be better. Haltigan turns a great phrase in almost every single song. Some favorites in both phrase-coining and delivery include “My heart floats on a little lifeboat…”, “…the big broom has swept me clean”, and the euphemism in “…when her father has taken the long way home.”

It’s good to see Haltigan expanding the part played by the Hooligans, as well as orchestrating some stellar collaborations. She’s learning the value of her counterparts, a true skill. First and most notably, in this album the Hooligans sing! I love the sound of these men’s rough voices in chorus, especially in “Things” and “Lost at Sea”. In an era where masculinity is either steroidal (Flo-Rida, Chris Brown) or completely effeminized (the Jonas Brothers, Hugh Jackman at the Oscars) it is striking and exhilarating to hear masculinity harmonized like it is here. The vocal cameos by Nathaniel Broekman, Troy Campbell, and Emmet Haltigan in “Things” are at once hilarious and endearing, I find myself listening to those few seconds over and over.


Haltigan’s collaborations with guest artists prove very strong indeed. The contrast between Haltigan’s low husk and S. Johanssen’s breathy heights create an expansive sense of space while bridging seamlessly to the trumpet /accordion and slide guitar lines above. John Foti’s work on piano and accordion bring nuance to Haltigan’s sound, and he approaches brilliance on prepared piano in “Things.” The jaunty, rollicking feel he brings takes the song to a better place.


As far as the ensemble’s performances go, percussionist Troy Campbell earns his keep on a pared-down kit in songs like “Virus”. Rumor has it he’s playing his lap here, and other songs on the album feature an ingenious range of percussive miscellanea: a Saudi Medjool date box and the pizza box from a late lunch at the studio in addition to his standard bucket and suitcase repertoire. Matthew Kloss on bass drives the songs like a long haul trucker – he’s relentless, whether switching gears or deftly working the brakes. We hope to hear his Jersey twang singing on the next album. On harmonica Emmet Haltigan howls like an alley cat and yearns like a jail bird; his mandolin work on “Where the Animals Used to Play” makes the song. Joe Ancowitz is cleaner and fiercer than we’ve heard before and his strong musicianship is a huge asset here. Lastly, we hear the recording as Nathaniel Broekman’s baby – he definitely deserves recognition for crafting this seamless beauty. His guitar work and vocal interjections are no less noteworthy, but perhaps he stands in the shadows more than he should? Even his stellar improvisation to Haltigan’s vocals on “Heavy Cream” seem like a mere hint of his full range. Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans play 11th St. Bar every Tuesday in March at 9:30 PM.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/4/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #511:

Plan 9 – Man Bites Dog

These long-running Rhode Island garage/psychedelic revivalists’ claim to fame during their 80s heyday was their swirling, incandescent five-guitar live show, a high standard that their studio albums didn’t often live up to. This is an uncharacteristically terse, jangly and beautifully produced anthem with some sweet bass work from their otherwise mediocre 1987 lp Sea Hunt. The link above offers a choice of torrents.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments