Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Kelly Richey – Carry the Light

Admired by her fellow musicians and blues fans around the world, singer/guitarist Kelly Richey and her band live on the road, playing a punishing schedule throughout mostly the midwest and south. Like a lot of great blues guitarists, this immaculately produced studio cd only hints at the intensity she can generate onstage, although her playing here is supremely tasteful. She gets a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons, but her style is considerably more terse than his ever was, a lot closer to the more thoughtful side of both Freddie King and Jimi Hendrix (think Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand). Richey also happens to be a terrific singer, a song stylist with the same kind of subtle command and inflections as late-period Chrissie Hynde. This latest cd is more of a rock album – the blues here tend to have more of a modern feel. But that’s ok. Like any other style of music that’s still being played, the blues are bound to evolve. Richey manages to carry the torch, doing justice to her influences while putting her own unique stamp on it.

 

The cd opens with Leave the Blues Behind, a fast soul song in a Robert Cray vein with terse chorus-box guitar, beautifully modulated vocals and an equally terse, tasteful solo. The following cut, I Want You is not a Dylan cover – it’s darkly creeping late 60s/early 70s style riff-rock a la Cries from the Midnight Circus by the Pretty Things with a tasteful Freddie King-inflected solo. What in the World reminds of a cross between gentle, pensive Hendrix and vintage Tracy Chapman. After Carry the Light – a Texas boogie with some sly Billy Gibbons-style guitar – there’s Angela’s Song with its gospel-fueled southern soul groove.

 

With its layers of guitar sustain and vocal harmonies, Jericho Road is a slowly swaying, sunbaked minor-key haunter building to an impressively big, whirling outro. The next track, Run Like Hell isn’t a Floyd cover: it’s a return to late 60s style riff-rock. When All Is Said and Done starts out something of a Little Wing ripoff, growing more stately and anthemic with its atmospheric, David Gilmour-esque layers of guitar. The cd ends with a couple of boozy, Led Zep inflected riff-rockers and then another big ballad, Time for a Change, equal parts Henrix and Allmans with some of the most beautiful vocals on the album. Fans of the current crop of blues guitar hotshots – Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and the rest won’t be disappointed. Or if you like the idea of John Mayer but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of his albums – or if you like Bonnie Raitt in concert but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of her albums either – this is for you. Or sneak this into the mix at a Clapton fan’s barbecue and watch the jaws drop: “Who’s that playing guitar? Oh, that’s her. She’s good!”

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March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson and Juliana Nash at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 3/10/09

A welcome return appearance by two very different, very conspicuously absent songwriting sirens. Jenifer Jackson has gotten a lot of ink here, justifiably: she’s simply one of the finest songwriters on the planet, someone who leaps effortlessly across boundaries, intermingling styles with a seemingly intuitive melodicism. Mixing old favorites with songs from a new cd which is three-quarters done, she said, she delivered a typically captivating set, playing her first three songs solo on guitar.

 

She opened with an unreleased, fetchingly catchy Americana pop number, In Spring: “Time goes fast, living in the past, maybe love will come again in spring,” she sang in her signature warm, wistful voice. On both of the next two songs, We Will Be Together and Whole Wide World, she waited til the last chorus and then improvised her way up the scale with not a little imploring and anguish and this was intense to say the least. 

 

Pianist Matt Kanelos then joined her on another new one, Words, a dark existentialist lament that transcends its pretty melody, contributing an aptly darkly glistening solo, Debussy meets Gershwin, when the time came. Jackson sang it impatiently: “Words, get out of my way, tripping me where I go…talk about the moment that is here!” The textural interplay between Kanelos’ sharp piano and Jackson’s warmly crescendoing fingerpicking was absolutely gorgeous in the relatively new, 6/8 ballad The Beauty in the Emptying.

 

The best songs of the set were dark, pensive new ones. “Yesterday the motion had no meaning, yesterday the seasons were careening,”  she related in the first, Groundward, ending up on a predictably brooding note: “Summer rain is falling.” The second, Maybe, was absolutely haunting, noir Bacharach-style bossa nova pop with a theme of restlessness, a recurrent topic in Jackson’s work. “Maybe this is as much sense as life will ever make,” she sang, half cynical and half resigned, Kanelos adding a brilliant, eerie chordal solo followed by Jackson’s la-la-la outro, ending unexpectedly and ominously with a minor-key flourish. The two encored with a hasty, happy-go-lucky cover of the old Delfonics’ doo-wop hit La La Means I Love You.

 

Juliana Nash is fondly remembered around these parts as the architect of the Pete’s Candy Store sound, and a den mom of sorts to scores of excellent New York acoustic bands who called the little Brooklyn bar home from the mid-90s to the early zeros. This was a striking reminder of how fun her own shows at her old home base used to be. A petite woman with a matter-of-fact, deadpan wit and a big, powerful soul voice, she told the crowd that this was her first-ever show featuring just guitar and piano (Kanelos back behind the keys again, unrehearsed but gamely following Nash’s smartly intiutive, catchy changes). Fighting off the rust (she hasn’t had many shows here in town recently), she held a lot in reserve tonight until the end of the show, working her way through a mix of pleasantly familiar, pensive, sometimes countryish pop songs. Like Jackson, she has an ear for a hook and an eye for a striking lyrical image: “Love’s a champion battleship, you need an ocean of tears to float it,” she lamented on the the blue-eyed soul ballad Love Is Heavy that opened the show. Another thoughtful ballad, Maybe Street, looked at life sardonically and metaphorically through the eyes of sisters named Hope and Joy. She used the pensive Built for Longing as an exercise in subtle shading rather than turning it into a big tour de force like she usually does.

 

She related a story of how she and Jackson many years ago celebrated a birthday by shoplifting a couple of tiaras out of a 99-cent store because they were too broke to afford them. And then launched into a hilarious and absolutely spot-on, somewhat Lou Reed-inflected riff-rock homage to the wee hours in New York: “It’s six AM and I’m drunk again, I turn incidents to habits,” she wailed gleefully. For anyone who’d ever walked home from the L at 14th St. after closing Pete’s, watching the newspaper trucks make their rounds, this hit the spot sweetly. She wrapped up the show with the passionate yet wary rocker Tiny Belladonna (written about her daughter), a darkly beautiful, elegaic number where she cautioned that “It’s ok not to be everything we thought we would be when we were young,” and another soul-inflected ballad, Everlasting Ache where she paced herself until the end before finally cutting loose with that voice of hers. And then encored with the tongue-in-cheek Rocks in Your Head, something she’d pulled fortuitously from the archives. Jenifer Jackson is back at the Rockwood on Mar 24 at 8; watch this space for Juliana Nash sightings.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sound Assembly – Edge of the Mind

Truth in advertising: this is an edgy album. Basically a big, powerful vehicle (eight horns, five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section) for the work of composers JC Sanford and David Schumacher, Edge of the Mind by Sound Assembly pushes the envelope, finding yet more new places where big band jazz can go. This is the kind of cd that you want to listen to analytically but always end up hearing emotionally. Helpfully, the cd comes with extensive liner notes by producer John McNeil which, rather than being plot spoilers or totally Phil (as in Phil Schaap), help the listener look for key moments which more often than not are crystalized and understated, done almost before you notice. The arrangements here take on a lush, rich feel, very evocative of Gil Evans’ orchestration with Miles Davis. What’s most striking is that the charts themselves more often than not carry the rhythm, the bass and drums taking on an auxiliary role adding subtly fluid embellishments. Yet perhaps the most captivating aspect of the entire cd is how those big charts intersperse themselves within all the individual solos – and vice versa. Not only is there interplay between the instruments, there’s also interplay between improvisation and composition. This is very cerebral music. Yet it’s also breathtakingly beautiful in places for many, many reasons, a few of them enumerated here.

 

There’s Schumacher’s kite flying piece Edge of a Window, the cd’s second track, slow and atmospheric with elegant trumpet from John Bailey and a long, brightly ornamented piano solo from Deanna Witkowski, Eric Rasmussen’s alto sax picking up the pace a bit as the whole band pulses in, rhythmically upping the ante. Track three, Slide Therapy, by Sanford opens with slippery slides from both trombone and guitar, woozy and eerie until the band jumps in and takes over with a clever arrangement that alternates groups of players warping the time signature.

 

A playful, swinging vibe takes over on another Sanford composition, the vintage post-bop style Chuck ‘n Jinx, a tribute to a man and his cat featuring an expansive Mark Patterson trombone solo and several trick false endings. With Kate McGarry’s soulful, understatedly exuberant vocals over the longing of horn swells and sweet baritone sax from Dave Riekenberg, The Radiance of Spring (by Schumacher)  is the romantic highlight of the cd. By contrast, Rhythm of the Mind (by Sanford) opens with a circular, nebulously African melody carried by horns and chanting voices. How the melody grows as the orchestration builds is nothing short of fascinating.

 

My Star (by Schumacher) is a richly lyrical piece lit up by a strikingly low-register Alan Ferber trombone solo – and then David Smith’s trumpet comes flying out of it with complete abandon as the band swells. Ives, Eyes (by Sanford) has a similar brightness, Witkowski’s vivid, slow piano abetted by tersely colorful bass by David Ambrosio. The cd closes on a clamorous, hectic note with the tensely energetic BMT, evocative of Mingus at his most carefree, Ben Kono’s wildly offhand, “gotta run” tenor solo clearly late for the train and ably making up for lost time.

 

The only quibble with this cd is the couple of annoying, gratuitously garish Steve Vai/Buckethead-style electric guitar solos: they could have been edited out and the album would be stronger for it. Memo to axeman: just because you can play like that doesn’t mean you should.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments