Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and McCollough Sons of Thunder at Aaron Davis Hall, NYC 3/19/09

The opening act are something of a feel-good story, sons of former Sun Ra trumpeter Kelan Phil Cohran keeping it in the family with some richly good tunes. To call the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble innovative is an understatement: there is no band in the world who sound like them. Blending elements of New Orleans marches, late 60s Hugh Masekela-style Afropop, hip-hop and, predictably, some of the more accessible side of the man from Saturn, their instrumentals manage to be as hypnotic as they are catchy and propulsive. With four trumpets, two trombones, tuba and French horn, they made it clear that they were there to bring the party and managed to energize a pretty lethargic, afterwork and after-daycare crowd. They opened with the slightly reggae-inflected Balicky Bon (a nonsense onomatopeic word that pretty much describes the rhythm) set to a catchy three-chord descending progression. The intensity in this band is tightly wound within the grooves of the music: blaring, ostentatious soloing, or for that matter much of any soloing at all is never part of the picture.

 

The predictably fast Fire kicked off with the tuba laying down a fat, melodic bassline, the arrangement beginning staccato and building to a big swell. Sankofa, a co-write with Fela’s drummer, brought “a little taste of Afropop,” as the band described it, one of the trumpets taking a mischievous solo mixing the feel of early 80s hip-hop feel with echoes of the Middle East. They brought back the vintage hip-hop feel on an impossibly catchy, riff-driven number: hip-hop artists in need of first-class samples need look no further than this group. They closed their surprisingly short set (they have four albums out) with a long party chant-along, one of the trombonists leading the crowd, eventually sticking his mic inside the tuba for a big blast of bass. If you’re lucky, you might catch the group playing above the downtown 6 train platform at Union Square, where they’ve been spotted on the occasional Sunday evening around six.

 

The aptly named McCollough Sons of Thunder headlined. Before the show got going, Elder Edward Babb, their charismatic, trombone-slinging frontman cautioned the crowd that this would be just a taste of what life was like on Sundays at their home base, Harlem’s United House of Prayer. From the first rising notes of a slow gospel vamp that went doublespeed in seconds flat, it was delirious, loosely orchestrated mayhem. Unlike the openers, they didn’t have amplification, but with seven trombones, tuba, trumpet, what looked like a sousaphone and a four-piece percussion section of bass drum, snare, cymbals (played by the group’s lone woman member) and tambourine, amplification wasn’t exactly necessary. The bass drum kept scooching across the floor of the stage. The second-chair trombonist came to the point where he slithered across the stage on his knees, so overcome by the music that he lost his place and had to take a breather. Babb worked the crowd as the band roared behind him, vamping on a single chord for minutes on end but switching into a chorus with seeming effortlessness when given the signal – this is a group that seems to get plenty of practice. Is God real? Yes, affirmed the crowd. Can I get a witness? Babb inquired with casual fervor; dozens of volunteers jumped from their seats. One impassioned concertgoer stood up, went to the aisle to the right of the stage and sang along in a voice so strong that it was as if he was onstage with the rest of the performers. Pandemonium reigned and everybody was happy.

 

This was one of many free “community concerts” that Carnegie Hall has been putting on across the five boroughs for the last several months; a complete list of upcoming concerts is here.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Center City Brass Quintet at Trinity Church, NYC 3/19/09

A dazzlingly innovative performance by old college friends representing at least three major symphony orchestras – Buffalo, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh – who come together occasionally to push the envelope. The Center City Brass Quintet are a brass ensemble that doesn’t blare: to say that the subtlety and sensitivity they bring to their music is virtually unknown might be obvious, but it’s true all the same. This is not an under-the-radar group – their recordings are popular, and rightfully so – but they don’t play live all that often. So yesterday’s show was something of a rare treat. The quintet – two trumpets, French horn, trombone and tuba – opened with their trumpeter Tony DiLorenzo’s Fire Dance, a smoothly crescendoing piece that builds off an eerie Balkan two-chord vamp: Bach goes to Bulgaria, maybe? They followed with two richly beautiful transcriptions of Bach organ works, a Fantasie with the tuba perfectly substituting for the low bass pedal, and the famous, darkly minor-key Contrapunctus IX maintaining a stately, powerfully ambient tone. With the added nuance and dynamics of five individual players, there was a special plaintiveness to the music. More brass bands should try this.

 

A quintet by British composer – and trumpet player – Malcolm Arnold (who wrote the Academy Award-winning score to Bridge Over the River Kwai) was next, warm and consonant through an allegro section driven by staccato tuba, then its chaconne section, an eerie dirge rising to a big crescendo. Its third movement moved swiftly and smoothly, the trumpets propelling it with fast arpeggiated triads, then perfectly executed melismas, all the way through to a strikingly quiet ending.

 

Another DiLorenzo composition, Go, was a showcase in cool freneticism, echoing Mingus with its scurrying polyrhythms and call-and-response between the highs and lows. By contrast, tuba composer and University of Wisconsin/Madison professor John Stevens’ Autumn (from his own Seasons suite) was a calm, somewhat nocturnal reflection. After an otherwise forgettable suite of Leonard Bernstein showtune arrangements, the group finally aired out the place with a joyous New Orleans march. It may be awhile before the group comes back to town, considering how busy the members are with their own individual gigs, but a return engagement will definitely be something to look forward to. In the meantime, since the church archives its concerts, you can watch this one in its entirety here.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/20/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #495:

Randi RussoLive Bait

New York noir rocker Russo’s arguably strongest suit as a songwriter is how she cuts to the chase: she doesn’t waste a note or a word. This big, corrosively powerful antiwar anthem lopes along on a growling Middle Eastern melody – and then it modulates. Sweetly evil, chromatically-fueled lead guitar from Lenny Molotov. From the Live at Sin-e cd, 2005; the link in the song title above is the stream at deezer.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment