Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 4/13/09

“It’s like they’re all Sufjahn Stevens,” a seemingly part-time band member (he played guitar and sang on a handful of songs) remarked. He was joking, of course. Other than the fact that pretty much everybody in Kotorino plays several instruments, they have about as much in common with Sufjahn Stevens as they do with Miley Cyrus. Alternately playful, haunting, phantasmagorical and carnivalesque, they came across as a cross between El Radio Fantastique and the badly missed Dimestore Dance Ensemble. In the course of just under an hour, the guitarist moved to harmonium, then banjo, then acoustic bass guitar, back to banjo and ended up on the harmonium. The violinist doubled on acoustic bass guitar and then acoustic guitar, taking a turn on lead vocals with a fetchingly ragtime-inflected lament, girl meets boy, girl loses boy and then wonders what to do next. The harmonium player doubled on accordion, the trumpeter switching to acoustic guitar for a song toward the end. Only the drummer stayed in one place, which was probably a good thing because somebody had to hold things together.

 

They started slow, swaying and off-kilter, like Dimestore’s tongue-in-cheek, Satie-esque swing but with more going on. Their bouncy, oldtimey songs have the same jazzy, saloony vibe as much of Tom Waits but without any of the stereotypical, over-the-top Waitsisms that so many imitators find impossible to resist (or replicate, for that matter). A jaunty, minor-key number featuring the violinist on bass and a soaring trumpet solo railed against “the way it has to be.” The next song began with an amusing and absolutely spot-on dub reggae rhythm, building to a dark, central European-inflected ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Melomane songbook. They wound up the set with a rustic, upbeat yet ominous country banjo song – “There’s a sky in my eye, it’s on fire,” the frontman sang nonchalantly – and a harmonium tune in French which seemed to be an original. What an unexpectedly fun way to spend a drab Monday night. Kotorino is back at Pete’s for the next two Mondays, April 20 and 27, winding up their residency there: if you’re in the neighborhood, you could do an awful lot worse.

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April 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Romashka and the New York Gypsy All-Stars at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/11/09

This was kickoff night for the New York Gypsy Festival, 2009, taking last fall’s week of delirious fun at Drom to the next level. While this year’s festival will also take place sometime in the fall, the promoters will be putting together monthly shows in preparation for the big event and this was the first. And it was a mobscene, but a comfortable one, a sold-out room full of unpretentious, multi-ethnic twentysomethings, a throwback to Saturday nights at Mehanata ten years ago with not a single $500 bedhead haircut or pair of Elton John-sized glasses anywhere in sight. These people just came from all over to party. Nobody was disappointed.

 

Among New York gypsy bands, Romashka are second in popularity only to Gogol Bordello. They took the stage minutes after eleven, opening their too-brief, barely forty-minute set with a dark, lushly beautiful version of the Roma anthem Djelem Djelem highlighted by the haunting strings of violinist Jake Shulman-Ment and Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s viola, trumpeter Ben Holmes adding a plaintive solo after the second verse. Frontwoman Inna Barmash – recently reviewed here in a rare duo show with Zhurbin, her husband, at Small Beast at the Delancey – once again teased and then riveted the audience with her voice. Like all the best dramatic singers, she only goes for the kill when absolutely necessary. In this case, she waited until the band’s last song, an alternately hushed and frenetic, noir cabaret-tinged number before cutting loose with an astonishingly powerful blast of vocalese.

 

Otherwise, the band alternated between bouncy, upbeat dances, a tricky Balkan trumpet tune and a torchy Russian tango as well as some even darker material which proved to be the most captivating. Barmash told the crowd that one of those tunes was their “Russian nightmare song,” as the band added tongue-in-cheek horror-movie flourishes during its slow introduction, then going up and down and finally ending with a big burst of sound from the tuba. Their big, enthusiastic crowd wanted an encore but didn’t get one.

 

Which was ok because the New York Gypsy All-Stars were on next. This time out the Drom house band brought their A-game, not only because they had a full house but also because the iconic Selim Sesler – billed as “the Coltrane of the clarinet” – was scheduled to play with them. Their frontman, clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski is an extraordinary player in his own right, leading the group through a blistering series of haunting dance numbers and a couple of one or two-chord jams that the players used to show off their sizzling chops. This time around bassist Panagiotis Andreou stayed within himself, then playing a fiery horn line when the time came to introduce the next number. Kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi added a dark, spiky and spicy intensity. Then they brought up Sesler and the crowd went wild – how refreshing to see a bunch of American kids screaming for a balding, middleaged Turkish guy. It was a summit meeting, absolutely fascinating to witness, especially listening to the contrasting timbres of the two clarinetists when they doubled each others’ lines. Sesler has dazzling speed but maintains a confident, round tone that made a vivid contrast with Lumanovski’s restless, burning style. The effect was even more striking when the two alternated solos. Coltrane he may not be (Miles Davis is the more obvious comparison), but he is unquestionably a talent who should be far better known here than he is.

 

The “legendary trumpeter of the klezmer underground,” as the promoters aptly billed Frank London, may have played earlier, or later (it was pretty much pandemonium upstairs, with the line all the way around the block); it was impossible to tell. It would come as a shock to find out that his set had been anything short of outstanding as well. By two in the morning, the crowd hadn’t thinned, still bopping to the pan-Balkan Mehanata-style mix that the dj was spinning, but for those who’d been running around to concerts and galleries all day, it was time to call it a night.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 4/15/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #469:

Jethro Tull – Black Sunday

From the nuclear apocalypse concept album A, from 1980, comes this uncharacteristically terse anthem about “the one day I would trade for a Monday,” as Ian Anderson puts it. The record was supposed to be a solo effort, but as it turned out he ended up putting the whole band on it with him. That’s Fairport Convention’s rhythm section doing the prog-rock thing, if you can believe. Mp3s are everywhere; the vinyl surprisingly makes an appearance in the dollar bins from time to time. And it’s actually excellent – no Dance of the Gnomes, no Viking battle songs, no minstrels in the gallery annoying everyone in the wee hours with their interminably longwinded Scottish ballads. The link above is a decent-sounding live take from the year it was recorded.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments