Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Blue Moose & the Unbuttoned Zippers at Trinity Church, NYC 4/16/09

The hippy-dippy name is deceptive. Blue Moose & the Unbuttoned Zippers are not a jam band (although they probably could be) – they’ve taken it upon themselves to introduce American audiences to traditional Swedish fiddle music. Playing completely without amplification in the echoey confines of the beloved old downtown historic landmark, they impressed with their seemingly effortless command and unaffected love for the genre. Along with acoustic guitar, mandolin and violin, the band features a nyckelharpa, a cross between an autoharp and a viola, with keys and a set of resonating strings in addition to the usual four which are bowed or plucked.

 

Throughout the set, they often alternated between bouncy folk dance numbers and darker, more stately instrumentals, in addition to a vivid sea chantey and a wistful ballad, both with English lyrics, the latter delivered by the band’s two women on vocals and nyckelharpa. Several of the other pieces on the bill managed to be both rousing and hypnotic at the same time, aided by the band’s fondness for tunings that maximized the eerie overtones emanating from the strings. An original titled Burbank Street began with scatty vocalese from the two women, turning slow and dark and then light again with split-second precision. They wound up the show with a pretty, atmospheric waltz and a tongue-in-cheek original called Welcome to My Cave, its silly lyrics offset by the almost gleefully dark atmospherics of the melody. Fans of the well-known Scandinavian string bands like Frigg and JPP will enjoy this stuff; bluegrass fans should also check them out, they’re a lot of fun. If the hour had been later, there doubtlessly would have been people dancing in the aisles.  

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet – Shapeshifter: Live at Cecil’s

Many years ago, as an expose of the publishing industry, an investigative reporter had his assistant type up a couple of chapters of a bestselling Jerzy Kosinsky novel and then sent it around to several houses. None of them offered a contract, few even looked at it, and the one editor who commented on it mentioned a similarity to Kosinsky but said it was poorly written. Likewise, when this cd came over the transom, all signs pointed to a prank. It has the slightly boomy live room sound common to good-quality bootlegs from the 50s, a couple of tracks fade out rather than ending cold, and the piano is just a hair out of tune (which accidentally enhances the dark glimmer of several of the songs). The arrangements are typically oldschool, the band introducing the head, individual members following with solos. And the compositions are exquisitely melodic. What classic combo from the golden age, circa 1959, could this be? Who might be responsible for that gorgeously nocturnal, vividly impressionistic piano? Wynton Kelly? Not bluesy enough. Dave Brubeck, at his late-50s apex? No, too bluesy. The rhythm section has taste and swing, the tenor player doesn’t waste a single note and the trumpeter plays with a Miles Davis-like clarity. Except that’s not a trumpet. As with the original Kind of Blue, could this have been recorded at the wrong speed? And who’s trying to pull a fast one here?

 

Answer: nobody. Scott Reeves is a highly regarded composer and educator at the CUNY School of Music and Juilliard who’s played with several high-profile acts in addition to leading his own ensembles. What he’s playing on seven of the nine tracks here is an alto flugelhorn, fusing the slower, soulful attack of a trombone with the broader color spectrum of a much smaller horn (he also plays his own creation, the alto valve trombone on two cuts). This is his latest cd, and it’s one of the most beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years. Reeves credits Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata as inspiration for the opening, title track, Jim Ridl’s elliptically mysterioso piano providing an austere backdrop – and absolutely no shelter – for a terse horn arrangement, Rich Perry’s tense, wary tenor and Reeves’ equally terse and startling solos. And then, true to its title, the scene suddenly shifts, the rhythm section scurrying along beneath atmospheric sheets of sound punctuated by Ridl’s incisiveness.

 

The nocturnal glimmer that permeates the album is most vivid and beautiful on the cd’s best cut, the long, almost twelve-minute New Bamboo, a hauntingly modal number stalking along on Mike McGuirk’s ominous bassline and Ridl’s dark, insistent chords, Reeves adding a beautifully lyrical flugelhorn solo. And then the piano makes a long, painstaking attempt to bring some light into the darkness, but you almost know it’s not going to happen. And then it’s over. This is a pantheonic song, one that a whole lot of musicians will be adding to their repertoire once word gets around.

 

The aptly titled Incandescence shares the same hauntedly romantic, after-sunset feel, the horns building the theme in unison over murky, menacing piano as the rhythm pulses, McGuirk adding a plaintive solo. Reeves and Perry conduct a clinic in shadow and shading, and Ridl adds a hauntingly insistent, poignant solo that’s the high point of the entire cd.

 

The album’s other tracks include also the catchy, funky, Miles Davis-inspired The Alchemist; the richly coloristic, pensive Without a Trace, a trio of upbeat, tunefully swinging numbers and a stab at a samba with some evocatively breezy work from Perry (and a beat that stomps rather than sways – easy, guys, this stuff is supposed to be sultry!). Not only is this a great album for jazz fans, it’s a great stealth attack weapon. Like Sketches of Spain, A Love Supreme or the latest JD Allen Trio cd, it’s a way to turn your rock friends on to what you’ve known all along. Reeves is currently on Japanese tour, returning for a gig with this group at 55 Bar on May 3 with sets at 9:30 and 11.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review – Will Scott and Wylie Wirth at 68 Jay St. Bar, Brooklyn NY 4/15/09

The best blues show of the week in New York is typically not found at one of the city’s two remaining blues bars, Terra Blues and Lucille’s. It’s pretty much every Wednesday at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo, just down the hill from the York St. F train. Starting around 8, Will Scott and inventive former Sweet Lizard Illtet drummer Wylie Wirth put their own spin on Mississippi hill country blues, and to their credit, it’s pretty much impossible to tell the originals from the covers (bet on the originals – Scott is taking the style to new and exciting places without taking the soul out of it). For the uninitiated, the hill country style differentiates itself from the more laid-back Delta style in that it’s both dance music and trance music. In the work of the best-known hill country players like T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, there aren’t a lot of chord changes, the songs often going on for seven or eight minutes, rising and falling with remarkable subtlety for music this raw and primitive-sounding.

 

Last night at the bar an older couple was celebrating their anniversary. Scott told the crowd that he’d known them since he “wasn’t old enough to drink, but drunk enough to raise a glass and say ‘l’chaim.'” Silence. “OK, I see what kind of demographic we have here,” Scott acknowledged, and he and his drummer launched into a haunting, relentless, hypnotic number with a plaintive Kimbrough feel. They’d opened with a swaying stomp with imaginative flourishes from Wirth, who turns his counterintuitive thumps and cymbal washes into a swipe upside your head that’ll bring you out of your reverie. Scott also added a melodic, upbeat rock feel to one of the livelier numbers, stomped his way through a dark, pounding one with a Mississippi Fred McDowell flavor as well as a few with a slide. The most ferocious of these, he said, was inspired by a dream where his grandfather admonished him to get out of the pumpkin patch.

 

In May, Scott is back at his home base on Wednesdays, with additional gigs at LIC Bar on May 11 and May 16 at Two Boots Brooklyn. In mid-June, he’s off on UK tour with the equally captivating Jan Bell. Watch this space for additional New York dates.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 4/16/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #468:

The Passengers – My Sad Day

The legendary Australian new wave pioneers’ frontwoman Angie Pepper once said that she meant every word she sang, a claim that was never more apparent on this anguished yet catchy 1979 pop song blending jangly guitar with ominous Doorsy organ. From the 2001 It’s Just That I Miss You reissue compilation on the Aussie Citadel label, also on the French Revenge cd of rehearsal outtakes, floating around in mp3-land. The group remains active, releasing the haunting, mostly acoustic cd In the Garden of Good & Evil late last year as a trio in Australia.  

April 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment