Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 4/21/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #463:

Absinthe – Still Alone

This bitterly and brutally evocative portrayal of life among the down-and-out and soon to be down-and-permanently-out is the centerpiece of the band’s one classic album, 1999’s A Good Day to Die, arguably BoDeans frontman Sam Llanas’ finest moment as a songwriter – and he has many.

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

Top Ten Songs of the Week 4/20/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much each link here will take you to the song; if not, you’ll have to check back here for live dates.

 

1. Juliana Nash – Love Song for New York

Classic, fiery, late 90s style underground NYC rock:  “It’s 6 AM and I’m drunk again…I turn incidents to habits!” Unreleased, as far as we know; watch this space for hopefully a live date or two sometime from the former Pete’s Candy Store proprietress.

 

2. Lenny Molotov – Brother Can You Spare a Dime

Updated for the new depression: stockbrokers become crackheads. Unreleased, watch this space for live dates.

 

3. Kerry Kennedy – Sons of Sons

Gorgeous NYC noir rock evocative of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s classic Deep One Perfect Morning

 

4. Moisturizer – The Kitchen Is Closed

Brilliant, counterintuitive bass goddess Moist Gina doing Larry Graham one better. They’re at Black Betty on 4/29 at 10 debuting their brand-new five-piece lineup!

 

5. The New Collisions – Ones to Wander

The Boston new wave revivalists have a ton of catchy, edgy three-minute gems and this is one of them. “Oh my eyes!” They’re at Arlene’s at 7 on 4/23 and the Delancey on 5/21

 

6. El Radio Fantastique – Riverbed 

Swaying, haunting, imaginative modern noir cabaret.

 

7. Linda DraperTime Will Tell

The great New York songwriter/lyricist has yet another new cd out, titled Bridge & Tunnel and this is a choice cut.  

 

8. Traquair – Perverted by the 21st Century

Scottish singer-songwriter – catchy, smart, terse.

 

9. This Spy Surfs – Spy Beach

Smartly virtuosic but tasteful guitar instrumental stylings. They’re at LIC Bar on May 15.  

 

10. King Django – Thirsty

Characteristically hypnotic but interesting dub reggae. They’re at Shrine on May 1.

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

CD Review: Introducing Mamane Barka

A hypnotic triumph of last-ditch musicology. Mamane Barka is best known in his native Niger as a master of his country’s indigenous lute, the ngurumi. But his dream was to preserve the rapidly disappearing repertoire played on the huge five-stringed harp, the biram, an instrument exclusive to the Boudouma, a nomadic tribe of fishermen living along the banks of Lake Tchad. Considered a holy instrument, the biram richly evokes lakefront sounds, from fish jumping to the lapping of waves against the shore. It’s a quintessential country instrument. Happily, Barka was able to woodshed with the man reputed to be the last living biram virtuoso, Boukar Tar and then bring the songs to WOMAD in 2008 along with his percussionist friend Oumarou Adamou (who also plays on this album). In many respects, this cd, just released by World Music Network,  is to 2009 what Hamza El Din’s Water Wheel was to 1969, potentially a highwater mark (pun intended) in world music recordings. Barka sings in the Boudouma language as well as in Hausa, Toubou and Kanuri, all languages spoken in Niger; the songs mix traditional material along with some of Barka’s own socially conscious compositions.

 

The biram has a gentle resonance, like a muffled oud, yet despite its size, its tonalities range high into the treble where it’s loudest. Barka sometimes trades off rhythmically with the percussion, sometimes conversing in a call-and-response. The songs, rich with polyrhythms and Barka’s terse, precisely articulation are hypnotic, even incantatory. Just as with blues, salsa or rock, there are signature motifs and devices that appear throughout, in this case rhythmic tropes and brief single-note phrases. Some of this is reminiscent of the Malian kora repertoire, but vastly more sparsely arranged; other songs evoke the hypnotic oud music of coastal Yemen. The third track here is a slow, almost hallucinatory chant with percussion that sounds like chains clanging in the distance. The sixth works the murky, lower registers of the biram with echoey call-and-response vocals. Still another track bounces along on a fast 4/4 rhythm, biram and percussion putting a delighted stomp on the last two beats of the verse.  

 

It’s out worldwide on April 20 except in the UK where it will be available May 5; cduniverse has it, among other retailers. Too bad Boukar Tar didn’t live to hear his instrument and its gently mesmerizing songs preserved for the rest of the world to enjoy.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

This is the last thing you want to have playing if you’re trying to fall asleep. It’s pure adrenaline: there hasn’t been anything this viscerally exciting playing around here since Ivo Papasov’s new one came over the transom. It’s a safe guess that listening to this cd burns calories. Fishtank Ensemble’s shtick is that they add Asian spice to gypsy music, primarily via Mike Penny’s shamisen, a Japanese lute with a brittle, slightly more piercing tone than a koto. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is violinist/chanteuse Ursula Knudson, whose ability to project all the way to the top of her spectacular range is nothing short of exhilarating. Rachelle Garniez fans will notice a similarity, particularly on the jazzier numbers. 

 

The cd kicks off with the fast traditional gypsy dance, Saraiman, Knudson adding passionate vocals with some rapidfire vibrato. The second cut, Turkish March takes a familiar Mozart piece back to its roots at an extremely entertaining, lickety-split clip. Knudson adds a sprightly ragtime feel to the gypsy swing number Tchavo. Face the Dragon features its composer, violinist Fabrice Martinez trading off atmospheric sheets of sound with Penny’s spiky shamisen and a nifty little bass solo by upright bassist Djordje Stijepovic. A homage to Paco de Lucia written by guitarist Douglas Smolens, Gitanos Californeros sets a frenetic gypsy violin chart against smoldering flamenco guitars, Knudson upping the dramatic ante as the piece builds. Spirit Prison, a first-person, tongue-in-cheek account of life in the loony bins comes across as a hybrid of Carol Lipnik phantasmagoria matched to the purist oldtimey ragtime charm of the Moonlighters. Nice upper-register singing saw solo from Knudson too! They follow it with the eerie, shape-shifting Fraima, originally performed by Opa Cupa.

 

The Kurt Weill song Youkali is a showcase for Knudson in legit mode, followed by the whirling traditional dance Ezraoul, fueled by the raw intensity of Martinez’ violomba. After the the swinging pulse of Mehum Mato, the title track blasts along with a firestorm of fretwork from the shamisen and the violins, with the rest of the band eventually joining the melee: Dick Dale or a similarly talented surf guitarist would have a field day with this. The cd winds up with the Extremely Large Congenial Romanian, by accordionist Aaron Seeman, more singing saw and vocalese from Knudson, and a bonus track, Yasaburo Bushi, a ferocious Japanese folksong arrangement by Penny. Listen to this all the way through – this is a long cd, many of the songs clocking in at a good seven minutes – and then try breathing lightly. Impossible. A lock for our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.  

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Chris Eminizer – Twice the Animal

“Defiance isn’t too precise, you just aim and fire,” explains Chris Eminizer on his new cd Twice the Animal. But he proves to be a sharpshooter: this is a remarkably smart, intense collection of lyrical rock. Eminizer may play under his own name, but he’s definitely a rocker. Most of the songs here feature lush arrangements with watery electric guitar, occasional keyboards and tersely atmospheric horn and woodwind passages (Eminizer is also a wind player). Recent Peter Gabriel, minus the qawwali influences, is the obvious comparison, both in terms of socially aware worldview and vocal approach: Eminizer sings with a similarly aggressive, frequently nonplussed insistence.

 

The cd’s opening track, the nonconformist anthem Form a Single Line shows off a characteristic, sardonic, smartly crystallized lyricism:

 

I can see for miles in all directions all the time

A side effect of poor design

 

It’s followed by a snide dismissal of online dating shallowness and then the gleefully pounding, bluesy sniper anthem Crack Shot. With its catchy guitars, Rhodes piano and 80s synth flourishes coming out of the chorus, the metaphor-laden Shark Cage (a tribute to the virtues of maintaining a facade) is one of the more overtly Peter Gabriel-inflected numbers here. The intensity reaches a peak on the fiery Ashes to the Sun, a savage rejoinder to the masterminds of 9/11, “Turning back the the pages as an insult to our future selves.”

 

Among the cd’s other standout tracks, there’s the Nick Lowe-ish Move Along Now, a cautionary tale: screw people and it will come back to you. There’s also the vivid kiss-off ballad Thanks for the Call, and the wrenchingly intense concluding cut Float Away, its narrator so habituated to despair and defeat that when karma comes around and something good actually happens, he has no idea how to react. It’s an uplifting way to end this potently unsettling album. Look for it on our Top 50 Albums of the year list in December.

 

Good songwriters never have a hard time getting quality musicians to play their songs, and this cd testifies to that, its contributors including Clark Gayton on trumpet, Jenifer Jackson drummer G Wiz AKA Greg Wieczorek and another compelling performer, Emma Tringali adding her singular vocals to three of the songs.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jang Sa-ik at New York City Center 4/18/09

[Editor’s note: special thanks to Jinho Jang, proprietor of the 32nd St. jazz hideaway J’z for his invaluable help with translations]

 

Jang Sa-ik is a populist phenomenon in his native South Korea. Despite being virtually ignored by corporate radio and tv, he’s become something of a Springsteen there, with six chart-topping albums and consistently sold-out concerts extending throughout the Korean diaspora around the world. As with Fela and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan before him, there’s every reason to believe that there’s a mass audience here in the US ready to anoint him as the first Korean world music star. Saturday night’s powerful, marathon performance vividly revealed some of the reasons behind his status as a cultural icon. With a fifteen-piece band and choir, the concert began as riveting, darkly rich orchestral spectacle, morphing into an upbeat stadium show and ending as carefree karaoke, the once-sedate, sold-out audience transformed and raising their voices.

 

The lights went down for the first part, ominous, majestic and white-knuckle intense like a Pink Floyd concert. Jang has lately been doing his live show in three stages, beginning with Death, moving to Life and then to what could be characterized as the Good Old Days. Unsurprisingly, it was death’s icy hand that exerted the most powerful grip as the 59-year-old singer, immaculate in a white traditional Korean robe, strode to the mic and in a potently projected baritone, backed only by the piano, worldlessly intoned the long introduction to the stately dirge Back to Heaven. As influenced by American soul music as by pansori (Korean operatic singing) and the rural folk music that he first heard as a child, Jang drew out the notes, often ending a phrase with an impassioned, somewhat raspy vibrato evocative of Wilson Pickett or Sam Cooke. The majestic, epic orchestration of the next several songs aptly evoked their English titles: Empty Ocean, Dusk Road and then the best song of the night, This Is Not It, equal parts haunting, memorable minor-key anthem and cautionary tale to seize the day (otherwise This Is Not It becomes This Was It).

 

Jang then left the stage and the lights went up for an interminable drum solo that morphed into primitive heavy  metal, the guitarist (now on Telecaster) joining in the melee. Finally, Jang returned (he’d used the interlude to change into a loosely immaculate grey suit) and they launched into an irresistibly amusing version of the rock ballad Silly Angel (from Jang’s latest cd, Volume 6/Mother, See the Flowers) done here as simple Black Sabbath-style stomp complete with leaden funk-metal interlude. “Welcome to the club!” Jang laughed after they finally wrapped it up.

 

From there, the band made their way through a mix of Jang’s hits and Korean pop standards, mostly from the 60s and 70s. His Roy Orbison-inflected, somewhat noir pop hit Wild Rose took on an ELO-style grandeur, contrasting with lighter fare such as the popular standard Daejeon Blues (featuring some nice, jazzy muted trumpet) and a medley of singalong covers ranging from psychedelic-tinged 60s inflected pop to a rather cloying number that sounded like an Asian version of Bread. The last of the encores was Airirang, the national folk song of Korea, vastly preferred over the national anthem of either country because it predates the nation’s division by any of the colonizing powers who’ve tormented its native population over the centuries. At the end of the show, Jang offered a heartfelt thanks to the audience for having helped him conquer the nasty cold he’d caught after arriving here, telling them that they’d kept him warm throughout the show. No doubt he’d done the same. “You are deep and beautiful like the night,” Jang told the crowd as he left the stage, perhaps inadvertently but perfectly capsulizing his appeal.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Lenny Molotov at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 4/17/09

Recently we tagged Will Scott’s Wednesday residency at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo as the best weekly blues show in town, but there’s another player that blues fans should keep their eye on and that’s Lenny Molotov. While Scott is taking Mississippi hill country blues (think R.L. Burnside or T-Model Ford) to new and interesting places, Molotov is doing the same with delta blues and the kind of sophisticated, jazzy stuff Josh White or Charles Brown were doing in the 40s and early 50s. Friday night with his quartet he unveiled a whole slew of new material edging closer and closer toward jazz as so many virtuoso guitarists do once they’ve mastered blues as Molotov has. Playing acoustic and backed by JD Wood on standup bass, Jake Engel on chromatic harp and Ray Sapirstein on trumpet, Molotov’s virtuosic playing and imaginative melodies vividly evoked a raucous speakeasy milieu, with lyrics exploring eras from Prohibition to the here-and-now.

 

“Where’s my capo?” Molotov wondered aloud.

 

“It’s on your headstock,” an audience member reminded him.

 

“I like to use two. It never hurts to be too careful,” Molotov slyly explained as he and the band launched into a snazzy, updated version of Brother Can You Spare a Dime:

 

I used to work at Goldman Sachs

And drank the finest wine

Now I sit around smoking crack

Brother can you spare a dime?

 

Molotov is a boxing fan, and a couple of the newer, more polished numbers worked that territory. The most recent one, he said, was inspired by a Sonny Liston suggestion that the ideal boxing song would feature “soul guitar, harmonica and trumpet,” and this one snidely addressed mob corruption in the sweet science, trumpet and harp indulging in a playful call-and-response that built as it went along. The last number built to dixieland pandemonium with the harp and the trumpet going full-tilt. Molotov’s gotten plenty of ink here, because he’s good, and because his new material is so strong, you’ll no doubt be hearing more about him here in the future. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

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

CD Review: Jitney – 86-300

Budget-conscious fans of edgy new indie rock should bookmark Rockproper, the online Chicago label that’s making all sorts of intriguing stuff available, absolutely free. Their latest release is the new one from Chicago indie songwriter Casey Meehan – a real life taxi driver – which takes its title from his cabbie license. To use the word “hack” here would be inaccurate. Jitney is a pleasantly melodic rock project with a heavy 80s/90s British influence that aims to strike a somewhat noir pose from time to time. The songs are terse and smartly crafted with layers of keyboards and guitars, Meehan playing almost all of the instruments himself with the exception of some bass and drums.  

 

After a brief intro, the first song is Butterfly Knife, an imagistic 6/8 ballad recounting an ominous car ride (in the cab?):

 

As he tried to keep his blood red and his money green

She’ll never know the secret life

Of his butterfly knife

 

The next track, Love Draws Blood sounds like 60s backbeat Kinks as covered by New Order, 1985. Dizzy Spells contrasts pounding piano and slinky 80s synth over aptly tricky rhythms: “You were casting dizzy spells.”

 

The album’s best cut is Twilight, a pretty, glimmering, janglerock ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in the Madrugada catalog:  “Don’t mistake the twilight for the dawn,” Meehan casually warns. There’s a nice solo on electric piano using a vibraphone setting, then a variation on the theme, Twilight Laser Battle, a synthy sci-fi flavored instrumental. Tricky Be is upbeat, ornate piano pop that reminds of Pulp with nice layers of keys in the playful, tongue-in-cheek style of Candida Doyle. The rest of the album is a basically quick run through what appears to be Meehan’s most-played list on his ipod: late 80s Cure, Tom Waits and the Velvet Underground’s third album. Even so, most of it’s quite pretty.

 

The album’s only drawback is the vocals. Your conformist indie rock crowd won’t notice or care, but for purists they could be a dealbreaker. Much of the time Meehan sings in a cliched, affected, languid drawl that’s as real as a Chinatown Rolex. It’s not clear whether he’s trying to be Richard Ashcroft or that moron from Coldplay, probably the latter. Songs this intelligent shouldn’t sound so clueless in places.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/20/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is#464:

The Undertones – When Saturday Comes

Uncharacteristically complex, darkly jangly new wave guitar rock from the Irish band’s 1981 lp Positive Touch. The album version is pretty, but the scorching live version the band was doing circa 1981-83 is absolutely lights out: the video link above only hints at it. Singer Feargal Sharkey would go on to some infamy working for British Music Rights, sort of the UK version of the RIAA.

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