Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Tinariwen at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/24/09

The sold-out club was treated to a show mostly reprising the self-described “most popular African band in the world”‘s fascinating, spikily hypnotic new dvd Live in London.What was most striking about Tinariwen’s show was how lyrically-driven their songs are. There was plenty of improvisation, but most of it was carefully, patiently cached in the nooks and crannies of their intricately meandering songs: all indications to the contrary, the expat Malian Tuareg rockers are not a jam band. One can only wonder what these guys have been thinking, singing in their native Tamashek to American audiences: they could be saying “Bite me,” over and over and nobody would know the difference. Reputedly their lyrics have the same fiery and fearless, politically-charged fury as the Clash along with a generous dash of desert mysticism. As with the dvd, they opened quietly as a trio with the song Chet Boghassa, one of the guitarists holding down a steadily rhythmic one-chord pattern over which the starkest of guitar sketches could be drawn before bringing up the full six-piece contingent. Resplendent in their desert robes and shesh headcoverings, they delivered the songs methodically without much interplay with the crowd. On a few occasions, members of the band (especially the bassist, who proved to be most gregarious, and something of a ham) would make a tentative inquiry in French to see if they could connect with anyone. Not much response, and no fellow Tuaregs in the house either (their diaspora is mostly urban European).

 

As with their big inspiration Ali Farka Toure, chord changes are few and far between in Tinariwen’s music, meaning that dynamics are everything, not only volume-wise but notably in the attack and sustain of the band’s mosaic of sound. On a couple of occasions, once merely as an aside while tuning up, one of the guitarists showed off remarkably blazing speed with a handful of almost bluegrass runs up the scale. Otherwise, the group and the songs formed a cohesive whole, the bassist taking the longest solo of the night, all of twelve cascading, smartly chosen, bluesy notes to end one of the more driving numbers. The most overtly bluesy, western-influenced number, Assawt N’Chet Tamashek, was held back just a hair enough to keep it from careening into a mad stomp, the percussion echoing the bouncy edginess of the guitars. The rest of the show was a dusky clang, overtones quickly rising and then just as quickly fading as the resonance died. Their guitar sound is very 1960s, and on a single occasion one of the players quickly tossed off a tongue-in-cheek Mike Bloomfield lick, perhaps to see if anybody else would be in on the joke.

 

Hassan Hakmoun opened with a very brief, four-song set which was absolute heaven for fans of low frequencies, playing a loudly amplified sintir (Moroccan three-string bass lute) and backed only by his longtime percussionist. Playing with his thumb, Hakmoun would find a phrase and run it over and over again while the percussion crackled and sparkled above the booming atmospherics. Then he’d slap at the strings like an American funk bassist, which proved far less interesting. He’s starting a restaurant in the East Village (424 E 9th) named after his instrument, grousing about how much the local block association “just wants to see you suffer,” but apparently Sintir has won out and will be opening soon.

 

The concert’s only drawback was completely beyond control of the bands. Some moron in the far corner felt compelled to whistle at earsplitting volume whenever there was the slightest pause, or the music got quiet (this is not a Tuareg custom). We ought to amend the law to allow amnesty for those of us who might be tempted to exercise vigilante justice on fools like that.

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April 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich/Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at the Delancey, NYC 4/23/09

Small Beast is rapidly becoming a New York institution. The kind of thing you’ll look back on and tell your kids assuming you live long enough to have them and they live long enough to understand you when you talk about how in the spring of 2009 you spent Thursday evenings upstairs at this one Lower East Side bar, in a space that by all rights shouldn’t even have music at all because it barely has a stage. But it does. And the shows just get better and better. It started midwinter when Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s desire to work up new material and collaborate with what seems an ever-expanding cast of quality players from some of music’s darker enclaves. It’s not limited to rock, either: there’ve been shows by  jazz, classical and gypsy acts here too.

 

Thursday’s was maybe the best to date. Or maybe not, there’ve been transcendent moments practically every week. Wallfisch opened as he always does, solo on piano, Chopinesque (in that his style blends the Romantics and the gypsies) and upbeat this time with almost a sprint through the Little Annie noir cabaret gem Because You’re Gone, a brand new tango and a ballad in French. His collaborator onstage this time was cellist Rubin Kodheli from the brilliant chamber rock group Edison Woods and the artsy, ambient Blues in Space. Despite a total lack of rehearsal, the two matter-of-factly made their way through a wrenchingly beautiful version of the subtly and brutally sarcastic Three Women and the stately, equally haunting Eleganza and Wines, Wallfisch as usual getting the crowd going in a clapalong in 7/8 time  – the premise seems to be that if the Arabs and the Bulgarians can do it, we should be able to follow along too. Then they brought Kerry Kennedy up onstage and did Because You’re Gone again, halfspeed, her bruised velvet vocals giving the lament special poignancy.

 

The Ulrich/Ziegler duo were next, supplying the requisite transcendence, boiling over with chilly reverb instrumental soundscapes evoking images of Tribeca alleyways in grim, rain-drenched late autumn predawn, black and silver but not in a Blue Oyster Cult way, not unless you count the two guitars. With Big Lazy on the shelf at the moment and what seems an endless series of film and tv projects going on, frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich has been lately been playing duo shows with Pink Noise guitarist Itamar Ziegler. This team is a winner, part Mingus, part Ventures and part Morricone but with a savage, often macabre wit that transcends any of those styles and at times, unsurprisingly, sounds almost exactly like Big Lazy. Ziegler was a human metronome, holding the songs together while Ulrich played sharpshooter, alternating between ominously minimal tremolo licks, ominous washes of sound, reverberating chordlets and dirty skronk. They opened with a vintage Big Lazy song, following with a plaintive waltz and a surprisingly bluesy, minor-key one loping along on a garage rock beat. A new one, Since Cincinnati proved to be Ulrich’s most haunting lapsteel song, sort of a more noir, cinematic twist on the old Big Lazy hit Junction City. They wound up the set with a swinging, chicha-esque version of Caravan lit up with a long, blacklit solo from Ulrich in place of where the Ventures would have put the drums.

 

McGinty and White were a good segue because while many of their songs have a subtle menace, there was no resemblance between them and Ulrich and Ziegler other than that they could be competing offices of obstetricians. This was ostensibly the first live show together for the former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist and the “tippling gadabout [NOT]” who’s been putting out excellent, darkly lyrical janglerock albums since before the turn of the century. Occasionally putting down his acoustic guitar, White proved equally adept as a crooner while the backing band did a picture-perfect evocation of late 60s psychedelically-inclined chamber pop. Watching them was like being in the audience at Ed Sullivan, 1968 – and putting violinist Claudia Chopek out in front of the stage, on the floor, where her warmly compelling lead lines could resonate was a smart move. The title of their new cd McGinty and White Sing the McGinty and White Songbook is characteristically tongue-in-cheek. McGinty is no slouch at sardonic humor, offering a vivid reminder with the deadpan Get a Guy and the haunting, atmospheric ballad that closed the show. They’d opened the show with the sarcastic Everything Is Fine, punctuated by a surprisingly over-the-top metal solo from their lead player, later delivering the self-effacing Big Baby, McGinty’s effortless rivulets threatening to erode the piano keys. The savage Knees, written by White finally unleashed the demons: “You can keep my heart, bitch, just give me back my knees.” There’ll be a review of the album here closer to the date of the cd release show in May.

 

Super duper orange alert: unless people start dropping like flies in the streets, Lucid Culture has no intention to stop reviewing concerts, frequenting public places or riding the train. This “flu outbreak” has all the earmarks of hysteria (remember Y2K?). Mexico City has awful sanitation and services, it’s overcrowded, polluted and the most impoverished Mexicans suffer from malnutrition. In other words, it’s a prime spot for an outbreak of something. You could say the same about New York except that as bad as things can get it’s not that bad here. Yet. Keep your eyes open this fall and see if the bug mutates into the black plague.

April 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Public Health, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/27/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #457:

Hot Tuna – Mann’s Fate

Recorded live to two-track in a crowded San Francisco coffeehouse in 1969, this instrumental captures ex-Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady at the peak of their fiery improvisational powers. From the duo’s debut lp; as you’d imagine, there are innumerable versions floating around and they’re all excellent. The link above is a vintage youtube clip from around the time the album came out (although the visuals don’t sync).  

April 27, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment