Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Chico Hamilton – Twelve Tones of Love

This album is all about joie de vivre. At 87, Chico Hamilton is happily ensconsed in the jazz pantheon – the percussionist decades ago passsed the point where he had anything left to prove. Yet here he is again, having fun. While this might sound like your typical Sunday afternoon jazz at a distance, or at low volume – and it’s a marvelous choice for a Sunday afternoon – it’s a lot more than that. It’s best experienced on headphones. Hamilton’s stock in trade has always been subtlety and nuance, rare qualities for a percussionist, and as usual he’s not here to jolt anyone out of their socks. But this album is anything but saturnine: it resonates with a confident, gentle warmth.

 

Most of the cuts here aren’t long, clocking in at under four minutes at a clip. Some of them are sketches. Many of them are confidently swaying, slow-to-midtempo swing blues. The rhythm is carried as much here by Paul Ramsey’s Fender Bass as it is by anything else, cutting through the mix with the trebly, slightly oscillating tone common to electric jazz bass around forty years ago. Cary DeNigris plays guitar, giving an absolutely marvelous, spot-on Ernie Ranglin-style chordal feel to the casual hangout number Steinway, anchoring the brief and beautifully lyrical Americana number On the Trail and gently keeping things on the rails while guest George Bohanon’s trombone signifies jauntily on George, a gift of appreciation from Hamilton. The percussionist himself takes a typically understated star turn on several occasions, riding the cymbals with an altered clave beat on the Wes Montgomery-ish Penthouse, spicing the mallets-and-vocals-only Lazy Afternoon and pointedly punctuating the early 70s style latin shuffle Raoul. If this album intrigues you, you can enter to win a free copy courtesy of Giant Step (contest expires May 15, 2009). New York listeners also have a golden opportunity to see him live for free on Wednesday, April 30 at 7 PM (early arrival obviously advised) at Borders Books & Music in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle on the second floor.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jay Vilnai’s Vampire Suit – A New Song

Exciting stuff.  In addition to playing guitar in boisterous NYC gypsy dance hellraisers Romashka, Jay Vilnai also leads this adventurous, innovative group. Its underpinnings are gypsy and Balkan music, but there’s a lot more to it than that: Ljova and the Kontraband, with their Russian, classical and jazz influences are a good comparison, although Vilnai’s songs are all instrumentals and with the guitar have more of a jagged, careening feel. Another good comparison is pan-Balkan juggernaut Ansambl Mastika, although Vilnai’s music has a less improvisational focus. This stuff is all about crescendos: pretty much everything eventually builds to some kind of big coda or whirling cauldron of sound, but it’s about how they get there, the fanning of the flames as much as the inevitable big blaze. Like many of the great blues guitarists (Matt Murphy particularly comes to mind), Vilnai plays a lot of horn lines and with the distortion on, giving him an incisive edge that stays just thisfar from total Balkan savagery, the effect is intense. While many of the songs here are very fast and fiery, nobody’s wasting any notes, a welcome touch. 

 

The title track jumps in, dizzying and polyrhythmic, ominous washes of distorted guitar building to a biting solo replete with evil chromatic percussive intensity. That feel recurs dramatically from time to time throughout the cd. The second cut, Serpent Dance is authentically serpentine, winding, twisting and jazzy. The sarcastically titled Lento evokes Ljova & the Kontraband, pretty pastoral violin from the reliably excellent Skye Steele followed by edgy rumbling guitar into a jazzily expansive solo that gets all pretty and anything but lento!

 

The bouncily stark Jasmine kicks off with cello and resolute 8th-note guitar, growing darker as Vilnai goes up the scale. And then there’s a frenetic, out of breath clarinet solo from the band’s reed man, Greg Pickard. Tabur, with its tricky, rattling rhythm under ambient strings builds to a typical crescendo and a nice bass solo as the string section goes crazy in a whirling cauldron of noise. The cinematically-tinged Marketplace morphs from a pretty much straight up Bulgarian dance, casual and midtempo into a sizzling Balkan guitar solo followed by a more astringent one by Steele. The most overtly jazzy number here, Circe features Vilnai getting all frenetic yet precise in something of an Allan Holdsworth mode followed by some playful eeriness from Pickard, the spaces between the notes just as ominous as what’s being played. Arguably the best song on the cd, Shelter Me Beneath Thy Pinion gets going with an ominous buildup, whirling strings, cymbals and some understatedly slashing chordal work from Vilnai into a completely savage Middle Eastern jazz/metal solo, another wild crescendo with the strings screaming and then a long, strange, atmospheric outro. If the band is half as good live as they are on this cd they must be amazing in concert. Watch this space for NY area live dates.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 4/29/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #455:

Richard Thompson – I Still Dream

The greatest rock songwriter ever? The greatest rock guitarist ever? Many would say that the answer to both questions is no-brainer and it’s this guy. This wrenching Britfolk-style ballad is a showcase for all kinds of chops: lyrical, compositional and musical. From the Amnesia album, 1987. The link above is a stream of the studio version; here’s a slightly lo-fi but still sweet live take from four years later.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment