Lucid Culture


CD Review: Whitetree – Cloudland

Hans ‘n Franz electrokraut cachet notwithstanding (the two brother menbers of the new-music trio Whitetree are in German ambient electronic group To Rococo Rot), this is the kind of album you can give your parents for background music. After, of course, burning the tracks to your ipod. Don’t let the awkward, sudden fades in and out that comprise its first fifteen seconds give you the impression that the cd is defective, or that it will sound like that the rest of the way through. Ambient and atmospheric, more warmly melodic than icily minimalist, this collaboration between contemporary composer/pianist Ludovico Einaudi and the aforementioned Lippok brothers is a suite of ten pleasantly accessible soundscapes. While inspired by and named after a characteristically bizarre place of repose in Amos Tutuola’s legendary magic-realist novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard, there’s nothing remotely African about it. Most of the cuts here are spaciously cinematic piano instrumentals, segueing from one into another, motifs recurring, rising and falling, occasionally augmented by drums and electronics which are for the most part consigned to the background. The Radiohead influence is everywhere. 

The cd’s opening track Slow Ocean builds with sparse piano chords over an echoey background, backward-masked tapes kicking in eventually. The tableau becomes more complex with reverberating synthesizer echoes, drum machine and a repetitive piano hook that morphs into a dancefloor instrumental, shades of New Order. Other Nature is poignantly Satie-esque; the next track, Koepenik, takes a rock ballad piano hook and runs it over and over again as the volume comes up. With its pretty piano arpeggios over a drum machine and echoey loops, Mercury Sands takes the ambience down with a graceful fade. The following cut, Light on Light fades up darkly, Einaudi’s phrasing artfully echoing itself as the suspense builds, again with an Erik Satie feel. The biggest production here is titled Tangerine, opening with a sustained synth organ patch cleverly manipulated to resemble an electric guitar. Then the piano and drums take over, climbing to a majestic crescendo with cymbals crashing, then back down the slope. Derek’s Garden reverts to a plaintive, after-the-rain minimalism, piano backed by distant echoes – rocks falling? Gunshots?

The irony here is that while the association with the dubious world of electronic music will probably be the album’s strongest selling point, this effort would have been far stronger without any electronics at all. Einaudi’s piano and Ronald Lippok’s drums, freed from the shackles of the drum machine, could take a chance on a swing and a nuance that this recording only hints at. You might even be able to call it jazz. Whitetree are at le Poisson Rouge on June 2.


May 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #442:

Body Count – Cop Killer

Over a melody that very cleverly quotes Los Angeles by X, future tv character actor Ice-T talks justice and revenge in the wake of the Rodney King scandal, 1992. The right-wing backlash was so vitriolic that the label caved in, recalled the album and reissued it without the track; copies from the era are a collector’s item (we have one). Mp3s are everywhere.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jentsch Group Large – Cycles Suite

Composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch specializes in modern big band jazz suites. This is his third, beginning with the 1999 Miami Suite, continuing with the riveting, haunting 2007 Brooklyn Suite – a bonafide 21st century classic – and now with the even more ambitious Cycles Suite. If the Brooklyn Suite was Jentsch’s Dark Side of the Moon, this is his Wish You Were Here. Built around a ferocious four-bar phrase that begins as a horn motif and gets more and more intense as it takes on new shapes and voicings, the Brooklyn Suite careens like a stolen taxicab barreling along a potholed Atlantic Avenue of the mind at 4 AM. It’s all tension and suspense, and the central hook is a melody that ranks with the best of them: Jumping Jack Flash, the Bach Toccata in D, Black and Tan Fantasy and any other iconic musical phrase you can imagine. Following up such an accomplishment is always difficult. This one is even longer, but it’s considerably different – where the Brooklyn Suite was savage and reckless, the Cycles Suite is thoughtful and expansive, cleverly referencing its predecessor in its darkest, most pensive moments. 

Jentsch owes a debt to both Steve Ulrich (of Big Lazy and innumerable film and tv soundtracks) and Bill Frisell. The opening cut here, Arrival is dark, skronky, distorted funk, sounding like Big Lazy with a horn section. The fifteen-minute second track, Cycle of Life is a suite in itself, shifting from languid and atmospheric into a tango, separated by a pointed tritone played by the horns. Home and Away, clocking in at almost twenty minutes has a similar architecture, opening with a jangly, pastoral Frisell-style guitar motif that melds with the band as they rise to a big, romantic crescendo, individual instruments lending their voices, fading in and out of the mix as the procession continues. Then a portentous echo of the Brooklyn Suite, Jentsch eventually taking over with an austere, round, slightly distorted guitar tone, the band working a comfortable Basie-esque riff evocative of neon, exhaust and maybe another round of drinks.

Darkness begins to fall with track four, Old Folks Song, the piano beginning it with a three-note chromatic hook straight out of Jentsch’s previous album, shifting to gritty reggae and then to wistfulness as the horns swell and fade. The delightfully titled Route 666, another mini-suite, kicks off with as much of a romping feel as an ensemble this size can muster, trumpeter Mike Kaupa pushing the revelry, such that there is. The rest alternates between quiet and skeletal and lushly ebullient, without any of the diabolical vibe alluded to by the title. The final cut, Departure brings back the suite’s two most resonant, poignant motifs and then lets them fall away somewhat abruptly yet aptly – after all, nobody gets to decide how they want to go out. In the big, lavish arrangements, the compositions’s often vividly melodic sensibility and some very inspired playing by an A-list of the New York jazz scene, there’s a lot to sink your ears into here. Headphones very highly recommended.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment