Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion – Not Radio Material

This cd is a rare blend of accessibility and excitement. The title is sarcastic: much of this album is perfect radio material for adventurous noncommercial djs, while some of the compositions are easygoing enough to sneak into a smooth-grooves playlist. Don’t let the F-word scare you off – true to their name, Chicago area Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion play fusion jazz, meaning solos around the horn, interplay between the instruments absent as usual, rhythm straight up, four on the floor. But jazz fans are supposed to be open-minded – and for any fan of string music, with fond memories of the 70s or an ear for Jean-Luc Ponty or Weather Report, this is a treat. Bandleader Edgar Gabriel, playing electric violin, viola and even electric mandolin, demonstrates virtuoso chops, impressive taste and a whirlwind of styles, backed by a rhythm section of electric and acoustic piano, electric or standup bass and live drums (with this stuff, you never know sometimes). The first cut on the cd is straight-up funk, Gabriel impressively working a horn melody; the second cut is thoughtful and midtempo with a bit of a rhumba feel, featuring a warmly exploratory tenor sax solo by Michael Levin. The fourth track, Mobile is a fiery, percussive, flamenco-fueled number with a bracingly atonal Macedonian edge.

I Knew That, by keyboardist Kevin O’Connell switches the time stamp on mid-40s style swing, Gabriel’s flourishes alternately ambient and bluesy. By contrast, O’Connell’s Blue 7 evokes the cool jazz feel of what Ponty or Stephane Grappelli were doing in the 60s, Stevie Doyle adding an incisive guitar solo from a period ten years down the road over steady, minimalist blues variations. Nose Bleed is the requisite fusion-metal number, Gabriel running his axe through a screechy wall of distortion. The cd’s best cut is Renaissance man, a bouncy dance that blends a Django/Grappelli vibe with klezmer overtones, alternating between lively Gabriel atmospherics and some absolutely spot-on, lickety-split clarinet work by Levin. The only miss here is the third track, a Lite FM vocal number – sung by somebody’s girlfriend maybe? – which has no place on an album this good. Otherwise, there’s plenty for everyone here, proof that there’s plenty of music that can simultaneously be mainstream AND good.

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

CD Review: The Big Nowhere – Pull Down the Moon

This project started when Billy Crowe, late of UK goth/shoegaze act Summersalt and Simon Sinclair of edgy Glasgow funk band Brown Eye Superfly decided to join forces and combine the songs that for one reason or another didn’t fit in with either of their other projects. The first question that comes to mind here is that this might be a parody. Well, maybe a little. The Big Nowhere fall somewhere between the Nashville gothic of the Dead Cowboys, the over-the-top C&W silliness of David Allan Coe  and the deadpan, straight-up country satire of Uncle Leon & the Alibis. Musically, they manage to be simultaneously true to their influences (the usual suspects: Hank, Johnny, Lefty) while adding a completely unexpected playfulness. For example, the lead instrument on Why Won’t You Make My Telephone Ring is a reverby Vox organ, hardly something you’d hear on a Nashville session from 1955.

The cd opens very cleverly with Some Kind of Sickness, a dead-on evocation of an old 78 right down to the scratches across the grooves and the unmistakable quaver of a warp in the record. I Promise You Honey I Was Out with the Guys sets the tone for much of the rest of the album, mostly acoustic and completely deadpan, produced with care and good taste yet spiked with a pingy little electric guitar part that would sound vastly more at home on, say, an early 10,000 Maniacs album. I Got Love nicks the melody of the oldies radio chestnut Help by Bobby Bare, strips away the cliches and actually makes it palatable. Last Night with Lucy-Anne reverts to a musically straight-up but lyrically tongue-in-cheek feel.

A horn section, of all things, kicks off the 6/8 ballad Johnny Walker Red, which starts out sad but doesn’t stay that way long. On Untitled Satan Song, the narrator addresses the man with the forked tongue and the tail with the utmost respect even though he stole the poor guy’s girl (maybe he doesn’t want to end up where she’s going). By contrast, the murder ballad My Name Is Bob Willis, complete with police radio sample, is stark and haunting. Song for Suzannah takes the point of view of someone on the receiving end of the gun, with a neat trick ending. The album tails off toward the end, but overall it’s a lot of fun, more so the more closely you listen.

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

CD Review: Jump Back Jake – Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle

Damn, this is a good album. With their first release in decades, Ardent Music, the newly reactivated Memphis label that launched Big Star has definitely got back on the good foot. On their debut cd, retro funky soul band Jump Back Jake will win fans from the camp that discovered soul music from people like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Eli “Paperboy” Reed or Robert Cray as well as anybody lucky (or old) enough to have discovered this stuff the first time around. Fans of the Bar-Kays, Howard Tate, James Brown and Isaac Hayes’  Hot Buttered Soul album are in for a treat here. These guys really know their stuff, moving effortlessly from slinky Booker T organ groove to jangly Curtis Mayfield balladry to straight-up 60s funk, with a more aggressive, early 70s style blues guitar edge. The horn arrangements are gorgeously, sparingly retro, bringing out every bit of longing or bravado in a sax or trombone line. Frontman/guitarist Jake Rabinbach (who also mystifyingly moonlights as a sideman in one of the suckiest bands on the planet, 80s top 40 imitators Francis & the Lights) plays with soul and swing, unafraid to light up a song with a big incisive crescendo but never sinking into whiteboy wankiness.

The cd’s first track works a vintage Steve Cropper style guitar vamp with a nasty blues touch, setting the tone for the rest of the cd. The single best cut on the album is the second cut, The Flood, a slow, slinky organ groove that jumps to doublespeed and then brings it down to a sweetly dark horn chart, adding voices at the end before gracefully taking it down to just the trombone. Attempts at a beautiful, jangly, midtempo Curtis Mayfield soul ballad and a late 60s Charlie Rich country shuffle are rousingly successful. The big 6/8 kiss-off ballad teleports Blonde on Blonde to 1974 with more aggressive blues guitar: “You can be queen of the ice and snow,” Rabinach snarls. With its rapidfire, aphoristic vocal line and clever lyrics, the upbeat Pay Out on the Front End beautifully mines a late 60s vein. There’s also a ballad that builds to a big gospel vamp, another one that sounds like a rewrite of She Caught the Katy and a big, rousing number wherein Rabinach mysteriously goes on and on how he wants to be like Samson, “And I would give everything to the ladies like Delilah downtown.” The album ends on a radically different note, proving the band equally adept at early 70s Badfinger-style powerpop, right down to a neat George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The only miss here is aptly titled Terrible Mistakes, proof positive – as if you really need it – that vintage soul and the Jonas Bros. don’t mix.

It seems there are two Jakes in the band, Rabinbach recently off on the road with the other band, although all indications are that this will be a brief hiatus. In the meantime, the band continues to tour as a trio. They have all sorts of goodies available including free live mp3s from a recent Minglewood Hall show. Watch for this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

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

Song of the Day 5/20/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #434:

The Stranglers – Always the Sun

By the time these growling, keyboard-driven British new wavers released this on their 1986 Dreamtime album, they were pretty much out of gas. But this ominous, hauntingly atmospheric number ranks with their best songs, Hugh Cornwell’s baritone rising just over the nocturnal swell of Dave Greenfield’s string synth.

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