Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Satoko Fujii-Myra Melford – Under the Water

One of the most exciting piano albums of recent years, this Myra Melford/Satoko Fujii collaboration is an intense, often ferociously haunting yet sometimes extremely funny album. Fujii’s Libra Records released a limited-edition run of 500 copies, each with a one-of-a-kind hand-printed sleeve by klezmer accordionist Sachie Fujisawa. Of these, somebody saw fit to send one to l’il ole Lucid Culture [aside: (slap) Get your fingers off that thing! It’s a collector’s item! No, you’re not taking it home, you can listen to it right here]. A series of duo piano improvisations plus one solo piece by each performer, it’s a clinic in good listening (for anyone who plays improvised music, this is a must-own – memo to Libra: PRINT MORE!) and interplay, worth checking to see if it’s sold out yet or if there are (hopefully) more on the way. Each performer’s individual voice asserts itself here, Melford the slightly more traditionalist, Fujii (a Paul Bley acolyte) somewhat further outside. Both pianists use the entirety of the piano, rapping out percussion on the case and manipulating the inside strings for effects ranging from something approximating an autoharp, to a singing saw.

The first improvisation builds with sparse, staccato phrases from inside the piano, like a muted acoustic guitar. The second, The Migration of Fish is a high-energy, conversational feast of echo, permutation and call-and-response. Of the two solo pieces, Fujii’s Trace a River vividly evokes swirling currents, schools of fish and a bracingly cool fluidity. Melford’s Be Melting Snow, by contrast, is a murky, modal tar-pit boogie of sorts, practically gleeful in its unrelenting darkness. Utsubo (Japanese for moray eel) closes the cd on an exhilarating note. Fujii just wants to lurk in her lair and wait for prey, but Melford wants to play! And finally she cajoles Fujii out of her fugue (literally), and then they play tag, and YOU’RE IT! But Fujii isn’t done with lurking. She goes back between the rocks, way down with a pitch-black blast of sound, working both the keys and the inside of the piano and at the bottom of the abyss Melford adds the most perfect little handful of upper-register single-key accents, only accentuating the savagery of the ending. Wow!

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May 21, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabaret Review: Michael Isaacs in Isaacs Schmisaacs at Don’t Tell Mama, NYC 5/20/09

Decked out in a bright green shirt and equally garish tie under a bathrobe, tumbling onstage with bottle in hand, 2009 MAC nominee Michael Isaacs effectively evoked the blithe yet doomed spirit of late 60s/early 70s pop crooner Harry Nilsson in an impressively well-chosen 21-song revue lit up with some sparkling comic bits and an outstanding supporting cast, imbued with characteristic out-of-the-box spontaneity by director Kristine Zbornik. A favorite of the Beatles, cult songwriter and Hollywood bad boy with several pop hits to his name, Nilsson (1941-94) walked a tightrope between sensitivity and schlock. Thankfully, Isaacs focused far more closely on the former than the latter, balancing boozy bravado with a significant undercurrent of unease. Ranging from a smooth, breathy lounge-pop croon to a showy glamrock baritone, he delivered the songs with a remarkably self-aware comedic timing that had him breaking the fourth wall whenever things threatened to go completely over the top.

While no amount of good comedy could rescue the show’s opener – the odious Three Dog Night hit One – from schlockville, things got brighter in a flash as the ensemble (the incomparable Bobby Peaco on piano, System Noise’s MAC-awardwinning Sarah Mucho on acoustic guitar, Elaine Brier, Maria Gentile and Jay Rogers on vocals plus a subtle, supple rhythm section featuring Dan Barton on bass) took the stage. Driving Along became an exercise in road rage, as Isaacs explained beforehand, speeding up to the point where the band couldn’t play it anymore and then stopped cold. Isaacs’ bathrobe finally came off for a medley of the Tin Pan Alley-esque 1941 (the year of Nilsson’s birth) and Daddy’s Song, Mucho singing the first verse with a vividly bitter astringence before passing the mic off to Isaacs. The Puppy Song and Best Friend got a vaudevillian treatment from Brier that brought the house down, punctuated by a hilarious sequence involving dog poop (it ended up with a couple at one of the front tables).

Peaco illuminated a wonderfully nocturnal version of Moonbeam with gentle rivers of triplets, Nashville gone glampop. In his cameo, Rogers offered a gentle, wistful take on another proto-power ballad, Lifeline, followed by Gentile raising the ante with her big, affecting vibrato on Without Her. One of the prettiest, warmest songs of the night belonged to Mucho, just her and Peaco taking a pensive, wary stroll through the abandoned gardens of Morning Glory.

Unsurprisingly, they saved the best for last. The best single song of the night was a hauntingly beautiful take of All I Think About Is You, Peaco singing with a tremendously moving, stark unsentimentality, Isaacs at the piano adding strikingly pointed jazz inflections. They wrapped it up with just Isaacs and Mucho on guitars and some devious, was-this-scripted-or-is-this-totally-improv moments, the guy cajoling and toying with the increasingly irked siren on soulful versions of  I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City (written for Midnight Cowboy but rejected by the producers) and then finally the one song that Nilsson didn’t write (that was the late Fred Neil) but won a Grammy for, Everybody’s Talkin’. This was the show’s last night, and it screams out from the gutter to the stars to be resurrected.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 5/21/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #433:

LJ Murphy – St. James Hotel

Set to one of Murphy’s catchiest yet most haunting melodies, this is a characteristically brilliant noir narrative, a WWII vet slowly losing it in a Times Square SRO hotel:

 

I got down upon my knees

And listened to the voices in my head

Telling me I should never fear

Except whatever’s moving in my bed

 

Unreleased, and Murphy rarely plays this live anymore, although there are bootlegs kicking around.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment