Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review – Salaam’s Seventh Album Puts an Exciting New Spin on Middle Eastern Music

Salaam is the creation of violist Dena ElSaffar, big sister to acclaimed trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar and most likely one of his major influences – it comes as no surprise that he’s in the band. Brother-sister acts hardly being the norm in the Middle East, it figures that this would be an innovative group. Though Iraqi-born, both ElSaffars were raised on western music – and for each of them, discovering the centuries-old maqams of their native land would be a life-changing experience. This self-titled cd, their seventh, is pretty much the best of both worlds, a boundlessly creative, completely out-of-the-box mix of styles. The instruments are ancient and mainly Arabic – the music literally spans the centuries.

This band’s Layla is a lot better than the one you’re probably thinking of – it’s a lush, richly orchestrated, swaying Levantine instrumental seemingly straight out of the Mohammed Abdel Wahab repertoire that morphs into a bouncy march and then to austere atmospherics before the magnificent opening theme returns, spiced by Amir ElSaffar’s trumpet. Sellefeena sets hypnotic crescendoing qawwali-ish vocals over soaring layers of strings and  trumpet. The brief Balkan trumpet-and-accordion dance  21st Century Gypsy builds playfully over a series of modulations.

Chobi Party grows from swaying and sparse to an exuberant kanun solo by adventurous Turkish pianist Hakan Toker. A bluesily soulful take of a popular Iraqi folksong, Hadha Mu Insaaf Minnek has Dena ElSaffar’s stark fiddle playing over her brother’s acoustic guitar and her husband Tim Moore’s incisively boomy percussion. A sizzling Levantine dance with vivid Romantic piano, Mandira evokes the groundbreaking Iranian composer Abolhassan Sabah.

Arazbar Pesrevi, Salaam’s version of a medieval Ottoman court processional layers thoughtful microtonal trumpet over fiddle and kanun. A surreal dream sequence, part boogie, part maqam, Yugrug features piano and kanun over an insistent, crescendoing beat. The rest of the cd includes a gorgeously slinky instrumental, the pensive improvisation Taqsim Lami with its swirling strings and kanun, a bouncy hypnotic Iraqi folksong with ney flute, and a clever trumpet tune that ends it on an upbeat, jazzy note. Amir ElSaffar just got a rave review here for the NY debut of his Two Rivers Ensemble – this album proves he’s hardly the only brilliant musician in the family.

Something bears repeating here – this beautiful, inspiring music comes from the culture that Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted so desperately to destroy.

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Beyond the Pale – Postcards

This is one of those great multistylistic Balkan-flavored bands which seem to be popping up all over the place. On their third excellent cd, Toronto-based Beyond the Pale (not to be confused with the Irish band of the same name) mix elements of klezmer, Eastern European folk and bluegrass for a completely original sound, alternately sizzling and haunting. String players Alekasandar Gajić and Bogdan Djukić and accordionist Milos Popović are Serbian; clarinetist Martin van de Ven is Dutch, bassist Bret Higgins and bandleader/mandolinist/cimbalom player Eric Stein (who also runs Toronto’s excellent Ashkenaz Festival) are Canadian: an unsurprisingly syncretic lot.

The dances here set frequently blazing, modern solos with an occasional rock edge flying over rustically-flavored melodies (Stein is particularly adept at this). There are two tangos, one more upbeat and intricate than the other, yet both share the clever interplay between instruments that pervades most of the album. There’s also a fluttery, heartfelt original arrangement of an old Jewish ngunim (liturgical melody) and a couple of noirish, klezmer/cabaret vocal numbers, one with a bracing cimbalom solo from Stein.

Katarina, with its staccato violin, bubbly clarinet and wistful accordion plays over some tricky changes, building to a nostalgic crescendo of strings. Gajic’s Back to the Beginning, written under the bombs in Belgrade is swinging but stark, with a jazzy, somewhat Jean-Luc Ponty-esque feel. One of the cleverest numbers here, Turkish Delight is actually a cover, a strikingly captivating, haunting reworking of a Levantine-inflected dance tune by 1950s schlockmeister/innovator Irving Fields originally released on the legendary cassette-only album of cruise ship instrumentals Melody Cruise Around the World. The album winds up with a darkly atmospheric accordion tune, a Balkan dance, a traditional doina and a brisk minor-key klezmer number. It’s fun, it’s pretty dark in places and you can even dance to much of this. Beyond the Pale have friends in high places (they played Theodore Bikel’s birthday party at Carnegie Hall); watch this space for New York dates.

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

CD Review: Blues in Space

Cellist Rubin Kodheli is a busy sideman in the New York scene, perhaps best known as a member of lush, hauntingly atmospheric art-rockers Edison Woods. He’s also a composer, and considering how gracefully he leaps from genre to genre as an ensemble player, it’s no surprise that his own band Blues in Space spans many different styles as well.

There are five songs on this captivating ep (it’s up on itunes), a mix of clever, playful and frequently ferocious instrumentals. Three of them have a crunchy metal edge in the same vein as Apocalyptica or Rasputina in a particularly enraged moment; others are quieter. Under the layers and layers of cello, soaring, grinding, roaring or wailing through an army’s worth of digital effects, there’s also Justin Sabaj’s tasteful, incisive guitar and Garrett Brown’s percussion, from a pounding metal thump to judicious tribal beats.

The first track, Like a Tree is full of evocative soundtrack-style vistas, swaying and ornate with an eerie, stark cello passage about halfway through before returning to its earlier atmospherics. As its title would imply, Apocalypse is straight-up thrash metal – it’s a showcase for Kodheli’s virtuosic ability to transpose metal guitar voicings to the cello. This particular apocalypse is pretty much done with destroying the world by about halfway through, eventually fading out with an evil oscillation.

With its blithe, pizzicatto stroll, Happy Minor evokes another genre-bending New York string ensemble, Ljova and the Kontraband. The self-explanatory Rage is a wild, crunchy metal number, its darkest segments interestingly played with clean tone without any of the crazy electronic effects. The last cut, The Greatest swirls around atmospherically for a couple of minutes before exploding with more sizzling metal riffs. Throughout the songs, Kodheli shows off an impressive restraint, a welcome change from the self-indulgence in most metal. He’s more interested in hooks, and in developing a mood. There are definitely plenty of indie films in development who would get good mileage out of the stuff here. Blues in Space play le Poisson Rouge on August 19 at 11ish with special guest Eleanor Norton of Divahn on cello.

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

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/10/09

We do this every Tuesday, even today as we lie low in the heat. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

1. The Oxygen Ponies – The War Is Over

Noir 60s pop redone as ferocious Bush-era antifascist rant. From their killer new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

2. Norden Bombsight – Snakes

Big dark noir rock tune like a lo-fo Botanica – magnificent stuff. They’re at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/9.

3. Pray for Polanski – It’s a Lie

Scurrying noir blues, good stuff. They’re at Trash on 8/15 at 8.

4. Animus – Turkiko

AMAZING Greek/gypsy/Middle Eastern band. They will blow you away. They’re at Trash on 8/16 at 11.

5. Jesse Alexander & the Big Fatt – Pretty Promises

Boisterous, slightly Waits-ish oldtimey ska/ragtime inflected band w/horns and strings. “You’ll feel like you’re on drugs but in a good way.” At Trash on 8/15 at 11.

6. Kris Sour – LA Makeover

New Yorker shellshocked in El Lay – spot-on and catchy too!

7. Shonen Knife – Super Group

They’re back with a new bassist and sound exactly like they did ten years ago. And the song modulates! They’re coming to the Brooklyn Bowl in November.

8. Brother Joscephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra – I Won’t Be That Man

Deliciously dark vintage 60s sounding New Orleans soul. They’re at Sullivan Hall on 8/14 at 10 opening for the Rebirth Brass Band

9. The DarlingsI’m Not Going

Sure, it’s a Jesus & Mary Chain ripoff, but it’s a lot of fun. They’re at Death by Audio on 8/14 at 11ish.

10. Willie Nile – House of 1000 Guitars

Sort of the NYC version of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song, title track from the killer new album.

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

Song of the Day 8/11/09

Yeah, yeah, more new stuff coming soon. Promise. In the meantime, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #351:

Ice Cube – Ghetto Vet

Over one of the eeriest piano samples in the history of rap, Cube bitterly narrates one smalltime thug’s descent from menace in the hood to wheelchair-bound crack addict. Mp3s all over the place. From the War cd in the 1998 two-cd War & Peace album.

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