Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 8/19/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #343:

The Rolling Stones – Waiting on a Friend

In the process of editing the list, this one fell off for awhile…and then fell back on because it’s so good. Talk about perfectly capturing a mood – Pharaoh Sanders’ pensive yet contented sax and Keith’s guitar, wow. And it’s a New York song: the link above is the video made at the now-defunct St. Mark’s Bar in 1981.

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August 18, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Raghunath Manet – Veena Dreams

Raghunath Manet seems to be the world’s only performer equally skilled in classical Indian dance and as a virtuoso of the veena (a smaller version of the sitar). This is one of the most extraordinary instrumental albums of the year – if you can call it an instrumental album. Like George Benson on the guitar, on a few of the songs here Manet will occasionally vocalize while he plays, forcefully. The album appears to be devotional, an attempt to fuse with the divine: for a western listener without any liner notes or knowledge of Indian languages, it’s unclear if these are liturgical chants or if Manet’s simply scatting along with the beat. Whatever the case, it’s a bit distracting, but when the veena, tampura (lute) and percussion in Manet’s ensemble are going full force, the effect is deliriously intense and absolutely mesmerizing. This is a suite of original compositions, a theme and variations that blend devices from western classical music and jazz as well as elements of the blues with Manet’s south Indian classical stylings; to say that it bears comparison alongside such south Indian masters as Debashish Bhattacharya or Ravi Shankar would not be an overstatement.

The central theme is an exquisitely beautiful, clanging and oscillating eight-bar phrase which coalesces and rings out ecstatically on the album’s third track. Before that, there’s a long, almost seventeen-minute introductory section which hints marvelously at the fireworks to come and also makes it clear how fond Manet is of blues phrases. After a brief segment for solo voice and percussion, there’s the central fireworks, followed by the first set of variations, picking up slowly and building with a terse minimalism. The fifth track here, at least during the first minute or so, is practically indistinguishable from the ambient, drony Mississippi delta acoustic blues of Robert Belfour or Will Scott before returning to harmonium-drenched, warm ambience.

After that, there’s a slow tone poem with more harmonium and then the resolutely galloping, eventually fierily chordal title track which finally brings in the main theme with all its glory before a surprisingly ominous, low-key outro. The suite concludes on a surprisingly stately, understated note that finally, after about six minutes, brings in half of the central theme, gently before two brief bars of tabla and then silence. Maybe this was designed to help the listener wind down from the thrill ride of of the previous fifty minute or so. Check your favorite world music retailer, amazon, emusic or mp3.com.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vasen – Vasen Street

Much of this is a happy Indian summer album – and with the turn the summer has taken here, we’re going to need something to keep our spirits up if this August steambath continues into September. Whatever the case, this is a mostly cheery, meticulously interwoven, smartly playful album of original Swedish string band instrumentals along with some imaginative reworkings of traditional material. Vasen‘s guitarist Roger Tallroth uses an open tuning to maximize the incidence of ringing overtones, much in the same vein as Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa (a Nordic autoharp with a set of reverberating sympathetic strings). The trio’s lead instrumentalist is viola player Mikael Marin, whose dynamically-charged playing ranges from pensively rustic to completely ecstatic.

A trio of dance numbers open the album, the third being Botanisten, a tribute to some Bay Area pals. It’s appealingly verdant and has some psychedelic tempo shifts if that means anything to you. Garageschottis is clever and shapeshifting as it builds tension. The title track, a tribute to a bunch of Indiana fans who campaigned to name a street in their hometown after the band, starts striking and minor-key before morphing into a dance. The best single cut on the cd is Absolutely Swedish, fast with eerie textures, sounding like there’s a wild mandolin solo going on. But it’s not! It’s Tallroth on the guitar, way up at the top of the fretboard, having fun as the nyckelharpa plinks in the background and the viola feels around for its footing.

Mordar Cajsas Polska (Killer Cajsa’s’Polka) takes its name from a friend of the band, fiddler Cajsa Ekstav who attacked some windows with her beer mug to to kill a swarm of wasps who’d invaded her studio. Ostensibly the results were not pretty. This isn’t nearly as murderous as the title implies, but it sways and spins and you can dance to it, as you can most of the album. Which wraps up with another series of upbeat dance numbers and finally the pensive Yoko, written about a Japanese manager (theirs?). It turns out somewhat pensive, reflective and ultimately very interesting. Happily, it’s not exasperated. Fans of JPP, Frigg and the rest of the A-list of Nordic string bands will love this; bluegrass fans ought to give this a test drive too, it’s a lot of fun. They’ll be on US tour starting September 18 in Boulder at the Boulder Theatre.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

A million producers have tried to technify world music; most have failed spectacularly.  This is a welcome change, an extraordinarily successful hybrid of old and new, acoustic and electronic. Like the cd cover, the music on famed “throat singers” Huun Huur Tu‘s new album Eternal effectively evokes the windswept steppes of their native Tuva in the west of what was the Soviet Union. Like a warped Asian version of Radiohead, this cd sets folk songs impressively bulked up and energized with big-room studio production alongside austere soundscapes that conjure up hauntingly barren badlands vistas. Producer Carmen Rizzo’s most notable achievement here is that he keeps the compositions intact. He’s not trying to make third-rate hip-hop or techno out of it with a cheesy subsonic bass pulse, instead using the songs as a foundation and then layering subtle shades of orchestration around them, always keeping the melodies front and center.

The cd’s opening cut is a ballad in the Asian scale set to a hypnotically repeating, minimalist keyboard sample. Throughout the cd, Rizzo uses the group’s trademark swirling vocal harmonies (the singers hold a low note and let the resulting overtones circle around) as just another instrument in the orchestra rather than making them the sonic center. The second track is another Asian-flavored vocal number with tabla-like percussion, building to a swirl of oscillating vocals and then segueing into the next cut with a trip-hop beat. After a brief, suspensefully static tone poem, there’s the best track on the album, the murky, atmospheric Dogee Mountain (Interlude), blending layer upon layer of sound over a haunting, minimalist two-chord progression.

The stark intensity remains with In Search of a Lost Past, an austere, Radiohead/Alan Parsons soundtrack piece where the singers’ overtones become so distorted as the high frequencies build that it’s almost as if they’re having some devious fun with a vocoder. The album concludes with a hypnotic march set to reverberating electric piano and yet more dense, echoey layers of vocalese, and then a brief chant which for once sets those otherworldly harmonies centerstage. This works on just about every level it could: as psychedelic rock, as straight-up world music composition and chillout album. One of the year’s best so far. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo will be at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 with a sellout expected, advance tickets highly recommended.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/18/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #344:

The AuteursEarly Years

Before starting Black Box Recorder, Luke Haines fronted these fiery noir 90s British art rockers. Driven by a simple, mean tremolo guitar hook, this relentless, offhandedly brutal look back in anger might be the band’s best song. From their debut cd New Wave, 1993. The link in the title above is a youtube clip.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment