Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky

This is what free jazz ought to sound like. While there’s definitely plenty of composition here, there’s also an extraordinary amount of listening and the smart, thoughtful playing that good musicians do when they’re all tuned into each other. Trombonist Samuel Blaser leads the crew and gets extra props for putting this particular unit together. This is one of those albums that the drummer absolutely owns: Tyshawn Sorey rumbles underneath, methodically like a subway (by turns a steady local train, a work train inching by or an occasional express roaring along) as guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Thomas Morgan add shade and color in a stunning display of minimalist precision. No wasted notes here!

Blaser gets the over seventeen-minute title track to work off a stately, thoughtful five-note riff punctuated by stillness and deftly placed accents by Neufeld and Morgan. As with the rest of the tracks here, there’s more following and echoing than there is actual interplay, the musicians taking turns building off a minute, intricate phrase, almost a contest where the winner is he who can say the most with the least. Which with generally quiet music is an admirable goal. On this song, guitar and then bass maintain suspense two steps behind the beat, which at a lento crawl is a lot harder than it sounds. Blaser’s unexpectedly triumphant windup to the song actually adds an undercurrent of unease (that device will recur later to rousing effect).

The second cut, Red Hook scurries without actually scurrying – Blaser’s trombone runs it alone as the rhythm section stays terse and deliberate with vivid washes of sound from Neufeld’s guitar. They follow it with the pensive, plaintive Choral I (which they return to as a concluding theme), and then the aptly titled Mystical Circle, Blaser remaining defiantly casual, even out-of-focus throughout a series of methodical descending progressions. The dark, murky, minor-key Mandala is nothing short of phantasmagorical; by contrast, Speed Game is tongue-in-cheek, more a series of relays than any kind of sprint. This quiet, deft display of talent is nothing short of a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of 2009.

Advertisements

October 28, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Wiyos – Broken Land Bell

Their best album. It’s amazing how much energy the Wiyos get out of a couple of acoustic guitars, harmonica and upright bass – and to their further credit, the quality of the songs and the playing here transcends the presence of a human beatbox. Cross-pollination is usually a good thing, but this time it is not, and happily the hip-hop effects are mostly buried in the mix on all but a couple of the songs. Which represent the Wiyos’ inimitable blend of rousing 1920s-style hokum blues, ragtime, guitar swing and oldtimey hillbilly songs – everything here sound live, which is especially fortuitous since their concerts are reliably high-intensity affairs. This one kicks off with a rustic traveling song, followed by another equally jaunty number, then a starkly minor-key banjo tune. There are also a couple of hobo songs here, one a cautionary tale to stay one step ahead of the law, the other a soaring tribute to the excitement of riding the rails. Singer/guitarist Parrish Ellis’ Angeline has a Hank Williams-gone-cajun feel; guitarist Teddy Weber’s Green Bottle #6 is jazzy and swinging with a sweet lapsteel solo. By contrast, Drum, by frontman/harmonica player Michael Farkas is a dark and aptly aphoristic antiwar number with train-whistle steel guitar. The album wraps up with a deliriously fun country drinking song, a ballad that starts out hypnotic with an early Grateful Dead feel before picking up steam, and the vividly lyrical, wary Valentina, a thoughtful evocation of a girl stuck in a city that once made a great place to hide but has now swallowed her whole. “The kings can’t grow up to be kings,” Farkas muses – it’s an anthem of sorts for the new depression. Steampunks everywhere will be salivating for this. The Wiyos got their start here and make frequent return trips – these guys live on the road, watch this space for future NYC dates.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Depedro

Spanish rocker Jairo Zavala has been cutting across genres since his days with Amparanoia back in the 90s. On this solo disc, the debut release for the new label Nat Geo Music, he takes the name Depedro with the intention of  blending latin and Mediterranean influences. What he essentially achieves here is to take a bunch of different styles and make southwestern gothic out of them, and considering he’s working with two of the foremost SW goth stylists in the business, Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, the album is enormously successful. Dusky, glimmering, otherworldly and drenched in reverb, with mostly Spanish-language lyrics that range from the thoughtful and aphroristic to the neither-here-nor-there, the songs jangle, clang and often linger with a haunting intensity.

The opening track, Como el Viento (Like the Wind), takes an old Amparanoia tune and gives it a swinging, Caifanes-esque Mexican sundown rock feel. The single best cut on the album is Don’t Leave Me Now, its ominous horns evoking a ghostly bordertown of the mind circa 1940. La Memoria, which follows is a feast of spiky string textures, banjo and acoustic guitar backed by the eerie, watery strains of a guitar phased through a Leslie organ speaker. Otherwise, Zavala takes Weimar blues to Santa Fe, adds Norteno agression to a darkly lilting border ballad, takes a couple of detours into latin funk (one such an evocation of War that it’s practically camp) and then Mexicanizes a big 90s style guitar rock anthem. Burns and especially Convertino add the requisite, deliciously ringing, clanging, reverberating guitar and bass effects (the latter often played with a bow for a dark cello tone), and Zavala does a marvelously soaring evocation of the Friends of Dean Martinez‘ Bill Elm on lapsteel on one of the cuts. If southwestern gothic, David Lynch soundtracks, Chris Isaak, Steve Wynn, Calexico or just about any recent rock en Espanol is your thing, get this album, it’s a stylized masterpiece. New York listeners can see Depedro tonight, October 28 at SOB’s in the West Village at 8 on an intriguing doublebill opening for Argentinian tango nuevo star Federico Aubele.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: System Noise and Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble at Fontana’s, NYC 10/27/09

A pre-Halloween summit meeting of two of the most charismatic women in rock – or for that matter, any kind of music – went largely undiscovered due to an incessant drizzle. What is up with you, New Yorkers? You used to be so tough. Have all the cool people been priced out of town by the yuppies and trendoids, or is it the depression and the harsh reality that nobody except the yuppies and trendoids have any money to go out anymore? Likely so, since System Noise and Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble don’t exactly project the bland, corporate vibe preferred by the Malibu leisure class and the hedge fund nebbishes from New Jersey. Despite the light turnout, platinum blonde System Noise frontwoman Sarah Mucho and her raven-haired counterpart Beren seized the stage to represent two vastly different eras of cutting edge vocals. Both got their start in their teens – Beren’s legendary avant-punk first band Die Hausfrauen had already been signed, toured, put out an album and had broken up long before she reached her twenties – while Mucho honed her unearthly wail as an underage kid belting over crowds of drunks in piano bars. Both women also have a category-defying, intensely dramatic sensibility that draws considerably on underground theatre. System Noise kicked things off with their most ferocious set in a long time, and they’re ferocious most of the time anyway. Mucho, raccoon-eyed and dressed head-to-toe as a skeleton, cut loose with the single most bloodcurdling scream of the night on the band’s towering, macabre Carrie tribute, Prom Night. Otherwise, the band’s new material, particularly the opening number, Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) showed off more catchy hooks than ever, even as they’d intersperse innumerable wild, screaming noise-rock interludes, off-the-cliff tempo shifts and rollercoaster dynamic shifts orchestrated with gleeful abandon by Pouth their drummer.

Beren had also done her best to make herself look dead – or undead – but that didn’t really work, from the moment she sat down at her keyboard and unleashed the contralto roar that has been her trademark since the 80s. Ecstatically alive as she comes across, this was a particularly forceful, intense set, maybe due to the fact that she did more straight-up rock songs instead of the titanic epics in 6/8 that she and her band – this time with two guitarists, trombonist and rhythm section – do so inimitably well. A couple of them evoked Patti Smith, another the Damned; others brought to mind Blue Oyster Cult with a gypsy-inflected downtown sensibility. The most gripping one of the night began stately and anguished in 6/8 before leaping into 4/4 on the wings of bassist Greg Garing’s booming, percussive chords.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment