Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Ticklin’ the Strings Presented by the Sweet Hollywaiians

This is arguably the funnest and most romantic album of the year. Japanese retro Hawaiian swing band the Sweet Hollywaiians have earned rave reviews, including one from Hollywood film director Terry Zwigoff, and the hype is deserved: they can flat-out play. With Tomotaka Matsui’s Hawaiian steel guitar, Nobumasa Takada‘s ukelele, Takashi Nakayama’s acoustic guitar and Kohichi Tsutsumishita on standup bass along with mandolin, violin and cameos from Robert Armstrong and Tony Marcus of R. Crumb’s Cheap Suit Serenaders, they run through a 1930s jukebox worth of jaunty instrumentals and period-perfect vocal numbers. It’s a feast of spiky string textures, dazzling virtuosity and inspired musicianship, not to mention scholarship – along with the standards, they’ve unearthed some real gems. But more than anything else, this is great makeout music.

The title track and Wasting My Love on You are well-known, covered by New York Hawaiian swing institution the Moonlighters along with plenty of other bands; the Sweet Hollywaiians’ versions are impressively purist, hewing close to the originals, the former blissfully upbeat, the latter quite dark in the same vein as Brother Can You Spare a Dime. The Hawaiian Beach Combers’ My Girl from the South Sea Isles and the Dallas String Band’s Chasin’ Rainbows totally nail the originals’ ambience right down to the vocals, whether Tin Pan Alley or hillbilly swing. The tango La Rosita works its major-to-minor mood shift with a marvelous ominousness; perhaps the prettiest melody of all the tunes here is Giovanni Vicari’s Nostalgia, a beautifully wistful, gypsy-inflected waltz featuring steel guitar and violin from Armstrong and Marcus. The band’s latin-inflected original Oh! Caroline is gorgously dark and spiky – one wishes they’d included more of their own stuff here. There’s also plenty of more lighthearted material here including the novelty songs Ten Tiny Toes and Singin’ in the Bathtub (a 1930s precursor to the Lyres’ garage rock hit Soapy!). Steampunks of every stripe will go crazy over this album once they find out about it. Maybe if we’re lucky here in the US we can get a Moonlighters/Sweet Hollywaiians tour!

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October 30, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet – Bien Bien!

How can you tell if a latin jazz album’s any good? Well, for one, if you can dance to it. For the new one by trombonist Wayne Wallace‘s Latin Jazz Quintet, the answer is a joyous si! Over the course of two deliriously good Ellington covers, an imaginative rearrangement of a Coltrane classic and some rambunctious originals, they cover a variety of styles perfect for swinging or snuggling across the floor. In the spirit of the great latin bands of the 40s and 50s, there are as many as four trombonists on the album, including Ellington Orchestra vets Julian Priester and Dave Martell along with Murray Low on piano, David Belove on bass and percussionists Michael Spiro and Paul van Wageningen on trap drums. Obviously, with all the trombones, they go for a big sound, but there’s plenty of space for the rest of the band as well.

Of the originals, the best is the album’s title track, a rousing guaguanco. Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance gets a slinky bomba treatment; another original, Mojito Cafe sets an expansive Low piano solo over some tricky changes and eventually a crescendoing call-and-response between the vocals and Wallace’s trombone. Memo Acevedo’s Building Bridges is inspiring and optimistic, with a sweet ensemble horn chart. The deceptively simple cha-cha Playa Negra – another original – is bouncy and even seductive. And the Duke would be proud of how Wallace works In a Sentimental Mood as wee-hours theme music, along with the group’s strikingly dark, intense version of Going Up (Subete).

The album wraps up with two innovative covers. Sonny Rollins’ Solid is basically a blues with a latin groove, transformed into a showcase in subtlety as the group brings it down to just Low and the percussion before soaring up again. And Coltrane’s Africa is brought vividly into focus, straight up and accelerated considerably over an unstoppable groove. It’s quite a change from the original but it works because it’s so different, and embraces the melody so strongly. This works equally well as dance music, as party music and just for listening. Wallace is a California native with an exhaustive gigging schedule: his next one with this crew is as part of the San Ramon Jazz Series at the San Ramon Library, 100 Montgomery St. in San Ramon, CA on November 20 at 8 PM.

October 30, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Depedro at SOB’s, NYC 10/28/09

Ex-Amparanoia guitarist Jairo Zavala AKA Depedro impressed with an acoustic set that managed to hold an impatient crowd attentive for an all-too-brief half hour. Having just recorded his debut solo cd (very favorably reviewed here) with Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, it would have been awfully nice to have had them onstage with him, especially since Calexico’s covered him and he’s shared a stage with them on multiple occasions. But it was not to be. To his credit, Zavala’s songs still resonate even without the album’s mansions of echo and ominous tremolo guitar arrangements. His shtick seems to be to take pretty much every style he knows and transform them into southwestern gothic; watching his solo show was more of an excursion through those particular styles rather than the dusky, otherw0rldly trip that is the album. The straight-up feel was enhanced by Zavala’s casual stage presence – he didn’t let what seemed at least early on to be a tough audience phase him a bit.

Minus all the Mexican and latinisms of the cd, Zavala’s guitar playing stood out as distinctively Spanish. He took one number deep into flamenco territory, rapping on the body of his guitar while essentially playing bass and rhythm simultaneously (he’s an excellent electric player, as well). The best song of the night was a powerful take of his Mexican liberation anthem La Memoria, galloping along with a gorgeously resounding clang. Done acoustically, the old Amparanoia song Como El Viento (Like the Wind) took on a sunny Mediterranean ballad feel; his reworking of a Mexican folk song, La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) was stark and rustic in contrast with the album’s twangy, ghostly version. His strong command of English helped carry the noir, slightly Orbison-esque ballad Don’t Leave Me Now; he closed the set with a singalong on a new one, then the lullaby that closes the album and a funky take of the bouncy number Comanche that could have been mistaken for G. Love if G. Love had soul and a feel for latin rhythm. Zavala promised a return trip here; hopefully he’ll have a crew behind him next time to flesh out those captivating songs.

Argentinian tango nuevo/pop sensation Federico Aubele was next on the bill, but at this point the show was running an hour and a half behind schedule and there were more captivating things to see, for cheaper (namely, Cliff Lee shutting down the Yankees in Game One of the World Series).

October 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment