Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Massimo Sammi – First Day

Truth in advertising: the retro 70s-style cover of Massimo Sammi‘s debut album pictures the jazz guitarist staring out somewhat warily beneath a bare tree in what looks like late autumn or early winter. That’s a considerably evocative image for this bracing, dark yet ultimately triumphant collection of narrative jazz pieces. A cynic might say that Sammi saw A Beautiful Mind and decided he should write an album based on the movie – obviously, he was inspired by the struggles and in particular the theories of John Nash, especially Nash’s belief in the power of intuition. Beyond that, it’s not known what else if anything Sammi might have in common with the mathematician, but there’s considerable tension, struggle and even a slightly understated horror that comes through vividly in the seven utterly original compositions here. As one would think, the overall feel here is quite cinematic. The band is first-rate: Boston luminaries John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums lock in on a fluid groove for Sammi and George Garzone’s tenor and soprano sax. Garzone is a particularly good choice since he can evoke literally any mood he wants and doesn’t shy away from what a lesser musician might find profoundly disturbing. Dominique Eade also adds heartfelt, nuanced vocalese to a couple of tracks.

Over the opening track’s slinky, modified bossa beat, Sammi offers hints of what’s to come: the tune is catchy yet has a troubled edge. Garzone doesn’t waste any time introducing just a hint of madness on the second cut, Encryption, Sammi taking a long, ruminative solo with an outro that grows more insistent. Things go completely over the edge on the third track, Garzone’s sax fluttering with an anxiety that grows quickly to a muted terror echoed starkly by Lockwood’s bass. This segues into track four, Sammi’s guitar taking the angst-ridden tone up yet another notch, rhythm section rumbling ominously beneath, all the way through to a horror-movie crescendo where Garzone’s tenor bleats, gasps and finally gives up completely. The effect is viscerally chilling.

But there’s a happy ending. Eade’s consoling voice signals in a gentle waltz and an equally warm, reassuring Sammi solo on track five, Icecream and Tears, Please, followed by the catchy, even blithe Hallways, Garzone tossing off a second clever, playful Trane quote (no spoilers here – get the cd and hear it for yourself). The all-too-brief concluding chorale has Eade soaring over Sammi’s triumphantly Spanish-inflected fingerwork. It’s kind of scary and it’s awfully good. Keep an eye on this guy, he’s really got a feel for a remarkably wide expanse of emotions and ideas.


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November 4, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Randi Russo at the Delancey, NYC 11/2/09

An aptly timed post-Halloween solo show by the raven-haired master of outsider anthems. After spending the better part of the decade as the leader of a careening, somewhat shapeshifting electric band who toward the end were going deep into psychedelia, Randi Russo has in recent months been playing stripped-down solo shows. By the standard that if something sounds good acoustic, it ought to sound great fleshed out by an electric band, her gig Monday night at Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast extravaganza was full of good omens. Resolute with her guitar in the corner of the small upstairs stage in flickering candlelight, Russo ran through a mix of crowd favorites and intriguing newer material.

She started with a newly rearranged version of Invisible, a ridiculously catchy backbeat-driven outsider anthem that’s seen some revisions lately – a new intro, this time around. She followed that with the casually excoriating Venus on Saturn, a savage dismissal of a drama queen:

The cornerstones of her addictions are stored up in her own mind…

Without it she’d be boring and no one would listen

Now she’s just annoying, and she’s getting all the attention…

Now Freud and Picasso can hone in on your womanly being

And render you two-dimensional in an essay or a canvas painting

The rest of the set ranged between catchy consonance and the eerie overtones that resonate as she plays some of the more unorthodox voicings in her repertoire (she’s a lefty and plays upside down a la Hendrix). The big 6/8 ballad Push-Pull had a gentleness and warmth that a louder electric version might have burnt away; the Zeppelin-inflected, psychedelic Head High While You Lie Low got a surprisingly and very effectively sultry treatment, as did a hushed yet insistent take on the hypnotic Hurt Me Now and another resolute anthem, the defiantly feminist Shout Like a Lady (the title track to her most recent full-length cd). By contrast, the tongue-in-cheek, tricky Parasitic People scurried along like the parasites in the lyric.

By the time she got to the hypnotic escape anthem Ceiling Fire, the drape over Wallfisch’s piano (the Small Beast) started to slip and seconds after she reached the lyric, “any cloud that comes casts a shadow on the seat next to mine,” it fell off completely: another omen? She also debuted a memorably bluesy yet indie-flavored number, yet another anthem for someone trying to keep their bearings in a surreal world. Wallfisch followed, solo on piano, maintaining the warm, soulful vibe, playing with particular warmth and conviviality in a quasi-gospel vein. Turns out that Tuesday would be his wedding anniversary, so he played to his wife (an equally admired cult artist, painter Pat Arnao), who looked on with equal parts appreciation and amusement. It would have been nice to have been able to stay for more than just the obscure Dylan cover and the absolutely exhalted love song – “You gotta trade it all in for love” – that will soon serve as the title track from the forthcoming Botanica album. But there was another victorious event going on, in Philadelphia, to watch with bated breath.

Next week’s Small Beast is a particularly good one, featuring Wallfisch plus haunting, anthemic art-rockers Norden Bombsight.

November 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment