Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Ansambl Mastika at Shrine, NYC 11/21/09

Ansambl Mastika call themselves the “new Balkan uproar.” What they do is definitely new and different, they are indelibly Balkan (although they range a lot further, usually toward the east) and what they play could understatedly be called an uproar. They’re one of New York’s best bands in any style of music, and they reaffirmed that uptown on Saturday night.

Since the Europeans didn’t invent jazz, they took to fusion a lot more readily than Americans did, and unfortunately some of fusion’s most annoying attributes – cheesy settings, garish solos and a complete lack of communication between musicians – still haunt a lot of music coming out of the former Eastern Bloc. Ansambl Mastika are an antidote to that. While they use electric guitar and bass along with rhythms that veer from gypsy to jazz to rock, the chemistry between the band members was characteristically playful and gripping. Nobody stepped on anybody, there was all kinds of interplay and it was obvious that this crew has a blast playing together. Which they should. Bandleader/reedman Greg Squared (who also plays in seemingly half the good Balkan-inflected bands in town, notably Raya Brass Band) was in his usual high-intensity mode, firing off blistering clusters of chromatics on both clarinet and sax. Bassist Ruben Radding (also of Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar and several jazz projects) felt the room, holding down a fat groove with an understatement that made his infrequent chords and slides all the more intense. This time out the group were in a particularly Greek/Macedonian mood, their leader taking a vocal on a handful of numbers.

They opened as a lot of gypsy bands do with what was basically a one-chord jam that gave their trumpeter a chance to cut loose with an ominous, chromatically-charged abandon. Accordion took centerstage on the next number as its introductory Greek waltz took a bitter, Middle Eastern-infused riff down to the lower registers, clarinet fueling the fire. The next looked like it was going to go totally fusion a la what the NY Gypsy All-Stars fall prey to sometimes, but it didn’t when the guitar and accordion turned it over to the horns, and then the guitar kicked in using almost a Fender Rhodes tone. After flailing around with some tricky time changes the band brought it back with a snarling, 4/4 stomp. The other tunes included a stripped-down, rustic, Macedonian-flavored number with the drummer on a standup bass drum and a wildly slinky, chromatic ride to the depths of the Adriatic on the wings of a long, triumphant trumpet solo where the guitar took over and then proceeded to make dark, unexpected janglerock out of it. They wrapped up the set with another Greek tune with a Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood feel on the chorus, incisively bluesy guitar teleporting to the Sahara in a split second. And then it was over. If you wish you’d been at  this one, Ansambl Mastika play Drom at 9 on Dec 11 on an excellent doublebill with Ethiopian jazz group the Debo Band.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 11/19/09

It’s a fine line in the music blogosphere – nobody wants to come off as a cheerleader for a particular artist or band, yet there are some acts who inarguably deserve a lot of attention. Jenifer Jackson is no stranger to regular readers here. But even by her rigorous standards, her show at the Rockwood on the nineteenth was transcendent, the best one she’s done – in New York at least – in a long time. And there have been some good ones in between, just to go the music index above and you will see plenty. Is this overkill? Not if you consider how the much ink the Village Voice gave the Ramones in the summer of 1977, or how much press Coltrane got back in the 50s. That’s not an overstatement. Jackson and her bandmates pianist Matt Kanelos  (who leads a fine Americana-rock band of his own) and drummer Billy Doughty gave a clinic in tersely, wrenchingly beautiful songcraft, Jackson’s vocals gentle but with the steely resolve that underscores the intensity of the emotion in everything she writes.

Kanelos gave notice that he was in particularly bluesy, soulful mode right from the start, beginnining with the psychedelic ballad The War Is Done, from Jackson’s 2001 Birds cd. Good Times Roll (her original, not the B.B.King standard) was hypnotic, even mesmerizing, Kanelos playfully working a glockenspiel in tandem with his lefthand rhythm. The understated frustration anthem Words got a particularly propulsive treatment; by contrast, the hopeful ballad Spring (yet another unreleased gem) was lush and sultry, Doughty playing the lead line on melodica.

The angst-driven existentialist anthem Maybe, pondering the point at which it might make sense to let hope – of whatever kind – fall by the wayside was driven and insistent, part post-Carole King riffage, part sprightly post-Bacharach pop, part countrypolitan. Wherever the song led, the dark undercurrent beneath the catchy, glistening pop surface was always there.

Her most countrypolitan ballad, After the Fall (also from Birds) got the benefit of an absolutely psychedelic, hypnotic, percussive jam out. She wrapped up the set with two new ones – a chorus-driven, Mary Lee’s Corvette-style Americana pop hit, another that matched early 70s radio pop to a sweaty Philly soul groove, and a particularly wistful, gently lovely take on the unreleased 6/8 ballad The Beauty in the Emptying, whose title pretty much speaks for itself. Doughty again took the lead on melodica, enhancing its gentle resilience. Wow. What a show. You’ll see this on our Best NYC Concerts of 2009 list in about a month.

The Rockwood has been Jackson’s home for awhile but now that she’s back, who knows where she’ll be next – watch this space for upcoming dates.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Herve Duteil at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 11/15/09

Herve Duteil trained as a classical organist, along the way winning and later judging international competitions. His dayjob appears to be finance, along with a position at NGO relief organization Fidesco USA. Good thing he hasn’t given up his other job as a concert performer: his recital at St. Thomas on the fifteenth was blissfully intense.

Many of us have groused about how performers not only in classical but also in jazz will follow a rousing piece with a composition which is 180 degrees the opposite. And which makes a horrible segue. Why? To give themselves a breather? To offer a study in contrasts? Too frequently, this device seems to be a cop-out – and vive Duteil for not doing it. He kicked off the evening on the rear organ, designed and tuned especially for the baroque and composers of the North German School. Pulling out all the stops, he turned this usually understated instrument into a force of menace with Nicholas Bruhns’ Praeludium in E Minor (this link offers a decent version but one that can’t compare with the vigor and good cheer that Duteil served up).

Moving to the redoubtable Skinner organ at the front of the church, he then lit into German Romantic composer Josef Rheinberger’s Sonata No. 8 in E Minor. Opening with a full-bore plein jeu attack, the piece  builds to an extremely clever tradeoff between its initial waltz theme and the dramatic, straightforward stomp that follows. It ended as ferociously as it had began. Duteil then pulled back, but just a little, for the Moderato and then the Andante Sostenuto of Charles Widor’s Symphonie Gothique (which is actually pretty far from what we think of as gothic.) Sturm und drang from a distance built to a little real sturm und drang, followed by marvelously nuanced, nebulously muted cantabile disquiet. The program closed with Charles Tournemire’s famous Improvisation sur le Te Deum, all high-pressure fluid dynamics and dramatic counterpoint. It’s a showstopper, and in Duteil’s hands brought what was already a powerful performance to a wall-shaking crescendo. Duteil is no stranger to this venue; hopefully he’ll be back, before the old Skinner (ostensibly in disrepair but sounding no worse for the wear and tear of almost a century) gets pulled off the wall and replaced.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment