Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Lost Crusaders and the Mike Edison Space Liberation Army at Lakeside, NYC 12/18/09

Looking a little pale and thin and fresh off a morphine drip (don’t worry, he’ll be fine), Lost Crusaders frontman/harmonica player Michael Chandler and his steady guitarist Johnny Vigneault were wrapping up their six-week-or so duo residency at Lakeside. Vigneault sat, stomped his foot and blasted the increasingly packed back room with a reverb-laden roar while Chandler, eyes tightly closed, slammed a tambourine against his leg and ran through a bunch of the garage-gospel songs that are the band’s specialty. The style was different, but the feel was totally R.L. Burnside or T-Model Ford  – it could have been a shotgun shack in the Mississippi hills. Midway through the set, they ran through the soulful What Have You Done, a standout track from their 2007 album Have You Heard About the World that features a fantastic Laura Cantrell vocal.  The whole thing went on nonstop for almost an hour, with a few oldschool spirituals amped up for good measure.

Early shows at Lakeside are a rare enough event, doublebills even more  so. Chandler’s old 80s Raunch Hands pal, Mike Edison, inventor of  the Bongcaster and author of the hellraising memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go brought his Space Liberation Army: Dean Rispler on bass, Hollis Queens of Boss Hogg supplying a supple, laid back drumbeat and Jon Spencer wailing – and tossing off a couple of perfect Hendrix quotes on lead guitar. Edison ranted and railed, occasionally punching a soul organ riff on his Nord Electro or lashing at his theremin to emphasize a point. Although drinking what looked to be straight bourbon, he didn’t miss a beat, only occasionally referring to a cheat sheet as he gleefully recounted tales from a booze-and-drug-soaked past or savaged the right wing, Jello Biafra style as the band snaked along behind him. His story of one particularly crazy one-off Raunch Hands gig in Spain was impossible not to smile at, especially when after that show, the band discovered that although the folks who’d hired them had left them a copious bagful of drugs, the cocaine was all gone. Predictably, pandemonium ensued. “What if I crush up some of these [unidentified] pills and snort them?”  a panicked Edison asked his guitarist.

“Nope, I already tried,” was the response.

Another long rant snidely revealed the truth about Jews for Jesus: they’re not Jews, they’re really rightwing Christian nuts who want all the Jews to convert so they can bring on the Rapture (presumably, that means nuclear war, or at least something Halliburton can use to get rid of all that nasty waste from their nuclear power plants). The crew closed with a careening salute to first amendment rights, drug legalization, alcohol and porn – and the criminalization of daytime tv (this is right about where all the very strong two-for-ones started to kick in and the memory gets fuzzy). Edison’s site doesn’t have any upcoming shows listed, but watch this space: you ought to see him sometime.

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December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Accomplish Jazz

The title of Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord’s new album is sarcastic, quite possibly a slap at critics who might think that they haven’t been quite “jazz enough”  in the past. The press materials for the album quote one reviewer who classifies them as fusion, which completely misses the point. With Lundbom on electric guitar, the irrepressible Moppa Elliott on bass, Thelonious Monk competition winner Jon Irabagon on alto, Bryan Murray on tenor and Danny Fischer on drums, this is a group for whom thinking outside the box is second nature. They have about as much in common with, say, Chick Corea as they do with Grizzly Bear. They’re not quite as vitriolic as their PR says they are, but there’s plenty of bite here. The cd cover features a couple of passengers’-eye snapshots taken on what looks like the Bear Mountain Highway in upstate New York – will they go over the cliff, or won’t they? – which speak volumes for what’s inside. Interestingly, Lundbom plays it pretty clean here – he goes straight through his amp, without effects, showing a preference for sinuous horn voicings. Elliott, by contrast, is his gritty, growling self, in particularly snarling mode here, although he does contribute the same kind of sly, snide humor of his own band Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Irabagon and Murray add clever and often unanticipated color.

Lundbom takes his time getting started, but eventually starts wailing and tremolo-picking and goes off the hinges as the rhythm section rumbles on the opening track, Truncheon, Irabagon firing off a whole series of rapidfire blues licks straight out of the Ron Asheton playbook. Elliott moves the next cut, Phoenetics along methodically with funeral march and then bell motifs, a study in contrasts between the prettiness of the sax-driven head and the uneasy permutations that follow. The third track is a cover of the Louvin Bros.’ The Christian Life, which they play straight up with just a bit of tongue-in-cheek uptightness until Murray tosses off a casually dismissive little trill, and within seconds Elliott is in on the fun, punching the beat sarcastically. Murray then tries a high-spirited “woops, I forgot we’re in church” solo, but it’s too late, the genie is out of the bottle and when the band stomps all over Elliott’s silly guitar voicings at the end, it’s hilarious.

Lundbom bends and sways, Bill Frisell style, to open the next cut, Tick-Dog, a Cedar Walton adaptation, shifting from unease to swing to a big squalling Murray solo and then a puckish ending from Elliott. The final cut, Baluba, Baluba is a funky stomp, horns accenting Lundbom’s big, early 70s-style blues/funk solo, Irabagon then adding an unleashed Jimmy Page feel way up the scale. When the band finally smashes the thing to pieces after about eight minutes worth of this, the chaos is deliciously rewarding: after keeping it together for the whole album, they’ve earned it . Great headphone music for anyone who’s just closed down the bar but needs more of the night.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NY Philharmonic Makes Solid CONTACT!

The debut concert of CONTACT!, the New York Philharmonic’s new-music series proved auspiciously to be a lot more than just a PR opportunity, a brazen attempt to court a younger audience: these people mean business. The NY Phil has commissioned works for decades, but the fact that they selected Arlene Sierra, Lei Liang, Marc-Andre Dalbavie and Arthur Kampela to create an inaugural program of world premieres for a series devoted exclusively to the avant garde underscores the seriousness of their commitment. Under the direction of composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg – making his NY Phil debut as a conductor – players from the Orchestra demonstrated a versatility and an unabashed enthusiasm for a program that was challenging and often highly unorthodox (and thus a welcome break from the familiar canon – it probably couldn’t have been timed better for the musicians).

Sierra’s Game of Attrition was described beforehand in a brief dialogue between composer and conductor as essentially math-rock for orchestra, a Darwinian competition  for space between instruments of similar timbres. Composers have been sending motifs on a journey around the orchestra, or from one rank of the organ to another, since before Bach. But with a playfulness and an understated deliberation, Sierra’s simple ideas grew as she said they would into larger, more expressive figures: evolution on display, the warmth of the lows contrasting with the ominous portents of the highs and what sounded like a deliberate quote from The Eton Rifles by 70s mod punk rockers the Jam. The tension was most appealingly apparent toward the end in a detente-breaking conversation between marimba and piano. And then it was over.

Lei Liang’s Verge, for 18 Strings was another successful attempt to put new spin on an old idea, in this case using the notes of the scale to spell out a name. It’s been done scores of times – you assign a note to the first twelve letters of the alphabet, and then you start over. Google Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H., for example and see what you get. Liang dedicated this one to his infant son: he’d started the piece before the child was born, hence the title. With the strings arranged T.S. Eliot style in four quartets with a bassist at each end of the stage, it was a hypnotic, ambient, oscillating tone poem replete with quadrophonic effects that built to a dramatic, windswept crescendo of Mongolian tonalities on the second movement, evocative of  throat singers Huun Huur Tu’s most recent work. It was the high point of the evening.

Marc-Andre Dalbavie and Lindberg met in Paris in the 80s and bonded over their passion for spectral music. Dalbavie told the audience that he was moving further and further toward a horizontality in his composition, and his Melodia, for Instrumental Ensemble cleverly blended in the well-known Dies Irae theme from Gregorian chant, an effective update on what Rachmaninoff did with Isle of the Dead. While the tonalities would shift ever so slightly, the dynamics bubbled and lept, often in considerable contrast with the stillness of the melody, such that there was.

Arthur Kampela’s Macunaima takes its title from a seminal Brazilian magic-realist novel from the 1920s. To be fair to the composer, it seemed from the point of view of one unfamiliar with the book to be a narrative, and for that matter, it might have been spot-on. But for those in the crowd who hadn’t read it, it sounded – as one cynic put it – “like the four-year-olds in my morning class when you pass out the instruments.” It actually wasn’t that bad, percussive and carnivalesque, but like the kind of carnival that takes place on the far side of a Stop and Shop parking lot in northern New England, where it seems that the carnival guys have left all the best rides back in Massachusetts, and the sounds that make their way across to the folks on the other end aren’t exactly enticing enough to lure the eight-year-olds who make up their target audience. It was impossible to tell whether the ensemble were enjoying themselves or just counting time until the end, which they did perfectly: the composition didn’t afford them the opportunity to do much of anything else.   

Don’t just take our word for all this: the entire concert will be rebroadcast in its entirety on q2, WQXR’s contemporary online classical music stream this Sunday, December 27 at 2 PM. And even more auspiciously, CONTACT! continues on April 16 at 8 PM at Symphony Space, Alan Gilbert conducting world premieres by Sean Shepherd, Nico Muhly and Matthias Pintscher.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

This absolutely gorgeous album – just out on Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Hot Cup label – is a lock for one of the best of 2009 in any style of music. It’s marketed as jazz, although it could just as easily be called minimalism or classical. It would make an amazing soundtrack if the label could find a film that deserved it. Baritone sax player Charles Evans uses the entirety of his instrument, not just the low registers. He can make it sing, like Gerry Mulligan, but with more imagination, adding overtones and harmonics and a vibrato that he can slow waaaaaay down to Little Jimmy Scott speed. The most obvious comparison, imaginatively if not exactly stylistically, is genre-defying funkstress and ambient baritone sax composer Paula Henderson. Pianist Neil Shah is a first-rate rock songwriter and barrelhouse player, but what he does here is 180 degrees from that – to say that his playing here is haunting is a considerable understatement. Jazz fans will hear echoes of Keith Jarrett, but his real antecedent is Erik Satie. This album, a suite of six pieces, has Shah laying down a frequently macabre, terse mode that Evans colors with deliberateness and precision; other times it’s Evans who introduces the mood and has Shah embellish it ever so slightly. It’s as poignant as it is hypnotic.

The first two pieces are trio suites of their own,  the intial track, Junie, quickly establishing the otherworldly glimmer that will dominate from here on in. Shah expertly works two different palettes, ominous in the left hand, colorful and Romantic in the right, when it comes time for his solo. They take it out with a Messiaenesque warped boogie of sorts, Evans supplying rhythmic accents loaded with implication. The second mini-suite, On Tone Yet, demonstrates the uncanny chemistry between the two musicians: the two play these songs as a truly integral unit, as if a single mind was bringing them to life (or exhuming them – this is dark stuff). Shah’s insistent series of simple chords, switching a single voice among the keys for an effect that goes from subtle to sinister in a split second, veers off into a strikingly cantabile passage and then menacingly back again, is a high point. They float it out with Indian-inflected ambience, sax holding the piano up to keep it from disappearing into the murk.

Mono Monk is the most minimalist song on the album, Evans and Shah emphasizing the space between the notes with as much stern judiciousness as what they play. The lone cover here, Jan Roth’s sarcastically titled An Die Fliegenden Fische (The Flying Fish) is more of a jellyfish, albeit a playful, bluesy one, Evans contributing a pretty, lyrical solo matched by Shah’s Bill Evans-style cascades. The cd wraps up with a nine-minute number with a title that goes on almost as long and fairly neatly sums up the whole set: mournful Satie-esque piano followed by Evans’ most expansive, bluesiest solo of the night; some call-and-response; a pregnant pause, and then sax and piano switch roles.

There are only two drawbacks here. The first is an overabundance of crowd applause after the songs – we’re talking thirty seconds at the end of the cd. That’s Guns & Roses stuff, and while it’s hardly a disaster, it is annoying. It sounds like there were three people in the audience and they’re trying to compensate for it, and they can’t (but what a treat to have been one of those three, in what is obviously a sonically exquisite space!). The other quibble is that, hey, they’re at Saint Stephens: da-da, da da-da-da-da, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-DA-da-da-da! Dude, why not do that one? Dollars to donuts these two would do something with it that would make Jerry Garcia proud.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Somebodies’ Christmas Show 12/16/09

You know a band has to be good if they can keep a smart crowd entertained with a bunch of Christmas songs. Let’s face it – Christmas music sucks, bigtime. Almost as much as Nickelback or Lady Gag. In fact, the only holiday music that’s any good is the non-Western stuff: Diwali, Passover, Ramadan. And of course Halloween. But the Somebodies – with a lot of help from some good friends – had obviously really worked hard on putting together a theme night that in a lesser group’s hands would have been pure schlock.

The band’s sound is concretized sometime in the 80s: their faster stuff has a scurrying new wave beat; the anthems look back to a time before grunge, before hair metal, in fact, when you were supposed to sing them casually, unaffectedly, without any cliches. But they didn’t play any of those. Usually the bass carries the melody, as Graham Maby used to do on Joe Jackson’s early albums. Their three originals in their set list at Lakeside on the sixteenth included a brisk, punchy pop number that would have made a good b-side to What I Like About You, another with a propulsive, melodic reggae bassline that went doublespeed on the chorus, and the last song of the night, where bassist Luke Mitchell got  to go deep into his bag of chops for some slinky slides, hammer-ons and fat, boomy chords. And these were all well-received, but it was the holiday stuff that made smiles out of winces.

They started with the Eric Carmen weepie (and Rachmaninoff ripoff) All By Myself, just Mitchell and drummer Phil McDonald who gave it the most deviously deadpan vocal you could want. Then frontman/guitarist Pete Derba joined them for Feliz Navidad, which in his hands was basically the same lyric over and over again. That was mercifully over fast. Dylan Keeler of the Disclaimers took a reluctantly amusing turn as Elvis impersonator on Santa’s Back in Town; later, Derba did Blue Christmas back into deadpan territory with some help from a ringer chorus on backup vocals. Kate Thomason and Naa Koshie Mills – the duo who give the Disclaimers their signature soul sound – did a lighthearted rap number, and later a Christmas soul song from the 60s. For her absolutely sultry cover of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, Mills peeled off her shiny fake fur coat to reveal an equally shiny 60s cocktail dress and then brought down the house.

Keeler and his fellow Disclaimers guitarist Dan Sullivan gave Santa Claus Is Coming to Town a sublimely ridiculous Blues Brothers vibe, Sullivan doing most of the jumping and kicking around in front of the stage: “He knows when you forget the lyrics,” he deadpanned. But the most affecting moment of the night was when Jerome and Susan O’Brien of the Dog Show led the crowd in an acoustic singalong of So This Is Christmas. “War is over, if you want it…” If only this year’s Nobel winner could have been there, he undoubedly would have a good time, notwithstanding this timely reminder of how little has actually changed since that auspicious day in November of last year.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment