Lucid Culture


CD Review: Kat Parra & the Sephardic Music Experience – Dos Amantes

Chanteuse Kat Parra made a splash a couple of years ago with her Birds in Flight album, a groundbreaking blend of latin jazz and Middle Eastern-inflected Spanish Sephardic music. This cd, her third, maintains the alternately haunting, rousing and seductive sound that’s become her signature. Backed by an inspired latin band led by pianist Murray Low and featuring Stephanie Antoine on violin, Masaru Koga on sax and flute, Peter Barshay on bass, Paul van Wageningen on drums and Katja Cooper on percussion, she makes her way through a diverse mix of traditional Spanish Jewish songs from across the years, piquantly rearranged with a salsa groove. Parra sings in Ladino, which is to Spanish what Yiddish is to German, the language of the Andalusian Jews dating back to the eighth century.

The arrangements here may be latin, but the melodies are indelibly Levantine. In places, the band will go off on a latin tangent, but they always come back to the hook that gives the songs a foundation, as with the opening track, Los Bilbilicos (The Nightingales). There’s a big Middle Eastern flute flourish to kick it off, then the vocals follow in the same vein, but then its terse latin arrangement gets breezy with a big percussion break straight out of Spanish Harlem. The title track could be a Rahbani Brothers hit from Lebanon, 1955 with some extra soul and rhumba rhythms. En La Mar (In the Ocean) is a flamenco jazz number driven by Jason McGiure’s acoustic guitar and vivid flute accents.

Somewhat incongruously titled, Fiestaremos (Let’s Party) is big and gospelish with its massive choir of voices standing in contrast against a carefree flute melody. Avrix Mi Galanica (Open the Door, My Dear Girl) is the most modern of all the tracks here, flute contrasting with electric piano for an Egyptian pop ballad feel. The absurdly catchy La Vida Do Por El Raki (I’d Give My Life for Raki) is a traditional drinking song with a dark undercurrent – evidently the Balkan apple brandy known as rakija further east made its way to Spain. The last song is a contemporary Hanukah number, a children’s song actually, but it’s irresistibly infectious and fun for all ages. This album ought to resonate equally well with adventurous latin music fans as well as devotees of Levantine music of all kinds. Bay Area fans can catch Parra’s cd release show for this one on January 18 at 8 PM at Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St. in San Francisco.


January 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/14/10

Every day we count down the best 666 songs of alltime, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #196:

The Rolling Stones – Jumping Jack Flash

Trivia question: you know Jagger wrote the words, but who wrote the music? That would be Bill Wyman. And it makes sense, if you listen to how the bass looms out of the chorus, all those haunting, magnificently echoey chords. Pure low-register transcendence.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Boban i Marko Markovic – Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven

Truth in advertising: Serbian brass legends Boban i Marko Markovic’s new album is a party in a box. The title, Devla, is an exclamation, sort of Serbian for OMG! Bandleader/flugelhorn player Boban Markovic and his trumpeter son Marko play blistering, rapidfire clusters of eerie gypsy harmonies, backed by accordion, clarinet and sometimes a real rhythm section, sometimes a synth and drum machine (the use of several different singers undoubtedly necessitated the use of multiple recording situations). Whatever the case, the power of the brass overshadows the occasional cheapness of the production [New Yorkers – if you wonder what they spin at Mehanata, this is it, you can take the party home with you now]. Most of the originals here are by Marko, and as a rule they are excellent, from an ominous, slinky vamp punctuated with astringent, microtonal reed solos, to the title track (a huge club hit – you’ve undoubtedly heard it if you’re into this stuff), to the machine-gun staccato of Hopa Cupa, to Kazi Baba with its mysterious bounce. A cover of a similarly bouncy Saban Bajramovic Balkan pop hit features a passionate, gritty vocal by Mustafa Sabanovic; Sofi Marinova’s vocal gives another dancefloor number a Madonna-goes-to-Sofia vibe. Of the low-key numbers, there’s a slow, stately swinging jazz orchestra tune with Cab Calloway-esque vocals by Ljubisa “Luis” Stojanovic – in Serbian. For those not familiar with the vernacular, the effect is bizarre yet heartwarming. There’s also a nice, soulful, expansively fluttering cover of an instrumental by Turkish clarinet god Husnu Senlendirici rearranged for brass. This album is intense enough to satisfy the most hardcore Balkan brass fan yet accessible enough to cross over to an international dance music audience: devla, this is fun!

January 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Plunge – Dancing on Thin Ice

From New Orleans comes this fun, delightfully smart, somewhat minimalist trio groove jazz project. Plunge doesn’t have a drummer, so bassist James Singleton has to propel the unit by all by himself and does a great job. He swings like crazy and when he cuts loose once in awhile he’s still got a strong grip on the throttle. Composer Mark McGrain uses the full range of his trombone, judiciously, while saxophonist Tim Green adds a wise, knowing, bluesy soulfulness. What hits you right off the bat is what a good time these guys are obviously having – while they’re adding an interesting, original edge to a whole bunch of different styles, this isn’t just art for art’s sake. You can hum along to literally everything here.

The cd’s first track, Friday Night at the Top is a hypnotic groove –  Singleton runs a sinuous bass riff while Green and then McGrain prowl around. The second cut, Life of a Cipher is a slinky spy theme with a rhumba pulse – toward the end Singleton breaks out his bow and delivers some eerie funk while the horns hold down the hook. Yet another groove number, Orion Rising has Singleton walking it with effortless ease while McGrain and then Green offer completely different witness accounts of what’s going on.

On the sludgy Luminata No 257, Singleton holds it down with his bow as the horns take turns peeking up the periscope. The unabashedly silly One Man’s Machine sounds like a P-Funk b-side instrumental, the guys caught unawares messing around with the bass synthesizer. The title track is joyous, bouncy N’Awlins flavor stripped to just the basics, gets woozy and then comes out of it with a bass solo of all things. With a straight-up oldschool southern vibe, the single most striking track here is the gorgeous, pensive jazz waltz Missing Mozambique. The cd’s two concluding cuts maintain that feel, like the nucleus of a second-line band working the subtle underpinnings of what would otherwise be blazing marches. Marketed as a crossover electronic project, the effects on the album are happily limited to the occasional effects-box timbre, like the oscillation quietly swirling beneath the bass on the opening cut. There’s so much melody here that this could become very, very popular.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Bobtown at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 1/10/10

Sunday night at Spikehill is Americana night, with a rotating cast of frequently excellent roots bands from around the New York area. Last Sunday’s show opened with Rescue Bird, who’ve been on our shortlist to see for awhile, but that was not to be. The next band, Bobtown were even better than the few intriguing songs on their myspace indicated. There is no band in town who sound like them. Mixing elements of country gospel, bluegrass and field hollers with an often macabre Nashville gothic tinge and soaring four-part harmonies, they ran through a frequently riveting set of originals along with a plaintive, powerful cover of the old British folk ballad Short Life of Trouble sung with authority by guitarist Karen Dahlstrom.

They opened with three harmony-driven country gospel numbers, one an amusingly herky-jerky original by acoustic bass guitarist (and bass singer) Fred Stesney while lead player Gary Keenan played incisively and tersely as he moved from banjo, to resonator guitar, to mandolin, to what looked like a darkly twangy Turkish cumbus lute. Singer Jen McDearman appears to be the band’s main source of darkness, contributing both a blithe acoustic pop song, Black Dog, its casually menacing lyric making a striking contrast with its peppy tune, as well as the night’s best song, a big, ominous anthem titled We Will Bury You.

Accordionist Katherine Etzel, whose effortlessly high, twangy soprano reminds a lot of a young Dolly Parton, led the group through a series of stark, rhythmic, bluesy originals in the style of nineteenth century slaves’ field hollers. Then they picked up the pace with a rapidfire bluegrass tune, Hell and Gone (with a reference to smoking “all the tea in China”) delivered with a graceful intensity by Dahlstrom, and then reverted to country gospel to close the set. Bobtown have a new album coming out; ostensibly, all of these originals are on it. If they sound anything like how the band played them Sunday night, it should be killer. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Ninth House at Otto’s, NYC 1/9/10

By a quarter to eleven, the world’s most inept rockabilly band is finishing up. The bass player can’t figure out the chords to Mystery Train. But they have an excuse: they’re in high school.

Ninth House take the stage minus their keyboardist, but with the reliably intense Susan Mitchell on viola. Rightaway she finds her spot and holds it down, playing eerie washes of sound, doubling the vocal line, foreshadowing it or establishing a harmony since guitarist Keith Otten – the best six-string player this band’s ever had-  is wailing with a casually savage Jimmy Page-gone-terse vibe. They open with a new one, Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate, galloping along a la vintage Social Distortion. “Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate, from New York City, the one that drags me into a hole,” roars bassist/singer Mark Sinnis in his sinister baritone.

They usually open with Long Stray Whim and its blast of guitar fury, but this time they play it second. Mitchell brings an eerie bluesiness to her solo and Otten follows her, even eerier. They should be at odds with the defiant, major-key triumph of the melody but they’re not.

Another new one, Funeral for Your Mind is a brutal anthem. Drummer Francis Xavier rides the toms to drive the chorus home, hard. When the time comes, another paint-peeling Otten guitar solo over Mitchell’s stark ambience.

Injury Home is a noir cabaret blues, and Mitchell takes the lead, giving it an oldtimey feel; they follow that with the catchy, poppy, swaying, mid-80s Cure-ish Down Beneath.

“That song is about dying. This song is about dying too,” Sinnis tells the packed house. And then launches into a fast country shuffle. “Death is your friend, in harmony.” The crowd loves it. They want more and they get it.

“Here’s another song about dying.”  This is a brand new one, “A world premiere,” as Sinnis cynically puts it. More pounding post-Social Distortion punkabilly. The guy wants to be buried “in a suit of black, with a bottle of whiskey at my feet.” That doesn’t exactly come as a shock.

They close with a pummeling punked-out cover of Ghost Riders, flying along until Sinnis ends it cold. The rockabilly kids have stayed; some have their phones out, taking pictures, making videos. They’ve just seen one of New York’s best bands for the last ten years at the top of their macabre game, most likely for the first time. They probably will again.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Fishtank Ensemble at BAM Cafe, Brooklyn NY 1/9/10

Saturday night at BAM Cafe, Bay area gypsy music innovators Fishtank Ensemble brought the intensity to redline in seconds flat and kept it there for the duration of the show. Their cd Samurai Over Serbia (which received a rave review here and a spot on our 50 best albums of 2009 list) more than hinted that this would be the case, and the five-piece group didn’t disappoint. As expected, frontwoman Ursula Knudson seized the moment and led the charge, whether playing violin, using every octave of her vocal range or playing eerie washes of sound on her singing saw. Their first number, a fiery original titled Espagnolette saw her wind up her saw solo with some wild, stratospheric vocalese. With its tricky time signature, the Romanian gypsy song Shalaiman gave her another chance to go airborne and operatic, followed by a lightning, chromatically-fueled solo by accordionist Dan Cantrell.

A flamenco number saw guitarist Douglas Smolens introduce it with some strikingly terse, direct phrasing, which he’d return to with just a touch more firepower when it came time for him to solo as the band snapped their fingers in unison – and then Knudson went on the mic and brought the whirlwind intensity back. On the oldtimey blues staple After You’re Gone, she switched to banjo ukelele and gave it a winsome Blossom Dearie style treatment, after which upright bassist Djordje Stijepovic took an ostentatiously dexterous, amusing rockabilly solo, smacking the bass around as much as he was actually playing it. The group also scampered through a noir cabaret number featuring Knudson on violin, a gypsy dance written by Stijepovic bristling with unexpected dynamic shifts, a breezy take on the Transylvanian gypsy standard Chika Chika, and a playfully gypsified cover of Ring of Fire that Knudson sat out. It was too slow for her, she said – and then the band took it seemingly quadruplespeed at the end. The impressively diverse crowd, a mix of locals and fans from the burgeoning New York gypsy scene, were stunned. Watch this space for return NYC dates.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/13/10

Every day we count down the best 666 songs of alltime, all the way to #1 (or at least we try to do it every day). Fewer than 200 days to go, enjoy while it lasts! Wednesday’s song is #197:

Radio Birdman – All Alone in the Endzone

This has nothing to do with football, Australian or otherwise – it’s just under two minutes of vicious, chromatic 1979 garage punk driven by one of the catchiest hooks ever written. That’s bassist Warwick Gilbert playing it on the studio version on the Radios Appear lp; the link above, a lightning-fast live take from a recent tour, features Jim Dickson from the New Christs.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment