Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort

Viciously satirical “bebop terrorists” Mostly Other People Do the Killing are back with another album which this time extends their savagery further beyond jazz into rock, pop and even new music. The idiom is still jazz, a particularly purist idiom at that, but the esthetic is pure punk rock. MOPDTK take no prisoners, they acknowledge nothing as sacred and in so doing reaffirm their status as the world’s funniest jazz group. Humor being a function of intellect, they know their source material so well that their sometimes playful, sometimes cruel extrapolations are inevitably spot-on. They have a rep for improvisational wipeouts, but probably much more of this stuff is composed than they would ever let on. From the first few seconds of the album, they are up to no good: bandleader/bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea are the main culprits, although sax player Jon Irabagon – whose recent work is gorgeously lyrical and won him top honors at the Thelonious Monk International competition – and powerhouse trumpeter Peter Evans are very close behind. The song titles on their last album were all towns in Pennsylvania; here, they parody a vintage 60s album shot on the cd cover, as if to say, what could those stoners possibly have been thinking back then? The compositions here are, at least at heart, more accessible and traditionalist than on the Pennsylvania album, which ironically gives the band even more of a launching pad for japes and swipes. And Irabagon’s obscene gesture on the inside of the cd cover outdoes Gene Simmons.

There’s a basic formula at work here, and it’s teamwork – the horns hold it together, at least to the extent that they do, while the rhythm section goes nuts, or the rhythm section goes completely rock, four-on-the-floor while the horns are off in the boposphere. Even so, the changes remain so split-second or out-of-leftfield that it’s impossible to predict what trouble is lurking around the corner from that too-perfect second-line beat or slinky blues bassline. The album’s opening cut is a go-go groove that has Shea acting out from the second bar, Irabagon and Evans squealing off and on behind him as Elliott deadpans it, completely locked in. And then suddenly it’s a straight-up song, no joking – for less than a minute, actually, before Irabagon starts making fun of it again. At the end, Shea lays down a dijeridoo loop that eventually falls apart when nobody can keep a straight face anymore.

The second cut amusingly lifts a bunch of timeworn Weather Report riffs while the rhythm section slowly gets out of hand – Elliott’s phony Jaco solo is to die for. A squalling yet meticulously orchestrated conversation between an agitated Irabagon and Evans trying to calm him down takes it out. Track three, Blue Ball starts out less a mockery than just a good song, unease of the horns obscuring the pretty, bluesy tune underneath. Elliott holds it together on the upper registers before the insistence of the horns takes it hopelessly outside, down to a fluttery chaotic mess out of which Irabagon tries to pull it but then falls back in. What was that title again?

The next cut, Nanticoke Coke would be a pretty ballad if Shea would let it go there, but he won’t let them get far enough into it. On Little Hope, Elliott introduces what would be a minor soul groove in jazz, or a cliched 80s hook if given the right synth tones. Irabagon eventually goes into a squall of overtones as the band keeps the groove tight while the tune disintegrates every which way. The Louis Armstrong-inflected title track waits til the very end to introduce its best joke; Round Bottom, Square Top would be a joyous New Orleans march if Shea would sit still. And then the rhythm section leaves the horns out to dry. The album winds up with a Paul Whiteman-esque swing tune kicking off with some rustic muted work from Evans that gets time-warped to Ornette’s era, and a concert favorite, a cover of Cute by Neal Hefti. Needless to say, it’s anything but, and it gives Shea a chance to remind better than just about any other drummer ever has that drummers should almost always never be allowed to take solos. This band may sarcastically assert that mostly other people do the killing, but in their own twisted way nobody kills more than MOPDTK. And the cd liner notes – by legendary centuagenarian jazz critic “Leonardo Featherweight,” on the use of color in jazz – are worth the price of the cd alone.

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January 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The One and Nines

If you love oldschool soul music, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings or Eli “Paperboy” Reed, you will love the One and Nines – they are the real deal. With piano, organ, horns, understatedly gorgeous guitar, a slinky rhythm section and the warmly irresistible, heartfelt vocals of frontwoman Vera Sousa, the vibe is totally mid-60s. If the band had existed when John Waters did Hairspray, this album would have been the logical choice for the movie soundtrack.

The album kicks off with Walked Alone, a gorgeously catchy, upbeat tune straight out of Memphis, 1968 with big honking baritone sax. Sousa shows off an effortlessly bright, soaring, unselfconscious style in the vein of 1960s soul icon Bettye Swann while the guitar and bass soar just in the right places. The second track, Wait is a longing, insistent 6/8 ballad like Sharon Jones in a particularly vulnerable moment – horns rise out of the end of the verse, then it’s just tremolo organ and Sousa’s sweet voice.

“You say I look like I’m always bored, but are you just speaking for yourself?” Sousa asserts gently but insistently in Something on Your Mind, backed by gently incisive guitar and a Willie Mitchell-inspired horn chart. Just Your Fool is a duet, one of the guys joining with Sousa’s fetching harmonies for a pre-Motown vibe, from right around the time doo-wop started to morph into something more interesting. The band follows Sousa as she builds intensity on Anything You Got, a psychedelic soul groove with organ and then Steve Cropper-esque guitar, finally fading out with soulful muted trumpet over the band’s shuffling rhythm. Guitar finally takes centerstage, if only for a few moments on the bright, bouncy horn-driven Tears Fall. The secret bonus track, an alternate take of Just Your Fool, might have the best vocals on the whole album. All of these songs would have been hits in the 60s – or some hardcore soul fan would be rediscovering them right about now and trying to get the surviving members of the band back together, that’s how good this is. Mixed by Hugh Pool at Excello and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the production has the feel of an old vinyl record, vocals up front, drums back where they need to be. Even better news is that the band’s got a 7″ vinyl single coming out hot on the heels of the album – get your 45 adapters ready. Watch this space for NY-area live dates.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Erica Lindsay & Sumi Tonooka – Initiation

Recorded back in 2004, this is a brand-new release on the cusp of becoming a welcome rediscovery. A quartet jazz session featuring compositions by tenor saxophonist/Bard College professor Erica Lindsay and pianist Sumi Tonooka along with an absolutely killer rhythm section of Rufus Reid on bass and Bob Braye on drums, most of this dexterously walks the line between purism and accessibility. Lindsay plays with a confident, smoky tone and a keen sense of melody; likewise, Tonooka’s style is comfortably bluesy and assured. Reid is his usual fluid, smartly melodic self and Braye – who sadly did not live to see this album released – turns in a powerful, memorable performance. If this was his swan song, he picked a hell of a note to go out on, whether getting the cymbals shimmering on a turnaround or elevating the third track above the level of So What homage with an aggressive, fullscale, Elvin Jones-style charge.

The opening track, Mari is a catchy, hook-based swing number; Lindsay evokes Joe Henderson with her casually tuneful, wee hours vibe reasserted by Sunooka and then Reid, cleverly foreshadowing Lindsay’s return from the bar. Mingus Mood, a thoughtful ballad, is less Mingus than Grover Washington Jr. (don’t laugh!!!) in purist mode, i.e. circa All My Tomorrows, almost minimalist as Lindsay and then Reid carry the tune over Tonooka’s tersely precise chords.The title track playful shifts from tricky, winking intro to a casual Lindsay solo that she builds smartly and casually around a series of rapidfire clusters; Tonooka deftly works her solo rhythmically with latin flourishes. The somewhat hypnotic Serpent’s Tail plays an understated rhumba rhythm off a repetitive Reid riff that both sax and piano use as a springboard for expansively tasteful excursions.

The late 50s riff-driven swing vibe returns pleasantly with In the Void, followed by the ballad Somewhere Near Heaven which powerfully contrasts brooding, sometimes ominous, Bill Mays-ish piano with pensively optimistic sax. Black Urgency shuffles with a tunefulness and sense of direction worthy of JD Allen and features Braye at his most counterintuitive and incisive. The album closes with arguably its strongest (and most rhythmically challenging) number, simply titled Yes, Lindsay and then Tonooka at their most forceful and memorable, whether pulsing on the beat or swirling with rivulets of glissandos. There’s a lot to enjoy here, more than an hour’s worth of tunes.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/21/10

Back from a trip to Austin, Jenifer Jackson’s got a band together again: Greg Wieczorek on drums and Jason Mercer on a gorgeous Danelectro SG copy bass. A couple of songs into the set, beaming, she announces that she’s rediscovered that she actually likes music. She should, with this band. Her songs are pretty and haunting when she plays them solo; with a rhythm section behind her, they are transcendent. She’s a pretty intense guitarist, and this comes across especially on the Ticket to Ride-inflected Down So Low as she wails on the downstrokes, on the beat. The band has re-energized her.

But this is Mercer’s night. Choice, tasteful pieces of broken chords on the slower, country-flavored ballads; slinky slides and bends on the more rocking songs, and every now and then he winds up a crescendo with few sweetly, quietly boomy chords. It’s a clinic in how to play bass and it’s free.

Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band gets cajoled into playing Telecaster on a handful of numbers and the effect is the same. He knows every country lick in the book, but instead he goes counterintuitive with bends and passing tones and immediately the songs go to the next level, and it’s effortless, or at least it looks that way.

The songs, as they always do, run the gamut – the joyous white soul jangleforest of Suddenly Unexpectedly; the practically noir, nocturnal pop of Maybe; a new country song that would elevate Carrie Underwood’s game to the big leagues if she or someone like her could find it and cover it; and a couple of big, hooky, upbeat rockers to close the set. The unrestrained joy shining in Jackson’s voice makes the contrast even more striking when she turns down the lights. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that it’s cold outside and that there’s a long train ride lurking ahead. In a word, transcendence.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Flugente – Flugente 2

Angry, wryly insightful and often very funny, once-and-future Blam frontman Jerry Adler AKA Flugente takes his game up a step on his second solo, mostly acoustic cd. His first one, a metaphorically charged account of a European road trip, made the top twenty on our Best Albums of 2007 list and this one, an even more ambitious look at the current state of America, might well do that too. It’s awfully early in the year to say that, but this is a hell of an album. With distant echoes of Leonard Cohen and closer ones of vintage Dylan, Adler is quick with a clever, daggerlike lyrical twist, setting his rhymes and rants to catchy, sixties-inflected folk and blues tunes. Adler may have his issues with this country, but he’s nothing if not fair-minded, and he doesn’t want to break off the relationship: “C’mon, apple, tempt me.”

Slide guitar blazing beneath a tersely strummed acoustic, the cd’s opening track is a road song, “Looking for America, the country or the dream,” its hungry narrator nonplussed by the “stretched-tight faces over sables yawning underneath their playbills” that he meets along the way – you know that this guy is a populist from day one. The second track is a fast fingerpicked indie blues tune, somewhat evocative of David J’s solo work. I Have Turned Down Gifts and Prizes recalls a poorly received gig in his native country: “That’s not entertainment, what are you doing?” someone asks. “I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing it for me…it’s important just to say it,” he asserts, a shot in the arm for serious songwriters everywhere.

People Come from All Around is a genuine New York classic, a deliciously evocative anti-trendoid rant. The idle rich and their idler children may make easy targets, but this is the lyrical equivalent of pulling out an Uzi in a crowd at a Dan Deacon appearance. And the yuppies don’t get off any easier:

The Wall Street men on their way downtown from college, their bits are chafing
Fill their bags and take the subway home, their wives are waiting
With their temperatures taken upside down and ovulating
Yeah people come from all around to make a life in my hometown
But it’s not what it used to be, only the crumbs are left for me now
 
A fingerpicked blues a la early Dylan but with better guitar, Which Side Am I On? reminds that choosing sides isn’t really an issue when the issue isn’t black-and-white. Any Time Now is an update on the theme that Leonard Cohen mined with similar success on Who By Fire .There’s also a brutally amusing, cynical number about jury duty and a new version of America the Beautiful which redefines that anthem much in the same way the Clash redid When Johnny Comes Marching Home. The album winds up with a straight-up cover of the Kinks’ Apeman, Adler raising his voice to a rare snarl when he gets to the part about how “the air pollution is fucking up my eyes.” For fans of the best of the new wave of great lyricists: Joe Pug, Jennifer O’Connor, Paula Carino and LJ Murphy as well as fans of the first-wave classics that Flugente’s songs more closely resemble.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/23/10

Til the next post, as we do every day the best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song was #191:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Whisper in the Night

Roy Wood’s greatest moment in the band is this towering, haunting anthem, a rustic mix of plaintive acoustic guitar and a million cello and other string overdubs. Also from No Answer, 1972.

Wednesday’s was #190

Elvis Costello – Red Shoes

Trivia question – in 1977, on My Aim Is True, Costello was backed by what future million-selling, cringeworthy 80s hitmakers? Answer: Huey Lewis & the News! To the King’s infinite credit, he gets them to do a credible Byrds imitation here.

Thursday’s was #189:

Erica Smith – Jesus’ Clown

Sean Dolan’s lyric is a clever fly-on-the-wall take on the Stations of the Cross from a nonbeliever’s perspective. Behind Smith’s understatedly haunting vocals, Love Camp 7 guitarist Dann Baker adds a forest of searing overdubs that do Neil Young one better. Unreleased but ostensibly due to see the light of day sometime early in this decade.

Friday’s was #188:

The Sex Pistols – Did You No Wrong

Musically, with all those searing layers of Steve Jones guitar, it’s arguably the Pistols’ most interesting song, an outtake from Never Mind the Bollocks first issued on Flogging a Dead Horse in 1978. Which begs the question, why was it left off Never Mind the Bollocks? Maybe because it’s a Glenn Matlock tune?

And today’s is:

187. Angelo Badalamenti – Moving Through Time

The haunting centerpiece of the 1992 Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me film soundtrack, Bill Mays’ macabre piano cascading around an eerie two-chord chromatic vamp.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Literature, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment