Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 1/30/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #180:

Elvis Costello – Accidents Will Happen

Costello at the peak of his powers as psychopathologist, here dissecting the poisonous union that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy – how amusingly ironic that there’d be a tv program tonight about John Edwards’ love child, fathered during the 2008 presidential campaign. Lush, anthemic new wave at its best from Armed Forces, 1979.

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January 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band – Sweet Sweet Jamaica

Two words: YEAH MON! This new cd does double duty as valuable cultural artifact and strangely delightful party album. With acoustic guitar, a primitive “rhumba box” for a bass and an impressively energetic octogenarian banjo player, Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band play what Jamaicans were playing and dancing to before calypso, decades before reggae. Mento is sort of like Jamaican bluegrass, with similar chord changes but a different rhythm. It’s not reggae, but as this album goes on you can hear several elements that survived the transformation: for example, the way the percussion rolls when the song reaches a turnaround, and the guitar accent on the downbeat. Sung in old-fashioned Jamaican patwa, the lyrics reflect an earlier era, sometimes sly, sometimes silly, laden with puns and innuendo. Authenticity these days may be a dubious concept, but this album has an strikingly roughhewn, rustic vibe. The ramshackle quality of the performances, the dodgy harmonies and the slightly out-of-tune instruments only enhance the vintage feel. Although mento is an indelible part of Jamaican culture – island jazz still abounds with mento themes and references – it’s been a long time since it was in style. So this album is overdue, and particularly welcome for preserving these songs pretty much the way they were played seventy and eighty years ago.

The group kicks it off with a stripped-down, acoustic version of Crying, an international hit for Katie Kissoon in the 70s. The second track has a rousing, careening bluegrass feel with bracing, sometimes abrupt banjo accents. Gungu Walk, which follows, is a playful narrative told from the point of view of a peeping tom. The work song Hill & Gully is a long (some might say interminable) call-and-response vamp with a vintage Cuban feel – being an island nation, Jamaica has long been a melting pot for a stupefyingly large variety of styles. Ole Im Joe (Hold Him, Joe) is similarly rousing, in this case the metaphorically loaded tale of a donkey who can’t get enough to drink, alcoholic or otherwise. And Wata Yu Garden needs no explanation. The last of the fifteen tracks is a somewhat breakneck, out-of-tune version of the Toots & the Maytals classic Sweet & Dandy with vocals by Toots himself.

The backstory here is classically Jamaican. Gilzene has two other incarnations, one as Culture George, a reggae artist whose orthodox Rasta roots album was produced by the Twinkle Brothers’ Norman Grant back in the 70s, and the other as a gospel singer. Backup singer/percussionist Donnett Leslie moonlights as the keyboardist in his reggae band.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Spy from Cairo – Secretly Famous

The audio equivalent of good hashish. Ridiculously catchy, danceable and psychedelic, The Spy from Cairo has put together an upbeat album that spans practically every style of pop music to come out of the Arab world over the last fifty years. The production is typical of what you get these days in Middle Eastern pop, somewhat slick and artificial with synthesizer and percussion loops in addition to the layers of real drums and percussion here. The “secretly famous” artist here also plays soulfully and intensely on the oud, saz (the gorgeously plinky Turkish lute), ney flute and a small army of percussion instruments, all of which happily get long, extended solos over the throb of the beat. What’s new and innovative is the dubwise feel he brings to much of this – for example, he turns the Farid Al Atrache oud classic Ala Shan into Egyptian reggae as someone like Mad Professor or Niney the Observer might do, instruments fading up into the mix and then out just as quickly when you least expect them.

The originals are just as good. The opening track, cleverly titled Nayphony works a catchy ney flute hook over a slinky trip-hop beat and a gorgeous, classically-inflected Arab melody, cifteli (an Albanian version of the saz) clinking beautifully as the string synthesizer climbs and then fades above it all. The second track is a Jordanian wedding tune given a snakecharmer feel with drum-n-bass production. With vocals and lyrics by guest chaneuse Ghalia Benali, Ana Arabi defiantly evokes Arab pride – and pride in denouncing terrorism – over a hypnotic, atmospheric dance-pop tune.

The single most gorgeous song here is Leila, a tribute to the great Mohamed Abdel Wahab with a long, exhilarating, pointillistic kanun solo. There’s also Kembe, which is trip-hop with oud playing variations on a hypnotic two-chord vamp; Jennaty, a particularly psychedelic, slightly funky number with oud played through a wah pedal; and Saidi the Man, a classic bellydance tune redone first as dancefloor pop, morphing back in time to a mesmerizing jam out with saz and percussion. Plus a resoundingly successful, woozily Rachid Taha-esque venture into rai-reggae. This is first and foremost a headphone album (those ipod earbuds don’t do justice to the fatness of the bass here); it also ought to make a great party-starter (or finisher: crank this at 4 AM if you’re in a space where either your neighbors can’t hear it, or if they’re cool and they might come over and wind down the night with you).

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Pal Shazar in NYC 1/28/10

Legions of musicians and artists struggle to acquire some nebulous quasi-version of “downtown New York cool.” Last night Pal Shazar reaffirmed that she’s always had it, and did so effortlessly. In the front room of an after-hours Lower East Side beauty salon, of all places, she treated the crowd of mostly friends and diehard fans who’d shlepped down to Broome Street in the cold to a tantalizingly brief set of her trademark edgy, sharply literate rock songs. She didn’t even use a mic. Backed by a single guitarist playing tight, terse janglerock on his Telecaster, Shazar displayed a carefree energy, bouncing around and getting the lone underage kid in the crowd – he looked about two – to show off his own equally carefree moves. Shazar’s songwriting is something akin to the missing link between Patti Smith and Patti Rothberg: the melodies glisten and ring out while the lyrics deliver an indelibly urban, often metaphorically charged tableau. This was best exemplified by the defiant anthem People Talk (from her most recent cd The Morning After), which closed the set: “People talk, just keep walking, they don’t know how you feel.” Shazar’s husband Jules Shear joined her on that one, adding casually perfect harmonies.

Other songs held up strongly, stripped down to just the basics. A gritty, rapidfire Lou Reed-inflected pop song reflected on how to carry on a relationship with someone inclined to take himself too seriously: “Life is not serious at all!” she exclaimed, almost out of breath. There was irony in that, but there was also fun. The opening number, a vivid chronicle of down-and-out survival called out for someone to “help me off my knees,” welcoming any new scenario “as long as it’s no place like home.” Other songs matched breezy, upbeat pop melodies to more introspective lyrics.

Shazar is also a painter (she’s got an intriguing coffee table book out, Pal Shazar: The Illustrated Lyrics) and had numerous works on display. Eyes are the thing with her: even her animals (a lion, especially) have them, whether wary or brutalized, rendering them instantly and potently anthropomorphized. Most of the others were portraits, seemingly in a series contrasting an arresting yellow-ochre with gentler pastel tones. The first of the two strongest of these posed a woman clutching herself under a white dress, which may be torn, or it might just be askew enough to reveal a leg – if looks could kill, that painting would have. The other was equally striking in its sadness, a woman with her back to the sea, clutching what could either be a child or maybe a smaller, younger version of herself. As with her music, Shazar’s art gives you a lot to think about.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Art, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments