Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Real Vocal String Quartet

A cynic might call the Real Vocal String Quartet the happy Rasputina. But that doesn’t give the all-female new music ensemble enough credit – considering the global diversity of styles they play here, a better comparison would be genre-smashing jazz/Americana violinist/composer Jenny Scheinman. Founded by former Turtle Island String Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, the Real Vocal String Quartet blend classical, avant garde, bluegrass, Balkan and African influences; the ultimate result is completely unique. While Sazer writes most of the material, violinist Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry also contribute. Everybody sings.

The album opens with a circular arrangement of Kenyan composer and nyatiti lute player Ayub Ogada’s Kothbiro, alternating rhythmic pizzicato with lush washes of ambience in a striking call-and-response. They follow that with a traditional Appalachian dance done as hypnotic Tinariwen-style desert blues, string quartet style. The single best number on the album is the darkly crescendoing, cinematic instrumental Night Game, which nonetheless finds a way to end on a cleverly playful, upbeat note. A diptych here sounds like traditional Italian folk music,  but it’s actually a couple of covers from the catalog of early Brazilian jazz pioneer Pixinguinha. Green Bean Stand harmonizes high vocalese with the strings, morphing into a hypnotically swaying one-chord dance vamp evocative of the ensemble’s Turtle Island cousins. There’s also a hauntingly rustic country song, the violins playing a guitar chart; a hypnotic, ambient tone poem with strings and vocalese; a tricky art-rock song with rousing harmonies, and a wistful vocal tune that gives way to a stately baroque theme. There’s so much here that it ought to appeal to a lot of fanbases: neoclassical types, world music and chamber music fans, and just your average pop/rock person looking for something good for the ipod.


February 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Fernando Otero – Vital

Album title: understatement of the month. Argentinian composer/pianist Fernando Otero gets around: he frequently plays with Arturo O’Farrill’s latin jazz orchestra, has collaborated with Dave Grusin and Dave Valentin and was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet for a Carnegie Hall premiere. Vital, his latest album is a darkly austere collection of miniatures for strings and piano, spanning the worlds of neo-Romantic, cinematic soundscapes and jazz. Many of these pieces are absolutely haunting, even macabre: this stuff packs an emotional wallop. It may be only February, but this is a good bet to show up on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year.

The album starts out with three pieces for violin and piano: a creepy noir waltz with piano and gracefully pensive Nick Danielson violin that segues into a thoughtful conversation between the two instruments, building with considerable apprehension. Globalizacion takes the form of a rapidfire, shuffling chase sequence – is it us chasing Jeffrey Sachs and his band of robber barons, or are we on the run from them? Siderate starts out as an uneasy Satie-esque tone poem with Hector del Curto’s bandoneon out front, Luis Nacht’s tenor sax rising to a blaring, impatient crescendo before the whole thing winds down with macabre-tinged piano.

Violin takes centerstage on the warmly Romantic La Abundancia, something akin to Jenny Scheinman meets Beethoven. The following track reverts to uneasy mode, a brief warped boogie segueing into what’s billed here as a dance but is more of a chase scene. On Reforma Mental, tinkling noir piano leads into a matter-of-factly ominous tradeoff between bandoneon and strings; the aptly titled, six-minute La Casa Vacia, for piano and violin is raw and woundedly evocative. The album winds up with the atmospheric, nocturnal Noche Iluminada, lit up with long passages for bandoneon and violin and the suspensefully cinematic Fin de Revision with its “what’s up” piano theme that quickly gives way to darkness again. The album’s just out on World Village Music.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Avi Fox-Rosen – Welcome to the Show

This one dates from the end of last year, when Lucid Culture was running at, um, less than full speed. Meanwhile, the emails were piling up and so were the albums. We could have built a Compact Disc Ranch in the desert next to the Cadillacs with most of them. Because even the good ones that remained have lost their currency as far as press and bloggage are concerned, we moved on. But this one we couldn’t leave behind. Like a more rocking, shapeshifting Steely Dan, Avi Fox-Rosen’s latest album Welcome to the Show leaps to the top of this year’s list so far. It’s funky, carnivalesque and mystifyingly multistylistic – if there’s a genre this guy can’t write in, it isn’t apparent here. Most of the songs are terse and short, clocking in at three minutes or less. With a noir undercurrent matched by vividly aphoristic black humor, guitarist Fox-Rosen sings with a cool, suave, deviously jazzy vocal delivery that’s well-suited to the lyrics – think Donald Fagen’s equally gifted, more ill-at-ease bastard stepchild.

This is a loosely thematic concept album about the current, dismal state of the world, the intro like a carnival barker’s theme, completely apropos for the Bernie Madoff era. The first full-length track, Life Is Short & Then You Die cynically sets the stage, the CIA planting a flea on a blind man as a bug (the electronic kind) – bizarrely logical creative touches like that are all over this album. Truth & Beauty follows, a slinky reggae beat with accordion and a too-sweet-to-be-true music box theme – imagine Botanica in a good mood. The album’s centerpiece, the funky, breathless narrative White Collar Crime gets Bowie-esque with its watery chorus-box guitar hook, right down to an inspired, Adrian Belew-style shredding solo.

The next track sounds like Vampire Weekend if that band had balls; Tower of Babel is the most overtly ominous, bluesy of all the tracks so far with nice evil balalaika-ish organ.The menacing vibe lingers with Two Glasses, a stripped-down soul song with creepy accordion and bells, then lifts with the subtly sardonic Rhodes piano of the jazz-rock nocturne The Grey Area and then the LOL, marimba-reggae come-on Hot Girl on a Bike. The album winds up on a pensive note with a big piano ballad that turns into a defiant drinking song, and an atmospheric accordion tune. This is first and foremost an ipod record (if that turn of phrase doesn’t have you scratching your head): there are so many fun musical japes, lyrical jabs and hooks here that you need to spend awhile with it to discover all the good stuff. Fox-Rosen’s next band gig is Feb 20 at the Workmen’s Circle Purim Bash at the Synagogue for the Arts, downtown at 49 White Street at 9 PM-ish; his new theatrical creation, a puppet cabaret satire titled The Church of Babel co-written with Ora Fruchter takes place at the New Yiddish Repertory Theater in the Workmen’s Circle, 45 E. 33rd St. at 8 PM on 2/18.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/10/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #169:

Elvis Costello – The Other Side of Summer

The one standout track on the otherwise forgettable Mighty Like a Rose album, 1991, this gorgeous janglerock gem is a richly sarcastic swipe at sunniness in all its forms. Believe it or not, it was once used in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment