Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams, the John Sharples Band and Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at the Parkside, NYC 3/5/10

Isn’t Erica Smith an amazing song stylist?

Doesn’t John Sharples have great taste in music?

Doesn’t Tom Warnick always put on a hell of a show – and aren’t those songs of his about as catchy as you’ve ever heard?

The triplebill at the Parkside last night delivered on its promise. Smith played a jazz set the last time out. This time, the band pummeled through her rock stuff – a brisk version of an American Beauty-style ballad, a marauding Neil Young/Crazy Horse-ish rock anthem and the bossa pop song that opened the show. The quieter stuff gave her the chance to channel as much angst as she chose, or maybe didn’t choose – a creepy Nashville noir song, a gorgeously new janglerock number that painted a riverside tableau, and a somewhat pained, wistful version of the backbeat anthem 31st Avenue, the tribute to Queens that pretty much jumpstarted her career as as songwriter on her second album Friend or Foe. But it was the upbeat numbers: a bustling Ella Fitzerald-inflected version of the jazz standard Everything I’ve Got, and a joyous cover of Rodgers and Hart’s I Could Write a Book that reached for the rafters and hung on for dear life.

Sharples’ shtick is that he covers great songs by obscure songwriters: this being New York, and Sharples being pretty well connected, a lot of those people are his friends. He and his band (Smith, his wife, adding soaring soul harmonies) made the connection between Paula Carino’s Robots Helping Robots and Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak, and, armed with his 12-string, jangled and clanged their way through a gorgeous, unreleased early Matt Keating anthem and a moody Al Stewart-style Britrock ballad that gave both bassist Andy Mattina and lead guitarist Ross Bonnadonna a chance to slash their initials into it on a long solo out.

Warnick’s songs stick in your mind: as a tunesmith, there’s nobody catchier. With Bonnadonna doing double duty and taking his game up even higher, Sharples as well adding sharp rhythm guitar, they burned through a tongue-in-cheek blues about getting busted for pot by the highway patrol, then a couple of rousing Stax/Volt style numbers, a sweet 6/8 soul ballad, a ska tune and the Kafkaesque, haunting noir of The Impostor. Warnick didn’t take a hammer to his keyboard this time around even though it cut out on him a couple of times, and he limited the jokes to passing his email list around the stage so his bandmates could sign up. The crowd roared for two encores and were treated to the Doorsy yet optimistic Keep Moving and a new one that Warnick said they were going to do as new wave. Jury’s out on the new bass player, who for once looked visibly sober – somebody who can make his way through the jazz changes in the set he played with Smith ought to be able to lay down a simple sixties soul groove with some kind of grace.

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March 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Ullmann/Swell 4 – News? No News

The most recent jazz album we reviewed here was part sleepy bedtime jazz and part solace-after-a-hard-day jazz. The one before that was boudoir jazz. The Ullmann/Swell 4’s debut as a unit together is fun jazz, headphone jazz, the kind of album where it’s obvious from the first few notes what a good time the band is having. You want psychedelic? Wow. The star of the show, at the absolute top of his game here, is veteran drummer Barry Altschul. He refuses to sit still or stop misbehaving, in the process delivering a clinic in how to propel a song on the off-beat. Meanwhile, the group converse and shift shapes, careening joyously between blazing hooks and impressively terse, actually interesting free jazz interplay. They open it up rousingly with Altschul establishing what will be his trademark here, rumbling and crashing around under a circular horn motif, trombonist Steve Swell eventually running amok, then tossing the hot potato to his co-leader, tenor saxist Gebhard Ullmann.

The second track, aptly title New York opens with a swaying vamp and a sly bluesy hook – Swell takes over as the boom turns into more of a crash, bustle alternating with chaos. Like New York, the underpinning is sturdy and stands up to constant use. Track three is similar to two but quieter, morphing into a crashing swing number with Ullmann skirting the melody, resisting it as the drums do the same with the rhythm. They follow that with a more exploratory joint, Ullmann throwing off some high overtones and getting into a casual conversation with Swell.

The next cut takes a pretty, cinematic ballad and pulls the wings off, Ullmann and Swell in turn, and all of a sudden they bring it back but Altschul is still off in cumulo-nimbus land somewhere.The title track gets sandwiched by two artfully constructed improvisations, the first kind of like what happens when four jazz guys walk into a very quiet bar, the second far more invigorated. The song itself percolates along on a catchy bass hook from Hilliard Greene, who plays ringmaster, whether heating it up for a fiery duel between Swell and Ullmann’s bass clarinet, or simply holding it together as Altschul does his thing. The cheery Berlin has Greene’s bouncy pulse again providing the glue as the horns slowly and ineluctably take it outside. The album ends on a high note with the multistylistic showcase Airtight, playfully swoopy bass turning into a funk vamp as Altschul prowls around and swipes at his cymbals to keep the cliches away, Ullmann’s bass clarinet solo all over the place register-wise, trombone fluttering as bass and bass clarinet interlock hypnotically with the drums, finally Greene’s reliable low register signaling the way out of the labyrinth. There’s a lot going on here, headphones absolutely required.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Brooklyn Rider – Dominant Curve

It makes sense that pioneering string quartet Brooklyn Rider would feel close to Debussy, considering their background as classical players who, these days anyway, specialize in world music. The perennially cutting-edge Brooklyn group appear on the latest Silk Road Ensemble album; their first cd included strikingly original arrangements of Armenian folk songs plus a tango by Russian-born violist/composer Ljova. With credits and credentials like that, they hardly need a career boost, but this hypnotically beautiful, stunningly imaginative cross-pollinating work is exactly that. The album’s central theme could be summed up somewhat reductionistically as circularity: this is a collection of new commissioned pieces based on elements that return and echo with a deliberately hypnotic effect, tonally, rhythmically and volume-wise. The concept goes back as far as humanity does, expanding over the centuries and when Debussy discovered Javanese gamelan music, that was the quantum leap, in terms of western classical music at least. The genius of this album is simply picking up where Debussy left off.

Smartly, Brooklyn Rider make Debussy’s lone string quartet the centerpiece here rather than the opening or concluding track, setting it in context with the new works around it. It’s amazing how new and fresh it sounds, delivered with particular percussive verve, nudging the listener to tune in to ideas resonating elsewhere here – unison passages, echoes of Russian and Asian tonalities in the first movement, the swirling repetition of the second and gamelanesque allusions in the last one. There are also motifs that have insinuated themselves into rock music over the years: listen closely and you’ll find them!

Ensemble member and violinist Colin Jacobsen’s Achille’s Heel (Debussy’s birth name was Achille-Claude) displays a strong Kayhan Kalhor influence, and no wonder, considering how closely the group has worked with the Iranian compose (their 2008 collaboration Silent City is a high water mark in East/West mashups). The theme insinuates itself quietly, growing more intense with a Kalhoresque insistence alternated with pizzicato passages leading to an absolutely haunting figure where one of the violins pedals a funereal, bell-like tone before the striking contrast of the most rock-oriented passage on the entire album. Jacobsen’s cantabile astringency in the third movement casually sets the stage for the fiery riffage of the final, counterintuitively ending much as it began.

Shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki solos with the group on his composition, (Cycles) What Falls Must Rise, fading up with what sounds like actual studio feedback, the big flute alternating between stillness and rapidfire fifth intervals. A call to alarm sounds distantly over ambient strings and a low, crackling tone that could be a short circuit (amazing how sometimes snafus in the studio translate into the best moments a group could hope for!). It ends with a good ambient jape whose ending deseves not to be spoiled here. The first of the two other tracks here is a tone poem, extended, apprehensive stillness punctuated by ambient effects, by another one of the group’s Silk Road cohorts, Uzbek composer Dmitry Yanov-Yanovsky. The other makes a fullscale rondo out of the John Cage composition In a Landscape, Justin Messina’s artful electronic loops sealing the deal as what’s essentially a blues lick runs over and over again, its permutations finally fading out gracefully. Brooklyn Rider are currently on tour: their cd release show is on March 15 at 7:30 PM at the Angel Oresanz Center. Adventurous listeners would be crazy to miss it – advance tix are available here.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/6/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #145:

The Fabulous Poodles – Suicide Bridge

Absolutely haunting, scurrying, morbid violin-driven new wave from the surreal British band’s Think Pink album, 1979. The way the violin solo trades off to the guitar is transcendent. No streaming audio that we can find; the album was finally re-released digitally as a two-pack with the band’s first US release, Mirror Star, last year, so now there are torrents out there like this one.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment