Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Liz Tormes – Limelight

Long admired by New York’s songwriting elite, Liz Tormes has a new album, Limelight, that should help the rest of the world get to know what the Lower East Side has known for years. Intense, brooding, sultry and frequently wrathful, the power in Tormes’ casually wary voice resides in ellipses, the spaces between notes, the unsaid and conspicuous absences – she doesn’t raise it much, so when she does the effect packs a wallop, especially when she adds just the hint of a snarl at the end of a line. Her tersely crystallized lyrics are much the same: she says a lot with a little. Behind her, a tightly fiery Nashville gothic band swings, sways, clangs and roars its way through a mix of midtempo and slow, tuneful Americana rock. The arrangements are hypnotic, often psychedelic: if Aimee Mann had done with guitars what she did with keyboards on Fucking Smilers, it would have sounded a lot like this.

The album opens auspiciously with Read My Mind, a searing tale of disillusion and abandonment with a ferocious Jason Crigler slide guitar solo out, ending in a cloud of dust. It’s a classic of its kind. Without Truth has a hypnotic feel and characteristic understatement:

I know you can’t relate
But what I really want for you
Is to fly right and fly straight

With its echoey layers of guitar, the title track, a 6/8 ballad, sounds like Mazzy Star with balls. Maybe You Won’t follows, swaying trip-hop rhythm over simple muted guitar strums, backing vocals by Teddy Thompson – and no stupid drum machine. “Is it ever coming, have I been forsaken?” Tormes insists on an answer. She introduces a muse who provides bitter, metaphorically loaded solace on the matter-of-factly shuffling Don’t Love Back:

Take the wind and stay on track
Stop loving things that don’t love back
You can’t control the outcome all the time

And the garage-rock kiss-off ballad Sorry has the ring of sarcasm: “Paper posies and shiny things don’t make the earth rotate,” Tormes reminds, gloating not a little: “I’ll stay and play in the sunshine and vanish in the shadows.” There’s also a southwestern gothic, Steve Wynn-style number with Crigler’s layers of guitar blending ominously with echoey electric piano, a similarly guitar-fueled noir blues and a backbeat country hit whose upbeat melody make a sharp contrast with Tormes’ angst: “If I have better days let them come.”

With Bob Packwood’s insistent staccato piano bouncing off a wall of guitars, Fade Away closes the album on a driving yet vividly wounded note. This one’s been out since last year, so we’re a little late on the uptake which means that you’ll see it somewhere around the top of our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. In the meantime Tormes promises a followup to this album sometime in the relatively near future.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

CD Review: Ken Peplowski – Noir Blue

Most of what we like to spread the word about here is pretty edgy and intense. This is neither. In fact, veteran jazz reedman Ken Peplowski’s new album is about as far from noir as you can get and not particularly blue either. But it’s very smart – and the obvious fun the band had recording it is absolutely irresistible if you’re into this kind of stuff. Peplowski did his first gigs in a polka band in his native Cleveland, got his start in big band jazz as as teenager in the Tommy Dorsey Band, and was hired by Benny Goodman on tenor sax when Goodman came out of retirement in 1984. Since then he’s put out thirty albums as a bandleader – as he intimates in the liner notes to this one, he’s come to the point where he only does an album when he feels like it, not just because he owes one to the label, so this was inspired right from the git-go. The band on this one is oldschool: Shelley Berg on piano, bassist to the stars Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe La Barbera have a wise yet joyous chemistry that jumps out, track after track.

The album kicks off with a briskly shuffling swing version of Irving Berlin’s The Best Thing for You Is Me, scurrying piano cascades echoed by Peplowski’s boisterously fluid clarinet. A casually sunny take of Berg’s catchy Home with You hints at bossa nova, Peplowski blowing nimble clusters into a genial, laid-back Berg solo. Three of the tracks here come out of the Strayhorn/Ellington archive: Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies breezes along with a staggered tango beat on the pulse of La Barbera’s mallets; Multi-Colored Blue swings comfortably for over eight minutes and then comes up rousingly at the end, the title track the album’s standout number with its brooding, pensive piano matched by Peplowski’s blue-grey waves.

Hoagy Carmichael’s Riverboat Shuffle is reinvented as a sly slinkathon with a buoyant Leonhart solo, the first-call bassist for seemingly every A-list jazz singer out there showing off characteristic terseness but also also a propulsive drive that he doesn’t always get a chance to kick into on all those ballads. Love Locked Out by Ray Noble is a gently bluesy wee-hours ballad with Georgia on My Mind echoes. La Barbera’s If Not for You fits right in with its warmly catchy hook and bright solos from Leonhart and Berg and a briefly boisterous one from its composer, a formula followed on a romping take of Jerome Kern’s Nobody Else but Me. The album winds up on a high note with the considerably contrasting, rousing Peplowski original, Little Dogs driven by some strikingly uneasy tenor sax work. The whole thing makes for upbeat, fun listening for late nights and relaxing Sunday afternoons – if someone you know subjects you to elevator jazz, turn them on to this, they won’t know the difference and you won’t have to suffer anymore. It’s out now on Capri Records.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú

This is what Spanish Harlem was rocking to forty years ago. What Sharon Jones did for oldschool soul, what Antibalas did for Afrobeat and what Chicha Libre is doing for chicha, Spanglish Fly is doing for bugalu. It’s what happened when Cuban son melodies collided with Stax/Volt and Motown, with fiery horns and a fat midtempo groove over a latin beat. It was a Nuyorican phenomenon and very popular back in the day. If you know Bang Bang by Joe Cuba, this is the same kind of thing. It’s about time somebody brought this stuff back and it’s a good thing it’s this band because they have authentic sabor with a 5-piece horn section, three percussionists, piano and a rhythm section plus Erica Ramos’ casually alluring, soulful voice soaring over it when there’s room. As dance music, it’s irresistible (at a live show, the group will often offer a free dance lesson for anglos or newschoolers who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this).

The cd’s opening track, Think (Pensamiento) is typical of what the old bugalú bands would do, a brand-new latin version of the old James Brown hit with fat low end, tight horns and a suspenseful intensity where the band theatens to completely rip it apart at the end but just manage to keep it together. An original, Latin Soul Stew was obviously made to be played live, with soaring trumpet over an ominous piano groove, the horns coming back in full force after a little vocal break. Another original, by one of the band’s trumpeters Jonny Semi-Colón a/k/a Jonathan Goldman sounds like ska but with a slinkier groove. Like a lot of bugalu hits, it’s a series of trick endings where the intensity builds every time the song comes back, with a gospel-inspired break toward the end. There’s also a joyously rattling cover of the big Ray Barretto crossover hit New York Soul. 

The band is an inspired collection of veteran New York jazzcats: besides Ramos and Goldman, they have Martin Wallace on piano, Mick Santurio on congas, Charly Rodriguez on timbales, Gabo Tomasini on bongos, Atsushi Tsumura on trumpet, Dimitri Moderbacher on bass, Rose Imperato on tenor sax, Jonathan Flothow on bari sax and Sebastian Isler on trombone. Spanglish Fly’s next dance party is April 2 at Camaradas El Barrio, First Ave. and 115th St. at 10 PM; the cd release show is on April 23 at Rose Bar.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments