Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Vivisectors at Otto’s, NYC 3/26/10

The Vivisectors play surf rock instrumental versions of traditional Russian prison songs that were banned by the Soviet regime. The band grimly calls them “gulag tunes.” This was their second US tour – hopefully there will be more of them. Mike Vivisector, the band’s hulking, bearded guitarist didn’t move around much but his fingers did, firing off twangy Ventures single-note runs, a little furious Dick Dale temolo picking and even some tersely psychedelic blues licks. His drummer cleverly added touches that an American surf band would probably never use, whether it be a fast hardcore 2/4 stomp on one of their go-go numbers or riding his hi-hat for a bizarre disco beat that worked like a charm and got several people in the crowd dancing. The sub bassist brought a jazz player’s touch and fluidity to the songs, making his one solo of the night count with a determined, foreboding series of descending riffs that made a launching pad for similarly understated guitar fireworks. The band loves their dark, menacing chromatic riffs, doing them surf-style along with a couple of rockabillyish numbers, two bouncy go-go tunes and a song that sounded like either Blue Oyster Cult covering Link Wray, or Link Wray attempting a boogie. That one featured a guest trumpeter with an equally good handle on gypsyish, chromatic melodies – and a blazing take of Hava Nagila for part of another. They sped up a couple of the straight-up surf tunes, one with the Hall of the Mountain King quote that ELO and the Who used to rock out on; the last song of the set featured an extended quote from Those Were the Days. It’s surprising that nobody’s used that for a surf song before – or maybe they have, in Russia, where there is a thriving surf scene (where is there NOT a thriving surf scene – the North Pole? You could ask the tireless Unsteady Freddie, who booked the band this time around. When there’s surf music in New York, he’s usually involved in one way or another). They did a slow version of Misirlou that was as original – in both senses of the word – as the one that Magges does; their version of Pipeline was amped with a casually ferocious tremolo-picked jam on the second verse. But their originals were the best. Some wouldn’t have been out of place in early Black Sabbath if they’d been slower, others fluctuating eerily between minor and major. The band let their US booking agent, Deb Noble of Blue Stingraye Productions, and her enthusiasm was contagious: hopefully the band will be back for another tour at some point.

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March 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, rock music | 1 Comment

The New England Conservatory Jazz All Star Concert at B.B. King’s, NYC 3/27/10

The New England Conservatory is celebrating its jazz program’s fortieth year – if memory serves right, they were the first established conservatory in the United States to give jazz their official imprimatur, so it would only make sense that by now their alumni list would boast some of the world’s greatest players. Their faculty got to show off their chops (and welcome sense of humor) at the Jazz Standard on the 24th (reviewed here); this particular celebration was a counterintuitively eclectic bill that literally had something for everyone, a series of nonchronological flashbacks between present and various moments from the past, both in terms of the history of jazz as well as that of the conservatory. Ironically, the youngest act on the bill was also the most rustic. Lake Street Dive hark back to the early swing era, a style more vogue in the steampunk scene than mainstream jazz (which is also considerably ironic since their style would have fit in perfectly alongside hitmakers of that era). Rachael Price’s warmhearted, somewhat chirpy vocals blended in perfectly with bandleader/bassist Bridget Kearney’s charmingly aphoristic, period-perfect songs, Mike Olson’s balmy trumpet and Mike Calabrese’s deftly terse drums. Another recent alum, singer Sarah Jarosz (who also proved to be a fine mandolinist) benefited from Kearney and Calabrese’s supple rhythm on a similar original of hers. And Dominique Eade, whose own style runs closer to pop than anyone else on the bill, impressed with a torchy a-capella number.

The piano jazz of the early part of the evening was equally captivating. Jason Moran – who’d joined the faculty just minutes previously – served up an expansive, appropriately lyrical tribute to Jaki Byard, followed by Ran Blake’s purist takes of Abbey Lincoln and Gershwin and a rapturously melodic, hypnotically nocturnal improvisation by Matthew Shipp and guitarist Joe Morris.

And it sure would have been nice to have been able to stick around for Bernie Worrell, one of the NEC’s best-known alums – but we were needed elsewhere (a special shout-out to the young quartet – rhythm section, electric piano and guitar – who played tasteful fusion throughout the press party beforehand at the adjacent Lucille’s Bar).

March 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/28/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song was #124:

Ninth House – The Company You Keep

Bitter, brooding, careening art-rock dirge that at first comes across as a revenge anthem – or just an attempt by the New York rockers to get as uber-goth as they can. Bernard SanJuan’s sepulchral reverb guitar arpeggios, as it slowly winds up, are intense. From The Eye That Refuses to Blink, 2006.

Sunday’s song is #123:

Elvis Costello – Crawling to the USA

Gleefully recorded in Australia a la Back in the USSR, this is one of his hardest-rocking songs, pretty much what you’d expect from the title. Originally issued on Taking Liberties in 1981. The rare live version in the link above has an even more ominous lyric.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CD Review: Matt Keating – Between Customers

As a kid Matt Keating had a summer job working the counter at a 7-11 (next time you dis the 7-11 clerk, keep in mind the guy could someday be one of the great songwriters of his time – it’s happened at least once already). The title of Keating’s new album alludes to that teenage gig and also to a line from the album’s opening song, a ironic tale of missed connections with a trick ending that more than hints at revenge or schadenfreude but turns out simply sad. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, a lot closer to the stark, mostly acoustic Americana flavor of his 2006 Summer Tonight cd rather than the electric clang of 2008’s Quixotic (simply one of the greatest janglerock records ever made.) Sparse electric and upright bass by Jason Mercer and minimal drums by Mark Brotter drums underpin Keating’s judicious layers of acoustic and occasional electric guitar and keyboards. As usual, his lyrics are terse, crystallized and loaded with double meanings that run the usual gamut from bitterness to melancholy to unhinged anger, along with a couple of surprisingly upbeat, even wise numbers

Cut number two on the cd, Daddy’s on the Roof, looks at family dysfunction from a kid’s snidely matter-of-fact point of view, tensely shuffling verse giving way to sarcastically blithe chorus – when everyone around you is crazy, sanity can be a liberating force. The catchy, swinging anthem Louisiana posits the personal as the political, a hauntingly allusive tale of love gone wrong at the end of a Gulf Coast road trip at the worst conceivable time. A vividly wistful Claudia Chopek string arrangement provides the atmosphere for the uneasy lullaby Go Down, a feeling amplified in the Cheeveresque anomie ballad Tree Lined Streets.

A metaphorically charged country-flavored tune, The Writer Next Door reminds how much you have to be careful living in these little New York apartments – you never know who might immortalize the things you regret saying most! Remember When, stately and gospel-tinged, takes where Lennon went with Imagine and makes it personal:

Remember when we could
Listen without ears
See without our fear
Look without our years
Remember when we went
That far
The final cut takes that resolve and turns it into a carpe-diem ballad. There’s also a bonus track, a gorgeously blue-sky acoustic version of St. Cloud, from the Quixotic album. With pretty much every year that passes you can pretty much count on Keating to deliver another first-rate album to add to his substantial body of work: count this among them. Matt Keating will be off on European tour this spring, with a final New York date next month at the Rockwood.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Kathleen Supové at First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn NY 3/26/10

Anyone who assumes that avant garde piano is precious or stuffy needs to see Kathleen Supové. Last night she brought her deadpan wit and her Exploding Piano (that’s how she bills her live show) to the monthly adventurous-music program at Brooklyn Heights’ First Presbyterian Church, which seems to be doing double duty as comfortable neighborhood hang and avant garde central for the budget-conscious (suggested donation was ten bucks). “It’s unusual for the Exploding Piano to be in a church. It’s even more unusual for me to be in a church,” Supové explained. But she likes this place, and it proved to be sonically well-suited to a program characteristically rich with ideas, emotion and just plain good fun.

2010 being Louis Andriessen’s seventieth birthday year, there’s a lot of Andriessen happening around town, so it made sense that this bill would have a couple of his works. She opened by handing out rose petals to the audience and then launching into The Memory of Roses, scored for piano, toy piano – and rose. It began poignantly and minimalistically and went creepy fast, the two keyboards in tandem creating a classically Andriessen bell-like tone and a quite disquieiting ambience. The other, Trepidus, Supové deadpanned, “Is where the performer is physically abused to win the approval of the audience.” Most of it is a seemingly endless series of fast, percussive fortissimo chords employing a lot of adjacent notes to enhance the unease factor. It is extremely taxing to play, requiring the perfect timing of Bach and the vigor of Liszt, and Supové was more than up to the challenge. It finally wound down with a darkly austere, tersely conversational section somewhat evocative of Rachmaninoff’s C Sharp Minor Prelude, an eerily delicious treat (and welcome relief for the performer).

A Shaking of the Pumpkin, by Michael Gatonska (who’d come all the way down from Hartford for the concert) intermingled alternately plaintive and playful snatches of melody amidst furious atonal cascades in the low and midrange along with passages where the performer smacks and plays both the interior and the exterior with mallets, building to a Day in the Life-style crescendo where the piano roared and hummed with overtones for the better part of a minute. And then Supové picked her spot with a single, stark chord and got another thirty seconds of sustained overtones out of the beast. She contrasted this with a couple of Alvin Curran’s Inner Cities pieces, something akin to Satie playing a blues on Pluto (where a year goes by a lot more slowly), and then Jacob Ter Veldhuis ( AKA Jacob TV)’s current youtube hit The Body of Your Dreams. For those who haven’t hear it yet, it’s a mashup of live piano and samples from a tv infomercial for a weight-loss gadget – as it turned out, Supové had managed to find one, which she passed around the audience in its smart little plastic carrying case. The sound engineer ran the cd while Supové resisted the urge to break a smile, matter-of-factly supplying the soundtrack, which seems to be as much a parody of disco, bad pop and music for tv commercials as the piece as a whole mocks crass consumerism.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment