Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Qadim Ensemble at Zebulon, Brooklyn NY 4/1/10

Bay Area orientalists the Qadim Ensemble are a bunch of American musicians with a passion with seemingly every style from the Middle East and northern Africa. As their show at Zebulon last night reaffirmed, that passion translates vividly in concert. This time out the group was a quartet, Gari Hegedus taking the most intense solos of the night on saz (a beautifully jangly Turkish lute) and oud, Rachel Valfer Sills doubling on oud and vocals, ney flute player Eliyahu Sills and master percussionist Faisal Zedan on riq (frame drum) and other instruments. They go more for a a slinky, often haunting, trance-inducing sound than they do flat-out ecstasy, with thoughtfully constructed improvisation between instruments along with warmly methodical, crescendoing solo passages. Together they created a magic carpet of shifting timbres and textures, the melody often beginning on the flute, then moving to the saz and then the oud. The ney player and oud player harmonized on a couple of numbers; Hegedus played with a graceful intensity over the oud’s soulful pulse and the otherworldly allusions of the flute while Zedan provided a hypnotic beat. One of the highlights of the night was a Turkish number about a guy trying to entice a girl over so he can play saz for her – she stands him up. The ney was first to state the melody, followed by the oud, and when the time came, Hegedus made sure that girl or no girl, the saz was going to turn in a good solo. Rachel Valfer Sills’ poignantly full-bodied vocals imbued the quieter numbers with considerable gravitas; later, the ney player opened a “Moroccan country music” tune, as they called it, with an expansive, blue-sky taqsim that built slowly into a bouncy rai beat. And then the band segued into a much trickier number that finally faded away mysteriously. In case you wish you hadn’t missed this one, they’re at Nublu on April 4 at 8.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Spanglish Fly and Sonia’s Party and the Everyone’s Invited Band at R Bar, NYC 3/31/10

The only bad thing about this party was that it couldn’t go all night. Both Sonia’s Party and the Everyone’s Invited Band and New York’s only current bugalu dance band, Spanglish Fly, came across as the kind of acts who do best when they have the whole evening, when they can ride the grooves for all they’re worth, taking the energy as high as it can go. But their show Wednesday night on lower Bowery was still a good one, even if it was a little tantalizing, each band getting a tad short of an hour onstage. It was almost as if just as when the party started to really cook, somebody raided the fridge and stole all the forties. Spanglish Fly did a song about something similar to that: getting busted by lazy NYPD cops who make their monthly quota of arrests with the least possible effort or imagination. “Open container!” the band chanted sarcastically; “Put out that J!” frontwoman Erica Ramos warned her baritone sax player.

With piano, congas, bongos, timbales, bass and a blazing horn section, Spanglish Fly are bringing back the bugalu beat, equal parts salsa and soul, that was everywhere in New York thirty-five years ago, and putting their own spin on it. Because this is dance music, they really get the percussion going, their bongo player getting a serious workout this time around, especially on their opening number, an inspired version of the Ray Barreto classic New York Soul, available on their excellent new cd. Ramos took advantage of the next number’s vamp to introduce the instruments Sly Stone style, trumpet and trombone delivering sizzling solos. They brought Sonia from Sonia’s Party up for a duet on I Heard It Through the Grapevine (a typical bugalu move, latinizing a 60s pop song), Ramos’ sultry alto contrasting with her counterpart’s brassy, sassy wail. Their last song, Pensamiento, took it to the next level, a fiery minor-key hook winding up the chorus, evoking a Spanish Harlem of the mind around 1965 where you’d be able to see a teenage Willie Colon lurking around the back of the club, doing some politics, strategizing a career – and El Canario might have stopped in too.

Sonia’s Party put their own imaginative, danceable spin on catchy 60s soul and Motown. Their frontwoman is a big belter. She’s got all the gospel vocal moves going on, but not in a showoff, American Idol way – what she does just seems natural. The band is killer: fat rhythm section, a terse guitarist who knows his vintage Stax/Volt, a smart and frequently haunting Rhodes pianist and three-piece horn section. They opened with an instrumental featuring a nice growling guitar solo, then brought Sonia up. A lot of her songs start with a long, passionate vocal intro and then warp into a bouncy three-minute soul-pop number. The cautionary dancefloor tale Bad Man was full of tense, unexpected major/minor shifts in the tune; the one before that, maybe titled Can’t Tear My Heart from You could have been a Memphis hit around 1967. But as retro as the tunes are, their sound is uniquely their own. They brought up Erica Ramos and a guy named Jermaine to take turns on the vocals on an actually inspired version of the Ike and Tina arrangement of Proud Mary. A little later, they did a jazzy one where after Sonia had sung her heart out, they brought up a rapper who gave a rapidfire account of his side of a love affair gone wrong. They closed with an obvious crowd-pleaser, a hip-hop duet about checking out people on the subway set to an early 70s-style funk tune. They probably would have gone twice as long if they’d had the chance – and it would have been nice to have been able to stick around for the next band, but it was time to go check out people on the subway before it turned into a pumpkin. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Transit Authority realized that some people have to get home before 4 AM? And in case you were wondering, these multiethnic bands drew a beautifully multiethnic, quintessentially New York crowd – there wasn’t a single bedhead or lumberjack beard in sight.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: First Meeting – Cut the Rope

This album is the sonic equivalent of a Thai curry gone awry, where you accidentally use an entire can of green chiles, then you add too much garlic, then you realize you’re out of everything else but spices. So you throw the curry in and sautee everything, but on too high heat – the outsides caramelize while the insides stay raw. And then you discover you have nothing to chase it with, no rice, just water. You might find the results completely inedible, but you’d be surprised to know how many of your friends wouldn’t be able to get enough of that endless, raw burn. Like your kitchen disaster, trumpeter Natusuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii’s new album with Cut the Rope, their free jazz outfit, is more of an abrasive intoxicant than it is music. It’s best described, and experienced, as a whole: it might be best appreciated while under the influence of something and it might (but might not) have been created under the influence of something too.

Drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto doesn’t hang out much: his main job here is supplying a dense wall of white noise via lush layers of cymbals. When he’s not doing that he’s hitting every piece of metal within reach and probably breaking a stick or two. Yet he can be just as delicate, particularly playing bells during a misty, rustically-tinged duet with Fujii’s koto-like prepared piano. Guitarist Kelly Churko (who also plays with Tamura and Fujii in Fujii’s massive Orchestra Tokyo) runs the gamut from eerily tentative blues, to death metal, to chicken-scratch skronk, to running a simple, muted bossa nova beat during a quieter interlude (which eventually gets stomped on mercilessly by the drums). In a stage whisper through his valves, Tamura conjures the ghosts of free jazz trumpeters past, otherwise squalling or bleating, especially during a memorable duel with Churko’s metal riffage. Fujii serves as the voice of reason here, typically introducing what melody there is, whether plaintive and eerie as is so often her custom, or just plain funny (particularly a latin interlude that the rest of the band completely ignores during the practically 25-minute fourth track). But like an overstimulated cat, the noise always lures her away to see what’s up and join the fun. Everyone finally finds his or her feet – pretty much – during a couple of extended, eerily modal loops toward the end, Fujii and Churko’s macabre music box piano and guitar duet taking it down to a delightful surprise ending.

Most people will find this album pure hell to sit through (check out Tamura’s solo work, Orchestra Tokyo or the most recent Tamura/Fujii small combo, Ma-Do for accessible tunes and high spirits). On the other hand, there’s got to be a couple thousand devotees of noise and vigorous free jazz around the world who would find this hard to walk away from. You may have to drag them with you because you may not want to be around it. Can somebody please open a window? It’s smoky in here and everything smells like garlic.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/2/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song was #119:

Pink Floyd – Paranoid Eyes

Quiet, understated, picture-perfect alienation ballad from the vastly underrated Final Cut album, 1983. That’s Michael Kamen on subtle, tasteful gospel-infused piano.

And today’s song is #118:

Elvis Costello – Ghost Train

The Nathanael West-tinged tale of Maureen and Stan, two showbiz wannabes destined to fail, maybe spectacularly, right from the song’s first watery, swaying guitar chords, Bruce Thomas’ bass filtered to make it sound like a tuba. Another classic track from Taking Liberties, 1981.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment