Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Dende & Hahahaes at Lincoln Center 4/15/10

Dende & Hahahaes have a stylistically diverse new album out that highlights their ability to shift energetically between samba, roots reggae and a whole lot of other tropical styles. Thursday night the crowd at the Atrium at Lincoln Center didn’t start dancing until the band’s first salsa groove, but most of them stayed on their feet for the rest of the show.

A big man with a megawatt grin, percussionist/singer Dende led the band from behind his congas – and played acoustic guitar on one song, a bracingly catchy minor-key vamp lit up by a long wah-wah solo by their electric guitarist. The rest of the vocals were supplied by a soulfully brassy singer who played boomy pan percussion when she wasn’t on the mic. With the relentless beat coming from band’s front line, their drummer got the chance to add some nimble counterrhythms when he wasn’t putting up with Dende’s playful showboating (there was a point where Dende demonstrably decided to adjust the drum volume, which drew plenty of laughs). Their keyboardist swayed in her seat, alternating between hypnotic latin vamps and bouncy samba lines in addition to some slyly woozy synthesizer settings – one of their several catchy Bahian numbers saw her playing through a fluttery flute patch, another with a reverberating Rhodes sound.

A trio of songs worked a hypnotic midtempo afrobeat groove; a couple others had an amped-up jangly, guitar-driven forro feel. The singers would take turns running a simple, insistent lyrical line, in Portuguese, many of them becoming singalongs with the large and exuberant expat crowd. Bassist Ze Grey hung back and provided fat, catchy hooks all night, waiting til the end where he’d finally cut loose with a blast of chords and fiery, melodic riffage. And when they finally closed the set with a catchy, irresistibly bouncing minor-key disco number – the Gap Band gone to Bahia – Grey played delicious variations off the central hook while the keyboardist turned her synth all the way up for a crazy, distorted texture. They encored with a cut off the new album that sounds like a Brazilian adaptation of Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean, Dende working the crowd in the front and on both sides of the stage (one woman he enticed up onstage was clearly out of her element, but another seized the moment and wowed the crowd with her moves). The free Thursday concerts here continue on April 22 at 8:30 with intriguing Chinese-American avant jazz chanteuse Jen Shyu.

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April 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/18/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #102:

Graham Parker – Temporary Beauty

The British rocker’s best song remains this casual, midtempo piano pop tune, a sympathetic yet brutally cynical examination of the psychology of shallowness and and narcissism and the society that breeds it. From Another Grey Area, 1982.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/14/10

Highline Ballroom was about as full as it could get without taking the tables down. Conspicuously absent was the Sierra Leonian posse: this was a Coachella crowd that had come to dance and didn’t stop til Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars finally called it a night. Maybe there is actually an upside to Vampire Weekend – the idea of Vampire Weekend, anyway – considering how much this audience enjoyed the real thing. The nine-piece group’s long set followed the same trajectory as their superb new album Rise & Shine, alternating cheerily hypnotic three-chord afrobeat jams with anthemic, often magisterial roots reggae. Interestingly, their reggae numbers are more melodically captivating, although the dancers seemed to feel just the opposite. Whichever way you look it at, it was a party. “In Africa, people throw money on us,” boasted singer Reuben M. Koroma, something that takes on considerably greater significance in a place where there’s so little of it.

At their most ecstatic, they had three electric guitars going; at their most dizzyingly rhythmic, one of the guitarists would become a third percussionist. With nimbly intricate drums, slinkily melodic bass, occasional keyboards and joyous vocal harmonies, they’d draw the songs out for as long as ten minutes at a clip, often breaking the reggae numbers down to just the drums and some bass or guitar for a lo-fi dub vibe. The version of the bouncily suggestive Bend Down de Corner on the new album is acoustic, almost mento: here they cranked it up and gave it a late 60s style rocksteady groove, one of the Les Paul players taking over lead vocals and doing a credible Bob Marley evocation. One of several antiwar numbers gave the other Les Paul player the chance to feel his way through a focus-shifting, sunbaked solo, part desert blues, part woozy psychedelia. Many of the other reggae numbers’ harmonies had a carefree Israel Vibration feel, particularly a fervently extended version of the sufferah’s anthem Jah Mercy. Koroma explained that he was looking forward to the day when Jah returns to earth because “Human sense is not enough,” perhaps understandable considering how much war he and the band had to live through. At the end, they brought the opening act, high-spirited hip-hop crew Bajah & the Dry Eye Crew up onstage to cheerlead some call-and-response with the audience through a seemingly endless afrobeat jam. The crowd didn’t want to let them go, but there was an eight AM flight to catch. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ US tour continues; the remainder of the dates are here.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rick Erickson at the Organ at Central Synagogue, NYC 4/13/10

There’s a free, biweekly Tuesday concert series at half past noon at Central Synagogue in midtown – the next one is on May 11. You’d think that as busy as everyone in that neighborhood seems to be, they’d welcome a chance to relax in a setting like this one. Maybe everybody’s too busy, not even paying attention to the sign right there on the sidewalk announcing the concert. In the meantime, while the series continues, you can pretty much get your own free recital here, very possibly a performance as inspired as the concert Rick Erickson played last Tuesday.

Erickson, who mans the console at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and is also responsible for the popular Bach cantata program there, delivered a robustly good-natured program of upbeat, inspiring material. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 545 set the tone, followed by Max Reger’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 59, No. 5. It’s less convoluted, more straightforwardly Romantic than a lot of Reger’s work and it fit the bill beautifully. The Allegretto from Romantic-era American composer Horatio Parker’s E flat Organ Sonata was an attractively rustic throwback to the baroque, segueing well with Schumann’s Two Etudes in the Form of a Canon, which also could have been a hundred years older than it was. Erickson ended on a high note with a magnificently ebullient rendition of the Mendelssohn Sonata No. 4, its warmly atmospheric, contemplative third movement a vivid contrast with its ambitious introduction and blazing, Bach-inspired finale. Wish someone would play you a private concert like this one? May 11, half past noon.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Songs in the Key of Mountain Birds Blue

Ridiculously catchy, often haunting, sometimes dreamy and psychedelic, Smoldering Ashes’ new album blends a vintage 80s new wave feel with a little goth and an occasional off-center folk feel for considerably more diversity beyond the wary, watery sound the quartet of Veronica Ashe, Jeff Brenneman, Dirk Doucette and Tory Troutman mined on their previous album Nervous Constellations.

The album starts out auspiciously with a casually torchy noir cabaret tune done southwestern gothic style, followed by a catchy midtempo new wave hit like Blondie at their most off-kilter and interesting. The third track could be a standout cut on Siouxsie’s Kaleidoscope album, building from pounding, ominous minimalism to a stomping crescendo with growly bass chords and aggressive wah guitar solo. Nick Charles Crossing the Alps (an inside joke, maybe?) is similarly dark and chromatic, like a stripped-down second part with eerie twelve-string guitar.

Track five, Eye of the Phobia has Ashe sounding like a more pitchwise Debbie Harry singing a mid-80s janglerock hit by the Church, maybe something off the Seance album. Give Yourself a Push blends Siouxie-esque menace with gorgeously catchy art-pop, taking the volume up a notch at the end even as it drops down to just vocals and roaring distorted guitar. 9,000 Year Old Man sets a distant otherworldly choir against simple psychedelic folk, T Rex as done by Steve Kilbey; Shake an Etch-a-Sketch nicks the Joy Division classic No Love Lost, right down to the skittish drums and the way the bass swoops up at the end of a phrase. The funniest cut on the album is a cover of the old Harold Arlen vaudeville song Lydia the Tattooed Lady, ironically a thousand times more apropos now than when it was written. Ashe affects a deadpan British accent as the band whoops and hollers behind her –  Lydia, as it turns out, has festooned herself with the Battle of Waterloo,Washington Crossing the Delaware…and Alcatraz! The album winds up with a brief, off-kilter new wave fragment, the psychedelically shapeshifting Le Locataire Diabolique (a collaboration with keyboardist Hyesoo Joen) and a trippy, atmospheric number. We’re considerably late in picking up on this one – it may have come out last year (on Trakwerx) but you just might see this on our best albums of the year list this December. Who’s counting, anyway?

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 4/17/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #103:

Elvis Costello – Goon Squad

Listen to this on headphones – the whispery doubletracked vocals on the chorus are absolutely homicidal. Costello’s worn a lot of stylistic hats over the decades, but he’s always been as reliable an anti-fascist as you could ever want on your side. From what may be his best album, 1979’s Armed Forces.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ahreum Han at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 4/11/10

A rising star on the international organ circuit, Ahreum Han first crossed our radar as part of a “festival of organ divas” at Trinity Church about eighteen months ago. Since then she’s earned her master’s at Yale while serving as organist at Stamford, Connecticut’s St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Han plays with great focus, fire and intensity, yet this time out she brought the fun set.

Jeanne Demessieux’s work is well known in the organ community; it deserves a wider audience, so it was nice to see Han tackle all the memorable contrasts in Demesieux’s Te Deum, Op. 11. A richly melodic, diverse piece, Han brought out all the spookiness in the pedals beneath the soaring upper register swells that open the piece, smartly negotiated the tricky little waltz that follows and aired out the big block-chord conclusion, veering eerily off into atonality and then back again. Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s Valse Mignonne, Op. 142, No. 2 seems to be a favorite of Han’s. The title is a misnomer: playful as it is, it’s not exactly cute and Han made sure everybody got that, emphasizing the distant longing in the wistful musette movement halfway through, then going warm and cantabile to end on a lullaby note with a gracefully memorable three-chord motif.

The showstopper was Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam, S. 259. It’s an intricately sophisticated, frequently exhilarating example of a composer taking a centuries-old device – in this case, variations on a hymn – to the next level. Its quiet ambience contrasting with bold, heroic passages, it’s easy to see how Charles Widor would pick up on the idea and popularize a new style, the organ symphony. Han worked the counterpoint vividly, low pedals providing a striking undercurrent to all the upper-register swirls, stabbed out the Beethovenesque insistence of the second movement with a merciless precision and then tore through the majestic, triumphant, full-bore processional that takes it out in a rumbling blaze of glory.

Han may have once been characterized as a diva but she hardly comes across as one – the church staff practically had to push her out of the console, visibly winded after such a physically exhausting performance, for a second standing ovation.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment