Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Liz Tormes at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 5/3/10

Gently and methodically, Liz Tormes brought the lights down. She didn’t actually reach over to the wall and kill the switch, but she might as well have. Strumming her acoustic guitar with one hypnotic downstroke after another, she played a set that was as unaffectedly catchy and tuneful as it was disquieting. Keyboardist Glenn Patscha (of Ollabelle) provided a rich variety of textures, from echoey, spacy, upper-register synthesizer, to stark Supertramp-style electric art-rock piano, to matter-of-factly chordal acoustic piano work. The drummer mixed crafty jazz flourishes into his artful shuffles, at one point dampening the snare and one of the toms with towels to enhance a distantly ominous, boomy effect which worked perfectly with the songs’ frequent neo-Velvets vibe. The most affecting thing about Tormes’ voice is how casual it is: this show was as if she was humming to herself at your funeral – or somebody’s funeral, anyway. It’s a strikingly warm, atmospheric instrument, and while she’s capable of cutting loose if she feels like it, for her less is more and she works that like a charm, letting the songs and the lyrics go and find their mark, which they inevitably do. Like a lot of inevitable things.

Tormes hardly shies away from the darkness; on the contrary, she seems to embody it, whether in the back-to-back songs about death in the middle of the set – the second one dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut, a writer whose identity she’d encouraged the crowd to guess, but nobody could – or in the creepy little waltz based on a sinister tritone melody that she fingerpicked with grace and understatement. Most of the songs were unfamiliar. Tormes’ latest album Limelight is as good a contender for best-of-recent-months as any that’s come over the transom here, but she’s about to embark on a new one and if the concert was any indication it’ll be just as compelling. One featured a duet with Patscha; on several others, Tormes was joined by Fiona McBain (also of Ollabelle), who provided characteristically soaring high harmonies – the two have a sometime project called Fizz that specializes in murder ballads, “Because they’re beautiful,” Tormes deadpanned. The night’s most memorable number coldly immortalized Tormes’ old place on Second Ave. and Fourth St., a quietly caustic depiction of the parade of freaks who turn the neighborhood into fratboy hell after dark. She may have come here from Nashville, but Tormes spoke for an entire zip code with that one.

Afterward it was time to head over to Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly salon/show/hangout, which we’ve been AWOL from for the last few weeks. Russian expat pianist/singer Mila Levine, backed by the extraordinary, ubiquitous and extraordinarily ubiquitous Susan Mitchell on viola, ran through a mix of noir-ish pop and rock tunes in both English and her native tongue. One had once appeared (radically rearranged, she took care to explain) in the Eurovision music contest and was actually not an embarrassment. Afterward, the reliably haunting and hypnotic Appalachian/Balkan vocal duo Æ (Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker) delivered a set of otherworldly old songs from Georgia, Greece, the Carolinas and the Jewish diaspora, an alternately ecstatic and wrenchingly sad end to a night full of affecting voices.

And while we’re on the subject of Small Beast, don’t forget what might be the year’s best rock or-rock-oriented concert, the Big Beast at the Angel Orensanz Center on May 21 with Botanica, Bee and Flower, Barbez, Little AnnieBlack Sea Hotel, and free microbrew beer for an hour before the show.

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May 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Hot Club of Detroit – It’s About That Time

Why do people love gypsy jazz? Because it’s fun. Musicians get into this stuff A) because they can (it’s not easy to play) and B) because somewhere there’s always a gig waiting to happen. Club owners who know that gypsy jazz exists know that it keeps the crowd in the house. But what differentiates the Hot Club of Detroit from the legions of other talented players who’ve memorized every Django Reinhardt lick? This band pushes the envelope. What’s coolest about Hot Club of Detroit, and especially this new album is that what they do is just as jazz as it is gypsy. And they vary the mood a lot more than most of their compatriots – this isn’t all lickety-split toe-tappin’ music. You can hear it in the joyous reed riffage that kicks off the opening track, On the Steps; in the deviousness of the tempo shift halfway through their vigorous version of Mingus’ Nostalgia in Times Square (that they’d choose a Mingus song to cover pretty much says it all); and throughout reed player Carl Cafagna’s shuffle Restless Twilight. That one could be a Jimmy Smith song, substituting Paul Brady’s staccato acoustic rhythm guitar and Andrew Kratzat’s bass for the organ.

For Stephane, by lead guitarist Evan Perri, imagines a Grappelli line shifting between the instruments (and then Cafagna throws an absurdly hilarious quote in toward the end). The summery, expansive Papillon, by accordionist Julien Labro gives Kratzat one of several opportunities to darken the mood with a stark, bowed solo. And they put their own stamp on the classics here: Django’s Duke and Dukie (those were his cats) swings with a visceral recklessness; an aptly brooding cover of the famous Chopin E Major Etude vividly contrasts spiky acoustic guitar with pensive clarinet. There’s plenty to enjoy for purist fans of Reinhardt and Grappelli, but the real joy in this album is when the band takes it to unexpected places. It’s just out on Mack Avenue.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/4/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #86:

The Sex Pistols – Holidays in the Sun

The original Holiday in Cambodia – “I never asked for sunshine, and I got World War III!”

May 4, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment