Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Brooklyn What at Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY 5/28/10

An hour of power after power hour Friday night. Actually, the power started during power hour (at Trash Bar, they have free drinks in the back for an hour starting at 8 PM – with a deal like that, who needs to pregame). Play It Faster sound like the Subhumans, but if that band listened to Social Distortion instead of reggae – interesting song structures, smart politics, loud, roaring vocals and guitars. And a Rickenbacker for some unexpectedly sweet guitar textures. Memo to the Rick player: if you’re going to keep taking solos, you need at least a cheap Boss pedal so they can cut through every time.

“I can’t remember when we played a set this early,” Brooklyn What frontman Jamie Frey told the crowd (they hit the stage a little after nine this time; showtime for these guys is usually around midnight on a Saturday). There are louder bands in New York than the Brooklyn What – a few anyway – but there are none better. Their new songs are so strong that they don’t have to fall back on last year’s hits, or the ones from the year before. It’s amazing how much this band has grown – people don’t realize how young they still are. Lead guitarist Evan O’Donnell just graduated college. “He’s ours all the time now,” Frey grinned. Gibson SG player John-Severin Napolillo – who also leads first-rate powerpop band John-Severin and the Quiet 1s – joined O’Donnell in locking into a murkily beautiful, melodic, punk-inflected roar, reminding of nothing less than the Dead Boys, but without the drugs. Frey knows that hits are simple; this set was one after another and they all packed a wallop. And they did it without I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, or We Are the Only Ones, or Planet’s So Lonely. Like the Clash, the Brooklyn What leap from one genre to another with gusto yet without ever losing sight of the social awareness that defines them. How ironic that they’d play this show in what has become the neighborhood most antithetical to everything they stand for.

They opened with a characteristically cynical, scorching version of Gentrification Rock, title track to their most recent ep, bringing it down to Doug Carey’s growling bass for a couple of measures at the end. “I don’t mind if you put a hole right through me,” Frey sang sarcastically on the snarling midtempo rocker they followed with. This is a guy who obviously loves oldschool soul music, and he’s developed into someone who can deliver it and make it his own without sounding derivative or fake. There was a lot of longing in those vocals all night. Their best song was another new one, Punk Rock Loneliness, a bitter and angry memory of Bowery and Bleecker before CBGB became just another overpriced clothing boutique for tourists: “You wanna be a dead boy?” Frey taunted. As charismatic as Frey is, he’s generous with his bandmates, giving Napolillo a turn on lead vocals on a handful of cuts including a new one with a swaying Guns of Brixton flavor. The first of the encores was a delirious crowd-pleaser, I Want You on a Saturday Night, more doo-wop than anything the Ramones ever did (that these guys, like the Ramones, know what doo-wop was, speaks volumes).

And now comes the sad part of the evening, at least for us. Tri-State Conspiracy were next. Ten years ago they were a killer ska band, just busting out of the small club circuit. These days they still play ska, but they’re way more diverse than that, and even more gleefully noir than they were in 2000. One of their early songs sounded like the Yardbirds. Their trumpet player sang; their two guitarists traded licks better than any jam band in recent memory. So it hurt to walk out on what was obviously going to be a killer set – and hurt equally to miss the Highway Gimps, whose snarling post-Gun Club glampunk songs sound like they’d be even better live than what’s on their myspace. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Lila Downs y la Misteriosa En Paris – Live a FIP

If you get one Lila Downs album, this is it. This isn’t safe, emasculated faux-exotica for curious yuppies: it’s a fiesta, and not always a happy one. Downs’ commitment to and passionate advocacy for a whole slew of Mexican folk styles – and the immigrants whose ancestors created them – has made her impossible to pigeonhole, with a defiantly individualistic streak. Recorded live on French radio last year, Downs sings with raw brass, grit and soul, backed by a terrific band with edge, bite and some stunningly imaginative arrangements – the most prominent instrument here is Celso Duarte’s concert harp. The sprawling group also includes Downs’ husband and longtime musical director Paul Cohen on tenor sax and clarinet, fiery forro specialist Rob Curto on accordion, the incisive Juancho Herrera (also of Claudia Acuña’s band) on guitars, Carlos Henderson on bass, Dana Leong on trombone, Yayo Serka on drums and Samuel Torres on percussion. And while there are plenty of folklorico numbers – the swaying accordion-driven song that opens the concert; a plaintive, mournful update of a Zapotec song, and a stunningly poignant, beautifully sung version of the traditional ballad La Llorona, the strongest songs here are the originals.

The stinging, Gil Scott-Heron inflected blues shuffle Minimum Wage – sung in English – makes a vivid tribute to the illegal immigrants that American businesses are only too happy to hire at a cut rate. The metaphorically loaded singalong anthem Justicia goes looking for justice everywhere, but there are places where it simply cannot be found:

[translated from the original Spanish]

I don’t see you in the High Command
I can’t find you in offices
Or in men in uniform
Or the fence at the border

And the understatedly scathing, ghostly, reggae-flavored anti-NAFTA broadside La Linea (The Line) imagines a medicine woman treating a child whose “skin has grown feathers” courtesy of untreated industrial waste from American border sweatshops. But once Downs has you in touch with reality, she gets the party started. There’s a festive, minor-key cumbia salute to the joy of getting stoned and eating good mole, a largely improvised party number from Veracruz with the harp and percussion rattling and plinking at full volume, and a long jam on Hava Nagila during the band intros before the encores. And the version of La Cucaracha here leaves no doubt as to what that song’s about, right down to a briefly woozy dub-flavored interlude. It’s out now on World Village Music.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dither Quartet Mess with Your Mind

File this under psychedelia. If you’re a fan of the dirtier, more ominous textures an electric guitar can create, an entire ocean of them, the Dither guitar quartet’s new album is for you. This is one of those albums that sounds like it was an awful lot of fun to make, in places moreso than it is to listen to. Incorporating elements of noise-rock, dreampop, guitar jazz, classical and the avant-garde, Dither’s dense, hypnotic, overtone-laden instrumentals are imaginative, clever, sometimes subtly funny, other times flat-out assaultive. The influence of Elliott Sharp (who wrote the album liner notes) is everywhere, as is that of Steve Reich. But this isn’t mere layers of drones: with five different composers (including Dither’s own Joshua Lopes) represented, there’s a wide diversity among the tracks here. From the first few seconds, it’s clear that trying to figure out which of the group’s members – Lopes, Taylor Levine, David Linaburg and James Moore – is playing what is a lost cause, but there’s a consistent dedication to thinking out of the box and just simply having fun.

The opening track, Lainie Fefferman’s Tongue of Torns, is a pretty standard Steve Reich-ish “let’s all play the same A chord for an hour and a half” except that this one has a surprise, a shock to the system about three quarters of the way through. And they do it again, and again. Pantagruel, written by Lopes, is the most overtly jazz-oriented work here, serpentine ascending progresssions intertwined through off-key, tone-warping patches that eventually crash, burn and then fade out a la A Day in the Life. Lisa R. Coons’ suite Cross-Sections is a showcase for the group’s exuberant command of every guitar texture ever invented, weaving hypnotically through skronk, atmospherics, muted plucking, a long siren passage, raptly still atmospherics and good old-fashioned noise. The showstopper here (they played this at Bang on a Can last year) is Eric KM Clark’s ExPAT, written for “as many guitarists as possible.” It’s a hearing-deprivation piece, each guitarist sonically isolated from the rest of the group, wearing headphones blasting white noise so as to throw their timing off. Yet the group is not so easily distracted! Ominous and intense, it’s a pulsing, echoing choir of hell’s bells, very evocative of Louis Andriessen at his most insistently abrasive. And yet, its shifts are extremely subtle, drifting apart but then coming together before another slight divergence.

Dither plays the cd release show on June 12 at the Invisible Dog Art Center, 51 Bergen St. in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn on a ridiculously inviting bill, a mini-Bang on a Can marathon of sorts with Redhooker, Kathleen Supové and Nick Didkovsky, Elliott Sharp, Matthew Welch, the Deprivation Orchestra of NY, Loud Objects, Mantra Percussion and Florent Ghys, which for a $6 cover turns out to be less than a dollar a band.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment