Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 6/19/10

Every day, for the next forty days anyway, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #40:

Albert King – As the Years Go Passing By

The studio version of Don Robey’s dark, stately, minor-key 6/8 blues ballad on the 1965 Born Under a Bad Sign album is ok, but it’s the live versions that really haunt. The best we know of is a ten-minute version on a 1979 double live album on the French Tomato label. The link above is a nice extended version from that same period.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Phil Sargent – A New Day

Brooding, thoughtful and emotionally resonant, guitarist Phil Sargent’s new album transcends the jazz label – although he’s backed up by a first-rate cast of jazz players. The instrumentals here are innovatively arranged for an interesting configuration of piano, bass, drums and also a vocalist in place of a horn player. Singer Aubrey Johnson does a terrific job, her vocalese shifting timbres slightly just as Sargent does, utilizing a pitch pedal in places in the same way that Sargent manipulates his tone with his guitar effects. Aside from a Pat Metheny-esque motorway instrumental, which is straight-up rock, and the remarkably nuanced heavy metal menace of the sixth track (a bit of a breather for the band, who’ve stayed within themselves marvelously up to this point), the whole album is a clinic in how to maintain a mood. With some help from guest keyboardist Brian Friedland on organ and piano on the third track, bassist Greg Loughman and drummer Mike Connors carry a lot of emotional weight here with understated grace.

Johnson sets the tone that will dominate throughout right off the bat on the distantly pensive title track, Sargent taking his time to get going and finally taking flight uneasily with a hint of raw distortion as the bass and drums, and guest pianist John Funkhouser – a marvelously rhythmic choice – rattles around behind him, piano solo moving captivatingly from judicious chords to a full-on swing attack. The second track is all contrasts, Johnson’s understated wistfulness against the melody’s buoyant sway. Bass and guitar follow her in turn, downcast: even when Sargent is finally firing off a flurry of eight notes, he’s still looking over his shoulder. You don’t realize how beautiful this song is until it’s almost over. Johnson sings the dark tango-inflected first verse of the following cut over Sargent’s volume-knob swells. It builds – Sargent feels around for his footing and eventually lands with a terse series of chords before leaving the ground with more of them, then Loughman solos as Sargent plays with his volume knob again.

The well-titled Gridlock opens with bass carrying the melody over Sargent’s fingerpicking, growing from unease to fullscale menace and then backing off (the first person to identify what 70s art-rock phrase Sargent is quoting from at around 1:50 – Robin Trower? Jethro Tull? – wins a prize). They wind up the album with a characteristically subtle, bossa-tinged ballad. This won’t be on some people’s lists of the best jazz albums of 2010 but it’s definitely on ours.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tim Eriksen – Soul of the January Hills

This is definitely not folk music for the faint of heart, but it’s heaven for fans of gothic Americana. Tim Eriksen is one of the world’s more fearless performers: long admired as a singer, steeped in Americana and particularly the eerie northern New England tradition, the multi-instrumentalist is no stranger to singing a-cappella. What’s most impressive is how this album was made: Eriksen sang all fourteen songs solo with neither band nor instrumentation, in a single take, in a tower along the wall of the Benedictine Abbey in Jaroslaw, Poland. His slightly twangy baritone is a potent instrument, but he doesn’t overdo it: this is an album of interpretations, a voice alone setting and maintaining a mood with the lyrics. Yet it also doesn’t offer the impression that he’s holding anything in reserve, waiting til the end when he knows he can empty the tank and blow out his voice if he wants. And what technique! Eriksen is pitch-perfect, working those blue notes with a sorcerer’s subtlety. Tenacity in the face of hardship, mourning and even gruesomeness is the feeling that links most of the often centuries-old songs here: many of them, even a hymn like Son of God, are absolutely macabre. Most of them are in minor keys; and to Eriksen’s credit, he doesn’t sing them all in the same key. The tension lets up a little at the end of the English folk song Gallows Tree, where the prisoner at the end of the rope is finally rescued as the hangman is paid his bribe (for another, absolutely lights-out solo vocal performance of this song, check out the version on Robin O’Brien’s album The Apple in Man).

By contrast, Eriksen gives the narrator of Drowsy Sleeper – dying of food poisoning – a chance to make a forceful last stand. He works segues between several of the songs so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins. A couple of them are traditionally sung by women, but Eriksen pulls them off, notably the ominously gleeful A Soldier Traveling from the North, where the girl begs the traveling soldier not to leave (the implication is that she’s pregnant). Eriksen recasts Amazing Grace as rustic Appalachian folk, and finally lets the clouds dissipate with a rousing, revival camp-style version of Better Days Coming to end the album. This ought to appeal to a wide audience, from fans of groups like the Handsome Family to otherworldly Balkan-Applachian singers Æ.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | folk music, gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curt Gunther’s Rare Beatles Photos Are a Hit

In 1964, German photographer Curt Gunther was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor’s lucky choice as official lensman for the band’s first American tour. On public view for the first time at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the late Gunther’s black-and-white shots capture the Fab Four as just another hardworking band, albeit one with a rabid following. It’s a predictably revealing look at the group right as their popularity was exploding, but before they had iconic status thrust on them. George looks anxious and pissed most of the time; John bears a remarkable resemblance to a young David Crosby, twenty pounds heavier than he was by the time Rubber Soul came out; Paul is something of a goof, and Ringo tunes it all out. From a musician’s perspective, the most fascinating shot offers a side view of Ringo behind his kit, high on his riser, during what appears to be a rehearsal somewhere. He faces a wall covered with graffiti: squeezed into the barely eighteen-inch space below between the wall and riser are John and George. Are they even able to see their bandmate?

Another photo captures John, Paul and George walking down a tunnel, guitars in hand, possible in the bowels of a stadium. A sixtysomething security guard glances at them as they pass, warily, but obviously without a clue as to the historical significance of the moment. Several sweet outdoor shots show the band onstage, Paul sharing a mic either with George or John: take away the moptops, and the conservatively suited quartet could have been Buddy Holly and the Crickets at just another Texas football field. In the back of a limo, Paul goofs off while Ringo zones out, John hides behind his shades and George can’t wait for the end of the ride. The most playful of all of these shows Paul hiding his right eye behind the neck of his bass, George walking ahead of him with impatient unease.

There’s also a shot of the group on horseback (Central Park?); a group pose at a slot machine (nobody is playing); John in bed (still in his shades), smoking; several variously fatigued backstage scenes, a typically surreal 1960s pose with mirrors, and a few photos of fans. Only two of these really strike a nerve: one captures a cop trying to restrain a girl of about eleven who’s trying to sprint past his barricade, and there’s another of a middleaged female fan striking a “Home Alone” pose, hands upside her cheap drugstore eyeglasses and discount beehive hairdo, that wouldn’t be out of place in the Diane Arbus catalog. A must-see for all Beatles fans; prints are on sale at the gallery, and if there’s any justice in the world there will eventually be a coffee table book. The exhibit runs through July 15 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery’s SoHo space at 116 Prince St. between Wooster and Greene.; viewing hours are not listed on the gallery’s website, although they’re typically open during the day Monday through Saturday.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

DVD Review: The Mark Sherman Quintet Live at Sweet Rhythm

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was stoner jazz. The one before that was free jazz. This is straight-up party jazz, as you would imagine you’d get at a live gig by vibraphonist Mark Sherman. He picked a good date to record, in fact at one of the last shows at venerable New York jazz club Sweet Rhythm (formerly Sweet Basil). Sherman is joined here by Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass and Tim Horner on drums. It’s an interesting configuration, the choice of piano and vibraphone joining to create some especially incisive, percussive textures, especially since Farnham is not limited to simply comping chords while Sherman carries a tune. It’s something akin to having both an acoustic piano and a Rhodes in the band, except that neither ever gets in the other’s way.The crew here typically follow the time-honored formula of stating the melody followed by various solo spotlights; all compositions are originals by Sherman other than the gently soulful ballad Hope, by Farnham, and Monk’s Trinkle Tinkle, where the band look under the hood and discover its inner imp. Sherman is a purist: he goes for melody, doesn’t overreach or overembellish and the band follows suit, delivering smart and inspired improvisations on a lot of memorable hooks. These are expansive performance, most of them clocking in at ten minutes at a clip. And Sherman really loves his triplets – this show has more than any in recent memory.

The strongest track here is the aptly titled The Winning Life, a swinging triplet shuffle where after almost a whole set of terse, thoughtful playing, Sherman finally cuts loose with some lightning-fast runs and Farnham does the same. Piano and drums then have a lot of fun straightening out the rhythm and then letting it go again. The Great Trip is a terrific ensemble showcase, Magnarelli eventually getting to choose his spots judiciously against the sway and crash of the swinging rhythm section. Farnham gets restless; Magnarelli brings the central hook back with majesty and soul. There’s also the slightly Brazilian-tinged Hardship (meaning complexity, it would seem, because it’s absolutely exuberant); the warmly lyrical, briskly shuffling Little Lullaby, with its jauntily bluesy tinges; the catchy, bouncy Ella Bella, another swing shuffle and a couple of ballads. Like the performance, the videography is no-nonsense. Shots of the band pan in during solos: the musicians go about their work in businesslike fashion without any mugging. Happily, the recording is cd quality: if you have your machine hooked up to a good system, you’ll get a clear picture of how good the concert sounded in the club that night.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/18/10

Every day, for about the next six weeks anyway, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s song is #41:

Pink Floyd – Your Possible Pasts

As poignant a requiem for lost time, and various tortured pasts, as has ever been written, Michael Kamen’s piano stark and plaintive against and all the railroad siding sound effects:

They flutter behind you, the banners and flags
Of your possible pasts lie in tatters and rags

From the brilliant and vastly underrated Final Cut album, 1983.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment