Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Ellen Rowe Quartet – Wishing Well

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was stylistically all over the place; the one before that maintained a very consistent mood. The Ellen Rowe Quartet’s new one falls somewhere in the middle – this is jazz songwriting. Elegant, richly melodic, often poignant, pianist/composer Rowe’s tunes get the chance to speak for themselves. A brief, hammering staccato passage during a characteristically understated yet heartfelt take of the old standard Alone Together (the only cover on the album) is as loud as she gets. Andrew Bishop, who absolutely gets this music, supplies similarly melodic, frequently pensive lines on tenor and soprano sax. Ingrid Jensen, another terrific choice, guests with characteristic sostenuto soul on flugelhorn; bassist Kurt Krahnke also makes his contributions count, particularly with his solos, and drummer Pete Siers provides terse yet incisive rhythm.

Rowe explores three styles here – ballads, swing and requiems – and makes all of them memorable. The opening cut, inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and dedicated to all the species who’ve been driven to extinction, has a vivid plaintiveness that evokes New York trumpet goddess Pam Fleming. Krahnke follows Jensen’s solo with a series of seamlessly moody horn voicings, all the way up to an evocatively bitter crescendo. Night Sounds, written in memory of Rowe’s brother, glimmers with distant latin allusions. The best song on the album – and it is a song in the purest sense of the word – is the genuinely haunting, modally tinged, thematic title track. But close behind is the swaying, funky Sanity Clause (a Chico Marx reference), written as an attempt to mine a more “modern idiom,” shifting almost imperceptibly from a carefree sway to an insistence that tugs on the listener and will absolutely not let go, courtesy of some gripping Bishop tenor work. It wouldn’t be out of place in the JD Allen songbook.

But all is not so gloomy here. Rowe proves just as adept at jaunty swing with the shuffle Lewisburg Bluesy-oo, an Ellington tribute of sorts driven by some casually expert Siers cymbal accents and named after the Pennsylvania town where the band used to do a stand every year. The ridiculously catchy Tick Tock mines a smoky, 4/4, early Jazz Messengers vibe, Krahnke’s devious bowed bass solo one of several highlights. And Seven Steps to My Yard melds elements of 7 Steps to Heaven and the Yardbird Suite as a showcase for some rhythmic shapeshifting. There’s also the title track, a beautiful ballad with more thoughtful buoyancy from Jensen, and an allusively wistful homage to Donald Walden, a mentor to scores of musicians including Rowe, featuring spot-on, emotionally candid solos from Krahnke and guest Andy Haefner on tenor. Count this among our favorites of 2010.

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June 24, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paban Das Baul – Music of the Honey Gatherers

South Indian singer Paban Das Baul has collaborated extensively with a number of western musicians and disco producers. This new album is a return to his roots, a collection of both original and centuries-old Baul music, a tradition he was initiated into at age fourteen. The Bauls are wandering minstrels with a mystical streak. Traveling the Ganges plains, they perform a spiritual purification ritual known as “honey gathering:” they play, the villagers’ spirits are raised, the musicians are given rice and beans. “Baul” is Bengali for “crazy” or “possessed,” but from the music, it’s clear that if there any spirits at work here, they are gentle and benign ones. As befits a tribe given to heavy ganja smoking, these songs go on for minutes on end. Western songwriters from Nick Drake to Devendra Banhart have drawn on elements of this stuff – you could say that it’s the original freak-folk. Paban Das Baul sings with a kindly, reflective delivery, more introspective than ecstatic, which makes sense in that he’s often encouraging the listener to look within.

The songs share a languid, swaying rhythm, the melody carried by the vocals, dotara (a five-string lute) and sometimes jews harp; often the lute doubles the vocal line. The lute playing is repetitive and ruminative with subtle changes, occasionally picking up with an incisive phrase: late 60s Jerry Garcia in paticularly pensive mode comes to mind. When the melody goes into the upper registers, the instrument resembles a mandolin. There are subtle modal shifts, but no chord changes per se. The percussion rattles along, sometimes minimalistically, once in awhile insistent. The music doesn’t seem to make any attempt to mirror the lyrics, in the case of either sadness (a breakup song), weariness (a traveler’s tale) or joy (a tribute to wanderlust and all its metaphorical implications). It’s pretty much what you would expect in late summer on the outskirts of Calcutta, heavy-lidded and absolutely hypnotic. It’s out now from World Music Network.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Marianne Dissard – Paris One Takes

Sometimes the best albums are the hardest ones to explain. For example, Marianne Dissard’s new one, Paris One Takes (available as a free download here) has been in heavy rotation here at Lucid Culture HQ for over a month. Everybody loves it – for Dissard’s sultry, breathy, angst-laden vocals, the charm and bite of her French lyrics, and the exuberant intensity of the band. Stylistically, up-and-coming New York chanteuse/bandleader Kerry Kennedy is the obvious comparison. Recorded live in the studio, the album collects songs from Dissard’s acclaimed debut album L’Entredeux as well as from the forthcoming L’Abandon, scheduled for release late this year. It’s a very smart move on her part: not only does it win her new fans, it’s great PR. Guns & Roses sue anyone who leaked their album, but Dissard wants everyone to share her songs. That’s how you build a fan base these days.

Dissard’s best known as a French singer who specializes in southwestern gothic rock: she’s actually a Tucson resident who moved there to make a documentary film about Giant Sand. Although there’s a strong noir cabaret influence here, this is most definitely a rock record, a potent document in itself in that this is Dissard’s road band, tight and inspired, still buzzing from the energy of a European tour. They take the coy “choc-choc” bounce of La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) and thrash it, following with the creeping menace of Le Lendemain (The Day After), a co-write with longtime collaborator Joey Burns of Calexico (Dissard memorably sang the female vocal on Calexico’s cover of John Cale’s Ballad of Cable Hogue several years ago). The scurrying Les Draps Sourds (The Blinds) evokes Piaf at her most frantic, spiced with Olivier Samouillan’s bracing rai-flavored viola and Brian Lopez’ reverb guitar. Merci de Rien du Tout/Flashback (Thanks for Nothing) mines a catchy yet brooding Velvet Underground vein.

With a cynical, snarling guitar-fueled edge, Les Confettis (Confetti) reminds of Dylan’s When You Go Your Way and I Go Mine. Shifting and mixing styles, the band make ominously hallucinatory desert rock out of the anguished 6/8 cabaret ballad Indiana Song, and follow that with the stomping garage-rock abandon of Trop Exprès (Too Obvious). Sans-Façon, a beautiful lament, evokes the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies, while It’s Love, written by drummer Sergio Mendoza, reminds of Botanica in a particularly pensive moment. Other tracks add echoes of Steve Wynn and electric Neil Young to Dissard and Burns’ brooding melodies. Definitely one of our favorite albums of 2010 and an auspicious sneak preview of Dissard’s next one. Sometimes the best things in life really are free.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 6/24/10

Every day, for a little more than a month, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday looks like it’s gonna be a hot one so here’s a hot one, #35:

The Room – Shirt of Fire

The title is a TS Eliot quote from the Four Quartets. And the mid-80s Liverpool psychedelic rockers play the song as if they’re wearing one in the video above (click the link and then scroll down). Lead guitarist Paul Cavanaugh’s insanely fast, crescendoing solo on the Tom Verlaine-produced studio version is considerably more focused, one of the best ever, frontman/songwriter Dave Jackson at the absolute top of his game as angst-ridden, literate new wave crooner.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment