Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 7/21/10

Our daily best 666 songs of alltime countdown is working its way through the top ten: just a little more than a week to the greatest song ever. Here’s #8:

Richard & Linda Thompson – The Wall of Death

A bitter yet unapologetic, metaphorically charged tribute to living with intensity and passion no matter what the consequences. Which as the title indicates could be severe, to the extreme. But would you want it any other way? The link above is a characteristically amped-up version done by Richard without Linda (youtube didn’t exist when those two were playing). It’s the closing track on the awesome Shoot out the Lights album from 1982 – torrents for that one are everywhere.

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July 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Literate Rocker Walter Ego’s Big Understated Comeback

Walter Ego came out of retirement in a big way last night at Banjo Jim’s. The house was packed for a multiple-songwriter bill: Walter, who by his own admission hadn’t played a gig since 1995, was the star, solo on acoustic guitar, grabbing a restless crowd and holding them quiet for the duration of his too-brief set. Vintage, classic era Elvis Costello is the obvious influence: this guy’s songs are loaded with puns and double entendres, set to catchy melodies which are equal parts Beatles and Elvis C. with some blues thrown in. That there would be blues in the set was no surprise, considering that Walter used to be LJ Murphy’s bass player. There was also a surprising theatricality: he’d break what was obviously an intense focus to give his sidekick, a blow-up plastic octopus named Paul, a chance to reach into a bucket and pull a strip of paper with a song title on it. Paul didn’t do a good job, so there were even more unexpected changes in the set list. Walter went on wearing a wig, but that quickly came off, as did a plastic top hat during the set’s last song (it was muggy outside and only somewhat better inside). Undeterred, he sang with a low, dryly icy intensity.

The blues songs were a lot more interestingly assembled than just a simple 1-4-5; the rockers also had a counterintuitive feel. One of the best of the early songs chronicled the Adventures of Ethical Man, a superhero who’s a bigger phony than Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent ever dreamed of being, at least as alter egos. The bluesy, sarcastic Don’t Take Advice from Me was a ruthless sendup of anyone who enjoys being a killjoy: it wouldn’t be out of place in the LJ Murphy catalog. Walter closed with a characteristically lyrically rich number about some sort of hypocrisy-detection machine sold via infomercial, and how it can be modified if the owner becomes a born-again. Which doesn’t remotely do justice to its clever barrage of lyrics. Watch this space for future shows.

By the way, there are three other Walter Egos: a cover band from the Isle of Man, a Dutch rapper and a British disco producer. But this guy – whose first album, from the 90s, is a genuine NYC rock artifact – beat all of them to it.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bosnian Emerald Gleams in the Dark

In Bosnia, the title of singer Amira Medunjanin and accordionist Merima Kljuco’s new album Zumra means “emerald,” which is a double entendre: it has a nonconformist connotation. Together the two musicians offer a new approach to a wide variety of traditional folk songs from the region, alternating between terse, starkly intense arrangements and more avant-garde interpretations. The group they most closely resemble is innovative Balkan/Appalachian vocal duo Æ, substituting Medunjanin’s stagy, operatic, traditional delivery for Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s otherworldly, primal intensity. Most interestingly, Kljuco’s accordion goes a lot further out than Medunjanin’s voice, firing off bracing, whistling overtones, breathless staccato passages and crashing waves of atonalities along with menacing chromatic runs and cadenzas that contrast with an eerie stillness. The songs are strung together as something of a suite: if you don’t speak the language or aren’t paying attention to beginnings and endings, you can get completely lost in this. It’s a brooding, beautifully atmospheric album.

The songs evoke a difficult and war-torn past. People long for home and lovers can’t consummate anything because of differences in their religion – in fact many of these songs concern people who go mad with love because society won’t let them have what they want. Kljuco meanders her way sadly through a gracefully ornamented, rubato solo instrumental of Svedah, a song from the 1920s, a bitter account of wartime destruction. The duo harrowingly deliver a metaphorically charged tale of a mother ripping out her child’s heart, white noise of the accordion quietly panting with understated anguish. The album winds up with a love song to a nonconformist – the best kind – and a Bosnian Sephardic song sung in Ladino, a vivid illustration of the kind of cultural cross-pollination that went on in their part of the world despite centuries of repression. It’s out now on World Village Music.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Leron Thomas – Around You

Trumpeter/composer Leron Thomas’ new cd is an album of beautiful ballads: it’s tempting to ask, is this a joke? Thomas has a distinctive, sometimes brutally sardonic sense of humor, and a vastly more diverse sensibility than he lets onto here. To see him go in such a traditional jazz direction, so effortlessly and unselfconsciously, it only makes sense to wonder if he has something up his sleeve. This is Blue Note stuff, Newport stuff, accessible yet brimming with inspired contributions from a well-chosen supporting cast: Lage Lund on guitar, Frank LoCrasto on acoustic and electric piano, Burniss Earl Travis on bass and electric bass and Jamire Williams on drums. From the photo on the album cover, Thomas doesn’t look any happier than he would if he was opening for Chris Botti (somebody he’d blow off the bandstand: then again, so would a whole lot of good jazz players). But when he picks up his horn…wow. Vividly lyrical and expressive, the melodies jump out and linger memorably: you can hum this stuff to yourself in the street.

The opening track, Doc Morgan works its way methodically into a slow triplet rhythm which Williams tosses playfully, the rest of the band in turn echoing Thomas’ terse, distantly bluesy explorations with a similar purist touch. The suspiciously titled Conformed Retro mines a subtle, tuneful bossa vibe for all the balminess Thomas can muster, yet for all its trad overtones, the playing isn’t cliched, particularly when he picks up the energy. The contrast between Lund’s eighth-note flights and Williams’ terse, solid snare-and-cymbal is awfully compelling too, as is LoCrasto when he introduces a brisk tectonic shift and the band has no choice but to follow. Wordless Fable, for all its unassuming warmth, hints at a resolution but won’t go there – and then it’s over.

So what is Paycheck Players about? Dudes who are broke all week because they bought so many drinks for girls on Friday night? Or is it a stab at mercenary musicians? LoCrasto’s spritely, tongue-in-cheek electric piano offers a hint. The album closes with the title track, a gorgeous, contemplative song without words that reminds of Harold Arlen, particularly at the end: somebody should give this one lyrics. Who is the audience for this? Your typical Newport/Blue Note jazz crowd. It’s almost as if Thomas is saying, “I can do this as well as anybody in the business, almost without trying.” No joke.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Relatively Rare Brazilian Music from Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda

You’ve done this before. You log on, go to your music, or your itunes, or your limewire and ask yourself, “When on earth did I download this and why?” And ever notice, if you trust your instincts, that the mystery tunes turn out to be really good? A little digging through the email box revealed that this band actually came to us via a publicist who was working their North American debut this past spring: for one reason or another we missed it. Too bad! Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live. They’re from Pernambuco, Brazil; their speciality is frevo, the region’s blazing brass band sound. But like so many Brazilian groups (or groups from the whole of El Sur, for that matter), they reflect the continent’s amazing melting-pot esthetic. For example, the first track here, a violin-driven instrumental, is basically a calypso tune, but with maracatu percussion and hints of rustic forro music. The next one is a wry, tricky, labyrinthine, psychedelic guitar song with keening horns in the background: Love Camp 7 in Portuguese? And after that they do a soaring, horn-driven roots reggae number. Beyond their geographical location, their multistylistic excellence undoubtedly stems from the fact that they began as the house band at the local music conservatory, Grêmio Musical Henrique Dias, a remarkably community-oriented organization. As faculty meetings go, this one is unusually fun.

The rest of the album is all over the map as well. Duranteo Carnaval sways gently over a hypnotic flute-and-guitar pop vamp; Jogado Peito shifts artfully from octave guitar over a Ramones beat to samba to ska and back again. Ladeira – “Hill” – is a salfsafied samba replete with suspenseful crescendos. The sarcastically titled Nao Interessa Nao – “Not Interested” – is the best song on the album, a blistering ska/Afrobeat instrumental like something the Superpowers might do, fueled by some paint-peeling wah guitar and blazing horns. Suade is a luscious funk/samba song, which they then redo as tingly organ-and-guitar dub. The album wraps up with a fiery samba-rock song, spacy atmospherics and a flute flourish. It’s hard to find stateside, but it’s worth checking with their Brazilian distributor.

And as it turned out, the NY Times covered their show. So we don’t have to feel bad that we missed it.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/20/10

Our best 666 songs of alltime countdown has finally reached the top ten: just a little more than a week to the greatest song ever. Is the suspense killing you? Here’s #9:

Randi Russo – Prey

A bitter, majestically epic anthem for any nonconformist surrounded by a hostile mob, literally or figuratively, the twin guitars of Russo and lead player Lenny Molotov swirling with eerie, Middle Eastern-inflected overtones. The version on the 2005 Live at Sin-E album is a tad fast; there are also bootlegs kicking around the web, look around.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocky Dawuni Brings Relevant Roots Reggae All the Way from Ghana

On his latest album Hymns for the Rebel Soul, Ghanian roots reggae superstar Rocky Dawuni takes a fearless political stance, Peter Tosh defiance matched to a musical backdrop that falls closer to intricate, purist late-period Bob Marley soul than Luciano slickness. Like those two Wailers, Dawuni is an excellent lyricist, and his tunes push a lot further than simple two or three-chord one-drop vamps. The songs are long, clocking in at five or six minutes at a clip – Burning Spear length, tailor-made to keep a big stadium swaying all afternoon.

The opening track, Download the Revolution begins with the sound of a dialup connection (that’s how they do it in the third world). With its oscillating synths, it’s a vivid reminder that at least for now, the internet has the potential to “wipe away the music of pollution,” as Dawuni so aptly puts it. The metaphorically charged African Reggae Fever is warm and unselfconsciously catchy like something off the Kaya album, a contrast with the offhand menace of the lyric: “Music for the radio don’t take the youth no higher…where you gonna run, where you gonna hide when the music comes for you?” Walls Come Tumbling Down is a matter-of-factly optimistic tribute to persistence – let’s not forget that this guy comes from a part of the world where those who protest a fraudulent election are literally risking their lives.

Elsewhere, a flute rises playfully in tribute to “surviving the Master Plan.” The wickedly catchy Road to Destiny celebrates the exile’s life, a search for justice – as much as that struggle can be celebrated, anyway. On Freefall, Dawuni angrily evokes the old soul adage about how “those you meet on the way up are the ones you meet on your way back down.” A mighty, majestic anthem, Jerusalem comes across as sort of a cross between Burning Spear and the late, great Lucky Dube. The album winds up with a big Marleyesque ballad and a stripped-down acoustic number. Modern-day roots reggae doesn’t get any better than this.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ran Blake and Christine Correa Create New Elements

Here’s one for the nonconformists’ club. As has been the case in recent years, the perennially individualistic Ran Blake doesn’t go so much for the noir sound for which he’s best known: instead, the pianist mines a terse, often minimalist third-stream sensibility – Toru Takamitsu’s more recent work comes to mind. Christine Correa works a constant series of unexpected shifts with her low soprano/alto. It’s an interesting voice with an original delivery. She dips down to the bottom of her range where the real soul is, a la Nina Simone, unafraid to let a blue note slide a little further than most jazz stylists; seconds later, she might surprise you with a chirpy swoop like Anita O’Day in her prime. Although these two have done it before, Blake isn’t the first pianist you might think would collaborate with a singer (although his work with Jeanne Lee is pretty extraordinary). In fact, Blake and Correa’s new album Out of the Shadows isn’t so much a matter of chemistry as it is that each complements the other in welcome and unexpected ways. Although she’ll bend a melody to suit her needs, Correa is often the anchor here, Blake the colorist and essentially the lead on a lot of the songs. And the cd is aptly titled: menace often takes a back seat and even disappears.

The title track is a rarity, originally recorded in an orchestral version by June Christy, done here with masterfully terse suspense (and inspired, Blake takes care to mention, by the Richard Siodmak film The Spiral Staircase). Their version of The Thrill Is Gone isn’t the B.B. King classic but a song from an early talkie circa 1931, redone with icy sostenuto chords that only hint at ragtime. Deep Song – a Billie Holiday tune dating from one of her early troubled periods has voice and piano holding a rubato conversation, vividly and poignantly, a device they use to equally potent effect on the segue between The Band Played On and Goodbye Yellow Bird. Fine and Dandy and When Malindy Says are swing number deconstructed and playfully reassembled as Dave Brubeck might do. And Goodbye (which Blake learned from Jimmy Guiffre, and plays solo here) is a brightly terse reminiscence that, as is the case so much on this album, only alludes to being a requiem.

Correa uses Una Matica de Ruda as a showcase for unbridled, imploring, Middle Eastern-tinged a-cappella intensity. By contrast, she delivers Max Roach’s Mendacity – a favorite of Blake’s – with a bitter cynicism rather than trying to match the abrasiveness of the original political broadside. And she does Jon Hendricks’ Social Call with an off-guard woundedness that does justice to the version popularized by Betty Carter. Intense and cerebral yet unselfconsciously raw and soulful, this album – and this collaboration – will resonate with anyone who appreciates those qualities, beyond the jazz idiom where these two artists are typically pigeonholed, for better or worse.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment