Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sick Free Jazz Guys Cover the White Light/White Heat Album

This is better than the original – although that’s really not saying much. It’s way funnier too, like what Rawles Balls might have done with it if they were a horn band. Lou Reed used up all his best songs on the Velvets’ first album; White Light/White Heat is basically just a crappy garage band taking a stab at psychedelia. The members of Puttin’ on the Ritz, whose song-for-song if not exactly note-for-note cover of White Light/White Heat is just out on Hot Cup Records, seem to share that view. The group is BJ Rubin on vocals, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums (half of irrepressible, iconoclastic free jazz crew Mostly Other People Do the Killing), Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxes, Sam Kulik on trombones and Talibam’s Matt Mottel on “Turkish organ” on Sister Ray.

Rubin is not much of a singer, although he enunciates well enough so you can understand the lyrics – which is half the fun. They’re awful. Lady Godiva’s Operation? He does both the lead and the overdubs in one take. Bastardizing its inner artsy pop song might have felt revolutionary for Lou and crew in 1967; these guys expose it as amateurish and overdone.

Likewise, on The Gift, Rubin’s deadpan, nasal delivery is an improvement on John Cale’s half-buried mumble, although the sad tale of Waldo Jeffers mailing himself to his beloved Marsha has not aged well either. I Heard Her Call My Name, as it goes completely over the top, Gossip-style, reveals the original to be a parody of soul music. Sister Ray, all seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds of it, sounds like a bad jam Lou came up with on the spot when Verve’s people realized he was out of material. It’s there that Rubin’s enunciation really kicks in: counting how many times the word “ding-dong” appears in the song would make a great drinking game. The band – a formidable mix of A-list talent – basically slum it, playing the changes pretty straight with a minimum of the kind of mayhem they’re capable of. Which seems intentional.

If you like this one, you should check out Bryan and the Haggards’ equally sick album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. The likelihood of this crew putting out another album isn’t all that good, but here are some other overrated albums that definitely deserve this kind of treatment: Bitches Brew (guys, you would have the time of your life with this); Harvest, by Neil Young (super easy changes!); Evol, by Sonic Youth. Think about it.

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July 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Illimanjaro Boils Over in a Good Way

It’s always fun to discover a band as absolutely unique as Illimanjaro. They play a lot of punk and ska shows, but they venture out a lot further than either of those styles. For one, they’re a rare drummer-led rock band, joining the ranks of New Order (on the first album, anyway), Terry Anderson’s OAKTeam, New York rock en Espanol stars New Madrid and of course Moulty & the Barbarians (Phil Collins doesn’t qualify as rock, and anyway he doesn’t play drums anymore, does he?). On their new album Boiling Point, Proph the drummer supplies lead vocals – with bass player Furious George taking over on the sixth track. Pep, their guitarist is a one-man guitar army and a master of a million styles, from ambitious Tom Morello-style metal/funk, to 70s art-rock, to punk, blues and reggae. The songwriting is creative, switching from one style to another in a split-second; the energy level is through the roof. There’s definitely a Rage Against the Machine influence, but Illimanajaro are a lot more psychedelic (and interesting, when you think about it), with tinges of dub and even latin sounds.

The first track is hip-hop over a fiery funk/metal groove and an eerily atmospheric, psychedelic guitar interlude. The eight-minute epic Danger twists and weaves like a cruiserweight, through a surprisingly poppy, catchy chorus, a Santana-esque passage and then down to the rumble of the bass and drums – and then another another endless wall of cumulo nimbus guitar. And then it segues into a woozy but bracing dub-metal instrumental. The fourth track, Born to Believe starts out with a jagged late 80s indie/noiserock vibe, like Sonic Youth at their most focused and then morphs into slashing late-70s chorus-box powerpop with a searing, period-perfect bluesmetal guitar solo. The next song, White Girl Living in Bushwick is a slow jam, a real surprise, dedicated not to a gentrifier from Boca Raton or Lake Wayzata, but to a girl who grew up a little further out in Brooklyn, in Sheepshead Bay who now calls Bushwick Bill’s old turf her home.

The kiss-off anthem 6th Time Around takes a Sabbath-style riff and makes funky dub out of it, like an artsier version of the Bad Brains. The band end the album by taking a stab at making art-rock out of singsongey Warped Tour punk/pop. So many flavors, it’s insane. Illimanjaro’s next gig is at four in the afternoon on the Hell Gate stage at Astoria Park, Hoyt Ave. South and Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria this Saturday the 24th; their next one after that is August 6 at the Silent Barn in Ridgewood.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Billy Cohen

One of New York’s most talented emerging musicians, guitarist and composer Billy Cohen died this past June 29 after a long battle with cancer. He was 23. A founding member of the charismatic rock band the Brooklyn What, Cohen was an integral part of their original three-guitar sonic cauldron, and also served as one of the group’s main songwriters. Both his guitar work and his compositions on the band’s landmark first album, The Brooklyn What for Borough President, offer a cruelly tantalizing glimpse of an already formidable talent that would have only grown, had he lived.

As a guitarist in the band, Cohen played with an edgy, brash intensity that both meshed and contrasted with John-Severin Napolillo’s purposeful powerpop sensibility and Evan O’Donnell’s slashing lead lines. Cohen was extremely adept at abrasive noise, yet was gifted with an uncanny sense of melody that he’d often employ when least expected, as demonstrated by his purist lead work on The In-Crowd and We Are the Only Ones. The shapeshifting, focus-warping song Soviet Guns illustrates another, more abstract side of his compositional skill. Cohen was also responsible for the delectably unhinged scream on the song Sunbeam Sunscream.

A musician’s musician, Cohen listened adventurously and widely throughout his life, immersing himself in styles ranging from garage rock to contemporary classical music, cinematic soundscapes and tongue-in-cheek mashups. At Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, Cohen played guitar in the jazz band as well as in the Brooklyn rock band Ellipsis; afterward, he attended the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he majored in Music Therapy and Music Composition. A song from his Ellipsis days as well as two atmospheric keyboard pieces, and a couple of clever, satirical mashup videos – including a direct and very funny one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger – are all up on his myspace page.

Cohen’s uncompromising originality, creativity, absurdist humor, fondness for the Kinks (he picked out the band’s signature cover song, I’m Not Like Everybody Else) and devotion to his beloved New York Mets lifted the spirits of his bandmates and friends and left an indelible mark. The surviving members of the Brooklyn What are playing a memorial show for Cohen at Bowery Poetry Club on August 13.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments