Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gil Scott-Heron: A Walk in the Park

He was on time, too – well, almost. The question wasn’t how much Gil Scott-Heron had left, it was whether he had anything left at all. His shows during the early part of the zeros were a trainwreck: he needed rehab, but he got jail, more than once. Happily, tonight uptown at Marcus Garvey Park, Scott-Heron reaffirmed that he’s still got it. Like Johnny Cash, Scott-Heron is an American icon with a pantheonic body of classic songs and a history of addiction. And like Cash, he imbues his gravitas with an impish sense of humor. A little heavier on the drawl now than he was ten years ago but no less lucid or entertaining, the 61-year-old pianist/songwriter and what amounted to a pickup band drew a joyous response from an impressively large and diverse crowd on his home turf up at 124th and Madison.

He’s got a new album out, I’m New Here, a new take on the proto-rap style he mined on his classic 1970 debut Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, although he only played one song from it, a stripped-down, skeletal cover of the Bobby Bland soul/blues hit I’ll Take Care of You. Scott-Heron opened solo on his battered Fender Rhodes, taking his time: “For those of you who did not know that I played piano, you might be right,” he chuckled, slowly launching into a spare, withering version of Blue Collar, a chronicle of the down-and-out across the country that resonates even more today than during the Gerald Ford-era recession when he wrote it. All the Places We’ve Been, dedicated to Mississippi voting rights crusader Fannie Lou Hamer, got a gentle, stripped-down mid-70s Stevie Wonder-ish treatment. He then ran through a couple of verses of his classic anti-nuclear power anthem We Almost Lost Detroit before bringing up the band – Kim Jordan on keyboards, Tony Duncanson on bongos, Carl Cornwell on tenor sax and flute and Glenn Turner on harmonica and percussion.

The rest of the show was a party. Scott-Heron is rightfully best known for his scathingly witty social criticism and intricate wordplay (he’s been called the godfather of rap, or the equivalent, for decades, and although he didn’t actually invent the style, his work remains a powerful influence on every new generation of hip-hop artists). But this show focused on the more upbeat material. Jordan played the catchy bass hook to Is That Jazz on the low keys – if she sustained any lasting damage from the nasty U-Haul accident that nearly cost her a career in music, the good news is that she’s fully recovered, crashing and burning with a staccato ferocity uncommon even for her. Cornwell added several bop-flavored solos, Turner more subtle color and Duncanson – celebrating his birthday – took a very long solo at the end that might have seemed pointless at another venue, but was spot-on here, considering how vehemently (and bigotedly) the yuppies in an adjacent new “luxury” condo building have fought to kick out the African drummers who congregate in the park at night. They wrapped up the show with dynamically charged if somewhat loose versions of the harrowing Pieces of a Man, a brief version of the iconic 1978 latin soul shuffle The Bottle and encored with a slow, soulful and raptly crescendoing version of Better Days Ahead, an old song from the mid-70s. Nice to see an old favorite shake off the demons and do what he does best. Scott-Heron is at B.B. King’s on October 7 at 8 PM.

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August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mykal Rose Plays Downtown Brooklyn

Former Black Uhuru frontman Mykal Rose’s career spans both the roots and the dancehall era of reggae: seeing him outdoors under the trees this afternoon was a little like being at Sunsplash back in the 90s, for part of roots night and a little of dancehall night too. New York is just like MoBay in the summer now, hot and full of tourists – but you can’t smoke “marijuana, the healing of the nation,” as Rose put it, on the street like you could before Rudy Mussolini and his thugs took office. So it was nice to hear Rose kick off his show, the last one of this year’s Thursday noontime BAM concerts at Metrotech Park, with Sinsemilla. They played part of that one again at the end of the show, by request: “You know us Jamaicans, we don’t take no for an answer,” Rose laughed. In between he and his tremendously good four-piece band and two backup singers mixed the classics that the surprisingly energetic massive had come out for along with some more dancehall-oriented fare, including a couple of tracks from his new album Kingston 11.

The early stuff was a trip back in time: this could have been 1980. The band was strictly roots, the keyboardist sticking to electric piano on the verses and sometimes organ on the swells of the choruses, the bassist holding down the fat riddim along with the excellent drummer, who kept it simple and smart while the guitarist would throw in the occasional dub flourish. The cautionary tale Shine Eyed Girl, General Penitentiary with its catchy bass pulse, the watch-your-back anthem Plastic Smile, the bouncy What Is Life with its vibrant harmonies and even the anti-choice number Abortion got the crowd waving their hands and swaying. Then Rose snarled, “Get up, motherfuckers,” and launched into the “new segment,” as he put it, and suddenly we were back in 2010 again. As cheesy as the synthesizer lines were, at least his dancehall stuff is conscious. The first of these was the best, Run From Police, which as Rose explained had topped the reggae charts all over Europe (28 weeks in the UK, he said): “When you gonna make it number one in New York, motherfuckers?” he wanted to know. He big-upped Super Cat and Shabba Ranks, did a relatively rapidfire sufferah’s number, the bitter, synthy ballad Feeling So Lonely (“for the ladies”) and then it was back to the oing-boing-boing toasting and the classics. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner segued into Happiness and then into a new dancehall song, followed by Party in Session, Ganja Bonanza (one of his solo hits, a pleasant surprise), a little Sinsemilla again and finally closed over an hour and a half’s worth of music with the politically charged pop-reggae smash Solidarity. Rose’s voice has deepened and taken on a rasp in the decades since Black Uhuru ruled the charts, but he still rose to the level of the topnotch group behind him, pretty impressive considering how many thousand times he’s sung this material.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Benny Sharoni’s Retro Jazz Is a Hit

The last jazz album we reviewed was noisy, frenetic and half rock. This one is all melody, laid-back and gorgeously oldschool. It’s one of those sleeper albums that you can put on and fool your snob friends with – just tell them it’s a rare reissue from fifty years ago, and most of them will buy it. Boston-based tenor saxophonist Benny Sharoni assembled a first-rate band to join him in a convivially expansive, purist mood on his new album Eternal Elixir. Joey “Sonny” Barbato (whose 2006 cd Crackerjack is a genuine classic and one of the finest of its rare kind, an accordion jazz album) plays piano here, joined by Barry Ries on trumpet, Mike Mele on guitar, Todd Baker on bass and Steve Langone on drums, with Kyle Aho taking over the 88s on four of the tracks. The vibe here is retro in a refreshing way: it feels like one of those early 60s Impulse albums, driven by camaraderie rather than showboating, the kind of date players record because they have something they think is worth capturing, rather than simply to satisfy the terms of a label deal.

The album opens with Bernstein, Sharoni’s propulsive tribute to the conductor/composer, Barbato’s fluidly precise runs echoed by Sharoni further on. French Spice, a tastily catchy Donald Byrd tune from 1961 that moves deftly from hypnotic pulse to proto-funk to straight-up swing and back again, Sharoni taking his cue from Wayne Shorter’s casually soulful performance on that song (as he does on another Byrd composition here, an understated version of the vampy Pentecostal Feelin’). Barbato’s terse, understated solo turns with a grin from blithe to bluesy in a split second. The version of Estate here mutes its bossa origins, recasting it as slow swing and stripping it down to its inner soul with aptly summery, almost minimalist solos from Barbato and then Sharoni. Likewise, the band breathes new life into Bobby Hebb’s Sunny as a latin jazz number, a launching pad for some lively melismas and trills from Ries and some impressively straight-up blues from Aho.

Benito’s Bossa Bonita, an original gets the same casually comfortable, easy-wearing swing of Estate, with a couple of especially choice, effortlessly congenial solos from Sharoni and a terse conversation between Aho’s piano and Baker’s bass. To Life, based on the 1964 Cannonball Adderley version, maintains the laid-back bluesy mood, Ries (with a mute) and then Sharoni gimlet-eyed and content while Barbato keeps watch with sharp, incisively staccato chords. Another original, Cakes, sways with a distant Donald Fagen feel (Sharoni is a fan, having discovered Steely Dan as solace during his mandatory tour of duty in the Israeli army, a low point in his life), and a moody, reverb-tinged Mele solo. The album winds up with The Thing to Do, a cagy, swinging Blue Mitchell tune from 1964 and Senor Papaya, which takes its title from Sharoni’s papaya-grower father back home in Israel. Sharoni admits it’s quite ironic since Sr. Papaya himself is so laid-back and the song anything but. The Benny Sharoni Quartet plays Fridays in August at 8:30 PM at Winslow’s Tavern in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment