Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bobby Avey Makes an Auspicious Debut

Pianist Bobby Avey’s debut album A New Face instantly elevates him into the ranks of formidable 21st century players like Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, and Marc Cary. Intense, forceful and fearless, Avey has a powerful lefthand like Kenny Barron, a fondness for ominous modal excursions and a vivid sense of melody that hovers between the noir, the Romantics and Olivier Messiaen at his most otherworldly. Along with the other members of his trio, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Jordan Pearlson, this album features the always estimable Dave Liebman guesting on soprano and tenor sax on four tracks. The chemistry between players matches the quality of the compositions: if there’s been a better jazz debut album this year, we haven’t heard it.

The opening track, Late November begins with a machine-gun circular motif that Avey eventually leaves to the bass and drums and hovers over with a noirish glimmer – and then takes it down to a minefield of modal incisions on the third verse. Much of this album has a bracing third-stream feel and this is a prime example. Meanwhile, throughout most of the song, Pearlson and Kneeland lock in and hammer with Avey, something they do with considerable relish throughout the album. The second cut, In Retreat is a potently evocative, bitter, brooding ballad, Liebman adding understated grey tones over Avey’s richly melodic crescendos, agitated but completely in control. Kneeland takes it out into the depths with a woundedly syncopated solo. Delusion is a study in understated chromatics and rhythmic shifts, another Kneeland solo early on its quiet highlight. The title track kicks off with a tense, macabre-tinged bass solo which Avey expands eerily – it’s a Sam Fuller film played out in the churchyard at Saint-Sulpice, Liebman playing the role of semi-friendly ghost.

After the stalker intro of Less is Less Than Half, the drums prowl around Avey’s minimalism, building to a crashing McCoy Tyner style lefthand hook that winds up in a hammering, fiery, percussive blaze. By contrast, Influence, a duo piece for piano and tenor, shifts between a golden age late 50s vibe and an uneasily unwinding, ripplingly horizontal piano soundscape. The final cuts here reach genuinely majestic heights. Insight unfolds with Avey hammering on an insistent staccato pedal note, expands to a chromatic vamp that he roams around, eventually a marvelously terse chromatic bass solo, and then it all comes together, glimmering and intense. Likewise, Time Unfolding finally throws restraint to the wind after giving Liebman the chance to rove expansively and then finally plunge into the rhythm section’s staccato syncopation before Avey and then Pearlson take it all the way up. Avey’s ceiling is pretty much as high as he want to go with it. Hope you like traveling, dude.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 Leg Torso Do the Time Warp Again

Animals and Cannibals, the all-instrumental fifth album by Portland, Oregon’s 3 Leg Torso is of the year’s most enjoyably eclectic releases. Playfully, often psychedelically and amusingly blending elements of gypsy music, Belgian barroom songs, the baroque and jazz, the group is anchored by acclaimed violinist Bela R. Balogh and accordionist Courtney Von Drehle. T.J. Arko, Kyle MacLowry and drummer Gary Irvine take turns on the vibraphone, along with bass, tuba, weissenborn, piano and French horn. As the individual song titles indicate, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously (although they do the music): some of these pieces veer off into parody. Although the juxtaposition of the medieval and the modern here might seem jarring, it isn’t: this crew somehow makes it work.

The album opens with a swaying, 6/8 accordion tune with a lush string and vibraphone arrangement, a scurrying Balogh solo and a trick ending (a device that will recur here often). The tango standard Csardas, by Vittorio Monti is a joyous exercise in tempo shifts and doubletime. The cinematic, Brueghelesque The Life and Times and Good Deeds of St. Penguin – yup, that’s the title – works variations on a plaintive waltz with a tricky turnaround. Moving from a tv theme-style bounce to more complex, jazzy passages with incisive accordion and bluesy vibraphone, Toothless Cannibal winds up on the wings of another wailing Balogh solo. Driving Along with My Cow in My Volga could be a Spike Jones backing track, including a rustic Russian dirge, a blithe, tongue-in-cheek gypsy dance, and a bucolic waltz. And Von Drehle’s According to Chagall sounds suspiciously like a cumbia-tinged version of the Twin Peaks theme arranged for string band – it would make a great addition to the Chicha Libre catalog.

The mini-epic Bus Stop to Oblivion builds from rustic sentimentality to a wildly fusionesque stomp, violin blasting through a distortion pedal as the band roar their way out at the end. An original, Frailach #1 is a bracing klezmer raveup with a woozy bass solo and a deliciously long crescendo out of it. The album winds up on a pensive note with the cinematic theme The Last Dream. Somewhere there’s a contemporary black comedy set in a rainy Balkan milieu that needs this album for its soundtrack.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/10/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #903:

Ernest Ranglin – Wranglin’

The preeminent Jamaican guitarist, Ernest Ranglin had led probably hundreds if not thousands of calypso and ska sessions by the time he recorded this album, only the second where he’d been credited as a bandleader. The original 1964 Island Records lp did not sell well and has been out of print for decades, but is happily still available as a bootleg, if a somewhat dodgy sounding one. Ranglin’s career began almost fifty years, during the age of calypso yard sessions (and the birth of what would become hip-hop twenty-five years later). He was probably in the studio, maybe playing, when Lloyd Knibb of the Skatalites invented the one-drop, which would transform ska into rocksteady and then into reggae. Ranglin served as Jimmy Cliff’s musical director throughout his 70s heyday, then mined a frequently transcendent reggae-jazz collaboration with pianist Monty Alexander in the 80s and 90s. Now almost eighty, he retains the vigor and vitality of a player fifty years younger. This album shows how developed his jazzy, Les Paul-influenced style had become by the early sixties, replete with whispery, lightning-fast filigrees that switch in a split-second into frenetic tremolo chords and then back again. Here he sticks with a straight-up 4/4 beat, taking British bassist Malcolm Cecil and drummer Alan Ganley into the Caribbean sun for a characteristically warm, expansive jaunt through a mix of originals and old mento standards like Linstead Market and Angelina. You can download it here.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/9/10

Here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. This time we’re cheating a little: a whole concert along with the funniest, most vengefully satisfying youtube clip we’ve seen in awhile. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Rick Barry – Atlantis

Nightmare apocalyptic scenario set to artsy folk-rock, kinda like the Strawbs, from this Asbury Park songwriter.

2. Norden Bombsight – Help Desk

Cool video (a mini-movie, actually) set during the Depression: a woman suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder searches for her missing husband. Great song, too, from these darkly ornate Brooklyn art-rockers.

3. JD Allen live at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival

Has anybody besides us noticed how many unbelievable live shows are archived up on NPR’s site? You can get lost in this one: practically a whole hour of this era’s preeminent tenor sax player/composer and his ferocious, mind-melting trio with Gregg August on bass and the phenomenal Rudy Royston on drums. If you have the equipment, you’ll want to hook up your machine to a recording device of some kind because you’ll want to hear the whole thing again.

4. Kreptatka Bar Band – Kreptashaqula

Amazing Balkan punk rock.

5. El Pueblo – Legalize It

Latin-tinged rocksteady version of the Peter Tosh classic. It’s not on their new cd Isla, one of the best reggae albums to come out in a long time.

6. The Builders and the Butchers – Down in the Hole

Creepy Waits-ish noir.

7. Fyrepyle – The Age of Unlightenment

Woozy hypnotic Mogwai dirge as done in somebody’s bedroom on protools. Hang with it, it grows on you.

8. Robin McKelle – Everybody Knows

Aretha-style soul version of the Leonard Cohen classic – not as good as Penelope Houston’s version but still cool.

9. Grace – Wonderful

JP Jones’ band before he met Chrissie Hynde – snarling lyric, good post-Radiohead anthem.

10. Justin Bieber gets hit by a water bottle

You’ve probably seen this. At least he doesn’t cry – on camera at least.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chrissie Hynde Plays Rockwood Music Hall

Chrissie Hynde’s new band made their US debut, playing their first-ever full-length concert at Rockwood Music Hall last night. To say that JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys are the best project she’s taken on in over twenty years is not the compliment it could be, but she proved that she’s still got a way with a catchy hook and a spine-tingling vocal style that just keeps getting more and more exquisite. Hynde has never sung better: what a voice, what subtlety and nuance. She said more in just the minute inflection of a blue note, or those little melismas that she lets fall away, wounded but graceful, than most singers can relate over the course of a whole album. Yet what was most inspiring about the show – which went on for over an hour – was that much of the material was up to the level of that voice. Alongside Hynde, her boyfriend JP Jones (formerly of tuneful, anthemic British rockers Grace) and lead guitarist Patrick Murdoch switched back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar: when all three were playing, they frequently evoked the swampy Americana of Moby Grape, the 1960s Bay Area band they credit as a primary inspiration.

The best song of the night was Hynde’s, a slow, jangly lament possibly titled Misty Valley, blending the counterintuitive chordal structure of the Pretenders with a more traditional Americana vibe. Another even more vividly evoked her main band circa 1980 with its deluge of rapidfire, angst-tinged but disdainful lyrics. Other songs tinted the ramshackle jangle and clang with shades of powerpop, blues or, on one number where Jones hung on his open strings, indie rock. As much as this is clearly Hynde’s project, Jones impressed with a big, swaying, unhinged anti-trendoid anthem possibly titled Portobello, about the spoiled, aimless milieu of the former slum that’s now the London equivalent of Williamsburg: “You burn up money, you think it’s funny, you can laugh til you die,” he railed, after which Murdoch launched into a fiercely flailing minor-key solo.

But some of the songs were simply too much information. Beyond the obvious: he likes a drink, she likes a smoke (and has her California medical marijuana card – or did, anyway, before she lost it), two or three songs were simply uncomfortable to hear. Chrissie Hynde can do what she feels like at this point in her career, but hardly anyone in the demographic she most appeals to knows what couplecore is (or should, really, other than it’s a genre to avoid). This was most obvious when the duo tried to wring some humor out of all the gratuitous references to their May-December romance: several times throughout the set, the otherwise very friendly crowd couldn’t help roaring with laughter at some of their couplets. And watching Jones play straight man to Hynde on a song about a couple of misfits in love was nothing short of cringe-inducing, evoking Tina Turner turning to Ike onstage and trying to channel some semblance of devotion: “Yes, love.”

To the Rockwood’s considerable credit, the room was sold out, but not oversold: the club could have squeezed a few dozen others in on top of the standing-room crowd and would have gotten away with it, but they didn’t succumb to that kind of greed. And the sound was superb as always: they even sent one of the crew into the thicket of bodies to make sure that the vocal levels were up to snuff.

Afterward, a trip down the block and around the corner to Small Beast at the Delancey (our usual Monday night haunt) offered an intriguing reminder that different versions of the edgy female-fronted rock that Hynde made her mark in are still very much alive, in vividly intense sets by guitar/cello noir rock duo Nihla and the fearless grand guignol sway of Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments