Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Larry Harlow’s La Raza Latina at Lincoln Center

Saturday night out back of Lincoln Center was a mob scene, as crowded as it’s ever been in recent memory. There was a good reason for that: a major moment in latin music history, the live premiere of Larry Harlow’s visionary 1977 album La Raza Latina. An ambitious, epic suite, the legendary bandleader and Fania All-Stars’ pianist wrote it as a history of latin music and the people who made it, via every rhythm that’s ever come out of Africa via Cuba. With only two rehearsals, Harlow worked like a santero out in front of the band, whether leading them in a hypnotic conga vamp that went on for minutes on end, or shifting in a split second from a salsa bounce to a slinky rhumba, or toward the end, into some of the wildest big band jazz this city’s seen this year.

The reason why the suite hadn’t been played in its entirety live since being recorded is because staging it is considerably more cumbersome than putting a ten-piece salsa combo together. For this performance, the massive latin big band and orchestra, including a string section, were accompanied by several pairs of dancers who spun ecstatically throughout several of the longer segments. The first part, Africa, began with Adonis Puentes on vocals, which from the VIP section (the catwalk across the street on 65th, where those sufficiently agile or ambitious to climb up could actually catch an occasional glimpse of the band from across the way) weren’t easy to hear, but they resonated with the crowd. The band romped through a rousing, vintage 70s Fania era salsa anthem, a long, hypnotically mysterious Afro-Cuban drum vamp, and back into the blaze and swells of the horns. The second section, Caribe chronicles the cross-pollination that happened in the Caribbean (heavily influenced by the then-obscure Cuban big band Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna), where the rhumba rhythms first made their appearance. By now Ruben Blades had joined the festivities, one of the concluding segments featuring several prominent and dramatically crescendoing, Dave Valentin-inflected flute passages.

Nueva York 1950s & 1960s was the most diverse and intense section, especially an ominous noir latin funk groove that cut out much too soon in favor of another blazing dance number. The final part, Futuro envisions salsa growing to further incorporate elements of jazz and even the avant garde, moving through two surprise endings and a long, intense timbale vamp to a whirlwind cauldron of noise, then back again several times, the percussionists somehow managing not to let go of the piece as it spun completely off its hinges: imagine an army of Charlie Parkers at their craziest. The piece wound up with one last salsa number that they finally took all the way up with a big crescendo that was sort of the equivalent of Afro-Cuban heavy metal. Considering how exhilarating this show was – and how visibly out-of-breath Harlow and his band were afterward – one can only imagine how good they’d sound after more than the two rehearsals they’d managed to get in for this one.

And a big shout-out to the Bobby Sanabria Big Band, whose equally epic, tectonically shifting textures and bracing, striking charts gave Harlow and his crew a hard act to follow.

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August 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Billy Cohen Memorial Concert

Some people fade from memory after they’re gone. Billy Cohen just gets more and more intriguing. Cruelly cut down by cancer at 23, Cohen still managed to leave a stunningly diverse body of work ranging from punk rock, to modern classical, to the avant garde: if there is any justice in the world, someday there’ll be a Billy Cohen album. Thursday night, Bowery Poetry Club was packed with a mix of family, friends, what looked like every cool kid from the Murrow High School class of ’05, and his surviving bandmates in the Brooklyn What. His younger sister Gabi Cohen had assembled a slideshow that played throughout the night (a favorite shot: Cohen way up in the nosebleed seats at Shea Stadium), a vivid tribute to the multi-instrumentalist composer who was as devoted to the Mets as he was to music.

Politically incorrect singer-songwriter Mickey PG opened, joined at the end by members of the Brooklyn What, their frontman Jamie Frey holding down the bass. He’s quirky and funny in a snotty, punk rock Dead Milkmen/Violent Femmes kind of way. Among his tunes: a not-so-sly, faux R&B seduction song; a funny one about stealing a girl away from her much taller boyfriend; an even funnier one parodying the silly, Jesse Jackson-style slogans that high school teachers use; and the most hilarious one of the night, Dumpster Diving. See, she’s got a Harvard degree, but the only job she can get with it is at Burger King. So she and her man get their gourmet experience out back of the restaurant: it’s all they can afford.

The duo of southpaw guitarist Jonathan Ruderfer (Cohen’s college-era bandmate in Savage Panda) and Cohen’s old college roomie, keyboardist Derek Blustein followed with a stunningly tight, eye-opening set of Cohen compositions along with a couple of originals and some favorite covers. They opened with a catchy powerpop anthem, like Coldplay if that band had real blood in their veins. They nimbly and amusingly tackled a couple of video game themes, a spot-on take of a tricky Radiohead number and an equally tricky, melodically artsy original by Blustein. He explained how they’d been forced to slow down a particularly challenging Cohen instrumental – which came across as a rapidfire amalgam of Louis Andriessen and Thom Yorke – to the point where it was physically possible for them to play it. A terrific, full-voiced singer named Megan then joined them for an equally challenging, operatically-tinged vocal number, on which she had to use every inch of a genuinely breathtaking vocal range.

Cohen would be proud of how good, and how amazingly tight the Brooklyn What have become. Joining them onstage were Ruderfer, Blustein and former Escarioka alto sax player Clayton Costelloe, whose smartly chosen, bracing fills gave the more punk-oriented songs, like a particularly intense version of Gentrification Rock, a scary ska feel. Cohen was a big Kinks fan, so they did a trio of amped-up Kinks covers, the most ecstatic of these being I’m Not Like Everybody Else – not surprising, considering that once he’d brought it into the band, it quickly became a concert favorite. In fact, with the three guitars going at once, it was almost as if Cohen was there. They pounced on Mongoloid by Devo and beat it speechless and burned through an inspired, smartly short version of Moonage Daydream by Bowie. But it was the originals that everybody had come to hear and they got all the Billy Cohen songs from the band’s debut The Brooklyn What for Borough President: blistering takes of the dissociative, Shellac-on-speed rap Soviet Guns, the uneasy, biting punk fury of Sunbeam Sunscream and the quiet disquiet of Summer Song. The high point of the night was another Cohen song, the unreleased Hot Wine, a characteristically surreal Coney Island scenario that went on a doublespeed rampage in the middle. They closed with a delirious singalong of their anthem We Are the Only Ones, written by the band, Frey explained, on Cohen’s little synthesizer in his bedroom. As the audience bobbed and swayed, hands and fists waving furiously on the beat, joining in on the last verse, “I’m not afraid of anything at all, divided we stand, UNITED THEY WILL FALL,” the Brooklyn What were, to paraphrase Frey, undeniably the biggest band in New York. Billy Cohen would have liked that. The Brooklyn What play Arlene’s at 9 this Friday the 20th.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Album of the Day 8/17/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #896:

Krzysztof Komeda – Nighttime, Daytime Requiem

Polish jazz pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda is best known for the soundtrack to the film Rosemary’s Baby. A favorite of Roman Polanski, he’d previously made a mark for his score for Knife in the Water. This album is a 1998 reissue of a 1967 sesssion for Polish radio featuring Komeda on piano along with Tomasz Stanko (whose own albums of Komeda works are worth seeking out) on trumpet, Zbigniew Namyslowski on alto sax, Roman Dylag on bass and Rune Carlsson on drums. Originally issued as part of a four-album box set in 1974 by Komeda’s widow Zofia, original copies sell for thousands of dollars on the collector’s market. Komeda used late 50s Miles Davis as a stepping-off point, adding his own brooding, sepulchral shades and the result is some of the most haunting jazz ever written (with its frequent classical overtones, many consider this third stream). This album includes the complete, 27-minute Daytime, Nighttime Requiem (a Coltrane eulogy) along with the somewhat more lighthearted Don Quixote, the austere, menacing atmospherics of The Witch and the lyrical Ballad for Bernt (from Knife in the Water). Also noteworthy, in fact sonically superior, is the 2009 Requiem album by the Komeda Project of pianist Andrzej Winnicki and powerhouse saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna which includes both the Requiem as well as possibly Komeda’s most macabre composition, Dirge for Europe. Komeda’s most famous album, Astigmatic and his more terse, upbeat, vamp-oriented Crazy Girl are also very much worth seeking out. Komeda died in 1969 under very mysterious circumstances from what could euphemistically be called blunt trauma to the head. Critically injured, he somehow managed to board a plane (or was put on a plane) from the US back to Poland, where he succumbed just a few weeks later, reportedly without medical attention. Here’s a torrent of a whole bunch of stuff of his.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment