Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mercury Falls Looms Ominously in the Distance

The cover image of Mercury Falls’ new album Quadrangle is apt, a collage of ominous stormclouds. The album itself is sort of the calm before the storm: it’s beautifully moody, pensive rainy-day music, a suite of atmospheric soundscapes blending elements of jazz and minimalism with occasional light electronic touches and a tinge of dub. The band – saxophonist Patrick Cress (also of Telepathy), Ryan Francesconi on guitar, Eric Perney on bass and Tim Bulkley on drums – share a remarkable chemistry and intuition. As a whole, they allude to themes more than than stating them outright, skirting both the melody and the rhythm, an effective strategy for building considerable suspense. It’s basically a suite, variations on a series of motifs interspersed with minimalist, sometimes jagged, sometimes ghostly fragments that appear in the mist only to fade from view seconds later.

The opening track Spring Pools begins with a foghorn in the distance and builds around a noirish sax motif, somewhat evocative of Jimmy Scott’s Sycamore Trees. Speak Without Ears has the sax entering over a vaguely Kurt Cobain-ish acoustic guitar figure, methodically crescendoing to a funky baritone sax hook, down and then back again in a vein that reminds of New York noir instrumentalists Mojo Mancini. Eventually, it segues all the way into the fourth track, guitar emerging astringently from nebulous ambience.

The most striking composition here is the understatedly modal, ominously cinematic, sardonically titled Insurance Rep, contrasting a warmly anthemic 6/8 melody with eerily tense atmospherics, Bulkley raising the ante as he will even further on the following track, Solar Plexus. On that one, he prowls around as Francesconi and Cress finally take it all the way up to a blazing yet understated, terse crescendo, washes of distorted electric guitar beneath upper-register sax incisions. They segue out on an unexpectedly optimistic note, a pretty lullaby melody coming together slowly out of the clouds. It’s a great wind-down album, a great headphone album and a clinic in smart, decisive interplay. Bay area fans can catch Mercury Falls on September 16 at 10 PM at the Makeout Room, 3225 22nd St. in San Francisco.

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September 4, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Model Army Rock the Bell House

Imagine if the Clash never broke up and that Joe Strummer was still alive. That’s a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what New Model Army sounded like at the Bell House last night. They’re playing two sets again tonight starting at 9. Thirty years after the British rockers began, they roared through two hours of fiery, politically charged anthems, a mix of hits from the 80s and 90s alongside newer material which is just as relevant and memorable as their best-known songs. Frontman Justin Sullivan started the show playing acoustic, joined by lead guitarist Dean White, who often switched to organ on some of the early numbers and then stayed on keys for the second set. Twenty minutes into the first set, the rest of the band was up onstage, and they were on their game. Even the quieter, more folk-oriented numbers took on an anthemic grandeur, aloft on the roar of the guitars and the swooping organ. With its Atrocity Exhibition drum rumble, Drummy B became more of a funeral march than an elegy for a friendship gone sour. The 1987 Orwellian nightmare scenario Courage, and Fate, from the 1993 Love of Hopeless Causes album, were especially amped, as was a ferocious version of Today Is a Good Day, a sardonic response to the 2008 global market crash: “And the birds of prey love September, flying like the harbingers of the winter,” Sullivan snarled.

The second set concentrated on the hits. NMA’s game plan for their 30th anniversary tour has been to do two stands in each city, two sets a night, neither repeating any of the previous night’s material – which they can do since their back catalog is so vast – and so strong. They dedicated a roaring, punked-out version of 51st State (as in “51st state of America”) to Brooklyn, stomped through the hypnotic, swirling biotech-apocalypse scenario White Coats, a characteristically sarcastic take of the 1981 hit A Liberal Education and ferocious versions of Vengeance and White Light, with its nimble bass riffage. The biggest crowd-pleaser was a surprise, the wistful, folk-tinged Green and Grey: referring to the cities to the south that lure kids from their northern England homes, Sullivan changed the lyric to “the land of unemployment that beckons to us all.” As the second verse began, he turned the mic over to the audience, who by now were well-oiled, knew all the words and were only too glad to join in. Whether critiquing the wave of destruction unleashed by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies, the evils of globalization or just fondly remembering the woods and fields of his youth as he did with that song, Sullivan and the rest of the band had the packed house energized, and if only for a couple of hours, fused as one against the forces of evil. Even a somewhat comical little fender-bender outside the club – “Didn’t know there’d be three sets tonight,” said one bemused onlooker – couldn’t distract from the intensity onstage.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/4/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #878:

Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky

This moment was bound to arrive: an album on vinyl that doesn’t appear to have made it to digital, at least in its entirety. The 1961 double lp we have in the archive here appears to be out of print in all formats. Recorded with an orchestra assembled by the Columbia Classical label, it includes all the essentials: the Rites of Spring, Petrouchka and the Firebird. It’s amazing how dynamically diverse, in fact old-fashioned this sounds: fans may actually prefer more boisterous versions, especially of the Rites of Spring. But it’s a real eye-opener, a look at how much more subtly Stravinsky delivers his material compared to most of the other recordings out there. For a taste of this you might want to check out this torrent of the Columbia eight-cd reissue of the recordings he made with the CBC Symphony Orchestra in the late 60s, including all three of his symphonies along with a lot of ballet and choral music – but a lot of this is pretty sleepy, an obvious lack of connection between orchestra and conductor. This one you may have to track down in your favorite vinyl emporium (good news: used classical vinyl is often ridiculously cheap – we scored this for four bucks). For newcomers to his repertoire, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was one of the most original and interesting composers of the 20th century (some say the greatest). Not only is his music entertaining and gripping, but its influence continues to be felt to this day. Much of 20th century classical music would not exist without him: the same can be said for a lot of rock music, particularly noise-rock bands like Sonic Youth. His signature style blends eerie, astringent atonalities with somber, minor-key Russian melodies and a frequently carnivalesque, phantasmagorical sound: it’s great fun. If you find a torrent for our vinyl album let us know!

September 4, 2010 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment