Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Matthew McCright Elevates New Work from Midwestern Composers

On his new solo album Second Childhood, Minnesota pianist Matthew McCright (who’s at Merkin Hall on 9/25) plays with nuance, fluidity and counterintuitivity on a diverse and eye-opening collection of new works by midwestern composers. He gives these pieces plenty of breathing room: it’s an album of melody and subtleties rather than overt technical prowess (although McCright has plenty of that). His presence is unobtrusive except when it needs to be more aggressive, and then it is, sometimes when least expected yet very welcome. Bruce Stark’s Five Preludes for Piano opens it: moody echoes of Satie with occasional jarring upper register atonal accents; an austere (one is tempted to say stark) moonlit miniature; a rippling, circular work that straddles calm and apprehension; a not quite heroic theme and a rapidfire passacaglia of sorts.

Evening Air, by Gregory Hutter is an insistent nocturne: McCright’s extra-precise articulation and deft sense of dynamics downplay its occasional ragtime flavor. The real gem here is Constellations, by Kirsten Broberg. This delightfully evocative partita artfully introduces icy, nebulously related clusters and after some otherworldly upper-register explorations watches the universe expand and cool down even further. John Halle is represented by two pieces, a ragtime-flavored lullaby and a straight-up rag that cleverly interpolates other, darker styles. Daniel Nass’s Dance Preludes expand, often eerily, on tango, ragtime and a heavily camouflaged waltz. The most playful material here is by Laura Caviani: her jazz etudes include an inventive series of variations on a saloon blues theme; an understatedly intense, chromatically charged tango and a boogie-woogie number, the only one of this vast range of styles that seems to be unfamiliar terrain for McCright. In its own subtle and emotionally attuned way, it’s a real tour de force. It’s out now on Innova.

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September 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doug Webb Provides Perfectly Lowlit West Coast Ambience

If we told you what character saxophonist Doug Webb plays on tv, that would be distracting. His new album Midnight is probably a lesser-paying situation but it’s just as fun (more about that later). Webb is pretty ubiquitous on the West Coast and has played with everybody: Freddie Hubbard, Quincy Jones, Horace Silver and many others. The setup behind him is interesting: Larry Goldings on piano rather than organ, Stanley Clarke on upright bass instead of electric and Gerry Gibbs adding counterintuitive, understated flash behind the kit. This is a fun session, pure and simple, a bunch of pros prowling familiar terrain: most of the time they achieve a nocturnal, oldschool West Coast cool, but when the good times spill over they ride the energy for all it’s worth.

Try a Little Tenderness breathes some fresh bubbles into a piece that gets flat quickly since everybody plays it. I’ll Be Around (the pop standard, not  the Howlin’ Wolf classic) has a swing wide enough to get a Mack truck through and a genuinely gorgeous, starry Goldings solo. Gibbs works Fly Me to the Moon as a subtle shuffle beneath Webb’s mentholated, opening tenor solo and Goldings’ more expansive spotlight. And it’s cool hearing Clarke, probably the last person you’d expect to get a Ray Brown impression out of, do it with a grin.

You Go to My Head gets a gently pulsing alto-and-piano duo treatment with Joe Bagg on the 88s. The Boy Next Door, with Mahesh Balasooriya on piano, has Clarke seizing more territory as he typically does, Gibbs all too glad to jump in and go along for the ride. Webb’s warm, lyrical alto work sets the stage for another glistening gem of a solo from Goldings on Crazy She Calls Me. They take Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo and set it up straight, Goldings’ unselfconscious geniality giving way to Webb to take it into the shade and then joyously out again. They close with Emily, by Johnny Mandel (who has raved about Webb’s version), a clinic in nuance on the part of the whole quartet, poignancy through a late-evening mist, an apt way to close this very smartly titled album. It’s out now on Posi-Tone. Oh yeah – Doug Webb plays Lisa Simpson’s sax parts on tv. There is a slight resemblance.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Bowls Project Summons the Spirits

It’s hard to resist a group who feature a bass clarinet as prominently as Charming Hostess do. Their album The Bowls Project is the brainchild of frontwoman Jewlia Eisenberg. Stagy, intense and eclectic, it’s part performance art and part what you might call Middle Eastern gothic, with noir cabaret, punk and metal edges. It’s best appreciated as a whole and may be a lot more interesting with a visual element (these related videos offer evidence that it is). In the meantime, the album is out on Tzadik. Eisenberg is not a natural singer, but she rises to the challenge of these unpredictable, narrative songs with a relentless brassiness and punk energy. The themes explore the ceremonial and ritual use of household bowls in ancient Jewish culture in the Holy Land, for fertility, protection from evil spirits, health and good luck. The band is sensational: Jenny Scheinman and Megan Weeder on violins; Jessica Troy on viola; Marika Hughes on cello; Shahzad Ismaily on guitar, Jason Ditzian on that bass clarinet in place of a bass and Ches Smith on drums.

The first couple of numbers are dramatic, exploding into grand guignol, much in the vein of Vera Beren’s recent work; with its screechy strings, the second seems to be an exorcism of some sorts. Ismaily interpolates skronk with rockabilly on the third cut; Malakha, which follows, begins as an uneasy lullaby before the fireworks begin. They take a cue from Led Zep on their version of the old English folksong Gallows Pole, move after that to a proggy dance, a slowly crescendoing funeral march that evokes Persian-American art-rocker Haale, and then the gothic partita O Barren One: “For once the angel of death must flee,” Eisenberg announces at the end. The rest of the album includes a really gorgeous, 1960s soul song, Ismaily doing a sweet Steve Cropper imitation; a couple of minimalist, Siouxsie-esque numbers with a lot of chanting; a darkly Bollywood-flavored anthem and a noirish Tom Waitsy blues with surfy baritone guitar. You want something that covers the stylistic map? It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that more than this group does here.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pleasure Kills Are Pure Pleasure

Bay area rockers the Pleasure Kills’ new punk-pop album Bring Me a Match is a time warp from the days before autotune, before nonsense syllables replaced real lyrics in radio pop songwriting. There’s not a single bad song here. The tunes are irresistibly catchy and pack a punch, their signature sound blending distorted, melodic punk guitar with swooshy organ. The wounded wail of Lydiot, their frontwoman, has a regret-tinged phrasing like the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle except that she sings on key. At their best they evoke Angie Pepper’s legendary Australian proto-punk band the Passengers.

The opening cut Dancing on My Bed is a Ramones-style stomp with sweeping synth – “I’m stomping on my phone, I wanna be alone,” Lydiot insists: she may be all by herself, but she’s damned if she won’t have fun anyway. The title track is sort of Blondie gone punk; I Want You isn’t the Dylan hit, but a riff-rocking garage-punk song with some perfectly nasty Scott Asheton-style rolls on the drums. The strongest, and most original song here, is Hearts Run Out, with its wicked, catchy, growling guitar hook. Everything Lydiot sees reminds her of something from a dead affair: “I can never go home.” It wouldn’t be out of place on an album by legendary Milwaukee powerpop band the Shivvers.

Another standout cut is Modern Problems – with its snaky organ lines and ruthless pummelling drive, it’s like Radio Birdman at their most pop. Heartbreak in Space is a candy-coated punk-pump smash; Victoria isn’t a cover of the Kinks classic, but instead a jagged early 80s punk/new wave song and an insanely catchy chorus hook that fades out. They go back to the Radio Birdman pop, if not quite as intensely, with Ammunition, followed by the casually snide Bag of Bones, which bears some resemblance to post-X bands like Spanking Charlene. The album closes with And Me, nicking the intro from Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness, then launching into into an unstoppable punk/pop stomp with a surprise cold ending. It’s not an insult to say that if this had been released thirty years ago, an entire subculture would now regard it as a cult classic. Play it loud. San Francisco fans can catch the Pleasure Kills’ next show at Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk St. between Post and Sutter with Paul Collins’ Beat on 9/25 at 9.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/15/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #867:

The Chrome Cranks – Live in Exile

The Chrome Cranks were New York’s best band for most of the 1990s before imploding late in the decade. Combining the assaultive, combative riff-driven charisma of the Stooges with the paint-peeling, feedback-riddled, blues-warped guitar of frontman Peter Aaron and lead player William G. Weber and propelled by the potent rhythm section of former Honeymoon Killer Jerry Teel on bass and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, their studio albums blew away the rest of the Lower East Side glampunk crowd but never quite captured the raw unhinged menace of their live shows. But this does. Recorded at the end of 1996 in Holland at the end of a European tour, the band are at the peak of their power. Much as most of their songs are about facing down the end with a sneer, a smirk, a snort or something, this one really has the air of desperation: they knew this wouldn’t last, but they wanted to capture it for those who came after. They open the show with their gleefully ugly signature cover, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and after that, the song titles pretty much say it all. Lost Time Blues; Wrong Number; Dead Man’s Suit; We’re Going Down. Their practically nine-minute version of Pusherman surpasses even the Live Skull version for out-of-focus, fatalistic fury; the last of the encores is the self-explanatory Burn Baby Burn. Reinvigorated and apparently free of the demons that plagued them the first time around, the Cranks reunited in 2008 with a mighty series of shows in New York and Europe, with the promise of a new album sometime in the future.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment