Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/24/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #858:

Paula Carino – Aquacade

Seven years after her solo debut came out, the former frontwoman of popular indie rockers Regular Einstein remains a titan among New York rock songwriters. With her cool, nuanced voice like a spun silk umbrella on a windswept beach, her catchy, distantly Pretenders-inflected janglerock melodies and fiercely witty, literate lyrics, Carino ranks with Richard Thompson, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello as one of the world’s great lyrical tunesmiths. She never met a pun or a double entendre she could resist, has a thing for odd time signatures and wields a stun-gun bullshit detector. This was one of the great albums of 2003 and it remains a classic. Pensive, watery miniatures like the title track lurk side by side with the mordantly metric cautionary tale Discovering Fire, the offhandedly savage Stockholm Syndrome and Guru Glut and the wistful, richly evocative sound-movie Summer’s Over. The symbolism goes deep and icy on the deceptively upbeat Tip of the Iceberg; Venus Records immortalizes a legendary New York used record store and remains the most charming love song to a prized vinyl album ever (that one’s loaded with symbolism too). The high point of the cd  is Paleoclimatology, a resolutely clanging masterpiece that will resonate with anyone longing to escape a past buried beneath “ancient snow that wrecked tyrannosaurus.” Carino’s 2010 album Open on Sunday is far darker yet still imbued with a similar wit: look for it high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year. This one long since sold out its run of physical copies, although it’s still available online at emusic and all the other mp3 spots.

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September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pianist Joe Gilman’s New Album Gets Synesthesia

A cynic would say that when musicians aren’t stealing ideas from each other, they’re stealing them from other artists. Some of the tracks on jazz pianist Joe Gilman’s new cd Americanvas seem to be an attempt to sonically interpret a series of fairly well-known works of visual art; others simply use the paintings as inspiration. More often than not, this approach works, in ways that are surprising and surprisingly fun. As one of the head honchos at the Brubeck Institute, Gilman has access to some of the world’s most promising up-and-coming jazz talent, and puts them to good use. Here he’s joined by saxophonists Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown along with 19-year-old bassist Zach Brown and fearless 20-year-old drummer Adam Arruda, who absolutely owns this album.

Fast-forward past the opening cut, which is like Rick Wakeman at his most olympic. Instead, savor the devious, playful, absolutely spot-on Where the Wild Things Are, a Maurice Sendak homage – it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the book. Arruda has a field day, in both senses of the word, with this, bounding and rumbling all the way through, ever-present but never to the point where the ostentation might get annoying. Gilman’s hop-skip-and-a-jump piano solo brings the adventure to the point where the monsters appear, the soprano sax goes modal and they go out in a quietly glorious, chordally-charged shimmer. Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! gets a bustling, rapidfire, unselfconsciously cartoonish rendering; Keith Haring’s Monkey Puzzle (no relation to the Saints album that preceded it) gets a surprisingly serious, straight-up swing treatment with expansive lyrical piano solo and genially smoky tenor sax. The standout piece in this gallery is, unsurprisingly, Nighthawks, which interprets the iconic Edward Hopper diner tableau as Huis Clos (look closely: there’s no exit). After Gilman’s slow noir ambience sets the stage, there’s a very long, very slowly unwinding tenor solo, and then a casually stunning shift: waiter? Garcon? Whichever the case, the alto sax offers a welcome break from the long, long night…until he leaves, and it’s back in Gilman’s lowlit fingers.

Romare Bearden’s classic New York at Night appears here as the vividly evocative Nocturne du Romare, Brown’s agile bass walking it lickety-split beneath late 50s-inflected solos around the horn. The moody, catchy Yellow, Red, Blue – a Rothko reference – echoes with Mulatu Astatke-ish circularity and another sudden shift from sinister to sunny, Arruda’s big, irresistibly fun, dramatic cymbal accents as effective here as they are in several other places on this disc. Other tracks here include a subtly interlocking exercise in contrapuntal melody and tempo shifts, and a viscerally anxious Scott Collard ballad carried by the reeds. It’s out now on Capri Records.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Natacha Atlas’ New Album Mounqaliba Hauntingly Captures the State of the World, 2010

The title of Natacha Atlas’ new album Mounqaliba translates literally from the classical Arabic as “in a state of reversal.” In a societal context, it means decline. It’s her reaction to cultural  decay, spirituality displaced by shallow materialism. In many ways this is a scathing and intense album. It’s also a lushly, otherworldly beautiful one, the high point of Atlas’ career. Musically, it follows in the same vein as her previous cd Ana Hina (ranked in the top ten on our best-of-2008 list), a homage to Fairouz blending traditional Middle Eastern songwriting with a sweeping, orchestral grandeur inspired by western classical music. Atlas has always been a good singer, but on Ana Hina she became a great one; here, her gentle, airily nuanced, minutely ornamented, Fairouz-inspired vocals vividly span the range of human emotions from longing to hope to despair. The originals on this album are sung in classical Arabic, co-written by Atlas and her longtime violinist/collaborator Samy Bishai, along with a couple of surprising covers, backed by jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, a 20-piece Turkish ensemble and chamber orchestra.

The album begins with a stark piano instrumental with martial echoes, segueing into the stately sweep of Makaan, Atlas’ vocals both ethereal and eerie over the swell of the orchestra. They follow with the chilly starlit solo piano piece Bada Alfajr and then a carefully enunciated, wary take of the familiar habibi standard Muwashah Ozkourini. In its own towering, expansive way, Atlas’ cover of Nick Drake’s The Riverman maintains the tense, hypnotic, doomed atmosphere of the original but updates it for the 21st century with strings over a repetitive percussion loop. The swaying, atmospheric levantine anthem Batkallim, a scathing denunciation of media and political hypocrisy, opens with a sample of President Obama reminding us that “we live in a time of great tension:” understatement of the century. It’s the high point of the album, pointillistic accordion over funereal strings and a practically trip-hop beat. The understated anguish of Rahman’s piano is viscerally chilling.

The brooding intensity continues with the title track, a Rachmaninovian opening piano taqsim giving way to funeral drums, ney and then a bitter dirge, Atlas’ wounded vocalese contrasting with the somewhat grand guignol atmospherics. Le Cor le Vent is an unselfconsciously anguished blend of vintage French chanson and sweeping 1950s Lebanese art-pop; they follow that with Lazahat Nashwa, an upbeat, percussive levantine dance and then an imaginative, dreamy, orchestrated trip-hop cover of Francoise Hardy’s La Nuit Est Sur la Ville. The album closes with the brief, somberly atmospheric chamber piece Ghoroug, an ominously stampeding dance and then the wistfully orchestrated lullaby Nafourat el Anwar, which ends the album on a surprisingly optimistic note. Count this among the top two or three world music albums of 2010 alongside the forthcoming Roots of Chicha Vol. 2 anthology, and Iraqi expat oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj’s upcoming Little Earth. Natacha Atlas will be on tour a bit later this fall, with a New York appearance at le Poisson Rouge on Nov. 8.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Krista Detor’s Chocolate Paper Suites Are Dark and Delicious

Krista Detor’s album Chocolate Paper Suites has been out for awhile this year – but who’s counting. It’s a dark lyrical feast. Images and symbols rain down in a phantasmagorical torrent and then reappear when least expected – and the pictures they paint pack a wallop. This is first and foremost a headphone album: casual listening will get you nowhere with her. Detor’s carefully modulated alto vocals land somewhere between Aimee Mann and Paula Carino over a bed of tastefully artsy piano-based midtempo rock/pop that downplays the lyrics’ frequent offhand menace. While Detor sings in character, a bitterness and a weariness connects the dots between the album’s five three-song suites. Allusion is everything; most of the action is off-camera and every image that makes it into the picture is loaded. Not exactly bland adult contemporary fare.

The first suite is Oranges Fall Like Rain. The opening track swirls hypnotic and Beatlesque, essentially a one-chord backbeat vamp in the same vein as the Church. Detor’s heavy symbolism sets the stage: a green umbrella, the rich guy in the title pulling out a knife to cut the orange, a desire for a “white car driving up to the sun.” Its second part, Lorca in Barcelona mingles surreal, death-fixated imagery with a dark, tango-tinged chorus. Its conclusion is savage, a rail against not only the dying of the light but any death of intelligence:

Poetry is dead, Delilah said,
Maybe in a pocket somewhere in Prague
That’s all that’s left of it
Are you a good dog?

The Night Light triptych puts a relationship’s last painful days on the autopsy table. Its first segment, Night Light – Dazzling is an Aimee Mann ripoff but a very good one, its slowly swinging acoustic guitar shuffle painting an offhandedly scathing portrait, a snide party scene where the entitled antagonist acts out to the point where the fire department comes. What they’re doing there, of course, is never stated. Night Light – All to Do with the Moon is a stargazer’s lament, all loaded imagery: “It’s the synchronous orbit that blinds my view.” It ends with the slow, embittered, oldtimey shades of Teeter-Totter on a Star, Mama Cass as done by Lianne Smith, maybe. The Madness of Love trio aims for a sultry acoustic funk vibe, with mixed results. Its high point is the concluding segment, gospel as seen though a minimalistic lens, the narrator regretting her caustic I-told-you-so to her heartbroken pal, even though she knows she’s right.

By Any Other Name opens with a pensive reflection on time forever lost, Joni Mitchell meets noir 60s folk-pop; set to a plaintive violin-and-piano arrangement, its second segment is another killer mystery track, a couple out on a romantic two-seater bicycle ride with some unexpected distractions. The final suite was written as part of the Darwin Songhouse, a series of songs on themes related to Charles Darwin: a very funny if somewhat macabre-tinged oldtimey swing number told from the point of view of an unreconstructed creationist; a live concert version of a long Irish-flavored ballad that quietly and matter-of-factly casts the idea of divine predestination as diabolical hell, and a lullaby. New Yorkers can experience Detor’s unique craftsmanship and understatedly beautiful voice live at City Winery on October 18.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/23/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #859:

The Damned – Mindless Directionless Energy

The All Music Guide said horrible things about this one: goes to show, who can you trust? We chose this over the rest of their catalog since it has so many inspired versions of some of their best and best-known songs. Recorded live at the Lyceum in London in 1981 and widely bootlegged, to the point where the band finally released it six years later, this captures the band hanging onto their punk sound even in the wake of their first dive into goth music, the Black Album. As befits a bootleg from that era, the sonics manage to be both boomy and trebly – midrange is mostly nonexistent – but the spontaneous intensity of the performances is irresistible. Frontman Dave Vanian sounds like he’s been drinking about his baby and the band are just loose enough to be dangerous, stampeding through the riff-rocking punk of I Fall and New Rose, a blistering hardcore version of Love Song, the wickedly catchy guitar-and-organ punk-pop of Smash It Up and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, a feedback-infested blast through a medley of the MC5’s Looking At You and the Stooges’ 1970 and a murderously careening version of their most haunting if lyrically mystifying song, Plan 9 Channel 7. The only miss is a completely useless cover of the Sweet’s annoying Ballroom Blitz. Most of the Damned’s albums – from the almost equally trebly, garage-style stomp of their 1977 debut Damned Damned Damned through the goth-infused Strawberries, from 1982 – are worth investigating. Here’s a random torrent.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments