Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Alexander McCabe’s Quiz Is the Fun Kind

What do you do when your popular ska-punk band reaches the end of the line? Play jazz, of course. That’s the answer alto saxophonist Alexander McCabe offers on his new album, Quiz. After his time with Warped Tour vets Mephiskapheles, he returned to his first love. This album, his third as a jazz bandleader, features him in brightly melodic, tunefully retro mode, backed by Uri Caine on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums (with Greg Hutchinson making the most of two tracks). Like his big influences, Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean, he puts the tunes front and center over any kind of ostentatious blowing which is always welcome to hear. It’s almost funny listening to Caine playing straight up, and not only competently, but obviously having a lot of fun doing it. Who knew he could actually stay in trad mode and not even hint at going outside.

They open with Weezie’s Waltz, a genuine charmer til McCabe decides to take it out a bit: Caine gets a solo and brings it back to home base lyrically with a wry bluesy grin, the last thing you’d expect, and it hits the spot. With Hutchinson aggressively punching in as it builds, Lonnegan, another original, is catchy, fast and swinging with some vivid Sonny Rollins echoes, McCabe working from bouncy to silvery glissandos and then back, Okegwo feeling the vibe and punching out his solo as matter-of-factly as the rest of the crew. A staggered, sunstreaked ballad, Kalido features a lumbering Hutchinson busting up Okegwo’s stealth operation, McCabe slithering up to see what happened in his absence. The title track works a long, brisk, stunningly melodic lead line up to a crescendo and then starts over again.

The band has a good time with Good Morning Heartache, taking their time making their way in, Royston doing his trademark rumble while McCabe goes blithely out on a limb, finally finding a modified bossa beat that rides gingerly on the rims. A comedic march theme, St. Pat is the freest moment here, Okegwo deviously taunting everyone to follow him as he solos. They wind it up with an expansive, goodnaturedly energetic version of How Little We Know that with a little less sonic clarity would be a dead ringer for the McLean band at their peak. Great fun, inspired playing and not a bad song on the album.

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October 15, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/15/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #837:

Everything But the Girl – Baby the Stars Shine Bright Tonight

Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt were stars in the UK ten years before the bastardized disco remix of Missing topped the US pop charts in 1994. Their torchy, jazzy 1983 debut was a big hit across the pond: this is their third album, from 1986, a lush, lavishly orchestrated collection of retro ballads, a perfect vehicle for Thorn’s anxious, wounded alto voice. She’s all longing and anticipation on the big 6/8 opening cut Come On Home, the irrepressibly swinging Don’t Leave Me Behind and the ethereal A Country Mile. Don’t Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart is a pretty successful stab at countrypolitan, as is Come Hell or High Water. Careless and Sugar Finney revert to a soaring, majestic jazz-pop vibe. The knockout punch here is Little Hitler, an understatedly towering 6/8 anthem written by Thorn: “Little Hitlers grow up to be big Hitlers,” she warns over the swell of the strings: “Every woman loves a fascist.” Part of that observation is sarcastic but part is not. If you like this one, their first two albums along with the mostly acoustic Amplified Heart and the charming acoustic ep (look for the red heart on a blue background) are also highly recommended; on the other hand, their explorations of trip-hop and proto-Portishead electronic pop are tepid and boring. Here’s a random torrent.

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

Sameer Gupta’s Namaskar Is Irresistible

Sameer Gupta, the drummer in Marc Cary’s Focus Trio has released the most irresistibly psychedelic album of the year with Namaskar (meaning “respect,” for all the traditions appropriated here), a resoundingly hypnotic attempt to blend Indian sounds with jazz. While Gupta combines a rich variety of styles here – film music, bhangra, trip-hop, carnatic songs and classical ragas – the f-word doesn’t apply. There’s a whole lot of fusing going on, but this isn’t fusion. Instead, it’s a suite of hypnotic, virtuosic grooves on simple, catchy themes, embellished by a mind-warping number of textures that float in and out of the mix. It ranks with the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack and the Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor as a classic of its kind, and though it’s generally a lot more subtle, there are places where it rivals those 60s classics for grin-inducing psychedelic excess: if you can hear this all the way through without smiling, you have a heart of ice. Essentially, this is the Focus Trio, Gupta leading the band on drums and tabla this time out with his longtime bandmate Cary on piano and a variety of electric keyboards, plus the renowned Indian master Anindo Chaterjee on tabla, Ramesh Misra on sarangi fiddle, Srinivas Reddy on sitar, David Boyce on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Prasant Radhakrishnan on carnatic sax, Charith Premawardanam on violin and the Trio’s David Ewell on upright bass.

The album opens with a terse, murky instrumental cover of carnatic song by Ustad Badi Ghulam Ali Khan on a theme of longing and impatience, the band maintaining a distant plaintiveness all the way through. They segue from there into a series of three pieces inspired by Indian film scores from the 50s and 60s, textures shifting in and out of the mix, Cary moving from wah-wah electric piano to woozy synthesizer layers and then echoey Wurlitzer as the rhythm morphs into a soul-funk groove. In places Cary’s terse staccato riffs run through a delay effect, taking on an electric guitar tone. The fifth track, Walk with Me strips the production down to a straight-up jazz piano song that works a catchy, hypnotic hook aggressively and warmly, Cary descending on the following track to the low depths he so excels at, driving it with a subterranean pulse that builds suspense all the way up to its quietly enigmatic conclusion.

From there, they bring back all the textures with tabla, reverb electric piano, what seems like a thousand drum loops (although those could be live – it’s hard to focus very closely on music that shifts shape as artfully and mysteriously as this does) and eventually a balmy sax interlude. And finally, after seven tracks, they reach a full stop. The last three cuts are a traditional sarangi piece imaginatively redone with blippy, futuristic electric keys contrasting vividly with dusky, bucolic tabla, an ebulliently atmospheric, jazzed-up raga and a trance-inducing cover of Miles Davis’ Blue in Green set to an insistent percussion loop and tabla way up in the mix. Gupta and band play the cd release show for this one at Aaron Davis Hall uptown on Oct 19 at 7:30 PM, free w/rsvp.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment