Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Left on Red Bring Their Catchy Songs Out of the Underground

While the badge-wearing offspring of suburban wealth flounced from club to club on the east side Wednesday night – it’s Colossal Musical Joke time again – a far more polyglot crowd enjoyed an hourlong set by edgy acoustic harmony band Left on Red at the Bitter End. And while this show was actually a CMJ gig, the audience was as casually diverse as you’d find on the subway. Which is no surprise since that’s where Liah Alonso and Kelly Halloran play most of the time. All those hours in less than sonically ideal surroundings has given their music a captivating chemistry and tightness – having a bassist and drummer behind them was a nice touch, and it filled out the sound, but it was almost as if they didn’t really need the extra rhythm since theirs is so solid.

The set started out pleasantly catchy and got really really good, really really fast. Alonso alternated between acoustic guitar, tenor guitar and Strat; Halloran started out on violin, playing some acerbic, spot-on blues licks before switching to Strat and then acoustic, taking a couple of lead vocals herself at the end of the show. The reaction to the early material was a vivid reminder how much of an audience there is for accessible pop music that’s not stupid. The duo started out with a couple of bouncy, blues-tinged numbers, a train song that took on a funny tinge and then a gorgeously jangly if lyrically perplexing 1960s style psychedelic pop song called Way of the Zebra. Then they ratcheted the intensity up a few notches with the big college radio hit Jack and Jill. “I lost my halo and wings when I escaped from hell,” Alonso sang triumphantly, “This angel never fit me too well.” It spoke for a nation of millions who’ve held back from asserting that themselves.

Another briskly catchy, anthemic number vividly and tersely portrayed the destructive effects of gentrification: musicians and students forced to triple and quadruple up in crumbling, squalid conditions while the yuppies in their suits make it clear that they’re no longer welcome in their own town. “We’re gonna be ok, two cute girls can always find a place to stay,” Alonso sang sardonically, the implication being that those who aren’t so cute might find it somewhat harder.

“Some people thank you for your time – like telemarketers and stuff – but we really mean it,” explained Alonso before doing exactly that, ending the set with an optimistic tune about gaining strength from adversity that wound up with a breakneck, doublespeed violin breakdown. The audience screamed for an encore: several people hollered for Two Drinks Away from Gay, a big crowd-pleaser, which they didn’t play (they’ll do it at their next gig, they said), instead substituting a triumphant escape anthem. “I come from a place where dreams go to die…where hope comes to crawl,” went the lyric, but there was a happy ending, the two women trading a series of music box-tinged, beautifully interlocking, jangly guitar riffs, one after the other. It was the most beautiful moment in a night full of many. In addition to busking (usually in stations on the 1 and the 2 line), Left on Red play frequently for hospitalized veterans and for causes ranging from peace activism to fair trade.

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October 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Namaskar Say Hello to Harlem

Sixty years ago, players jazzed up Broadway songs. Namaskar jazz up Bollywood. Their show Tuesday night in the gorgeous 19th century interior of the Harlem Stage Gatehouse at 135th and Convent Ave. was every bit as hypnotic, yet far more direct than their lushly psychedelic new cd, whose release they were celebrating. The album, a collection of classically-influenced originals and vintage Bollywood themes from the 50s, is essentially the Marc Cary Focus Trio with drummer Sameer Gupta leading the band, accompanied by a cast of Indian music luminaries. This time out they had Rashaan Carter subbing on bass for David Ewell, along with Neel Murgai on sitar and Arun Ramamurthy on violin. Because the melodies are so simple – a couple of them were essentially one-chord jams – the musicians kept their lines smartly terse. Murgai played the sitar like a guitar, picking his spots judiciously as he moved up or down the scale, only once cutting loose with a fiery solo featuring some intense guitar-style tremolo-picking toward the end of the set. Ramamurthy took advantage of the openness of the situation, making full use of the bent notes and melismas of Indian classical music while Carter alternated between groove and melodic hooks: the bass carried the melody as much as any of the other instruments. Cary alternated between piano and Rhodes, often playing electric lines in his righthand while holding down his signature, saturnine low registers in the left, frequently tossing a riff or a tempo shift to Gupta, who’d cleverly fire back one of his own. Since the melodies are often so minimalist in this project, rhythm is the key to everything, Gupta emerging early on as captain of this trip, whether playfully hammering out vaudevillian lines on his rims, feathering a dreamy nest of trancey tabla textures or shading the music in varying tinges of grey over a 10/4 beat, as he did on one number.

Gupta explained that his original composition Attachment, which appears both on the Namaskar album as well as the Focus Trio’s stunning Live 2009 album (watch this space for more about that), was based on a rainy season raga from the classical Indian repertoire. Carter gave it a brisk intro that was almost bluegrass, leading into lush ensemble passages, Murgai’s languid lines contrasting with Ramamurthy’s busy intensity. A stab at a (relatively) brief raga, ostensibly one of Cary’s favorites, pulsed along on Carter’s insistent bassline, “A Harlem tradition,” Gupta took care to mention (bass in classical Indian music is usually handled by the tabla, or the wonderful lower-register sitar, the surbahar). Jangle, another track from the album, is based on a dance tune whose original title is “shake your ankle bracelets.” Cary filled out its framework with oceanic cascades of incisively bluesy riffage on the Rhodes. He didn’t launch into as much of the rippling glimmer he can sustain for minutes like he does with the Focus Trio, but when he did the effect was intense, often magisterial: there’s a rare depth and solidity anchoring his expansive, sometimes breathtaking flights. What was most impressive is that the strongest performances were on the newest material, from the opening jam with brief, memorable solos around the horn, to the long, catchy, fluid sitar-driven number that followed it, to the surprisingly mellow encore which took the show out on a gracefully contemplative note. The crowd – a pleasantly diverse crew who, if the shout-outs to various boroughs before the show were to be believed, represented everywhere but Staten Island – responded thunderously, not something you’d expect at what was essentially a jam band show.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/22/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #830:

Joe Jackson – Beat Crazy

Jackson’s worn many different hats: popster disguised as a punk, jazz guy, avant-garde composer, dentist-office pop songwriter. He only wore this hat once. It’s red, gold and green and has room for the dreadlocks Jackson never grew. This 1980 psychedelic gem isn’t straight-up reggae but it has a lot of rootsy grooves courtesy of bass monster Graham Maby, who turns in what might be the highlight of a brilliant career on the eleven tracks here. As schlocky as some of Jackson’s top 40 songs have been, once in awhile he validates all those Elvis Costello comparisons, never more than on this album. The big college radio hit was One to One, a better straight-up pop song than anything on Night and Day. The title track and Biology are fast, catchy reggae-pop; In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare) is sticky, green and dub-infused, with a shout-out to Roxy Music. Mad at You follows a similar pattern but at doublespeed; Crime Don’t Pay is buzzy new wave with a characteristically cynical lyric. The snarling ska of Pretty Boys and the nonconformist anthem Fit round it out. Jackson never hit this kind of a high note before or afterward, although his 1999 Night and Day II incorporates pretty much everything he excelled at except for cheesy elevator music, and the subsequent Joe Jackson Live reverts to the stripped-down energy of his late 70s style but with a better choice of songs. Here’s a random torrent.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment