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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/3/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #818:

2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now

2Pac’s 1992 debut album was not a commercial success, in fact, it would be another couple of years before he’d release another one. This one’s aged awfully well. He wasn’t yet the effortless lyrical stylist he’d become by the time Strictly 4 My Niggaz hit in 1994, but he also wasn’t slinging ganja-fueled nonsense like he did on the Makavalli albums and all the outtakes that were released posthumously. The bare-bones production puts his wrathful rhymes here front and center. Tupac Shakur may have presented a goofball personality offstage, but in front of the mic, or on a movie set, he was dead serious, fearless, unrepentant and mad as hell. The jokes are grim, the humor is black, and the disses are murderous. The titles are pretty much dead giveaways: socially provocative stuff like Young Black Male, Trapped, and Soulja’s Story; the high point of the album, I Don’t Give a Fuck, the original of the bitterly prophetic Brenda’s Got a Baby and gangsta stuff like The Lunatic. Like two of his lyricist colleagues from back in the day, Ice Cube and Ice-T, his rapping started to take a back seat to his film career; too bad we’ll never know what else this multi-talented guy could have done. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

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November 2, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Huun Huur Tu Summon Their Ancestors

Arguably the best-known group singing the otherworldly, overtone-laden shamanistic folk songs of their native Tuva (in the far east of what used to be the Soviet Union), Huun Huur Tu return to their roots with their new album Ancestors Call. Many of the tracks here are original acoustic versions of songs that appeared in their swirling, lushly produced 2008 Eternal album with Carmen Rizzo. As with the rest of their work prior to that album, these austere soundscapes vividly evoke the desolate rigor of nomadic life on the steppes, with simple chord changes, Asian-tinged melodies and hypnotic vamps that often go on and on for minutes on end. Vocals are what they’re best known for, and that’s most of what they offer here: instrumentation is limited to spare fiddle, lutes and occasional flute. Lyrics are in their native dialect, a mix of traditional folk numbers and variations of what are obviously centuries-old themes. They open with a simple, tongue-in-cheek shepherd’s song, followed by a gently galloping battle anthem, and a fast, scurrying, tongue-twisting boast: the guy’s got a fast horse and a pretty girl and he wants the whole world to know, a universal song if there ever was one.

The best track on the Eternal album is also the most stunning one here, the long, atmospheric, hauntingly astringent tone poem Orphan’s Lament. Longing for home and family is a recurrent theme, whether on a simple, swaying, tongue-in-cheek-sounding number that sets jews harp up against woozily oscillating vocal overtones, or a nostalgic immigrant’s tale. A tribute to the beautiful women of one particular Tuvan clan is surprisingly gentle and ambient (an even lusher version can be found on Eternal).

A traveler’s tale gallops along hypnotically, while a prayer for prosperity summons the spirits from the lowest registers – to alien ears, it sounds practically demonic. The album concludes with the windswept title track and its insistent, clip-clop, syncopated rhythm. Huun Huur Tu’s longevity and consistency should come as no surprise, considering that previous generations who played this music did it for life. They’ll be on US tour in early 2011, watch this space; the new album’s just out on World Village Music (who just won a major Womex award: good for them).

November 2, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elvis Costello Lights up the Greene Space

Last night, in his only New York performance this fall, Elvis Costello and his latest band the Sugarcanes treated a sold-out crowd at WNYC’s Greene Space in SoHo to a lush, often riveting mix of new material (the interview with host Leonard Lopate airs tomorrow, November 3). Costello’s politically charged new album National Ransom is just out, a tuneful, erudite, classy state-of-the-world address which would be the highlight of just about any other musician’s career. For Costello, it’s just another album (double vinyl album, to be precise, also available in the usual digital configurations). Looking wiry and wired, the greatest songwriter in the history of the English language bantered bitingly between songs with Lopate, who quickly sized up the situation and smartly backed off, letting his fellow chatshow host take over and entertain the crowd. At one point, Costello leaned over to look at Lopate’s cheat sheet: Lopate feigned umbrage, Costello graciously responding that his own guests always peek at the questions before they’re asked.

Given the new album’s vintage Americana flavor, Lopate remarked that the songs would be suited for a 78 RPM recording (which Costello has actually done recently). Costello replied that he’d be “utilizing all the available formats to the fullest extent possible…I’m trying to make as many records as possible before the whole thing shuts down.” He was quick to belittle the sonic limitations of an mp3: “They sound like hell – can I say ‘shite?””

Lopate reminded him that there was no going back since the cat was now out of the bag. “Direct to the ears is the best,” Costello grinned, playing to the crowd. He belittled his own guitar chops, as usual, but he played well, firing off a deft series of chromatics on his concluding solo out of a tense, potently evocative version of One Bell Rings, a chillingly allusive account of a torture victim inspired by the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Lopate focused on the album’s social relevance: when prodded, Costello didn’t claim to have any answers, although he was quick to assert that, referring to the 2008 market crash, “In other times, if you could have a negative value as currency, they would have thought you were a witch!” The theme played to a murderous crescendo on a rousing version of the album’s title cut, accordionist Jeff Taylor imbuing it with a bit of a zydeco flavor as he would many of the other songs.

The rest of the show was equally gripping. They’d opened with a swinging version of a straight-up country song, I Lost You, following with Dr. Watson I Presume, which builds to an understatedly haunting, relentless, deathly countdown. Jimmie Standing in the Rain, a brooding chronicle of a 1930s performer who “picked the wrong time to do cowboy music – not that there’s a right time,” evoked the terse grimness of Richard Thompson’s Al Bowlly’s in Heaven. The upbeat R&B of The Spell That You Cast had the whole band doing a call-and-response with backing vocals; That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving may be the best country song Costello’s ever written, a lushly successful mix of vintage countrypolitan and characteristically acerbic lyricism. They closed with a mysteriously lyrical spy story, All These Strangers. The album comes out today.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 11/2/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #819:

The Bongos – Numbers with Wings

Along with the Feelies, the Bongos put Hoboken, New Jersey (across the river from Manhattan for all you outsiders) on the map in the early 1980s. Their quirky, sometimes jangly, sometimes powerpoppy Drums Along the Hudson remains a cult favorite almost thirty years after it came out. We picked this one not only to be counterintuitive, but also because this 1983 ep is a whole lot better, in fact, it’s got some of the best janglerock ever recorded. The classic here is the swooping, hypnotic, uncharacteristically dark and plaintive title track; Sweet Blue Cage mines a distantly glimmery, psychedelic Rain Parade feel. Barbarella, with its Adam Ant-style percussive dance groove, is the smash hit that should have been. They follow in a similar vein with Skydiving and wrap it up with another deliciously jangly should-have-been hit, Tiger Nights, a party theme waiting to happen. Some fans and critics objected to this album as overproduced and slick, but the band never wrote better songs before or after. Frontman/guitarist Richard Barone has continued as a solo act; guitarist/bassist James Mastro would go on to a career as a brilliant and highly sought-after lead player with Ian Hunter, the Jayhawks, Amy Speace and many others. Here’s a random torrent.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment