Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The City Champs Set Up a Vintage Classic

If the City Champs’ new album The Set Up had been recorded in 1965, it would be hailed today as a great rediscovery. This Memphis instrumental band is absolutely period-perfect, right down to Joe Restivo’s vintage guitar tone, the subtly shifting waves of Al Gamble’s Hammond organ and George Sluppick’s funky, shuffling drums. Yet they don’t sound like imitators: they come across like any other good, imaginative, versatile southern soul organ-and-guitar combo from that era and locale. Their previous album The Safecracker was more of a collection of vintage dance grooves; this is an album of nocturnes. Considering the setup of the band (couldn’t resist the pun), much of this sounds a lot like Booker T. & the MGs. The more dramatic, cinematic tracks bring to mind Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to In the Heat of the Night.

The title track opens – it’s a theme that sets the tone for the rest of the album, perfectly evoked by the vintage typography and red-tinged chain-link fence on the cd cover. The second cut, Drippy is the most obviously Booker T-influenced cut with Restivo’s restless, staccato riffage building up to a big crescendo – and then they start over. Ricky’s Rant is arguably the best cut here, a beautifully murky, memorable theme. It’s basically a surf song gone funk, like a Booker T cover of a Lee Hazelwood song. The cinematic Crump St. begins as a slow, dusky summer soul groove lit up by Jim Spake’s tenor sax and then jumps to a jittery shuffle, Sluppick switching up the rhythm artfully. Chinatown evokes neither the film, the song by the Move or any specific Asian locale: instead, it builds suspensefully with intricate, Hendrix-ish guitar over slow burning organ.

With its playful beat and frenetic jazz-tinged guitar, Rigamarole sounds like Rock the Casbah done oldschool Memphis style. Local Jones, the next track, is a gorgeous, hypnotic, slowly swaying Stax/Volt ballad without words. They pick up the pace with Break It Up, a chase scene of sorts with a “batman” crescendo, and follow that with a cover of the Mad Men theme: with Restivo’s quietly menacing hammer-ons, it’s a portrait of a crime family, if only a white-collar one. The album winds up on a towering, anthemic, even majestic note with another original, Comanche, a Lynchian take on a Link Wray-style groove that roars with gospel intensity until a quick, unexpected fade. The City Champs spend a lot of time on the road: as with their previous album, they sound like they’d be a lot of fun live. Watch this space.

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November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thunderball Gives You a 12 Mile High

With a nod and a wink to Isaac Hayes, Gamble and Huff, Manfred Hubler (the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrackmeister) and Herbie Hancock circa 1971, Thunderball’s latest album 12 Mile High is blissfully over-the-top psychedelic chillout music. A lot of it, especially toward the end of the album, is trip-hop; if you like it slow and slinky, you can dance to this. There’s some bhangra, plenty of funk, a little disco, some spacey dub and a lot of cinematics. Each of the dozen instrumentals here is a mini-movie, many of them basically bedroom scenes through a thick ganja haze.

The party starts with a gorgeous sitar melody ringing out over a layered tabla groove. The title track keeps the sitar, adding bass and blippy synth over a midtempo disco beat. Make Your Move climbs from an ambient, suspenseful intro to a soul/funk trip-hop song with falsetto vocals: Sylvester on the DL. A couple of reggae tunes shift from sly dub and a repetitive refrain of “herb, sinsemilla” to an ominous one-chord jam driven by swooshy organ, with a wary vocal that sounds a lot like Luciano.

There are latin interludes here as well. Low Down Weather is a slinky latin funk vamp with casually animated blues guitar pairing off against echoey Rhodes electric piano, and a hilarious sample on the way out in case you didn’t see it coming. Ritco Ritmo, with its Brazilian-tinged guitar, sounds like Os Mutantes one generation removed; Rio Mescalito is a jaunty acoustic blues guitar shuffle that grows woozier as whatever they’re smoking starts to kick in. There are also a couple of boudoir themes with laid-back sax and girlie vocals (which get old fast), a funky one that could be Sly Stone on good acid, the trippy mystery tableau To Catch a Vixen, and the lush, blues-toned one-chord jam Penthouse Soul that takes the album out on an especially hypnotic note. There are so many layers oscillating and moving up and through the mix and out and back again that it’s impossible to keep up: which is why these tracks are so successful. Always leave them wanting more, or so they say.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iain Quinn Makes the Organ Whisper Mightily

Here’s a clinic in contrasts for you: next up here, after a jazz organist who makes a Hammond B3 organ roar, is a classical organist who pulls the gentle subtleties from the depths of a massive church organ. That’s what Iain Quinn did yesterday at St. Thomas Church in midtown. He opened on the big, colorful but soon-to-be-decomissioned Skinner organ with Carl Czerny’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, Op. 607. It was pretty much what you would have expected (especially if you ever grimaced while making your way through a homework assignment of Czerny’s etudes): brazenly derivative, something that anyone who’s ever played Bach could have come up with. And yet, irresistibly fun: Quinn let its predictable changes go fluidly so that listeners could play along in their heads to see if they could guess where the melody would go next.

He followed with a considerably quieter, transparently baroque-influenced work, the Larghetto from Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Six Pieces, all gentle, stately call-and-response. Samuel Barber’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor moved from acerbic austerity in the Prelude to warmer consonance in the Fugue, which Quinn again let speak for itself.

The most captivating work on the bill was Quinn’s own composition, Continuum (Notre Dame). A beautifully hushed, still, richly overtone-tinged tone poem, Quinn masterfully mixed low flute stops, elegantly subtracting them one by one as it wound down to just a single sustained wash of sound. Spectral music for organ has rarely been so gripping.

Quinn’s own arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Barcalolle, Op. 10 played up a gently lilting Venetian sway; he closed with the one fortissimo piece of the night, Glazunov’s blustery Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 98, dedicated to Saint-Saens and strongly evoking the French composer’s mix of rigor and playfulness.

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

Ehud Asherie Goes Green

Ehud Asherie is an interesting guy, a longtime star of the New York jazz underground with a unique and soulful voice on the organ. A lot of jazz players go straight for the funky grooves pioneered by Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff and there’s definitely that feel here but there’s also a welcome fearlessness of the kind of power a B3 organ can deliver. Which is especially interesting since Asherie’s previous albums highlight his feel for samba jazz, a style which is completely the opposite. The group on this latest cd, Organic, has the ubiquitous Peter Bernstein, characteristically terse and incisive on guitar, along with Dmitry Baevsky providing color on alto sax and drummer Phil Stewart having a great time switching between shuffles, undulating Brazilian beats and some playful funk.

They reinvent Tonight, from West Side Story, as a shuffle, Asherie locking into a darkly chordal approach as he will frequently throughout this album; Bernstein’s expansive, exploratory solo and Baevsky’s balmy contributions contrast considerably. They play up the beat on Sonny Rollins’ The Stopper almost to the point where it’s Keystone Kops, choppy terrain for Asherie to sail through with some tricky yet perfectly balanced arpeggios. And a waltz finally, cleverly emerges out of a thicket of syncopation on Asherie’s Walse Pra Jelena, the organ adding an unexpectedly distant carnivalesque tinge echoed in Bernstein’s considerably more anxious second solo.

The most trad early 60s number here is the swinging, midtempo Apostrophe, closer to Made Men than Mad Men with its biting organ solo. Likewise, Jobim’s Favela is punchy, edgy and frankly a lot more interesting than the original, more of a straight-up shuffle. Bernstein grabs the melody and sinks his teeth into it, and Stewart takes it all the way to the depths of Africa with a boomy Yoruban-tinged solo. The rest of the album includes It’s Possible, a warmly lyrical, sneakily brisk original; a slightly smoky, stately and surprisingly intense version of Guy Lombardo’s Coquette; and a swirling, bluesily inspired Fats Waller tribute. A welcome change from a lot of the retro B3 albums coming out lately – and no pesticides either. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 11/22/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #799:

Millie Jackson – Live and Uncensored

The funniest woman in soul music, Millie Jackson got her start singing gospel, but by the mid-70s she’d gone from the sacred to the profane and stayed there, taking Bessie Smith innuendo to its logical, smutty extreme. L’il Kim and Foxy Brown have nothing on this woman. Her studio albums were popular for obvious reasons, but her live shows were beyond hilarious. This double live lp from 1979 doesn’t have the classic Lick It Before You Stick It, but it’s got most of her funniest songs, recorded in front of a well-oiled, extremely responsive crowd – as much as she plays the role of a woman who’s been dissed too many times and isn’t going to let a guy do that to her again, the guys love her. She does the innuendo thing with Logs and Thangs, Put Something Down on It and the deviously juvenile Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night. The big over-the-top hit – a Beethoven spoof – is the Fuck You Symphony. Much of the time, the band launches into a funk vamp for her to rap over: the best one of these is a particularly venomous, obscene diatribe directed at soap operas and those who watch them (she’s not a fan – she thinks they’re racist and they rot your mind). When she’s on top of her game, her covers, like Sweet Music Man and If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right) are viciously satirical – this may be soul music, but the vibe is pure punk rock. This one was reissued sometime in the 90s as a twofer with the equally raunchy 1982 album Live and Outrageous. Now in her sixties, Jackson has toned it down a bit, most recently as the afternoon drive dj on an Atlanta radio station. Here’s a random torrent.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment