Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/24/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #797:

Lefty Frizzell – 16 Biggest Hits

Lefty Frizzell was a legendary Texas honkytonk singer from the 50s, a guy who sounded a lot older than he was. By the 70s, now in his 40s, he sounded close to 70. One of the songs here, an early proto-rockabilly number, is titled Just Can’t Live That Fast (Any More), but in real life he didn’t seem to have any problem with that. He drank himself to death at 47 in 1975. But he left a rich legacy. This album is missing some of his best-known songs – notably Cigarettes & Coffee Blues – but it’s packed with classics. Frizzell’s 1950 version of If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time topped the country charts and beat Hank Williams – a frequent tourmate – at his own game. Other 50s hits here include the western swing-tinged Always Late (With Your Kisses), the fast shuffle She’s Gone, Gone, Gone and Frizzell’s iconic version of Long Black Veil – with its echoey, ghostly vocals and simple acoustic guitar, it’s even better than the Johnny Cash version. From the 60s, there’s the surprisingly folkie version of Saginaw Michigan, the sad drinking ballad How Far Down Can I Go, the torchy, electric piano-based That’s the Way Love Goes and I’m Not the Man I’m Supposed to Be. His later period is best represented by I Never Go Around Mirrors, later covered by both George Jones and Merle Haggard. This is one of those albums that pops up in used vinyl stores from time to time, but isn’t easy to find online. There’s a popular “500 greatest country songs” torrent with several of these on it out there; if you see one for this particular album, let us know!

November 24, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pre-War Ponies Summon the Ghosts of Old New York

Last night at Rodeo Bar the Pre-War Ponies played an irresistible, unselfconsciously romantic mix of obscure swing tunes. Frontwoman Daria Grace leads this unit when she isn’t playing bass in her husband’s Jack’s excellent country band, or in recently semi-resurrected art-rockers Melomane, which doesn’t give her a lot of time – this crew basically plays the Rodeo and Barbes and that’s about it. But her Rodeo gig has been a monthly residency for awhile now, and it’s one of New York’s obscure treasures – just like her repertoire. The songs she likes best are clever, urbane, and catchy, ranging from quirky to downright bizarre. Her voice is stunning, pure and clear but also a little misty, the perfect vehicle for tales of heartbreak and longing and hope against hope that everything will work out in the end. This time out she was backed by a rhythm section along with J. Walter Hawkes doubling on trombone and ukelele, and Mike Neer on acoustic lead guitar.

The best song of the night was a blithe suicide song from 1928, Ready for the River, by Gus Kahn and Neil Moret. “Gonna leave just a bubble to indicate what used to be me,” Grace sang with a carefree nonchalance as the band bounced along behind her. “Gonna keep walking til my straw hat floats.” Her version of Two Sleepy People, a Frank Loesser/Hoagy Carmichael hit from 1938, perfectly captured the hazy endorphin bliss of a couple who’ve run out of things to say (or brainpower to say them with) but can’t tear themselves away from each other.

The band’s second set of the night was both fetching and fun. Grace came off the stage to redistribute the bar’s supply of peanuts since a friend of hers needed a refill. Then Hawkes noticed that someone had left a guitar pick in the nose of the bison head to the right of the stage. “Probably your husband,” he told Grace.

“Probably was,” she sighed. She looked at the pick. “Nope. Not his brand.” And then picked up her baritone uke and launched into a tribute to every ukelele song ever written. She brought a distantly smoky charm to Connee Boswell’s All I Can Do Is Dream of You, Irving Berlin’s 1925 hit Remember, and later an understatedly plaintive version of It’s the Talk of the Town. The bouncy, shuffling lament Say It Isn’t So was a launching pad for a rocket of a solo by Neer that leveled off the second time through the verse, followed by a droll muted trombone solo by Hawkes that managed to be completely period-perfect and over-the-top yet poignant all at the same time. The torchy Take My Heart got a buoyant solo from Hawkes followed by more edgy incisiveness from Neer. On the innuendo-driven I Want a Buddy, Not a Sweetheart, Neer punched through the best solo of the night, a rapidfire series of chords with an Asian tinge, as if he was playing a koto. They also did a slinky, gypsy jazz version of Cole Porter’s Primitive Man, from the 1929 film Fifteen Million Frenchmen.

The 1947 tune Brooklyn Love Song has “hey” at the end of pretty much every phrase. Grace lost the second page of her sheet music, so she had to come up with some new lyrics: “Everything happens for a reason. Hey!” Hawkes finally found the missing page; without missing a beat, they jumped back in and wound it up as jauntily as it began.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/23/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #798:

James McMurtry Childish Things

A growling, cynically lyrical Americana rock songwriter in the twangy Steve Earle vein, James McMurtry plays midsize venues around the world to a cult audience who hang on every word. He’s never made a bad album. We picked this one, from 2005 because it’s got his signature song, We Can’t Make It Here, probably the most vivid depiction of the economic consequences of the Bush/Cheney reign of terror. McMurtry is a potent, vivid storyteller, and there are a handful of first-rate ones here: the ominous, murderous foreshadowing of Bad Enough; the swinging dysfunctional holiday-from-hell tale Memorial Day and the family road trip from/to hell, Holiday. The rumbling title track alludes to the hopelessness of depressed rural areas that McMurtry has chronicled so well throughout his career; the swaying, funky Restless looks at the hope or lack thereof for relationships there. There’s also the brooding European vignette Charlemagne’s Home Town, the sly Slew Foot – a duet with Joe Ely – and the poignant prisoner’s recollection Six Year Drought – is it told from the point of view of a POW? An ex-slave? A Holocaust survivor? If you want a torrent, here’s a random one – because we’re in a depression, and nobody knows that better than McMurtry, he’d understand if you downloaded it for nothing. Because he’s an independent artist and could use the support, there’s a link to his site in the title above.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

A Rare 1986 Wadada Leo Smith Show Surfaces

Here’s a really cool one from the vaults: a 1986 duo performance at Brandeis University featuring trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith – an early AACM member – and his drummer friend Ed Blackwell, the longtime Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman sideman. Recorded by the college radio station and just now seeing the light of day almost 25 years later, it’s a brisk, entertaining and warmly melodic romp, quite a change from the intricately, often massively orchestrated stuff Smith has mined lately. Blackwell’s performance here, as Smith has taken care to emphasize, is especially impressive because although his playing is completely improvised, it’s intricately thought out, a series of hypnotic riffs that he runs over and over again for a trance-inducing vibe. Either Blackwell had them up his sleeve all along – several with tinges of hip-hop; a martial New Orleans step, and a couple that sound like loops – or he conjured them up on the spot, which as Smith avers is the more likely story. Either way, it makes this new album, titled The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer, a goldmine for rappers on the prowl for catchy samples.

It’s essentially a ten-part suite. Not all of the tracks segue into each other, but many of them do. Smith goes for melody most of the time, a central four-note hook that twists and bends and then comes back toward the end when least expected. His tone is bright, clear, and ebullient except for the couple of occasions when he goes off-mic, with a mute, as Blackwell takes centerstage. It’s fascinating to hear how Blackwell pulls Smith into a series of staccato, insistent, minimalist phrases from time to time: he’s nothing if not a good influence. There are a couple of vocal numbers here too, the of them first building vivid, watery ambience as Smith plinks on a mbira (west African thumb piano) and Blackwell flails on the metal on his kit. The second is something of a meek-shall-inherit-the-earth theme with Rasta overtones (which are present but muted; one brief, lyrical passage here is titled Sellassie-I). Occasionally Blackwell will move out from the center, signaling a small handful of Smith excursions, but those are few and far between. More often, it’s Smith judiciously ornamenting over a trance-inducing groove or five. One cut here features Smith playing pensively expansive flute, contrasting with Blackwell’s most traditional, and most aggressive work here. They close with a number that juxtaposes balmy atmosphere with slinky funk, then the instruments switch roles; the final cut is almost a fugue, blithe trumpet glissandos alternated with those brief, percussive, staccato accents again, in a tribute to Albert Ayler. It’s a lot of fun, especially as it showcases a side that neither musician has ever been particularly known for.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LJ Murphy and Willie Davis Tear Up Banjo Jim’s

Last night was New Orleans pianist Willie Davis’ last gig with LJ Murphy for a while – at least til Murphy gets down to Louisiana for some shows there. It figures – the buzz in the audience afterward was that in the year-and-a-half or so they’ve played together, this was their best show. Murphy kicked it off with his usual thousand-yard stare, shuffling Chuck Berry style out into the audience. He didn’t do the splits, but maybe that’s the next step. The New York noir rocker was in rare form, even for someone whose stage presence is notoriously intense. It brought to mind the famous incident where Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Rex Barney, who’d just walked a bunch of guys, received a visit on the mound from Burt Shotton. When Barney didn’t even acknowledge his manager’s presence, Shotton was angry at first, but then realized that Barney was so intently focused on the game that he was essentially in a trance. So when the crowd clapped along with the stately Weimar pulse of Mad Within Reason – which Davis had kicked off with a neatly ominous, rubato blues piano intro – Murphy didn’t seem to notice.

Like the oldschool jazz and blues players Murphy so obviously admires, there’s no telling what his songs are going to sound like from one show to another. The defiant Another Lesson I Never Learned used to be a hypnotic Velvet Underground style rock song; this time out, he’d reinvented it as a snaky, slashing minor-key blues. On Skeleton Key, the surprisingly sympathetic account of a stalker who doesn’t seem to know he is one, Murphy took it down very quietly at the end where the poor guy “received a letter from the courthouse yesterday: if I even try to talk to you, they’re gonna put me straight away.” Davis’ richly wistful chords gave the bitter lost-weekend chronicle Saturday’s Down a stunningly sad soulfulness; Murphy wound up a swinging boogie version of the surreal, menacing Nowhere Now with a furious whirl of guitar chord-chopping. But the best numbers were the newest: the vividly evocative Edward Hopperesque overnight scenes of the bluesy countrypolitan ballad Waiting by the Lamppost for You (originally written for Cal Folger Day), and a fiery, indomitable version of the anti-gentrifier broadside Fearful Town, its perplexed narrator “sitting on a bonfire in a night that never ends,” where “grandmothers go dancing in high heels and castanets.” For anyone who misses the old, more dangerous and vastly more entertaining New York as much as Murphy does, it struck a nerve. The duo closed with a brisky bouncing version of Barbwire Playpen, a characteristically savage chronicle of a hedge fund type who can’t resist the allure of the dungeoness: it could have been written for Eliot Spitzer.

After a long pause, an excellent accordion/clarinet/cello trio played klezmer, Balkan and Middle Eastern-flavored material: it would have been nice to have been able to stick around for their whole set (and it would have been nice if Banjo Jims’ calendar listing for the show hadn’t disappeared so we could find out who they were). Up the block and around the corner, Spanking Charlene were kicking off frontwoman Charlene McPherson’s annual birthday show at Lakeside: the place was packed, and the band was smoking or so it seemed. All the gentrifiers haven’t driven good music of the East Village, at least not yet.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment