If you think we were idle over the weekend, guess again. It’s that time of the month: we’ve been frantically assembling a brand-new NYC live music calendar for February and March which we should have up by tomorrow. More reviews and other stuff coming in the next couple of days, too. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #729:
Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays – As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls
If you’re wondering what on earth Duke Ellington is doing at #759, with these guys thirty albums ahead, relax: all of these are in completely random order. You probably know this one even if you don’t think you do, especially if you watch nature programs on PBS. Babbling brook in early spring? Dollars to donuts that’s Pat Metheny’s cool, rippling guitar somewhere in the background. Which is the rap on him: Metheny is one of the genuinely nicest guys in jazz, and cynics are quick to dismiss him for being monochromatic. This is his most pensive album, from 1981, rather obvious from the black-and-white album cover shot of a tornado. The centerpiece is the often strikingly brooding, atmospheric, roughly twenty-minute title suite: it’s as much Mays’ triumph as it is Metheny’s. September Fifteenth is a thoughtful Bill Evans homage; the Americana jazz returns with a vengeance on It’s For You and Ozark, both of which have been used as tv mood music for decades. Estupenda Graca foreshadows the turn Metheny would take toward tropicalia and latin sounds later in the decade. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, in completely random order, all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #730:
Willie Nile – Streets of New York
Nobody writes a more potent rock anthem than Willie Nile. An iconic figure in the New York rock underground, he managed to catch the tail end of the Greenwich Village folk scene, made an early mark during the punk era, survived the the 80s and then the indie era before really taking off in the past decade – he’s huge in Europe. This one, his next-to-most recent studio album from 2006 captures a little bit of the best of all of them. We picked it over the ferocious Live From the Streets of New York album because the tracks are a wee bit stronger. It begins with the surreal Welcome to My Head, the backbeat powerpop of Asking Annie Out and then the snide shuffle Game of Fools, with the Wallflowers’ Ramee Jafee on organ. Nile’s machine-gun lyrics carry the bitter era-spanning travelogue Back Home; the understatedly snarling Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square perfectly captures “the kind of scene politicians adore,” with “”hipsters and posers galore…a million people will say they were there.” The even more savage Best Friends Money Can Buy blends Who stomp with Byrds jangle, followed by the plaintively majestic Faded Flower of Broadway, a surreal, Beatlesque Rickenbacker guitar anthem. The centerpiece is the volcanic Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead, an evocation of the Madrid train bombings, lit up by Mellencamp guitarist Andy York’s pyrotechnics. Surprisingly, some sleuthing didn’t turn up any links for torrents; it’s still available at cdbaby and Nile’s home page (click the link in the title above).
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, in completely random order, all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #731:
Aswad – Live and Direct
Along with Steel Pulse, Aswad were one of the creme de la creme of the thriving British roots reggae scene in the late 70s/early 80s. Their studio albums through the mid-80s have a similarly complex, jazzy feel along with the requisite social consciousness; this scorching live set, recorded at London’s Notting Hill Carnival in 1983, captures the original band at the absolute top of their game. With the horn section, percussion, guitars and keys going full tilt, they run through the politically-fueled anthems – Not Guilty, Not Satisfied and the wickedly catchy African Children – alongside dancefloor vamps like Roots Rocking, Drum & Bass Line and a brief excursion into latin music with Soca Rumba. Likewise, their Rockers Medley mixes lush ballads – Ease Up and Your Love’s Got a Hold on Me – with the fiery Revolution and Waterpumping. They end it on a high note with Love Fire, stopping and restarting as the crowd screams. The band’s front line has remained the same over the years although the backing unit has turned over numerous times: after a predictable deviation into a more digital, formulaic style late in the 80s, they’ve recently revived their original roots sound with impressive results. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #732:
The Church – Of Skins and Heart
Who would have known that when the Australian rockers came out with this one in 1981 that they’d still be going, absolutely undiminished, thirty years later (with New York shows at the Highline on Feb 16 and at B.B. King’s the next day). Blending the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd, David Bowie surrealism and the luscious jangle and clang of the Byrds, Steve Kilbey’s warily allusive lyricism here distantly foreshadows the visionary, apocalyptic turn he’d take later in the decade. The Unguarded Moment (a cover, actually, written by a friend of Kilbey’s at the time) is the iconic hit, sort of the Australian equivalent of Freebird. Opening with a blast of guitar fury, For a Moment We’re Strangers strips a cheap hookup to its sordid bones, while the ghostly, gorgeous Bel-Air hints at the otherworldly side they’d mine on albums like Priest=Aura. Other standout tracks include the roaring epic Is This Where You Live; the glimmering country slide guitar ballad Don’t Open the Door to Strangers; the Kinks-inflected Tear It All Away, and the hook-driven janglerock smash Too Fast for You. Even the straight-up powerpop like Fighter Pilot/Korean War, Chrome Injury (a new wave take on Iron Man), the proto-U2 Memories in Future Tense and the riff-rocking She Never Said all have their moments. Here’s a random torrent; a cd worth getting is the brand-new reissue that combines both the Australian and self-titled American release’s tracks along with extensive liner notes from twelve-string guitar genius Marty Willson-Piper.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #733:
Naughty By Nature – Poverty’s Paradise
Ever now and then we feature something on this list that was popular nationwide: this 1995 smash (it made the Billboard top ten, for what that was worth) is one of them. Best known for their comedic 1989 hit O.P.P. (i.e. Other People’s Parts – the joke is that you can change the last “P” according to gender), this tight and amusing crew put New Jersey on the map for hip-hop during the golden age. This one perfectly balances hook-driven hits with surprisingly complex, pensive narratives about ghetto solidarity and survival through hard times – the title, and the brief narrative on the album, reflect that. The big party anthem is Clap Yo Hands; the drug-slinging ghetto entrepreneurs are represented on City of Ci-Lo, Hang out and Hustle, Slang Bang and Klickow-Klickow. Feel Me Flow, a huge radio hit, is a homage to technical excellence that lives up to its boasts; Craziest is an irresistibly catchy shout-out to fans around the world. The strongest and most memorable tracks here are the conscious ones: Holdin’ Fort, the suprisingly bitter, spot-on Chain Remains and the wry World Go Round. Here’s a random torrent.
Cuban-American bassist Yorgis Goiricelaya’s new album Elegance lives up to its title. Yet it’s just as gritty in places, setting cerebral improvisations on both classic and original songs alongside joyously rustic streetcorner soul vamps, immersed in the rich history of Afro-Cuban music yet pushing the envelope at the same time. Behind him is a hall of fame lineup of latin jazz players, among them Hilario Bell on drums and percussion, Orlando Guanche on piano (and harmonica on one tune), Aldo Salvent on tenor sax, Eddie Trujillo on guitar, Carlos Puig and Omar Peralta on trumpet, William Paredes on trombone, Reinier Guerra on drums, Eduardo Rodriguez on congas, along with with cameos by rustic Afro-Cuban group Los Herederos, pianist Osmany Paredes, Cuban sax legend Paquito D’Rivera, pianist Tony Perez and singer Issac Delgado. Such a heavyweight lineup doesn’t usually come out all at once for a single project, testament to the imagination and quality of the compositions. Latin bassists tend to be an especially melodic bunch, and Goiricelaya continues that tradition: he doesn’t waste notes, his melodic hooks are consistently strong, and it’s obvious that he was able to clearly communicate his ideas to the rest of the cast here.
Los Herederos open the album with some old-time streetcorner rhumba soul, drums and vocals hypnotizing with their tricky polyrythms. Then the full band takes Aniceto Diaz’ Rompiendo la Rutina in an unexpected and richly complex direction highlighted by D’Rivera’s expansive, carefree solo. With its bossa pulse, Annalis Elisa Suarez’ Delirios is a richly melodic song without words, Salvent’s swirling tenor delivering one of several tasty solo spots. Blue, a Goiricelaya original, is a blustery cha-cha elevated by shimmering piano from Guanche, who emerges as the MVP of this session. He quotes Chopin on a lengthy, intense version of El Manicero and adds an incisiveness that’s sometimes austere, sometimes downright aggressive throughout the rest of his tracks, notably a version of Echale Salsita where he plays against some period-perfect muted trumpet from Peralta.
Bell’s Juego de Tiempo is done as vintage 70s funk, with a playfully trippy electric guitar solo by Trujillo. The band turns Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town into a gleefully purist big band bossa romp and rips through a bubbly, hypnotic version of Bell’s Se Acabo. After the last of Los Herederos’ call-and-response interludes, the album closes with a terse, genuinely beautiful piano-and-bass arrangement of Tony Perez’ ballad My Love. The cd comes with a DVD (subtitled in English) which chronicles the recording process, including an endless series of rap video-style cameos from the musicians which occasionally provide some insight into the music. The most interesting of these are when Goiricelaya explains how he came across Los Herideros – and when D’Rivera shows off a considerable sense of humor. Goiricelaya is currently based in Miami; this album should go a long way toward getting him the broader audience he deserves.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #734:
The Scofflaws – Live Vol. 1
With jazz chops and punk attitude, Long Island, New York’s Scofflaws were one of the most entertaining of the third-wave ska bands of the 90s – and fifteen years later, still are. On this 1997 live set (conceived as the first of a series of live albums) frontmen Sammy Brooks – vocals and tenor sax – and Buford O’Sullivan – vox and trombone – work the crowd into a frenzy as the rest of the eight-piece band cooks behind them, through a mix of oldschool ska classics, boisterous originals and a characteristically amusing, pretty punked-out cover of These Boots Are Made for Walking. The instrumentals here are killer: alto saxophonist Paul Gebhardt’s Skagroovie sounds like a Skatalites classic; they rip through Tommy McCook’s Ska-La Parisian, Jackie Opel’s Til the End of Time and do a neat original arrangement of Gerry Mulligan’s Bernie’s Tune. The briskly shuffling Groovin’ Up is a launching pad for blistering solos around the horn, while the baritone sax-driven reggae-rap Nude Beach echoes the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The surreal Paul Getty offers a raised middle finger to the boss – the outro singalong, “Work sucks!” is classic. There’s also the bouncy seduction anthem After the Lights, the comedic Back Door Open, the even funnier Ska-La-Carte, the horror movie sonics of Spider on My Bed and a homage to William Shatner, the “sexiest fucking skinhead in outer space.” Here’s a random torrent.
The songs on the Nathaniel Smith Quartet’s debut album are cosmopolitan and often warmly evocative – and they’re songs in the purest sense of the word. Smith’s hooks and tunes are memorable, if not always head-on – there’s plenty of implied melody, and as you would expect from a drummer, he’s got a great feel for the spaces between. In case you might be wondering, this cat plays under the name Nathaniel Smith to avoid confusion with his colleague of the same name who goes by Nate. He’s got a good band: on alto sax, Jon Irabagon hangs closer to the purist melodicism of his Concord Jazz work rather than the bebop terrorism of his more outside projects like Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Mark Anderson holds down the bass smartly and tersely, with Jostein Gulbrandsen – who also contributes two compositions – on guitar.
The opening track, Daybreak and Then Dusk, seems to allude to a day gone in a flash, briskly shuffling, Gulbrandsen feeling around uneasily for his footing, Irabagon running out of gas comedically after a scurrying excursion, Anderson playing the voice of reason and taking it halftime as Smith splashes around, obviously in his element. Tortoise Pendant, a jazz waltz in disguise, gracefully expands from a steady center – in the distance, you can hear an old soul song amid Irabagon’s expansive permutations. The first of Gulbrandsen’s songs, Return of the Bear – a stock market allusion, maybe? – shuffles edgily over a terse central hook, Irabagon bringing it up to a rapidfire swirl and then back, where they hammer it home simply and matter-of-factly. Gulbrandsen’s other one is the largo ballad Tomorrow’s Perfume, a really interesting one, the languidness of the melody making room for artful, judicious coloring from Smith, Irabagon allowing just enough of the tune to emerge that its distant blues ballad ancestry becomes clear.
The last three tunes on the album are Smith originals. Actionable Intelligence is a latin number (a Guantanamo reference?), Irabagon adding another priceless anticlimax, Anderson once again getting the chance to referee and making his call count. Travishamockery is a catchy, swaying, funk-infused number with Irabagon’s most gripping solo, after which he makes a face, saying “I’ve had enough” – it’s impossible not to laugh. Smith knocks out the beat completely deadpan on his ride cymbal toward the end, with a devious trick ending. The final track, Shadow Puppet, another jazz waltz, has Gulbrandsen’s finest moment here, biting and focused as he makes his way out of the upper registers, Smith decisively throwing a jab or two when the moment is right. Although some listeners may find some of the guitar solos on the longish side, for the great majority of the time, this group really makes their notes count for something. The album is out now on Fresh Sound New Talent.
Smith is also a particularly insightful and articulate writer: his blog offers a provocative and inspiring look at the state of jazz today from the point of view of a player who’s come up in the past decade or so.
Lately we’ve been scoping out little-known neighborhood enclaves for first-class live music. Music Mondays is not one of them. Despite temperatures in the teens last night, the church at 93rd St. and Broadway quickly filled to standing-room capacity, testament to the popularity and vitality of this ongoing monthly series. Sixteen-piece string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a.k.a. ECCO rewarded the house full of brave souls with a genuinely transcendent, unflinchingly direct, rawly emotional performance.
The conductorless group opened with a warmly nocturnal take of Janacek’s Suite for String Orchestra. Within its comfortably glimmering cantabile and cirrus-cloud atmospherics, they focused on wistfulness and wariness, notably in the song without words that comprises its first adagio movement, and the searching overture that brought it up to end on a hopeful note. They followed with a performance of Shostakovich’s Sinfonia, Op. 110, based on his String Quartet No. 8, which literally stunned the crowd. Composed three years after his elegaic Eleventh Symphony, like so much of Shostakovich’s post-Stalin era work, it’s a requiem. From the quietly stumbling anguish of the opening solo violin figure, the ensemble left no doubt as to how harrowing this would get, as much a homage to those who managed to survive Stalin’s years of terror as to those who didn’t. Like the Eleventh Symphony, its opening funeral scene is interrupted by a series of salvos and a crushing stampede, contrasting mightily with the suspensefully macabre, carnivalesque dance that follows. This interpretation let the composer’s depiction of complete emotional depletion speak for itself, through the whispery, exhausted anguish of the concluding atmospherics, solo violin or cello rising just to the point of serving as witness to unspeakable evil. The audience – an impressively knowledgeable bunch, from all appearances – didn’t know what hit them.
The rest of the program was anticlimactic, but not by much. Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia No. 10 in B Minor essentially pairs off two themes, a mostly breezy waltz versus darker martial shades, the group emphasizing the latter. They closed with another real stunner, Ginastera’s Concerto Por Corde, Op. 33. Like the Shostakovich that preceded it, this has long, stampeding passages, except that these don’t let up – and like Shostakovich, there’s considerable angst, here finally rising to a scream as the piece wound up after several false endings. To say that this was a workout for the musicians is quite an understatement: they played as if it was the triumphant marathon (albeit a bitter one) for which they’d been feverishly training. For a group that typically limits itself to a few performances per year since all the members have busy careers as soloists and with other ensembles, they displayed a remarkable singlemindedness.
The next concert in the Music Mondays series is February 21 at 7:30 PM featuring the Enso Quartet at the multipurpose, multicommunity church at 93rd and Broadway: early arrival is very strongly advised.