Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Thomas Simon Brings His Kaleidoscopic, Psychedelic Sounds to the Gershwin Hotel

 Thursday night Thomas Simon brought his swirling, psychedelic, cinematic sounds to the lowlit stage at the Gershwin Hotel. What he really needs for his live show is a big stadium and a bank of smoke machines. Although most of his compositions segued from one into the other, this was as close to a set of separate, clearly defined songs as Simon has done lately. Typically, he’ll lay down a series of simple, catchy guitar loops, or a hypnotic drone and then add layers on top of it, sometimes going on for half an hour or more. It’s virtually impossible to tell how much of this is actually composed, and how much he’s making up on the spot, but either way, it’s hypnotic and often mesmerizing. Backed only by a terrific percussionist who ran his djembe through a series of trance-inducing echo effects, Simon opened with Up Against the Wall, the centerpiece from most recent album Moncao (ranked in the top twenty on our Best Albums of 2010 list). Building with stately, ominous guitar fragments that evoked peak-era Syd Barrett, it grew to a percussive gallop. “Stop this bloody war,” Simon whispered at one point: his lyrics have an improvisatory feel that seems to follow the mood of the music, or vice versa. Toward the end, they took the song down to an echoey thicket of fingertapping on the djembe before picking it up again: “There’s no more time,” Simon intoned against the distant, desolate grandeur of the atmospherics behind him. Although there were only two musicians onstage, they sounded like an entire guitar orchestra.

Much of the rest of the set evoked Bauhaus at their peak in the mid-80s, simple ascending progressions on the guitar, or brief series of chords that finally took on the shape of a distinct verse/chorus pattern on the evening’s last song. At one point, the djembe player – who was using a wireless mic – took an extended walk through the audience, one of the concertgoers responding with some wildly ecstatic dance moves, adding some unexpected but welcome drama. Occasionally, Thomas would augment the ringing, reverb-drenched overtones with some rapidfire lead guitar flourishes that moved rapidly through the mix. A trip-hop beat slowly made its way into a couple of later songs before oscillating out with a rapidfire “whoosh;” on one occasion, the djembe was processed to the point of sounding almost like a wood flute. Ringing tritones dominated torward the end. “It’s dark down here,” Thomas announced at one point with a half-snarled, half-spoken murmur, which pretty much summed up the night.

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January 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vanessa Fadial, Aron Zelkowicz and Salley Koo Make an Auspicious Trio

Thursday at Trinity Church was the first time that pianist Vanessa Fadial, cellist Aron Zelkowicz and violinist Salley Koo had performed together. They should do this more often: they complement each other well. Their one piece together as a trio was Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor, a four-part suite. Fadial’s affectingly shimmery cantabile gave Koo the perfect launching pad for her vividly searching, soaring lines while Zelkowicz mined its myriad dynamic shifts for all they were worth. Throughout the brightness of the first movement, the brisk counterpoint of the second, the serioso intensity of the third and whirling bustle of the conclusion, they played with a singleminded seamlessness that spanned from brooding to downright joyous.

Fadial and Zelkowicz had opened the program with a lively, inspired version of another suite, De Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole, a series of frequently intense flamenco-tinged themes, including a couple of stately waltzes (one with a macabre marionette feel) and a plaintive lullaby. Zelkowicz followed that, playing from memory, with a solo arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 (BWV 1004). The piece is almost three hundred years old, yet was as transcendent to listen to as it must have been when it was written. Zelkowicz dug in and gave it a mighty gravitas: in his hands, it was more of a requiem than a courtly dance. When it came to the long, absolutely riveting series of eight-note broken chords about two-thirds of the way through, he pulled back just a little and let the seemingly endlessly shapeshifting series of rivulets go on their own to paint a picture that lit up the bleakness with incredible poignancy. Tony Tommasini’s consideration of Bach this past Sunday for his ongoing “top 10 classical composers of all time” pantheon in the Times couldn’t have made more sense than it did at that moment.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Steve Wynn Ever Stop Making Good Albums? Not This Year.

In case you were wondering, Steve Wynn has a new album out, Northern Aggression, his first studio album with his regular American touring band the Miracle 3 since 2006’s brilliantly multistylistic tick…tick….tick. It’s everything you would expect from the Carl Yastrzemski of rock. That baseball reference is deliberate: what’s most ironic about Wynn’s career is that despite a seemingly endless series of first-rate albums, not to mention his early years leading iconic, influential indie band the Dream Syndicate, millions know Wynn best as the main songwriter in the Baseball Project, whose songs are featured on broadcasts across the country during the long season. And as fun as that band is, this is better. As with pretty much everything he’s done, many of the songs here are constructed so that there’s plenty of room for a maelstrom of guitar dueling, although there’s understandably less here than there is at live shows where Wynn and his sparring partner Jason Victor go head to head and see how many dangerous new elements they can pull out of the air. One recent review called this Wynn’s most modern-sounding album, and that’s not true. The sound here is vintage, a straight line back to the Stooges, Neil Young, old R&B and soul music, filtered through the eerie fractals of Yo La Tengo and peak-era Sonic Youth (both bands that were influenced by Wynn, by the way, not the other way around).

The opening cut, Resolution, is the closest thing to dreampop he’s ever done, a slow crescendo of suspenseful, murkily cloudy guitar swirl that finds sudden focus in the chorus. The snidely triumpant No One Ever Drowns, an early pre-Dream Syndicate song, is done is pensive, distant new wave that hits another hypnotic peak that just keeps going and going. Consider the Source is a classic, menacing, midtempo, backbeat minor-key gem, all the more impressive that Wynn’s playing piano, Victor is on organ, and that virtually the whole track is an improvisation that came together magically in a single take. The best tracks here might be the allusively menacing, vintage funk-tinged We Don’t Talk About It, the deceptively blithe, equally allusive Cloud Splitter, and the unselfconsciously mournful, pedal steel-driven Americana dirge St. Millwood, which Wynn aptly considered calling Emotional Ambulance Chasers.

Wynn goes back in a dreampop direction with Colored Lights, a sureshot to be a live smash with its big crescendo out. The Death of Donny B is a cover of the theme from the 1969 Carl Fick short film (whose composer remains unknown), done much like the original as a brooding Bill Withers-style funk vamp. The remaining tracks include The Other Side, which wouldn’t have been out of place on Television’s Marquee Moon; On the Mend, another of Wynn’s recent two-part masterpieces, this one shifting from Layla-esque, anthemic pyrotechnics to straight-up riff-rock snarl; and the ridiculously catchy, warmly shufling Ribbons and Chains, which drummer Linda Pitmon – the most consistently interesting drummer in all of rock – absolutely owns. A shout-out to Yep Roc for having the good sense to get behind this. Put this in the Wynn pantheon somewhere between 1997’s Sweetness and Light and the landmark 2000 double album Here Come the Miracles (which was our pick for best album of the past decade).

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Femme Reaches the Beach, Sans Culottes

The more you find out about French rockers La Femme, the more you like them. Their bandcamp page – where their strangely stylish, noir surf/garage rock ep Podium #1 is selling for four bucks – is tagged “80 french lo-fi surf tropical wave Paris.” The cd cover – a nude woman on her back, flashing the camera – is blacked out “because it got censured.” And they sound like an updated teens edition of Plastic Bertrand through a pitchblende prism. In places, it’s hard to tell whether one particular twangy riff or reverberating chord is a guitar running through a reverb tank, or some impossibly weird patch on some long out-of-production analog synthesizer from the 70s. And everything here is ridiculously psychedelic: although the band has been described as lo-fi, the opposite is true: they make a good segue with similarly swirling, trippily cinematic projects like Thunderball or Comic Wow.

The first song motors along with an eerie minor key blues progression done garage rock style: a woman sings. The second cut is basically a hypnotic, ominous two-chord vamp titled Telegraphe, kicking off with just synth and drum machine and turning creepy real fast, all the way to a suspenseful snakecharmer flute interlude. La Femme Ressort plays minimal noir bass against a darkly repeating guitar figure and builds sarcastically to a tradeoff between swoopy upper-register synth and what sounds like an electric harpsichord. If this reminds you of Manfred Hubler’s immortal Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, you’re on the right track. The ep winds up with Francoise, somewhat evocative of the more menacing, goth-tinged stuff that Blonde Redhead did back in the 90s: off-center, wobbly pitch-bending intro, muffled bass carrying the melody, a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds-ish bridge that turns cruelly silly and sarcastic. Lyrics mostly in French: a deliciously ominous way to get the new year started.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/15/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #745:

Earth Wind & Fire – I Am

This is as pop as we ever get here, although at the time this came out it wasn’t impossible for a good band to hit the top ten like this one did. The black ELO’s 1979 release captures them at their lushest and most ornate. Ironically (or, sadly, maybe not so ironically), neither of the big hits here were written by the band. Boogie Wonderland (brilliantly punked out a few years later by the Lemonheads) is a cover, and El Lay schlockmeister David Foster provided at least the groundwork for the woozy electric piano-and-synthesizer ballad After the Love Is Gone. The rest is what the band is best known for, catchy, tuneful funk with fearlessly gargantuan string and vocal arrangements. In the Stone is the one everybody knows; Can’t Let Go, You and I and Let Your Feelings Show have the same buoyant slink. With its off-center portamento synth, Star actually evokes what ELO was doing at the time; there’s also the harder-hitting vamp Rock That, a live concert standard. For those who question this album’s presence here instead of the band’s far more raw, psychedelic, Parliament-style funk from the early 70s, this may be slick, but it’s hardly stupid – and everything the band ever did prior to this point is also worth a listen. A Vegas-style version of the band, which might but probably doesn’t include any original members, continues to tour. Here’s a random torrent (when you see the album cover, click for the link).

January 15, 2011 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment