Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Blitz the Ambassador Sells Out BAM Cafe

Friday night at BAM Cafe the line at the base of the stairs snaked all the way around to the front doors: those who didn’t have the presence of mind, or simply the good fortune to get to the venue by half past eight, didn’t get in to see Blitz the Ambassador and his soaring Afrobeat band. As the bartender/emcee emphasized before the show began, concerts here on the weekend tend to fill up quickly these days. Yet there seemed to be considerable extra space in the room – there was a good crowd, but by no means a packed house. Take that into consideration the next time you see something on the calendar here that looks enticing.

About the show: Blitz the Ambassador’s band soundchecked at about quarter past eight, and sounded great. As it turned out, they hit the stage a half hour late, at 9:30, undoubtedly cutting into their time onstage. The Ghanian-born hip-hop artist switched between English, French and his native patois, delivering rapidfire, smartly conscious lyrical passages with long breaks for jamming. This band is about the music just as much as the lyrics: it makes sense that he would quote at length from the Public Enemy classic Welcome to the Terrordome at one point. A little later, he asked the crowd if they’d let him play dj, then led the band – a blistering horn section plus tasty guitar, melodic bass and drums – through a series of intros and hooks to famous African songs from over the decades, winding up with a Miriam Makeba theme which resonated potently with the older segment of the audience.

He’d opened his set with a catchy, hook-driven number in his native tongue that translated as “welcome.” The most classic, Fela-style song of the night was a fervent anticorruption anthem: Blitz made no secret of having zero tolerance for that stuff. But the most vivid moment of the night was when he went off on corporate radio. “If you wanna kill the radio, we gotta take it back to the drum, back to Africa,” he insisted, throwing his djembe over his shoulder and joining the band in an insistent, hypnotic, circular groove. The audience – an impressively diverse mix of ages and nationalities – followed his words closely and approvingly.

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January 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brilliant Mistakes Rock the Rockwood

Friday night at the Rockwood the Brilliant Mistakes were a blast from the past in more ways than one. New York’s best oldschool R&B revivalists at the turn of the century, they were ten years ahead of their time in looking back to the 60s for soul and groove. Yet this was more of a rock show: the songs, a mix of older and more recent material, were like something you’d hear about at powerpopcriminals. Or, one suspects, if somebody like Bob Lefsetz mentioned them, he’d bring a surprisingly enthusiastic horde out of the woodwork: songs as catchy as theirs, even in this ever-more-balkanized era, are what build a fan base.

Bassist Erik Philbrook – whose nimble, incisively melodic lines amounted to having an extra lead player in the band along with the acoustic and electric guitar – traded off on vocals with keyboardist Alan Walker, who shifted from soulful organ to reverberating Rhodes piano, as well as the house grand piano on a couple of numbers. They opened on a high note with the catchy, distantly Byrds-flavored The Day I Found My Hands, from their most recent album Distant Drumming, following with that cd’s second track, the biting minor-key powerpop gem Monday Morning. A more recent track, possibly titled Carry the Weight of the World motored along on a catchy ascending melody, followed by a fiery version of The Girl You Left Behind and the Elvis Costello-inflected electric piano anthem Feed the Elephant (as in, feed the elephant in the room), both tracks from their 2003 album Dumb Luck.

The energy picked up with the vintage Stax/Volt groove of She’s No Angel, echoed on an even more boisterous oldschool soul stomp (Seaside Moments, maybe? This band’s song titles aren’t always obvious from the lyrics). After a gorgeously country-tinged number sung by Walker, they went back in time for an unselfconsciously joyous romp through the new wave eighth notes of Split Enz’ Six Months in a Leaky Boat. At the end, Walker hinted that he might do Tim Finn’s meandering, plaintive piano outro, but he shut it down after a couple of bars. The era when big record labels signed bands this intelligent was over decades ago; still, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t a cool indie film set in the 80s, in some stage of production right now, that would be a perfect fit for a soundtrack from these guys. The Brilliant Mistakes’ next gig is at Rodeo Bar on Feb 8 at around 10 PM.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Starkland Reissues Ellen Burmeister’s Long Out-of-Print Persichetti Collection

This one’s been out of print for a long time, so it’s nice to finally see a digital release for this collection – the only one composer Vincent Persichetti ever approved for his Tenth and Eleventh Piano Sonatas. Originally released on vinyl in 1985, Starkland has brought it back with impressive attention to dynamics, because that’s how Ellen Burmeister – now Professor Emerita of Music at the University of Wisconsin/Madison – played these pieces. Persichetti, longtime Chairman of the Composition Department at Juilliard, was an American original, staking out a defiantly shapeshifting terrain that embodied elements of serialism, the twelve-tone system and the Romantic era yet belonged to none of them – or all of them, at various points throughout his repertoire. That he would give Burmeister his imprimatur, when his longstanding favorite interpreter was his own wife, speaks volumes.

The best-known piece here is the Tenth Piano Sonata, from 1958, Rachmaninovian glory through a glass jaggedly. It’s essentially variations on a theme, navigating the tricky grey area between atonality and the high Romantic, sometimes gingerly, sometimes assaultively. Burmeister varies her attack deftly, through its serpentine dynamic shifts: nimble cadenzas, graceful legato lines, percussive clusters and the occasional rapidfire cascade. As an approximation of a majestic conclusion looms, Burmeister holds the tempo steady and lets the leaps and bound speaks for themselves.

Persichetti’s Serenade No. 7 has the feel of a series of etudes: the sprightly Walk, the gentle Waltz, a trio of lively scherzos and a masterfully hushed, pianissimo take of the concluding miniature nocturne. Burmeister calls the Eleventh Piano Sonata “bristly… severe intensity balanced by timid questioning,” which is spot-on. It opens with a jarring, seemingly abstract hopscotch of forte chords and then dwindles to the first of several contrastingly spacious, low-register mimimalist interludes. Here Burmeister pulls out the heavy artillery for the harsh pseudo-prelude of the third movement, and when this recurs out of the preceding, playful bustle in the fourth. And again on the surprise ending that leaps with a staccato flourish out of more low bass ambience. It’s not easy imbuing music this rigorous and acidic with genuine warmth, yet that’s what Burmeister achieved here, no small accomplishment.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noah Preminger’s Before the Rain Is a Quiet Knockout

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger’s 2008 cd Dry Bridge Road made a lot of waves, to the point where he’s becoming a perennial nominee for “best up-and-coming jazz artist.” Believe the hype: he is the real deal. This quartet album brings back bassist John Hebert – whose performance backing Jen Shyu at Winter Jazzfest was stunningly purposeful – and pianist Frank Kimbrough along with Matt Wilson, whose drums have anchored so many good jazz albums lately it’s absurd. This is basically a suite that alternates light and dark, emphasis on the dark. There are no gratuitous displays of chops here: the entire band’s understatement is such that they leave plenty on the table. In its own deliberate way, as a statement, an expression of emotion, it is a knockout.

It opens deceptively with a brief, comfortably balmy, drum-less preamble through a couple of minutes of Rodgers and Hart’s Where or When. Then they take the lightheartedness up a notch with Kimbrough’s catchy, jovial Quickening. Methodically prowling beneath the buoyancy, Wilson absolutely owns this track, Hebert taking it to an unselfconsciously joyous, playful crescendo on his solo. Then they bring the lights down for some indoor fireworks, which is where it gets really interesting. The title track, a Preminger original, takes awhile to emerge, Hebert’s lento pulse against the piano: it’s a clinic in effective minimalism, Preminger’s wary lines slowly rising and falling,Wilson finally establishing a gingerly funky bounce before they take it back into the depths again. For lack of a better word, this is a deep song on a deep album.

They maintain the hushed suspense on the next track, Abreaction, even as Hebert and Wilson sync up for a bustling shuffle beneath Preminger’s austere, judicious intensity, Kimbrough finally tackling the darkness head-on with a masterfully developed, slowly expanding series of variations on a simple chromatic riff. Sammy Cahn’s Until the Real Thing Comes Along reverts to the casual optimism of the opening track, with lyrical solos from Kimbrough and Preminger.

They follow with a brief, rubato fragment into a lively version of Ornette Coleman’s Toy Dance, done here with a striking similarity to the earlier Kimbrough tune. November, also by Kimbrough, is where the band glimmers most intensely: following a perfectly stately, gradually unwinding piano solo, Wilson’s slow crescendo that finally caps off with a series of calmly majestic cymbal splashes is the most exquisite moment in an album filled with many. They close with an apprehensively optimistic Preminger ballad, Jamie, an apt way to end this strikingly well thought-out and emotionally resonant album. Look for it on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year. It’s out today on the Palmetto label.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment