Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/26/11

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.

Advertisements

January 25, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nathaniel Smith Quartet Puts Out a Memorable Debut

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.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ECCO Resounds Intensely on the Upper West Side

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.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/25/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #735:

PJ Harvey – Dry

She came out roaring with this one in 1992 and never looked back. PJ Harvey has had an impressively eclectic career as a goth, art-rocker and torch singer, but this is arguably her loudest, most aggressive and most memorable effort. The iconic classic is Dress, her scorching first single. The bluespunk stuff shows what great things can happen if you let your daughter grow up listening to Howlin Wolf: O Stella, Victory, and the hypnotic, R.L. Burnside stomp of Joe. Oh My Lover is goth blues through the prism of Patti Smith; Happy and Bleeding echoes Siouxsie Sioux; Sheela-Na-Gig foreshadows Randi Russo. On Plants and Rags, you can hear why Kurt Cobain liked her so much. She also gets tricky with the time signature on the artful, Siouxsie-esque Hair, Fountain and the ominously allusive Water. Pretty much everything she’s ever done other than her brief flirtation with trip-hop is worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nordic Connect Choose Their Spots Memorably

Although all the members of jazz group Nordic Connect claim Viking ancestry, there are no galloping rhythms, twin guitar solos or for that matter much of anything on their new album Spirals that’s ordinarily associated with a raised forefinger and pinky. If they’ve come to conquer, this is a stealth attack. Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, her sister Christine on saxophones, Maggi Olin on acoustic and electric piano, Mattias Welin on bass and Jon Wikan on drums combine for a thoughtful, tuneful, counterintuitive collection of songs without words. Instead of going for an easy crescendo, they tend to pull back, let the mood build and then gracefully expand on it. This one makes a good segue with Noah Preminger’s  new After the Rain, recently reviewed here, although its ancestors are twenty years younger. Most of the tracks here are by Olin, although each of her bandmates also contributes.

66 Mike, by Wikan follows in the melodic vein of the other tracks, but more brightly, serving as the launching pad for the high point of the album, Ingrid’s grittily joyous solo, the most uninhibitedly intense moment here. Castle Mountain, by Christine, pairs warmly sostenuto horns against an understatedly funky rhythm section; she contributes an airily evocative soprano sax solo followed shortly by a wryly shapeshifting one by Wikan. Another Christine composition, Yew, works an allusive beauty: it’s a love song without cliches, her sister thoughtfully expansive against an equally allusive rhythm section, in sync as much with regard to the silences between their accents as the beats themselves. Ingrid’s composition Earth Sighs is a tectonically shifting tone poem with the freest feel of any of the songs here, building with a casual, tersely conversational ambience (Nordic people are not given to exaggerated displays of emotion) to the point where all of a sudden a gently resolute ballad emerges out of the discussion. It’s as if they were raising a barn: lots of seemingly unrelated activity, then the corners come up and the architecture is in place.

Olin’s songs are a clinic in implied melody and understatement and that carries over to how she plays: she lets the melodies in rather than hammering them out. On the opening track, Travel Fever, she develops a spacious contrast with her ringing, terse Rhodes accents against Wikan’s neat sidestep shuffle, Ingrid soaring in the distance, Christine in buoyantly and then handing off the melody as happens so frequently on this album. Song for Inga begins moody and brightens quickly with a deft series of spirals from Ingrid. M-Oving, the first of Olin’s two ballads here, pairs warmly spare piano with soulful muted trumpet, and a tersely rippling piano solo from which Ingrid emerges with some amusingly oscillating electronic effects. Ballad North works a somewhat majestic, emphatic hook methodically to the point where a swaying 6/8 blues underpinning slowly emerges while Christine swirls triumphantly and Ingrid buttresses her. The album closes with the high-spirited, tongue-in-cheek shuffle Brejk a Leg, whose most amusing moment out of several is a laugh-out-loud surfy drum solo (hmmm…is anybody in this band a Misha Mengelberg fan?). There’s a lot going on here: as much as the album makes for great atmosphere, it’s considerably more rewarding on headphones.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment