Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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

Plunge Gets Lowdown and Fun

File this under “fun jazz.” A band whose main instruments include trombone, bass and sousaphone leaves a lot of room for comedy, and that’s exactly what New Orleans trio Plunge offer on their psychedelic, entertaining new album Tin Fish Tango. The album title evokes a submarine: the songs manuever deviously more than engaging in any kind of combat. Despite having no drums, the trio of trombonist Mark McGrain, bassist James Singleton and saxophonist Tim Green along with Tom Fitzpatrick on tenor sax and Kirk Joseph on sousaphone maintain a tight groove, and a sensibility that’s often strikingly minimalist. There are a lot of passages here featuring just one instrument, and they’re sort of the opposite of hard bop: each player seems to want to do the most with the least. Since they’re a New Orleans band, the compositions here frequently, but not always, evoke Crescent City style themes. There’s a lot of conversing, some lead-and-pitch, and frequent quotes, from the Skatalites to the Beatles, to raise the amusement factor.

The opening track, a minimalist reggae tune, is a study in divergence and convergence while the bass holds the beat steady, a device that will recur here frequently. The most traditional, and arguably best track here, is Big Bang Theory, which rather than being explosive is a jauntily catchy late 50s Miles Davis style tune: to call this the best song on the album is not to be disrespectful to the cleverness or originality of the other material here, it’s just the most cohesive and memorable cut. The aptly titled Huff-A-Round is a clinic in three-part harmony writing; Pelican Jam, one of several free improvisations here, is done as a sort of suite of miniatures, the band members taking turns introducing themes that sometimes grab hold but just as often disappear from view.

The blithe shuffle Life Lite starts out upbeat and hangs onto the groove even as it drifts off into mellowness after a tastily bright soprano sax solo from Green. He goes off on a Middle Eastern tangent on another reggae-tinged tune, Bright Side and then goes soaring and expansive on The Kroop, over Singleton’s hard-hitting bass chords. There’s also the methodically shifting segments of Love’s Wildest Talent (?!?), the artfully syncopated funk of Jougs and a blues that starts out tense and warms up fast to wind up the album. Their previous album, reviewed last year here, was good: this is even better.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/24/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Before we started that countdown, we had another one, the Best 666 Songs of All Time. You may think that we took yesterday off to watch the football game, but one of us was feverishly at work updating the links in that list (compiled over the span of a couple of years, many of them had gone dead: we’ll have the whole thing completely overhauled in the next day or so). In the meantime, Monday’s album is #736:

Lucky Peterson – Beyond Cool

The rare child prodigy who lived up to early expectations, Lucky Peterson made his debut on album at age six. By sixteen, he’d become Otis Rush’s favorite pianist. He’s also a fiery, virtuosic presence as a lead guitarist, and most recently, as a church organist. In concert, he’ll play all three instruments, often in the same song. His early albums on Rounder are perfectly decent, but his stuff from the 90s onward is absolutely brilliant (with one exception, the Lifetime album, a one-off plunge into contemporary “R&B”). This one from 1993 is characteristic: if he’s new to you, a lot of his stuff is streaming at deezer. This one’s got incisive stuff like I’m Talking To You and You Haven’t Done Nothin, more pensive but equally intense material such as Count on Me, an organ cover of Hendrix’ Up from the Skies, vintage soul-funk like Compared to What, snarling ballads like Pouring Money on a Drowning Love Affair, and the smoldering, seven-minute title track. By they time they reach a cover of Drivin’ Wheel, it’s pretty anticlimactic. The production is purist and pristine – no big-room drum sound, no slick wash of guitar effects, no cheesy synthesizers. Maybe because of all the early attention, we take this guy for granted: he’s truly one of the titans of blues. Here’s a random torrent via barin99.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Peña Album Explores Afro-Peruvian Flavors

Guitarist Cory J. Wong and producer Eric Foss wanted to capture the spirit of Afro-Peruvian music at the source, so they caught a flight to Lima and made the Peña Album. Wong has a bright, thoughtfully spare acoustic style, accompanied occasionally by bassist Jorge Roeder and singer Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and a rotating cast of percussionists including Chico Chavez, Hugo Alcazar and one simply credited as “Larry.” Recorded on the fly in various locations around the city, often with local musicians, it has the spontaneous feel of a field recording. Peruvians, along with the African slaves imported by the conquistadors, suffered as badly under imperialism as the rest of the world’s indigenous peoples: musical instruments were banned, the result being the invention of all sorts of clever instruments, the most famous being the cajon (which in its first incarnation was simply an inverted wooden crate). This album has a remarkable similarity to Jordi Savall’s recent excavation of baroque-era latin music, El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, in that it reminds what a melting pot the “new world” was for everyone involved. The African blues progression is everywhere, but so is the flamenco guitar, and the huaynos and criollo songs that predated both of them here.

The album alternates instrumentals with vocal numbers: Wong’s carefree picking lights up several flamencoish numbers along with the acerbic, plaintive Mi Corazon Roto and a surprisingly big crescendo on the stately yet slinky San Miguel de Piura. Others follow tricky, intricate dance themes. A couple of songs here foreshadow what would happen when this music came in contact with rock and the amazing, surfy sound of chicha was born. Roeder makes the most of his presence here, including a couple of somewhat devious, percussive solos. Koutsovitis adds jazz nuance; Paloma Godoy offers a more traditional, stately lead vocal on a waltz tune. The best song here is the somewhat wry, stop-and-start Huaqueno Viejo, Alberto Gil’s guitar and vocals reminding that essentially, almost all of this was meant to be played as party music. Because of the nature of the recording, the sound is a little boomy, although listeners who prefer mp3 sound won’t notice. The album comes with an accompanying DVD (not viewed here) in a delightful wood gatefold case on the aptly named Secret Stash Records.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/22/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #738:

Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx

A prime example of how good East Coast hardcore hip-hop got in the mid-90s, the first of the “solo” Wu-Tang albums, Raekwon’s 1995 release is really just a Wu album in disguise. Like George Clinton, the Wu-Tang Clan aren’t just great lyricists, they’re great businessmen, always finding a way to have something new out there that everybody wants. Along with The Chef, this featured Ghostface, U-God, GZA, Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa plus cameos from Nas and Method Man. Raekwon seldom gets a track to himself, but that’s ok: the energy is high and gets everybody to take their game up a notch. Together they sprint through just about every style that was popular in hip-hop at the time. The big hit with the girls was Ice Cream; the big gangsta hit was Incarcerated Scarfaces. Spot Rushers (which samples a malt liquor commercial), Wu-Gambinos and Criminology also work the gangsta tip. Nas duels it out on Verbal Intercourse; the machine-gun rhymes sputter fast and furious on Knowledge God, Guillotine (Swords) and Glaciers of Ice, with an aptly psychedelic Electric Prunes sample. RZA’s horror-movie production is at the peak of its power here: if the lyrics hit a bump, there’s always an eerie electric piano riff or sweeping wash of strings to maintain the brooding ambience. Here’s a random torrent.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine Find the Groove

Potently intelligent, pensively psychedelic, soul/funk band Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine’s new album The Only Way Out Is In sneaks up on you. Taken as a whole, it’s a mood piece, but it’s also a slinky dance album. What’s most impressive is how aware Rooker is. With her brooding, sometimes sultry, sometimes wounded contralto voice, her lyrics draw just as deeply from conscious hip-hop as from classic soul and funk. The band behind her plays with jazz chops, but with restraint: her collaborator Ben Tyree on guitar, Mamiko Watanabe on electric piano, Lawrence Qualls on drums, Jahmal Nichols handling most of the bass work, V. Jeffrey Smith on tenor and soprano saxes plus a number of guests including John Medeski on organ on several tracks along with Will Martina (of Burnt Sugar) on cello. The album kicks off auspiciously with What If, an existentialist’s dilemma:

What if there’s no rules
What if there’s no truth
What if all we’re believing is a story that we choose
What if what they told you
Don’t ever come true
Better come up with your own script
To live your life through

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, guitar and organ shifting over a slow, fluid, hip-tugging organic groove, with an aptly apprehensive trombone solo from Roland Barber.

The bouncy third-wave soul of Sellin Ya Soul brings back memories of acts like Sandra St. Victor back in the 90s. “I could be a pretty good plenty o’thangs but none of which could touch just being me and I’m good with that, thank you very much,” Rooker asserts. They follow that with the hypnotic I Feel Like and its dark, goth-tinged bassline: “Lord help me remember what I’m fighting for.” The next track, Play is wickedly catchy indie funk – did these guys used to go see Noxes Pond play shows around town about ten years ago? Weather offers blippy, rainy-day ambience; the big ballad Thank You is a trip back in time to Memphis, contrasting with the minimalist bass pulse of Rise and the lush balminess of the title track.

Rooker goes ballistic and straight to the target with the cinematic cautionary tale When We Gon Care, a furiously potent rant against a laundry list of evils: disinformation by the corporate media, the destruction of the environment by multinational corporations, drug companies inventing phony diseases to sell worthless “cures,” and most of all, apathy. It’s Jello Biafra updated for the teens, with better vocals. They wrap up the album with an instrumental, a James Brown-inspired number and the gospel-infused Wait in Line. Count this as one of the most kick-ass albums to come over the transom here recently. Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine play the big room at the Rockwood on Jan 23 at 8.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

J. Henry Fair’s Environmentalist Photography: A Pre-Apocalyptic Exhibit?

Photographer J. Henry Fair’s new exhibit, Landscapes of Extraction: The Collateral Damage of the Fossil Fuels Industries at the second floor gallery at Cooper Union is as important as it is surreal. And is it ever surreal. Esthetically, Fair goes for vividly colorful landscape shots of future Superfund sites: that is, if there is any Superfund left to clean up the decapitated mountaintops, lakesize cesspools of lethal sludge, and seemingly innocuous construction sites he shoots from a distance. Fair’s photos are accompanied by a series of multimedia stations and a grimly informative running text detailing the processes he documents: deep sea drilling, mountaintop clearcutting, messy metal refining and chemical manufacturing. And those matter-of-factly calm if predictably messy construction sites are actually hydrofracked natural gas wells.

“Fracking,” in the gas business is slang for “fracture,” a necessity when drilling through shale deposits to unleash the lucrative gas beneath. Hydrofracking began in the 70s, originally a process where high-pressure water was used to break up the rock. These days, courtesy of what’s commonly known as the “Halliburton loophole,” pushed through by the Bush regime in 2005, natural gas companies are allowed to use whatever liquid they want, no matter how caustic or lethal it might be. Furthermore, the law exempts the drilling companies from having to reveal the contents of their lethal concoctions on the grounds that they’re “trade secrets.” As Fair documents, what’s no secret is that highly toxic amounts of radium have turned up in groundwater running into the water table from these sites recently (ostensibly, there’s supposed to be a buffer zone around each well, although a particularly eerie aerial photo shows a portion of Garfield County, Colorado with wells side by side – from above, the effect is that of a graveyard). And while radium is silently lethal, there’s no ignoring the water in your kitchen sink catching fire, vividly described in Josh Fox’s documentary film Gasland. Gas leases are lucrative: it’s not hard to imagine the residents of a neighborhood or town hit hard by the depression signing up for them en masse, only to discover their property polluted to the point of being unhabitable, never mind unsaleable. Is the current process of hydrofracking the teens equivalent of what munitions manufacturing became in the 90s, a convenient way to dispose of nuclear waste? Fair’s investigation doesn’t carry that far.

He also takes a sobering look at mountaintop clearcutting (a cause famously taken up by activist/gospel bandleader Reverend Billy), where coal companies like Massey Energy basically blast the top off mountains in Appalachia, raining down all sorts of debris, some more toxic than others, on the community below. Ultimately, Fair emphasizes, what’s happened since the invention of the steam engine is that millions of years worth of carbon have been re-released into the environment in the last 250 years, a blink of an eye and the equivalent of an explosion in evolutionary terms. The potentially apocalyptic environmental crises we face today, from global warming, to oil spills, to the highly contested effects of hydrofracking, are the blowback from that explosion. The exhibit is a must-see; it’s up through February 26 at Cooper Union (enter through the back entrance at the main building on the triangle between Bowery and Fourth Avenue at Seventh Street). Hours are Monday-Friday, 12-7 PM, Saturday 12-5 PM.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Art, photography, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/21/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Friday’s is #739:

Alice Lee – Lovers and Losers

Her third album, from 2005, edgily blends oldschool soul vocals and vibes with hip-hop and tropical rhythms, with Lee playing guitars and keys and backed by an inspired crew including Pere Ubu’s Tony Maimone (who also engineered the album) on bass. Her contralto voice cools the burn from lyrics that range from torchy to arsonistic, although the bitterness is sometimes cushioned by her wry sense of humor. A lot of this sounds like what Fiona Apple was reaching for about five years ago but never could hit. In a perfect world, the big hits would have been the concert favorite A New Bruise, the hypnotic trip-hop Retrograde Heart and the catchy, wounded soul-pop of Perfect Girl (which Lee assures she’ll never be). Friendly Fire sets artsy janglerock over a slinky funk beat; Heroin jolts you with a big metal guitar crescendo. The swirling, trippily atmospheric Gloria and I Breathe evoke Lee’s brief flirtation with downtempo chillout music; the masterpiece here is Last Night (as in “last night on earth”), one of the most evocative nocturnes ever written. Lee ends the album with the acoustic soul of Going Home, the gorgeously funky, bass-driven No Idea and the solo acoustic tropicalia of Hard to Forget. The album doesn’t seem to have made it to the share sites yet, but it’s still available at Lee’s site and cdbaby.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment