Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Wild Balkan Intensity from A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Neutral Milk Hotel made some good music but nothing this amazing. A Hawk and a Hacksaw were originally a solo project of that band’s drummer Jeremy Barnes, which grew both in members and diversity as he immersed himself in Eastern European music, including a noteworthy collaboration with Hungarian group Hun Hangar Ensemble. Their new album Cervantine is characteristically intense and eclectic, something of a cross between the “new Balkan uproar” of Ansambl Mastika and the hypnotic dancefloor string-band grooves of Copal.

The epic masterpiece here is No Rest for the Wicked, a blistering suite of what are essentially variations on a fiery Balkan brass piece: accordion and strings picking it up, a long, suspense-building crescendo, a couple of wildly adrenalizing accordion solos and a graceful march out. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. They don’t try to outdo themselves after that, instead following with a lushly clanging, hypnotic bouzouki vamp. Espanola Kolo is a deliciously ominous gypsy tune, morphing from a somber march to wild ensemble passages with a particularly artful section with the brass and accordion going doublespeed against the stately grandeur of the strings. The title track follows, quieter and more brooding but similarly tuneful, featuring a raw, intense, tremolo-picked saz lute solo.

They take the popular gypsy standard Uskudar and give it a lush, understated majesty and a bracing violin solo that throws off all sorts of otherworldly overtones. Laszlo Lassu is a tone poems of sorts with an unexpectedly effective gospel flavor; after that, they pick up the pace with another crazed Balkan dance, shifting from the delirium of a hook that they run again and again that builds to one of the most darkly memorable choruses here. The album winds up with a gorgeously plaintive bouzouki song playfully titled The Loser. The band will be on West Coast tour starting in March (check their site for tour dates).You’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2011 list at year’s end.

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February 15, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bud Shank Bows Out In Good Company

This is an entertaining and frequently joyous album with a sad ending, which you’d never know from the music. A day after recording the new album In Good Company with British alto saxophonist Jake Fryer, renowned alto player Bud Shank died. He literally went out on a high note. Lest anybody get the idea that this might be exploitative – think of the Yardbirds with Sonny Boy Williamson, for example – Fryer set up this session with Shank and his West Coast band in order to get the chance to collaborate with a player he greatly admires, and although not in the best of health, Shank rose to the occasion. Here, the two saxophonists are joined by Mike Wofford on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums on what Fryer describes as an “album of first takes.” Full of spontaneity and high spirits, it foreshadows nothing but good times. Shank cut his teeth during the era where jazz was the western world’s default pop and dance music, and here Fryer provides a vividly melodic, catchy set of tunes along with a couple of well-chosen covers to springboard plenty of inspired interplay. As much as this is a tribute album, it’s not deferential: this is party music, after all.

On the opening cut, Caravan, Shank cuts his phrases a little shorter here than he might have in his prime but he’s on his game, bobbing and weaving, brevity matched to an understated sophistication: listen closely, and he’ll school you. Jake Fryer, as the liner notes mention, draws on Shank and also on Phil Woods: the bop influence is there, but so is the tunefulness. The swing blues Bopping with Bud is a platform for a tastily judicious descent by Shank, and to his credit Fryer follows in the same vein rather than trying to win a cutting contest. And the moment where Wofford realizes, “wow, I guess I get a solo now,” it’s pure delight.

Agnieszka, a warmly lyrical ballad dedicated to Fryer’s wife, is genuinely gorgeous, with a long, expansive piano spot from Wofford, followed by the blithe staccato shuffle Tip Top & Tickety Boo. Breaking Loose is essentially a long vamp that takes on a funky edge, giving LaBarbera ample opportunity to revisit his days with the Woody Herman big band. Similarly, The Time Lord makes for an amiable showcase for LaBarbera, with Shank getting into the rhythmically shifting fun as well. A cover of Almost Like Being in Love makes for another Wofford showcase; the title track, a brisk jump blues, highlights interplay from the reeds followed by a genuinely funny exchange between bass and drums on the way out. The album closes with a casual, friendly, low-key take of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low, more wee-hours theme than conspiracy. It’s out now on Capri Records.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Triumphant Homecoming for the Dixie Bee-Liners

The last stop on a whirlwind Northeast tour for Virginia’s Dixie Bee-Liners appeared to be a last-minute booking, late on a Sunday night in relatively remote Red Hook. But it didn’t matter: they packed the Jalopy and delivered a set that ranged from downright creepy to deliriously fun. Which perfectly capsulizes the appeal of bluegrass music, and how the band’s songwriters Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward draw on its roots while taking it places it’s never been before. From the git-go, this band has pushed the envelope, and this new edition is the best yet. Bassist Sav Sankaran gave Woodward a run for his money both with his wiseass sense of humor, and his unselfconsciously soaring, high lonesome vocals when he wasn’t taking solos that drew the loudest applause of the night. Violinist Sara Needham led the band through a slinky version of Trouble in Mind that was absolutely psychedelic, her sister Leah adding edge and bite with her lean dobro lines alongside Zachary Mongan’s banjo, Woodward’s mandolin and Hart’s guitar.

Hart switched to electric dulcimer for a roaring wash of sound on Heavy, a characteristically brooding track from the band’s most recent album Susanville, a noir-tinged concept album that explores the more surreal side of highway travel. The best song of the night was Restless, another one of Hart’s, menacingly hypnotic Steve Wynn-style LA noir riff-rock done with bluegrass instrumentation. It would make a perfect segue with one of Wynn’s macabre freeway numbers like Sunset to the Sea or Southern California Line. Woodward called another hypnotic tune, Yellow Haired Girl, “a cross between Erskine Caldwell and H.P. Lovecraft,” yet the audience couldn’t resist clapping along. The rest of the show had a nonstop element of surprise, band members swapping licks, sharing solos and switching off parts with the effortless grace of a jazz combo and the understated fire of a good rock band. Woodward’s eerily amusing Truck Stop Baby contrasted with Hart’s bitter, defeated version of I Never Will Marry; likewise, she moved from the infectious Virginia bluegrass trailmap Down on the Crooked Road, to the sad, dreamily haunting Lost in the Silence, and then back again with the irresistible, quirkily scurrying charm of The Bugs in the Basement. When they finally closed the show at almost midnight with a careening singalong of I’ve Been Working on the Building, they gave hope to the scores of other New York roots music groups who’re all working on their own buildings, hoping to someday approximate this kind of brilliance and earn a following who’ll pack a club late on a work night in the middle of winter (the DBLs got their start in New York). Bluegrass fans here can look forward to seeing the Dixie Bee-Liners at Grey Fox again this summer.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment