Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Billy Bang and Bill Cole Improvise Raw Adrenaline

The new Billy Bang Bill Cole album makes a good segue with Dollshot, just reviewed here. Recorded live in concert at the University of Virginia in 2009, it’s a series of duo pieces and improvisations between the iconic jazz violinist and the pioneering reedman. It’s not the most accessible album ever made – it’s intense, sometimes apprehensive, even abrasive – but for fans of a good jam, it’s pure bliss.

The concert kicks off with an improvisation, a study in low/high contrasts: Cole holds down a drone with his digeridoo while Bang moves slowly, judiciously and hauntingly against the murky wash of sound. Eventually, overtones begin to waft up from the depths, violin swooping warily, Cole eventually taking it down as low as he can. The audience is stunned. The next tune, Shades of the Kia Mia, is a variation on an earlier Bang composition from his acclaimed Vietnam: The Aftermath album. Playing the midrange Indian nagaswarm flute, Cole rises and falls like a siren underneath Bang’s Asian-tinged blues phrases. The violin crescendos to a brief explosion of white noise, then circles down nimbly; the duo wrap it up slowly with a long series of morose, conversational phrases. It packs a punch.

Cole plays supersonically wild, Balkan-tinged doublestops on sona on his composition Poverty is the Father of Fear, a vivid portrayal that moves quickly from a surprisingly triumphant march figure to a crazed sense of desperation, the musicians exchanging roles, by turns calmly rhythmic and completely unhinged. They follow Cole’s pyrotechnics with a repetitive violin hook, a trick ending and a graceful wind down to where the piece began. The next improvisation starts as a ghostly march; Bang holds down the rhythm while Cole runs a circular phrase on his flute and then hopscotches over Bang’s long, sustained pedal note.

Jupiter’s Future, another Bang composition, is a thinly disguised funk song with tasty, bluesy violin and a blistering climb to the uppermost registers led by Cole that kicks off even more frenzied riffage. They close with a final, intense improvisation, Cole imploring, Bang refusing to let up. For anyone who likes powerful, adrenalizing music and isn’t scared off by a lot of upper midrange, this is a treat – you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2011 list at year’s end.

Advertisements

March 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dollshot Has Creepy Fun with Classical Art-Song

This is a Halloween album. New York ensemble Dollshot’s M.O. is to take hundred-year-old classical “art songs,” do a verse or a chorus absolutely straight-up and then matter-of-factly and methodically mangle them – which might explain the “shot” in “Dollshot.” Usually the effect is menacing, sometimes downright macabre, but just as often they’re very funny: this group has a great sense of humor. Pigeonholing them as “punk classical” works in a sense because that’s what they’re doing to the songs, but they also venture into free jazz. And all this works as stunningly well as it does because they’re so good at doing the songs as written before they get all sarcastic. Frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan’s otherworldly beautiful, crystalline high soprano, which she colors with a rapidfire vibrato in places, makes a perfectly deadpan vehicle for this material. Pianist Wes Matthews circles and stabs with a coroner’s precision in the upper registers for a chilly, frequently chilling moonlit ambience. In the band’s most punk moments, tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan is the ringleader: when he goes off key and starts mocking the melodies, it’s LOL funny. Bassist Giacomo Merega alternates between precise accents and booming atmospherics that rise apprehensively from the depths below.

The three strongest tracks are all originals. The Trees, written by Matthews, sets nonchalantly ominous, quiet vocals over a hypnotic, circular melody with bass and off-kilter prepared piano that hints at a resolution before finally turning into a catchy rock song at the end. “The trees are falling…the trees are choking…the pail is falling…” Surreal, and strange, and also possibly funny – it perfectly capsulizes the appeal of this band. Noah Kaplan’s Fear of Clouds is the most stunningly eerie piece here, ghost girl vocalese over starlit piano and then an agitated crescendo with bass pairing off against quavery saxophone terror – it would make a great horror movie theme. And the closing cut, Postlude, layers sepulchral sax overtones over a damaged yet catchy hook that refuses to die.

The covers are more lighthearted. Woozy sax pokes holes in an otherwise dead-serious and absolutely spot-on version of Arnold Schoenberg’s Galathea and his twisted little waltz, Der Genugsame Liebhaber, which by itself already seems something of a parody. Poulenc gets off a little easier: the band adds add murky apprehension to La Reine de Coeur and leaves the gorgeously ominous Lune d’Avril pretty much alone other than adding some sepulchral atmospherics at the end. Bouncing gently on some completely off-center, synthy prepared piano tones, Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here Comes That Rainy Day is reinvented as art-song with a comic wink, yet while bringing the lyrics into sharper focus than most jazz acts do. And a Charles Ives medley of The Cage, Maple Leaves and Evening makes a launching pad for the unexpected power in Rosalie Kaplan’s stratospheric upper registers, as well as Matthews’ mountains-of-the-moon piano and an unexpected minimalist, ambient interlude that only enhances the nocturnal vibe. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of 2011 at the end of the year.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/6/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #695:

The Fania All-Stars – Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2

Conceived as a branding mechanism for the label, the Fania All-Stars were supposed to be the greatest salsa band of their era – a goal that wasn’t all that hard to achieve because virtually everybody in the band was a bandleader. The lineup reads like a latin music hall of fame: Larry Harlow, Justo Betancourt, Yomo Toro, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and literally dozens of others. From 1967 to the early 80s, they put out one ecstatic, danceable album after another, which makes this a particularly hard choice. The four-cd box set Ponte Duro: The Fania All-Stars Story was awfully tempting, but since this group was first and foremost a live orchestra, that’s where they did their best work. This scorching 1976 set, most of it actually recorded in Puerto Rico (the sound mix there was better than what they had in the Bronx), captures them at the peak of their brass-heavy power. These are long, psychedelic jams: Hermandad Fania, which gets things cooking right off the bat; the eleven-minute Celia Cruz epic Bemba Colora; Ismael Quintana’s first big, soulful hit, Mi Debilidad; as well as Echate Pa ‘lla and the fourteen-minute stomp Congo Bongo. Here’s a random torrent via sogoodmusic.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment