Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dark Psychedelic Romance with Miramar at Barbes

Saturday night at Barbes Miramar put on what had to be the most romantic show of the year, and one of the most haunting ones too. Like a Puerto Rican Las Rubias del Norte, they add swirling tremolo organ to classic boleros from the 1950s and 60s along with some choice originals that fit in perfectly with the old classics. Singers Rei Alvarez (also of Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonized with a sometimes sultry, sometimes chilling chemistry over organist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona’s psychedelic swirl, anchored by an excellent rhythm section with baby bass, drums and bongos plus an acoustic guitarist. Their version of the famous Por Siempre had Simmmons-Argandona following a thoughtful, soulful guitar solo with one of her own that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Electric Prunes song. She switched to piano for a slow, swaying tune where the male singer tries to tell the girl he’s with that he’s not heartbroken – it’s just the hot food. Maybe, a Greek psychedelic rock ballad from the 1960s with bolero tinges, was the eeriest moment of the night, with some nice tremolo picking from the guitarist, maybe to mimic the oud on the original? It sounded like a Greek Chicha Libre.

The rest of the set was just as eclectic: the unexpectedly dark Amorada Madre Mia, with its guy/girl tradeoffs and intense, distorted organ solo; Insatiable, with more of a dramatic tango feel; a romantic island tableau done as a piano nocturne; the stately waltz Estatua, an Alvarez original; and a conversation between a man and woman, again reaching for a tango atmosphere with incisive organ and crescendoing Spanish guitar. They closed with an elegant duet version of Sylvia Rexach’s iconic En Mis Suenos, full of restrained longing, and a number that once again brought to mind Chicha Libre, echoey electric piano vamping hypnotically, with searching, soaring harmonies and a long, spiraling guitar solo. They didn’t play their devastating version of Rexach’s signature song, Di Corazon (they were saving that for the second set), which is available on their pretty amazing new album at their bandcamp site.

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March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Universal Thump Get One Step Closer to a Classic

One segment at a time, art-rock keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s latest project, the Universal Thump has been releasing their lush, gorgeous debut album. The first installment featured epic, sweepingly orchestrated ballads along with a droll cover of the Australian Crawl hit Reckless and the bouncy Martin’s Big Night Out, one of Gertler’s older songs. This latest installment, Chapter Two continues the blend of fun and finesse.

The first track, Honey Beat, is a richly orchestrated janglerock hit, sort of like an anatomically correct version of something from REM’s Reveal album. Gertler has never sung better – her nonchalantly sultry high soprano is impossible to turn away from. And the guitar solo into violin solo back into the guitar solo is irresistible, like the Church doing ELO.

To the Border (Wild Raspberries) alternates a stately, somewhat solemn anthem with a playful, coyly vivid motif first carried by the string section and later the woodwinds; it’s a sexy allusion. ELO is even more vividly referenced on the absolutely delightful Opening Night, which could be the long lost sequel to The Way Life’s Meant To Be, complete with baritone guitar solo and tongue-in-cheek, carnivalesque keyboard patches and sound effects. And is that a sample of whale song at the end of the long, psychedelic outro? This section of the album winds up with The Last Time, a slow stately piano/organ march, Kate Bush as done by Procol Harum. If the rest of the album is anything like this, you’ll see the whole thing on our 1000 Best Albums of All Time list. It’s available at the Universal Thump’s bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nightcrawling 3/3/11

There’s been a wave of buzz lately about Americana songwriter Kelley Swindall, who’ll be on southern tour with Lorraine Leckie in the not-so-distant future. And it would have been nice to have been able to catch her whole set at Banjo Jim’s Thursday night. By almost eight, she was wrapping up it up with a couple of low-key, tuneful country-pop numbers that sounded like Sheryl Crow with a college degree. It’ll be interesting to catch more of her songs somewhere down the road.

Israeli-American rocker Rony Corcos was next. She’s a raw talent, somebody worth keeping your eye on. Watching her run her beautiful Les Paul through a series of pedals was something you rarely see at Banjo Jim’s, and what was obvious right off the bat was how good she’d sound if she had bass and drums behind her: she’s clearly a rocker, somebody who knows her way around the fretboard and has real command of a surprisingly diverse number of styles. PJ Harvey is the obvious influence, and that really made itself known when she did an understatedly intense cover of The Piano late in the show, delivering it with an only slightly restrained, compelling wail. Her other cover was a raw, vivid version of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, a launching pad for some poignantly soulful, incisive, amazingly precise blues runs. Her originals, some of them so new they didn’t have titles yet, put a harder-rocking spin on inventively jazz-tinged, late 70s Joni Mitchell stylings, along with a big, crunchy, hypnotic rock anthem that she artfully assembled layering one loop on top of another and then singing and soloing over it. What was too bad was that as intelligent and diverse as most of her playing is, sometimes she falls back on the stupid moveable chords (think Pearl Jam, Dashboard Confessional or just about any dumb indie guitar band) that have defined indie music pretty much since the 80s. It would be nice if this was just a part of a learning curve (the last musician we criticized for that kind of lazy playing made one of the best albums of the following year – here’s hoping lightning strikes twice).

At Pete’s Candy Store about an hour later, Whiting Tennis, former leader of popular lower East Side band the Scholars, took the stage and played a potently captivating set, also solo on electric guitar, to a full house. Where Corcos is exploring a whole slew of styles while she finds her own voice, Tennis’ music has the same penetrating consistency of vision as his visual art – at this point in his career, he’s best known as a painter and sculptor with a eerily impactful, rustic Pacific Northwest gothic sensibility. Musically, growling peak-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse are the obvious influences, although as he told the crowd late in the set, his quietly blistering kiss-off song Heart of Soap grew out of a line he misheard from a Smog song, which makes sense in that he’d make a good doublebill with Bill Callahan. Other than a simmering bluesy shuffle toward the end of the show, everything he played was slow-to-midtempo. His pensive, sardonic, sometimes brutally sarcastic lyrics are excellent. And as stylistically, and sonically similar as his songs are (he stuck with his signature gritty, distorted guitar tone all night), a close listen revealed how diverse the tunes are. Bad Checks – “Was a time when you’d write a check,” he grinned nostalgically – sounded like As Tears Go By as done by Neil Young. Another had the feel of Crazy Horse tackling Wish You Were Here: “Save us from these Christian men,” he intoned sarcastically. The night’s funniest moment came when he recalled a nightmare family scenario – his father’s a minister, and there was an argument over whether tap water or river water were more appropriate for a baptism. “Hit a deer broadside on the highway…as I dragged it across the road it felt like I was dragging the whole world on a blanket,” he sang nonchalantly on the chorus, a rapid return to brooding, intense mode. He wrapped up his hour onstage with a bitter evocation of John Brown’s execution. Tennis makes the occasional return trip to his old hometown when he’s not in Seattle; his 2006 album Three Leaf Clover is one of the underrated gems of the last decade.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eddie Mendenhall’s New One: Bad Title, Excellent Album

Don’t let the title fool you: jazz pianist Eddie Mendenhall’s new album Cosine Meets Tangent isn’t exactly cold and mathematical. Even on the slow numbers, this is a hot session, ablaze with energy and good vibes (pun intended). Mendenhall leads a quartet with the reliably intense, aggressive Mark Sherman on vibes, Akira Tana on drums, and John Schifflett on bass. Ironically, the most potent number here is also the slowest one. The stately, pensive Lament for the Ocean is basically a seven-minute Mendenhall solo that builds to the point where it swerves away and looks like it’s going to miss its mark…but then Mendenhall ups the intensity with some chromatically-fueled menace. It’s one of the best songs to come over the transom this year.

The rest of the album blazes with inspired playing and vividly melodic compositions. Sherman wastes no time in pouncing on the opening cut, Protocol, with its marvelously intricate piano/vibraphone chart, scurrying and scampering with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek loungey vibe. Mendenhall enters almost imperceptibly on the heels of this excursion and then matter-of-factly picks up the pace to where Sherman can race away with it again. Spring Waltz begins counterintuitively with a judicious bass solo and expands to where it looks like everything’s in bud. The bossa-flavored Rain Hike has Sherman riding the groove with clenched-teeth intensity, alternating inspired segments with the piano, Mendenhall coming out of the last Sherman volley with similar fire but bringing it down gracefully in seconds flat.

They do the Rodgers/Hart ballad So Easy to Remember as tense, suspenseful swing – it’s a clinic in restraint, especially seeing as the band seems to want to jump out of their shoes but holds back. Sherman’s catchy, somewhat wry The Great Triplet is yet another showcase for more sizzle across the keys of the vibes; it contrasts vividly with the brief, astringent, unselfconsciously gripping Morning Stretch. There’s also the brisk, distantly Asian-tinged swing number Rin Ki On Hen; Blues for Yokohama, another upbeat tune with hints of ragtime piano and a sly, scampering drum solo; and the cleverly syncopated, unpredictable title track. File this under party jazz: put this on and the cognoscenti will want to know who this is.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elvis’ First Albums After the Army Get a New Look

The brand-new reissue of Elvis Is Back – a twofer with Presley’s subsequent 1960 album Something for Everybody, plus a whole slew of singles, some of them iconic, some mostly forgotten – is just out from Sony. The argument’s been made that Elvis Is Back was his best album, and that’s not true: he did his best work for Sun, and then in the 70s when he was on autopilot, but with an amazing band behind him ( and the ’68 comeback isn’t bad either). But this period piece – an essential collectors item for the Elvis cult – still oozes energy. Let’s not forget that only two years earlier, his career had been put on hold by racists who were terrified that the era’s best-loved pop culture figure was converting young white people to black music faster than any racist could stop him. So whatever his experiences were in the Army, there’s no doubt that Elvis was glad to be back – and the musicians behind him obviously agreed.

Interestingly, Elvis Is Back is mostly an album of ballads: that they stand up as well as they do fifty years later testifies to how much care and anticipation went into this. The shuffling David Lynchian vibe of Girl Next Door Went a-Walking is still irresistible, and the blues numbers, Reconsider Baby and It Feels So Right foreshadow what would sustain him so effectively throughout the ’68 special. Done with only bass and percussion, his cover of The Fever falls somewhere between the Peggy Lee hit and the Cramps. And Such a Night reminds how much more sophisticated a singer he’d become since he’d first recorded the old Drifters hit in 1954: it’s Elvis and band doing the Rat Pack, right down to the nonchalant exuberance of the drum outro.

That Elvis and the band could have recorded all but one of the dozen tracks on Something for Everybody in one night – or have been subjected to that by the label, considering his artistic status, never mind his value to them – is pretty remarkable. Then again, that was how albums were made in those days. Elvis sounds no worse for the marathon, and the band rises to the occasion as well. The real stunner here is the perfectly Orbisonesque noir pop ballad There’s Always Me, capped off by an unexpectedly explosive outro. Did a teenage Van Dyke Parks play along to the creepy music box piano of It’s a Sin? Did a young Roger McGuinn do the same with the proto folk-pop of Gently? Did the Searchers use the boisterous uptempo guitar blues of Put the Blame on Me as the prototype for an entire career? It would seem so.

To sweeten the pot, there are also a dozen singles included. In hindsight, Fame and Fortune (which Arthur Kent ripped off for Skeeter Davis’ The End of the World) stands out as a dismissal of celebrity that might be far less ironic than it seems. As a blueprint for Mark Sinnis’ Mistaken for Love, Are You Lonesome Tonight takes on a new intensity. And the completely over-the-top tango Surrender, with its James Bond ambience, is impossible to hear without smiling. The rest of the stuff either burned out long ago on oldies radio or never made it that far to begin with. All together, this trip back to a time before autotune is an awful lot of fun.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment