Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Benjamin Drazen’s Inner Flights Delivers Understated Intensity

Intense but not overbearing, richly melodic, rhythmically surprising yet extremely accessible, saxophonist Benjamin Drazen’s new album Inner Flights is smartly titled. Beneath the surface calm, there’s an inner fire – he’s one of those guys like JD Allen who chooses his spots. Drazen likes a clear tone with a judicious vibrato to drive a point home occasionally. While he typically favors restraint in his phrasing, pianist Jon Davis gets to absolutely scorch here, blazing through one tricky, ferocious chart after another, alongside Carlo de Rosa on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. This isn’t just one of the most fascinating jazz albums of the year, it’s one of the most fascinating albums of the year, period.

They get off to a briskly tuneful start with a somewhat altered swing blues, Mr. Twilight – a Mr. Moonlight allusion, it seems – with Davis taking no time launching into a rapidfire solo, echoes of Kenny Barron, Drazen on alto. Monkish comes together slowly, hints at swing and then goes there. It’s an unselfconsciously fun, wry evocation of Monk in a more devious moment, Drazen in airy Phil Woods mode without totally ripping him off, Davis once again getting some delicious charts, including some neat tradeoffs with the drums, and makes the most of them. The requiem Prayer for Brothers Gone By opens with Drazen pensive and somewhat apprehensive over rippling piano and low bowed bass, moves further from the center as each instrument reflects a second time around, then becomes a tone poem of sorts, winding down gracefully with upper-register cascades from Davis. By contrast, Jazz Heaven is a crisp, deviously syncopated swing tune, Drazen buoyantly playful, Davis following in the same vein. Building off a dark, incisive staccato piano hook, the title track is where Drazen and Davis switch roles, the sax cutting loose more here than anywhere else – when Drazen spirals down into a gritty modal atmosphere, the effect is viscerally intense. As it winds out, Drazen overdubs a sax section that eventually flutters to an unexpectedly elegant landing.

The warmly nostalgic Neeney’s Waltz updates Willard Robison-style Americana for a new century, while Kickin’ Up Dirt, an absolute gem, shifts from rubato piano glimmer to relaxed syncopated sway, distantly mysteriouso modalities, hints of a jazz waltz and then a real one: it’s a clinic in how to write allusively. There are also two covers here, a staggered, scurrying version of Gershwin’s This Is New, Drazen kicking up some dust along the shoulder of the blues road, and an expansively deconstructed and then reconstructed version of Polka Dots and Moonbeams, everybody taking their time. Watch for this on our Best Albums of 2011 list. It’s out now on Posi-tone.

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March 11, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kasey Anderson’s Heart of a Dog Has Lyrical Bite

Kasey Anderson’s most recent album, Nowhere Nights was one of the best of 2010. The “nowhere nights” theme continues on his new one Heart of a Dog, except with the guitars turned all the way up, pretty much all the way through. Steve Earle is still the obvious comparison – if you’ve ever heard Earle play Nirvana, that comes closer to describing what this sounds like. It’s lyrical rock: Anderson still scours the fringes with a merciless eye for detail and an ear for a catchy, purist guitar hook. His monster band the Honkies includes Andrew KcKeag on lead guitar plus Eric Corson (of the Long Winters) on bass and former Posie Mike Musburger on some of the most effectively loud rock drums in recent memory.

These songs are dark. The album gets off to a great start with The Wrong Light, a big crunchy bluesmetal number that works a Born Under a Bad Sign vibe, thematically if not tunewise. “I got a handful of powder and a wicked grin, open your eyes and let the wrong light in,” Anderson entices in a leering stage whisper. It’s the first of several launching pads for some searing, bluesy lead work by McKeag, who delivers a mean late 70s Ron Wood impression with a slide on the cynical, Stonesy rocker Mercy. Building from an ominous piano intro to a big anthem, Exit Ghost is a grim, completely unromanticized girlfriend-lost-to-drugs story. Your Side of Town might be the predecessor to that one, a bitter kiss-off anthem:

You kept my pockets empty, I was keeping my eyes wide
You were dealing pride and envy, I got my other fix on the side

Another big, fast Stonesy tune, Sirens & Thunder is cynical, but with an unrepentant smirk: the time with that girl may have been crazy and ultimately it might have been hell, but some of the craziest parts were a lot of fun. Kasey Anderson’s Dream offers a considerably louder apocalyptic garage rock update on Bob Dylan’s Honest with You, namechecking Sharon Jones and staring straight into the future: “You want a brave new world, well that can be arranged – the ship’s still sinking but the captain’s changed.” The rest of the tracks include more doomed Dylanesque imagery in Revisionist History Blues; the crushing lucidity of a hangover unfolding in the slow, brooding For Anyone; some delicious organ and accordion work in another regretful ballad, My Blues, My Love; the fast, Springsteenish My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball, and a blazing backbeat cover of the 1983 English Beat frathouse anthem Save It for Later that blows away the original. Pop a Mickey’s Big Mouth and crank this.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hard Times: Too Fat to Record

In the music blog business (or facsimile of a business, anyway), recording a concert is sort of like hitting with a corked bat. Pay no attention to the band, talk with your friends, drink as much as you want and the next day, the whole thing’s waiting for you (unless you pressed the wrong button by accident: umm…when you get a chance, can you please email me the set list?) Armed with a brand-new recorder that worked just fine in the jazz club, then in the church, the question was, would it be up to the challenge of a loud rock show? Let’s see, Wednesday night, who’s playing? Oh yeah, ska night at Otto’s, the perfect opportunity to see how much volume it might be able to handle.

By a little after nine, the Hard Times had taken the stage. They’ve got a cool concept: instrumental reggae. They don’t do dub, just long, slinky, rootsy grooves. If they keep this up, maybe someday they’ll be the next John Brown’s Body or Giant Panda. They’ve got an excellent organist who uses an oldschool Vox setting, for a real vintage Studio One sound, and who handles most of the the leads and solos. Their lead guitarist, who was amped lower in the mix, with a tuneful, jazz-tinted sound, handled the others: he’s good, and it would have been nice to have heard more of him. If their set wasn’t all that tight, that might have been due to the fact that onstage at Otto’s it’s awfully hard to hear the drums if they’re quiet and the rest of the band is loud – which was the case tonight, with just a steady shuffle beat going on behind the band. Midway through the set a big guy came up and did a long number about ganja and that went over well; later, they took a stab at Bill Withers’ Use Me and that wasn’t as successful, although the girl who joined them for that one sang the hell out of it. The crowd was into it, and it was a cool crowd: multicultural, multigenerational, both genders represented, a telling reminder of the great things that can happen in this city when you take the trendoids and the yuppies out of the picture.

The recorder? Definitely not up to the challenge of a reggae band, at least one with bass as fat as these guys have. The Hard Times are up at Shrine this Saturday at 8, opening an excellent triplebill with the oldschool rocksteady Bluebeats at 9 and then the reliably fun King Django at 10.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment