Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hypnotic, Wary Sax Soundscapes from Andy Haas

Andy Haas, formerly with new wave rock legends Martha & the Muffins (that’s his sax break on the classic Echo Beach), is a fascinating and extremely eclectic alto saxophonist capable of leaping from blues to ballads to punk to the Middle East in the span of seconds and somehow making it all work. Most recently he’s been a part of hypnotic, tuneful groove unit Radio I Ching. His new solo album Paradise of Ashes is a characteristically diverse collection of memorable, brief (usually around three-minute) songs without words, beautifully and often apprehensively lyrical. Haas favors a clear tone, a comfortable legato attack and hits the tunes straight-on – he doesn’t blow crazy clusters or waste notes. If you want to be really stuffy about his this, you could call it “electroacoustic.” Some of the stuff here has a trip-hop feel; the rest is basically a bedroom album, Haas’ sax backed by various acoustic and electronic rhythms. It’s sort of a higher-register counterpart to Paula Henderson’s cinematic baritone sax-and-laptop project Secretary.

The strongest tracks here are his originals. New Maladies of the Soul, which opens the disc, is a gorgeous, darkly memorable tango of sorts – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Paul Desmond songbook. A bit later, the title track shifts cleverly from lyrical warmth to latin-tinged noirisms. Haas tackles Americana with a warm bucolic sway in the same vein as Jeremy Udden’s recent work, via George Jones’ Cup of Loneliness and the traditional number The Devil Is Loose in the World, the latter with backward masked vocals (too bad this isn’t vinyl – you could spin it backwards and find out what the devil has to say!).

Haas mines the classical Arabic songbook for Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s Enta Omri and later Said Darwish’s Khalliha Alallah, in both cases taking the lead melody somewhat out of context and placing it atop a percussion track, the Darwish piece utilizing hypnotic goblet drum and tambourine for a sort of Indian ambience. The last three tracks here – Every Time We Say Goodbye, Bonjour Tristesse and It’s Only a Paper Moon – contrast terse, gently affecting melody lines against disquieting, clattering, occasionally exploding mechanical beats, the last one an evil drone straight out of the David Lynch soundtrack manual. The whole thing makes a great late-night headphone album. Echo Beach, far, faraway in time!

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March 13, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nicholas Urie’s Big Band Album Explores the Brilliance of Bukowski

Charles Bukowski liked Beethoven, maybe because he recognized a fellow drunken genius, maybe because Beethoven is great drinking music. Would Bukowski have appreciated Nicholas Urie’s new Bukowski-themed big band album, My Garden? Maybe. Urie’s intent here is to honor Bukowski’s legacy by elevating him above his popular image as the poet laureate of fratboy excess. A good guess is that the frequently astringent third-stream atmospherics would have grabbed him, not to mention that all but one of the tracks here illustrates a poem or a Bukowski quote. And the one that doesn’t is ironically right up his alley, booze-wise: “Drinking beer doesn’t make you fat. It makes you lean: against bars, tables, chairs and poles.” Its main character aside, this is a fascinating modern big band album with some delicious charts, clever and even psychedelic production and an A-list of jazz talent, most of them from the New York area.

If you can get past – or don’t mind, or even enjoy – Bukowski’s gimlet-eyed perspective, he was an amazing observer. It’s hard to find someone who can distill an idea to its essence like he could, and usually did. Urie knows this, and takes his cues from there. As much as the arrangements here are lush and rich, there are no wasted notes: the band’s focus is intense. The brief opening track, Winter: 44th Year sees Bukowski feeling suicidal, knife in hand, drunk-dialing some woman and getting her answering service (this was in the days before voicemail), brought to life with moody, swirling atmospherics. Round and Round – the simple phrase “you have my soul and I have your money” – makes an uncharacteristically roundabout way to explain away a dayjob, and the music perfectly captures this, the band’s circular chromatics leading to a careful, soberly disdainful Rhodes solo from Frank Carlberg, up to impatiently circling Kenny Pexton tenor sax and then a labyrinth of vocal overdubs from Christine Correa. John Carlson’s ominous solo trumpet kicks off the title track – “pain is flowers blooming all the time,” vivid rainy day ambience walking steadily with the trumpet and then Alan Ferber’s trombone lifting the downcast atmosphere a bit with wryly bluesy tints as the band swells behind him.

A very cleverly disguised ballad, Weeping Women illustrates Bukowski’s claim that he would have offered women more solace if they hadn’t been so high-maintenance. Awash in shifting segments, Carlson, Douglas Yates on alto and Jeremy Udden on soprano sax alternate voices in a conversation, less weepy than brooding and somewhat conspiratorial. A predictably shrill crescendo is followed by a laugh-out-loud disappointed ending: Bukowski would have liked this! Another circular number, Lioness – “There’s a lioness in the hallway: put on your lion’s mask and wait” is vigorous fun, driven by Carlberg’s unbridled, staccato piano. The arguably strongest track here is Slaughterhouse – “I live in the slaughterhouse and am ill with thriving” –  a feast of tectonic shifts and high/low contrasts, Udden’s soprano sax against Max Siegel’s bass trombone, with a bit of a round and a neat soprano/alto conversation over just the rhythm section. The last track, Finality, illustrates a rather nihilistic portrayal of a crazy Ezra Pound repudiating his life’s work, a moment that ostensibly comes to all of us. Pexton’s tenor rises gravely against Carlberg’s judicious, acidic chords, then Carlson’s trumpet blazes while Rome burns in the distance. The one bit of a letdown here is the number about beer not making you fat, which Correa sings like a wine drinker – or your mother – against the rhythmically tricky playfulness of the chart which then goes completely off the charts when the booze kicks in. Sober, it’s a great album – how does it sound after a few drinks? That’s a question that deserves an answer!

March 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 3/13/11

Did you remember to set your clock ahead an hour?

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #688:

Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland – Showdown

A blues guitar summit from 1985. Collins was one of the most intense, exhilarating musicians ever, icy fire blasting from his custom-made amp for the “cool” sound that made him famous. Although better known as a singer than guitarist, Copeland gave 100% here and Cray proves that he belongs onstage with any other great blues player. The songs are cool too: as you might expect from a Collins album, it’s a Texas vibe with only a couple of standards and those get reinvented: an edgy, low-down Bring Your Fine Self Home and Black Cat Bone, modeled on Hop Wilson’s lapsteel version. From the first track, T-Bone Shuffle, they’re wailing; Cray picks his spots and fires off one smartly chosen volley after another on She’s Into Something and the airy, psychedelic The Dream. As you’d expect, the Texas shuffles are also in full effect: Lion’s Den and the instrumental Albert’s Alley are as adrenalizing as you’d expect. And on the long volcanic outro to the closer, Blackjack, surprisingly it’s Copeland who really takes the energy up. Many, many notes, none of them wasted. Here’s a random torrent via mississippimoan.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seamlessness and Contrast at Trinity Church

Thursday at Trinity Church clarinetist Maksim Shtrykov and pianist Alina Kiryayeva delivered a terrifically enjoyable show of some lesser-known pieces for the two instruments. Shtrykov has a clarity that’s viscerally breathtaking. His quicksilver legato made the streams and frequent torrents of notes seem absolutely effortless even though much of the program was considerably demanding. The only giveaway that he was working hard was how he swayed along with the music at the edge of the stage. Kiryayeva, by contrast, didn’t hold back. As comfortably fluid as her approach was, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to call it an attack, which brought a welcome energy to the bill. Their seamlessness together undoubtedly stems from having worked together since the middle of the previous decade.

Up first was Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for Piano, Op. 70. It worked as an opener, perfectly pleasant and far more challenging for the performers than the listeners. The piece de resistance was Saint-Saens’ Sonata in E Flat for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 167, an absolutely delicious four-part suite. It’s got Saint-Saens’ signature humor, but also his signature plaintiveness, and it was here where Kiryayeva dug in and found the intensity in every unexpected dynamic shift, especially in the second, allegro animato movement while Shtrykov mined the poignancy in the pensive, lento third movement as well as the counterintuitively misty end of the final allegro. They closed with Weber’s Grand Duo Concertante, Op. 48 which is sort of the classical equivalent of garage rock: an endless series of call-and-response, you can see the changes and ideas coming a mile away, but playing them is another story! Even in the andante con moto second movement, the cascades come in endless waves and the duo met the challenge head on and walked away victoriously after another seemingly endless series of false endings. These works – and these performers – deserve to be better-known.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Debutante Hour Cover Up For Once

Musicians know that if you really want to keep an audience’s attention with a cover song, you have to find a way to make it different from the original. Usually the more you change it, the funnier it gets. The Debutante Hour’s new album Follow Me is all cover songs: hip-hop, new wave pop, bluegrass, Phil Spector and indie rock done oldtimey style with accordion, cello and percussion. Is the band being silly? Sarcastic? Serious? With the Debutante Hour, you never know. Accordionist Maria Sonevytsky, cellist Mia Pixley and multi-instrumentalist Susan Hwang’s stagewear may not leave much to the imagination, but their songs do the opposite: their deadpan surrealism isn’t always easy to figure out. Which is what makes them so appealing – aside from their perfectly charming three-part harmonies. And the outfits of course. They definitely were serious about putting the album together, with crystalline production from World Inferno’s Franz Nicolay.

The first song is No Scrubs, originally done by TLC, recast here as a ukelele shuffle. The original was mildly funny and this is funnier (live, it’s absolutely hilarious). When it comes time for the bridge, Baltimore hip-hop diva TK Wonder reminds that girl in the song isn’t a gold digger, she’s just sick of getting hit on by scuzzy guys – beeyatch!

Just What I Needed by the Cars is a horrible song, one cliche after another, absolutely unredeemable unless maybe as death metal or industrial. Here it’s reinvented as a tongue-in-cheek accordion tune, as the Main Squeeze Orchestra might have done it. When Nicolay comes in with his banjo, that’s when it gets really funny.

The third track is an acoustic hip-hop hit by popular Ukrainian duo 5’Nizza (whose name is a Russian pun, meaning “Friday”). It seems to be a come-on (the hook seems to mean something along the lines of “I’m not like that”). To a non-Ukrainian speaker, it comes across as catchy, innocuous trip-hop. The first serious song here is an unselfconsciously beautiful version of the Stanley Bros.’ If That’s the Way You Feel, evocative of the Roulette Sisters. Another serious one is Be My Baby, where they take the generic white doo-wop hit burned out by oldies radio decades ago and make it downright sultry. They close with the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize. If you missed the original, it’s Brian Jonestown Massacre-style nouveau psychedelia, in this case a third-rate John Lennon imitation with really awful (and kind of morbid) lyrics. The Debutante Hour’s version plays down the death fixation and plays up the pretty tune. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/25 at 7 PM.

Since now we know that the Debutante Hour’s covers are as fun and interesting as their originals, here’s some other cover ideas: John Sheppard or Thomas Tallis’ death-fixated sixteenth-century plainchant with intricate harmonies that scream out gothically for a reinterpretation by the Debutante Hour! How about Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which is so idiotic that it wouldn’t be hard to have a little fun with – maybe bring back TK Wonder for that one? Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple, which pretty much everybody knows, and could use some harmonies? Camay by Ghostface Killah? The Girl’s Guide to the Modern Diva by Black Box Recorder? Vladimir Vysotksky’s acoustic gypsy-punk revolutionary anthem Okhata Na Volkov (The Wolf Hunt)? Just brainstorming here…

March 13, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment