Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #685:

Anita O’Day – The Lady Is a Tramp

Originally titled Anita O’Day Sings Jazz when it was first released in 1952, her debut album is sassy and fearless. With a carefree rasp as she went up the scale, she sang like she was bulletproof, which is probably how she felt since she was so wasted most of the time in those days. Some singers wrestle with their vulnerability, but Anita O’Day (pig latin for “I need dough,” appropriate for a junkie) swung her voice like a sharp little axe. Backed by a boisterous, inspired quartet, she rips through a bunch of mostly upbeat, bluesy numbers and ends up reinventing half of them. Rock n Roll Blues? Remember, this was before Chuck Berry. Love For Sale is sardonic to the extreme; she rocks out Lullaby of the Leaves, turns Lover Come Back to Me from sadness to cynicism, does an absolutely conspiratorial version of Speak Low and then flips the script and gives the novelty song No Soap, No Hope Blues some genuine poignancy. Pagan Love Song, however, is just what it ought to sound like. And maybe because of the title, finding a working set of files for this album is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In lieu of the needle (ha ha) we give you a marvelous Anita mixtape via planetbarberella.

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March 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Carpenter Resurrects Obscure Jazz Treasures from the Gatsby Era

Hothouse Stomp, the new album by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra, captures a magical demimonde in American music from between roughly 1928 and 1931. Forget for a minute that by transcribing and arranging eleven now-obscure songs from that era, Carpenter has rescued them from the even smaller demimondes of 78 RMP record collectors and musicians who still play this kind of stuff. First and foremost, these rapidfire gems from Harlem and Chicago are some of that era’s coolest and most controversial party music, the P-Funk or hip-hop of that time. Kids danced to it until their feet hurt, and now so can you even if you can’t afford a Victrola or any those old 78s which now sell for ridiculous prices. On one level, many of the songs here have a quaintly frantic Keystone Kops vibe and a droll wit, but they also have a level of sophistication that far surpasses most of the era’s pop music. Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton are the big names that everybody remembers, but at the top of their game Charlie Johnson, Tiny Parham and Fess Williams were just as good. Carpenter’s imaginative new charts pay homage to the originals while freeing them from the narrow time constraints of a 78. The band here plays them joyously, sometimes almost conspiratorially: Carpenter on trumpet, harmonica and vocals on one number; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Andy Laster on alto sax; Matt Bauder on tenor and alto sax and clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring on trombone; Jordan Voelker on viola and singing saw; Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; Brandon Seabrook on banjo; Ron Caswell on tuba and Rob Garcia on drums.

Carpenter opens the album with a big, dramatic harmonica crescendo and then they’re off. Mojo Strut, by Chicago-based Tiny Parham and His Musicians, has an brooding Ellingtonian minor-key intensity under its bouncy beat but also a drum break that’s practically Spike Jones, and some crazed conversation between the saxes at the end. With its lush strings beneath the romping tune, Stop Kidding, originally done by Harlem band McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, blends serious and silly in the span of barely two and a half minutes. Another Cotton Pickers number, Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You (a popular staple of the oldtimey circuit), gets more of a New Orleans vibe with a good-natured alto solo, and matching vocals from Swift. Voodoo, by Parham, goes for a wary Black and Tan Fantasy feel with some quiet sizzle from the banjo on the way in and Voelker’s theremin-like saw building the atmosphere to somewhat crazed and dazed layers of horns. Harlem pianist Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra’s Blues Have Sure Got Me has a similar minor-key restraint, with the saw oscillating eerily behind Swift’s hushed, wounded voice.

A casually soulful, trombone-fueled, practically five-minute midtempo version of Johnson’s Hot Bones & Rice foreshadows how this stuff would morph into swing and dixieland. But enough of the intricacies of the music – as fun as it is to blast on the ipod, just try sitting still to the triumphantly swirling clarinet on Dixie Stomp, the lickety-split Lucky 3-6-5, the pensive sway of The Boy in the Boat, or Harlem bandleader Fess Williams’ seemingly calypso-flavored Slide, Mr. Jelly, Slide. They wrap up the album with a warm, summery Johnson tune, the surprisingly titled Hot Tempered Blues. If this often deliriously fun album piques your curiosity, some (but not all) of the originals can be streamed at the irreplaceable redhotjazz site if you have Real Audio.

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

Album of the Day 3/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #686:

Ice-T – The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say

Before Ice-T was the leader of a metal band, or a character actor specializing in cop roles, he antagonized them with his lyrics – which were usually brilliant. This 1989 album by the self-styled “inventor of the crime rhyme” is the highlight of his rap career. It opens with a long, Orwellian Jello Biafra spoken-word piece over a Black Sabbath sample. The rest of the album mixes the verbal gymnastics of the title track and Hit the Deck with crime rhymes like the ominous drive-by scenario Peel Their Caps Back and the rapidfire, desperate Hunted Child, the hilarious The Girl Tried to Kill Me and the ferocious, antagonistic, politically spot-on This One’s for Me. The only dud here is an interminable party rap with one forgettable cameo after another. Here’s a random torrent via fromthaold2thanew.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carol Lipnik’s M.O.T.H. Brings up the Lights

Gorgeously orchestrated, warm and often sultry, shapeshifting chanteuse Carol Lipnik’s latest album M.O.T.H. (meaning Matters of the Heart) is an unexpected treat from someone who’s made her name as a purveyor of brilliantly surreal, carnivalesque songs. As you would expect, those songs frequently create an atmosphere of menace; here, that menace still looms in places, but from a considerable distance. Love or hope are always portrayed as part of a dialectic with pain on the other end, especially on a handful of settings of Rumi poems. Behind Lipnik, this version of Spookarama includes her longtime collaborator, dark jazz piano genius Dred Scott (who also contributes other keys, bass, drums and guitar on one track) along with Jacob Lawson on violin, Tim Luntzel on bass and Jim Campilongo guesting on guitar on one track.

It opens on a bouncy, playfully seductive note with Firefly: “In my dream world, you’re my temple.” It goes from playful to dark and back again and then ends cold. With its dark tango pulse, Undine Unwitted is characteristically surreal – “When I was a mermaid, I tried to pull you underwater, but you became the water” – and grows to a lush grandeur. The following track, told from the point of view of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, offers a perspective that’s genuinely poignant rather than camp, an outsider anthem if there ever was one and a showcase for the upper registers of Lipnik’s breathtaking four-octave range.

With the first of the Rumi lyrics, Poison Flower sets uneasily psychedelic layers of vocals over a wary violin waltz, a vivid portrayal of temptation and desire. The long, psychedelic title track alternates hypnotic ambience with a big, stomping, hard-rocking chorus; the following Rumi-themed number sways with echoes of 60s psychedelic folk-rock. Based on a Laura Gilpin poem, The Two Headed Calf presents another sympathetic view of a freak: he may be facing imminent death and then possibly several posthumous lifetimes in a museum, but for now he’s looking at the stars, and he sees twice as many as we do. Michael Hurley’s Werewolf (famously covered by Cat Power) sticks closer to the original, done with a menacing sway and some deliciously noir, twangy Campilongo guitar. Spirits Be Kind to Me, written by Tom Ward, is darkly bouncing and stagy: Lipnik keeps the drama understated, making it more of an invocation than a plea. The album winds up on a gracefully majestic note with Love Dogs, based on yet another Rumi poem: “Your pure sadness that longs for love is the secret cup.” Count this among the most stunning releases of 2011. Lipnik plays a weeklong stand at PS 122 from April 15 through the 22nd with another extraordinary singer, John Kelly: their new collaboration explores the visions of a critically injured trapeze artist who in order to escape his pain imagines himself entering the world of Caravaggio’s paintings.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment