Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Les Chauds Lapins’ Amourettes Isn’t Just a Flirtation

Les Chauds Lapins are one of New York’s most refreshingly original, interesting bands. They specialize in cleverly lyrical, sometimes obscure, innuendo-filled, sweepingly romantic French pop songs from the 1930s and 40s. It’s been a delight watching them evolve and blossom over the past four years, which is not to say that they weren’t already in bloom when they released their 2007 debut Parlez-Moi D’amour (Let’s Talk about Love), which made our Best Albums list that year. Four years later, their new one Amourettes (Flirtations) captures them pursuing a vein that’s both more sensual and more diverse. Frontwoman/uke player/guitarist Meg Reichardt’s voice has taken on even more of a lush sultriness than she brings to her other group, coy oldtime Americana hellraisers the Roulette Sisters. Her French accent has also gotten stronger; her partner in song, talented multi-instrumentalist Kurt Hoffman’s, has not. But he gets all the funniest songs here and makes the most of them, absolutely deadpan: if this was acting, he’d be Marcel Marceau.

The opening track, Nouveau Bonheur sets the stage for what’s to follow, the distant reverb of Frank London’s muted trumpet followed by Karen Waltuch’s viola and then Reichardt’s own nimble electric guitar against the balmy wash of strings. Cette Nuit-Là (That One Night), ultimately a sad song about waking up alone, is a showcase for Reichardt’s pillowy Catherine Deneuvesque delivery. Le Fils de la Femme Poisson (The Fishwife’s Son), a playfully deadpan, carnivalesque Charles Trenet tune, begins with an intro nicked from the Pachelbel Canon. Hoffman takes the lead vocals with sweet chirpy harmonies from Reichardt – born into a family of freaks, he hasn’t got a prayer, and eventually runs off to play accordion in a whorehouse.

Based on the Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli classic, Je T’aime’s lyrics don’t add anything, but Reichardt sings it fetchingly with some deliciously bluesy viola from Waltuch, and another soulful guitar solo. A study in suspense, Presque Oui (Almost Yes – check out the cool surreal video) is enhanced by Hoffman’s clarinet and a tightlipped passing of the baton from Andy Cotton’s bass, to the uke, to the strings as they rise. A straight-up love song, Vous Avez L’éclat de la Rose (As Pretty As a Rose) gets an unexpected modulation and more genial muted trumpet from London. Next up is Charles Trenet’s Quand J’etais Petit, sung by Hoffman, a wry tale of a a childhood crush that may have an unexpected ending – or maybe not.

C’est Arrivé (It’s Happened) wryly follows a downward spiral from mutual attraction to mutual bliss and then less amicable moments, with some delicious tradeoffs between Hoffman’s clarinet, the strings and the bass. Voulez-Vous Danser, Madame has Hoffman following a similar theme over a gypsy jazz bounce; Si Je M’étais Couché caches longing and angst in a sweeping romantic narrative that floats on dreamy strings punctuated by a bouncy bass solo. A bracingly deadpan tale of a suicide in the making whose bitterness for the moment is satisfied by spitting on the fish in the river rather than diving in with them, Moi J’crache dans L’eau introduces a darker current, where the album unexpectedly ends, with the sad waltz, Pluie (Rain), sung by a bereaved lover. Ironically, singer Maguy Fred, who recorded the original in 1934, was murdered later that year by her boyfriend, who after sitting alone with her body for three days set fire to their apartment and then shot himself. It would make a great lyric for a song by Les Chauds Lapins. They play the cd release show for this one at the 92YTribeca at 10 PM this Friday the 25th.

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March 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band Is Everything You’d Expect

In some ways, what Pink Floyd, Nektar, Supertramp and all the rest of the orchestrated rock bands were to the “classic rock” era, new big band jazz is to the decade of the teens. It’s where you get your epic grandeur fix. Towering, intense angst; full-blown exhilaration. There’s a lot more of the latter than the former on pianist Orrin Evans’ brand-new Captain Black Big Band album, but there’s still gravitas and intensity as you would expect from him. Like the Mingus repertory bands, Evans employs a rotating cast for this group, in this case an A-list mostly from New York and Philadelphia, in a live concert recording. Also like Mingus, the compositions blend an impatient urban bustle with an irrepressible joie de vivre. The compositions are pretty oldschool, closer to Mingus or Ellington than, say, than Jim McNeely.

The album gets started on a trad note with Art of War, a brisk bluesy swing tune by drummer Ralph Peterson. Rob Landham’s alto solo goes squalling quickly and spirals out neatly with a blaze as the brass rises – it’s sort of a warmup for what’s to come.Here’s the Captain, by bassist Gianluca Renzi opens with Evans’ murky distant piano grandeur – it’s a Cuban son montuno groove led by the trombone, an incisively simmering Victor North tenor solo followed by Evans who stays on course with a couple of cloudbursts thrown in for good measure. Inheritance, by bass clarinetist and big band leader Todd Marcus is swinging and exuberant with New Orleans tinges and a modified Diddleybeat. The first of Evans’ compositions, Big Jimmy is a soaring swing number with some deftly concealed rhythmic trickiness, trumpeter Walter White faking a start and then moving it up to some blissed-out glissandos, followed by tenor player Ralph Bowen who jumps in spinning out wild spirals – it’s adrenalizing to the extreme.

Buoyantly memorable in a late 50s Miles kind of way, Captain Black maxes out a long, fiery ensemble passage into solos by pianist Jim Holton (Evans has moved to the podium to conduct), Bowen shifting from shuffle to sustain followed by trombonist Stafford Hunter shadowboxing with the band. They save the best for last with the final two tunes. Easy Now is absolutely gorgeous, a study in dark/light contrasts with an ominous, dramatic low brass-driven intro lit up by drummer Anwar Marshall’s blazing cymbals. Trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and then baritone saxophonist Mark Allen go from pensive to assured and playful over Evans’ wary, wounded gospel-tinged lines; it winds up on a roaring, powerful note. The album concludes with the rich sepia tones of Jena 6, a track that also appears on Evans’ superb Tarbaby album from last year, referencing the Arkansas students persecuted in the wake of a 2007 attack by white racists. A lyrical Neil Podgurski piano intro begins the harrowing narrative with an ominous series of slow, portentous gospel-tinged crescendos. As Jaleel Shaw’s alto moves from genial swing to unhinged cadenzas and anguished overtones while the orchestra cooks behind him and then leaves him out to wail all alone, the effect is viscerally stunning. Count this among the most richly satisfying albums of 2010 so far. Evans will be interviewed on NPR’s A Blog Supreme this Friday the 25th; the album is just out on Posi-Tone.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Michael Feinberg’s New Album Employs Many Hands

The press release for jazz bassist Michael Feinberg’s new album With Many Hands calls it “unfettered by the canonical notions of tradition.” In other words, iconoclastic, which ought to make it right up our alley. To put an end to the suspense right off the bat, it isn’t particularly iconocolastic music, unless you define jazz as abstruse and inaccessible, and by that standard it’s extremely iconoclastic. This is an album of ideas, some of them “why didn’t I think of that?” ideas, which to be completely truthful, sometimes you have to wait for. But they’re worth it most of the time. Feinberg has an excellent band behind him – tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, altoist Godwin Louis, Alex Wintz on electric guitar, Julian Shore on piano and Dan Platzman on drums. They explore ballads, modalities, cleverly overlapping solos and circular themes, which are all the rage in the indie classical world: it would be nice to know they learned that from Fela, although a more cynical assumption would be that they got it from Vampire Weekend instead.

The title track, a ballad, opens the album and takes awhile to get going, but when the saxes shift it from balmy to wistful and wary, that makes it all worthwhile. Temple Tales, by Platzman, introduces the first of the circular numbers, and an artfully arranged, steady series of solos that finally wind up with a grin as Louis leads the reeds in on Shore’s heels, rejoicing. Another circular number, a Feinberg co-write, lets the bass run the hook but not before a genuinely suspenseful solo that serves as a springboard for some judicious crescendoing from Shore. By the standards of heavy metal, the next track, The Hard Stuff, is awesome; jazzwise, you can see it coming a mile away, yet Feinberg’s booming modal chords are impossible to resist. When Wintz takes a solo that you can also see coming a mile away, it’s like watching a roller coaster from the top of the first loop: when you reach the first turn, you’ve been expecting it, but it’s still fun to feel those g-forces.

It would be nice if the “where did the summer go” wistfulness of August went beyond Wintz’ unselfconsciously vivid opening lines, but it doesn’t. Fighting Monsters, a briskly walking swing tune, benefits from aggressive piano work from Shore and Preminger’s boisterous excursions – and a neat outro where the drums switch roles with the piano. The album winds up with another swing number, Feinberg’s catchy, circular bassline half-hidden beneath Platzman’s boisterous rumble and bounce. All this is enough to make Feinberg someone to keep your eye on in the next few years. The entire crew here play the cd release show for this one this Friday the 25th at 7:30 at Smalls.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/21/11

Today we’re counting our reasons to be grateful: that we’re not in Japan, or in the tuna fishing business, for example. Back from the fetid, sulfurous swamps of Florida, we were itching to leave the moment we got there (and by the way, you didn’t see us slacking off here, even while we were ostensibly “on vacation,” did you!). Where we were holed up, a stinking rotten-egg cloud wafted from the bathroom every time someone took a shower – and people in that particular neighborhood drink that stuff. Foreshadowing for a post-Fukushima future, or simply one more reason to appreciate New York? Let’s hope for the latter. More new stuff coming momentarily. In the meantime as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #680:

The Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MGs – Back to Back

The ultimate soul groove band in the ultimate setting: live, onstage. This brief, barely thirty-minute 1967 album has organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and the guy who might have been the greatest drummer of the rock era, Al Jackson, taking their sly, slinky two-minute instrumental hits to new levels. It’s got Red Beans and Rice, an especially amped Tic-Tac-Toe, a funked-up Hip Hug-Her and contrasts them with a considerably more lush version of Rufus Thomas’ Philly Dog. Even Green Onions, as cheesy as that tune is, has an impossibly fat groove. Side two is the Mar-Keys (that’s Booker T. & the MG’s with a horn section) taking the energy up with Grab This Thing, Last Night and a cover of Gimme Some Lovin that blows away the original, along with the early Booker T. hits Booker-Loo and Outrage. Here’s a random torrent via kingcakecrypt.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments