Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bliss Blood and Al Street’s Evanescent: One of the Year’s Best Albums

It’s always cool when a great artist decides to give away free tracks. When those tracks are among that artist’s best ever, it’s time to get busy downloading. Bliss Blood – New York’s reigning goddess of retro – decided to put the debut album by her new duo project Evanescent, with guitarist Al Street, up at reverbnation as a free download. Her Hawaiian swing crew the Moonlighters may be iconic among NYC artists, but they’re only her best-known group: in the last ten years, she’s also sung straight-up swing jazz, creepy cinematic noir songs, and barrelhouse blues (and S&M punk rock, if you count her teenage band the Pain Teens from the early 90s). But this flamenco-tinged unit with just ukulele, acoustic guitar, Blood’s lush, velvet vocals and a ton of reverb that amps up the lurid factor, may be her best yet. The joke here is that this music is actually the furthest thing from evanescent – it lingers and haunts. Blood has never sung better – the Moonlighters’ harmonies range from sensual to chirpy, but here Blood runs deep and dark with an unexpected gravitas and also a sultry allure that beats anything the Moonlighters have done – and they’re a great band.

The first track, Swallow the Dice, sets the stage, lowlit in red: it’s a menacing flamenco waltz, a defiantly metaphorical tribute to beating the system. Likewise, the steadily pulsing Liplock mines a series of double entendres, some of them ironic: play your cards too close to the vest and risk losing everything. Bulletproof is absolutely gorgeous, seductively bittersweet, all too aware of how invulnerability can be a double-edged sword:

Impervious to pain
I dream undaunted
Until I’m wanted and flaunted again
Bad bargain, maybe
I made it, unflinching
I keep it, bewitching
And blindly I see
It’s a barrier around me
Makes me bulletproof
Nothing can touch me
No one but you

The strongest track, lyrically at least, is Blackwater, a blistering broadside originally done by Blood’s “crime jazz” band Nightcall during the waning days of the Bush regime when mercenaries in Iraq were slaughering civilians left and right. Here it’s reinvented with a sarcastic rockabilly shuffle rhythm as Blood rails against the consciousless cynicism of the soldiers of fortune who think nothing of “blood spilled on the sand.” The sultriest track is The Palace of the Wind, its Dr. Zhivago ambience lush and pensive over Street’s agile broken chords. With just ukulele, bells and vocals for most of it, Butterfly Collector wouldn’t be out of place in an early 60s Henry Mancini soundtrack. There’s also the torchy, Freudian Legend of a Crime; the brisk, galloping Ella Es el Matador, the give-and-take of a hookup explained as a bullfight; the echoey, pillowy, sad guitar-and-vocalese instrumental Firefly, and the sly, reggae-tinged come-on Your Mayhem. One of the best albums of the year, for free. Evanescent play DBA at 113 N 7th St. (Berry/Wythe) in Williamsburg on 4/16; 4/22 they’re at Cin-M-Art Space, 43 Murray Street, (W. Broadway & Church).

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cuong Vu’s New Agogic Album Mixes the Catchy and the Challenging

It would be an overstatement to say that trumpeter Cuong Vu’s new Agogic album, just out on upstart Seattle label Table and Chairs Music, is New York sound from Seattle – after all, there are scenes just as vital and cutting-edge as New York’s in plenty of major cities. Yet that’s the trajectory that Vu has followed, having returned recently to his hometown where he put together this excellent group with Andrew D’Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Luke Bergman on electric bass and Evan Woodle on drums. It’s “postmillenial jazz,” as Vu calls it, a mix of the accessible and the avant. Blending elements of funk, minimalism, warmly consonant melodicism and assaultive noise, it’s an individual sound and a very enjoyable album.

They start on the accessible tip, a funky bass clarinet hook (when’s the last time you heard one of those?!?) over a slow, thumping, trip-hop-ish beat. Clarinet and then trumpet switch off hitting on the beat, Vu adding shivery accents, mimicking a backward masked melody, then finally the rhythm falls apart as the cymbals take over. The second track begins blustery, goes funky with a circular hook, D’Angelo joining Vu in a boisterous, rhythmic double solo as the drums gallop and Vu signals an insistent crescendo. The next cut is a real gem, pensive sostenuto trumpet over a memorably wary, minimalist chromatic bass hook and gingerly leapfrogging tom-toms. The choruses pick up, first sax and then trumpet calm against the storm rumbling underneath. When they hit the second chorus, bass pounding out chords like Peter Hook on steroids as the band wails behind him, it’s pure bliss.

Track 4, Old Heap, by Woodle, is a tremendously successful example of suspenseful minimalism, anchored by an almost imperceptibly expanding, catchy chromatic bass hook with trumpet floating overhead. A still, spacious interlude with the occasional judicious drum accent kicks off a slow crescendo upward with screeching sax far in the distance against Vu’s warm sustained lines which pull it out of the mist. The fifth cut is the most accessible, prettiest one here, a ballad that works its way down into some neat bass chords and then slowly up from there, trumpet tune embellished gently by the sax as it morphs into a gentle march. The next track dances joyously on a tricky funk beat, like early Spyro Gyra (before they went all synthy) updated for the teens, featuring blazing and blustery alto and trumpet solos. They close on a powerful note that kicks off with distorted bass ambience, trumpet holding up the sky as a reverberating, ominous drone rumbles and crackles underneath. And when Vu pulls the volume up, it brings up the temperature on the swirling cauldron underneath as well, a refreshingly noisy, bracing way to close this lively and diverse album.

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 4/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #657:

Erroll Garner – Contrasts

A virtuoso jazz pianist with an inimitable style, Garner’s signature sound mixed classical flourishes into a highly ornamented, relaxed attack. With what looked like an effortless command, he’d play a song fairly straight through while expanding on the melody, rather than using it as a template for bebop. He’s best remembered for the iconic Misty, which is here, along with a dozen other tracks from this 1954 trio session with Wyatt Ruther on bass and Eugene Heard on drums, reissued in 1998. The big showstopper is the jaunty, bluesy 7-11 Jump (which is what the song clocks in at). There’s also a darkly Tschaikovskian Sweet and Lovely, a conspiratorial Exactly Like You, a fairly radical reinterpretation of You Are My Sunshine, an expansive Part Time Blues and a refreshingly bluesy, un-Broadwayish There’s a Small Hotel along with upbeat versions of Rosalie and Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me along with a luxuriant take on In a Mellow Tone. Highly recommend wee-hours listening. Here’s a random torrent.

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment