Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jon Mendle’s L’Infidele Dusts Off Some Old Gems

Classical guitarist Jon Mendle’s new album L’Infidele is one of the most singularly enjoyable and interesting releases to come over the transom here this year. Playing solo on 11-string archguitar – a relatively recent invention devised to enable guitarists to play Renaissance lute repertoire – Mendle resurrects two obscure eighteenth-century compositions and gives a third a welcome reinterpretation. He plays with stately precision and fluidity – while the occasional torrents of notes can be hypnotic, the incisive melodies here are strong and memorable, transcending the centuries between composition and performance here. In particular, the first two pieces have a striking plaintiveness, and Mendle embraces it vividly.

The first composition is German baroque lutenist Adam Falckenhagen’s Sonata IV, Op. 1, dating from 1740. The opening largo section is wary and deliberate, enhanced by Mendle’s careful pacing – he doesn’t rubato it, which might not seem like the compliment that it is, but that’s a plus, considering how many players have decided to warp the era’s steady tempos to make them “postmodern” or something like that. Here, the additional low bass notes of the archguitar give the arrangement a piano-like tone. Mendle attacks the second, fugal movement with both smoothness and bite and spins off the rolling ripples of the finale with a deliberateness that stops a step ahead of carefree – this is a dark work.

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s Prussian Sonata V begins on a similar tone, steady yet with a pensive undercurrent. The second, andante movement is essentially a diptych: a wary waltz, and a second one even slower, and yet Mendle finds room for additional dynamics. The fluid, final Allegro Assai movement lets Bach the son go to his dad’s playbook for a blend of catchiness and mathematical logic. The final work here is L’Infidele, a six-part sonata by another German lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, impressive even to current-day ears for its eclecticism. It’s easy to imagine the opening movement as a processional for organ. The second expands the theme as a waltz; the third, Sarabande movement begins slow and hypnotic, then loosens up and loses a little of its gravitas, but not much. Mendle gets to cut loose more on the final three movements: a minor-key waltz that could pass as a Bach miniature; a Musette whose courtly gentility has a hint of the woods, and the best part, the final Paysanne where Mendle gets to take it out as more of a full-fledged dance. The album is out as both hard copy and download from In a Circle Records. Mendle’s next performance is June 4 at 8 PM as a soloist with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony performing Villa-Lobos’ Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St. in San Francisco

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May 4, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yemen Blues Mix It Up

Yemen Blues are yet another one of the explosion of impossibly esoteric, pan-global, psychedelic dance bands to spring up in the last few years. They’re Israeli; they draw on influences as diverse as classic levantine dance music, Bollywood pop, Balkan brass, funk, Afrobeat and Yemeni Jewish themes. To say that their latest, self-titled album is a blend of all of these is true in the purest sense of the word since each of the songs here echoes pretty much all of those styles. A few of them don’t. The opening track features a squirrely low-register reed instrument playing a hypnotic riff against a choir of voices; the third track is a pretty straight-up, repetitive Bollywood pop tune. There are also two bracingly slinky oldschool Egyptian tunes here, the first with a suspenseful cinematic feel, the second taking a sudden shift into an eerie minor-key psychedelic soul interlude that rises with the horns and violin going full steam.

The rest are a pretty irresistible grab-bag of riffs and ideas from around the globe. Track number two is a brass band hip-hop levantine number with a fiery violin solo and a flute-driven interlude straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1969. The title track works a gentle, folk-rock tinged melody reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here that eventually builds to a bouncy cabaret vamp and then goes doublespeed.

What sounds like a Moroccan sintir tune builds a long one-chord jam suspensefully, picking up the energy as the horns circle like vultures and swoop in all together for the kill. A long, slow, imploring duet features vibraphone and oud; another begins with oud, shifts to Afrobeat and then a flute-driven soul interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in the Isaac Hayes catalog. The album winds up with a lively blend of Afrobeat and Bollywood. Yemen Blues play Central Park Summerstage on 7/31; early arrival (i.e. 2 PM) is advised.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The People’s Champs Get the Party Started

The People’s Champs are a New York supergroup composed of members of some of the best and/or funkiest bands in town: Blitz the Ambassador and Larkin Grimm’s bands, Slavic Soul Party, Meta and the Cornerstones, the Superpowers, Nation Beat and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Together they create a unique, individual sound that mixes psychedelic funk with Afrobeat. With the songs’ intricate arrangements, unexpected changes and edgy melodies, their new ep works just as well over headphones as it probably does on the dance floor.

These tunes are a trip. The first one, Angihambe is the most traditional, Fela-style vamp here, with the horns, accordion and then guitar kicking in over a warmly circling, syncopated midtempo pulse. Guitarist David Bailis hits his repeater box and then slyly shadows the band, panning almost imperceptibly across the mix and then back as the horns break free joyously and swirly keyboards join the frenzy. They manage to do all this in about four minutes. The next track, Family (a free download at the band’s bandcamp site) is pretty straight-up funk punctuated by powerful blasts from guitar and keys together. A woman sings nonchalantly about the “daily struggle” against the grit of the tune. They take it down to a staggered beat, Josiah Woodson’s trumpet gently playing against Mitchell Yoshida’s reverberating Rhodes piano, then they take it back up again.

The best and most psychedelic song here is Keep on Coming Back. Starting atmospherically with dub elements that echo in and out of the mix all the way through, darkly bluesy guitar flings glowing shards of reverb against the murky backdrop. As the swirl rises and falls, the horns play off the guitar, followed by a rumbling dub interlude. The last song is Truth Assumption, a hard-hitting yet amusing tune blending Afrobeat with funk, with a blippy synthesizer up in the mix to raise the smile factor. Distorted, staccato keys and guitar fire punch against the warmth of the horn section, followed by a big, satisfying swell that fades out, dirty and distorted. It’s a good ride all the way through.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #636:

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands

Angst-ridden atheist post-Velvets powerpop from 1986. It’s the only really solid album the band ever did, a template they tried to fit into many times afterward without nearly as much success. Much as the idea of putting an album by a rock band propelled by a drum machine on this list is pretty abhorrent, it’s hard to argue with the catchy death-obsessed title track, or the stark, gorgeously bitter defiance of Deep One Perfect Morning, the strongest song here. There’s also the hook-driven, overcast goth-pop of Happy When It Rains and April Skies; the brisk, stomping Down on Me; the Stoogoid garage-punk of Fall; the poppiest number here, Cherry Came Too and a couple of impressively successful attempts at ethereal grandeur, Nine Million Rainy Days and About You. Here’s a random torrent.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment