Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Marianne Dissard’s L’Abandon Glimmers in the Shadows

French-American rocker Marianne Dissard’s Paris One Takes, from last year, was a bristling, deliciously tuneful record with hints of noir cabaret: it made our best albums of the year list. It’s also found a new life as the bonus disc with the recent and very captivating new Rough Guide to Paris Lounge anthology. Her latest album L’Abandon has been blowing up in Europe: it’s also a lot darker and deeper. You could call it the soundtrack to the long-lost Jim Jarmusch southwestern gothic movie. Dissard’s world-weary, breathy delivery enhances the songs’ dusky ambience without making it cheesy or over-the-top. She’s also an excellent lyricist. Singing in French and occasionally English, she intones her way through an endless series of surreal images, puns and double entendres, some of them amusing, some genuinely disturbing. Here she’s backed by a huge supporting cast that revolves around a central band with Christian Ravaglioli on keyboards and oboe, Connor Gallaher and Luke Doucet on guitars, Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund on bass and Arthur Vint on drums.

The opening track, La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) matches an insanely catchy Grateful Dead bounce to a snarling new wave lyric. Dissard’s view of the the media is as a battlefield and also a call to war: spot-on, in the wake of the Bush era. Fueled by reverberating Rhodes electric piano, Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) sets a seedy Mexican underworld tableau over a creepy, carnivalesque ranchera waltz. The murderously slow, whispery, sunbaked anthem Un Gros Chat (A Big Cat) wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s genre-defining classic Here Come the Miracles. Ecrivain Public (Writing in Public) starts out as a dark, chromatic blend of Botanica-esque gypsy rock, blues and tortured art-song with a crushingly ironic lyric, Dissard screaming back the promises to the guy who once shouted them to her off the top of a cliff, but who now bitches at her in public. It’s Edith Piaf updated for a darker, hotter century.

The most haunting track here, Eté Hiver (Summer Winter) paints a grim portrait of disollution and decay over brooding, creeping piano-rock atmospherics. Neige Romaine (Roman Snow), an understatedly bitter duet with Brian Lopez, quotes Pier Paolo Pasolini over the most overtly southwestern tune here, other than the next track, the galloping, rapidfire lost-weekend narrative L’Exilé (In Exile). Fugu is a literally venomous kiss-off anthem lit up with lurid tremolo-bar guitar and a big crescendo. The album winds up with the quietly memorable, swaying angst of Fondre (Melting) and The One and Only, Dissard’s homage to her adopted hometown, Tucson, now under siege from the usual suspects: real estate speculators and the trendoids and yuppies who fill the new “luxury” condos and drive all the cool people out to the fringes. There’s also a secret track and a bonus DVD with Dissard’s remake of Warhol’s 1968 western, shot in Tucson (she directs and also plays the Taylor Mead role). There literally isn’t a single substandard song here: count this among one of the best dark rock records in recent years.

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May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Cool Singles from Fun, Entertaining Brooklyn Bands

Spanking Charlene have a brand-new version of Dismissed with a Kiss – the title track to their deliciously fun album – just out on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool. How cool is that? The pay-radio conglomerate SiriusXM ran a yearlong “best unsigned band contest,” which we had no idea existed. And Spanking Charlene won! Imagine that. When is the last time a band that didn’t suck actually won some kind of contest? Maybe never? And as you can hear from the single (at the band’s reverbnation), it’s a lot of fun. We’re partial to the Eric Ambel-produced original because it’s on the album, one of the first ones we ever got in the mail back when we started the blog in 2007, but this is killer. Charlene McPherson’s wounded wail is as seductive as ever and Mo Goldner’s guitars roar and sizzle. They’ve got a new album due out this fall, titled Where Are the Freaks which is something to look forward to, ostensibly a blast from a much cooler East Village NYC past.

Strange Haze also have a new single out, Let Me Hear the Dropping Pin, available at cdbaby both as a download AND on purple vinyl, which we obviously recommend. It’s as hilarious as pretty much everything the Brooklyn stoner retro-metal band has ever come up with. It’s kind of a three-minute history of weedhead music from, say, 1964 to 1974. A fuzztone funk intro and classic garage riffage sets the stage for the woozy one-liners, which begin with “I don’t have nothing to do today, but I got all day to do it, so I got to get away.” The rest are just as good, or…at least as surreal. The band has the oldschool, rolling, kinda funky early 70s groove down cold and some musical jokes to go with the lyrical ones, and of course a guitar solo. It might sound like an insult to say the higher you are, the more fun this is, but that’s the point.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The JD Allen Trio’s Landmark VICTORY! Out May 17

The JD Allen Trio’s new album VICTORY!, out on May 17, is one of those rare albums that stands to influence an entire generation of players. But that’s not the reason why it’s worth hearing: it’s because it’s such a good listen. Emotionally impactful and surprisingly diverse, it’s the most eclectic release so far by this extraordinary tenor sax-bass-drums unit who’ve been making potent albums since 2007. The group play the cd release show on May 18 at 7:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge.

The JD Allen Trio’s 2007 debut I AM I AM didn’t just explode out of nowhere – the tenor saxophonist and bandleader had been a sought-after sideman since the 90s. But it was an explosion, and four years later validates the fact that we called it a classic at the time. The new album seems to be the third and possibly climactic chapter of a triptych that began with I AM I AM and continued with 2009’s Shine! Allen disarmingly calls his compositions “jukebox jazz,” continuing the tradition of guys like Monk and Brubeck, whose compositions were as catchy as they were cerebral, and who sold hundreds of thousands of them as 45 RPM singles. Taking the form of a classical sonata – a theme and variations which end conclusively – the new album offers twelve succinct, interwoven compositions. With its direct, unflinchingly intense central theme which itself refers back to I AM I AM, this album takes the intensity of that album’s breakthrough suite to the next level, and on to its logical conclusion. Yet while all the rigor of I AM I AM is also in full effect here, this new album explores considerably more emotionally and musically diverse terrain. And it ends optimistically.

The title track sets the tone for much of the album, dark enigmatic minor-key gospel beauty played out against the stately insistence of the rhythm section, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Royston’s aggressive introduction offers no hint of the balmy swing that emerges on the second track, The Pilot’s Compass, Allen interjecting commentary as August pulses and Royston supplies his signature, muscular rumble. They follow with the darkly biting, minor bluesy The Thirsty Ear and then the broodingly potent, ominously modal Sura Hinda, Allen’s solemn vibrato adding extra gravitas. As on I AM I AM, August gets an enviable role to play throughout the album, notably on The Learned Tongue as he shadows Allen while the drums go rubato, or on Philippe Petit – a homage to the World Trade Center wirewalker – where his serious, bowed lines, equal part triumph and terror, balance against Royston’s playful intricacies and Allen’s calm, steely optimism.

The simply titled Motif allows Allen and Royston to take the theme further outside as August sits out. Fatima allows a playful element to creep in over Royston’s nimble shuffle; Mr. Steepy enters with unexpectedly blithe swing blues, Allen running eighth notes a la Ben Webster, Royston eventually cutting loose with a grin and crowding everyone out of the picture. The album winds up with three unexpected shifts: a Harold Arlen-esque ballad; The Hungry Eye, centered around a vividly off-center bass solo; and the final track, reprising The Pilot’s Compass and elevating it to a rare sense of joy, ending suddenly with a bit of a wink. It could be the high point in a career of a group whose trajectory is still on the upswing.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jean-Michel Pilc’s Essential Combines Great Wit and Great Chops

Jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc’s new live solo album Essential is just out on Motéma, and it’s a match of astonishing chops and playful wit, in fact, one of Pilc’s best creations. A defiant advocate of pure improvisation, the way Pilc takes both original and classic themes, deconstructs them or reconstructs them, all the while making them up on the spot, is extremely entertaining. As he explains, literally everything here is improvised with the exception of one in a series of fascinating miniatures titled Etude-Tableaux – and that one Pilc came up with only a few days before he recorded this concert. The cd version of this album features features not only live concert material but also a video of a special private performance from the two-night stand where this material was recorded.

Utilizing the entirety of the piano’s range, Pilc will occasionally venture beneath the lid and coax timbres directly from the strings themselves. There’s also evidence here of Pilc’s seemingly ambidextrous two-handed approach which on occasion resembles two separate voices, sometimes conversationally, but more often than not has them working virtually independently of one another. Also in full effect is Pilc’s puckish sense of humor. A delightful version of Caravan becomes a game of hide-and-seek, Pilc interjecting seemingly random fragments of the melody amid low, rumbling, pedaled atmospherics or joyous righthand cascades, practically a mashup of the original with an improvisation. Likewise, Pilc artfully skirts the melody of Take the A Train, a wry contrast between low boogie woogie-tinged lefthand and devious flourishes in the right. Someday My Prince Will Come hints at a darkly suspenseful bluesy ballad approach before flying off into the upper registers; by contrast, Pilc takes Chopin’s A Minor Waltz and turns it into a foundation for alternately bracing and warmly consonant lyrical passages, an utterly original repurposing which begins with pain and poignancy but ends on a hopeful note.

Yet the original improvisations are the pieces de resistance. The title track is a thoughtful, methodical blues ballad shaded grey – it’s slow enough that the listener can think along with Pilc and watch how he does it, finally scurrying off before returning to the source. The series of Etudes-Tableaux begin with a somewhat austere boogie, followed by a deliciously bouncy, fractured pop melody with an amusing series of endings; a starlit ballad that opens the door wide on the kind of riveting intensity Pilc can deliver; another that could be Haydn through the prism of Scott Joplin; a contrasting miniature that evokes both Erik Satie and the Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays; and a Brubeck-esque jazz waltz that plays clever rhythmic tricks. There’s also a judicious, expansive version of I Remember You; an eerie music-box take of Scarborough Fair; an arrestingly brooding, compelling Blue in Green, and Mack the Knife, reinvented as a jester.

Pilc is playing a bunch of festivals this summer including Montreal; his next NewYork dates seem to be Aug 30-31 at the Blue Note with Pilc Moutin Hoenig Potter featuring his longtime rhythm section, bassist François Moutin and drummer Ari Hoenig, plus saxophonist Chris Potter.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeous, Groundbreaking East-West Collaboration

What if you could blend the hypnotic otherworldliness of classical Indian music with the lush melodicism of European classical music? That possibility comes to life on the new album Samaagam, a groundbreaking collaboration between Indian sarod virtuoso Amjad Ali Khan and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Murphy. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, the sarod (sort of) is to the sitar what the mandolin is to the guitar – it has less resonance, with more emphasis on the upper register. Amjad Ali Khan is one of the world’s great masters (his website is sarod.com); on this album, he begins with three abbreviated versions of classical Indian ragas, followed by the epic title suite. The ragas set the stage, each of them clocking in at a relatively brief seven minutes or so: the first an apertif of sorts, the second more aggressive with insistent staccato passages and the last the most complex and suspenseful.

The title piece, meaning “village meeting” in Sanskrit, is a concerto for sarod and chamber orchestra with terse, even minimal tabla rhythm, a fascinating and richly beautiful mix of Indian and Western melodies. Much of it evokes earlier Western music inspired by the sounds of India, specifically the late 60s rock of the Grateful Dead and Moody Blues. Rather than an integral suite, it’s actually a pastiche of new and older material: for example, the first two sections debuted in Indian in 1992, the third in 1964. Throughout the work, the orchestra shifts through rhythms that probably have never been attempted before with a Western orchestra, but Murphy leads them seamlessly, whether on their own or in tandem with the sarod. Likewise, they switch between the melismas of Indian music and the crisp Western dynamics with equal aplomb.

A quote from Also Sprach Zarathustra opens it playfully before Khan enters. They shift down to a quiet, plaintive arrangement, the sarod in and out as the orchestra swirls, moving to a rapt, pianissimo call-and-response passage between the sarod and the ensemble with a familiar melody that’s been appropriated by many western outfits over the years. Flute features prominently in the quiet, gentle sections that follow before it picks up with a rustic sway, a swirl of cadenzas with wordless vocals from Khan. The last three segments are traditional raga themes: the first ironically sounding like a Haydn arrangement of a south Indian melody, the second a brisk overture and the third a popular theme traditionally played as a “morning raga,” i.e. to wind up a concert in the wee hours. It’s the showstopper here, both poignant and boisterous, an echo chamber where the sarod and then the orchestra engage in a dizzying conversation that finally goes doublespeed and out with a bright, unexpected ending. An apt way to conclude this warmly beautiful, groundbreaking album, just out on World Village Music.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #630:

Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Sweet Nothing

Back in the 70s, while the southern midwest had bands like the fictitious Stillwater (the sadly spot-on stoners from the movie Almost Famous), Detroit had hard, intense, uncompromising bands like these guys. Tragically, the bandleader didn’t live to see this album or its successors, and during the band’s lifetime, Sonic’s Rendezvous band (named after its leader, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5) released only one vinyl single. This 1998 collection was the first in a series of reissues that culminated in a six-cd box set for you completists who have to have every outtake with Smith messing around on the saxophone. From the aptly titled first track, Dangerous, it’s careening riff-rock with a surreal, bluesy menace: it’s hard to imagine a lot of garage-punks bands like Radio Birdman without them. There’s some resemblance to the Stooges, but this stuff is heavier, slower and more soul-oriented, especially with the influence of Detroit legend Scott Morgan. The one track that sort of made it into the public eye is City Slang, one of the catchiest rock songs ever written: it blows the Ramones to shreds. There’s also the swaying, potent Getting There Is Half the Fun, the stalking, eight-minute title track; the warped boogie Asteroid B-612; the hammering Song L; the cynical Love and Learn and a careening cover of the Stones’ Heart of Stone. Here’s a random torrent via digitalmeltdown.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment