Lucid Culture


Minerva Weighs Out Smart Headphone Jazz

Jazz trio Minerva’s new album Saturnismo is a lot of fun: it’s headphone music. Drummer/bandleader Carlo Costa is a first-class colorist. A rough guess is that he’s hitting his hardware here about 80% more than he plays on the actual drum heads. JP Schlegelmilch on piano and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass are tremendously thoughtful, often minimalist. Everyone contributes compositions. Tempos are generally on the slow side but sometimes just the opposite; the emphasis is on subtlety rather than volume or overt displays of chops. The vibe is free and conversational: throughout the album (especially the expansive, spacious Nocturnal Patterns) it seems as the group is trying to play as few notes as possible. Melodies are alluded to more than stated outright, sometimes rather amusingly. Compositions, such as they exist here, provide a somewhat skeletal architecture for conversations, slow crescendos and subtle dynamic shifts; the chemistry veers from conspiratorial to friendly jousting.

The opening, title track is a diptych, with the band slowly feeling their way in, up to a simple piano theme that they then deconstruct, bass artfully holding it together as the piano and drums diverge, with some neat rhythmic tricks. Part two is austere, otherworldly and often stunningly chilling, bass and drums tentatively sensing their way around the piano melody that hints at the macabre but doesn’t quite go there, which only enhances the suspense. The second track starts with the quietest of overtones, prepared piano – or is that a toy piano? – adding spare accents until it takes on a slyly creepy broken music-box feel, tinkly piano paired off against bowed bass. The third cut is more traditionally melodic, a deconstructed ballad of sorts, the band – Costa in particular – having a great time playing hot potato with the central hook.

Dream Machine is aptly titled, ethereal but with a muffled, mechanical rhythm, Costa brightening it with nonchalantly clinking color. The trio’s sense of humor comes front and center with Let’s Go I Don’t Know, a swing tune interrupted. Plateau, which follows in a more cynical vein, could be a parody of a ballad with the band tiptoeing around the theme. More space than melody, Nocturnal Patterns is something akin to jazz on Pluto, where one of their years is centuries of ours: it’s more a series of pregnant pauses interrupted by melody than the other way around, and the suspense is unrelenting. The real stunner here is Moth, a sparse, stark Satie-esque jazz waltz, Schlegelmilch’s coldly sparkling ripples and insistent clusters doubling on and off with Niggenkemper’s terse pulse, Costa throwing in an unexpected fanfare midway through. The album closes on a more upbeat, accessible note with the sly tiptoe funk of Clessidra and then the plaintively catchy beauty of Battle Cry, a tune which wouldn’t be out of place in the early Steely Dan catalog. Minerva play the cd release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on May 17 at 8:30 PM: it should be just as entertaining and unpredictable as the album.

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

Album of the Day 5/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #625:

The Act – Too Late at 20

Before Nick Laird-Clowes had the easy-listening radio hit Life in a Northern Town with his chamber-pop band the Dream Academy, he fronted this ferocious, sharply literate, Elvis Costello-influenced two-guitar new wave rock band with David Gilmour’s kid brother Mark playing lead. Their lone 1981 album is a masterpiece of catchy tunes, snarling guitar and restless lyricism. “I belong to the ones that got away,” Laird-Clowes asserts on the album’s best track, the resolute escape anthem Long Island Sound – but by the end, it’s hard to tell whether he’s singing “I belong” or “I’m alone.” That moment is characteristic here. Zero Unidentified is about as exhilarating as a three-minute song can get: it won’t take no for an answer. Get It While You’re Young has an uneasy undercurrent beneath the ecstatic two-guitar powerpop intensity, while The Art of Deception salutes the cheaters amongst us, Clash-style. There’s also the sizzling, upbeat Sure Fire; the reggae-tinged, cynical Protection and Skip the Beat; and the surprisingly tender Touch and Go. Only one dud amongst all this fun. Issued on the same label that would put out Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights only a few months later, it’s been out of print for decades. Here’s a random torrent via Powerpop Criminals.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment