Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dave Juarez’s Round Red Light Burns Brightly

Dave Juarez’s new album Round Red Light – just out on Posi-Tone – is sort of the last thing you would expect from a jazz guitarist. There are compositions here that he doesn’t even play on, which speaks volumes. He’s a strong, individualistic, potently melodic writer who gets the max out of all the voices he has available here, with strikingly interesting arrangements where everything counts. He doesn’t like to waste notes, especially impressive for a guitarist: while there are other six-string guys in jazz who also play tersely and memorably, there’s also a whole generation of post-Stern, post-Scofield guys who refuse to play fewer than a thousand notes where one or two would do just fine. This guy is as far from that style of playing as Coltrane is from Kenny G. The excellent band behind him embraces that esthetic with joy and passion: Seamus Blake on tenor, John Escreet on piano, Lauren Falls on bass and Bastian Weinhold on drums.

The album opens and closes with jazz waltzes. The buoyant first track, Montepellier View swings its way through to a judicious Juarez solo where he climbs in stages with a graceful intensity. The concluding track, RNP, works off a biting modal theme that serves as a launching pad for a stunningly precise, tricky staccato solo from Escreet, some tastefully balanced pyrotechnics by Juarez and finally a fullscale, menacing intensity, the whole band burning beneath Blake’s ecstatic crescendos. Juarez is also very adept at boleros. La Noche Oscura del Alma begins slowly with more unease than dread and builds to a disarmingly funny series of false endings, lit up by a gimlet-eyed solo by Escreet. The Echo of Your Smile, a vivid ensemble piece, brings out the best in everybody. Falls, whose striking, incisive lines make many of this album’s most memorable moments, elevates it at the end with more than a hint of funk, Escreet adding a tinge of menace with his cascades. The best of these is the broodingly intense Luna de Barcelona, Juarez nonchalantly firing off a snarling chord or two as he winds his way up, Escreet bringing a funky edge this time, but with plenty of bite, introducing a plaintive, blue-flame, full-ensemble take of the final verse.

Just from the title, you know that Seratonina is trouble. She’s fast, and not a little satirical, bass and drums practically walking themselves off the edge of the song as Juarez wanders obliviously, Escreet taking it from caffeinated to starlit and then back again. Belleza Anonima takes its time coming together and after another clever false ending emerges as a song without words, Blake leading the way. Lonely Brooklyn doesn’t feel that lonely – with an understated Afro-Cuban vibe, it pairs Escreet’s cascades against Falls’ good-natured pulse. And the title track, a ballad, gives Blake a chance to get expansive before Escreet and Juarez pair off gingerly afterward. Not a single weak track here: a stealth contender for one of 2011’s best jazz albums.

Advertisements

May 17, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Oxygen Ponies’ Exit Wounds Leaves a Mark

The Oxygen Ponies’ 2009 album Harmony Handgrenade was a ferocious, lyrical art-rock masterpiece, one of the best releases of recent years: you can find it on our Best Albums of All Time list. Written during the waning days of the Bush regime, it’s a chronicle of love under an occupation. On the band’s new album Exit Wounds, frontman Paul Megna revisits similarly tortured terrain, this time more personal than political. For the most part, this is an album of snarling kiss-off songs, with psychedelic, anguished epic grandeur juxtaposed against stark Leonard Cohen-esque passages. The band this most closely resembles is Australian art-rock legends the Church, both in terms of the stunningly catchy simplicity of Megna’s melodies, the hypnotic sweep of the production and the clever, literate savagery of his lyrics.

“The velvet rope around your neck pulled you away,” he intones in his signature rasp in the opening track, Hollywood, as the band pulses with a trancey post-Velvets sway behind him. “Did you sell your face so you could buy the farm out at Maggie’s place?” he asks. But this isn’t merely an indictment of a starstruck, clueless girl: it indicts an entire generation. As Megna reaffirms later on with the amusing I Don’t Want Yr Love: after a pretty hilarious Lou Reed quote, he makes it clear that he doesn’t “want to be anywhere you are ’cause all the people there are blinded by the stars.” The outgoing mantra of “nobody loves you anymore” is just plain brutal: it makes a great outgoing message for anyone in need of some post-breakup vengeance. And the cello-driven This Disaster offers a more expansive view of the wreckage leading up to the big dramatic rift, Megna musing that “If all we have left is one technicolor kiss, I’d rather be the standin than the star.”

Hope and Pray is pure schadenfreude – it could be the great missing track from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands, but with better production values. “Hope the further down you go, the higher is the climb,” Megna snarls. He follows that with the bitter lament Good Thing, crescendoing out of spare, plaintive folk-pop with a cynical fury:

This is a call to everyone
Wake your daughters, rouse your sons
Take your aim and shoot to kill
So your friends don’t hurt you
‘Cause others will

Hornet, a dead ringer for a Steve Kilbey song, offers a backhanded compliment to a femme fatale, “Dancing around like a flame in the fire/As hot as it gets you don’t have to perspire.” They revert to Jesus & Mary Chain mode for Wild Animals, a more subtle putdown: “You think you’re smart, that each work of art ended up a failure,” Megna taunts. The indomitable Drink Myself Alive packs a punch, its undeterred narrator only willing to change his wicked ways if the girl who’s bedeviled him will do the same. With a distantly Beatlesque swing, Land That Time Forgot wouldn’t be out of place in the Spottiswoode catalog: it works both as a tribute to an individualist and a nasty slap at trendy conformists: “You’re walking around ahead of the crowd, such happiness is never allowed,” Megna sneers. He reprises that theme on the sparse, more gentle Jellybean with its torrents of lyrics:

Everyone around me is just sharing the same brain…
I guess they find it’s easier to be part of the whole
Searching for a reason why they buy the shit they’re sold.

The album ends on a completely unexpected note with the pretty, backbeat pop hit Christmas Every Morning. The album is out now on insurgent Brooklyn label Hidden Target Records, the same folks who put out Randi Russo’s brilliant new Fragile Animal a couple months ago. This one’s in the same league: it’s hard to imagine a better album than this coming out any time this year. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Contemplating Travis Reuter’s Rotational Templates

Hmmm…does Rotational Templates – the title of jazz guitarist Travis Reuter’s new album – mean “basic plan for solos around the horn?” No. It’s not clear what it means, but this pretty meticulously thought-out album is a great ipod listen, and as cerebral as it is, there’s feeling along with all the ideas. It’s hard to pigeonhole, a good sign: you could call it psychedelic improvisational postbop. Reuter is a thoughtful player with a tremendous command of unexpectedly non-guitarish textures. What becomes obvious only a few minutes into this album is that he really knows how to seize the moment, but also when to let the moment go because it’s over. He’s got a good band: Jeremy Viner on tenor sax, Chris Tordini on bass, Bobby Avey taking a turn on electric piano this time out and Jason Nazary on drums.

The first track sets the stage: Viner and Tordini carry the central theme as Nazary roves and prowls, Reuter providing nebulous atmospherics via a swooshy effect. He parallels the sax and then finally comes up acidally, bouncing off the rest of the band as Avey takes a turn in the shadow position. The second cut is the first of a diptych. Residency at 20, Part 1 introduces an off-center, circular theme that Viner pokes at suspiciously, Tordini signaling an absolutely delicious, otherworldly, icily ambient guitar interlude (is that a backward masking pedal?) that eventually begins to smolder and then throw off sparks as Reuter edges his way out of the morass.

The most mathematical number here is Singular Arrays, a blippy ensemble piece featuring some sly roundabout work from Nazary and a judiciously sinuous solo from Avey imbued with his signature gravitas that gives the song some welcome muscle. When Reuter starts bobbing and weaving, the spiky thicket of notes makes it impossible to tell the guitar from the piano. Its cousin track, Flux Derivatives uses the skeletal outline of a ballad to frame resolute solos from Viner and Avey, Reuter taking his time before spiraling up and bringing up the heat. The album closes with the second part of Residency at 20, Avey left to hold this together as the drums shuffle off on their own, Reuter adding a couple of amusing quotes, with Avey rocking the boat to the point where Reuter turns it loose with an unexpected, unrestrained joy. Good ideas, good playing, five guys at the top of their game.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Album of the Day 5/17/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #623:

Ferlin Husky – Greatest Hits

Although his career reached into the 80s, country singer Ferlin Husky’s best years were the 50s and early 60s and for that reason, we’re breaking our “no greatest hits” rule since those songs predated the album era. Husky’s persona was more vulnerable, maybe Orbisonesque, than his contemporaries and for that reason he had a huge cult following, especially among women. The big early 50s hit was Gone, which set the stage for Dear John Letter, his duet with Jean Shepard. The longing in Once and Every Step of the Way is visceral; for fans of country standards, there’s Wings of a Dove and Heavenly Sunshine. Just for You shows him still at the top of his game in 1968; I Feel Better All Over was resurrected thirty years later by Knoxville Girls. This 70s reissue is also awfully hard to find outside of church sales and junk shops; instead, you can check out his 1967 I Could Sing All Night album via Some Local Loser.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment