Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trio Joubran’s AsFar – Best Album of 2011?

Towering, intense and haunting, Trio Joubran’s new album AsFar is a suite of interconnected instrumentals that draw on the ensemble’s Palestinian heritage while also incorporating tinges of gypsy and flamenco music. Gorgeously produced, with just the perfect amount of reverb on the ouds played by the three Joubran brothers – Samir, Wissam and Adnan – they sound like an oud orchestra, bolstered even further by Youssef Hbeisch’s distantly boomy, terse, almost minimalist percussion. Rich with eerie, austerely chromatic melodies and almost relentless angst, it’s arguably the most gripping album of the year.

The first two tracks shift apprehensively from energetic to brooding: the opening cut with flamenco tinges, the second featuring Dhafer Youseff’s long, drawn-out, wordless flamenco-flavored wails punctuating a hypnotic melody that moves from scurrying and furtive to low and pensive, and back again. A stately, apprehensive waltz, Dawwar El Shams follows the suspenseful percussion, building to a staggering sprint that finally explodes with a watery crash of cymbals. The fourth track, a dirge, sets low, somewhat imploring vocalese against chilly, austere percussion and a bitter, minimalist oud melody that wouldn’t be out of place in Shostakovich. Sama Cordoba, the following cut, develops that melody, methodically building to a series of viscerally intense crescendos with some lickety-split tremolo-picking over hypnotic, syncopated clip-clop flamenco rhythm. A nimble, wary oud taqsim (improvisation) takes it out on a disturbingly ambiguous note, setting the stage for the majestic, epic, pitch-black fifteen-minute title track, its crushingly portentous melody announcing the gathering storm with a bitter, depleted anguish. The ouds flutter distantly, taking on almost a cello tone, Hbeisch adding even more gravitas with his judicious, muffled accents, a long, slow journey through a darkness that will not let up. The storm moves in and the ouds build to a mesh of cold, windswept metal fences as the percussion picks up with a trip-hop beat, then slowly subsiding with wounded resignation. It’s by far the most powerful song in any style of music that’s come over the transom here this year. The album closes darkly with Masana, opens with a long, energetic solo taqsim that hints at a brighter future before reverting to the earlier dirge theme. Back in March, we picked a rock album, Randi Russo’s Fragile Animal as best of the year. Considering this one, that pick might have been premature: you’ll see this somewhere at the top of our best albums list at the end of the year. It’s out now on World Village Music.

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June 8, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travis Sullivan’s New Directions Kicks off the Summer Properly

The trouble with a lot of jazz albums is that a lot of bands can’t translate their interplay from the stage or even the rehearsal room to the studio. As a result, they sound stiff – or as if everybody was just trying to lay down their parts and get the hell out. Alto saxophonist and Bjorkestra bandleader Travis Sullivan’s New Directions, on the other hand, sounds like a live show, except with studio-quality acoustics. It’s a great summertime album, brightly tuneful, full of good spirits and inspired playing from pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Brian Fishler (AKA Frank Feta of Richard Cheese’s band). Sullivan favors a clear, uncluttered tone and strongly melodic extrapolations rather than any crazed, heavy breathing. But as attractive as the melodies are, this isn’t lightweight by a long shot. Intense? Not particularly. Subtle and fun? You bet.

The opening track, Jamia’s Dance works vividly expansive Sullivan explorations of an absurdly catchy central hook. Autumn in NH is not a drinking song as you might expect (New Hampshire tops all states but Wyoming in per-capita alcohol consumption) but rather a morosely lyrical mood piece that stretches the band as far out into free territory as they go here. A hard-charging, samba-tinged number, Tuneology picks up the pace and sets the stage for Hidden Agenda, which begins as a funky mid 70s style crime movie tune with echoes of Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver theme – the hidden agenda here seems to be a big, long crescendo that involves everybody in turn, with a funny Coltrane quote, a bass solo that nimbly and energetically works a piano line and a spiraling Sullivan salvo out. They cover Rodgers and Hart’s Spring Is Here slowly and make it much more wintry that you would expect; the catchy, sprightly Georgie contrasts an understated dark soul piano pulse with Sullivan spinning around brightly overhead. Their cover of Tears for Fears’ odious 80s schlockfest Everybody Wants to Rule the World is a real shocker – it’s unrecognizable until they hit the hook, almost, Sullivan defiantly evading its cloying quality and then immediately messing up the tempo, taking it out on a limb and handing it over to Eckroth. Third time around, Panascia’s panacea is to make it funky.

A jazz waltz, Leap of Faith is another track with a pensive undercurrent beneath Sullivan’s stunningly effortless, good-natured glissandos, Eckroth adding a wee hours wink, Sullivan making an abrupt shift in a much more straight-ahead direction afterward, setting the stage for a deliciously swirling crescendo. It’s the kind of moment you see in concert a lot, which doesn’t make it onto studio albums as much as it should. An enigmatically bustling song without words, Magic Monday has Sullivan and Eckroth trading busily opaque solos over Panascia’s muscular pulse. The album winds up with the title track, an aggressive, terse, catchy straight-up strut that wouldn’t be out of place in the JD Allen catalog, Panascia leaping to a sprint and then back again, Fishler finally getting a chance to cut loose and hit hard and makes the absolute most of it. File this under melodic jazz, yet another triumph for the Posi-Tone label, who in this decade are making a mark much in the same way that Impulse did in the 60s. Sullivan’s next gig is with Bjorkestra on June 14 at 9 at Highline Ballroom.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The New Gary Burton Quartet: Smashingly Successful

At this point in his career, jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton is entitled to do whatever he wants – which in this case means yet another great, tuneful album with a terrific band. His latest, Common Ground, assembles a set of roomy, expansive recordings with plenty of space for each individual personality. The easy chemistry here attests to Burton choosing wisely when bringing this band together. Specifically, this New Gary Burton Quartet includes Julian Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Dating from even before his days with Larry Coryell back in the 60s, Burton has been a fan of guitar/vibraphone textures, and this album testifies to the kind of magic frequencies those instruments can create together. Lage has been riding a well-deserved wave of buzz for his latest album Gladwell, and here he plays bad cop to Burton’s melodic, often majestic lines, slashing and biting – he’s an edgy player in general, even more so here. Colley’s rock-solid runs and steps often anchor the rhythm as Sanchez gets to explore the perimeter and add all kinds of subtle shades.

The opening cut, Late Night Sunrise has an easygoing later-than-wee-hours feel, Colley’s brief, suspenseful bass a perfect lead-in to Lage’s spot-on, blithe but biting solo. Never the Same Way gives Burton a chance to invent new ways to work a simple modal vamp, Lage mimicking him and tossing off sparks before Colley adds wry humor. With its rippling vaudevillian hook, the title track is somewhat tongue-in-cheek: we dare you to listen to this without imaging a tenor sax line in the early going. It’s the space here that makes it, notwithstanding a deliciously bluesy Burton solo and some nimbly slashing lines from Lage. The real stunner here is Was It So Long Ago, atmospheric with an understated ache, totally noir without being the least bit cliched. As it goes on, it hints at the tango work that Burton so memorably explored a few years ago. When Lage’s guitar starts smoldering with just a tinge of natural distortion, it’s the perfect setup for Burton’s lingering ambience – and it’s not the only genuinely transcendent moment here.

Etude pairs off playful embellishments on a circular baroque figure with flamenco tinges; Last Snow follows a memorable, narrative trajectory from pensive to brighter and then back down again, courtesy of Colley. Sanchez livens up Did You Get It, a buoyant, witty jump blues. They reinvent My Funny Valentine – maybe the best-ever version of that moldy oldie – with lengthy, warily allusive solo guitar passages and then swing it with darkly bluesy touches. The album ends with the wickedly catchy Banksy, a noirish theme with a Get Carter ambience, switching artfully to a creepy jazz waltz midway through, and then the ballad In Your Place which begins as a pop song but gets interesting quickly. This is Burton’s debut on the Mack Avenue label. He had heart surgery last year, but it’s impossible to tell: still sounds like the same old heart to us, a very good thing.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The New Gary Burton Quartet: Smashingly Successful