Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Miramar’s Para Siempre – Get It While It Lasts

Miramar’s Para Siempre stands out as the most noir album of recent months. The vintage Puerto Rican bolero band’s main instrument is keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandoña’s tremoloing, funereal Farfisa organ, over which singers Rei Alvarez (Simmons-Argandoña’s bandmate in retro salsa powerhouse Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonize lushly, against a backdrop of acoustic guitar, baby bass and drums – and that organ. The result is both completely retro and original at once, a Sam Fuller film set in San Juan, 1955. These “songs about love and anti-love” are up at the band’s bandcamp site as a name-your-price download (that means free if you’re broke).

Interestingly, the most iconic song here, Silvia Rexach’s Di Corazon is done with piano rather than organ, a stately, spacious version with spare guitar that lets the lyrics’ understated anguish speak for themselves. Rexach was reputedly about 15 or 16 when she wrote this; Alvarez and Singh vividly evoke the pain of a girl alone at night wondering whether anyone will ever care about her. The slinky Farfisa rivulets kick in on another Rexach classic, En Mis Sueños, darkly dreamy but more so musically than lyrically. They follow a brief, gorgeous organ solo by a gently spiky one from the acoustic guitar. Tomate Una Copa has a bouncy insistent “gimme a chance” vibe, with the piano and guitar carrying it, Alvarez handling the lead vocal.

Nuestro Juramento is a creepy organ waltz that evokes another retro latin band, Las Rubias Del Norte – the wounded duet vocals are viscerally intense. The best of the organ tunes is the lusciously, luridly spiraling Alma, with its wary, somewhat surreal guy-vs.girl call-and-response and tango nuevo-tinged melody. They follow that with two piano ballads, the expansive Y Etonces and the brooding, bitterly crescendoing intense title track. They close with Estatua (Te Creo), rich with restrained longing. Get this while it’s still online.

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June 9, 2011 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reverend Screaming Fingers’ Music for Driving and Film Is Exactly That

The Brooklyn-based composer/guitarist who goes by the name of Reverend Screaming Fingers writes movies for the ears. He’s got a collection of elegant, memorable instrumentals, simply titled Music for Driving and Film up at his site for free download. Smart move – it’s going to get him some film work. Like a good demo reel, it showcases his diversity as a tunesmith, yet the quality of the pieces here is vastly better than most demos. As a whole, it makes a great late-night album. The twangy reverb guitar gives many of these tunes a noir feel; others reach for a distantly menacing spaghetti western ambience. Most of them have a straight-up guitar/bass/drums setup, often with organ. Many of these works stem from the composer’s work with the west coast film/music group the Overdub Club.

The opening track, Highway Song sets the stage with baritone guitar and organ – it’s like Booker T. gone to Kansas. The most haunting cut here, Sort It Out has a slow, sunbaked menace, sort of a spaghetti western set in Riyadh. The guitar meanders ominously and then hits a chilly, bone-rattling tremolo-picked interlude – it’s as psychedelic as it is creepy. Repeat Performance is a two-chord vamp that rises and falls hypnotically, followed by East Meets West, an atmospheric tone poem a la Friends of Dean Martinez, building to a motoring beat that contrasts with the hazy sonics. OD Loop continues in a similarly southwestern gothic vein: it’s the scene where the band of thugs make their way across the desert. Suki O’Kane on drums does a marvelous job of hanging back and not letting the whole gang break loose.

Taking its name from an adopted manatee, Boomer’s Groove has a twangy, nocturnal Jim Campilongo/Mojo Mancini vibe, following a deliciously suspenseful trajectory that hits a sweetly apprehensive peak as the bass shifts just a little higher and the guitars all follow. Caterina begins as a simple two-chord vamp dedicated to a little girl who died young, building to a tense grandeur with casual tremolo-picked melody sailing beneath the roar and crash, finally reaching a scream with umpteen layers of guitar roaring in their separate corners. There’s also a couple of brief vignettes: one with Jonathan Segel on violin pairing off against Laurie Amat’s stately Middle Eastern inflected vocalese, and Through the Portal, a surreal party scene employing Rebecca Seeman’s eerie, upper-register swirls on her own invention, the wine glass organ. The album ends with a static, hypnotic piece that sounds like Stereolab doing an extended version of the intro to Blue Jay Way. Recommended for fans of Giant Sand, Big Lazy, Mogwai and Black Heart Procession.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 6/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #600:

T-Model Ford – Pee Wee Get My Gun

Primeval menace at its most raw and ramshackle, this 1997 live-in-the-studio recording is a fair approximation of what the Mississippi hill country blues legend is like onstage. A convicted murderer who let his reputation proceed him and seems to have a lot of fun letting people believe how bad he is, T-Model Ford was a nonmusician until his late 50s. His pounding, hypnotic style doesn’t indicate that he was listening to much of anything other than the careening one-chord juke-joint vamps popular in his neck of the woods. Where Junior Kimbrough was all about nuance, this is all about the adrenaline rush. By the time he made this, he was in his late 70s, with a bad hip that forced him to play sitting down. But it doesn’t hold him back, just him and his drummer Spam. Marilyn Manson is G-rated compared to this guy. It’s angry, assaultive stuff, kiss-off numbers like Cut You Loose; the defiant Nobody Gets Me Down; the T-Model Theme, a warped boogie; the completely unhinged I’m Insane and seven other tracks, most of them in the same key, otherworldly overtones flying from the muted strings of his cheap guitar. Still vital at almost ninety, he keeps playing and recording. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via I Hate the 90s.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/8/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #601:

Richard Strauss – Death and Transfiguration – The Berlin Philharmonic/Ivan Fischer

Strauss is best known these days as a composer of opera and lieder: his trademark is lavish arrangements, most of them possibly devised to conceal the fact that the music is not all that deep. This is his career highlight, a massive multi-part tone poem inspired by the Nietszche work. It has the potential to be stormy: it usually isn’t. What makes it work is the tension: it’s meant to portray a relatively incessant struggle for redemption. We picked this 2009 release because it works the dynamics more boisterously than other recordings: it’s not supposed to be all ambience and suspense, and when they reach a peak here, it packs a wallop. Here’s a random torrent.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad Weekend at the Blog

One of the few downsides of running a music blog is that concerts become less of a social event: if you’re going to write about them, you need to pay attention. Another downside is that your favorite bands get squeezed out. The freedom to go up to Rodeo Bar on the spur of the moment to see Demolition String Band quickly disappears as the calendar fills up. There’s no shortage of good music in this city, the corporate media couldn’t care less and most of the blogs as well – somebody ought to be paying attention, and that’s where we come in. It’s a big job, and somebody’s got to do it, or at least try to, because that’s where our roots are. We spent our first year chronicling great New York rock bands who were far too scary and intelligent for the bland, conformist Bushwick blogs and the corporate media they imitate. But, predictably, this blog didn’t really take off until we expanded our base and started covering other worthwhile artists who’d built a larger following than the obscure local acts we love so much. However, it’s always a bad thing to forget your roots: humble as ours are, we’re proud of them, and we made it a point to revisit them this past weekend. Big mistake.

Mistake #1 was going to Astoria on a Friday night. It didn’t seem that way in the beginning. Ninth House (whose frontman Mark Sinnis has a ghoulish new acoustic album out and a cd release show Saturday night at Duff’s) were in rare form in the middle of a sleepy residential block at an opulent Greek bar that seems…um…to have an alternate source of income, considering that the only people in the place were the 25 remaining goths in Queens (it was goth night). It’s no secret that this band’s days are numbered: since Sinnis’ solo career has taken off, the band has become more of a side project. They’re not playing any more gigs until the Coney Island rockabilly festival around Labor Day, and then that might be it for them. If so, they had a great run. This show mixed old classics like the swaying, Nashville gothic Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me with a tremendously poignant, restrained version of the big escape anthem Long Stray Whim and newer material like the cynical Fallible Friend, a showcase for guitarist Keith Otten’s surreal, maniacal post-Jimmy Page attack. Never mind that the sound was far from perfect and it was a slow night: they gave 200%, closing with an uncharacteristically lighthearted country drinking song from the new Sinnis solo record that got the crowd singing along (think for a minute about how hard it is to get goths to do anything in unison, let alone raise their voices).

By one in the morning, the place wasn’t exactly hopping, and it was time to head out. And there were no Manhattan-bound trains, which meant a 45-minute trip deep into Queens. Not so bad if you live there, but if it means having to turn around and go back to Manhattan, with two out of three subway lines out of service at this particular station, that’s a dealbreaker. Will we be back? Maybe, but not if it means a three-hour subway ride. Could something as mundane as bad subway service destroy what’s left of good live rock music in New York? You figure it out.

Saturday’s debacle was a different kind of scenario. If you’re in the right mood, Tompkins Square Park is a great place to be on a Saturday, whether for a punk show, or the Charlie Parker Festival. This past Saturday was the Howl Festival, a longrunning annual event in homage to Allen Ginsberg that ignores his NAMBLA affiliation. It’s basically amateur hour. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a neighborhood stage so that friends and neighbors can share songs, but it’s usually not something you would want to see unless you happened to be playing yourself, or have a friend who is. So it was a lot of fun to show up around three and discover a tuneful, hypnotic, psychedelic Afrobeat band onstage who call themselves Timbila (after the Zimbabwean proto-vibraphone that frontwoman Nora Balaban played nimbly and energetically). Singer Louisa Bradshaw joined voices with her for some often otherwordly harmonies, singing in Shona, while guitarist Banning Eyre jangled and tossed off one incisive riff after another over the trancey groove of bassist Dirck Westervelt and drummer Ed Klinger. On one long number, Balaban switched to a mbira (thumb piano) that she’d hooked up to an amp: because it’s tuned to a microtonal scale, the dissonances with the guitar made for some blissfully strange timbres and textures.

Eventually, a couple of neighborhood guys did low-key but inspired versions of an old Fugs song, and a William Blake poem set to a pensive minor-key guitar tune. LJ Murphy was next on the bill. He’s been on our radar since his long-running weekly residency at the old C-Note a couple of blocks east of the park about ten years ago. He’s amazingly charismatic: give this guy an audience, and he delivers. What mot juste would he pull out of his hat in front of this crowd? Nothing, as it turned out. His set was cut back to two songs, the second, Barbwire Playpen a ferociously pun-infused tale of a Wall Street swindler who can’t resist the lure of the dungeoness, “begging to be punished while he’s dancing like a jester,” as the song goes. And then he was off the stage. Their loss.

At least Randi Russo’s show at Matchless the weekend before last was problem-free. One of us first saw her play a songwriters-in-the-round type thing way back in 2000 and was intrigued by her lefthanded guitar style. Seeing her with a band for the first time at the old Luna Lounge that same year, we were absolutely blown away. Since then she’s become one of the endless succession of New York rock acts who’s popular in Europe (her new album Fragile Animal, which we’ve ranked #1 for 2011 ought to go over well there) but plays it pretty low-key here in town, probably because she never fit in with the zeros’ trendoid esthetic (they only like other boys) or with this decade’s doucheoisie invasion (she sounds nothing like Bon Jovi). And the average, intelligent rock music fan thinks to himself or herself: Williamsburg on a Sunday? Trains aren’t running, are they?

But they were running, and she made it worth the effort. From show to show, she thrives on the unexpected: her last show featured a full band, keyboards and two drummers, while this one was just Russo methodically strumming her Gibson SG, and drums. Behind the kit, Josh Fleischmann was just as interesting as she was: watching him build the songs, following and enhancing Russo’s lyrics, crescendos and quieter passages literally phrase by phrase was something you don’t expect to see from a rock drummer (this guy’s very diverse, it turns out). He gave the towering, angst-driven anthem Wonderland a lush bed of cymbals, brought out every bit of the funk in the biting, bitter workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and then negotiated the endless tricky time changes of the playful, funky shuffle Parasitic People and made it look easy. And made it easy to forget that the act who’d preceded them was an American Idol wannabe.

And the next band, Bugs in the Dark were great too! Two singers, two guitars and drums. The first song sounded like a haunted Middle Eastern version of Sonic Youth crossed with My Bloody Valentine, with defiant, pissed-off vocals, scorched-earth guitars and gargantuan drums. The second song was more of a dreampop stomp. What a fun discovery they were: so many good bands, so little time to see them all.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment