Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/23/11

Lucid Culture’s offices will be closed through July 5: our core crew will be on vacation. We will continue the daily 1000 best albums of all time countdown along with as much content as we can muster: stay tuned. Thursday’s album is #586:

Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party

One of the iconic psychedelic remnants from the late 60s, this late 90s anthology assembles a bunch of obscure soundtrack cuts from some truly terrible German B movies. But the music is as inspired, and as trippy, as the dialogue and everything else about those flicks was awful. The two composers approach psychedelic rock with a mix of classical rigor and joy about being freed from that rigor: the brightly staggering faux jazz of Droge CX9; the fuzztone menace of The Lions & the Cucumber; the psychedelic piano theme There’s No Satisfaction; the lavish, funky Dedicated to Love; the noir bedroom theme The Message; Shindai Lovers, which inspired a million 90s downtempo themes; and the absolutely macabre, trippy Necronomania among the sixteen off-the-wall instrumentals here. Electric harpsichords, reverb guitars, fake Indian and soul music grooves: pre-internet syncretism taken to a deliriously entertaining extreme. Here’s a random torrent via Devo MK.

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June 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2011: Saved by Heavy Metal

When La Fête de la Musique (the annual French busk-a-thon that spurred a worldwide day of outdoor music) originated, global warming was still in its early stages. Even now, France is more temperate than New York in late June. In the weeks leading up to this year’s Make Music NY festival, what was most obvious was that most of the performers who played it last time around were not doing it this year. And most of those who played in previous years have not done it since. This is true for both acoustic acts along with performers who require electricity and bear the additional responsibility of generating or acquiring it.

At this point, in the wake of the fifth annual MMNY, it’s become obvious that June is simply not a viable month for the festival. Consider: Central Park on Make Music NY day. It should be a beehive of activity. Yet within view of the 72nd St. path, from the east side to the west side, there was one single performance going on in mid-afternoon. In Tompkins Square Park a little later, absolutely nothing. McCarren Park in Williamsburg? Ditto. Clearly, New York musicians have had enough of sweating it out on June 21. So let’s move Make Music NY to a Saturday in late October. The actual date can change year by year, so both performers and concertgoers won’t have to miss a day of work. It’ll make performing less physically taxing, it’ll boost participation, and losing the solstice aspect will have the added benefit of losing the “namaste” crowd.

If you’re immune to heat, or feel like braving the sauna like we did, how do you best experience MMNY? Not by trying to track down the music: you have to let it come to you. That means just walking around, or even just walking to the train and then home, leaving open the possibility of a great random discovery. This time around, for us, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that rainbow took forever to get past. Our most successful tour of MMNY was 2008, simply because there happened to be an excellent afternoon’s worth of shows all within walking distance. This time around, the game plan was to start out uptown and then work our way down, which turned out to be much easier said than done. The reggae band on the calendar for noon was nowhere in sight – although out in front of the beauty parlor at 128th and Lenox, doing gospel karaoke, was Pastor Murthlene Sampson. And she’s good! She growls, she purrs, she wails, she knows what she’s doing and she gets around: she was scheduled for two other performances yesterday. She’s leading a gospel choir of over fifty voices on June 25th at Miracle Temple Ministries, 965 Boyland St. in Bed-Stuy at 6 PM for $20 and if they’re anything like she is, it’ll be worth it.

Next stop was Naumburg Bandshell, where classical pianist Taka Kigawa was scheduled. But there was no pianist, and for that matter, no piano. What happened in many cases this year is that performers would reserve space for a block of time, some of them hoping to find like-minded musicians to fill the early hours, others simply waiting til later in the day to play. And that’s fine – MMNY is all about freedom to play, rather than having to adhere to a venue’s strict schedule for load in, soundcheck and then stage time. Our first discovery was on the way from the deserted bandshell to the train, where toward the edge of the park the Dirty Urchins were playing beautifully low-key, all-acoustic Americana, party country, part jazz, part low-key rock. The quartet – two acoustic guitars, tenor sax, upright bass and girl/guy vocals – did two excellent songs before they took an obviously well-deserved break. Bandleader Julia Haltigan sang the first, Homesick for the Moon, with a casual, warmly jazzy lilt. Ever see a band, play along with them in your head and then witness one of the musicians play the exact same lick you’d been imagining? The sax player did that, bluesy and laid-back – it was a beautifully validating moment in a day that had been full of disappoinments up to this point. Guitarist Freddie Stevenson sang the second song, Spare Me, a gorgeous shuffle tune. They’ve got three albums out, and play with the authority, tightness and chemistry that comes with working up a lot of material together.

Running around downtown turned out to be a fiasco, so we made a quick trip back to the office, then over to Williamsburg, where the reggae band scheduled for 4 PM was just starting to unpack the truck. At this point, worn out, dehydrated, we figured that we’d make one last stop on the hunch that it would save the day, and it did. The concept was heavy metal under the BQE. Pure genius. It was cool down there, with a breeze! And all but one of the bands were so loud that they drowned out a recurrent car alarm, which is not nearly as easy as it seems. The first group we caught was Krystaleen. They have two wickedly fast, eclectically skilled lead guitarists and a tight and pummeling rhythm section with a bassist whose rapidfire fingerpicking was straight out of the Steve Harris school of intensity. Their songs were anthemic, ornate, smartly put together and had some surprising dynamics, the guy who took most of the solos wailing with an unexpectedly gentle, mournful unease during a quieter interlude. It was impossible to hear the vocals, although their frontman was clearly doing everything he could under the circumstances.

Exemption were next, a three-piece with an even more eclectic style that frequently took flight into jazz territory, through thickets of tricky rhythms and several moments with a genuinely funky slink. The nimble, melodic bassist played his Hofner with a pick and sang. Their guitarist’s deep bag of tricks includes noiserock and bluesmetal among other things – it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that he’s had conservatory training. The last band of the night, at least for us, was the SOS, a furious, unstoppable beast with a UK Subs/Motorhead punk/metal edge. Several times, the guitarist would sneak around the corner, get his strings humming and then suddenly turn up all the way as he reappeared with an otherworldly meteor storm of overtones. In two solid hours with barely a minute’s worth of changeover between bands, they didn’t play a single bad song. Pretty amazing for a random day when you never know what you’ll run into.

A far as Make Music NY is concerned, at least in terms of covering it as a daylong event, we’re done with it. Next year, we might pick a single show that we know for absolutely certain is happening, and we’ll be there. Or maybe we’ll go somewhere else that night – or we won’t go out at all. Unless there’s more metal under the BQE: in that case you may find us there.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brave New and Old Works by the Knights in Central Park

Transcending any kind of “indie classical” typecasting, symphony orchestra the Knights tackled a tremendously ambitious program Monday night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park and pulled it off mightily. Composer Lisa Bielawa introduced the world premiere of her Templehof Etude, taking care to explain how it was an etude for her, not the orchestra. In addition to her substantial body of work for orchestra and smaller ensembles, Bielawa is a pioneer in the use of outdoor sonics and settings for classical and new-music ensembles. She’s orchestrated surreal conversations overheard on the street, and explored the possibilities created between roving audiences – and sometimes roving musicians – in public spaces. This particular piece is a prototype for Bielawa’s most ambitious project yet, a grand-scale work scheduled to debut in the fall of 2012 on the grounds of the Berlin park that was once the Templehof airport, the Berlin Wall airlift’s final destination [she explains this with typical diligence and grace in this New York Times piece].

And it didn’t sound anything like a typical etude, either. Knowing the backstory helped. Conductor Colin Jacobsen led the ensemble through a memorably direct, bright, brassy DID YOU SEE THAT exchange across a runway that took on a staggered echo effect with the strings and timpani whirling in – airlift to the rescue? Rich with suspense, a bracing passage of horror-film atmospherics playfully pushed aside by a bassoon, hypnotic counterpoint and a blustery, crescendoing overture, it was as catchy as it was lushly arranged.

The orchestra brought it down from there with a Morton Feldman piece dedicated to his late piano teacher. Quietly ambient atonal layers shifted slowly behind an incessant cuckoo motif that seemed to be an inside joke: was his teacher a cuckoo fan? Did she have a favorite clock, maybe?

Then they played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Jacobsen explained unassumingly to emcee Midge Woolsey that he’d always wanted to conduct it: its humanity, he said, was what strikes him the most. How do you tackle something so iconic, something that’s become part of so many classical music fans’ DNA…and a potential minefield for performers? The Knights did it fast, and precisely, and guilelessly, letting the joy resound, crisply: this was party music. And if the piece is part of your DNA, how do you experience it as an audience member? Pondering how the sonics of the birdcalls all around and airplanes overhead might fit with the music? By watching the shadowplay of the musicians on the bandshell’s back wall, or the bird overhead on its way home to the roof? Could its wings have been keeping time with the music? No. A strong bloody mary came in useful here. There should be a Beethoven’s Fifth drinking game: drink for every false ending, chug every time the meter changes.

Beethoven probably came up with da-da-da-DA in 1804, a long time before his most paradigm-shifting stuff. Knowing the backstory, it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine it’s Haydn in the courtly second movement. But when the endless series of conclusions kicks in, it could only be Beethoven, and this time you’re at the bar, and he’s needling you. And he’s having fun too. And it’s impossible not to smile back.

Special thanks to Martha Sullivan, singer and composer of symphonic music for organ, and to Gail Wein, bassoonist and impresario to the stars, for their insight and good company.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment