Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #534:

New York City: Global Beat of the Boroughs

This 2001 Smithsonian Folkways release may be a long series of ludicrously bad segues, but multicultural party playlists don’t get much better than this. It’s predominantly latin and Balkan music played by obscure but frequently brilliant expatriate New York-based groups, although other immigrant cultures are represented. While the tracks by Irish group Cherish the Ladies and klezmer stars Andy Statman and the Klezmatics are all excellent, it’s surprising that the compilers couldn’t come up with the same kind of obscure treasures they unearthed from Puerto Rican plena groups Vienta de Agua and Los Pleneros de 21; or Albanian Besim Muriqi’s scorching dance tunes; or stately theatrical pieces by the prosaically titled traditional groups Music From China and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association. There are also rousing Greek and Bulgarian romps from Grigoris Maninakis and Yuri Yunakov, respectively; a soulful suite of Lebanese songs by crooner Naji Youssef; and even a spirited if roughhewn version of the Italian theme for the Williamsburg “Walking of the Giglio,” a big wooden tower paraded through the streets by a large troupe of hardworking men every August, among the 31 fascinating tracks here. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from the folks at the Smithsonian.

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August 14, 2011 Posted by | folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, irish music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laszlo Gardony Keeps the Tunes Front and Center

Dave Brubeck is a fan of Laszlo Gardony, which makes sense: Gardony plays lyrical, often classically-tinged piano jazz. In a way, his new album Signature Time (tempo-wise, this Sunnyside release is surprisingly straight-ahead) is something of the reverse image of Monty Alexander’s new live one just reviewed here. Where Alexander goes for gusto, Gardony goes for reserve, with an often vividly pensive edge. Like Alexander’s work (especially three tracks: the opening piece which begins with a samba flavor and quickly goes in a darker direction; the tersely catchy song without words Under the Sky; and the hypnotically pulsing On African Land) – it’s very accessible, but also intelligent. Most of the songs here are done as a trio with John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel playing it very low-key on drums, with Stan Strickland guesting on tenor sax on two tracks. Besides just consistently good tunesmithing, what makes this album worth a listen? Consistency of vision: everybody’s on the same page here, all the way through, Gardony and occasionally Lockwood setting the mood and the others maintaining it.

The covers are extremely inventive. Lady Madonna is rendered practically unrecognizable – imagine what Ray Charles did with it and then stretch that out even further, insistent but also precise, Lockwood’s staccato pulse paralleling Gardony’s meticulousness. Lullaby of Birdland is given a distantly tango-flavored vibe, swaying on Lockwood’s staccato hook, with a long, prowling Gardony solo. And Billy Strayhorn’s Johnny Come Lately swings brightly but warily, Strickland following potently in the same vein. There’s also the self-explanatory, high-spirited Bourbon Street Boogie with Strickland in terse, triumphant mode.

There are also a couple of duds here. One is a new-agey vamp with vocalese that adds absolutely nothing; the other is a cover of Eleanor Rigby. Some songs pack such a wallop that trying to reinvent them in a style that carries less of a wallop is a mistake. That one might work as heavy metal, maybe, but even Lockwood’s cleverly creepy chromatics aren’t enough to put Gardony’s attempt over the top. Hubris can be fun…and it can also be a bitch.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ebony Hillbillies: Historically Aware Fun at Lincoln Center

To say that the Ebony Hillbillies played a fun set at Lincoln Center out of Doors last night might be a little bit obvious: by definition, bluegrass is fun. The Ebony Hillbillies’ version is a little more raw, and rustic, and when you think about it, authentic than a lot of bands playing that style of music. That’s because New York’s only black bluegrass band draws on a tradition that started before Emancipation, when part of a slave’s job was also to entertain the slavemasters. The band doesn’t belabor that point, but they also know their history: “There was a lot of music to learn,” violinist Henrique Prince explained to the crowd, elaborating on how slave musicians suddenly found themselves immersed in German or Irish music. One thing he didn’t say is that it’s more than a little ironic that bluegrass, commonly known as music played by caucasians, is performed entirely on instruments which originated in Africa.

Prince is the lead player in this band, with a briskly exuberant, fluid style, backed by the steady, clanking chords of clawhammer style banjo player Norris Bennett. Bassist Bill Salter (co-author of Grover Washington Jr.’s biggest hit, Just the Two of Us) slipped and slid gracefully, adding a little funk to the last song, a singalong/clapalong dance number called the Broke Leg Chicken. A rattling dance beat was delivered by Newman Taylor Baker, who played washboard with metal strikers on his fingers rather than with a metal brush, along with singer Gloria Thomas Gassaway, who added to her “reputation of working the audience [as the band’s website states]”  while playing bones and then leading the crowd in a couple of singalongs. In that crowd was jazz piano legend Barry Harris, who interrupted Gassaway briefly during the funny blues tune Big Fat Daddy to remind that skinny guys (who happen to like big women) have also got it going on.

And the crowd ate it up. A woman with a video camera began trailing a little redheaded girl (who appeared to be her granddaughter) and then persisted in filming individual members of the band in close-up for almost the entire duration of the show. But they didn’t let it phase them. Everyone listened attentively as Prince sang a desperate but ultimately triumphant tune told from the point of view of a slave running off to Georgia to get away from a speculator who planned to auction him off; then they danced and swayed as Prince led the group through an Irish reel and more traditional, Appalachian-flavored stuff. At the end, after the Broke Leg Chicken, they wanted an encore, and the band would clearly have played it if the promoters had let them.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #535:

Exotica – Original Soundtrack

Canadian composer Mychael Danna has gotten a lot of Hollywood work; the best of his extensive career is this obscure 1994 score for an Atom Egoyan film that pretty much sank without a trace. Marketed as a suspense flick about a Montreal stripper and her stalker, it’s reputedly awful. But the music is a treat. It’s the kind of thing you might have discovered around that time on an adventurous late-night show on a good NPR affiliate. It’s notable for including several haunting, astringent Armenian melodies, including the folk songs Dilko Tamay Huay and Mujay Yaad (the latter completely redone as proto-bhangra). Some of these themes Danna expands on for his own compositions, most chillingly a series titled Field 1 through Field 4, a simple motif that in the end has grown to become downright macabre. There’s also the (possibly deliberately) silly disco title theme; the appropriately titled Something Hidden, Snake Dance, and the final track, The Ride Home, lush and more than a little exhausted, a bit of a respite from all the intensity. Here’s a random torrent via Judy Step.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment