Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Introducing Lucid Culture’s New Sister Site, New York Music Daily

As regular visitors to this site have no doubt realized, there’s been a decline in activity here over the past ten days or so. The reason is that Lucid Culture’s co-founder and main contributor at present has been busy getting our new sister blog New York Music Daily off the ground. To give you the lowdown on how this will affect Lucid Culture, here’s an uncensored interview:

Q: First of all, what differentiates New York Music Daily from Lucid Culture?

A: Let me explain first what the two blogs will have in common. Like Lucid Culture, New York Music Daily will cover music from all over the map – both stylistically, and globally. But some of Lucid Culture’s coverage overlaps with places like NPR, and other blogs. With the new blog, I want to get back to what I was doing five years ago, covering great music that nobody else on the web or in the media was paying attention to because it was too smart, or confrontational, or just plain weird. I’m going back to my roots, in small clubs and the distant corners of the web where all the action is. What this means for fans of Lucid Culture – and I really appreciate your support over the years – is that the New York-centric features here will be migrating to New York Music Daily starting in September. The monthly live music calendar is going to make the move, and so will a lot of my live music coverage. The rest of the content – the more lucid, cultured stuff – will stay put.

Q: There must be a thousand music blogs in New York. Do we really need another one?

A: Yes. Why? Because New York doesn’t have a blog that consistently covers music that’s intelligent, and fun, and transgressive, and shifts the paradigm a little further to the left. I’ve been doing that since I first started writing about music for newspapers and magazines, then with the e-zine I published for seven years, and then at Lucid Culture. Since my days as a college radio disc jockey – notice I didn’t say DJ! – I’ve been fortunate to be a magnet for good music. I think it would be pretty irresponsible if I didn’t share what I know with the rest of the world.

Q: You mean to say that there isn’t a single other blog in New York, Lucid Culture included, that covers music which is challenging, and fun, and intelligent?

A: I want to create a blog that does something new and interesting every day, across all conceivable boundaries – like European pirate radio. There are plenty of blogs where you can find out about good music, but most of them seem to specialize in one particular style. It seems to me that there are three kinds of music blogs out there. First the specialists – who can be really excellent. In my opinion, those people are the heroes of music on the web. There’s blogs for Afrobeat, desert blues, punk rock, Greek psychedelia, oldtime gospel and pretty much every other style of music ever invented. I owe a lot to all those bloggers and I intend to draw on everything I’ve learned from them at New York Music Daily.

Q: But how about people who like more than one single style, Afrobeat, desert blues, punk rock, or whatever?

A: That’s exactly the audience that New York Music Daily is designed for. People tell me that my taste in music is pretty eclectic, but I don’t think I’m any different from anybody else – when you look at pretty much everybody’s ipod, you see a very wide variety. New York Music Daily is aimed at intelligent listeners – some who are obsessed with finding out about new music, some who aren’t – who are open to new ideas and sounds.

Q: Don’t all the Bushwick indie blogs already do that?

A: LMFAO. The Bushwick blogs, most of them anyway, are about clothes, and grubbing for status, and pretending to be a celebrity. It’s I Love Lucy all over again – they all wanna be in show business. Those bloggers don’t have anything to share with anybody except their crappy photos and videos – and they only make those to prove they were somewhere that’s been pre-approved for their peer group. It’s all about conformity, not about having fun. And that brings me to the corporate bloggers, because they’re not exactly obsessed with music either.

But they are obsessed with selling advertising.

And to sell advertising you have to convince advertisers that you get a lot of web traffic. How do you do that? The same way content farms do, with keywords and popular search terms. Because they’re going for the broadest audience possible, the corporate music bloggers’ coverage is pretty much identical to what’s on free tv – Journey, American Idol, Lady Gag, Justin Bieber. There are plenty of people who listen to that stuff, but most of them are still in grade school.

Q: You’re ranting.

A: Damn right. I intend to do a lot more of that. One of the reasons I wanted to start my own blog is that I’ll be able to address some issues that Lucid Culture hasn’t covered much lately. After all, music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a reflection of society as a whole. On one hand, I am very much aware that people don’t like strident political screeds. On the other hand, this is an incredibly exciting time to be alive. What started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, and Greece, and now the UK is going to start happening stateside, and I’m not going to miss the boat. Sometimes people need a kick in the ass – and I do too. So I’m not going to hesitate to give people one if I have to. Besides, right-wing politicians are a 24-hour source of good comedy.

Q: Can I ask you why on earth you’d want to abandon Lucid Culture? Millions of hits, popular blog, what’s up with that?

A: I’m not leaving Lucid Culture, at least for the time being. Lucid Culture will continue, and I’ll be part of that. But after almost five years at Lucid Culture, it’s time I had my own blog. Don’t you agree?

Q: Maybe so. Other than Lucid Culture, is there another blog that inspired you to create the new one?

A: Not really. My models for New York Music Daily go back before the days of the internet. One is European pirate radio. Some of their segues are ridiculous, but they take chances nobody else does. Pirate radio is fearless. For one, it’s against the law. And they don’t care about ratings, what people think, they’re doing it because it’s fun.

My other model is – you’re gonna laugh – the New York Times. Or at least some ideal Platonian concept of the New York Times.

Q: I am laughing. You’re going to imitate a dying daily newspaper? That is funny.

A: What’s always intrigued me is the idea of having a central, definitive record. New York Music Daily is designed first and foremost to be a source of information. And over time, that information becomes a historical record. The New York Times has claimed to be the quote-unquote newspaper of record – but that record is the version brought to you by the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of the land, or their 21st century equivalents. Official histories are always full of lies because they serve the ruling classes. Secret histories always have the juicy stuff, the real deal. One of the things I’m shooting for here is to create a reliable if somewhat incomplete People’s History of Good Music in New York.

Q: Isn’t that what Wikipedia is?

A: You’re kidding, right?

Q: Actually, yes. Um, where was I…Lucid Culture has a general policy of not doing bad reviews. Does this mean that you’ll do bad reviews along with good reviews now?

A: I reserve the right to do whatever I want at the new blog. I’m going to try not to be gratuitously self-indulgent: we’ll see how that goes. And I think that ninety-nine percent of the time, bad reviews are a waste of time. But they’re an awful lot of fun to write!

Q: How about the blog format? It looks like you’re sticking with a text-only format, just like Lucid Culture…

A: Yes! That happened with Lucid Culture, completely by accident, and I’ve grown to love it. It’s a distinguishing characteristic. It makes me different. It’s the furthest thing from trendy. Trendoids don’t read, they look at pictures or watch video. This format will scare off the publicists who represent all those lame twee bands, who are always emailing me.

Q: You mean you’re not going to post audio and video?

A: Just like Lucid Culture, there’ll be links to streaming audio and video and free downloads – more of them, I hope. But remember, not everybody has screaming broadband 24/7. The fewer bells and whistles on the page, the faster it loads, the faster you can get the information that New York Music Daily has to offer.

Q: But why not just upload a video?

A: I’ll link to the video so everybody can watch it. But in the time it takes for that video to load, and then play all the way through, you can read a couple of paragraphs at New York Music Daily which will not only give you an idea what the song sounds like, it’ll also give you insight into a particular band or artist and whether or not you might enjoy their other stuff.

Q: Aren’t you worried that if someone clicks off the site, they won’t come back?

A: That’s the freedom of the internet. Let freedom reign. If someone is freer away from this site, that’s fine with me. Let them leave. They’ll come back. Look what happened with Lucid Culture. We went from invisible to being a major force in no time at all.

Q: You know as well as I do that the circumstances that made Lucid Culture so popular don’t exist anymore. How do you hope to survive without Twitter and Facebook and…

A: Stop. You’re still on Facebook? That’s so 2007. Facebook lost sixteen million American accounts a couple of months ago, which speaks for itself. Outside of Asia, corporate-style social media is toast. Finito. I’m all for technology that empowers people – look at how Twitter has helped the freedom fighters in Iran, for example. But let’s not forget why social media was created. It wasn’t designed to empower us. It was designed to disempower us, to give corporations the kind of data on us that they couldn’t get otherwise, to sell us stuff we don’t need – or to deny us healthcare, or a job, or housing, because of something on Facebook. Look, I’m prepared for the eventuality that those of us in the US, along with the millions and millions of Syrians, and Greeks, and Egyptians, and British people who are doing genuinely heroic things to make their societies a better place, may all eventually have to go offline or find some alternative to the web. Maybe we’ll all end up in line at the mimeograph machine.

I watched Lucid Culture grow from barely a handful of pageviews a day to thousands, organically, without any publicity whatsoever. Other than my one upcoming publicity stunt at New York Music Daily, I’m looking forward to watching the new site grow, and to see where it all ends up. There’s a revolution taking over the world – this is the soundtrack.

Q: You’re doing a publicity stunt?

A: I’ll explain the whole thing tomorrow at New York Music Daily.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | interview, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roger Davidson Hits the Klezmer Road

Whether Roger Davidson knows it or not, he’s just released an elegant gypsy punk record. It’s not likely that the eclectic composer, whose previous work spans the worlds of jazz and tango nuevo, launched into his new album On the Road of Life with that idea in mind. But that’s pretty much what he ended up with. “Pretty much,” because there are no distorted guitars or pummeling drums here – and also because Davidson’s intent was to write an original album of klezmer tunes. Whether this is klezmer, or Balkan music, or gypsy music is really beside the point – whichever way it falls stylistically, it’s a collection of memorably simple themes bristling with the scary/beautiful chromatics and eerie minor keys common to all those genres. Here Davidson is backed by what he calls the Frank London Klezmer Orchestra, an eclectic group with the great klezmer trumpeter alongside another klezmer legend, Andy Statman on mandolin and clarinet, plus Klezmatics drummer Richie Barshay, Avantango bassist Pablo Aslan and Veretski Pass accordionist/cimbalom player Joshua Horowitz.

Some of these are joyous romps. Freedom Dance has solos all around and some especially rapidfire mandolin from Statman. Dance of Hope is sort of a Bosnian cocek with mandolin and clarinet instead of blaring brass, and a tune closer to Jerusalem than to Sarajevo. There’s Harvest Dance, based on a crescendoing walk down the scale; Water Dance, with an absolutely ferocious outro, and Hungarian Waltz, which in a split second morphs into a blazing dixieland swing tune fueled by London’s trumpet. Yet the best songs here are the quieter ones. The title track is basically a hora (wedding processional) that builds gracefully from a pensive, improvisational intro to a stately pulse driven by Aslan’s majestic bass chords. There’s also Equal in the Eyes of God, which reaches for a rapt, reverent feel; Sunflowers at Dawn, which klezmerizes a famous Erik Satie theme; The Lonely Dancers, a sad, gentle Russian-tinged waltz, Statman’s delicate mandolin vividly evoking a balalaika tone; and the epic, nine-minute Night Journey, glimmering with suspenseful, terse piano chords, tense drum accents, allusive trumpet and finally a scurrying clarinet solo.

Davidson may be a limited pianist, but he’s self-aware – his raw chords and simple melody lines only enhance the edgy intensity of the tunes here. That he’s able to blend in with this all-star crew affirms his dedication to good tunesmithing, keeping things simple and proper, as Thelonious Monk would say. Fans of moody minor keys, gypsy music and the klezmer pantheon will find a lot to enjoy here.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #526:

The JPT Scare Band – Past Is Prologue

Legendary in the midwest, the Kansas City power trio of drummer Jeff Littrell, bassist Paul Grigsby and guitarist Terry Swope recorded most of this between 1973 and 1975. While none of these tracks were officially released until 2001, the band was a cult favorite of the “cassette underground” for years. The opening track here, Burn In Hell, a forest of tense, flanged minor chords, was actually recorded that year and shows that the band was keeping up with the times. But it’s the old stuff that’s the most riveting: Sleeping Sickness, practically fourteen minutes of virtuoso Texas blues with metal flourishes, ten years before Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the art; the wildly Hendrix-inspired proto-noiserock of I’ve Been Waiting and Time to Cry (which clocks in at a modest 12:59); Jerry’s Blues, which sounds a lot more like Jimi than the Dead; and the riff-rocking psychedelia of Titan’s Sirens. Recently reunited, the band played their first show in thirty years earlier this summer and are reputedly as scary as ever. Most of the tracks are streaming at myspace (without ads, happily); here’s a random torrent via Cavites Pride. The album, along with the equally good, bizarrely titled Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden, is also still available from Ripple Music.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knights Charge Through Central Park

The NY Phil may have abdicated Central Park to a considerably younger and somewhat smaller orchestra, but classical music there this summer is just as alive and well as ever courtesy of the Naumburg Bandshell series and especially the Knights. Their conductor Eric Jacobsen explained beforehand that last night’s theme would be Schubert and Liszt (this being the Liszt bicentenary and Schubert being one of his favorites), liveliness and fun bookending more pensive, complex, often pained reflections. As usual, WQXR’s Midge Woolsey emceed; the beginning and end, and interestingly enough, the high point of the concert all being staples of the QXR rotation for decades.

Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde was first, Jacobsen’s crisply serious approach imbuing its “Italianate” tropes i.e. buffoonery with something approaching gravitas. Liszt’s At the Grave of Richard Wagner was, well, Wagnerian and schmaltzy. But the orchestra was absolutely at the top of their game throughout three new arrangements of old songs. Schubert’s Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel was given an appropriately swirling ambience via Ljova Zhurbin’s orchestration, while another Schubert piece, The Brook’s Lullaby seemed like more of a fleshed-out folk song, a particularly bittersweet one. Liszt’s Freudvoll Und Leidvoll was done, maybe as should be expected, with even more grandeur, Jacobsen rejoining the ensemble on the podium.

The highlights were an absolutely stunning, cinematic take on Liszt’s “symphonic poem” From the Cradle to the Grave, ending as plaintively and bucolically as it began, with a lifetime’s worth of regret and occasional fireworks in between. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, an orchestral warhorse if there ever was one, was done freshly and dynamically, from that unforgettable, almost cruelly poignant, chromatic opening movement, through the alternately wary and lushly nocturnal waltz themes which follow, through what in this group’s hands seemed to be a completely unexpected, ebullient second movement. They closed with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, which seemed underdone for awhile. But Jacobsen had something up his sleeve! Woooooo! the orchestra intoned, and the race was on, complete with stone-cold, deadpan false endings and a rattletrap rollercoaster of a coda that had everybody holding onto their seats, metaphorically speaking at least. The Knights are on a roll lately: they’ll be QXR’s first-ever artists in residency, with a marathon four days of performances including one simulcast from the Greene Space the evening of September 18 featuring music of Ginastera, Golijov, Schubert and Russell Platt.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1.

Sunday’s album was #527:

Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins

2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment