Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tim Kuhl’s Doomsayer – A Real Change of Pace

As a bandleader, Brooklyn drummer Tim Kuhl has made a name for himself for accessible, free-spirited, guitar-based melodic jazz with some neat and unexpectedly extemporaneous twists and turns. His new album Doomsayer – streaming in its entirety at Kuhl’s bandcamp – is a radical departure for him, at least as far as recordings are concerned. It’s like what Kid A was for Radiohead – except that Kuhl’s previous albums as a bandleader, 2009’s Ghost, and King from the year before, are both good. Is this burp-and-fart music, as Maria Schneider derisively calls some free jazz? No. It’s not very accessible, but it’s full of interesting ideas and melody that pops out, sometimes at the last possible minute. Kuhl’s committed and remarkably cohesive supporting cast consists of mostly New York-based free jazz names including Michael Formanek on bass, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Frantz Loriot on viola and Jonathan Moritz on saxes.

It’s not clear why the tracks are color-coded – Red, Green, Gold, etc. A spaciously thumping drum solo kicks it off. Later on there are a couple of extremely cool tone poems of sorts, the group peeling back a bit from a central drone for a doppler effect of sorts. Except for a skronky-tinged solo on the next-to-last track and some gingerly ominous foreshadowing on the final number, Goldberger’s guitar is limited to providing oscillating loops or drones. Kuhl is the bad cop here and he has a great time with the role, particularly on the second cut, Gold, an almost sixteen-minute suite that hints at blues – it’s like a blues on Pluto, verrrrry slow – before a lull accented with creepy, creaky input from various bandmates, followed by a fox-in-the-henhouse routine that eventually works its way into a bracingly atonal swing shuffle.

Kuhl’s smoke-signal accents contrast potently with a wary shout or two from the sax or trombone, and Loriot’s suspensefully rustling viola, on the next track, titled Green. Formanek gets a couple of chances to play tersely yet rather majestically a bit later on. An eleven-minute excursion features some thoughtful conversing between Gerstein and Moritz followed eventually by an artfully layered, classically-tinged shift of textures from one voice to the next before they collapse in a crazed tumble. And the disembodied, ghostly voices against a guitar drone, in White, are a real treat. The album ends with what sounds like a long study in how to hint at coalescing with a circular rhythm: where it goes is the surprise. There’s also a vividly plaintive hidden track that recalls Kuhl’s earlier work, if a lot more rubato. Easy listening? Hardly. Good listening? Absolutely: it’ll get you from Bushwick to midtown and back again, literally if not figuratively, and it’ll keep you awake the whole time.

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August 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment