Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Album of the Day 8/20/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #528:

Memphis Minnie – I Ain’t No Bad Gal

The prototypical blues guitar goddess, Memphis Minnie’s career spanned from the delta into the Chicago era in the early 1950s. She could outplay most of the guys around her and never really got the credit she deserves. Like many blues artists of the time, she recorded for quick money, very frequently – she wrote hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. This 1998 reissue doesn’t have her signature tune When the Levee Breaks (famously covered by Led Zep), but it’s as good a representation as any. Most of the sides here date from the late 30s or early 40s. Some, like Can’t Afford to Lose My Man and You Need a Friend echo popular artists like Bessie Smith; others (Looking the World Over and Down by the Riverside) offer an update on old folk themes; but the best are her most defiant, rebellious ones like the title track, Remember Me Blues, You Got to Get Out of Here and I Am Sailing. It’s surprisingly absent from the usual sources for free music, but in lieu of this one you can check out the first volume in the “complete recorded works” collection via On Muddy Sava Riverbank.

August 21, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warren Wolf’s New Album Mixes It Up Memorably

Jazz vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s latest album, a self-titled effort which serves as his Mack Avenue debut, gets more interesting the more you hear it. It alternates boisterous Friday night saloon tunes with some surprisingly intense ballads, as well as a shapeshifting solo workout – on both vibraphone and marimba – on Chick Corea’s Señor Mouse. Wolf’s supporting cast is characteristically first-class – longtime influence/mentor/bandmate Christian McBride on bass, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Peter Martin on piano along with Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Tim Green on alto and soprano sax.

The opening cut, 427 Mass Ave. (the address of Boston jazz hotspot Wally’s Cafe) is a cleverly camouflaged blues with a sprightly bounce and bright solo spots for Pelt, for Green’s alto, an exuberant sprint from the bandleader himself and then McBride, who finally can’t resist getting caught up in the moment. Then they get quiet with Natural Beauties, a gentle but matter-of-fact ballad, Wolf taking it up a notch and then turning it over to a geninely tender Green soprano sax solo. Sweet Bread is a briskly pulsing, catchy postbop swing tune, horns taking turns in a tug-of-war with piano and vibes. Then they go back down with the brooding How I Feel at This Given Moment , Wolf edging toward noir the first time around, more relaxed the second, with Martin echoing him. It’s as if the two came into the bar stressed, has a couple of drinks and suddenly concluded that the world doesn’t look so bad

Eva is a hot little number, briskly swinging with wary chromatics, vivid pointillisms from Wolf and matter-of-fact buoyancy from Green’s alto. Best known as a Bill Evans tune, the version of Emily here gets a late 70s soul/pop tinge done. They follow that with the most potent song here, Katrina, a sad, bitter New Orleans nocturne that turns funky and even creepier for a bit before heading into swing with some memorably rapidfire staccato Wolf phrasing.

One for Lenny is a full-throttle showstopper dedicated to their Boston drummer friend Lenny Nelson, who’s known for speed. They juxtapose that one with the slowest tune here, Martin’s Intimate Dance, a jazz waltz. One especially notable feature is that maybe due to the presence of McBride, the production here gives the low end a little boost of fatness which makes a great contrast with the ringing highs of the vibes. This album ought to draw a big crowd of fans who like their jazz vivid and tuneful. Wolf will be at the Vanguard later this year with McBride’s Inside Straight, a crew whose shows this year have validated their reputation for vigor and entertainment.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/19/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #529:

Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

We go to the well, or to be precise, to a church in the wilds of Pennsylvania for this one, a hypnotic, often downright macabre 2009 set of originals and improvisations by this dynamic baritone sax/piano duo. Shah’s glimmering chromatics evoke Erik Satie as much as they do Keith Jarrett, livened and eclectically flavored by Evans’ panoramic lines – he uses the entirety of his range including all kinds of harmonics. Yet as bracing and strange as this is, most of it you can hum. It’s a couple of mini-suites, a playful, bluesy Jan Roth cover, and many lengthy passages alternating terse, blues-based purism with murky, often menacing suspense from both instruments. Too obscure to make it to the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Moppa Elliott’s fantastic Hot Cup Records label.

If you like this you might want to check out our brand-new wilder, crazier sister blog New  York City Music Daily.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #530:

Devi – Get Free

The 2009 debut release by this Hoboken, New Jersey psychedelic powerpop trio is a feast of good guitar and solid tunesmithing. But Debra, the band’s frontwoman, doesn’t let her virtuoso chops clutter the songs: instead, she goes for intricate layers and textures, with the occasional long, exhilarating, blues-infused solo. The genuine classic here is Welcome to the Boneyard, a haunted 9/11 memoir told from the point of a ghost in the rubble, drenched in watery riffs played through a Leslie organ speaker. When It Comes Down and the title track are the big concert favorites, all rises and falls and scorching solos. There’s also the wickedly catchy, gritty Howl at the Moon; Another Day (which could be the Runaways if they’d had better chops); Demon in the Sack, which pokes fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics; Love That Lasts, which finally crosses the bridge over into exuberant metal; and a richly textured cover of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done. The album is streaming in its entirety at bandcamp and available as a free download at the band’s site.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 8/17/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #531:

Monty Alexander – Yard Movement

What the Jamaican pianist did on this 1995 live release was pretty radical at the time, but when you think about it, all he did was basically bring reggae full circle. Consider: reggae comes from rocksteady, rocksteady from ska, ska from calypso and calypso from jazz. Alexander has been a lyrical, exuberant player for decades, and immersed in the style even if he didn’t start out playing it, so it was a natural progression for him. His equally ecstatic band here includes reggae guitar icon Ernest Ranglin (a jazzcat himself – see #903 on this list). They kick it off by winding their way up slowly and deliberately into a twelve-plus minute version of Bob Marley’s Exodus, hitting the same hypnotic groove as the original but with cascading, incisive leads by the piano instead of the guitar. The rest of the album is all Alexander originals: the more stern Regulator; the blissful ballads Crying, Love Notes and Moonlight City, his popular tribute to his favorite Jamdown spot, Strawberry Hill, and the hot closing jam, Sneaky Steppers. Pretty much everything Alexander has ever done is worth a spin, including his latest, Harlem-Kingston Express live record. This one is streaming in its entirety at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Ras Cope.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #532:

Linda Draper – Bridge & Tunnel

Quietly and methodically, New York tunesmith Linda Draper has established herself as an elite lyrical songwriter. This 2009 release is the best and slightly most rock-oriented of her six consistently excellent, melodic albums. In a cool, nuanced voice, backed by her own nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a terse rhythm section, she stakes out characteristically sardonic, richly literate territory from a defiant outsider’s point of view. With its chilly organ background, the title track (Manhattanite slang for “suburban moron”) packs a quiet bite; the nonconformist anthems Sharks and Royalty and Broken Eggshell reflect a similar gentle confidence. Pushing up the Days is a snarky, pun-infused kiss-off, while Time Will Tell reverts to the psychedelic stream-of-consciousness vibe of her earlier work. The charmingly rustic Last One Standing hints that there could be a third choice besides leading or following; there’s also a casual, fun cover of the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper. Here’s a random torrent via The Terminal; cd’s are still available via Draper’s site, with a highly anticipated new one due out sometime around the end of 2011.

August 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment