Guitarists who don’t waste notes are a rare breed. They’re even rarer in the world of jambands and summer tours, which is where Charlie Hunter made his mark. As you would expect from a guy who tacked on a couple of extra strings to bolster the low end of his six-string model, groove is his thing. In doing so, he invented his own style of music, equal parts jazz, reggae, funk and vintage soul. And he can be hilarious. His latest excellent, characteristically eclectic album Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched is streaming at Spotify. Hunter and his fantastic quartet have a two-night stand coming up on March 8 and 9 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $15. The last time this blog was in the house there, they weren’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum, a good thing since Hunter’s crowd is more likely to smoke than get wasted on the Rockwood’s expensive drinks.
The album opens with the title track, a slow, comfortable swing blues with a characteristically wry, bubbling Curtis Fowlkes trombone solo; then cornetist Kirk Knuffke signals that all may not be so cool after all. Drummer Bobby Previte’s emphatic, tersely swinging slow triplet groove anchors the second track, Looks Like Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication, which opens with an amusingly woozy voicings from Fowlkes and Knuffke, then takes a detour to New Orleans before the meds kick in again.
Staccato horns add spice to Leave Him Lay, a mid-80s Grateful Dead style blues fueled by Previte’s swinging, almost disco drive and Hunter’s spiky, Bob Weir-ish chords. We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent is an uneasily swaying midtempo noir theme, like Big Lazy with horns and a long, purposefully crescendoing blues solo from the bandleader. Then Hunter gets even more retro with Big Bill’s Blues, ostensibly a Big Bill Broonzy homage. beginning starkly and then shifting into jubilant Crescent City territory with some artful counterpoint from the horns.
The darkly simmering soul theme Latin for Travelers is a vehicle for a contrastingly bright solo from Knuffke and then Fowlkes, dipping down to just the horns and then back for extra dynamic punch. No Money No Honey is as hard as the funk gets here, although it’s more of a swing tune: everybody in the band, especially Previte, is having a ball with this one.
Who Put You Behind the Wheel opens as a spaciously tiptoeing, Asian-tinged excursion, then morphs into reggae, with a trick ending. The looseness and freeness of Wish I Was Already Paid and On My Way Home mask its relentlessly dark, distantly klezmer-tinged undercurrent . The album winds up with the jaunty, dixieland-ish second-line march The Guys Get Shirts. This works on every level, as first-rate jazz, blues and psychedelia.
Last night at Drom Dave Fiuczynski’s Kif played one of the most exhilarating and sophisticated shows of the past several months in this city. Fiuczynski might be the best guitarist in the world: he is without the doubt the most individualistic. His musical language is completely his own. If it had words instead of notes, it would be part Hindi, part French, part Arabic and part Korean, with some Chinese and plenty of English too. His double-necked, microtonally fretted guitar enables him to play in microtonal scales without bending notes, as well as in the standard western scale. His 2012 album Planet Microjam is one of this century’s half-dozen most innovative and arguably best releases. His latest microtonal project, Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam may not have the subtlest title, but the music continues Fiuczynski’s epic quest to find the most magical places in between the notes, drawing from just about every musical tradition around the globe.
This was a trio show. Fiuczynski opened with the Simpson’s Theme, which he proceeded to spin through a trippy prism of scales that exist only on Planet Microjam, along the way firing off energetic Indian sitar riffage, some wildly bent phrases typical of Korean gaegeum music, and even a flurry or two of rapidfire postbop American jazz. Fiuczynski’s songs are slinkier than they are funky, and his low-key rhythm section kept a serpentine groove going throughout the set with the occasional rise to a four-on-the-floor pulse when the bandleader would hit a peak with a burning series of distorted rock chords. Throughout the set, the drummer stayed pretty chill while the bass player occasionally flavored a song with woozy textures via a wah and an octave pedal, in a subdued P-Funk vein. He also contributed one of the night’s most straight-up numbers, which the bandleader took further out toward Indian raga territory and then spiced with Asian phrasing, into territory that only Fiuczynski knows well.
After opening with the twisted tv theme, they sliced and diced a Russian klezmer melody into offcenter tonalities, with the occasional unexpected leap back toward the original minor key. Opening act Jonathan Scales joined the band during one of the later numbers and played vividly ringing Asian licks against Fiuczynski’s austere, uneasy microtonal chords and otherworldly, Messiaenic ambience. Throughout these epic themes, with their innumerable dynamic shifts, the atmosphere shifted artfully from austere and starlit to raw, stomping triumph. The best song of the night might have been Mood Ring Bacchanal, with its leap from resonant, allusively bent Asian phrasing to a tongue-in-cheek, emphatic oldschool disco interlude. The night’s last song blended wah-wah sitar licks, Orientalisms and slow spacerock with echoes of roots reggae.
Fiuczynski is a legend on the jamband circuit and will no doubt be making the rounds of summer festivals this year. Watch this space for future NYC dates.
What if you told your six-year-old that you were going to take them to a performance that was educational, multicultural, rhythmically challenging and completely G-rated? They’d probably tell you to get lost, right? Well, late yesterday morning the French Alliance staged a program that was all that…and the kids loved it.
French-Cameroonian duo Les Nubians – sisters Helene and Celia Faussart – celebrate sisterhood, unity and Africanness in ways that aren’t cliched, or annoyingly P.C., or patronizing. Their music is sophisticated, blending elements of American soul, central African folk, downtempo, funk, bossa nova and hip-hop, to name a few styles. And much as all these genres got a similarly multicultural, vividly New York crowd of kids and their parents dancing and swaying along, you wanna know what energized the kids the most? A detour into an ancient Cameroonian folk dance fueled by balafonist François Nnang’s gracefully kinetic flourishes, the crowd spontaneously clapping along with its offbeat triplet rhythm. Some things are so innately wholesome that kids automatically gravitate toward them, and the folks at the French Alliance are keenly aware of that.
Age groups quickly separated out: gradeschoolers and preschoolers down front, filling the first two rows, tapping out a rhythm along with the band onstage, singing and dancing along as their parents watched bemusedly from the back rows. The crowd was pretty much split down the middle genderwise, at least among the kids, boys just as swept up as the girls in the pulsing grooves and the Faussart sisters’ irrepressible good cheer, charisma and dance moves. Their parents got a 90s nostalgia fix via a playful, French-language remake of the Sade hit The Sweetest Taboo, along with songs like the pensive Demaind (Jazz) from the group’s 1998 debut album, and the spiky, catchy Makeda. Guitarist Masaharu Shimizu played eclectically and energietically over animated, globally fluent clip-clup percussion by Shaun Kell.
Les Nubians have a handle on what kids like. They worked a trajectory upward, enticing the kids to mimic their dance moves, getting some call-and-response going, up to a couple of well-received singalongs (employing some complex close harmonies rarely if ever heard in American pop music). The big hit of the day was the Afro Dance, Helene swinging her dreads around like a dervish. The show was briskly and smartly paced, holding everyone’s attention throughout just a bit more than forty-five minutes. Considering the venue, the sisters took turns addressing the crowd in both French and also in good English; Helene seems to be the main translator of the two. Their repartee with the children was direct and unselfconsciously affectionate – both women taking plenty of time to highfive all the kids down front to make sure that nobody was left out – but the two didn’t talk down to the children either.
Out of this blog’s posse, the hardest member to please is usually Annabel. She’s six – woops, make that six and a half. She spent most of the first half of the show occupied with some actually very sweet sisterly bonding with her friend Ava, age seven, whom she hadn’t seen in awhile. By the twenty-minute mark, both girls had run to the front, Annabel right up at the edge of the stage, transfixed. She got a highfive from Helene; meanwhile, Ava was getting a workout along with the rest of the dancers. What was most striking was that both girls could have been very blasé about this concert: neither is culturally deprived. But they both had a rousingly good time…and were ready for a big lunch afterward.
The French Alliance has all kinds of fun bilingual events and experiences for families on the weekend: this concert was just one example of how kids can get an exposure to cultures and languages they might not ordinarily encounter. As just one example, there are a whole bunch of free workshops for toddlers, preschoolers and their parents this coming Saturday, December 12 in the early afternoon.
Trumpeter Pam Fleming‘s Dead Zombie Band are the inventors and possible sole practitioners of a relatively new and incredibly fun style of music: Halloween jazz. Fleming, who’s played with everybody from Natalie Merchant to roots reggae legend Burning Spear, brings her signature eclecticism to the band’s album Rise and Dance, streaming at cdbaby. Leading an all-star cast of New York talent, she’s playing the band’s annual Fort Greene Halloween dance party starting at around 6 PM this Saturday on Waverly Avenue between between Willoughby and DeKalb Avenues. Take the C train to Clinton-Washington.
The band slowly rises, as if from the grave, as the album gets underway, Fleming’s somber trumpet leading the funeral procession. And then they’re off on a wry reggae pulse, Tine Kindemann’s singing saw flickering in the background. Fleming’s fiendishly fun vocals are the icing on this orange-and-black cake. Fleming’s trumpet, Karen Waltuch’s viola, Jenny Hill’s tenor sax and Buford O’Sullivan’s trombone all have chromatically delicious fun. It’s a lot more Black Ark noir than it is Scooby Doo.
Zombie Drag is a slow, muted, misterioso carnival theme: the way Fleming slowly marches the horn chart out of the mist, then back and forth, is Gil Evans-class inventive. Pianist Rachelle Garniez goes for icy Ran Blake noir on The Bell behind Fleming’s whispery, ghoulish recitation. Then Garniez – who’s also playing Barbes at 8 on Nov 5 – takes over on the similarly crepuscular Two Lovers and winds it up with a gorgously ghostly improvisation that dies on the vine far to soon.
The narrative gets very, very ghostly for a bit, Fleming’s ominous intonement backed by Ursel Schlicht brushing the piano strings, a “cackle cocktail party” and then the band goes up into Satan Is Waitin’, a mashup of saloon blues, Danny Elfman soundttrack shenanigans, jajouka (dig Jessica Lurie’s alto sax solo!), Jimmy Smith (that’s Adam Klipple on organ) and oldschool soul. After that, there’s some storytelling – imagine a Dr. Seuss Halloween tale set to Hollywood Hills noir boudoir soul.
Klipple’s droll roller-rink organ anchors some pretty joyous solos from tenor saxophonist Lily White, Hill (on baritone now), and Martha Hyde on alto throughout the reggae-soul number Rise and Dance – hey, if you were a zombie, you’d be pretty psyched to be getting out of the cold ground at last. Forget anything you’ve heard before: this is the real Monster Mash.
Brian Charette is one of the world’s most interesting and distinctive voices on the organ. Classically trained, he’s made his name in jazz although his music is just as informed by classic 60s soul, funk and even reggae. He tours constantly and writes prolifically, and he’s playing the album release for his latest one, Good Tipper; tonight and also tomorrow night, Oct 9 at Smalls at 10 PM; cover is $20 and includes a drink. Joining him for the album show are Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Mark Ferber – who really has a feel for this funky groove stuff – on drums.
The album BEFORE the latest one (yeah – the guy works fast) is a Posi-Tone release, streaming at Spotify, titled Square One. Charette has a devious sense of humor and that’s apparent right from the jaunty strut of the opening track, Aaight!, which eventually squares itself more or less into a swinging shuffle. Charette and Silberstein move more frantically yet purposefully over Ferber’s blistering yet nimble pulse on their take of Joe Henderson’s If, followed by the vintage soul-infused Three for Martina, a metrically tricky ballad with organ and then guitar holding to a warmly reflective mood.
People on Trains follows a wryly lyrical narrative: the subway takes its time pulling out of the station and then scurries along, fueled by the guitar, then the process repeats itself. It isn’t long before Charette throws in a New York-centric subway joke or two (the album cover pictures him chilling down under the Manhattan Bridge). Likewise, True Love kicks off slowly before Charette pulls it out of its balmy reverie, then Silberstein takes it back with a minimalist, practically Satie-esque solo. Then they get a swaying groove going with a warmly purposeful take of the Meters’ classic Ease Back, Silberstein adding droll wah-wah licks.
Time Changes alludes to a famous Dave Brubeck album: it’s a jazz waltz with summery soul riffage. A Fantasy does much the same with trickier rhythms and spiraling solos from guitar and drums against Charette’s anthemic washes. Yei Fei is a blend of indie classical circularity and hints of airily eerie Jehan Alain church organ music: you might not think that something like this would work, but it does. Things You Don’t Mean mixes up a strutting New Orleans funk groove with a hardbop guitar attack and then an absolutely creepy quote and variations from the Alain songbook: it’s killing, Charette at his outside-the-box best. The album sprints to the finish line with Ten Bars for Eddie Harris, the most trad organ-lounge track here – but even that goes off the rails into a deliciously warped interlude. Who is the audience for this? People who like Dr. Lonnie Smith, jambands, funk and soul and sophisticated original jazz tunesmithing, which is ultimately what this is.
Swingadelic‘s latest album, Toussaintville mines the Allen Toussaint catalog with verve, imagination and some absolutely delicious horn charts. It has most of the expected tunes (but thankfully no Mother in Law) and ends with a homage to the iconic New Orleans tunesmith. The big band’s charts are purist without being deferential, underscoring how vivid and also deceptively counterintuitive Toussaint’s songwriting has been for so long. One would think he’d enjoy this album immensely.
The opening track, Night People, sets the stage; like most of the others here, it’s a horn tune rather than a piano tune, in this case with a funky late 60s vibe, like the Crusaders back when they actually were the Jazz Crusaders. This song’s about a pickup scene, and this version captures that energy, low and cool but slinky all the same (the presence of bandleader Dave Post’s bass rather than bass guitar enhances that).
Toussaint plays Southern Nights Toussaint as a nocturne, and Swingadelic’s version succeeds at ramping up the energy, as you would expect from a large ensemble, while maintaining the original’s balmy atmospherics. The band also stays true to Toussaint by playing What Do You Want the Girl to Do as a stroll, with a neatly crescendoing arrangement and a tasty, opaque-toned Audrey Welber alto solo, and doing Sneaking Sally Through the Alley as a matter-of-fact backbeat swing tune. And Yes We Can Can gets a funky sway, but it doesn’t go over the top; instead, the band works devious tempo shifts and solos from bright alto, bluesy trombone and rather ambiguous soprano sax from Paul Carlon.
The biting On Your Way Down gets a scaled-down treatment to let the edge of the lyrics sink in, with simmering solos for slide guitar and lowdown tenor sax. The soul ballad Ruler of My Heart, sung by Queen Esther, is done more as a seduction than an entreaty. Conversely, they eschew buffoonery for righteous anger in the understatedly funky Get Out of My Life Woman, with its burnished brass and lively riffage making its way around the ensemble.
The band brings a lively go-go bounce to Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky, spicing it up with John Bauers’ roto organ, train-whistle harmonies and jaunty volleys of call-and-response. They do much the same with Fair Child, taking it way up and then way down until Boo Reiners’ slide guitar break brings it back. Arguably, the most interesting yet traditionalist arrangement here is the one on Working in a Coal Mine, which pulses along on drummer Jason Pharr’s syncopated clave: they make it clear that this one’s about a guy who’s all worn out from a tough job!
There are also a couple of ragtime-flavored tunes: Java, with an intricate arrangement that sends pieces of the theme spinning through the ensemble, and Whipped Cream, a shuffling second-line theme capped with an ecstatic Carlon soprano solo. There’s also the pulsing, bucolic waltz Up the Creek, with Bauers’ nostalgic but purposeful ragtime piano plus dixieland-flavored clarinet and trombone that begins very droll and then straightens out. Beyond the fact that Toussaint’s songs can be so ridiculously fun to play, there’s an awful lot to like here: charts that tease the imagination and inspired playing from an eclectic cast of characters including but not limited to Jeff Hackworth on tenor and baritone sax, John DiSanto on baritone sax, Albert Leusink and Carlos Francis on trumpets, Rob Susman, Rob Edwards and Neal Pawley on trombones, Boo Reiners on guitar, and also Jimmy Coleman also on drums.
It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the debut performance of Anderson Henderson White at Zirzamin a few weeks ago, following the Sunday Salon put on by Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily. Baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson seems to be the sparkplug for this exciting new trio, who blended groove and funk with mysterious free improvisation. Her fellow Australian, the Dirty Three’s Jim White on drums was his usual counterintuitive self: it’s hard to think of a drummer who’s so consistently interesting to watch as this guy, alternating between cymbal bell-tones and atmospherics of all kinds, shamanistic rattles of the hardware and rock-solid groove, all the while adding off-kilter accents on the rims and whirring brushes on the snare. He’s a one-man drum orchestra.
Rev. Vince Anderson has made a name for himself in both the roots of jazz (you should hear him covering Howlin’ Wolf), and sounds that sprung from jazz (a more dedicated Billy Preston acolyte never existed), so plunging face first into free jazz is a natural progression for him. He was just as fascinating to watch, making minute adjustments on his Nord Electro keyboard for reverb and distortion, through a long, murky, wall-bending pitchblende interlude on the lowest keys before rising with an acrid, acidically bluesy minimalism as he adjusted the timbres to cut through the fog of cymbals and Henderson’s own nebulous ambience. Her most memorable moment came on one of her signature, sly go-go vamps, part purist bluesmistress, part coy seductress, part dancefloor maven just as she was for the better part of a decade in her cult favorite baritone/bass/drums trio Moisturizer. Some baritone players use the instrument for droll humor, others like a bass; she knows how sexy the baritone is and works it like a charm. White is the magic ingredient that holds it all together. Anderson plays every Monday night with his deliriously fun, funky jamband the Love Choir (in which Henderson has played since the 90s) at Union Pool at around 11:30 PM; White plays with a lot of people, considering that everybody wants to play with him.
Chanteuse/pianist Nicole Zuraitis’ new sophomore album is intriguing titled Pariah Anthem. Zuraitis certainly doesn’t look like a pariah and doesn’t sing like one either. The album is a collection of opaque, reflective ballads that work both sides of the line between jazz and funk, or jazz and soul. She fronts a band of hungry up-and-coming New York players: Julian Shore on electronic keys, Victor Gould on piano, Billy Buss on trumpet, Ilan Bar-Lavi on electric guitar, Scott Colberg on bass and Dan Pugach on drums. Zuraitis has a powerful mezzo-soprano that suprisingly never cuts loose here to the extent that she can live: she can belt with anyone. A casual listener might hear this at low volume and mistake it for a misguided attempt at top 40, but it’s not. Zuraitis works her dynamics artfully, rising and falling, and knows when to make a break in the clouds with a big anthemic crescendo or slashing piano riff. She plays the album release show this Sunday June 23 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood with Jeremy Pelt guesting on trumpet. On June 28 she’s at the Astor Room, 34-12 36th St. in Astoria at 7 PM.
The album’s opening track, Stinger kicks off with bright, hopeful trumpet over a summery, funky sway and works its way to a catchy vamp spiced by Shore’s electric piano. Watercolors is gentler and more soul-tinged, a thoughtful ballad with a little slink to it. Try, Love is an Americana-tinged waltz in the same vein as Sasha Dobson, followed by the faster, funkier Secrets, lit up by Shore’s scampering Rhodes breaks.
Zuraitis brings it down again with the moody, almost minmialist Staring into the Sun, using it as a long launching pad for her most spine-tingling vocal flights here. The trickily rhythmic, staccato To the River builds intensity to a big, angst-fueled romp, the whole band going full steam. They follow that with the nonchalantly incisive Dagger, Bar-Lavi tossing off a biting, slashing flight down the scale. Zuraitis’ moody resonance at the piano anchors Buss’ sun-through-the-clouds fills on The Bridge, a blissful escape anthem of sorts, emphasis on bliss.
Zuraitis comes out from behind the keys for the pensive, almost rubato rainy-day ballad If Only for Today, Gould taking over on piano; it’s her most nuanced performance here and it’s a quiet knockout, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Blossom Dearie songbook..The album ends with the title track, a slinky soul groove that almost imperceptibly rises to a bristling intensity. “With every breath there lives a ghost,” Zuraitis sings uneasily. “What was lost won’t rise in vain, all will meet on an even plane,” she portends as Bar-Lavi’s guitar sheds sparks and the rhythm section pulses. It’s a powerful way to end this distinctive and genre-defying album.
Reut Regev is one of the ringleaders in minor-key jam band Hazmat Modine’s wild brass section, and a unique, original voice on the trombone. She’s got an eclectically fun new album, Exploring the Vibe, out with her stoner funk band, R*Time, which blends elements of jazz, no wave, Ethiopian and Balkan music, among other styles. Regev got the inspiration for the project at a festival in Germany where she had the chance to play with guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly and realized that the chemistry for a good album was there. The rhythm section here is Regev’s husband Igal Foni on drums and Mark Peterson on bass, with cameos from Kevin Johnson on drums and Jon Sass on tuba. As you would expect, there’s a hypnotic, psychedelic aspect to this; at the same time, Bourelly and Regev utilize a lot of space, judiciously choosing their moments over an undulating groove. Much as a lot of the music has a restlessness and unease, a wry sense of humor pokes out from time to time. It’s a fun ride.
Bourelly plays mostly with a tinge of dirty, natural distortion when he’s not adding subtle ornamentation with his effects. Regev is a very incisive, rhythmic player, although she also likes ambient, shadowy colors. Peterson’s work here is hook-oriented – there are several passages where the drums drop out, or there’s skeletal percussion rattling around and that’s where the bass carries both melody and rhythm. Foni likes the rumbling lows, but like the rest of this crew, he doesn’t waste beats.
The opening track, Drama Maybe Drama, is a tongue-in-cheek diptych, Bourelly going off on a completely unexpected, early Jimmy Page-tinged open-tuned tangent midway through. They follow that with a buzzing, loopy, unresolved interlude and then Montenegro, which hints at reggae, funk and disco before finally hitting some Balkan riffage and then a Middle Eastern-flavored bass solo. Bluegrass and Ethiopian tinges sit side by side in Ilha Bela, a minimalisti but catchy tune with doppler trombone from Regev. Madeleine Forever, a tribute to Foni’s mom, illustrates someone who could be severe but was also very funny, winding up with biting Big Lazy-style skronky funk.
Blue Llamas makes a good segue, again evoking Big Lazy with its allusive chromatics, stomping, spacious blues, hard-hitting guitar and hypnotic rimshot rhythm. OK OJ coalesces toward a camelwalking East African groove with some neat handoffs between the guitar and trombone and a tongue-in-cheek “let’s go” outro. Raw Way, ostensibly a Junior Kimhrough homage, sounds nothing like him: way down beneath all the rumbling and shrieking and free interplay, it’s a terse blues. New Beginning is a weirdly successful, catchy attempt to merge New Orleans funk and Hendrix. There’s also a wryly bluesy guitar miniature and a bizarre stoner soul song sung by Bourelly. Who is the audience for this? Obviously, jazz fans, although people who gravitate toward the more psychedelic side of funk have an awful lot to sink their ears into.