Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Magos Herrera and Javier Limon Hold the Crowd Rapt in an Intimate Duo Show

 

Mexican singer Magos Herrera reaffirmed her presence as one of the most eclectically compelling singers in any idiom in an intimate duo performance with guitarist Javier Limon for media and a select group of friends at a Chelsea gallery Thursday night. Her previous album Mexico Azul celebrated the African roots of much of Mexican music and culture. Dawn, her new collaboration with Limon, she said, made the connection between Mexico and Spain seem “perfectly natural,” a rather brave assertion for someone whose career has advocated so strongly for the people of her native land. But it’s a quietly stunning move for her: throughout an all-too-brief, set, she and Limon enjoyed a casual chemistry but also an intense focus and commitment to finding the most subtle shades in the music.

Herrera sang in her signature, minutely jeweled contralto until finally going way up, further than you would expect someone with such command of her low register would be able to. Limon played sparingly and judiciously, letting his phrases breathe, matching the singer’s penchant for not wasting notes, which made his occasional flamencoesque flurry all the more intense. They opened the set with a syncopated tango of sorts, Herrera’s delivery managing to be both misty and disarmingly direct at once. Then they reinvented Skylark as a richly suspenseful, spaciously contemplative mood piece with hints of both flamenco and Andalucian music.

Throughout the rest of the set, Limon would sometimes shadow the vocals, following Herrera’s crescendoing, upward ascents with his own. On occasion, he’d light up a slowly swaying theme with a sputtering crescendo much in the way that Herrera would add gracefully scatting accents to bring a chorus to a gentle peak, singing in both Spanish and English. This approach maintained the flamenco influence without the cliches that so many acts who didn’t grow up with the music employ for over-the-top affect. They ended with a number that began with a rainy-day theme that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Sade catalog and then took it out almost as a march, with a series of hypnotically shifting vamps.

And speaking of Sade, there’s been a void where that singer once reigned as the queen of artsy, sophisticated romantic chanteuses. Which would give Herrera room to take over that role, if she wanted. Obviously, she might find that limiting: she’s a more subtle and diverse singer than Sade, and her interests run far beyond romantic balladry. But she’s got the torchy delivery, plaintiveness and sense of longing. What if Herrera – or someone like her – decided to take the Mexican bolero and reinvent it as American torch song? Wouldn’t it be cool if the default boudoir music of the west was a style refined and brought to its pinnacle by Mexicans? Forget about Obama’s lip service about immigration reform: there are an awful lot of places in this country where Mexican-Americans are under fire. What a pleasant and subtle way to fight back against all that repulsiveness – and to jumpstart the reconquista. Just a thought…

April 19, 2014 Posted by | concert, gypsy music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gypsophilia Brings Their Great New Album and Electrifying Live Show to NYC

As fans of the music know, Canada is a hotbed for gypsy jazz. It’s the French connection. Eclectic Halifax septet Gypsophilia are one of the most exciting groups playing that style to come out of the Great White North, and they’re coming to New York for two June shows. June 6 they’ll be at Rock Shop in Gowanus at 9 PM with charismatically assaultive, noir bluespunks the Reid Paley Trio opening, then they’re playing at Drom the following night, June 7 on a fantastic triplebill with the Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Italian band Taluna for a ridiculously cheap $10.

Gypsophilia have a new ep, Horska, just out and will no doubt be airing out the songs on it in concert. Its title track is an absolute smash, a creepy noir theme that goes through all sorts of permutations over Adam Fine’s pulsing bassline, Sageev Oore’s menacingly distant piano interspersed between biting solos from violinist Gina Burgess, trumpeter Matt Meyer and an especially ominous, microtonal one from guitarist Alec Frith. They reprise the song at the end of the album in an echoey, effects-laden dub version that’s just as dark.

In between there’s the jauntily swinging, hi-de-ho romp Bir Hakeim, which is less Egyptian than Parisian, maybe inspired by the Paris Metro stop which commemorates the World War II battle. They follow that with the intricate Oh My Orna, crescendoing from a baroque-tinged waltz to a wistful theme carried by the violin and echoey electric piano. Corentin Cariou has a bit of Romanian feel, speeding up and slowing down again, followed by the edgy Stickm, another catchy minor-key tune that hits a peak with Meyer’s muted trumpet solo. There are seemingly thousands of bands paying homage to the Django Reinhardt legacy – many of them do it well, but few are as distinctive and interesting as Gypsophilia.

May 27, 2013 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exhilarating US Debut by Budapest Bar

[Over the past couple of weeks, this blog has supplied its sister blog New York Music Daily with lots of content. Today it's payback time]

Budapest Bar made their North American debut last night at CUNY’s sonically superb Elebash Hall just north of the Empire State Building. The Hungarian band works a cosmopolitan gypsy vibe, as opposed to a rural one, meaning that they play a more concert hall-oriented mix of styles which include both jazz and classical music. They outdid Nick Cave at noir, did the “most famous Hungarian song ever,” Gloomy Sunday, as an elegant funereal instrumental, and covered Haydn and Lizst, including the latter’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 complete with rapidfire cimbalom solo by Mihaly Farkas. A bit later on, the cimbalom virtuoso ended his solo with a blindfold on and didn’t miss a beat: it was the biggest crowd-pleasing moment of many.

Frontman Robert Farkas began with a boisterous number that he spiced with some droll flourishes, pulling a string over the bridge of his violin for some creepy horror movie door-closing tonalities, switched to guitar a couple of times midway through the show and ended with a high-spirited series of birdsong voicings on the final encore. Keyboardist Karoly Okros wore a path into the stage, alternating between piano and accordion – if he’s not the only guy who’s equally adept at Liszt and noir Americana, then Hungary has something on the US. Bassist Richard Farkas (this seemed to be a family event, no surprise in gypsy circles) held the careening monstrosity to the rails, whether with a terse minimalist pulse on the gypsy numbers or nimbly walking the scales on the jazz tunes. The speed, virtuosity and soul these guys and women channeled makes most American gypsy bands pale by comparison.

The band brought two singers. Juci Nemeth sang the higher, more ethereal numbers; Tania Saedi, with her sultry alto voice, handled the jazzier material with a sassy aplomb worthy of Ella Fitzgerald. But it was Nemeth who took the most spectacular flights of the night on a rapidfire, diabolical shuffle right before the encores. Gypsy bands in Budapest bars from the turn of the 19th century through the Nazi invasion played a vast spectrum of music from the dead-serious classical pantheon to the wildest jazz: this concert, with its tangos, swing tunes, explosive cadenzas and expert showmanship brought that world alive again in all its pyrotechnic glory.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, gypsy music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Brilliant Cosmopolitan Tunesmithing From Gilad Atzmon

Israeli-British saxophonist/tunesmith/polymath Gilad Atzmon and his combo the Orient House Ensemble have an intriguing new album out, Songs of the Metropolis, a tribute to great cities around the world. Most of it is streaming at Atzmon’s album page. The band here is the same as on Atzmon’s excellent previous album: the bandleader on alto and soprano saxophones and accordion, along with Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Eddie Hick on drums. As one would expect from an intellect as formidable as Atzmon, it’s no “look ma, I’m playing a tango now” type of genre-hopping; rather, it’s a series of impressions.

Paris, interestingly enough, gets a a staggered latin beat with quivery, bracingly microtonal soprano sax – and then Atzmon switches to accordion and lets the tune relax. Tel Aviv seems to have a split personality, a bounding, energetic groove and also an uneasy undercurrent that shifts from a Zorn/Sexmob cantorial theme to an unexpectedly neat, polyrhythmic reggae b-section. Don’t laugh: reggae is big in Tel Aviv!

Buenos Aires is heartbreakingly beautiful – this long ballad seems to be a requiem, moving slowly from a quiet, moody solo piano intro joined by bowed bass and Atzmon’s slowly diving alto lines. A tentatively steady sway underpins an absolutely morose piano solo followed by Atzmon’s understated, pleading anguish: it’s one of the most devastating songs released this year. A respite from the angst comes with Vienna, which rather predictably goes for old-world ambience, referencing Chopin and skirting the perimeter of schlock. Manhattan, at least through Atzmon’s eyes, is a funky place (and it is), albeit a pensive one, and he doesn’t neglect the latin flavor here. Scarborough gets a lingering, somewhat nostalgic soprano/piano intro, and then it’s obvious that this set not in Maine but in merry olde England, a launching pad for a long, sizzling, modally-fueled, Coltrane-esque Atzmon soprano solo and then a lively workout for the rest of the band.

Moscow gets accordion over heavy drum accents, a Rachmaninoff allusion, and an absolutely gorgeous alto-driven tune with fluttery countermelodies that evokes Ellington at his Suite-era, third-stream peak. Once again, Atzmon backs away from the sturm und drang with the balmy but bracing Somewhere in Italy…and then brings it back with a rippling, refusenik, rhythmic vengeance. He ends with Berlin, a twisted little waltz that alternates between faux beerhall sarcasm and creepy noir cabaret. It’s out now from World Village Music.

March 27, 2013 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ljova & the Kontraband: Playful Fun and Riveting Intensity at Symphony Space

In an email the day before his show last night at Symphony Spaace, composer/violist Ljova Zhurbin described his ensemble the Kontraband as being “wry, fierce and ready.” Which is a considerable understatement, given that their set  included several eclectic, evocative film pieces; a lullaby; western Ukrainian klezmer songs; a couple of jazzy gypsy numbers; a brand-new rock anthem; and a ukulele-style arrangement of a Mahler symphonic theme for solo viola. Zhurbin happens to be one of the world’s foremost violists; there isn’t a symphony orchestra or string quartet that wouldn’t be happy to have him. But he’d rather write film scores and lead this dazzlingly cosmopolitan string band, this time out featuring accordion virtuoso Patrick Farrell, bassist Mike Savino and drummer/percussionist John Hadfield energetically and expertly filling in for the band’s Mathias Kunzli.

They opened with Blaine Game, a hypercaffeinated, trickily rhythmic, shapeshifting romp written in a Blaine, Washington coffeeshop in between jazz workshops that Zhurbin had been invited to teach there. They followed with Plume, a pensively swaying, lushly crescendoing atmospheric piece written for a documentary film about a World Cup competition for homeless European soccer players a few years ago. Then they launched into Love Potion, Expired, a boisteriously leaping, amusingly picturesque gypsy dance written, Zhurbin explained, when he was “moonlighting” in the gypsy band Romashka and had designs on the band’s frontwoman. Unlike the song’s storyline, this one ended well: the two ended up marrying, and with that, he brought his wife Inna Barmash to the stage for a series of intense, often harrowing klezmer numbers. Barmash is gifted with a diamond-cutter soprano; how subtly yet powerfully she weilds it is viscerally breathtaking to witness. They began with a sad waltz done as a duo between the couple, a vengeful dirge titled Koyl (Yiddish for “bullet” – you can guess the rest) and a couple of bitingly expressionistic, minor-key settings of poetry from across the ages. The most gripping of those was an early medieval German poem (retranslated wonderfully from Russian by Barmash) which commented caustically on a decline of civility and civilization that, as Zhurbin alluded, potently echoes our own era.

Not everything they played was that intense. Zhurbin brought out a couple of songs inspired by his two sons. Benjy, the oldest, got a playful, deviously joyous, bouncing number – if this portrait is accurate, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. His brother Yossi got a steady, more serioso song in the form of a lullaby, but with an amusing ending.

After the absolutely ridiculous Mahler theme and a darkly majestic, brand-new art-rock anthem, they wrapped up the set with the title track to the Kontraband’s absolutely brilliant 2008 album, Mnemosyne. It’s an increasingly angst-driven exploration of self-imposed exile: Barmash delivered goosebumps with her spun-silver wail as she took it all the way to the top of the final crescendo over Farrell’s rapidfire rivulets, Savino’s steady, incisive pulse and Zhurbin’s richly plaintive melodicism.. Zhurbin’s next New York show is with bassist Petros Klampanis’ excellent gypsy-flavored jazz group at Drom on Oct 11 at 7:30; the Kontraband will be at the Brooklyn Museum on  January 5 at 5 PM.

October 5, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, gypsy music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eclectic Gypsy Jazz from Tarkany Muvek

Hungarian combo Tarkany Muvek put a deviously entertaining, traditionalist spin on what we in the cimbalom-deprived United States tend to lump together under the nebulous rubric of gypsy jazz. The group’s latest album Introducing Tarkany Muvek is out as a digital download from World Music Network and it’s tremendously enjoyable, as original as it is intelligent. Frontwoman Juliana Paar’s high soprano ranges from misty, to stark and haunted, to wounded and brittle, over the richly resonant cimbalom (Hungarian hammered dulcimer) of the group’s main composer, Bálint Tárkány Kovács along with multi-reedman Gergo Kovats (also of Koala Fusion and Oláh Dezso Septet), violist Endre Papp and bassist András Bognár. They have a sense of humor (the first song on the album is titled Bite It) and shift seamlessly between folk and jazz idioms. A bouncy Hungarian torch song becomes a jaunty jump blues; Kovats’ tenor sax ranges from Louis Jordan ebullience to Philip Glass hypnoticism, and Papp’s elegant orchestration gives the music a welcome heft and lushness.

That first track sure has some bite: a protege of the legendary Kalman Balogh, Kovacs prowls from apprehensive to triumphant and back, sometimes in a split second, then the song goes halfspeed with a misty tenor sax interlude before picking up again. They follow that with a pensive, starkly hypnotic ballad and then the ironically-charged Hush Peacock, which segues into a bouncy Hungarian torch song that morphs unexpectedly into a lickety-split jump blues. There’s a trancily rhythmic number built on a Steve Reich-esque circular riff, a rubato folk-rock ballad with flute aptly titled Autumn Sketch; a tongue-in-cheek bounce entitled So Much I Love, and a cleverly low-key, loungey take on the gypsy standard Csirrip that Paar sinks her fangs into just enough to keep the irony in the red.

They follow that with an instrumental that sends the sax soaring over a tense, mysterioso background that the cimbalom eventually joins to add an extra layer of suspense that Kovats eventually ends up shattering – it’s one of the album’s most enjoyable moments. After that, they take an absolutely charming stab at a tiptoeing retro Roaring 20s vibe that wouldn’t be out of place in the Lake Street Dive fakebook, then wind up the album with a number that begins on a minimalist, Satie-esque note, Kovats’ smoky sax adding a warm wee-hours edge before the whole band picks it up and sends it up flying. Lucky Hungarian fans can catch their next gig on September 7 at 9 PM at the Mustache Festival.

September 5, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evocative Rainy-Day Music from Tin Hat

Tin Hat’s new album The Rain Is a Handsome Animal isn’t what you might expect: it goes in much more of a jazz direction than their earlier material, most famously their haunting contributions to the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack. This one’s similar to the Hot Club of Detroit’s work with Cyrille Aimee but with a wider sonic palette – if that’s possible. Some of the tracks – a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers sung by violinist Carla Kihlstedt – are airy and bouncy. Some of them have considerably more weight and gravitas. Minor key melodies dance and leap to a mix of beats, some of them tropical, with upper-register ambience from Kihlstedt, animatedly swirling interplay between accordionist Rob Reich and clarinetist Ben Goldberg providing a shimmery backdrop for guitarist Mark Orton’s spiky melody lines and gypsy-tinged pulse. It’s lively but bittersweet, measured but energetic.

A word about the lyrics: these are all settings of e.e. cummings poems (resisting the temptation to capitalize that name here is not easy). Those aren’t as whimsical as you might expect, but they’re still pretty obvious – although the genuineness and occasional unselfconscious urgency of Kihlstedt’s vocals gives them an unexpected dignity. One can only wonder what she could do with more substantial lyrical material. A couple of tracks wouldn’t be out of place in the more carefree section of the Rachelle Garniez songbook. The first, If Up’s the Word, works its way down from intertwining, reedy harmonies to a suspenseful interlude that underscores the lyrics’ urgent carpe-diem message. The second, Yes Is a Pleasant Country takes what’s essentially a blithely bluesy torch song and almost imperceptibly moves it into more pensive terrain on the wings of Kihlstedt’s increasingly biting lines.

The album’s opening track begins as a samba of sorts and builds from there, Kihlstedt’s vocals mining a coy breathiness. The instrumental title track blends gleefully brisk, swooping violin, gypsy guitar picking and a neat solo from Goldberg that rises from low and soulful to a joyous spin capped by Kihlstedt’s stratospherics. Sweet Spring, a love song, begins suspensefully and hushed before moving into uneasily dreamy territory fueled by contrasting piano-versus-violin textures.

Open His Head and the aptly citrusy Grapefruit both develop tango melodies out of acidic atmospherics, as does Unchanging, shifting from a fugue of sorts, to a rich mix of upper-register tonalities over the twin pulse of the bass clarinet and guitar bassline. A western gothic song that reminds of John Cale, Buffalo Bill shifts from a vivid brass to a drony atmospheric outro. The tour de force here is The Enormous Room, an epic that moves from quietly mysterious atonalities to pulsing wariness driven by the bass clarinet, a rather slashing Kihlstedt solo and then a warmer, anthemic guitar melody.

The most overtly jazzy track here is the brief So Shy Shy Shy; the most easygoing is the cheery, bucolic 2 Little Who’s. Human Rind has an uncharacteristically dark lyric matched by a bracing, intense interlude that circles out with a troubled insistence, while Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town reaches for a big rock anthem feel, with mixed results.

There are three more tracks here – the folks over at New Amsterdam don’t shortchange you! Diminutive works a sad rainy day tableau with fluttery violin front and center; the album wraps up with Little I, a hypnotic yet incisive tone poem, and Now (More Near Ourselves Than We), a torchy ballad that quickly goes in a more uneasy direction. Seventeen songs, many shades of grey, many shades of understated brilliance. Whoever would have thought that an e.e. cummings album would turn out like this?

August 28, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hot Club of Detroit Gets to the Junction At Full Speed

Prime movers in the gypsy jazz resurgence, the Hot Club of Detroit’s new album, Junction, features a somewhat revamped lineup since bassist Andrew Kratzat suffered a near-fatal car accident last year. But there’s good news on all fronts: Kratzat and his fiancee continue on their road to recovery, and the band found a capable replacement in Shawn Conley. Otherwise, the original core of accordionist Julien Labro and guitarists Evan Perri and Paul Brady is back, joined this time out by reedmen Jon Irabagon and Andrew Bishop plus chanteuse Cyrille Aimee, with whom they’ve toured extensively. Irabagon’s wit and supersonic chops, Bishop’s eclecticism and ironclad sense of melody and Aimee’s purist charm each contribute to the diversity of the songs here. In the spirit of the band’s previous efforts, this album imaginatively blends jaunty grooves with ideas from all over the musical spectrum, continuing to push beyond traditional gypsy jazz.

That’s apparent right off the bat with a funky Irabagon composition, Goodbye Mr. Anderson (a Matrix reference, in case you might be wondering). It’s basically a two-chord jam with a catchy turnaround: spiraling solos from Labro’s accordion and Perri’s electric guitar set up an even more blistering, adrenalizing one from the composer himself.

They follow that with Song for Gabriel, the first of several Perri/Labro co-writes, bouncy and lyrical with some rich alto sax/accordion harmonies. Aimee sings La Foule over tricky, syncopated gypsy jazz: it’s a mouthful, and rather than trying to outdo Piaf, Aimee takes it in a much more understated direction, Perri adding an aptly wistful, expansive acoustic guitar solo.

An upbeat tune simply titled Hey! makes a launching pad for a wildfire cutting contest between Irabagon and Bishop: after a roller-coaster ride of doublestops, trills, unexpected hesitations and gritty microtones, they take it down to a cool accordion/bass/guitar pulse. Chutzpah, a John Zorn homage, kicks off with a tongue-in-cheek improvisational intro and then adds a subtle klezmer tinge, Irabagon springboarding off it with microtonal alto sax pyrotechnics. Then they resurrect a rare Django mass (which Reinhardt left unfinished), Messe Gitane, accordion taking the rather morose role of the church organ, Perri’s guitar eventually taking it into warmer terrain and then handing off to Bishop’s crystalline clarinet.

Django Mort, a setting of a Jean Cocteau poem is delivered very low-key by Aimee over a slow, stately sway. The cinematic, pensively swaying title track, with its folk-rock tinges and plaintive accordion, reminds of Montreal eclecticists Sagapool. The most memorable of all the tracks here, Midnight in Detroit is over too soon in just over a couple of minutes, Labro’s Balkan swirls lighting up the guitars’ nocturnal backdrop.

There’s also a George Shearing homage done as an offcenter, pensive ballad; the deliciously original Puck Bunny, a wry mix of country blues,gypsy swing and jump blues that evokes the Microscopic Septet’s take on Thelonious Monk; a vocal take on Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman that far surpasses a similar version by [who???] which was a rock radio hit in the 70s; and a Phish cover which transcends the original simply by not being an embarrassment. It’s out now on Mack Avenue.

August 19, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gypsophilia Sets the Rockwood on Fire

If anybody at the Rockwood Tuesday night had any hope of seeing a sedate, relaxing show, that hope was dashed by the time Gypsophilia launched into third number. Because of the French connection, gypsy jazz is big in Canada and not just in Quebec. Gypsophilia hail from the impressively eclectic musical hotbed of Halifax and played an exhilarating set that transcended the limitations of the genre: it wasn’t anything closely resembling by-the-book Django covers. Their first jauntily shuffling couple of tunes only hinted at the wildness to come, trumpeter Matt Myer, violinist Gina Burgess – who is this band’s not-so-secret weapon – and fast, fluid electric guitarist Alec Frith trading tastefully edgy solos. Then they switched it up with a song introduced by guitarist Ross Burns as “Jewish party music,” and that it was, stately and suspenseful like a hora until it took flight on the wings of Burgess’ soaring chromatics, Burns leaping from the stage and breakdancing in front of the audience as the band turned it into ska. They followed that with a plaintive, wistful minor-key ballad by Burns set at the corner of Agricola and Sarah Streets in Halifax (north and just down the hill from the Halifax Common – there’s a pizza place there that’s reputedly excellent) on a snowy evening, two lovers deciding whether to part or go off together. Frith took the opportunity to reach back for some extra poignancy as Burns and second rhythm guitarist Nick Wilkinson held the sadness in check, then handing it over elegantly to the trumpet.

They got the crowd clapping along for the rest of the night with suspenseful, rubato interludes fueled by Adam Fine’s bass bowing, hi-de-ho gypsy taqsims, endless handoffs between soloists as the energy went higher and higher. “The violin just kicked the trumpet’s ass,” laughed the doorman: maybe he didn’t realize that was intentional, simply one step closer to pure ecstasy. An unexpectedly funky tune by Fine inspired by hearing a Kool & the Gang song blasting from a passing van featured a sweet trumpet solo and Burns playing along, tongue-in-cheek, on triangle. He switched to a hand drum that he rubbed for an amazingly melodic solo on a Super Bowl song that went on and on, biting minor keys alternated with unabashed buffoonery. They closed with a rugby song based on a hymn, reinvented as gypsy jazz. They’ve got chops to rival their imagination and are currently on US tour: if gypsy jazz is your thing and they’re coming to your town, don’t miss them.

June 28, 2012 Posted by | concert, gypsy music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pensive Rustic Cinematics from Sagapool

Sagapool hail from Montreal. They play tunefully esoteric, mostly minor-key instrumentals that would make a good soundtrack to a David Cronenberg film somewhere in the woods north of Quebec City. Their new album features Luizio Altobelli’s accordion, Guillaume Bourque’s clarinet, Alexis Dumais’ piano, Zoe Dumais’ violin, Dany Nicolas’ acoustic guitar and Marton Maderspach’s lithe, subtle drums as the main instruments, although they also use banjo, bass, alto sax, mandolin, electric piano, sandpaper and “whispering.” Gypsy music is an obvious influence, and there’s a little of that here, but they also touch on classical, jazz and various folk styles. Some of their stuff reminds of eclectic San Francisco group Pickpocket Ensemble. Although not a theme and variations per se, the album works best taken as a single integral work, as if actually intended to be a movie soundtrack. The tunes are catchy and will linger in your head long after the sun goes down for good.

The opening cut is set in a Montreal park, a slightly aching accordion melody that builds to a motorway anthem as the drums rumble along, muffled against swooshing ambience. They follow that with Coeur D’Aiguille (Eye of the Needle), a wistful clarinet waltz with glockenspiel and ambient accordion. Le Vent Des Iles (Island Breeze) is another waltz, this one more pensive and featuring the piano. It rises to a sailing clarinet solo and then a romp through a majestic swirl of arpeggios in the style of 70s art-rock bands like Genesis. From its staccato piano intro to its tense violin/accordion melody, Le Fil Boreal (Edge of the Northern Lights) sounds like it’s about to explode into a big anthem but never quite gets there. La Tristesse De L’Ampleur (Sad Expanse) is a rather plaintive folk/jazz guitar tune that shifts between tricky and funky, and another moody waltz, clarinet soaring brightly upward.

The two tracks here where the grey-sky atmosphere lifts are Marcel, a jaunty, carefree dixieland-flavored number, and the amusing closing cut, Mon Cousin Joue Du Synthe (My Cousin Plays Synth), a dark minor-key theme bookending some unexpectedly silly, campy 80s new wave tropes. There’s also a brooding neoromantic piano waltz with Erik Satie echoes; another violin tune that shifts between waltz time and trickier rhythms; and the vividly crescendoing De Cordes et De Bois (Strings and Wood), which matter-of-factly builds until it lifts off and becomes an action movie theme – and then reprises an earlier melody. Who is the audience for this? Montreal bartenders on the day shift; northern New England shopkeepers who aspire to be classier than Walmart; people whose days begin late and end early or wish that was the case.

March 8, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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