Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Susan Krebs Chamber Band Play Imaginative, Deviously Funny Jazz and Other Styles

It was impossible to resist cueing up the final track on the Susan Krebs Chamber Band’s album Spring: Light Out of Darkness before listening to the others. It’s hilarious, a quiet, completely deadpan, roughly seven-minute chamber arrangement of the most famous themes from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. There’s no whirling, aching release from cabin fever and no virgins being sacrificed here: pianist Rich Eames plays the percussion parts. This seems closer in spirit to Bridget Kibbey romping through the Bach Toccata in D on the concert harp than, say, Richard Cheese doing lounge versions of Nirvana songs.

The rest of the record – which came out in 2018 and is still streaming at Bandcamp – is just as imaginative and entertaining. The group ease their way playfully and atmospherically into a lithe jazz version of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning that wouldn’t be out of place in the Rachelle Garniez playbook, spiced with Luis Mascaro’s violin and Rob Lockart’s bass clarinet  over Eames’ piano and Scott Breadman’s drums.

Likewise, the band coyly edge their way toward oldtimey-flavored swing in their take of the Doris Fisher classic Whispering Grass, Krebs’ half-spoken, half-sung delivery underscoring its message of how loose lips sink ships. She looks back to the cabaret origins of Some Other Time in a slow, lingering version with piano, bluesy violin and sailing clarinet.

Spring is another ridiculously funny interlude, the famous Vivaldi theme from the Four Seasons reinvented as a jaunty soul-gospel tune. You Must Believe in Spring has a steady implied clave bounce and cheerily lyrical piano, then Krebs shifts to a wee-hours saloon blues ambience for the album’s title track. It’s been a rough year: this album will lift your spirits.

April 26, 2021 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Violinist Sana Nagano Releases a Pyrotechnic, Savagely Relevant New Album

Violinist Sana Nagano’s new album Smashing Humans – streaming at Bandcamp – is a feral, grimly picturesque suite inspired by Michael Ende’s 1973 dystopic sci-fi novel, Momo. Nagano’s narrative mashup is an incredibly timely parable. As she explains, “The Orange Monster and the Humans in Grey are taking over the Paradise Planet where Smashing Humans and Bunnies, Poops and Polyrhythmic Santa Clauses co-exist in a euphoric way.” This will resonate with fans of doom metal and the darkest side of art-rock as well as the jazz crowd.

The ringleader of this evil enterprise is the Orange Monster, a Bill Gates type who grew up in the wrong place at the wrong time. “His apple parents named him Orange for obvious reasons and told him he is ugly and they wished he was an apple. At school he was bullied for being the only orange in the entire planet. The universal criminal organization Timesaving Bank scouted him for his skillful negativity, which led him to sell his soul to the shadow side in return for a sense of belonging.”

Nagano gives him a whole track to himself toward the end of the record. She opens with a battle theme, Strings & Figures. The group – also including Peter Apfelbaum on sax, Keisuke Matsuno on guitar, Ken Filiano on bass and Joe Hertenstein on drums – march in cynical lockstep up to a searing, sirening guitar/sax/violin conflagration, Filiano maintaining a deadpan cartoon bounce. From there they coalesce with a jagged, vintage 70s King Crimson intensity. It’s amazing how tight this band remain despite the polyrhythmic complexity and relentlessly searing attack of so much of this music.

Track two, Loud Dinner Wanted pictures the Orange Monster about to enjoy his prey as an aspic. Insistent, hammering riffs and eerily dancing tritones give way to a horror interlude anchored by Filiano’s booming chords and Hertenstein’s minimalist stomp while the rest of the crew shrieks and struggles. Nagano glides uneasily as the dancing pulse returns; Apfelbaum flutters as Matsuno bends, clanks and wails.

Nagano loops a creepy chromatic riff while the rest of the band throw off dissociative shards and flickers to begin Dark Waw, a mini-suite depicting a shadow universe. Peevishly persistent skronk fades down into haggardly divergent, trilling voices and then some creepy math-metal.

Nagano and Apfelbaum introduce the Humans in Grey with a menacingly simple insectile theme: these cold figures immediately join in a macabre march. As a parable of consumerism – or as just an evil, loopy, noisy theme – it packs a wallop. The rhythm drops out; the group shiver around in an increasingly poltergeist-like atmosphere, Nagano leading them back up into an increasingly bellicose vortex.

She reflects on the concept of a shadow self in The Other Seven, the rhythm growing more lithe and then ceding to deep-space menace, Matsuno’s death star twinkling and then resonating morosely in the distance. Hertenstein’s terse, playful solo introduces Chance Music, which grows to a pulsing Butch Morris/AACM type massed theme. This is a pivotal moment in the narrative, so no spoilers.

The Orange Monster portrait is titled Heavenly Evil Devil. It seems he learns to jump through increasingly complicated, distantly Balkan-flavored hoops, but, be careful when you fight with monsters, etc. It would be a spoiler to give away the ending, which is fantastic: let’s just say that this might be the best album of 2021.

April 12, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy, Thoughtful Rainy-Day Sounds From Modern Nature

Modern Nature play a tuneful, individualistic blend of pastoral jazz and chamber pop with tinges of vintage 70s soul music. Their new album Annual is streaming at Bandcamp. They like nature imagery and long, catchy, circling phrases over simple, muted drums.

They open the record with Dawn, a hazy miniature balancing bandleader Jack Cooper’s uneasy, lingering guitar over Arnulf Lindner’s overtone-laden bass drone. Elegantly uneasy soul guitar anchors frontwoman Kayla Cohen’s muted, half-whispered delivery as Flourish gets imderway, up to a big, anthemic chorus with Jeff Tobias’ fluttery sax and then back down. From there they segue into Mayday, which has a funkier swing but is just as hypnotically circling.

Spacious, incisive piano and balmy sax mingle with syncopated guitar jangle throughout the album’s fourth track, Halo. In Harvest, the band build very subtle variations into a staggered, loopy hook. They bring the record full circle with Wynter. “Outside the trees are groaning,” Cohen sings with an airy calm over the resonant, brooding clang of the guitar. Let’s hope the lockdown doesn’t destroy this band as it has so many others, and we get to hear more from them.

February 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughtful, Sparkling Poetically-Inspired Chamber Jazz From Amanda Tosoff

Pianist Amanda Tosoff plays an eclectic, poetically-inspired blend of jazz and chamber pop, Her new album Earth Voices is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s collected a similarly diverse crew of voices to sing her songs, everybody seemingly chosen specifically for each one. 

Emilie-Claire Barlow sings energetically in A Dream Within a Dream over a a vampy latin-tinged groove that’s about as far from the classically-tinged phantasmagoria of the Alan Parsons Project’s earlier take on Edgar Allan Poe as you can possibly imagine. Kelly Jefferson’s spiraling soprano sax ironically adds a welcome, disquieted edge over the brightness.

Robin Dann moves to the mic for a low-key take of the Pablo Neruda text of Tosoff’s Sonnet 49, her elegant. tersely rippling piano bolstered by Aline Homzy’s violin and Beth Silver’s cello.

Here and Heaven, originaly recorded by Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo Americana project, opens with a stark violin solo over Morgan Childs’ shamanic drums and Jon Maharaj’s terse bass. Michelle Willis and Alex Samaras’ vocal duet recalls the original pairing of Aoife O’Dononvan and Chris Thile; guitarist Alex Goodman adds a spikily joyous postbop intensity.

Samaras takes over vocals for Birdwings, Tosoff’s pensively rippling, lyrical setting of a Rumi poem. Laila Biali joins him to sing Oh, Life, a remake of a Mike Ross number from a theatrical production of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, where a girl emerges from her coffin to serenade the crowd. Tosoff’s baroque-tinged piano circles as the string quartet behind her slowly follows a long upward trajectory to another soulful Goodman solo.

Joni Mitchell’s antiwar anthem The Fiddle and the Drum, sung with stern intensity by Lydia Persaud, gets a sobering, emphatic reinterpretation but also an expansive, optimistic Tosoff solo. Felicity Williams sings To a Stranger, Tosoff’s setting of a Walt Whitman text over a vividly poignant string quartet arrangement. They bring the album full circle with Barlow resolutely singing another Tosoff original, Finis, built around a Marjorie Pickthall poem on a carpe diem theme.

February 4, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | Leave a comment

The 8-Bit Big Band Can’t Stop Playing Mighty, Orchestral Versions of Video Game Themes

The 8-Bit Big Band are one of the most improbably successful brands in music. They own the franchise on lavishly orchestrated, jazz-oriented arrangements of video game themes. They have more of a following in the video game world than in jazz circles, maybe because much of what they play is closer to action film scores than, say, Miles Davis. But it sure is a lot of fun. Their frequently hilarious latest album Backwards Compatible is streaming at Bandcamp.

Between the horns, and reeds, and string orchestra, and singers, there are so many people among the group’s rotating cast of characters that they would take up more space than there is on this page. After a bit of a lush intro, they launch into the album with the main theme from Chrono Trigger, pianist Steven Feifke scrambling over a fusiony backdrop that descends to a dreamy string interlude. Take out those piano breaks and this could be an early 80s Earth Wind and Fire number.

The Gourmet Race from Kirby Super Star is basically a beefed-up hot 20s tune, tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon soloing lickety-split over a racewalking pulse as the strings swell behind him. They do Hydrocity Zone, a Sonic the Hedgehog 3 theme, as beefed-up funk with Grace Kelly adding a gritty alto solo.

Benny Benack III croons a silly lyric, Rat Pack style, then raises his trumpet in a blustery 50s-style orchestral pop reinvention of Want You Gone, from the Portal 2 soundtrack. Metaknights Revenge, a Kirby Super Star theme has a clever interweave of horns in place of motorik synth and a trio of wry synth solos from the mysterious “Buttonmasher.”

The first Mario theme here is the killer, irresistibly amusing, quote-laden tarantella Super Mario Land Underground, from Super Mario 64, with Balkan-tinged baritone sax from another mystery soloist,  “Leo P.”  It’s the best track on the album. Dire Dire Docks, also from that soundtrack, features bassist and bandleader Charlie Rosen burbling around way up the fretboard over a pillowy ballad backdrop.

It’s hard to resist singing “That’s the way of the world, yeow,” as Birdman, from Pilot Wings 64, gets underway. Zac Zinger emulates a woozy synth through his EWI while the music edges closer toward Alan Parsons Project territory. Choral group Accent’s contribution to the floating Lost in Thoughts All Alone, from Fire Emblem Fates, will have you reaching for fast forward to get away from the autotune, ruining an otherwise clever Rosen chart.

Bassist Adam Neely goes up the scale and noodles in Saria’s Song, a cheerily symphonic remake from the Zelda: Ocarina of Time score. Tiffany Mann sings on a sweeping 70s soul version of Snake Eater, found on the Metal Gear Solid 3 soundtrack.

The group close with a couple of additional Mario themes. Kelly returns, this time on the mic, for a ridiculously amusing, vaudevillian reinvention of Jump Up Super Star, from Super Mario Odyssey. The orchestra close appropriately enough with a brassy take of the Super Mario World End Theme, complete with shivery strings and a ragtime piano solo. This is a great party record and obviously a labor of love. The amount of work Rosen spent reworking all these tunes is staggering, and the huge crew here seem to be having just as much fun with it.

January 13, 2021 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summoning the Witches with Ayelet Rose Gottlieb

We just went through a wild month of eclipses, so what could be more appropriate than an album of 13 Lunar Meditations Summoning the Witches? That’s the title of singer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb’s new moon-themed album, streaming at Bandcamp. The concept is counterintuitive: where you might typically expect calm, nocturnal, possibly mysterious themes, this is a generally playful, upbeat record.

As usual, Gottlieb’s songs here span a vast number of styles, from jazz, to art-rock, to sounds of the Middle East and the avant garde. The lyrics are in many different languages as well. With a joyous surrealism, she finds moon imagery in unexpected public places in the first number, Lotte and the Moon, set to Aram Bajakian’s hypnotically loopy, pointillistic guitar backdrop with a deviously scrambling Ivan Bamford drum solo midway through. It reminds of Carol Lipnik at her most exuberant.

The second number, Yare’ah is a spare, bouncy Israeli tune spiced with Eylem Basaldi’s spiky pizzicato violin, Bajakian’s guitar and the rhythm section: that’s Stéphane Diamantakiou on bass. Mond – “moon” in German – is a surreal cut-and-paste mashup of a blippy indie classical chorale and a spoken word piece contemplating the passing of generations.

The astrologically-themed Venus and the Moon has a balletesque pulse, a tango-inflected melody and a tiptoeing bass solo. Moon Story has sailing violin and vocalese balanced by punchy bass and starkly jangly guitar.

Wafting, Middle Eastern flavored violin takes centerstage behind Gottlieb’s spoken word and wordless vocals in Patience, a spacy soundscape. Yasmoon’s Moon, the most haunting and vividly nocturnal piece here, is also a showcase for plaintive violin and Bajakian’s acerbically rhythmic, oud-like phrasing. Dissipating Discus, the free jazz freakout afterward, is irresistibly funny: hang with it until the punchline.

A Spanish-language bass-and-vocal bendiction kicks off the album’s strongest track, Moon Over Gaza, a stark, politically-themed, guitar-fueled noir swing tune. The group follow Tsuki, the most ambient tableau on the record, with its longest and most darkly orchestral epic, Traveler Woman. Gottlieb winds it up with Desert Moon, an only slightly less expansive, slinky, latin-tinged anthem. Ages come and go, but the moon remains for us to dance in its light.

January 12, 2021 Posted by | folk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lush, Thoughtful, String-Driven, Vastly Eclectic Tunesmithing From Alice Zawadzki

Singer/multi-instrumentalist Alice Zawadzki writes distinctive, individualistic songs that blend jazz, chamber pop, western classical sounds and occasional Korean influences. Her songs are on the slow side and typically take awhile to unwind. She likes atmospherics, has a mystical side and writes pensive, generally optimistic lyrics. Her lush, dynamically shifting album Within You is a World of Spring hit the web about a year and a half ago and is streaming at Spotify.

It opens with the title track, a blustery Asian flourish from the string section – Simmy Singh snd Laura Senior on violins, Lucy Nolan on viola  and Peggy Nolan on cello – quickly giving way to Zawadzki’s terse, modally vamping piano. It’s the missing link betwen Ghost in the Machine-era Police and Hissing of Summer Lawns-era Joni Mitchell. Rob Luft’s guitar adds enigmatic sear to the mix; bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer Fred Thomas take over the dancing drive from there. In her leaping, energetic soprano, Zawadzki sings this soaring encouragement to leave the dark side behind.

She goes even further up the scale, spare piano over lingering atmospherics in the second track, Gods Children, finally picking up with a spacious guitar solo over a slow, anthemic drive.

“Superior Virtue was my protection, and I could gaze over the abyss all day without falling,” she intones over the drone of the strings and the occasional piano flourish in the third track, Nolan’s viola soaring plaintively over a twinkling, balletesque pulse as the song gathers steam.

Zawadzki sings the bouncy love song Es Verdad expressively in Spanish, Thomas on tenor banjo throughout a surreal mashup of bluegrass and 1970s nueva cancion. The otherworldly melismas of Hyelim Kim’s Korean taegum flute to introduce The Woods, a mystical nighttime spoken-word forest tableau that builds to a twinkling waltz.

Keeper is the most straight-up rock anthem here, with triumphant, gospel-infused harmonies, a resonant guitar solo, dancing bass where least expected over steady Pink Floydian piano chords. Witchy strings come together over a trip-hop beat after an introduction that’s painful at high volume in Twisty Moon, a surreal mashup of soukous and circus rock. Zawadzki closes this fascinating and stunningly original album with O Mi Amore, a balmy ballad infused with spiky banjo accents.

January 5, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poignant, Tersely Crystallized Songs Without Words From Antonija Pacek

Pianist Antonija Pacek plays vivid, often haunting songs without words. Her new album Forever – streaming at Spotify – draws on the highest of the High Romantic, but tersely and poignantly. Her righthand typically carries a vocal line, the left either spare chords, arpeggios or a bassline. If you were the pianist in an artsy rock band, this album is what you would give the rest of the crew to learn. Any third-year student can play every track here. There are no solos, no dynamic shifts, just melody – and an invitation to write lyrics. One can only wonder what a great songwriter like Karla Rose or Hannah Fairchild could do with this. Every piano teacher should own this album: it’s the best kind of example of this type of music.

A cynic would say that there are a million wannabe youtube stars with sad rainy day solo piano or synthesizer playlists that rip off every classical composer from Bach to Dvorak. But this is a cut above. The first track, Sofia is an absolutely shattering, toweringly angst-fueled requiem without words, Chopin through the prism of 20th century Slavic balladry.

Pacek follows that with If Only Time Allowed, neoromantic righthand over Lynchian lefthand. Gone Young is another requiem, a portrait of someone obviously full of life cut down unexpectedly, and too soon

The title track is a saloony Tom Waits-ish theme. Lullaby has playful Asian allusions, while Light is a neoromantic analogue to the Church’s classic, haunted Bel Air. If Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen had been a neoromantic guy, he would have written Almost Goodbye.

Before the Rain is catchy, minor-key, almost amusingly insistent and youtube-friendly: it could be Yann Tiersen. In Deep Red, Pacek makes a conflicted piano ballad out of Debussy and a little blues. 

Taken on face value, Wanna Dance has to be the most morose pickup line ever written: as sad waltzes go, this is killer. Pacek finally has fun shifting the melody to the lefthand in the stadium-rock theme What’s Waiting for Me. The album’s “secret” track, Before the Storm follows a familiar descending progression, a castle dark, a fortress strong….a melody secret?

December 30, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Uneasy Treat From Noa Fort and Vinnie Sperrazza

The new short album Small Cities by multi-keyboardist Noa Fort and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – streaming at Bandcamp – is a real change of pace for both of them because it’s so minimalist. The centerpiece, Only Happy When I’m Haunted, is the real showstopper here. Bookended by a wry drum solo, and a final, playful vocal-and drum-tune, it features Fort on what sounds like an old Yamaha organ instead of her usual piano. And it’s creepy, with an almost-unhinged tension similar to Serena Jost’s improvisational work in a completely diffferent context.

All proceeds of purchases go to Planned Parenthood.

December 27, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

December 22, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment