Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trouble in Tribeca, Part Two: Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s night of showcases for the annual APAP booking agents’ convention continued with two New York institutions who call Brooklyn bar Barbes their home, sandwiched around comedic Bay Area Cuban/American retro rockers the Cuban Cowboys. We have reviewed shows by Chicha Libre a few times; we have seen them more times than we can count. Even by their standards, this one was deliriously fun, the high point of the night (and when you can upstage Slavic Soul Party, that’s pretty damn good). For those who don’t know the band, their style of music is chicha, which takes its name from a Peruvian corn liquor which is sort of that country’s equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45. Wildly popular on a regional basis in the 1970s, chicha music blends psychedelically-tinged American surf music, a Colombian cumbia beat and bits and pieces of just about every other latin style from Brazilian to salsa. Chicha Libre had been asked by the producers of the Simpsons to provide a chicha version of the show’s theme song in honor of the cartoon’s 25th anniversary, which aired Sunday (you can hulu it): the song very cleverly skirted the theme but didn’t tackle it head-on until a break midway through. Because chicha bands in the style’s heyday so frequently chichafied music from just about everywhere else on the globe, Chicha Libre do the same, with results that vary from haunting (the understated, swaying version of Erik Satie’s macabre Gymnopedie No. 1 that they used to open the set on a subdued note) to amusing, notably a cover of Hot Butter’s 70s novelty synth instrumental hit Popcorn (which the band uses as a tribute to corn liquor and weed). They also gave Vivaldi the chicha treatment (Spring, from the Four Seasons, retitled Primavera en la Selva i.e. Springtime in the Jungle), as well as running through tight covers of songs from the classic chicha era, from the hilarious El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy), an infectious version of a Juaneco classic and the scurrying Pato de Perro (Dog’s Paw). Josh Camp’s vintage Electrovox electric organ swirled and spun off a forest of eerie overtones and Vincent Douglas’ Telecaster provided the requisite noir twang and clang while Olivier Conan’s cuatro in tandem with the percussionists clattered like an old VW taxicab, confident in its knowledge of every rut and bump in the road.

The Cuban Cowboys brought a stagy, occasionally campy, over-the-top sensibility to their Cuban-inflected mix of reverb-soaked surf and garage rock songs. A tongue-in-cheek number about a gay sailor bounced along on a ska beat; by contrast, a dark, minor-key tango reflected on the Obama adminstration’s failure so far to normalize Cuban-American relations. Another serious number, Dance with the Devil touched on the band’s disastrous experience with a big record label. They closed with the side-splitting Senor Balaban, a nonstop, rapidfire Spanish-language narrative about a kid getting a sex education talk from a bunch of old Cuban geezers. “It helps if she’s drunk,” one of them soberly asserts.

Slavic Soul Party have earned themselves a reputation as just about the most exciting thing happening in original Balkan brass music, and reaffirmed that with a characteristically blazing set to end the evening on an high note. The eleven-piece band has toned down the hip-hop attitude a little bit, concentrating on the music, from the joyous, spot-on James Brown funk tune they opened with, standing in the middle of the crowd in front of the stage, to the playfully satirical faux-techno of the title track from their previous album Technochek Collision that closed the night. Playing every Tuesday night at Barbes has made them incredibly tight – watching all the horns play one rapidfire cluster of eerie chromatics after the other, in perfect unison, was intense. Several of the songs were partitas, sometimes leaping into warpspeed, sometimes shifting with seeming effortlessness from a slinky, quasi-latin groove to fullscale stomp, accordion, trumpets and trombones all getting the chance to bring the songs to redline with breakneck solo crescendos. The title track to their latest cd was the high point, suddenly dropping to a Balkan trip-hop vamp taken up again on the wings of a blazing bop trumpet solo, all lightning doublestops and glissandos. It’s impossible to imagine that there could have been a better show anywhere in town that night.

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January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Las Rubias Del Norte, Cordero, Hazmat Modine, Karsh Kale and Slavic Soul Party at 92YTribeca, NYC 1/9/09

In a nice diversion from the blizzardy conditions outside, this was a whole summer festival compressed into an evening featuring relatively brief sets from some of the creme de la creme of the New York scene, put together for the booking agents’ convention by upstart Brooklyn label Barbes Records and adventurous San Francisco booking agency Trouble Worldwide.

 

With the angelic, effortlessly graceful harmonies of frontwomen Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst, las Rubias del Norte’s all-too-brief set was uncommonly dark and haunting, playing most of their material in minor keys. The band has been characterized here before as the latin Moonlighters, which is true both in the sense that both groups share an effervescent, romantic sensibility defined by their harmonies and a love of diverse styles from earlier eras. Las Rubias used what time they had onstage to explore several of them: bouncy cumbias from Colombia, romantic Mexican baladas and an eerie number that made frequent use of the Asian scale, propelled by Hurst’s agile work on bells. They closed the set with a fast, scurrying Mexican traditional number in 6/8 time.

 

Cordero frontwoman Ani Cordero has an impressively diverse resume, ranging from surf music to the dark atmospherics of Bee & Flower, the ranchera rock of Pistolera and this, her main project, a warmly melodic, catchy rock en Espanol quartet. She’s also become a terrifically compelling singer: the strength and sultry insistence of her low register was particularly striking in contrast with her characteristically warm, airy high notes. Playing her Strat without any effects and just a hint of natural distortion, she led the group through an eight-song set of terse, smartly crafted, upbeat, major-key janglerock with an incisive, thoughtful lyricism. On a couple of tunes she put down her guitar and played tom-tom while the group’s organist provided a minimalist dance groove, which actually got some bodies in the crowd twirling.

 

With so many bands scheduled to fill a relatively brief block of time, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the bands would get shafted and that band turned out to be Hazmat Modine. Which was too bad: in three songs and less than 25 minutes, they actually managed to energize the crowd. Frontman Wade Schuman – one of the most charismatic bandleaders around – began the show with a harmonica solo, then stopped cold. “You came here to hear music, didn’t you,” he reminded the chatty, restless audience, and suddenly got everyone’s attention. Schuman then resumed his solo, using an effects pedal for an organ tone, perhaps as a nod to the great blues harpist Carey Bell who typically played through a Leslie speaker from a Hammond organ. Then the band – this time including Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on guitars along with Fearless Dreamer’s Pam Fleming on trumpet plus sax, tuba and drums – launched into the fat reggae groove of So Glad, Fleming taking the intensity to redline in a matter of seconds with one of her trademark instant crescendos.

 

Their second song was a hypnotic one-chord oldtimey-style blues that they’d recorded with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, a showcase for interplay between the wind instruments and then the guitars, Gomez and Smith interlocking like the gears in some infernal machine, gnashing and grinding everything in their path. The band closed with a surprisingly fast take of the title track to their most recent cd Bahamut, a surreal, calypso-flavored epic featuring a lot of agile baton-passing as the band members each took a brief solo turn. World music personality Karsh Kale’s set was also brief, and happily so: his qawwali-rock hybrid started snoozy, then became oppressive with pointlessly garish heavy metal guitar.

 

Slavic Soul Party’s upcoming Carnegie Hall gig has been sold out for quite awhile, and the nine-piece brass band left no doubt as to why, opening their wild, intense set with a march through the audience, pounding the drums and blasting out a fiery Balkan melody. Their first song onstage was a blistering instrumental romp through a two-chord, chromatically-fueled jam, accordion and then trumpet each taking deftly jazzy solos. The next number started suspensefully, building on a single chord to a march, and then a dance beat, the best solo of the entire evening delivered with unleashed, murderous fury by sax player Greg Squared (who also fronts the terrific pan-Balkan group Ansambl Mastika). They then brought up guest singer Eva Salina Primack, who added dramatic, contralto lead vocals along with plenty of ominous, wailing vocalese. They wrapped up the evening with the title track to their cd Teknochek Collision, an amusing spoof of computerized dance music that bore more than a little resemblance to similarly devious instrumentalists Brooklyn instrumentalists Moisturizer, tuba and horns working in lockstep staccato to mimic the cliched, broken-cd effect so widely used in electronica. Since time was up, the band played their encore the way they’d come in, marching off the stage and back through the crowd with plenty of stops along the way to make sure the party wasn’t over until they were really through. They’ve been playing Barbes every Tuesday at around 9 since god knows when; now’s the time to catch them while they’re still there.

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment