Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Unexpected Treat from Dave Holland and Pepe Habichuela

Spring cleaning has its rewards. Pretty much every attempt to clean up the server at Lucid Culture HQ causes strange and sometimes beautiful things to float to the surface. Case in point: this album. The media kit file wouldn’t open and went into the trash, but the tracks remained. A listen to the first song was addictive – it was impossible to stop with the next track, and the one after that. The first begins with a long, flamenco-tinged bass solo, of all things. Flamenco guitar follows it, solo, darkly atmospheric rather than all melodramatic like the Gipsy Kings, with the thump of a cajon in the background. It’s basically a modal vamp on a couple of chords, the guitar with a harplike clarity and articulation. What was this magical music and who was playing it?

A little googling revealed the answer: back in October, legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland joined forces with Spanish gypsy flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela and his son Joseli (of crossover flamenco group Ketama) along with a percussionist, and put out this tremendously cool album, simply titled Hands. As it turns out, this is the result of a rather long process, Holland seeking to immerse himself in flamenco and become a good flamenco bassist rather than trying to jazz up the music, sometimes playing vocal lines on his bass. To his credit, not only did he become a good flamenco bassist, he keeps very good company. Although this is a pretty straight-up flamenco album, there are other influences here, especially Brazilian. What’s most striking is how judicious and thoughtful the guitar is, and how unpredictable the compositions are. There are crescendos to big choruses, but no cliches, and also no grand guignol, and a lot of counterintuitive touches. For example, on Camaron (“Shrimp”), Habichuela essentially plays an indie rock melody, Holland responding with a long, aptly cantabile solo. Then, on El Ritmo Me Lleva (“The Beat Moves Me”), the two guitars and bass follow a rhumba beat, with an airy, almost Pat Metheny-ish feel.

The title track starts out hinting at samba but quickly goes back to a tersely bristling flamenco groove, following an absolutely delicious, un-flamencoish chord progression and then a long, pensive bass solo that again stays solidly in flamenco territory. Likewise, Holland mimics the guitars on the most traditional number here, Puente Quebrao. Habichuela offers a solo guitar tribute to his new bass-playing friend; Joyride, by Holland, is the gentlest, most Brazilian-inflected tune here. There’s also the joyously crescendoing, tango-tinged Subi la Questa; Holland’s Whirling Dervish, a spotlight for Josemi’s rapidfire fretwork, and the rippling closing track. What a fun discovery at close to midnight on a work night – it’s less like being transported to a sangria-fueled gypsy campfire than to Holland’s studio where this beautifully intricate stuff began life.

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April 11, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Peña Album Explores Afro-Peruvian Flavors

Guitarist Cory J. Wong and producer Eric Foss wanted to capture the spirit of Afro-Peruvian music at the source, so they caught a flight to Lima and made the Peña Album. Wong has a bright, thoughtfully spare acoustic style, accompanied occasionally by bassist Jorge Roeder and singer Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and a rotating cast of percussionists including Chico Chavez, Hugo Alcazar and one simply credited as “Larry.” Recorded on the fly in various locations around the city, often with local musicians, it has the spontaneous feel of a field recording. Peruvians, along with the African slaves imported by the conquistadors, suffered as badly under imperialism as the rest of the world’s indigenous peoples: musical instruments were banned, the result being the invention of all sorts of clever instruments, the most famous being the cajon (which in its first incarnation was simply an inverted wooden crate). This album has a remarkable similarity to Jordi Savall’s recent excavation of baroque-era latin music, El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, in that it reminds what a melting pot the “new world” was for everyone involved. The African blues progression is everywhere, but so is the flamenco guitar, and the huaynos and criollo songs that predated both of them here.

The album alternates instrumentals with vocal numbers: Wong’s carefree picking lights up several flamencoish numbers along with the acerbic, plaintive Mi Corazon Roto and a surprisingly big crescendo on the stately yet slinky San Miguel de Piura. Others follow tricky, intricate dance themes. A couple of songs here foreshadow what would happen when this music came in contact with rock and the amazing, surfy sound of chicha was born. Roeder makes the most of his presence here, including a couple of somewhat devious, percussive solos. Koutsovitis adds jazz nuance; Paloma Godoy offers a more traditional, stately lead vocal on a waltz tune. The best song here is the somewhat wry, stop-and-start Huaqueno Viejo, Alberto Gil’s guitar and vocals reminding that essentially, almost all of this was meant to be played as party music. Because of the nature of the recording, the sound is a little boomy, although listeners who prefer mp3 sound won’t notice. The album comes with an accompanying DVD (not viewed here) in a delightful wood gatefold case on the aptly named Secret Stash Records.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jesus Taco Put an Original, Literate Spin on Americana

Swiss-based lo-fi Americana trio the Jesus Taco’s debut album takes its cue from field recordings: it’s as if they decided to record everything in their collective songbooks. Along with the fully realized creations, there are the fragments, the unfinished numbers and sonic japes that fly by and are gone almost before you realize it. Perhaps to maintain a flow, pretty much every track here segues into the next. Frontman/guitarist Brett Davidson is a strong singer with some Gram Parsons inflections, accompanied by Sascha Greuter on acoustic and electric guitars along with respected luthier Tyko Runesson on mandolin, guitars and blues harp. Darkness alternates with good humor and some hijinks that sometimes seem more fun to the band than to an outsider along with others that are more accessible, and hard to resist. The longer songs and instrumentals are separated by a series of miniatures: simple fingerpicked melodies, astringent washes of feedback, a couple of brief, tuneful ragtime piano interludes, some folk-funk and what seems to be a woman laughing her way through either quoting or impersonating some ditz from reality tv.

The best song here is The Meek, a jangly, symbolically charged folk-rock gem:

When they found me on South Main
There were bruises on my brain
So they put me on ice
The charity wards were swollen with sorrow
But the nurses were nice…
Said I wanted to kill
So they put me on pills for a week…
Wretched are the ways of the weak
And the ways we pray for a winning streak …

The casual ominousness of Ten O’Clock evokes Lou Reed’s Sunday Morning, down to the glockenspiel. A simple litany of wanting more, and more, and more, wastes no time in making its point. One of the later numbers blends sci-fi imagery with an eerie rural milieu; there’s also the aptly titled, cantabile acoustic guitar instrumental So Calm, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the later works of John Fahey, a brief New Orleans/punk rock interlude that evokes the Dead Milkmen, and a gently fingerpicked acoustic ballad in Swedish. It’s another welcome surprise from upstart Swiss label Weak Records.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ana Moura – Leva-Me Aos Fados

The title of fado sensation Ana Moura’s latest album translates as “take me to the fado club” in Portuguese. What is fado? The national music of Portugal, sad acoustic guitar ballads of lost love and longing typically sung by women. The influence of iconic chanteuse Amalia Rodrigues is everywhere here, from the spiky string band arrangements (although these are significantly pared down), to the way Moura’s slightly breathy voice takes on an insistent, sometimes accusatory edge at the end of a phrase. Which enhances the plaintiveness of the songs (most of them by popular guitarist/producer Jorge Fernando) – fado (Portuguese for “fate”) is all about loneliness and transcending it. Behind her, Fernando’s playing blends seamlessly, often hypnotically with Portuguese guitarist Custodio Castelo, along with Felipe Larsen on electric bass. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is typically an insult, but as wee-hours music, fado is unbeatable, and this cd fits right in – it’s already gone platinum in Moura’s native land.

Like a lot of stylized genres – blues, funk and reggae to name a few – fado is frequently self-referential. What kind of fado is she singing? She’s feeling fado, she wants to go out to hear some – or sing some. The narrator in the opening title cut just wants to go out and lose herself in the music; in the scurrying dance that follows, she sees her recent breakup as inevitable, in the commercials on tv, in newspaper headlines and even the law. The slow ballad Por Minha Conta (On My Own) ends as “the voice of a silent scream wants to know me.” But all is not despair: the bouncy Caso Arrumado (The End of the Affair) reminds the lover who abandoned her that there will be no second chance, and the concluding cut, Na Palma de Mao (In the Palm of Your Hand) is a warning, essentially, don’t play with me because you’re playing with fire. If most of this sounds much the same, that’s because it’s supposed to: no drum machines, no heavy metal guitar, just plenty of simple poignancy. It’s out now on World Village Music.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genre-Smashing New Guitar Albums from Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins

Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins are both gifted acoustic guitarists with individual voices, each with an innovative, flamenco-inspired approach and a new album out. Jacome imaginatively blends both rock and Middle Eastern melodies within a traditional gypsy flamenco framework, while Rollins brings a biting flamenco edge to his groove-oriented world jazz instrumentals. If flamenco or gypsy guitar is your thing, both of these guys should be on your radar, particularly since each has his best days ahead of him.

Jacome is a feel-good story: as a teenager, he wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, but was happily disabused of that fantasy when he discovered flamenco. He immersed himself in it the old-fashioned way, learning from the source from Roma in Spain. His new album Levanto is a fullscale ballet, a theme and variations complete with dancing – as a purist, he’s continuing a centuries-old tradition that blends music with dance, legend and storytelling. Dynamics are his strong suit: he’s the rare guitarist you actually want to hear more of (lots more of, actually – as with Rollins, he’s sometimes conspicuously absent on his own album). Backed by the vivid, incisive violin of Jennifer Mayer, Adrian Goldenthal on bass, Kristofer Hill on percussion and a trio of brassy vocalists (Chayito Champion, Olivia Rojas and Vanessa Lopez), the group alternate between fiery dance instrumentals, dramatic ballads, poignantly fingerpicked passages and a lot of tap-dancing. Jacome makes artful use of the Arabic hijaz scale as well as interpolating catchy rock passages within the compositions’ stately architecture. The problem is that as an album, the segues are jarring – just when a song seems about to sail joyously over the edge, here come those dancers again. It’s easily solved once you upload the tracks and sequence them yourself (it should be emphasized that fans of oldschool flamenco will have no problem with this; however, a lot of momentum gets lost if you just leave the tracks in their original order). What this really should have been is a DVD – it leaves the impression that there’s a whole side to the spectacle that doesn’t translate if the audio is all you have.

Rollins comes at flamenco as a jazz player with blazing speed and a wealth of original ideas: by the time the fifth track begins, he’s delved into rhumba, samba, Cuban son and back again. Like Jacome, he has an inspired cast of characters behind him including Charlie Bisharat on violin, Dave Bryant on percussion, the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor guesting on kamancheh on one track and Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and their daughter Diana Booker contributing backing vocals. Rollins tosses off one lightning phrase after another, sometimes handing them off to Bisharat, other times to the wryly muted trumpet of Jeff Elliott. He imaginatively works the traditional descending scale of flamenco music in all kinds of new ways, even adding some tersely textural electric guitar beauty to the title track. The highlight of the cd is the triptych at the end, the Migration Suite, upping the ante with biting, Middle Eastern flavored arrangements and motifs. The problem here is the production: when there are horns here, they’re so compressed that they sound like a synthesizer, an effect that compromises all the playing here, even Rollins’. Where the Brazilian vocalists might have been able to contribute something memorable, they’re as buried in the mix as the Jordanaires on an old Elvis record. Even Kalhor gets flattened out. There may be a reason behind this: one of the cuts here was a “most added” track on easy-listening radio earlier in the year. Which on one level is fine, Rollins deserves to be heard – but in a context that does justice to the fire and imagination of his playing, his compositions and the peers he plays with. More than anything, this reminds of the work of another quality guitarist, Peter White, whose series of world music-inspired acoustic instrumental albums about 20 years ago typecast him as an easy-listening, smooth jazz guy rather than the world class player he is.

Lucky Arizonans can see Chris Burton Jacome play the cd release show for this one at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N Arizona Ave. in Chandler on May 2.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Duel Amid the Pews

“Is there anyone else who needs to leave?” grinned classical guitarist Bret Williams, “Like the guy in the back there?” He was referring to the screaming rugrat who’d erupted in rage at the end of the La Vita/Williams Guitar Duo’s first song, an anonymously springtimey piece by Brazilian composer Sergio Assad. As welcome as it is to see classical music on a program outside of the usual midtown concert halls, the infant slowly wheeled outside by a lackadaisical mother never would have made it past security at Carnegie Hall. Apparently, the church fathers at St. Paul’s Chapel today were too nice to turn her away. And this was somebody who obviously wasn’t homeless. Memo to parents: you had a choice, you had the kid, now you pay the price. No concerts for at least four years (for the kid, anyway).

What started inauspiciously got good in a hurry. Duetting with Williams was Italian guitarist Giacomo La Vita, whose fluid, brilliantly precise playing made a perfect match for Williams’ lickety-split yet subtle fingerpicking. The two ran through two pieces by Manuel de Falla, the romantic, flamenco-inflected Serenata Andaluza and the swaying, 6/8 Danza Espanola, then did two Scarlatti pieces that La Vita had arranged himself. In music this old, the emotion is in the melody, not the rhythm, and both of them dug deep into the stateliness of the tunes to find it.

The high point of the show, and probably the drawing card that got the audience in here on a cold, rainy Monday was Astor Piazzolla’s 1984 Tango Suite, another original arrangement for guitar. It’s unclear if the pantheonic Argentinian tango composer actually knew Charles Mingus personally, but the third piece in the suite definitely had the same kind of defiant scurrying around that the great American jazz composer was known for, beginning with a chase scene, running through all kinds of permutations to arrive at a fiery chordal ending. The two parts which preceded it began darkly reserved, then became expansively jazzy.

“We usually have an intermission, but we have to get up to the Upper West Side to teach,” explained Williams. “To a bunch of kids who probably haven’t even practiced. We’ve got to be there at 2:30!” And with that they burned through yet another of their own arrangements, this for De Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, an orchestral piece every bit as volcanic as the title would imply. An impressively good crowd, especially for the time of day and the drizzle outside, responded with a standing ovation. Obviously, fans of acoustic guitar music will like these guys best, but they cover vastly more terrain than most of their colleagues, a savvy move because it will earn them more of an audience. One hopes enough to eliminate the need to rush off to a midafternoon private-school teaching gig after they’ve finished playing a great set.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lenny Molotov Live at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/16/08

Lenny Molotov is the greatest guitar-god songwriter you’ve never heard of. Actually, you probably have: he plays lead guitar in Randi Russo’s band. But his own work is just as good. Richard Thompson is the obvious comparison: technically, Molotov is equally breathtaking, although long extended solo flights are not his thing. Perhaps even more than Thompson, Molotov seems to want to make every single note count for something, to make the music work perfectly in the context of the song. While Thompson’s fallback place is traditional British folk, Molotov draws most deeply from the murky well of oldtime delta blues, although he’s fluent in country and rock and, to at least some extent, jazz.

Tonight he reaffirmed why club owners like blues acts so much: for some reason, everybody drinks as long as the band is playing, if they’re not drinking already. Although Molotov and band didn’t hit the stage here til after one on the morning, they kept the crowd of Jersey tourists in the house throughout their long, almost two-hour set. Playing a mix of about 50/50 covers and originals, they impressed with the quality of their musicianship and Molotov’s clever, witty, lyrically-driven songs.

They opened with an eerie, minor-key blues chronicling the last few hours of a kid from the projects in Brooklyn who goes out to buy some weed, ends up being entrapped by an undercover cop, panics and shoots the cop and ends up killing himself in the wee hours after running out of options. One by one, Molotov enumerated the obstacles that tripped up the poor guy: “It’s too hard to be an outlaw anymore,” he lamented. Another equally chilling Molotov original, Faded Label Blues traced the decline of blues/jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael’s career. Molotov has a remarkable political awareness which made itself apparent in these two songs as well as a bouncy, uncharacteristically sunny, major-key tune titled the Devil’s Empire (as in “I saw the devil’s empire coming down”).

Their covers were just as good. Molotov’s version of St. James Infirmary Blues ostensibly stays true to the original, fast and driving. Backing Molotov were an upright bassist as well as violinist Karl Meyer and harmonica wizard Jake Engel. Meyer’s soaring, fluid country fiddle made an interesting contrast with Engel’s heavy artillery: the guy was channeling Big Walter Horton half the night, blowing eerie chromatics like he wanted to shatter the big plate glass window that serves as the front wall here. They finally wrapped it up at about 3 AM, the club owner still sitting on his perch at the sound board above the stage, carefully tweaking the sound throughout the show to make sure everything was crystal-clear. It’s hard to think of anybody else who cares so passionately about the sound in the room or who is as good at it as this guy is. We’re going to pay close attention to the Rockwood schedule from now on: if someone you like is playing here, don’t pass up the opportunity.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Breadfoot Featuring Anna Phoebe – Tea with Leo

The heir apparent to the legacy of John Fahey teams up with an inspired violinist on this gorgeously rustic, fluid album of pastoral acoustic instrumentals. Like Fahey, Breadfoot blends 19th century folk, old-time country and delta blues influences but resists any impulse to be bound by the traditional constraints of any of those idioms. What results is equal parts great Sunday afternoon album and passout record: it’ll get you going as well as it gets you down for the night.

The opening track, A Hard Day in Manhattan wanders along with an understatement that would do Fahey proud, an exercise in subtlety and dynamics. It’s all melody, no garish flourishes or ostentation. The album’s second track, the wistful, 6/8 lament Hilary Rose is over too soon, barely into its sad, thoughtful testimonial. By contrast, the following cut, Polly Loved Me (I Know) is a rousing Appalachian dance, sparks flying from the frets of Breadfoot’s six-string banjo (!!) and the strings of the fiddle.

Of the other tracks on the album, the next one, International Esther is probably the most overtly Fahey-esque number and wouldn’t be out of place on Blind Joe Death. That’s high praise. Very nice hesitation time at the end of the tune. Kecha is guitar only, a brightly bouncing open-tuned Piedmont blues melody a la Pink Anderson. The album’s best single cut may be the thoughtful, gently pensive Smoking on the Stoop. The cd concludes with the 6/8 ballad On the Day that I Go, which would make a great soundtrack to that Twilight Zone episode – I think it was called Willoughby. You know the one, the guy takes Metro North from Manhattan, think’s he’s on the way home but he winds up back in the 1800s, watching thekids take hayrides through the dusty, unpaved streets of his town. There’s also a rousing bonus track that kicks in after what seems eternity.

Clocking in at under half an hour, this cd’s greatest flaw is its brevity: it leaves you wanting twice as much. And not that the violin isn’t a welcome accompaniment here, but for anyone who’s heard him live, Breadfoot’s idiosyncratic vision and brilliant melodicism come through clearest when he plays solo. See him when you can. When’s the last time you danced to a solo acoustic guitar instrumental, anyway? Cd’s are available online, at shows and better record stores nationwide.

April 22, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment