Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Riveting, Poignant Suite of North African Jazz Nocturnes at Lincoln Center

With the New York premiere of their new Abu Sadiya suite last night at Lincoln Center,the trio of multi-reedman Yacine Boulares, cellist Vincent Segal and drummer Nasheet Waits played what might have been the best single concert of 2018. Methodically and poignantly tracing most of its breathtaking peaks and haunted valleys, the three held the crowd rapt through a constantly shifting series of variations on ancient Tunisian stambeli themes.

Like gnawa, stambeli has origins in ancient sub-Saharan animist music brought north by slaves. Until the Tunisian revolution just a few years ago, it had been suppressed and become largely forgotten. It is stark, hypnotic and has an often otherworldly beauty. And since it relies so heavily on improvisation, it’s fertile source material for jazz.

In the course of working out logistics, Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal – one of New York’s few genuinely visionary impresarios, who programmed the night – had sent Boulares the Rumi poem Where Everything Is Music. Boulares told the crowd how moved he had been, particularly by the conclusion, Rumi’s ultimate view of music as divine:

Open the window in the centre of your chest
And let the spirits fly in and out

It was clear from the first few somber, mystical washes of sound from Segal, Boulares’ plaintive, spacious soprano sax lines and Waits’ whispery cymbals that everyone was on that same page.

The Abu Sadiya myth may be a prototype for Persephone. As Boulares explained, the moon kidnaps Sadiya; her dad journeys through the desert, then tries to capture the moon by holding a barrel of water under his arm to catch the reflection and then bargain for Sadiya’s return. Beyond resuscitating the spirit of stambeli, Boulares’ intention is to redeem Sadiya herself. “It’s a very masculine story,” he told the crowd – Sadiya is more of a pretext for male heroism than full-fledged character.

As the suite took shape, Segal alternated between spare, trancey arpeggios, sepulchral bowing, ominous modal vamps and frequent detours into propulsive low-register gnawa riffage. Often if was as if he was playing a sintir – no other cellist has such an intense and intuitive grasp of North African music as he does

Throughout the night, Boulares ranged from forlorn, airily resonant phrases to judicious crescendos up to Coltrane-like flurries capped off by the occasional triumphant cadenza. He and Segal often switched roles, from carrying the melody line to running low, hypnotically looping riffs. This was most striking when Boulares switched to bass clarinet, taking over the low end in one of the gnawa-influenced interludes. Behind them, Waits muted his snare and toms, rattled the traps a little, took a couple of misterioso prowls along the perimeter and finally hit the launching pad with a methodically climbing solo where it sounded as if he was playing a couple of congas. It’s rare that a drummer tunes his kit with such attention to the material, particularly as troubled and angst-fueled as this is.

The three, particularly Boulares, used lots of space – and also the reverberating sonics of the Lincoln Center atrium space – mysteriously well  They gave each other just as much breathing room. Contrasting with the distantly phantasmagorical quality of the music – the moon in this myth is a real pierrot lunaire – was how incredibly catchy so many of the central riffs turned out to be. The suite’s second part opened with a very close approximation of the Rick Wright organ motif that opens Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. A bit later, Segal’s concentrically arpeggiated circles brought to mind Serena Jost’s melancholy art-rock. And Waits’ subtle shifts in, out of, and around waltz time were delectably fun for listeners as well as his bandmates.

The final segment was a portrait of Sadiya, revisiting the vast sense of abandonment that opened the night but rising with flickers and flares to cast the missing heroine as indomitable, just like her dad. They wound it down to a Saharan expanse of dusky dune ambience at the end.

The trio’s next stop on their current tour is tonight, April 20 at 7:30 PM at the Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine St. in Philadelphia; cover is $20. The next free concert at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is also tonight, at 7:30 PM with salsa dura band Eddie Montalvo y Su Orquesta, featuring alums from some of the Fania era’s greatest 1970s Nuyorican bands. The earlier you get there, the better.

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April 20, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ensemble Fanaa Play a Mesmerizing Debut at Barbes

“Is this your debut as a trio?” Balkan multi-reedman Matt Darriau wanted to know. “Yeah,” his multi-reed colleague Daro Behroozi admitted. The two had just duetted on a hard-hitting, insistently hypnotic take of Mal Waldron’s Fire Waltz, their rare two-bass clarinet frontline backed by a robustly perambulating rhythm section. The packed house at Barbes roared with appreciation. Think about it: a jazz trio improvising on original themes inspired by Middle Eastern and North African traditions packed a club in New York City this past Tuesday night. No matter what the corporate media would like you to believe, this is how miraculously un-gentrified and multicultural certain pockets of Brooklyn still remain.

Fanaa basically means “lose yourself.” In their debut, Ensemble Fanaa played music to get seriously lost in. They opened with bass player John Murchison on gimbri, a North African ancestor of the funk bass. He switched to upright bass later in the set, concentrating more on holding down the groove rather than squeezing microtonal ghosts out of the western scale as the rest of the band, particularly Behroozi, was doing. The rhythms in general were tight and slinky, although the meters were sophisticated and often very tricky – it was easy to count one of the North African numbers in 7/8 time, harder to figure out where the others were going. Which was just part of the fun.

Drummer Dan Kurfirst eventually took a long solo interspersing rimshots with a relentlessly misterioso, boomy prowl along the toms, worthy of Tain Watts or Rudy Royston. Then later in the set he matched that intensity on daf (frame drum). Behroozi held the crowd rapt with a seemingly effortless command of melismatic microtones on his alto sax. The night’s most rapturous number brought to mind the paradigm-shifting pan-Levantine jazz of Hafez Modirzadeh. Otherwise, the influence of Moroccan gnawa music was front and center, driven by Murchison’s kinetically trancey pulse. The trio closed by bringing up guest Brandon Terzic on ngoni for the night’s bounciest, most upbeat yet similarly mystical number. The trio are at Rye Restaurant, 247 S 1st St in Williamsburg on September 7; it’s a short walk from the Marcy Ave. J/M stop. And Kurfirst is playing a similarly, potentially transcendent duo  set on August 10 at 6 PM with brilliant oudist/composer Mavrothi Kontanis at the Rubin Museum of Art; the show is free with paid admission.

July 28, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Les Nubians Charm the Kids and Their Parents Too at the French Alliance

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.

December 6, 2015 Posted by | children's music, concert, folk music, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep African Blues Roots in Cutting-Edge Jazz in the West Village This Week

“When I first heard gnawa music, I heard the blues, and jazz, and the Black church,” Randy Weston explained to the sold-out crowd at the New School Tuesday night. The ageless piano sage has made a career of taking jazz back to its ancient African roots and then reinventing them, first inspired by his father and later while living in Morocco, where he immersed himself in innumerable North African folk and classical music styles. Currently artist-in-residence at the university, he brought along his pal Abdellah El Gourd along with a trio of energetic, impressively athletic dancer-percussionists from his group Dar Gnawa of Tanger for an insightful, sometimes trance-inducing, sometimes raptly transcendent performance of both traditional material and some of Weston’s best-loved compositions.

The percussionists supplied a hypnotically polyrhythmic clickety-clack backdrop with their pairs of cast-metal qraqab castanets while El Gourd grounded the music in low, circling, propulsive phrases on his three-string gimbri lute – one of the earliest ancestors of the funk bass. While Weston didn’t mention that particular lineage, he took care to explain that the qraqabs are a descendant of something considerably more disturbing: handcuffs. Centuries ago, in the Berber lands, prisoners in chains would use them to communicate in code.

Since gnawa music continues to serve several roles in the community – as rhythmic backdrop for mass celebration, spiritual ritual and physical healing, among other things – it’s no surprise that the vocals, delivered robustly by El Gourd an the rest of the group, have a mantra-like quality. In conversation with El Gourd along with a younger countryman and New School student, Weston revealed that the music also has a synesthetic connection – different individuals, different songs and even riffs are associated with different colors. Weston took some obvious relish in being someone whose color, predictably, turned out to be blue.

And the blues, along with their ancient, more lingering and slowly unwinding roots, were everywhere in Weston’s solo pieces, which he played in between numbers by the Moroccans. Night in Medina, he told the crowd, was inspired by a trip to the bustling Tangiers marketplace he frequented during the day but hesitated to visit after dark: “You know, bring from Bed-Stuy!” he joked. Awash in hushed, low-register, moonlit resonance, saturnine modes and allusive Middle Eastern phases, Weston slowly pulled good-natured postbop out of it. Likewise, he closed the performance with a regal, judiciously crescendoing take of Blue Moses, joined slowly and then joyously by the rest of the group as it unwound out of a gently rhythmic trance groove.

Speaking of the blues, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger has a connection with them that goes deeper than most. His brand-new live album, Pivot, comprises two lengthy explorations of Bukka White classics. Last night at Smalls, he made another live recording with his quartet, Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass and Ian Froman on drums. After Preminger and the group had stayed pretty much within themselves, playing their cards close to the vest, very puristically as they do on Pivot, it was a real rush to watch them finally jump and spiral out of control with a pretty wild free interlude late in the set. They went back to dusky and evocative and tersely melodic with their closing number, Mississippi John Hurt’s I Shall Not Be Moved, Palmer anchoring the sound as Froman built toward a steady hailstorm, Preminger finally cutting loose and wailing to the rafters, making the song’s title all the more ironic. Let’s hope this one makes it onto the record as a pure, unedited thrill.

October 15, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Riveting Concert and an Upcoming Parkside Show by Diana Wayburn’s Dances of the World Ensemble

You might think from the name of the group that pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn‘s Dances of the World Chamber Ensemble play ballet music. That might be possible, but while their music is kinetic and intensely rhythmic, it has an edge and an individuality that transcend the boundaries of African music, classical, jazz, rock and film music while combining elements of all those styles. While Wayburn’s music often reminds of Mulatu Astatke’s Ethiopiques, or Astor Piazzolla’s shapeshifting, tango-based compositions, her sound is unique. There is no band in the world who sound anything like this group. If darkly glimmering, intense, energetic sounds are your thing, they’re playing the Parkside tonight, Nov 2 at 7 PM. Which might seem a strange place to see a chamber ensemble, but this group is just as at home in a rock venue as on a classical stage or in a jazz club.

Wayburn’s recordings – up at her Soundcloud page – encompass influences from West Africa to Spain, Argentina and beyond. The group’s concert at St. Marks Church this past September was much darker, more intense and seemingly jam-oriented than any of those tracks suggest: this is first and foremost a high-voltage, dynamic live band. Their opening number at that show began as a leapfrogging dance, Wayburn opening with a jaunty flute solo before handing off to trumpeter Marco Coco and violist Adam Matthes’ lingering lines. As the piece took on a moodily hypnotic Ethiopiques groove, trombonist Spencer Hale and then guitarist Ken Silverman took it deeper and deeper into the shadows, the guitar finally leading them up with a spiraling 70s art-rock feel before the band took it back down again. They let it wind out on an unsettled, unresolved note.

Switching to piano, Wayburn brought to mind Joy Division’s The Eternal, but with a towering, art-rock grandeur lit up with eerie chromatics and passing tones as the brooding second tune got underway. Coco added a tinge of the Middle East, Silverman some more traditional jazz phrasing and then Wayburn played bitingly rippling, incisive neoromantic lines all the way through to a triumphant downward cascade out. She and the band would revisit a similarly epic intensity with a brisk tango of sorts later in the show.

They played a more spacious, spare, bouncy number in between, with methodical solos from flute, trumpet and trombone over an insistent pulse reminiscent of American Indian music. They followed that with a gorgeously cinematic number fueled by Silverman’s insistence and Wayburn’s glistening minor-key piano, the most distinctively Ethiopian-flavored tune in the set. Andy O’Neill’s tumbling drums fueled the one-chord jam they closed with, Coco taking his time, choosing his spots and finally getting pretty wild before the group took it down into an ominously moody interlude fueled by Hale’s mournful trombone, then rising as the guitar and trumpet lept and jabbed over the murk underneath. Obviously, the lows resonated more mightily and maybe more menacingly in the church’s boomy sonics than might be the case in another room, but the intensity of this band – and Wayburn’s catchy, deceptively simple phrasing and intricate thematic variations – will be a factor no matter where they play. Catch them now before Wayburn gets a big Hollywood film score deal and all of a sudden the only place you’ll be able to find them is in much larger, pricier venues.

November 2, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Otherworldly, Hauntingly Beautiful Ethio-Jazz from Its Best-Known Star

Ethiopian themes tend to be simple but often profoundly so, no surprise considering that Ethiopia is the birthplace of humanity and culture. Sketches of Ethiopia, the latest large-ensemble album by Mulatu Astatke, the world’s best-known exponent of Ethio-jazz, is rich with what may be both echoes and foreshadowing of everything from blues, to reggae, to funk and Egyptian music as well. That most of the album’s tracks are original compositions doesn’t change that back-and-forth mirror effect. The compositions often have the dark, dusky minor-key modes and hypnotic clip-clop rhythms typically associated with Ethiopian music, while Astatke puts his signature eclectic stamp on them. The ensemble is also an eclectic bunch, comprising both Astatke’s London-based touring band as well as Ethiopian musicians recorded on their home turf and also in France. Like everything Astatke has done, this is a deep album.

Either/Orchestra bandleader and Ethio-jazz maven Russ Gershon gets the ultimate validation by having his tune, Azmari, kick off Astatke’s album. It’s a delicious mix of eerie modal vamping and American noir, Indris Hassun’s otherworldly trilling massinqo fiddle juxtaposed with rich horn and string swells and a strangely nebulous surprise interlude. The first Astatke tune here, Gamo, opens with a brooding horn riff that sounds straight from an early Burning Spear album – how’s that for coming full circle? Thickets of lutes and percussion underpin lively horn call-and-response throughout this swaying, propulsive anthem.

Hager Fiker, a traditional theme, opens as a moody fanfare, Astatke’s arrangemente moving swiftly from the roots of the blues to absolute noir, driven by Alexander Hawkins’ murky, menacing low lefthand piano contrasting with bright, bluesy horns and Middle Eastern-tinged flute. Gambella develops very subtly from a long, suspenseful intro to a galloping minor-key funk romp. Asossa Derache works a similar dichotomy but more darkly and intensely, its long rustling introduction giving way to a brisk clip-clop theme packed with biting solos and conversations between James Arben’s tenor sax and Byron Wallen’s trumpet, building to a big, noir blues crescendo.

The traditional tune Gumuz is recast as dissociatively anachronistic, low-key mid-70s fusion with a choir overdubbed in the background. Motherland Abay has flickering orchestration that develops almost imperceptibly from a nocturnal tone poem to a slinky sway, muted trumpet in the background providing a distant menace, lit up with oboe, ominously glimmering piano and Astatke’s own uneasily lingering vibraphone. The album winds up with two different versions of Surma, another fusiony track that hints at reggae. To call this one of the best jazz albums of 2013 practically goes without saying. One drawback: the production is on the sterile side, everything in its perfect digital place – it threatens to subsume the raw intensity that’s so front-and-center on Astatke’s earlier recordings.

December 23, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philip Glass Curates a Deliciously Eclectic Benefit Concert at the Town Hall

Thursday night at the Town Hall featured a global cast of talent assembled by Philip Glass for a benefit concert for the Garrison Institute, a Westchester County nonprofit think tank. As befits an organization housed in a former monastery space, the music had a mystical quality, no surprise considering Glass’ involvement. Early music choir Pomerium opened the evening with a garden of unearthly delights, conductor  Alexander Blachly immediately setting the tone with Gesualdo’s haunting, strikingly ominous O Vox Omnes (whose Biblical lyrics, from the Book of Lamentations, have Jesus asking passersby how their pain might compare with his). From there the ensemble lightened somewhat and went deeper into hypnotically meticulous polyphony from Talls, Desprez and Lassus. This expertly lush, velvet-toned group is at Corpus Christi Church, 529 W 121st St., at 4 PM on Oct 27 if Renaissance choral treasures are your thing.

The most tantalizing piece of the night was a brand-new Glass composition which the composer played as a duet with pipa innovator Wu Man, his murky resonance contrasting with her Chinese lute’s airy, acerbic, ghostly overtones. She also played a suspenseful, slowly rising improvisation on a Chinese folk song as well as Glass’ 2004 chamber work, Orion, teaming with the Scorchio Quartet (violinists Amy Kimball and Rachel Golub, violist Martha Mooke and cellist Leah Coloff) for an eclectic and biting journey through its alternately Indian and Middle Eastern passages. The quartet also joined with pianist Nelson Padgett and baritone Gregory Purnhagen for another New York premiere, Glass’ Songs of Milarepa, whose exquisitely meta-Glass music – nuevo baroque mingled with hauntingly minimalist, Dracula-esque arpeggiation and echoes of a couple of Glass string quartet themes – far surpassed the prosaic translations of doctrinaire Buddhist lyrics written by an eleventh-century Tibetan monk.

Longtime Glass collaborator Foday Musa Suso, the Gambian-born griot, opened the second half of the show solo on kora harp, maintaining a balance between hypnotic and spikily insistent, a one-man orchestra of circular rhythmic riffage and intricate ornamentation. Turkish virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek followed and was arguably the high point of the show, with a slinky, crescendoing, all-too-brief set with his son Murat on frame drum. The father began with a long, enigmatically searching taqsim (improvisation) on flute while hitting the occasional rhythmic chord on baglama lute. Then he picked up the lute and delivered a slowly crescendoing, impassioned, microtonally-charged setting of a rather epic Rumi poem. Austin, Texas-based Riyaaz Qawwali brought the energy level up to redline, ending the night with a joyously undulating, percussive homage to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

October 26, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Banjo Player Jayme Stone Explores Lush, Global Jazz and Classical Sounds

Jayme Stone is the world’s most adventurous banjo player. His previous album World of Wonders explored music from across the centuries from Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Germany and Italy, to name a few places. His album before that was a collaboration with Malian Kora player Mansa Sissoko  As you might expect from someone with such a global appetite, the theme of his latest album The Other Side of the Air is travel. While the banjo is a featured instrument on several of the tracks, others focus more on Stone’s eclectic compositional skill. It turns out that he’s also adept at modern big band jazz and indie classical as well as the innumerable other styles he’s parsed over the years. Is there anything this guy CAN’T do?

What’s also interesting is that there’s hardly a hint of bluegrass here: more often than not, Stone’s banjo sounds more like an African lute – which, when you think about it, it is. A couple of tracks here revisit Stone’s African fascination, one a bounding number with  Rob Mosher on tenor sax, Andrew Downing on bass and Nick Fraser on drums, the other a catchy tune with echoes of both the blues and Malian folk, no doubt inspired by Stone’s work with Sissoko. The Cinnamon Route features Stone and the band along with a chamber orchestra, imagining the spice trade as it makes its way from India, through the Middle East, to North Africa. Kevin Turcotte’s trumpet gets a lively conversation going with the banjo as they cross the Mediterranean and reach anthemic heights.

The rest of the album mines a vivid third-stream milieu. Sing It Right, one of Stone’s first compositions, works an uneasy circus rock theme, Stone plinking steadily as the orchestra rises and falls, nocturnal and enveloping, Mosher adding jaunty soprano sax as the arrangement grows to a lush exuberance a la Chris Jentsch.  A Poet In Her Own Country makes a sharp contrast, an allusive, pensive  theme. exchanges of voices within its tight arrangement. Debussy Heights reminds more of Schubert with its triumphant baroque-tinged counterpoint and cinematically pulsing crescendo.

The album’s centerpiece is This County Is My Home. an even more cinematic, four-part concerto for banjo and chamber orchestra by Downing, who conducts. A droll but disquieting cartoonish theme recurs throughout its eclectic segments, including but not limited to a brisk but wary march, a bit of a ragtime stroll, minimalist banjo passages over nebulous strings and winds, a brief, apprehensive solo banjo interlude and a long, dynamically charged, blustery, carnivalesque coda. The other tracks here are Alexander Island, a  stately banjo-and-strings miniature, and a nocturnal version of the Tennessee Waltz, with just the banjo, rhythm section and sax. You want eclectic? Look no further. Stone and a somewhat smaller ensemble than he has on this album are at Joe’s Pub on Aug 11 at 7:30 PM for $15.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Funk Ark Put Out One of 2011’s Best Albums

One of the best albums of 2011 comes from the Washington, DC-based Funk Ark. Their new one, From the Rooftops is one of those rare records that’s just as good a listen as it is a dance mix. The 11-piece instrumental band blend elements of Afrobeat, oldschool funk, dark Ethiopique vamps and psychedelia, with the occasional clever dub tinge, into an irresistibly tuneful, original sound.

The first track, A Blade Won’t Cut Another Blade plays off one of those clubby, downtempo, trip-hop-ish beats, except that this is live, with a bit of a vintage Hugh Masekela-style tune, a baritone sax solo that kicks off with a snarl, and an unexpectedly intense, brooding, minor-key outro. Like many of the songs here, it’s got a trick ending.

Track two, Diaspora, is a hypnotic Ethiopian-style tune built around a riff from the band’s four-piece horn section that reminds of Get Up, Stand Up, with subtle, dubwise organ touches and a good-natured tenor sax solo. Funky DC is sort of a vintage 70s War-style lo-rider groove gone to Ethiopia, with a couple of hip-hop cameos to get the crowd going. The most potent track here might be El Beasto, with its hard-hitting, galloping, minor-key attack, sounding like a Mulatu Astatke classic from 1972 or so; once again, there’s a cool baritone sax solo and some edgy trading off between the organ and the horns.

Carretera Libre kicks off with a fluttery, suspenseful horn riff, hits a hypnotic two-chord vamp and then a subtly devious trumpet solo in a completely different scale than the one the band is playing in. Horchata pulls in a little Afro-Cuban rhythm, while Katifo (The Spider) goes back to the Afrobeat, with tinkly, psychedelic electric piano playing off the horns. Once this gets exposure in the hip-hop world, every producer on the planet will be sampling the title track, with its big, anthemic verse, smoothly majestic chorus and swirling, psychedelic organ. The album ends with the early 70s style psychedelic funk of Pavement and the irrepressibly sunny, blippy Power Struggle. Not one bad song here: this is top-ten-albums-of-the-year material. If you like Antibalas, you’ll love the Funk Ark.

September 14, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethiopian Dance Band Finally Calms the Crowd at Lincoln Center

New York office workers are just like preschoolers. Keep them cooped up in air conditioning for the better part of a week, then finally let them outside on a rare, pleasant summer evening, and they go nuts. Ironically, it was probably because Boston-based Ethiopian groove orchestra Debo Band is such a party machine that so many in the crowd at Lincoln Center Out of Doors tonight felt the energy to holler at each other over the music. And it was kind of weird watching the group blaze through one hypnotic groove after another, without people dancing – last year they turned the ordinarily sedate Joe’s Pub into one big Ethiopian disco.

It’s also impressive how Debo Band approaches the music of the world’s oldest civilization as eclectically as the natives. A lot of the band’s originals pulse along as circular, hypnotic vamps that could be part Afrobeat and part Indian. But they don’t limit their own songs to that style, and their covers are diverse as well. One 1970s track by the Imperial Bodyguard Band had a suspenseful, brooding, bolero-tinged groove; toward the end of the show, they slunk through a tune from late in that decade by Mahmoud Ahmed that blended American disco tinges into the mix, with an acidic, intense electric violin solo. As the piece wound out, the violinist hit her wah pedal and mimicked the dancers shimmying in front of the band with some musical shimmying of her own.

Frontman Bruck Tesfaye was a cool, suave presence against the maelstrom behind him, ornamenting his vocals with a brittle vibrato that reminded of Jello Biafra, whether on a darkly reggae-flavored tune early on, or the cinematic, chromatically-charged Henry Mancini-esque anthem they did toward the end. Midway through the set, the band brought up a duo to do guy/girl vocals with a lot of call-and-response; because the lyrics were in Amharic, the effect was pretty much lost on the Americans in the crowd, but the Ethiopian posse was very into it. The horns would occasionally go off on a tangent, sputtering and squabbling for a couple of bars as the bass and percussion maintained the trancey, rolling bounce, the accordion, guitar and violin adding subtly spicy textures behind the matter-of-fact intensity of the horns. By the time they wrapped up their hourlong set, they’d finally managed to get the restless audience to relax and watch, far more of an achievement than it would ordinarily seem.

August 11, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment