Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Cellar & Point Bring Their Intriguingly Kinetic Postrock Sounds to Glasslands

A project originated by guitarist Chris Botta and drummer Joe Branciforte, the Cellar & Point are sort of Claudia Quintet meets Sleepmakeswaves meets Wounded Buffalo Theory. Mantra Percussion‘s Joe Bergen plays vibraphone, immediately drawing the Claudia Quintet comparison, which is further fueled by the nimble string work of violinist Chistopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland, who comprise one-half of the adventurous Jack Quartet. Guitarist Terrence McManus and bassist Rufus Philpot round out the band. The backstory – Botta and Branciforte as teenage buds in New Jersey, hanging out and blasting Rage Against the Machine – makes sense in context. Their debut long-player, Ambit, is just out from the folks at Cuneiform who have it up along with the rest of their vast catalog on bandcamp. The Cellar & Point are playing the album release show on a killer triplebill at Glasslands on Nov 19 starting around 9 with epically sweeping art-rock chorale the Knells and the alternately hypnotic and kinetic Empyrean Atlas. Cover is ten bucks; it’s not clear what the order of bands is but they’re all worth seeing.

The album’s opening track, 0852 is characteristic: tricky prog-rock metrics drive lush ambience with lingering vibraphone, slide guitar (and maybe ebow) and some artfully processsed pizzicato from the string section that adds almost banjo-like textures. Arc builds out of swirly atmospherics to a matter-of-fact march and then an animatedly cyclical dance with tinges of both west African folk music and King Crimson.

There are two Tabletops here, A and B. The first juxtaposes and mingles lingering vibes, stadium guitar bombast and lithely dancing strings. The second layers rainy-day vibes and strings with terse Andy Summers-ish guitar. There are also two White Cylinders: number one being a seemingly tongue-in-cheek mashup of brash jazz guitar, vividly prickly mystery movie textures and Reichian circularity, number two tracing a knottier, somewhat fusiony Olympic film theme of sorts.

If Ruminant is meant to illustrate an animal, it’s a minotaur stewing down in the labyrinth, awaiting an unsuspecting victim – one assumes that’s Bergen playing that gorgeously creepy piano in tandem with the eerily resonant guitars and stark strings. By contrast, Purple Octagon shuffles along with a more motorik take on what John Hollenbeck might have done with its vamping dynamic shifts – or the Alan Parsons Project with jazz chords. The somewhat dirgey, gamelan-tinged title track’s final mix is actually a recording of a playback of the song’s original studio mix made in an old rotunda in the Bronx in order to pick up vast amounts of natural reverb.

There are also a couple of reinvented pieces from the chamber music repertoire: a stately, wary Radiohead-like interpretation of an Anton Webern canon and a György Ligeti piano etude recast as a hypnotically pulsing nocturne. Is all this jazz? Not really. It’s not really rock, either. Indie classical, maybe? Sure, why not? Postrock? That too. Ultimately it boils down to what Duke Ellington said, that there are two kinds of music, the good kind, like this, and the other kind.

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November 14, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/17/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Monday’s is #743:

The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn of a Friendly Card

From 1981, this is their most theatrical album. The poor man’s Pink Floyd had a good run with a series of loosely thematic collections of artsy, orchestrated pop anthems, from their 1976 debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination through 1984’s Ammonia Avenue. The trouble with all of them is that alongside the good songs, there’s always a real stinker or two. We offer you this bright, slickly cynical concept album about gambling, chance and existential angst as the band’s most consistent effort. And there is one real stinker here, but otherwise the tracks are solid: even the big top 40 hit, the caucasianally funky Games People Play has an absolutely scorching Ian Bairnson guitar solo. The track that still gets classic rock airplay is the sad ballad Time, a ripoff of Us and Them, which helped solidify songwriter Eric Woolfson’s reputation as a minor league Roger Waters. Nothing Left to Lose is also poignant, as is the swaying, brooding instrumental The Ace of Swords. There’s also the sarcastic casino theme Snake Eyes, the apprehensive May Be a Price to Pay and the warily cinematic five-part title suite interspersed among the tracks. Caveat: some of you may find this overproduced and considerably more pop-oriented than the other albums on this list. Here’s a random torrent.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Comic Wow’s New Album is Pure Psychedelic Genius

A couple of weeks ago we invented a drink. We call it Drano. It’s very simple, Tropical Fantasy Blue Raspberry soda and vodka (hey, when there’s torrential rain outside, sometimes you have to make do with what you have in the fridge). It’s the perfect drink, both visually and tastewise, for the new Comic Wow album Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time. Playful, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes silly, often ridiculously psychedelic, it’s 1960s-flavored, cinematic rock instrumentals in the same vein as the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack or XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear project. And it’s pure genuius: it could be a stoner soundtrack to a long-lost low-budget 1968 Cypriot detective film. With an absurd collection of every rock effect from the era – wah-wah, reverb, echo, melodies sputttering up dubwise into the mix only to retreat seconds later, or panning across the speakers and then back – it works equally well as satire and homage to psychedelic excess, especially because the tunes are so catchy. With a museum’s worth of vintage keyboard patches, banjo (?!), guitar, bass and drums, it has the same kind of WTF, out-of-the-box creative quality as the Peruvian chicha music from the 70s we love so much.

The first track is typical: a distantly Pink Floyd-style melody but with honkytonk instrumentation that telegraphs the ornate art-rock majesty that will appear soon. The second track is also basically a country melody, starting out with banjo and then morphing into an oscillating electro keyb song and again. The unselfconsciously amusing, swinging Jazz Computer assembles an impossible series of electric piano layers, blippy, bouncy and reverberating – and is that an Omnichord? Another track sets woozily oscillating Dr. Dre synth over Penny Lane piano – it’s ridiculously catchy and ought to go on longer than it does.

The next one takes what you can do with a clavinova to its logical extreme and then suddenly morphs into a trippy late 90s style interlude – with a vocoder. After that, a spy theme emerges gradually from a clubby techno vamp with fake horns and Spike Jones effects, switches to a brief, off-kilter Beefheart guitar-and-drums interlude followed by an Alan Parsons Project sequencer-and-synth segment. A march titled Encore Electronics Flute Fax starts out just plain hilarious and then gets ominous and dramatic, then goes for even more laughs with a flute-driven early 70s style chase scene. Chimp on a Pew reaches for trippy menace a la the Electric Prunes, a feel they take to the next level on Minor Hexagons. The longest number is Water Music Treadmill, a one-chord jam that mines dark, thumping, hypnotic Black Angels ambience. The album closes with Meet the Vampeatles which is just plain sick, a tv theme as written by Jeff Lynne and done by the Bonzo Dog Band, maybe. It’s out now on Asthmatic Kitty.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/19/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #71:

The Alan Parsons Project – Don’t Answer Me

With the boomy kettle drum lurking in the background, Alan Parsons’ wall-of-sound production beats Phil Spector at his own game. It’s a great song, too, an anguished, artsy, backbeat-driven alienation anthem from the 1984 Ammonia Avenue album. To stream it clink the link above and scroll down to the video.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DVD Review: Zade – One Night in Jordan: A Concert for Peace

How do you say sturm und drang in Arabic? Jordanian composer/pianist Zade likes a BIG sound, which takes on an even more dramatic effect given the striking setting for this outdoor evening concert recently rebroadcast on PBS: a Roman amphitheatre dating back two millennia. In fact, it seems that the massive choir joining with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Zade’s band may actually outnumber the audience. The subtext couldn’t scream any louder than the music: if we don’t get peace in the Middle East, this is just a small piece of what we stand to lose.

Zade’s lavishly orchestrated Middle Eastern-inflected, minor-key neo-romantic soundscapes have a lot more in common with the Alan Parsons Project – or Richard Wagner – than they do with pioneering Middle Eastern composers like the Iranian Abolhassan Sabeh, who, like Zade, would utilize the even tunings of the western scale. Ironically, it’s the little touches here that resonate the loudest: the brief yet viscerally haunting ney flute solo at the end of the tango that takes up the fifth track, or the wistful interplay between piano and acoustic guitar on the intro to the next one, Santiago’s Dream (inspired, Zade tells the crowd, by Paulo Coelho’s hit new-age novel from twenty years ago,The Alchemist). An electric violin solo trading off with the flute sounds like a particularly inspired mashup of ELO and Jethro Tull – and the crowd goes wild for it!

A playful, bouncy pop melody is dedicated to Jordan’s Princess Haya, an equestrian of some note and apparently a patron of Zade’s peace crusade, an encouraging revelation (peace of course being a relative term, especially in these parts). There’s also a plaintive breakup ballad sung by Jordanian chanteuse Jama; and the strongest composition, a particularly sweeping, percussive anthem titled Amman that perhaps appropriately has the most indelibly Arabic feel to it.

To say that the surroundings match the music for dramatic impact is quite the understatement: if what’s going on inside the amphitheatre is a little overwhelming, you can watch the headlights of the evening traffic peacefully going by outside at the top of the screen, completely oblivious – or maybe listening on Jordanian state radio, who knows. Casual fans may prefer the cd, since most DVD players don’t have the sonic capability to render the show in all its glorious exuberance (although the sonics of the DVD prove identical to those of the cd if run through good speakers). The cd also lacks the bonus features, including an interview with Zade, whose sincerity as an advocate for peace translates vividly in flawless English.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Film, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sound of the Blue Heart – Wind of Change

Most goth albums are pretty boring – once you’ve heard one Sisters of Mercy album, you’ve pretty much heard them all. Sound of the Blue Heart’s new album Wind of Change is aptly titled – it’s a chronicle of a breakup, with predictably disheartening results. Frontman Johnny Indovina sings in the doomed, I-could-kill-myself-at-any-minute baritone that’s everwhere in goth music (and reaches overkill awfully fast), but the music here transcends cliche. Spiked with incisive, imaginatively bluesy lead guitar over alternately lush and stark atmospherics, there are echoes of Pink Floyd as well as the Alan Parsons Project in their artsiest moments, along with the usual black-robed suspects. Some of this also evokes the quieter side of long-running New York Americana goth band Ninth House.

It’s a familiar story – the poor alienated protagonist tries to make it all by himself, but he can’t escape falling under The Spell, which is insistent but then gives way to a strikingly swoopy slide guitar on the break. By the second track he’s been poisoned for good, and as Indovina makes all too clear, “the poison stays.” This one is an interestingly funky minor-key song with big, catchy harmonies on the chorus, a meditation on the dichotomy of life and death. By the third track, he knows he should Run for Cover but he doesn’t – this pretty, organ-fueled backbeat ballad is essentially Memphis soul gone goth, a strange blend of soul warmth and gothic chill.

The title track – “Jealous of those with time to spend” – reverts to a goth-funk feel with electric piano and watery chorus-box guitar. As its ominous refrain reminds, hope is always elusive. The following track, Never is a dismissal/repudiation of a tortured past with echoes of Floyd: “Just close your door, I’ll go away.” By now, it’s obvious that none of this is going to end well. Violet’s Wish, a swinging, swaying blues ballad makes clear that the love interest here has one foot out the door: “She plays the song that takes her away.” The requiem begins with the ornate, 6/8 anthem Once Stood Love which with its fretless bass manages to maintain suspense despite an album’s worth of foreshadowing. And then everything comes crashing down with the vivid art-rock ballad The Arms of Yesterday, its mellotron wind arrangement evoking the Strawbs circa Grave New World, grief-stricken narrator losing himself in memories as the sun goes down. This is where the original songs on the album should end, although they don’t. The album winds up with a surprisingly good goth cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – incongruous, maybe, with all that 1980s chorus-box guitar, but you can’t say it’s not original. For all we know – it’s been awhile since we made it out to Goth Night – this band could be huge with that crowd, and for that matter Sound of the Blue Heart ought to resonate with anyone who likes anthemic, artsy songcraft.

January 3, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 5/5/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #449:

Al Stewart – Life in Dark Water

For several years in the 70s, when he was at the top of his game this British rocker was sort of a one-man Pink Floyd. Produced by Alan Parsons and backed by several of the crew who would later be the Alan Parsons Project, his songs were dramatic, historically imbued and gorgeously orchestrated. Stewart is also a notorious thief: he never met a good idea he didn’t want to blatantly steal. Here it’s the “ping” from Echoes by Pink Floyd, put to good use in this haunting, aptly watery epic about the 19th century ghost ship Mary Celeste. From the Time Passages lp, 1978; mp3s abound. The link above is to a torrent of the whole album.

May 5, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/23/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #461:

The Alan Parsons Project – Day After Day

About 35 years ago, British songwriter/keyboardist Eric Woolfson wrote a song cycle based on several Edgar Allan Poe short stories (hey, don’t laugh, it was the 70s). One thing led to another and it ended up being recorded in 1976 by a group featuring most of the powerpop band Pilot, put together by producer Alan Parsons (hence the name). The lp, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, was a surprise hit, so the group decided to follow it up with a vaguely sci-fi themed, more pop-oriented one, I Robot, that spawned a couple of big radio singles and established the band as a sort of poor man’s Pink Floyd for the next eight years or so. This is its centerpiece, a beautifully wistful 6/8 ballad about looking for lost time. 

April 23, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment