Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/13/11

Did you remember to set your clock ahead an hour?

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #688:

Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland – Showdown

A blues guitar summit from 1985. Collins was one of the most intense, exhilarating musicians ever, icy fire blasting from his custom-made amp for the “cool” sound that made him famous. Although better known as a singer than guitarist, Copeland gave 100% here and Cray proves that he belongs onstage with any other great blues player. The songs are cool too: as you might expect from a Collins album, it’s a Texas vibe with only a couple of standards and those get reinvented: an edgy, low-down Bring Your Fine Self Home and Black Cat Bone, modeled on Hop Wilson’s lapsteel version. From the first track, T-Bone Shuffle, they’re wailing; Cray picks his spots and fires off one smartly chosen volley after another on She’s Into Something and the airy, psychedelic The Dream. As you’d expect, the Texas shuffles are also in full effect: Lion’s Den and the instrumental Albert’s Alley are as adrenalizing as you’d expect. And on the long volcanic outro to the closer, Blackjack, surprisingly it’s Copeland who really takes the energy up. Many, many notes, none of them wasted. Here’s a random torrent via mississippimoan.

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March 13, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/8/10

We’re going to head out today for a little R&R to celebrate Elvis’ birthday after an exhausting but transcendent evening running around Bleecker Street to catch a bunch of Winter Jazzfest shows (by the way, the festival continues tonight and is not sold out). If the force is with us we’ll put up something about it in a few hours. In the meantime, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #752:

Albert Collins – Live 92-93

One of the most powerful musicians ever to pick up a guitar, Texas blues legend Albert Collins died barely three months after recording the last tracks on this 1995 album. You would never know it. Running his Telecaster through an amp custom-made to get the icy, reverb-drenched “cool” sound that defined his playing, he blasted through one lightning-fast interlude after another, nonstop. And for a guy who played so many notes, no one has made so many count for so much: fast he as he was, he didn’t waste any. And while his guitar playing has a snide, sarcastic edge (he played almost exclusively in minor keys), his songs are fun and frequently amusing. The party anthem that earned him an audience of college kids in the late 80s is I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinking), done here with a hilarious bridge where his guitar imitates a belligerent conversation between three drunks in a tavern. There was nobody more adrenalizing at Texas shuffles than Collins (he originally wanted to be an organist, but when his car broke down on the highway, he went off to find a tow truck and someone made off with the brand new Hammond B3 in the trailer that he was pulling, he decided he’d stick with guitar). There are a bunch of them here, all of them absolutely kick-ass: Iceman; the funky Put the Shoe on the Other Foot, and T-Bone Shuffle. There’s also the sarcastic Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home, his lickety-split signature instrumental Frosty, a romp through the standard Travellin’ South and a scorching version of Black Cat Bone. Pretty much everything Collins ever did from the early 80s onwards, even his hastily produced studio albums on Alligator, is worth owning. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Noisy Intense Quadruple Bill Friday at Death by Audio

It was weird seeing a good crowd bouncing and hollering and having a general good time at Death by Audio Friday night. Maybe the newest arrivals in New York are sick of the whole trendoid thing, of being afraid to show any kind of emotion or passion for fear of not fitting in. If that’s true, that’s great and it’s been a long time coming, at least in Williamsburg. Has this place ever had four bands this good in a single night? Probably not.

The Sediment Club opened. One faction here can’t figure out why on earth anyone would want to subject themselves to their hideous sonic assault. The other faction (guess which one) thinks they should be everybody’s favorite band. They take ugliness to the next level. Their guitarist unleashed a chilly, Albert Collins-toned torrent of sonic sludge, wailing up and down on his tremolo bar as his strings went further and further out of tune while another slightly less assaultive wash of sound oozed from the wobbly, deliberately out-of-tune Casio. Yet in a perverse way they’re a very melodic band, the melody being carried by the growly, trebly bass. And a lot of their stuff you can dance to: some of the grooves had a funk beat, a couple of the songs shifting to a perfectly straight-up, poker-faced disco rhythm. The lyrics, screamed by the guitarist, went for the same assaultive vibe as the guitar, especially on a couple of occasions when the songs went hardcore speed.

Nice Face were next. They took their time setting up. Just when the wait between bands started to become really annoying, one of their guitarists fired off what sounded like the riff to Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth by the Dead Boys, which proved to be a good omen. In their own way, they were just as original as the Sediment Club, if a lot more tuneful, at least in a traditional sense. The two-guitar band blends a growling, dirty LES glampunk sound with a lot of different elements, plus a swishy, stagy lyrical vibe that reaches for some kind of menace, their frontman rasping his vocals through a trebly megaphone effect. They worked their way into the set slowly, first with a hypnotic, Black Angels-style vamp, then brought the energy up with a mix of stomping neo-garage rock bolstered with melodic, anthemic 90s-style Britrock changes. As with the Sediment Club, the trebly bass gave the songs extra propulsive boost.

 Woman were next. The  joke is that the band is all guys. They brought the intensity up yet another notch or ten. Like a more rhythmically interesting version of Clinic, they match overtone-laden dreampop swirl to a ballistic noiserock attack, bassist out in front slamming out his riffs while their two guitarists went berserk. The lefthanded guy spun and dipped wildly, cutting loose maniacal webs of acidic noise; the righthanded guy worked more of a purist, Ron Asheton style riff-rock style. Some of the songs blasted along with a hypnotic, repetitive insistence, like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators with better amps; others built off menacing chromatic hooks, the guitars a screaming vortex overhead. Like the bands before them, they take classic ideas – in this case, the Stooges and My Bloody Valentine – and find new, original ways of making them sound fresh and exciting again. They could have played for twice as long as they did – barely 40 minutes – and the crowd still would have wanted more.

The K-Holes headlined. The guys in the band play scorching guitar and caveman Cramps drums – just a kick and a single cymbal. The females handle the bass, vocals, and warily circling alto sax that with a tinge of reverb added some unexpectedly delicious textures. A quick assessment of the gear they were using – what looked like a vintage Music Man guitar amp, Danelectro lyre bass and a huge old Ampeg bass cab – looked auspicious, and they delivered. Like a late 70s version of Destroy All Monsters on really good acid, they fused a rumbling, eerie Link Wray groove with punk and garage rock and just plain good insane squall. Their first song was a long one-chord jam, a launching pad for some serious guitar torturing that contrasted mightily with the sax’s mysterioso chromatics. A hardcore punk tune seemed to be a dis of Williamsburg trendoids: if any band has earned a right to do that, it’s these guys, although the guitarist assured the crowd that they were just being sardonic. The rest of the set blended fiery jangle and clang with an ominous, funereal bassy thud that on occasion picked up into a murderous gallop, the frontwoman sticking her mic into her mouth, Lux Interior style at one point as she screamed. They closed with a “slow jam” that seemed to be in some impossibly complicated time signature but then straightened out into straight-up 4/4 hostility. By the time their too-brief set was over, it was about two in the morning, pretty much everybody had stuck around and after four exhausting if frequently exhilarating hours, still wanted more.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment