Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Subtle Wit, Purposeful Mess, Enigmatic Tunefulness, Epic Stagger and a Barbes Show by Guitarist Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized

The cover photo of Tom Csatari‘s new vinyl album Melted Candy shows a golden retriever sitting on the curb, looking wistfully to the side. Straight ahead, across the street, urban folk art. Somebody’s taken the time to paint “ONE DAY we will PART” on what appears to be a jerry-rigged fence surrounding a construction site. Is this all-too-familiar tableau a commentary on the seemingly endless destruction of (relatively) affordable living spaces in this city? Or is it more grimly universal? From the music, played by the guitarist’s individualistic, genre-warping large ensemble, Uncivilized, it’s more complicated than that: all four tracks are instrumentals. You might get a better idea when the group brings their uneasy, distinctively tuneful, often purposefully messy yet psychedelically intricate sound – call it heavy pastoral jazz, maybe?- to Barbes on Dec 29 at 10 PM. Their most recent show there was back in August, the guitar-and-reed-fueled group slayed and the room was packed, so you might want to get there a little early.

The purpose of the ep – streaming at Tiny Montgomery Records – was to capture both large and small configurations of the group. The sarcastically opening miniature, Stupid Gurus takes its inspiration from an exasperated Paul Mann rant about the failure of underground art and any attempt to raise awareness about it. Mann’s primary argument concerns the incompatibility of art and commerce, echoed in the cloying, mealymouthed main melody as the instruments flutter and pull away.

Escarpments coalesces slowly out of jangly, rainy-day folk-tinged guitar as drummer Rachel Housle builds enigmatic ambience with her cymbals and hardware; from there, reeds and rhythm hover and huddle against an insistent post-Velvets vamp. Csatari is a master of implied melody, teasing you to think he’s playing more notes than he actually is, and this is a killer example, his slide guitar and Levon Henry’s bass clarinet leading a steady slide down into the murk. Is this a reference to edifices nobody wants?.

ScoJaVel® is supposed to be a mashup of John Scofield, Skip James and Maurice Ravel. It has more of a lingering 80s punk jazz feel, or like Mary Halvorson in offhandedly snide mode, the reeds flickering against Csatari’s reverbtoned swipes as drummer Coleman Bartels highfives him. Nick Jozwiak’s brisk, staccato cello pairs against Tristan Cooley’s brooding flute as the band strolls purposefully behind them on the final cut, BrandCore™, a tune they could have stretched out for five times as long as they did if they’d really wanted to. But then it wouldn’t have fit onto 7” vinyl. Just as they do onstage, these players build the sonic equivalent of a stone wall that looks like it could collapse any minute despite all outward appearances but never does, because everything is too tight. But demolition is always just as much of a possibility, which is as much fun live as you could possibly imagine. Other players on these songs include Michael Sachs on sax and clarinet, Casey Berman on sax and bass clarinet, Ben Katz on bass clarinet, Nick Jost on bass, Julian Cubillos and Sean Schuster-Craig on guitars and Dominic Mekky on organ, If you’re in town over the holidays and the F train is running, Barbes would be an awfully fun place to be on the 29th.

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December 17, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brilliant, Sometimes Haunting Lapsteel Player Brings His Genre-Smashing Instrumentals to Freddy’s

To New York audiences, lapsteel virtuoso Raphael McGregor might be best known as a key ingredient in Brain Cloud, Dennis Lichtman’s western swing band. Before that, McGregor served as the source of the vintage country flavor in Nation Beat‘s driving mashup of Brazilian maracatu and Americana sounds. But he’s also a first-rate, eclectic composer and bandleader in his own right. In addiiton to his more-or-less weekly Monday 7 PM Barbes residency with Brain Cloud, he has a monthly residency at Freddy’s, where he’ll be on Nov 20 at 8 PM.

His most recent show at Barbes leading a band was a quartet gig with with Larry Eagle on drums, Jim Whitney on bass and Rob Hecht on violin. They opened with a moody oldschool noir soul vamp and quickly built it into a brooding rainy-day theme over Eagle’s tense shuffle beat. Hecht took his time and then went spiraling and sailing upwards. Why is it that blues riffs inevitably sound so cool when played by strings? McGregor had a hard act to follow so he walked the line between Lynchian atmosphere and an express-track scurry, then handed off to Whitney who picked up his bow and took the song all the way into the shadows.

McGregor began the night’s second number with a mournful solo lapsteel intro that moved slowly toward C&W and then shifted uneasily into moody swing. It was like a more animated take on the Friends of Dean Martinez doing oldtime string band music. After that, they put a swinging southwestern gothic spin on a Django Reinhardt tune.

They also did a couple of straight-up western swing numbers, a brisk trainwhistle romp and a fetching version of Waltz Across Texas With You: much as they were a lot of fun, McGregor was pleasantly surprised to find that the crowd was more interested in hearing his originals. They opened their second set with a piece that began as an Indian-inflected one-chord jam that morphed into a bluesy duel between violin and bass, followed by a Frisellian pastoral interlude and then back to trip-hop Indian funk – all that in under ten minutes. All this is just a small sampling of what McGregor could pull off at Freddy’s.

November 15, 2014 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dave Douglas and Chet Doxas Take It to the River

[republished from Lucid Culture’s Americana-fixated sister blog New York Music Daily]

What’s become clear from the past decade’s Americana explosion is that whether people admit it or not, pretty much everybody likes country music. And more and more musicians, whether they genuinely enjoy it or not, seem hell-bent on trying to capitalize on that. Groups that would have been stone cold top 40 or Warped Tour punk-pop back in day have traded in the drum machines and Strats for banjos and mandolins. And a lot of jazz people are following suit. Some of it’s good to hear – and some of it’s pretty dubious.

When you consider an artist from a previous era like Bob Wills, it’s a reminder of how much less of a divide between jazz and country there used to be. What trumpeter Dave Douglas and reedman Chet Doxas are doing on Riverside, their turn in an Americana direction, is as much a toe-tapping good time as it is sophisticated. But it’s 2014 jazz, not western swing. They take their inspiration from reedman Jimmy Giuffre, who was jazzing up riffs from country and folk music fifty years ago. And they’re not afraid to be funny: there’s only one aw-shucks cornpone number on the new album, but there’s plenty of subtle, tongue-in-cheek drollery throughout the other tracks. The group, which also includes Doxas’ brother Jim on drums and former Giuffre sideman Steve Swallow on bass, kick off their North American tour for the album at the Jazz Standard Tuesday and Wednesday, April 15 and 16 with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is 25 and worth it.

Although the grooves on the album are more straight-up than you might expect from your typical current-day jazz outfit, the band doesn’t always stick to a 4/4 beat and Jim Doxas finds plenty of wiggle room when they do. The two-horn frontline will typically harmonize and then diverge, both Douglas and Chet Doxas approaching their solos with judicious flair: as is the case with every Douglas project, this is about tunes rather than chops. Swallow is the midpoint, sometimes playing chords like a rhythm guitarist, other times grounding the melodies as the drums or horns will go off on a tangent. And he opens the warmly wistful, aptly titled jazz waltz Old Church New Paint with a solo that begins as swing and then segues into the old folk song Wild Mountain Thyme.

A handful of tracks, like the shuffling, ragtime-tinged Thrush and the joyous song without words Handwritten Letter, blend New Orleans and C&W into contemporary themes. The lone Giuffre cover here, The Train and the River mashes up bluegrass, gospel and jazz, while Big Shorty is a swinging platform for high-energy soloing from the horns. Front Yard and Back Yard are a diptych, the initial warmly summery tableau giving way to a devious party scenario with all kinds of lively interplay among the band. There’s also a tiptoeing blues number, Travellin’ Light, Douglas playing with a mute to raise the vintage ambience. The album closes with a brooding, hauntingly bluesy, shapeshifting tone poem of sorts. In its own quiet way, it’s the album’s strongest track and most evocative of the clarity and directness that Douglas typically brings to a tune, and Doxas’ sax is right there with him. The whole album isn’t up at Douglas’ music page yet but should be as soon as the album releases tomorrow.

April 14, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hee Hawk Bring Their Haunting, Gorgeously Tuneful, Eclectic Jazz to NYC

For years and years, jazz composers from Ellington to Armstrong embraced simple major and minor-key harmony. Then the bebop crew revolutionized things, but in so doing opened the floodgates for generations of snobs who sneered at anything that might dare to reach for discernable emotional content or a tune that you could actually hum. Thankfully, the new face of jazz is 180 degrees from that. Massachusetts group Hee Hawk are a prime example of this New Tunefulness, and they’re making an auspicious stop in New York for two shows, the first on 3/19 at around 10 at Two Moon Art House & Cafe, 315 4th Ave. in Sunset Park and the next day, 3/20 at 9 PM at the Parkside. They’ve got a richly melodic new album out which is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

Bandleader Adam Lipsky’s compositions embrace Americana as well as gypsy and film music, often going off into absolutely lurid noir territory. That mood is enhanced on the album by the simple fact that the piano he’s playing is just a hair out of tune: when he rides the pedal, murky saloon piano overtones rise like smoke from the ground.

The first track, Cover That Man (Basketball) is one deadly game of hoops, late 50s cool Miles through the prism of Angelo Badalamenti, shifting from a slowly lingering noir sway to swing and back again with a tinge of dusky Ethiopian spice, Lipsky’s tersely resonant gleam punctuated by the occasional menacing guitar chord from Niko Ewing. Wake is what you might get from Bill Frisell scoring a Roman Polanski film, a dirge taken in a rustic direction by Nina Violet’s viola in tandem with Ewing’s dobro, Lipsky channeling Ran Blake in gospel mode, Mike Marcinowski’s boomy drums building the mournful mood in tandem with Steve Tully’s elegaic tenor sax.

With its slow Fever sway, brushed drums and smoky tenor, Dress Hips is lo-fi David Lynch, a torchy minimalist blues, Mary Lou Williams gone to the liquor store instead of Sunday services. The band’s signature track evokes Beninghove’s Hangmen with its bouncy blend of gypsy jazz, noir soundtrack bite and irrepressible oldtimey swing. through an unexpectedly ominous breakdown to its forceful conclusion. Likewise, the catchy song without words Singing Partner, Violet refusing to accede to any country cliches, Tully’s bright soprano sax fueling its tempo changes. The longest and most stunning of all of the tracks is Emerald, an increasingly shivery, creepy bolero, Lipsky’s otherworldly piano handing off to Violet’s mournful lines before Tully adds an unexpected optimism on baritone sax before the shadows overwhelm it. Of the countless albums that have made it over the transom here this year, this is one of the best in any style of music.

March 11, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pensive, Original Guitar Jazz from Ryan Blotnick

Ryan Blotnick has an original and distinctive voice on the guitar. His Americana-tinged jazz has some of the opacity of indie rock, but not the peevishness, along with occasional detours toward the baroque. He’s all the more noteworthy for not wasting notes, maintaining a pensive, grey-sky atmosphere for the most part through his new album Solo, Volume 1, streaming in its entirety at his Bandcamp page. His choice of guitar – a rare 1959 Martin 00-18 electric, indistinguishable from its acoustic sister except for the pickup haphazardly built in without any other design modifications – has a lot to do with the sound he gets here. For one, the album’s extreme closemiking raises the intimacy by leaps and bounds – listening to this, it’s almost as if you’re inside the body of the guitar. Being a hollowbody, it gets an unusually interesting, lo-fi resonance that Blotnick mines for a richly subtle sonic pallette by varying his attack and shifting dynamics within the eight compositions here.

His only cover here, Monk’s Mood, is spacious to the point of suspense – as he often does here, Blotnick offers not the slightest hint of where he’s going to go with this, precise and judicious but also restless, sometimes crossing the line into visceral unease. The most intense track here, Dreams of Chloe is a bit of an anomaly, Lynchian and luridly droning, Blotnick fingerpicking both low and high registers for a raw, wailing, desolate ambience.

The Ballad of Josh Barton is a less stylized, more original take on Bill Frisell-style Americana jazz that makes its way to an unexpectedly scampering interlude, Blotnick winding his way out as he alternates oldtime folk lines and variations on slow, watery, strummed motifs. A stubborn absence of resolution pervades this song, as it does many of the other tracks, most notably the next one, Salt Waltz, with its muted Spanish allusions.

Hymn for Steph brings to mind John Fahey, although it’s more expansive, a ghostly tremolo insinuating itself as Blotnick builds to variations on a stately yet nebulous descending riff. The longest track here, Lenny’s Ghost evokes Jorma Kaukonen in inspired early acoustic Hot Tuna mode, working permutations on a dark two-chord folk riff, hinting at flamenco and then spreading its wings and gently sailing aloft with elegant wide-angle arpeggios. Blotnick employs a backward-masking effect for the strangely attractive miniature Intermellen, and closes with the lyrical, allusive Michelle Says, alternating suspenseful crescendos with the album’s most classically-tinged interlude. It’s a great late-night album and a goldmine of inspiration for guitarists in a wide range of styles.

February 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeously Tuneful Debut from Old Time Musketry

If you’ve been waiting patiently for the Best Jazz Albuns of 2012 page here, don’t worry, it’s coming. One of the reasons we wait til the end of the year is to catch gems like Old Time Musketry’s first album, Different Times: it’s this year’s best jazz debut by a country mile. Melodic contemporary sounds don’t get any more interesting, or downright catchy, than this.

The album ha a distinct northern New England flavor, no surprise considering that the group’s composers, multi-reedman Adam Schneit and multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch grew up there. Each contributes a blend of warm and wintry, bucolic and often wistful themes interspersed with boisterous freely improvised interludes and a handful of jaunty romps. As the music blog Step Tempest was quick to observe, the obvious comparison is saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s Plainville (an album whose influence is vastly underrrated). There are echoes of Bill Frisell here as well. The group is propelled by the terse bass work of Phil Rowan and drummer Max Goldman, whose blend of New Orleans and Balkan rhythms is a breath of fresh air and adds welcome voltage to the slower material.

The opening track, Star Insignia, is akin to Udden doing the Velvets. Beginning as an accordion march and rising to a nocturnally pulsing overture, it’s the catchiest of the nine tracks. Playing alto sax, Schneit takes his time reaching from elegant legato to aching grit over Goldman’s hypnotically insistent cymbals, Schlegelmilch anchoring them with a stygian swirl. Parade sets an easygoing New Orleans piano shuffle under Schneit’s uneasy Udden-esque changes, Goldman reaching almost into tumbling vaudevillian territory in contrast to the gravitas of Rowan’s solo. The title track teases with a syncopated bounce bookending a free interlude highlighted by cleverly divergent tangents from Schlegelmilch’s piano and Schneit’s alto.

There’s a persisent if distant sadness to Cadets, another march, its autumnal Charles Ives colors possibly alluding to those kids’ ultimate destination, maybe: cannon fodder? The most stunning track here, Hope for Something More justaposes Schlegelmilch’s creepy piano lines – half Ran Blake, half Floyd Cramer – against Schneit’s morose clarinet, with keening funeral organ and echoey Omnichord building otherworldly ambience. Then they find the inner Serbian in Henry Cowell’s Anger Dance, improvising a march in the middle that’s as disquieting as it is nonchalant.

Highly Questionable reminds of the work of the great Macedonian accordionist Jordan Kostov, with its sudden shifts from bouncy to apprehensive and a nebulous, misterioso Schlegelmilch accordion solo. Likewise, Underwater Volcano mixes New Orleans and eastern European elements into a funky, echoey Rhodes piano tune. The album ends with the most Udden-influenced track here, Floating Vision, a slowly swaying ballad with hints of dub from multitracked keys.

Old Time Musketry play the album release show on Jan 27 at 8 PM at  the Firehouse Space, just around the corner from Pete’s at 246 Frost St. in Williamsburg.

December 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jeremy Udden’s Plainville at Bryant Park, NYC 6/2/10

Sax player Jeremy Udden’s most recent album Plainville is a warm, often offhandedly beautiful collection in the same vein as Bill Frisell’s Americana jazz. Tuesday night at Bryant Park, Udden (pronounded oo-DEEN) and his five-piece combo worked smartly counterintuitive, unexpected variations on wistful, nostalgically bucolic themes. It was the first concert we’ve worn earplugs to in a long time, a necessity that on face value seems absurd considering that Plainville’s music is contemplative and generally quiet. More about that later. With Pete Rende alternating between accordion and electric piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Bill Campbell on drums and sub banjoist Noam Pikelny clearly having a lot of fun taking the place of Udden’s usual collaborator Brandon Seabrook, they included a handful of new cuts alongside the older material along with a pulsing, riff-driven, tensely allusive Pharaoh Sanders cover.

The highlight of the night, unsurprisingly, was Christmas Song, the poignant jazz waltz that serves as the centerpiece of the Plainville album. Pikelny opened it, tersely, letting the band bring in the embellishments, Opsvik’s central solo beginning plaintively but growing vividly uneasy, like a family gathering where everybody knows it’s time to leave but never does. The album’s title track, named after Udden’s Massachusetts hometown, evoked early Pat Metheny with its bittersweet-tinged melody and long accordion intro by Rende. A new composition, Portland turned on a dime from simple riff-driven vamp into a brooding, wary ballad with a Wild Horses feel, courtesy of a brief and almost brutally terse soprano sax solo from Udden. And Opsvik’s muscular groove pulsed over Campbell’s modified bossa beat to anchor Udden’s cleverly playful flights on a number about the street the composer grew up on. In a way, it was a perfect match of music and early summer ambience, but in another way it was just the opposite. Remember those earplugs? They became a necessity with the first distant but still earsplitting shriek of the first alarm sounding as the bus at the stop around the corner opened its doors. Count this as our last Bryant Park concert, kind of sad considering what a great run this location had in the early 90s with all the jazz festivals here during the summer months.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment