Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Classical and Rock Acts Shake Off the Rust at the Naumburg Bandshell

It was weird seeing a rock band onstage at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park last night. There hasn’t been any rock there since the early teens, when some promoter put on a stupefyingly awful disco night. Then again, it wasn’t always unusual for rock acts to play there: it happened a lot back in the 90s.

Twenty years earlier, the Grateful Dead did a show there. Now that must have been weird.

There were other aspects relating to yesterday evening’s show that seemed weird. But most of them were welcome, and reason for guarded optimism at a time when we desperately need it.

The rock band onstage was singer/guitarist Aoife O’Donovan and her low-key rhythm section. She was joined by a chamber orchestra subset of the Knights for a tersely symphonic, imaginatively arranged take of what seemed to a suite inspired by early 20th century suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt. Although O’Donovan’s roots are in Americana, and she was playing acoustic, the songs had more of a classic 60s pop feel, sometimes in a Jimmy Webb or Lee Hazelwood vein. O’Donovan’s work has never been more political, or relevant than this, another welcome development.

A number that quoted from a letter to Catt from then-President Woodrow Wilson had a mutedly rich, brass-infused chart. O’Donovan then led the ensemble into syncopated, Joni Mitchell-esque territory and closed with a more enigmatic, indie rock-flavored number. O’Donovan has obviously done her homework and is encouraging everyone to rise up and fight: a rousing amen to that.

The Knights shook off the rust of over a year of inactivity with conductor Eric Jacobsen leading them through a haphazard take of his arrangement of Kayhan Kalhor‘s exhilarating, Kurdish-tinged theme Ascending Bird. The way the low strings emulated the starkness and shivery intensity of an Iranian kamancheh was a tasty touch. The (presumably) new presence of brass and woodwinds seemed forced, and extraneous to the music’s ecstatic trajectory.

The orchestra left the bumps in that road behind for a sleek and empathetic version of George Walker’s Lyric For Strings, whose canonic cadences evoked the Barber Adagio with less angst, more fondness, and somewhat more modernist tonalities.

Violinist Gil Shaham joined them for the night’s coda, playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 from memory. This may have been just another day at the office for him, but the technique he put to use was just plain sizzling. Which is not to say that this piece sizzles per se: it’s a carefully orchestrated celebration. Needless to say, Shaham’s quicksilver vibrato, the quartz crystal solidity of the endless volleys of high harmonics, and his unassailably confident attack in the most robust moments reaffirmed his vaunted stature.

The first movement seemed fast, at least in the beginning, the orchestra clearly relishing the opportunity to reconnect with their soloist since they’d recorded this together a couple of years ago. The second movement was unusually muted and practically a lullaby in places. The conclusion, with its rounds of triumphant, anthemic riffage, ended the night on an aptly ebullient note. There was no encore.

In a stroke of serendipity, this was the day when Andrew Cuomo apparently caved to the pressure to relinquish some of the dictatorial powers he’d seized in the March 16, 2020 coup d’etat – presumably to give a last-gasp shot of hydroxychloroquine to a political career that’s on a vent and flatlining. The details are still shaking out. It’s not unreasonable to worry that the psy-op squads at the World Economic Forum, the Gates Foundation and the Bloomberg cartel, who have been pulling Cuomo’s strings over the past sixteen months, will attempt to sneak all sorts of New Abnormal surveillance or divide-and-conquer schemes into any so-called reopening plan.

Because the concert was arranged before yesterday’s unexpected events, the organizers had been giving out free tickets online. Trouble was, the ticketing system didn’t work. An anxious message at their webpage timidly asked for proof of needle of death or meaningless PCR test, presumably to satisfy Cuomo’s office: this isn’t the kind of demand the Naumburg organization, who have always been the epitome of genteel, would typically impose on an audience.

While ticketed patrons were being let into the seats – which never came close to reaching capacity – there was clearly no surveillance going on. As far as muzzle-mania goes, oxygen-deficient people generally took the seats, those of us breathing normally situated mostly in back. Standing five feet to the left of this blog’s owner was one of the world’s great cellists: she wasn’t muzzled, nor was one of the world’s great violists, a couple of paces behind her. Sea change, or sign of imminent New Abnormal apartheid? We’ll find out next time.

This year’s series of Naumburg Bandshell concerts continues on June 29 at 7:30 PM when the Ulysses and Emerson String Quartets team up for music by Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and others. Since tickets for the performance have already been issued, rushing to the space early to score a seat – a winning strategy in years past – may not be worth the effort. You will probably be better off standing, taking a place on the benches immediately to the south, or on the lawn to the west where the sound is still reasonably audible. Bring a picnic and some wine!

June 16, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

A Night to Remember with Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein

Earlier generations might not be able to handle the concept of of juxtaposing Appalachian and classical music on the same stage. But songwriter/bandleader Tift Merritt and pianist Simone Dinnerstein have their fingers on the pulse of the future. Thursday night at their sold-out duo performance at Merkin Concert Hall, they held the crowd riveted with an intense, intimate performance that put each musician’s strengths under the microscope as they made unexpected connections between traditions from throughout the ages on both sides of the pond, Dinnerstein’s fiery baroque and Romantic interludes juxtaposed against Merritt’s elegantly plaintive chamber pop. Most of the material was drawn from the two’s nocturnal song suite, Night, just released (and reviewed at Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily).

The stage set foreshadowed what the concert would be: a pair of comfortable padded chairs at either side of the stage in low light from a couple of floor lamps. Merritt teased the crowd – “We’re not going to talk to you …we’re still not going to talk to you” – as the two made their way from Schumann, through a solo acoustic version of Merritt’s  plaintive Only in Songs, then glimmering themes by Schubert and Purcell. Dinnerstein’s gravitas and flinty irony balances Merritt’s biting wit and mercurial persona: they are very different peas in the same pod and obviously good friends. Merritt has established herself as a southern intellectual in the tradition of Faulkner and Welty; Dinnerstein represents for the old guard. Of the many eye-opening moments at this concert, the most impressive were when the two ventured into jazz, with a take of Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain that was so sensual it was lurid, and a bit later an expansive, commissioned work from Brad Mehldau, I Shall Weep. Swing is a rare quality in a classical musician, but Dinnerstein has it: both she and Merritt have futures in jazz if they feel like it.

But it’s more likely that they’ll continue to cross-pollinate. Dinnerstein revealed a fondness for George Crumb and played resonant dulcimer lines inside the piano behind Merritt’s finely nuanced, wary mezzo-soprano. Merritt told how Dinnerstein had introduced her to an operatic rendition of the English folk ballad I Will Give My Love an Apple that Merritt instantly recognized from its slightly less antique American folk version – and then they played it as moody, lingering  art-rock. The biggest hit of the night was Dinnerstein’s rapidfire romp through the Allemande and Courante (make that tres courante) from Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G Major. Although Merritt admitted to being shy about playing the piano in front of her bandmate, she impressed with her own tersely brooding, gospel-fueled take of Small Talk Relations.

Dinnerstein’s subtle dynamic shifts followed a trajectory from bittersweetly neoromantic to bracingly modern throughout Daniel Felsenfeld’s Cohen Variations, a suite based on Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. After Merritt sang a rapt, quiet version of Patty Griffin’s Night, the concert reached its peak with the poignant, crescendoing, saturnine anthem Feel of the World, which Merritt had written for her well-traveled grandmother. The duo encored with a very clever mashup of Gabriel Faure’s Apres un Reve with La Vie en Rose, which Merritt sang in flawless French. The two are soon off on US tour; the schedule is here. Dinnerstein is also at the Greene Space for an on-air performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on March 28 at noon; the performance is free but tickets are required.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/7/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #481:

Danny & Dusty – The Lost Weekend

This semi-legendary 1985 collaboration among several Paisley Underground types from the Dream Syndicate, Green on Red and Long Ryders has the feeling of an album made in a single afternoon fueled by a lot of alcohol, a story that Steve Wynn AKA Dusty has confirmed. Danny here is Dan Stuart of Green on Red. Most of the songs are about drinking, Wynn’s set in a typically surreal LA noir milieu. The Word Is Out focuses on a character who suddenly finds that he’s paying for everything he used to get for free; Song for the Dreamers and Miracle Mile are a memorable grab bag of boozers and losers, an idea they take to its logical extreme on King of the Losers. The best of the bunch is Wynn’s deliriously gospel-fueled Baby We All Gotta Go Down; there’s also the proto alt-country Send Me a Postcard and the creepy Down to the Bone, all of this good enough to make you forget about the pointless Dylan and Donovan covers at the end. Long out of print; here’s a random torrent. If you like this you may also like Danny & Dusty’s 2007 follow-up, still available at Wynn’s site.

October 7, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy Driving Music from Jason Waters

Singer/guitarist Jason Waters hails from Queens. His new ep See This Through is streaming in its entirety here – it’s yet another good example of new, accessible rock that hasn’t been dumbed down to appeal to corporate radio or the bankruptcy-bound major labels. A lot of this sounds like the BoDeans, especially the title track – a casually swaying, quietly apprehensive highway rock tune – and the fourth cut, which has some sweet twelve-string guitar and really grows on you. The strongest cut here is Darkness of the Day, a darkly slinky, biting country shuffle. The last cut, Late Night Telephone has great production – snarling and swoopy guitars- and catches up on you too. It’s easy to be cynical about music like this because it’s thisclose to top 40 – although a lot of this could have gone nationwide 20 years ago. And maybe it still can – we’re in an era where the playing field is pretty much level again. Nice tasteful performances from Waters on guitar and keys and ultra-tasteful, purist performances by Jim Sabella on guitar, Mike Mulieri on bass, guitar and keys, Jared Waters also on keys (and where are the keys here? They’re almost invisible) and rock-solid drummer Steve Holley.

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/11/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #506:

Tandy – To a Friend/Did You Think I Was Gone

This is cheating a little, since this twofer combines Steve Earle’s favorite rock band’s two most recent albums, from 2005 and 2006. But it’s double the goodness. Frontman/guitarist Mike Ferrio’s jangly, lyrically driven songs linger in your mind, pensive and often haunting. Some of them, like The Fever Breaks, Evensong and I Am the Werewolf, mine a creepy southwestern gothic vein; others, like Home and Girls Like Us look back toward Springsteen when he was still blue-collar. There’s also the brooding Epitaph, On the Hill and Bait along with more upbeat stuff like the first album’s title track, which reverts to the Wilco-inflected pop that Ferrio was writing around the turn of the century. The band was until very recently extremely popular in Europe, but suffered a tragic setback with the unexpected death of their brilliant, eclectic lead player Drew Glackin. Since then, the band has performed sporadically but extremely well with a number of guest guitarists. Both albums are streaming in their entirety at cheesy myspace, here and here; surprisingly, the blogosphere hasn’t caught up with them yet, but the double cd is still available from the band.

September 12, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/2/11

Caught up again, with more of the usual stuff (concerts, albums and other stuff) coming soon! By the way, if you’re wondering where our monthly NYC live music calendar went, it’s found a new home at our younger sister blog New York Music Daily. And every day, of course, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #515:

Mike Ness – Cheating at Solitaire

The reaction to this one was mixed when it came out in 1999, but it’s aged well, especially since this foreshadows so much of what the Social Distortion frontman would do with his main project in the years ahead. A lot of the covers here hint at the more somber, straight-up country direction he’d take, particularly the carpe-diem anthems Charmed Life, If You Leave Before Me, Rest of Our Lives, the troublemaker’s lament  that serves as the title track, and also the unexpectly upbeat kiss-off number Ballad of a Lonely Man. Bruce Springsteen guests on Misery Loves Company, and the covers are absolutely killer as well – have you ever heard a more intense version of Long Black Veil…or an actually good version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice? Hank Williams’ You Win Again isn’t bad either. This random torrent has everything except the bonus track that appeared on the vinyl version.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #533:

Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like, had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Minerva Lions Put a Unique Spin on Classic Americana Rock Styles

With laid-back vocals and smartly catchy tunes, Minerva Lions’  new album puts a uniquely psychedelic spin on Mumford & Sons-style Americana as well as other retro styles. They’ve got a new ep out that many fans of folk-rock and the mellower side of psychedelia will enjoy. As much as this music looks back, it’s full of surprises and originality. The opening track, For R. A. is a very smart arrangement of a lazy, hypnotic 70s-style British psych-folk tune, with all kinds of neat flourishes from the organ, tersely soaring steel guitar, baritone guitar and a cool solo where the organ and the acoustic guitar join forces as one. The second cut, Megrims, works a lushly apprehensive acoustic guitar hook into a casual, backbeat sway, steel guitar sailing warily, all the guitars kicking in with a vengeance as it winds out.

Protection Ave reminds of mid-period Wilco, with a sweet, oldschool Nashville pedal steel intro and some of the swirliness that Jeff Tweedy likes so much. Black Mind Decides is a catchy, slightly less glam-oriented Oasis-style electric piano-and-guitar ballad, its unexpectely noisy, practically satirical off-kilter guitars leading to a neat trick ending. Ascension Day offers a more bouncy take on a bluesy 1970 style minor-key soul vamp with organ and smoldering layers of guitars. The album ends with a pointless trip-hop remix of the opening track that strips it of most of its originality and replaces those ideas with cliches: that’s what happens when you take a good song and give it to a nonmusician who’s all about doing what he thinks will please a crowd rather than creating something interesting and original. Lyrically, this stuff is neither here nor there: rather than making any kind of statement, it’s all about hooks and melody. Much of the album is streaming at the band’s site; they’re at Rock Shop in Gowanus tonight (July 22) at 9.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment