Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/23/10

Amy Allison is all business tonight. She usually has a running conversation going with the audience by the second song of the show, but this time it’s all about those songs. That there’s as much talent in the crowd (a cellist, pianist and chanteuse all arriving within the span of about a minute) as there is onstage says a lot about the quality of the music: Allison’s biggest fans are her peers. Behind her are Lee Feldman on piano and Jon Graboff on acoustic guitar. Both are making up most of what they’re playing as they go along – jazz musicians do this all the time, but to see Allison’s wry, gemlike country and Americana-pop songs serve as a launching pad for this kind of interplay is pretty special. The two guys watch each other: Feldman hints at honkytonk but doesn’t really go there, landing instead on a richly chorded, somewhat noir early 60s pop style (what Roy Orbison would have done with that guy in the band, one can only wonder). Graboff has done stretches in Allison’s band and has some parts worked out – when he doesn’t, he’s adding a bassline as a countermelody when she goes up the scale, or weaves in between piano chords. With Allison playing rhythm guitar, it’s a textural feast.

The sound is great: she can relax and use every nuance, pull back a little and say a lot. And she does. The best song of the night is Dream World, beautiful, bittersweet and awfully dark. In the crowd, the cellist leans over and whispers to the adjacent bass player: “Half of her songs are about sleep!” Those songs are actually about escaping – and that’s what Allison is offering tonight, lots of solace, some knowing vocals and songs that the crowd can sing to themselves on the way home.

Craig Chesler has assembled seemingly half the talent on the Lower East Side to play his new album all the way through afterward. But we’ve already reviewed it – it’s good – and as claustrophobia sets in with every new arrival, it’s time to head west toward Lakeside.

January 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical, Country and Other Stuff Live in NYC 1/20/08

Professor, the thesis of this paper is to prove what a fantastic variety of music there is to see for free in New York on the worst possible night, arguably the coldest night of the year, and a Sunday, the last day most people think of going out. The night began at St. Thomas Church where their main organist John Scott was playing a recital. Regular readers of this page might think we have some kind of crush on this casually witty British gentleman. Tonight he started with a piece from French romantic composer Henri Mulet’s magnum opus Esquisses Byzantines. Scottt kept its ostentation at a minimum, as if it was a piece for strings, and this worked wonders. Next on the program were a couple of Messiaen works from the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The first was Messiaen at his occasionally but spectacularly dark, ambient best: Scott had played Messiaen’s The Birth of Our Lord here last month, and the work he played tonight was a welcome encore to the exhaustively haunting suite he played in December. The next piece, however, was not. Messiaen was famously enamored with the sounds of nature, in particular birdsong, and this piece, A Child Is Born to Us celebrates the birth of Christ. Messiaen’s liturgical works are not known for corresponding with textual passages, but this one actually did, effectively evoking the wonder of onlookers in the manger until the birds started chirping. At that point, one can only wonder why the church fathers wherever Messiaen was working at the time didn’t seal off his window or cut off his access to breadcrumbs.

Scott then pulled out the stops with Max Reger’s famous Morningstar Chorale. Reger’s name ought to have been Rigor. At this best, he wrote roaring organ chorales echoing Bach but more freely. Otherwise, the German romanticist is best known for his knotty, impeccably crafted pieces which can only be described as Teutonic: as scorching as Reger could be, craft often supersedes emotion in many of his compositions. Happily, that was not the case with this piece, an unusually warm, happy excursion bookended by Reger’s usual sturm und drang, and Scott brought out all the warmth he could on what would in this age of global warming be considered an unusually cold night.

Which leaves the obvious question: how to interest the kids in what performers like Scott are doing? So much of classical music is vastly more powerful, more passionate and more fun than most rock music. So how to spread the word? Repost this somewhere, where the trendoids will be mystified?

Next stop was Banjo Jim’s where Amy Allison – who wrote our pick for best song of 2007 – was playing a duo show with Rich Hinman from the Madison Square Gardeners on acoustic lead guitar. To say that he’s a quick study is an understatement: casually and deliberately, the guy wailed. Regular readers here will recall how much Allison likes playing without a net, throwing caution to the wind, bringing up new backing talent every time she plays, as if to see what happens. Tonight she played to a rapt crowd, dazzling with new songs including the wry Mardi Gras Moon and the absolutely riveting Dreamworld, wishing the best to everyone freezing on the street. Allison is such a hilarious live performer that half the time she’s cracking herself up, sometimes barely able to contain a laugh in the middle of a song, bringing the crowd along with her. With her mint citrus voice – cool and calming but with a serious bite – she treated the audience to the warm, hopeful new song Calla Lily as well as classics from her country period like Garden State Mall, as well as newer material like the potent girl-power anthem Have You No Pride, from her latest album Everything and Nothing Too. Allison is totally punk rock too: she played the whole set bleeding on her guitar, blood streaming from her index finger (she’d cut herself peeling potatoes, and the bandaid she was using wasn’t enough).

Next stop was Otto’s, where sometime Willie Nile sideman Steve Conte and his band were wrapping up a set of predictable Detroit-style riff-rock, vintage 1978. The place was completely packed: it was impossible to get into the little back room until after he’d finished playing. It would be interesting to see him do this stuff in more spacious confines – or somewhere on Woodward, where they could find some action and where the old-school crowd would have their bullshit detectors set to stun. Richard Lloyd, the legendary Television (and most recently, Rocket from the Tombs) lead guitarist followed, leading a trio featuring his longtime drummer Billy Ficca, who proved the most interesting member of this particular unit. In the past several months, Lloyd has proven himself absolutely undiminished – as a sideman – and tonight’s show reaffirmed that.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment