Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Spermic Brotherhood Fathers a Poltergeist

Despite the sepulchral allusions of the title, free jazz trio the Spermic Brotherhood’s new album Ghosts of the Holy Spermic Brotherhood is high-energy and somewhat assaultive. They’re more of an animal poltergeist. Drummers Michael Evans and David Grollman utilize a large toolshed of bangable objects – and balloons – while Andy Haas supplies alto sax as well as piri and hojok. There’s also an electronic component here which doesn’t usually make itself clear, nor does it turn out to be intrusive. Much of this album is a big game of hide-and-seek: who’s playing what, and who’s behind that sheet? What sheet? What do you mean, where did it go?

The album’s eleven tracks are numbered rather than titled, per se. Long sostenuto tones over furtive, muted cymbals and metallic rustle and bustle rise to a squall over a small snowstorm, and then recede to blippiness. Eerie washes of scraped cymbals against rising rubato percussion accents grow to an evil, swirling vortex of keening overtones. A distant moan bobs to the surface and then hovers just above it as a wood flute joins the thicket, receding to an ominous echoey circular riff. Squirrelly clusters with shards of a fanfare, theremin-like wavering tones hand off to an imitation of shortwave radio signals over stately rhythm and then give way to a tense, portentous rattle, wipes of overtones (is that the balloons?) and calm wood flute against an anxious, muted bustle. The suspense is relentless.

Ghostly gamelan allusions pave the way to more of the agitated/calm dichotomy, crescendoing and then quavering for a haunted house atmosphere where Haas establishes the album’s most genuinely ghostly ambience. The ninth track is where the most animatedly sepulchral hijinks take place, followed by a jajouka-ish interlude – the most melodically interesting thing here- and then a more subdued shadow image of the opening theme, such that it is. It’s an interesting blend of the unexpected along with purposeful teamwork that holds the mood together, something for adventurous listeners as well as fellow free jazzers looking for good ideas.

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August 13, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Up with Ask the Oracle

Ask the Oracle is a deliciously uncategorizable album. Is it world music? Maybe. Free jazz? Some of it, definitely. It’s the brainchild of alto sax player Andy Haas, who thirty years after he played the iconic sax break on Martha & the Muffins’ Echo Beach, returned to Toronto to join forces with some of his old hometown’s new-ish improvisational talent. Besides Haas (who also plays flute and the Korean hojok reed instrument), the crew includes Colin Fisher on guitar, guzheng, tanbour and tenor sax, Aaron Lumley on bass, Brandon Valdivia on percussion, mbira and dzavadzimu, and Matthew “Doc” Dunn on drums. What does it sound like? You have to take this one track by track.

The first cut, Surfing to Canada, reminds of Peter Buck’s Tuatara project, but more corrosive. Over a gently clattering no wave shuffle beat, Fisher fires off screaming, tremolo-picked guitar in the distance against Haas’ calmly scrambling atmospherics that eventually build to a series of aggravated clusters. Track two, Ass Gamelan, sparsely integrates the lutes for a nebulously Moroccan-tinged take on Indonesian bell music: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Tribecastan catalog. After the similarly hypnotic, Asian-flavored Before the Clouds Come featuring Valdivia’s plinky mbira, they blast through the punk-jazz Tag Track Locate, basically a coda and variations that clock in at under two minutes.

A tone poem of sorts, Scattered Through the Strings is exactly as the title describes it, rippling, glissandoing lutes and then Haas’ alto elevating just a little over over the creaky rattle behind him. Why Is the Devil Here is a vaudevillian swing tune wearing a jajouka disguise, wave after wave of blaring reeds (Haas playing alto and hojok simultaneously). The most memorable tune here, a warped Middle Eastern waltz with jangly tanbour, Dance with a Jinn contrasts spiky textures with ominously boomy drums. They close the album with the blazing, buzzy Curse of the Horns, the most traditional “free jazz” track here (if you buy the idea that free jazz can possibly be traditional), a series of alternate universes that peacefully coexist until a couple of clever false endings. Who is the audience for this? Anyone who likes a unique sound that defies pigeonholing. Haas has been a force in improvisational music for years in New York; watch this space for upcoming live shows.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hypnotic, Wary Sax Soundscapes from Andy Haas

Andy Haas, formerly with new wave rock legends Martha & the Muffins (that’s his sax break on the classic Echo Beach), is a fascinating and extremely eclectic alto saxophonist capable of leaping from blues to ballads to punk to the Middle East in the span of seconds and somehow making it all work. Most recently he’s been a part of hypnotic, tuneful groove unit Radio I Ching. His new solo album Paradise of Ashes is a characteristically diverse collection of memorable, brief (usually around three-minute) songs without words, beautifully and often apprehensively lyrical. Haas favors a clear tone, a comfortable legato attack and hits the tunes straight-on – he doesn’t blow crazy clusters or waste notes. If you want to be really stuffy about his this, you could call it “electroacoustic.” Some of the stuff here has a trip-hop feel; the rest is basically a bedroom album, Haas’ sax backed by various acoustic and electronic rhythms. It’s sort of a higher-register counterpart to Paula Henderson’s cinematic baritone sax-and-laptop project Secretary.

The strongest tracks here are his originals. New Maladies of the Soul, which opens the disc, is a gorgeous, darkly memorable tango of sorts – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Paul Desmond songbook. A bit later, the title track shifts cleverly from lyrical warmth to latin-tinged noirisms. Haas tackles Americana with a warm bucolic sway in the same vein as Jeremy Udden’s recent work, via George Jones’ Cup of Loneliness and the traditional number The Devil Is Loose in the World, the latter with backward masked vocals (too bad this isn’t vinyl – you could spin it backwards and find out what the devil has to say!).

Haas mines the classical Arabic songbook for Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s Enta Omri and later Said Darwish’s Khalliha Alallah, in both cases taking the lead melody somewhat out of context and placing it atop a percussion track, the Darwish piece utilizing hypnotic goblet drum and tambourine for a sort of Indian ambience. The last three tracks here – Every Time We Say Goodbye, Bonjour Tristesse and It’s Only a Paper Moon – contrast terse, gently affecting melody lines against disquieting, clattering, occasionally exploding mechanical beats, the last one an evil drone straight out of the David Lynch soundtrack manual. The whole thing makes a great late-night headphone album. Echo Beach, far, faraway in time!

March 13, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Radio I Ching Hypnotize Pretty Much Everyone Within Earshot

Radio I Ching put on what could easily be the most psychedelic show of the year so far tonight at Otto’s. Drummer and bandleader Dee Pop earned a lifetime’s worth of cred in free jazz circles for his long-running weekly shows at CB’s Gallery and then briefly at Cake Shop, but he’s as solid a straight-ahead swing player as there is. According to their myspace, the band play “esoteric party music and stoner swing,” which after experiencing them and being able to stumble away afterward, makes a lot of sense. His bandmate Andy Haas (who achieved immortality a long time ago with the sax solo on Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach) began the show on dijeridoo, laying down a swirling series of loops that became a maze and then a vortex from which nothing could escape, including Don Fiorino’s fiery, metalish blues licks and even a crazed series of tapped progressions: walking into the room while that was going on was as mystifying as it was impossible to resist. Bassist Felice Rosser (well-known as the leader of Faith) ran the show, holding down a steady pulse while the drums went off on a brisk walk to parts unknown, Haas layered one mystifying texture after another and Fiorino switched guitars, often leaving a series of loops running through his pedals, sometimes using an electric tenor guitar with a mini-Firebird body.

They ran the set like a single piece, drums or bass leading the segue into one segment after another. Haas went off on a distantly Middle Eastern tangent on soprano sax at one point, Fiorino following apprehensively. The swirling, pulsing groove continued as the drums went doublespeed, Rosser finally leaping in while all the sax and guitar loops spun on what felt like an axis bold as love as Fiorino contributed hallucinatory, acidically echoing lead lines. Speaking of which, after a couple of detours into slinky soul grooves, including one sung by Rosser (Abbey Lincoln? Nina Simone? It’s hard to remember which at this point), they took a brief, barely recognizable stab at Machine Gun, Rosser nailing the bassline with a casual, backbeat precision as Haas and Fiorino added sustained, atmospheric sheets of sound. There was a single detour into what typically characterizes free jazz, Haas throwing out a glissando for the guitar and then Rosser’s vocalese to echo; otherwise, it was mostly a single, long, one-chord groove. Toward the end, they kicked into a two-chord vamp full of what had become unexpectedly welcome circular phrases and a wicked bass groove from Rosser, one of the few times in their set that it was easy to look up, get reoriented and realize that this was not a dream, the kind you never want to wake up from. Unfortunately, there were plenty of other moments like that, not so pleasant: none of them the fault of the band. Fiorino wished aloud for someone to go out to the bar and tell the dj to turn the music down, a wish no doubt echoed by everyone who’d been enjoying the show.

October 7, 2010 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments