Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ana Popovic Burns Some Frets in Italy

What’s most striking about Serbian guitarist Ana Popovic’s new DVD An Evening at Trasimento Lake: Live from the Heart of Italy is that by the time the concert is halfway done, she hasn’t wasted any notes. That someone who plays as many of those notes, with as much abandon, would choose them so unpredictably and interestingly is pretty amazing.

From the brief interview included in the DVD’s bonus material, Popovic doesn’t like to be pinned down to one particular style. Here, it’s mostly blues and funk, but there’s also a jazzy piano ballad and a couple of catchy upbeat rock songs that sound like the early Police. She’s a star on the European concert circuit, and her big youtube hit U Complete Me (included in a particularly epic, organ-fueled version here) has won her an American fan base as well. Culled from two nights at a blues festival in an old castle in Perugia, it’s a studio-quality recording featuring her European touring band: Ronald Jonker on bass; Michele Papadia on keys; Andrew Thomas on drums; Cristiano Arcelli on tenor sax; Riccardo Giulietti on trumpet; Sandra LaVille on harmony vocals and Stephane Avellaneda on percussion. Stevie Ray Vaughan (in “on” mode, meaning the mature, drug-free SRV), is the obvious influence, guitarwise; vocally, Popovic goes for a sardonic/sarcastic style that reaches for a southern soul vibe: Jean Knight, maybe? But this is about the guitar, not the singing. All the way through the songs, there are gnats, or some kind of insect swarming the stage – an exasperated Jonker swats mightily at one at 19:50 into it – but the band don’t let the swarm stop them.

The first song, Wrong Woman (as in, “you’re messing with the wrong woman”) is a funk song. Papadia pitches in with a wink and grin on the lower registers of the clavinova, Sly Stone style, a feel that will recur again as Popovic snarls and burns through the passing tones, relentlessly yet judiciously. It’s counterintuitive, to say the least, and it’s breathtaking. Then she does the same with Is This Everything There Is, a rock song with more than a slight resemblance to Message in a Bottle.

Unlike a lot of other lead guitar stars, she’s proves not afraid of the lower registers on a growling version of the slide boogie blues How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That (lyrics are not usually her strong suit). The brisk soul shuffle Nothing Personal introduces the horns, with a tight, vicious guitar solo paired off against Papadia’s gritty clavinova again.

Shadow After Dark has Popovic blending Andy Summers spaciousness with David Gilmour rage, then they hit a plateau of sorts with another funk song and the most trad moment here, the bouncy blues Let Me Love You Babe. Popovic takes a break on the torchy piano ballad Doubt Everyone But Me, tosses off a pointless acoustic pop song but then regroups with a couple of strong, riff-driven numbers featuring swirling organ and more terse, incisive guitar fills. They bring it up all the way with a brisk, reworked version of The Fever, Popovic taking it to redline with casually vicious precision. The DVD ends with the night’s one semi-political number, Hold On, another funk song. Taken as a whole, much of this is a rare treat for guitar fans. Unfortunately, whoever did the cinematography must not be a guitarist: all too frequently, the camera cuts away from Popovic right as she’s about to do something exquisite. Did someone not tell him/her, it’s the fingers on the fretboard, not the picking, that every player wants to see? And the bonus acoustic tracks are strangely pastiched together and don’t add much of anything other than proving Popovic just effortlessly fast and impactful at open-tuned delta blues as she is with electric styles. It’s out now on Artist Exclusive.

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December 8, 2010 Posted by | blues music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Turkish Woodstock

As concerts in New York go, this was something of a landmark, representing both the vanguard and the old guard of cutting-edge Turkish music, something that according to people involved with the project would have been far less likely to have taken place on Turkish soil. Istanbulive AKA the Turkish Woodstock was a quick sellout (or the equivalent – the Summerstage arena was filled to capacity minutes after the opening act, the NY Gypsy All-Stars took the stage). This time around, acclaimed Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici stood in for the mostly instrumental group’s usual reed man Ismail Lumanovski, taking the music in a surprisingly but effectively murky, pensive direction. In Turkey, the clarinet carries the same connotation as the sax does here, frequently the instrument of choice for bandleaders and for party music in general. Where Lumanovski is a ferociously intense player, someone who typically goes straight for the jugular, Senlendirici took a characteristically more spacious and contemplative approach, an apt fit for several of the ballads in the set. With a rhythm section including electronic keyboards along with guitar and kanun, they alternated between tricky, rousing dances and quieter fare, some simply instrumental versions of Turkish pop hits which became mass karaoke for the high-spirited audience. One of them sounded like the old Burt Bacharach standard Never Gonna Fall in Love Again set to a more complex rhythm. Their best number featured a guest chanteuse doing a wistful, homesick Armenian folk song backed by just keys and clarinet.

The unannounced Brooklyn Funk Essentials followed with a brief, entertaining mini-set with Senlendirici out front (their 1998 album with him is a major moment in American/Middle Eastern fusion), working a dark reggaeish vibe on the first tune, following with a straight-up funk number that lept doublespeed into ska. They then did a funny ska version of the Mozart Rondo a la Turk, and were out of there – a quick rehearsal for their show later at City Winery maybe?

Painted on Water maintained the cutting-edge vibe, delivering the afternoon’s most electrifying moments. Frontwoman Sertab Erener is a star in her home country, and this mostly English-language project – her vocals and accent are flawless – ought to expand her audience exponentially. Kicking off the set with a long, passionate, intense vocalese intro, it was clear that she had come to conquer. Like Siouxsie Sioux without the microtones, she showed off a forceful, defiant wail that on the next-to-last song of the set she unleashed with unrestrained fury, a stunning crescendo that seemed to defy the laws of physics. That such a relatively small, lithe frame could cut loose such a powerful blast of sound was a wonder to behold. Then she did it again.

They built up to that with an intriguingly cross-pollinated blend of tastefully jazzy, guitar-driven, blues and Turkish-inflected rock songs. Guitarist Demir Demirkan came across as something of a warmer Andy Summers, casually tossing off artfully precise flourishes in a multitude of styles, sticking with a clean, trebly tone. The anthemic 1000 Faced Man, from the group’s brand-new debut cd packed a funereal, Doorsy wallop, courtesy of some totally Manzarek-esque organ from the keyboardist. On the next number Demirkan matched Erener note for note, his lines thick with vibrato and apprehension, as she went off with more vocalese. The catchy, swaying, syncopated Shut up and Dance brought back the psychedelic vibe with another long, haunting organ solo. On one of the tables in the seating area to the right of the stage, a little girl methodically built an impressive pyramid out of the plastic wine goblets they were using back there, which stood resolute until blown over by a gust of wind. It made a good visual counterpart to the steadfastly wary, purist intensity of Demirkan’s playing.

Legendary Turkish rockers Mazhar Fuat Ozkan turned the vibe back to haunting, at least for awhile. Because of their three-part harmonies, the comparison they always get is CSNY and that’s completely wrong because they’re far darker – their closest western counterpart would probably be early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or perhaps Barclay James Harvest before they turned into the poor man’s Moody Blues, with more than a few echoes of Pink Floyd. Their mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems mixed lush, sometimes elegaic layers of guitar over stately descending progressions that owe more to western classical music than to either rock or traditional Turkish melodies, and these were potently effective. As with many of their contemporaries who date back to the early 70s, their attempts to incorporate slicker, funkier, more commercial sounds were less successful (artistically, at least, though the crowd loved them), taking on a derivative feel that the lead player’s metalish guitar licks only aggravated. As Kerouac said, first thought, best thought – stick to what you do best and you can’t go wrong.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment