Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Skye Steele Quintet – Late Bloomer

A strange, sometimes unearthly and utterly beautiful album by innovative violinist/composer Skye Steele and his superb backing unit, guitar, reeds and rhythm section. Like a lot of the current New York vanguard, Steele’s compositions blur the line between jazz, world music and classical. Call it Barbes music – cutting-edge New York listeners will get the reference. Much of it is atmospheric, often stark and rustic but imbued equally with a playful, surrealist wit. Clarinetist Harel Shachal (who also leads also the excellent Orientalist ensemble Anistar) kicks off the cd’s opening cut, a plaintive version of the old Scottish folk song Black Is the Color with a gentle, cool breeze, the rest of the band entering leisurely. Drummer Satoshi Takeishi adds the subtlest of shades with his cymbals beneath Steele’s rainy-afternoon washes. They follow that with the funky Monkey See, a hypnotic riff for Steele that serves as a chassis for Steele’s contrasting ambience.  Evelynn, a big ballad, builds to a powerful, whirling crescendo of strings. Shine begins stark and choppy before lighting up with a warm, soulful Shachal solo where Steele joins him and then they pass the baton back and forth; Echo Park continues in the same vein, but more upbeat.


The title of the bizarrely named Pepperoni Pizza is a simple rhythic reference: it shares the number of beats in the song’s opening riff, and it’s definitely a party til the middle section, guitar carrying the rhythm as it gets all quiet. And then everybody’s off and running again, popping funk bass and sheets of violin leading the charge. Similarly, Rubber Ducky riffs on a playground rhyme, hints at a syncopated Irish reel and then goes straight for the jugular before winding up with a bizarre singalong.


Freedom Impressionism is, appropriately enough, an inspired free improvisation riffing on Coltrane and one of the Satie Gymnopedies. The cover of Scarborough Fair takes the stately old tune on the thrill ride of its life, highlighted by a big foghorn Shachal solo.There’s also the circular Afropop-inflected Years Later with its wistful ending, the pensive The Fall and the cd’s fiery, late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty-esque concluding cut, Pretty Girls. Taken as a whole, the album makes for great late-night ipod listening. The group are very captivating, often haunting live. Skye Steele has LA, Mexico and London dates coming up, watch this space for NYC shows.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 2/2/09

So you thought there wouldn’t be any hit parade this week, huh? This is the late edition. All these links are for the individual songs with the exception of #1, which is on an album you should own.


1. The Brooklyn What – No Chords

We’re going to keep hitting you with great songs by this kick-ass band, just like what we’d be doing with the Clash if this was 1978 and the blogosphere existed back then. This one’s a quiet, funny, brutally satirical number about gentrification and trendoids from their new cd The Brooklyn What for Borough President. They play 2/20 at Red Star at 11; the intriguing and fun Delusions of Grand St. open the night at 9.


2. The Megitza Quartet – Boleritza

Haunting, gypsy-flavored instrumental suite from this kick-ass Chicago band. 


3. The Quavers – Ride You Home – trippy and creepy with a weird trip-hop feel. Here’s a free download


3. The Dream Academy – Mordechai Vanunu

An old song from 1985 (occasionally we might feature something this old if it’s worth it and we just discovered it, as we did in this case), basically just frontman Nick Laid-Clowes and his acoustic guitar doing a tribute to the great Israeli peace activist who was behind bars at the time for divulging Israel’s atom bomb secrets. 


4. Brian Kramer – Pause

The excellent blues guitarist is appropriately oldschool: Press pause and then rewind. Who says white guys can’t play blues. 


5. The 4th Street Nite Owls – Jerry the Junker

One of the first and best of the oldtimey revival bands here in town, still going strong. This is an update on the Minnie the Moocher theme.


6. Anistar – Longa Nikriz

Long, haunting balkan/klezmer dance from this amazing multistylistic band. They’re at le Poisson Rouge on 2/5.


7. Alec Berlin – My Baby Likes to Eat

So politically incorrect it’s hard to believe it exists at all. Don’t listen if you can’t handle humor that pokes fun at women and lesbians. It’s all in good fun. He’s at Arlene’s on 2/11.


8. The Tarantinos NYC – Monte Carlo Nights

A total ripoff of the surf classic Man of Mystery, but with that swirling organ it’s irresistible: this is a band that by rights shouldn’t even exist at all, but somehow they make it work.


9. Red Rocket – Red Rocket

Delicious noir soundtrack jazz from this Irish group, a side project of the similarly inclined Rocket who play Barbes on 2/25.  


10. Erin Hill – Blue Slide

Psychedelic pop with a singer who plays concert harp. Sounds absolutely nothing like Joanna Newsom

February 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Skye Steele at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 1/27/09

“I write too many slow songs,” violinist Skye Steele said with a wry grin. Wrong. What this guy absolutely excels at is slow songs. Slow, thoughtful, meditative instrumentals, full of beautiful little intricacies, often absolutely mesmerizing: you can get completely lost in this stuff. Last night at Barbes Steele was backed by an excellent band featuring upright bass, electric guitar and reed player Harel Shachal alternating between clarinet and sax. Most of what Steele writes has a dark, plaintive, hypnotic edge: he goes for atmosphere over ostentation every time, and absolutely nails it. You could call what he writes jazz, although it also embodies elements of classical and Balkan music, with glimpses of rock and even Afro-pop peeking in and showing their faces from time to time.


The material they played early in the set had a bracing, big-sky Americana feel in the same vein as Jenny Scheinman’s collaborations with Bill Frisell. A little later in the set, on a far eerier number, Shachal’s clarinet went deep into the lower registers for an ominously fluttery Balkan feel. A handful of their songs were suites, one of them facing off fluid, swoopingly legato bass against the noisy duel of the violin and clarinet; another featured a languidly thoughtful yet tensely wary solo from the guitar. Steele was clearly throwing songs at these guys that at least one of them had never played before, but the group was game and rose to the occasion, taking the old Scottish folksong Black is the Color off into the Great Plains with a wintry, windswept ambience. On their last number, another suite, Steele wound up a tightly compelling passage by playing major over minor for a few bars, adding an especially macabre edge. Steele’s next performance is a quintet show on Feb 5 at le Poisson Rouge on a bill with with Shachal’s excellent, haunting Middle Eastern/Balkan group Anistar.

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