Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Edgy Focus and Tunefulness From All-Female Jazz Supergroup Lioness

Lioness are the perpetually swinging Posi-Tone Records‘ all-female supergroup. It’s unusual for any of the few remaining record labels, such as they exist at all in 2019, to be championing women, let alone women in jazz. But Posi-Tone has an enviable track record of doing just that, including a bunch of recordings by Alexa Tarantino, Amanda Monaco, Lauren Sevian – all three of them members of Lioness – and several others. The sextet got their start during a Flushing Town Hall residency by Monaco; their debut album Pride and Joy is streaming at their music page. The rest of the group includes tenor saxophonist Jenny Hill, organist Akiko Tsuruga and the increasingly ubiquitous Allison Miller on drums.

Sevian, Tarantino and Jenny Hill team up for some jaunty go-go blues in the album’s catchy opening number, Mad Time, by Miller. Hill’s composition Sunny Day Pal is a balmy cha-cha, its summery sonics enhanced by the organ in tandem with Monaco’s lingering, purposeful guitar. Jelly, written by Monaco and her sister, has Miller swinging leisurely behind its tight stroll and warmly bluesy horns, a neat trick.

Down For the Count. a Sevian tune, is full of surprise tempo and thematic shifts, the composer’s baritone sax bobbing and weaving and then handing off to Tarantino’s blithe alto. The covers here are all written by women as well. Melba Liston’s punchy You Don’t Say, from 1958 is reharmonized for three saxes instead of the original trombones, a carefree shuffle with solos all around. The group’s take of Aretha’s Think is even shorter than the original and makes you think about what it actually is before the group hit the chorus head-on. Ida Lupino, by Carla Bley, has a delectably allusive, sparse interweave of voices over Miller’s steady beat.

The simmering take of Meilana Gillard’s Ethiopian-tinged Identity is the strongest of the covers, a long launching pad for Sevian to take flight. Monaco clusters and spirals around the wistful Mocha Spice, by one of the alltime great postbop guitarists, the late Emily Remler. Tarantino’s briskly shuffling Hurry Up and Wait is the album’s high point, Sevian grittily unveiling the song’s bluesy architecture.

Hill glistens and flutters as Sweety, a syncopated soul number by Monaco, gets underway. Tsuruga is represented here by the album’s final and most epic cut, Funky Girl, a sly Jimmy Smith-style swing tune with more blustery horns than he typically worked with on an album date, along with a gritty Monaco solo. It’s a clinic in tight, thoughtful playing; no wasted notes, something as rare in jazz as all-female supergroups.

Lioness are at 55 Bar tomorrow night, July 27 starting at 6 PM.

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July 26, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The First-Ever Full-Length NYC Subway Art Documentary Resurrected at BAM

What’s most heartbreaking about Manfred Kirchheimer‘s  practically dialogue-less 1981 documentary Stations of the Elevated is that all of the artwork featured in the film is gone forever. Some of it was sandblasted, some sent to the scrapyard and the rest of it is at the bottom of the Atlantic. Did you know that’s where most New York City subway cars have gone to their final resting place in recent years, ostensibly serving as artificial reefs, asbestos insulation and all? Fortunately, you can see all of the long-gone, distinctively New York-flavored guerrilla art immortalized when the film – the first full-length documentary on New York City subway art – screens on June 27 at 8 PM at BAM’s Harvey Theatre. Advance tix are $25 and highly recommended. What’s also hard to believe is that this screening kicks off the movie’s first-ever theatrical run (it premiered at the 1981 New York Film Festival but lacked the music licenses necessary for a fullscale release). As a special enticement, the Charles Mingus repertory ensemble Mingus Dynasty will perform beforehand – it’s a good assumption that they’ll be playing music from the film soundtrack.

How fortuituous for future generations of New Yorkers that the filmmaker was out trainspotting with his camera, catching subways (mostly on the 4 and 5 line) as they rolled past, or into the Dyre Avenue station. Without Kirchheimer, there’s be far less evidence of the haphazard talent of legendary graffiti artists like Lee, Fab 5 Freddy, Shadow, Daze, Kase, Butch, Blade, Slave, 12 T2B, Ree, and Pusher, all of whom are represented. Kirchheimer wisely chose to film from spots where the trains would be moving at little more than a walking pace, and his lens lingers. Yet the effect is often akin to a series of jump cuts, tantalizing the viewer. Obviously, Kirchheimer wanted to capture as much as he could in a limited amount of time (45 minutes): to say that he scored is an understatement.

Kirchheimer’s background, other than as a documentarian, is as a film editor, which served him well here. Juxtaposed with the languid, now rather quaint (and for New Yorkers of a certain age and sensibility, impossibly nostalgic) shots of the trains in all their spraycan glory are images of campy billboards (the smoking Marlboro Man is priceless) and an upstate prison that from above bears a remarkable resemblance to the MTA train yards. The sound editing mirrors the editing of the film itself, a handful of Charles Mingus compositions cut and pasted with a rather sardonic bass solo from the composer himself front and center. There’s also a long gospel refrain from Aretha Franklin as the film winds out.

Kirchheimer has been quick to admit that he knew little about graffiti art when he began work on the film, and that the project opened his eyes to what he has termed a “scream from the ghetto.” Ironically, much as many of the deaths heads, cartoon figures and hastily painted yet stunningly lavish car-length tableaux make for a perverse celebration of civic pride. New York may have been gritty in those days, but it was those artists’ New York. Shame on the powers that be for failing to realize that and for destroying it (a sick cycle that perpetuates itself – yesterday’s cover of Metro featured a gang of gung-ho volunteers hell-hent on eliminating graffiti and graffiti art completely throughout the five boroughs). And kudos to Kirchheimer for preserving it with such a wry, keenly aware sensibility.

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Art, Film, jazz, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aretha Franklin at Coney Island Last Night

At this point in her career, Aretha Franklin is entitled to do whatever she wants, including playing an outdoor show at Coney Island as she did last night. The good news is that she seems to be ok – with all sorts of ghoulish rumors of ill health circulating the web, it was heartwarming to see her looking robust, able to strike a triumphant pose or ten and move across the stage under her own power. It was also good to see her take a turn at the piano. While she didn’t challenge herself, sticking to a basic, gospel-flavored chordal approach, she still has the chops to do it, and that’s good news too. Especially for the roughly 95% of the crowd who were taking advantage of a literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see her perform.

Like Tom Waits, it’s been decades since Franklin toured regularly – and clearly, she has no need to. The vaults are packed with hours and hours of transcendent footage from her peak in the 60s and early 70s. And as far back as the 80s, when a big-ticket show would top out at around $25, she was doing the occasional Radio City or Lincoln Center gig for twice that. Coney Island being one of New York’s most impoverished neighborhoods, the likelihood that more than a handful of oldtimers at the show had seen her before was pretty slim. Franklin rewarded them by bringing along a full band and orchestra, who played competently behind her. Aside from a garish funkmetal guitar solo during the introductory instrumental hit medley, and a few occasions where the sound engineer inexplicably brought up the bass, they stayed in the background, even when grinding through one of the interminable vamps that would dominate much of the show.

Franklin is very bright, and what became most obvious early on is that she was pacing herself. Deliberately and methodically, she chose her spots, and when she’d launch into a long, bluesy series of melismas, the crowd loved it. As perhaps can be expected of a performer who had to cancel a couple of scheduled concerts here last year for health reasons, the distance between those carefully chosen spots grew longer and longer as the show went on. It was like watching a star athlete return from the disabled list and play adequately but not dominantly. Obviously, to expect the Queen of Soul to be what she was forty-five years ago is unrealistic and unfair – that she still nails the notes, has the imagination to reinvent her old hits to make them fresh, and tickles the ivories when she feels moved to, was enough to satisfy a sleepy crowd who seemed worn out from possibly hours of standing in line to get into the new concert space in the former Steeplechase Park. Franklin is a genuine icon, and even with the obstacles they’d had to surmount, those people probably would have been satisfied with a half-hour of her greatest hits, just like the brief but rewarding set the Zombies played at this same concert series a few years ago.

Her first set was mostly a mix of ballads and disco, Franklin’s backup singers usually taking over as the choruses rose, and they did a good job. She chose a slow and rather brief version of You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman as a showcase for some rich if somewhat restrained vocalese; a little later, she and the band amped up her old 60s hit Think with a jaunty, Motown-flavored bounce. Almost a half-hour to the second from when she first hit the stage, she exited gingerly for the breather she needed and deserved.

The second set began with a long, slow swell from the orchestra, which pretty much set the tone: there was even less Aretha this time around. She reached back for a little extra on a well-received, matter-of-factly bittersweet Chain of Fools, the best song of the night; otherwise, she’d back off, then kick back in, then back off again while the band hung on a single chord or riff. When they finally made their way into the mid-80s cheeseball Freeway of Love, it was time to call it a night. Was she contractually obliged to perform for as long as she did? Couldn’t the promoters (if you can call Borough President Marty Markowitz a promoter for anyone other than himself) have revised the terms to be more sympathetic to a legend who’s earned that sympathy many times over?

Before the show, Markowitz went on and on in front of the mic, sucking up to every local (and national) politician who might have been within earshot. A fan who’d been waiting patiently for almost two hours on the boardwalk captured the moment perfectly. “Chain of fools!” she exclaimed in disgust.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment