Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Roger Davidson Hits the Klezmer Road

Whether Roger Davidson knows it or not, he’s just released an elegant gypsy punk record. It’s not likely that the eclectic composer, whose previous work spans the worlds of jazz and tango nuevo, launched into his new album On the Road of Life with that idea in mind. But that’s pretty much what he ended up with. “Pretty much,” because there are no distorted guitars or pummeling drums here – and also because Davidson’s intent was to write an original album of klezmer tunes. Whether this is klezmer, or Balkan music, or gypsy music is really beside the point – whichever way it falls stylistically, it’s a collection of memorably simple themes bristling with the scary/beautiful chromatics and eerie minor keys common to all those genres. Here Davidson is backed by what he calls the Frank London Klezmer Orchestra, an eclectic group with the great klezmer trumpeter alongside another klezmer legend, Andy Statman on mandolin and clarinet, plus Klezmatics drummer Richie Barshay, Avantango bassist Pablo Aslan and Veretski Pass accordionist/cimbalom player Joshua Horowitz.

Some of these are joyous romps. Freedom Dance has solos all around and some especially rapidfire mandolin from Statman. Dance of Hope is sort of a Bosnian cocek with mandolin and clarinet instead of blaring brass, and a tune closer to Jerusalem than to Sarajevo. There’s Harvest Dance, based on a crescendoing walk down the scale; Water Dance, with an absolutely ferocious outro, and Hungarian Waltz, which in a split second morphs into a blazing dixieland swing tune fueled by London’s trumpet. Yet the best songs here are the quieter ones. The title track is basically a hora (wedding processional) that builds gracefully from a pensive, improvisational intro to a stately pulse driven by Aslan’s majestic bass chords. There’s also Equal in the Eyes of God, which reaches for a rapt, reverent feel; Sunflowers at Dawn, which klezmerizes a famous Erik Satie theme; The Lonely Dancers, a sad, gentle Russian-tinged waltz, Statman’s delicate mandolin vividly evoking a balalaika tone; and the epic, nine-minute Night Journey, glimmering with suspenseful, terse piano chords, tense drum accents, allusive trumpet and finally a scurrying clarinet solo.

Davidson may be a limited pianist, but he’s self-aware – his raw chords and simple melody lines only enhance the edgy intensity of the tunes here. That he’s able to blend in with this all-star crew affirms his dedication to good tunesmithing, keeping things simple and proper, as Thelonious Monk would say. Fans of moody minor keys, gypsy music and the klezmer pantheon will find a lot to enjoy here.

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August 23, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Rough Guide to Tango Revival

Although chock-full of aching bandoneon melodies, wistful and anguished strings, the Rough Guide to Tango Revival is not a particularly rough-edged compilation – but it’s definitely a global one. Compiler Chris Moss is a former Buenos Aires resident and an enthusiastic fan of the classics but doesn’t have much use for (or seemingly much knowledge of) tango nuevo, therefore, no Avantango, let alone Federico Aubele. Most of the cuts here are instrumentals, three of them Astor Piazzolla covers; in addition to the Argentinians, the artists here hail from such unexpected places as Romania and Holland. Hardcore tango fans get plenty to sink their teeth into here (and dance to, with the exception of three numbers with uptight,mechanical drum machine rhythm): as a starting point for newcomers, it’s as good a place as any to start your journey into the heart of tango’s darkness, although you might first want to stream Radio Piazzolla.

Argentinians Selección Nacional De Tango (which translates roughly as “Tango Allstar Team”) bookend the album with a dynamic-laden, richly orchestrated version of the iconic 1917 composition La Comparsita (The Little Parade) and the even lusher, wilder abandon of their version of the Piazzolla classic Adios Nonino. Their countrymen Orquesta Color Tango De Roberto Alvarez also get two tracks here, Piqueteros (Protesters) surprisingly blithe in light of its subject matter, and – the aptly titled Quejumbroso (Querulous) – homage to legendary bandleader Osvaldo Pugliese – with the uneasy staccato of the bandoneon battling the lush strings behind it.

La Madrugada (Daybreak) by Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro, a cover of the Angel Maffia composition is delivered in raw, fiery fashion as befits an “orquestra tipica,” i.e. oldschool group. Hungarian group Quartett Escualo makes the connection between gypsy music and tango in the Piazzolla classic Fuga Y Misterio , guitar, bandoneon, piano and strings all shadowing each other, then morphing into a dreamy extended string passage. Dutch bandleader Carel Kraayenhof bravely tackles more Piazzolla – Libertango – and dexterously puts his own stamp on it, a marvelously echoey piano-and-percussion first verse (is that tap dancing?) giving way when the rest of the band comes swirling in. German combo 6 Australes contribute La Lujanera, setting a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop lyric over a noirish cabaret arrangement, its dramatic Weimar vibe evoking a Spanish-language Dresden Dolls. Argentinian ensemble La Camorra’s La Maroma is the most intense number here, a vividly noir evocation that builds menacing ambience with a somewhat explosively percussive staccato intensity And Romanian chanteuse Oana Catalina Chitu’s Zaraza benefits from vivid Balkan tinges, especially with the strings, enhancing the unease behind the warmth of her voice. The more modern stuff here (other than a woozily fun if totally out-of-place reggaeton track by Melingo) suffers from overproduction despite some clever manuevering: no matter how clever the composition, it’s no fun dancing to a drum machine if you know what a real milonga is like.

For those wanting more of a raw edge, it doesn’t get much more raw than the rustic, remastered bonus cd of legendary oldtime tanguero Carlos Gardel, old 78 RPM scratches and all. It’s just acoustic guitar and vocals, Gardel’s mannered vaudevillian delivery quite a contrast with the frequently sly humor of the lyrics.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Thomas Piercy, Claudine Hickman and Pablo Aslan Play Piazzolla at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 5/23/09

It didn’t matter that there was no bandoneon in the band: the trio of clarinetist/arranger Thomas Piercy, pianist Claudine Hickman and upright bassist Pablo Aslan managed to silence the sold-out room (no easy task!) with a practically telepathic, emotionally rich program of both familiar and more obscure compositions by the legendary Argentinian composer, along with meticulous yet spirited performances of two pieces by French jazz composer/pianist Claude Bolling. Playing mostly with a strikingly clear tone, Piercy expertly worked the nooks and crannies of the songs’ innumerable permutations, only going full throttle when the piece demanded it (and one did). With a bright yet haunting precision, Hickman was every bit his equal and Aslan, who’s only been taking classic tango to new and exciting places for about two decades with his group Avantango, alternated between stately majesty, dark ambience and fiery verve, frequently using a bow.

The first two numbers, Tango del Diablo and Milonga del Angel were a study in contrast. Piercy’s arrangement of the ominous Tango Seis found him playing the original’s violin line with a jaunty effervescence, pulling back when the piece wound its way into eerie flamencoisms. The long, catchy suite Le Grand Tango could have been made showy or done with a sentimental feel but was neither, the trio content to let its sense of longing speak for itself right up to the end where Piercy finally cut loose with a visceral intensity.

The two Claude Bolling numbers gave the group a chance to relax and play more expansively. The first, Allegre was a showcase both for Hickman’s vivid, Brubeck-esque melodicism, contrasting with Piercy’s Bach-inflected precision. The second, Romantique bookended a brisk excursion pulsing along on Aslan’s jaunty basslines with two segments imbued with plaintive, Romantic beauty. They wrapped up the program with an exquisite take of the classic Soledad, Piercy’s clarinet soaring to the heights with unaffectedly raw anguish right before the end, and closed with the vastly more optimistic, insistent Michelangelo ’70. Piazzolla, ever the innovator, would no doubt have approved. Watch this space for future performances.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/23/09

Every Tuesday, in the spirit of Kasey Kasem, we try to mix it up with new and interesting stuff in a variety of styles along with the occasional rare, vintage gem. Some of these songs may appear on our Best 100 Songs of 2009 list which we’ll publish as we do every year sometime during the last week of December. All of the links below are for each individual song with the exception of #1 which is unreleased, you’ll have to come out tonight to see it live!  

 

1. Jenifer Jackson – Maybe

Gorgeous Burt Bacharach style 60s bossa nova-pop with noir overtones, from one of our era’s greatest songwriters. She’s at the Rockwood tonight (3/24) at 8.

 

2. For Feather – Love Field

Not a Costello cover  – this is a dark chamber rock song. Sounds a lot like This Reporter. They’re at Spikehill at midnight on 3/26

 

3. Avantango – Cachila

Eerie but soaring tango jazz from the pioneering combo led by bassist Pablo Aslan.

 

4. Sheila Cooper – In Love with the Night Mysterious

Canadian sax player/chanteuse. Gary Versace’s ominous piano gives this lounge jazz number an undercurrent of menace. Streaming at her site. 

 

5. The Havens – Gowanus Canal

The all-female bluegrass quartet’s deadpan tale about ganja that is, um,  not exactly organic. Yikes! They’re at Freddy’s on 3/28 at 11.

 

6. Clara Bellino – Potential Criminal

Edgy pop song. We’re all potential criminals.

 

7. Special Patrol Group – Black Clouds

Sounds a lot like Echobelly: counterintuitive chord changes, sultry vocals, intriguing lyrics. They’re at Arlene’s on 4/24.

 

8. Singing Sadie – Put Down the Carving Knife

Vaudevillian oldtimey chanteuse from Australia. Self-explanatory and fun.

 

9. ELO – Laredo Tornado

High-quality live youtube clip from British tv, 1974. Different lyrics than the classic album version on the Eldorado lp: “Towers of concrete, hellish go-round, are there to make you die!”

 

10. The Orange Monsoon – Like a Dildo on Viagra

Not much of a song, but a great title.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment