Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tenor Saxophonist Tom Tallitsch Puts Out His Best, Most Darkly Intense Album

Tom Tallitsch is one of the major composers in jazz right now and a dynamic force on the tenor sax as well. As a radio host, he’s also advocated for under-the-radar artists from the New York jazz scene. His latest, excellent album Gratitude is streaming at Posi-Tone Records; he’s leading a quartet this Saturday night, May 6 at Minton’s, with sets at 7 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10; if you want a table, there’s a two-item minimum.

This is a very emotionally charged record; the unifying theme is sad departures and welcome arrivals. The opening track, Terrain, is a sonic road trip. Jon Davis’ piano anchors an allusively Middle Eastern intensity as drummer Rudy Royston flurries and spirals, the bandleader leading the charge into a more-or-less free interlude that this era’s great extrovert behind the kit pulls back onto the rails,

Tallitsch and bassist Peter Brendler double the melody as the tricky metrics of Kindred Spirit sway along over an implied clave, the bandleader’s bristling, smoke-tinged solo giving way to a deliciously suspenseful one from Davis and then a broodingly modal one from the bass.

The group’s reinvention of a generic old Fleetwood Mac song isn’t even recognizable until the first chorus; the wayDavis’ gold dust piano spins into blues, eerie passing tones and then back is a revelation, as is Talitsch’s magically dynamic, shivery, nuanced solo that follows as guest Brian Charette’s organ swells behind him.

The briskly swinging Refuge brings to mind Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie Parker-fixated material, Davis’ scampering solo at the center. The uneasily modal Northeast is just plain one of the best jazz songs released in recent months, fueled by Tallitsch’s soberly cinematic drive, Davis’ masterful fugal tradeoffs and Brendler’s aching bends as Royston rattles the traps.

The album’s most epic track, Alternate Side is a rapdifire swing shuffle, a long launching pad for Tallitsch chromatics and a scurryingly droll Davis solo. More bands should cover the Beatles’ Because (you should hear Svetlana & the Delancey Five play Rob Garcia’s New Orleans funeral march chart for it). These guys’ version is similarly elegaic but more spare.

The broodingly funky, swaying Rust Belt aptly evokes a gritty post-industrial milieu with more tasty Tallitsch modalities, echoed by Davis and Brendler as Royston puts the torch to the remaining brickwork. The album’s title track is a gospel-infused pastoral jazz waltz and arguably its catchiest number. It’s definitely a new style for Tallitsch, but he nails it.

Oblivion isn’t anywhere near as disconsolate (or intoxicated) as the title would imply, but it’s got bite, Royston’s fierce drive straightening it out as Davis and the bandleader parse its modalities for anger and irony. The album winds up with a comfortably, loosely swinging take of Led Zep’s Thank You, Charette and Davis taking the band to church. Not only is this Tallitsch’s best album, iIt’s hard to think of a more ceaselessly interesting, tuneful jazz release over the last few months.

May 3, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Svetlana and the Delancey Five Salute Ella and Satchmo and Put Their Own Sophisticated Stamp on Classic Swing

It figures that drummer Rob Garcia would grab the opportunity to kick off Svetlana & the Delancey Five‘s show at Lucille’s Friday night with a counterintuitive series of offbeats into a hi-de-ho intro, Mike Sailors’ spiraling trumpet solo rising to carnivalesque heights and foreshadowing a darkly lustrous, unselfconsciously erudite show. Why has swing jazz become so enormously popular again? Sure, you can dance to it, and many couples – as well as an exuberant, octogenarian tapdancer – were cutting a rug at this show. But swing is also escapist, and frontwoman Svetlana Shmulyian makes no secret that this is her her vehicle for finding solace and transcendence, and that everybody is welcome to get onboard. But what differentiates this band from the hundreds of others working territory that’s often been done to death over the years is that this group isn’t just a vehicle for vocals. In over four years together, this semi-revolving cast has built a cohesiveness, a camaraderie and a distinctively sophisticated sound largely unrivalled in their thriving demimonde.

For example, Blue Skies is a swing staple, but Shmulyian didn’t sing it as straight-up exuberance – and essentially warned the crowd that she wasn’t going to. And then made good on that, with an uncluttered, balmy optimism grounded in the sense that there definitely had been a storm before the calm. The rest of the program was thematic, a characteristically ambitious celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the mid-50s Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald collaborations. A potential minefield, but Shmulyian and special guest trombonist/singer Wycliffe Gordon rose to that challenge, indomitably and with a deeply bluesy edge echoed throughout the band.

Pianist Ben Paterson spiced his purist riffs with the occasional gracefully adrenalizing neoromantic cascade, while Garcia delivered grooves that roamed far south of the border, as well as from Buddy Rich splash, to a more chill, vintage Harlem pulse. And his arrangement of the Beatles’ Because brought out every bit of angst in Paul McCartney’s moody ballad, reinvented as a darkly bristling tango. Bassist Scott Ritchie kept his changes purposeful and low-key, and was having more fun than simply walking the changes. Saxophonist Michael Hashin alternated between sailing soprano and dynamic yet terse leaps and bounds on tenor.

But it was the chemistry between Shmulyian and Gordon that hit the highest points of the night, whether his masterful and deceptively subtle plunger work, or his droll, tongue-in-cheek vocals and effortless shifts into falsetto, or the night’s most hilarious moment, at the end of a solo toward the end of the show. As obvious and vaudevillian as that was, Gordon waited patiently to make that moment as ridiculously amusing as it was. And the reliably dynamic, eclectic Shmulyian was pretty much jumping out of her shoes from the git-go, rising to the very top of her register, vibrato going full blast. Yet it was a simmering take of the midtempo ballad Under a Blanket of Blue that arguably carried the most impact.

Likewise, the best song of the night might well have been a brand-new Shmulyian original, a bittersweetly swaying, guardedly optimistic New York-centric ballad allowing for a flicker of hope in the face of omnipresent bad news. Although she also grinningly acknowledged the results of the Brexit referendum, drawing some pretty wild applause from throughout the club. Grounded in the here and now, Shmulyian and her band played a show to get lost in: not bad for somebody who grew up in Moscow spinning Ella Fitzgerald vinyl on her family’s turntable and arrived in New York without knowing a soul here. The band’s next New York gig is a free show on July 23 at 8 PM at the auditorium at Kingsborough Community College, 2001 Oriental Blvd. in Manhattan Beach; the closest train is the Q to Brighton Beach.

June 29, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walter Ego Defies the Snowstorm at Banjo Jim’s

Tuesday night the snow was swirling but Banjo Jim’s was packed and Walter Ego was onstage. This was the New York Walter Ego, not the cover band from the Isle of Man, the Dutch rapper or the disco guy from the 90s. Ironically, though this Walter Ego is arguably the most technologically savvy one of the whole crew, he’s also the one who doesn’t have a web presence: then again, there’s cachet in flying so far under the radar. With his icily sardonic vocals, pun-drenched lyrics and catchy, artsy pop melodies, he delivered a characteristically theatrical set that was all too brief. There’s a lot of surrealism in his lyrics, and that translates to his stage show. Just like last time here, he brought along an inflatable octopus, who’d had the wind knocked out of him, but one of the musicians in the bar “brought him back to life by blowing him,” as he explained. He also had a vintage die-cast model of the Beatles Yellow Submarine, although Ringo was stuck in “up” position. All these crazy props have a function: where Sybarite5 let their ipod shuffle choose what will be in the set, Walter Ego lets the props do it oldschool style by literally pulling the songs out of a hat: no two sets with this guy are ever the same.

This was a particularly good one. His opening song combined a country sway with a somewhat majestic Jeff Lynne style post-Beatles melody, about a “magician who makes magic disappear.” This particular killjoy can’t resist the urge to reduce everything to its lowest terms, literally – where somebody else hears a tune, he hears arithmetic. The theme echoed in the bluesy snarl of Don’t Take Advice from Me – “What use is one more yeasayer to boost your self-esteem when I can tell you the ugly truth that wakes you from your dream.” The high point was a rivetingly suspenseful version of the metaphorically charged I Am the Glass, the cruelly vengeful tale of an egotist who smashes everything around him, only to come face to face with the windshield in the last verse. The next song was the genuinely hilarious, Phil Ochs-ish Adventures of Ethical Man, a sanctimonious superhero who is either either “a saint or an idiot,” never missing an opportunity to show the world what a good guy he is…unless it takes too much effort.

“It costs a lot of money to make these props. I have to repurpose them when I can,” Walter Ego explained, bringing back the octopus to keep the set going with a sarcastic, bluesy number that quietly but forcefully mocked racism and extremism, in a vein that evoked LJ Murphy (which shouldn’t come as a surprise: Walter Ego served as Murphy’s bass player for a time a few years ago). He closed with The Immorality Detection Machine, which managed to be as Beatlesque as it was Orwellian. As funny and provocative as his songs are, this guy’s shtick would go over just as well at something like the Fringe Festival. Mystie Chamberlin, another songwriter with a considerable sense of humor, was next, but it was time to race for the M14C bus at 10th St. because even in a snowstorm, it’s a lot quicker than walking to the train at Union Square. Watch this space for upcoming Walter Ego showdates because it’s the only place on the web you’ll see them, at least for now.

January 14, 2011 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/11/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #841:

The Rutles – Archaeology

The soundtrack to the 1978 Rutles movie is one of the funniest parodies ever made. At the time the film came out, rumors of Beatles reunions were swirling, and – if you can believe it – outside of the Fab Four’s fan base, the individual Beatles were pretty much seen as has-beens. Neil Innes, Ollie Halsall, Rikki Fataar and John Halsey (with Eric Idle contributing skits and lyrics) combined their comic and remarkably Beatlesque musicianship for the ultimate Beatles spoof. The film chronicles the exploits of a popular band who mystifyingly had nothing to say and influenced nobody, with cameos from Beatles colleagues including a particularly hilarious one by Paul Simon discussing the long chord at the end of A Day in the Life. But this album, released in 1997 in the wake of the Beatles anthologies (therefore, “Archaeology”) is even better. And the satire is equally ruthless. Cleverly ripping off George and John’s somber major/minor changes, Ringo’s mystifying drum style and Paul’s busy bass, they riff on Beatlisms both famous and obscure. We’ve Arrived (And to Prove It We’re Here) has fun with a Back in the USSR shuffle and airplane noises. Questionnaire is a deadpan, dead-serious Imagine ripoff; Lonely-Phobia and the insanely nonsensical Unfinished Words make fun of 60s chamber pop more than any specific songs. The Knicker Elastic King is a bouncy, lol funny take on Penny Lane; Hey Mister and Joe Public make fun of the Beatles’ hit-and-miss attempts at a harder guitar sound on the White Album and Abbey Road; the funniest songs here are the over-the-top psychedelia of Shangri-La and the uninhibitedly vicious Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music. Beatles fans either love this (because it’s so spot-on) or hate it (because it’s so unsparing). Because most of the jokes are so specific, it helps if you know the source material. Here’s a random torrent.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curt Gunther’s Rare Beatles Photos Are a Hit

In 1964, German photographer Curt Gunther was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor’s lucky choice as official lensman for the band’s first American tour. On public view for the first time at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the late Gunther’s black-and-white shots capture the Fab Four as just another hardworking band, albeit one with a rabid following. It’s a predictably revealing look at the group right as their popularity was exploding, but before they had iconic status thrust on them. George looks anxious and pissed most of the time; John bears a remarkable resemblance to a young David Crosby, twenty pounds heavier than he was by the time Rubber Soul came out; Paul is something of a goof, and Ringo tunes it all out. From a musician’s perspective, the most fascinating shot offers a side view of Ringo behind his kit, high on his riser, during what appears to be a rehearsal somewhere. He faces a wall covered with graffiti: squeezed into the barely eighteen-inch space below between the wall and riser are John and George. Are they even able to see their bandmate?

Another photo captures John, Paul and George walking down a tunnel, guitars in hand, possible in the bowels of a stadium. A sixtysomething security guard glances at them as they pass, warily, but obviously without a clue as to the historical significance of the moment. Several sweet outdoor shots show the band onstage, Paul sharing a mic either with George or John: take away the moptops, and the conservatively suited quartet could have been Buddy Holly and the Crickets at just another Texas football field. In the back of a limo, Paul goofs off while Ringo zones out, John hides behind his shades and George can’t wait for the end of the ride. The most playful of all of these shows Paul hiding his right eye behind the neck of his bass, George walking ahead of him with impatient unease.

There’s also a shot of the group on horseback (Central Park?); a group pose at a slot machine (nobody is playing); John in bed (still in his shades), smoking; several variously fatigued backstage scenes, a typically surreal 1960s pose with mirrors, and a few photos of fans. Only two of these really strike a nerve: one captures a cop trying to restrain a girl of about eleven who’s trying to sprint past his barricade, and there’s another of a middleaged female fan striking a “Home Alone” pose, hands upside her cheap drugstore eyeglasses and discount beehive hairdo, that wouldn’t be out of place in the Diane Arbus catalog. A must-see for all Beatles fans; prints are on sale at the gallery, and if there’s any justice in the world there will eventually be a coffee table book. The exhibit runs through July 15 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery’s SoHo space at 116 Prince St. between Wooster and Greene.; viewing hours are not listed on the gallery’s website, although they’re typically open during the day Monday through Saturday.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 4/27/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #93:

John Lennon – Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out

“Everybody loves you when you’re six feet under the ground.” From Walls and Bridges, 1973.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/20/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #100:

The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby

Where in the span of about two minutes they simultaneously invented art-rock, chamber pop and goth music. Name another band who could do all that.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dadi – Bem Aqui

Who’s your Dadi? If you’re Brazilian, it’s probably Eduardo Magalhaes de Carvalho. Over the course of a long and eclectic career as a sideman, he’s worked with everybody from Marisa Monte to Caetano Veloso to Mick Jagger. This new album, his second as a bandleader is recently out on Sunnyside, and unlike what you might expect from that label it’s not a jazz release but instead a tersely arranged, irrepressibly sunny, indelibly Beatlesque collection of sixties-flavored three-minute pop songs. For those who were smitten by Os Mutantes, whether the first time around or later, this is considerably more direct yet equally cheery and captivating. Carvalho sings in Portuguese with a casual, thoughtful understatement.

The album kicks off with a Stax/Volt style shuffle transported to even balmier surroundings, followed by a fetching duet with Monte over swaying, vintage 70s style janglepop  driven by tasteful electric guitar and organ. The title track is sparse nocturnal bossa-pop with acoustic guitar, piano and cello; likewise, Passando echoes hypnotically with distant piano in a Jenifer Jackson vein. Nao Tente Comprender (You Don’t Get It) nicks the chords from the Beatles’ You Won’t See Me; the strikingly minimalist, swaying 6/8 rock ballad Quando Voce Me Abraca (When You Embrace Me) blends tropicalia with deliciously glimmering layers of guitars and piano.

There’s also an ominously swinging, 6/8 Os Mutantes-inflected psychedelic number capped by fat blues guitar solo; another Beatlesque tune that could have been a Brazilian version of a top 40 hit from Let It Be, right down to the watery, George Harrison-esque chorus box guitar; and another Harrison-inflected song, the gorgeous, slowly crescendoing  jazz-pop anthem Por Que Nao (Why Not). The album ends on a surprisingly dark note with a fiery, bluesy, early Santana-esque one-chord rock jam, hinting that this guy may rock harder than he lets on here. If Dadi’s lyrics were in English, he’d be huge with the American indie pop crowd, the Shins et al. As it is, it’s a breezy, fun album, the kind you find yourself humming and wonder what that tune could have come from.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Smiles and Frowns

Wow- these Arizona guys really know their 1960s British style psychedelia. The Smiles and Frowns set gentle, understated vocals over vintage guitar and keyboard sounds – as with the early bands of that era, this new album is basically tripped-out pop songs clocking in at three minutes or less. American hippie bands were more jam-oriented; the Brits added a surreal, often theatrical lyrical feel. The songs here are period-perfect: many of them would be perfectly at home on albums by the Pretty Things, the early Move, the Kinks, the Kaleidoscope, the Idle Race…the list goes on and on, getting more obscure and trippier the further out you go. Like so many artifacts of the time, this could be construed as the soundtrack to a short but intense trip…or maybe a long one. Time distorts under the influence of that stuff, as this album reminds.

Things get surreal right off the bat with the first two numbers. Sam, its vocals perfectly enunciated and tongue-in-cheek in the style of the day, is about a bird (symbolism anybody?). He drinks cappucino and “ripped off everyone…everyone was so psyched that he was so sincere.” Cornelius, for his part, is a pied piper character – is that a mellotron in the background? The Memory Man, train approaching as the song begins, is LSD personified. This one introduces a slightly more ominous feel to its steady, harmonica-laced piano pop.

The next cut, Huevos Rancheros sounds like the Kinks enjoying a harry rag with the Beatles in the Abbey Road parking lot during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The instrumental March of the Phantom Faces is woozy and darkly carnivalesque with autoharp, Vox organ and a crazyquilt of methodically layered reverb keyb textures. By the time the big Beatlesque mellotron ballad When the Time Should Come kicks in, so has the acid. It’s a deadpan, defiant ode to idleness even as the time flashes by. The high point of the album – no pun intended – is the long outsider anthem Mechanical Songs, opening with a swirling Jeff Lynne style keyboard intro. It winds up with The Echoes of Time echoing the Moody Blues, its wistful lyric set to a blithe jugband tune with bells and eventually that mellotron again. Alice – how did we get here and how do we get back? Where the hell are you?

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment