Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ear Heart Music Gets Off to a Flying Start at Roulette

A lot of musicians end up becoming impresarios, at least part-time. Violinist Gil Morgenstern’s Reflections Series is one of the most obviously successful; pianist Alexandra Joan’s eclectic Kaleidoscope Series at WMP Concert Hall is also on the rise. Amelia Lukas, whose axe is the flute, started her series, Ear Heart Music, at the Tank. She’s moved it to Roulettte this year, with a formidable schedule of some of the creme de la creme of the indie classical world including Flexible Music and Cadillac Moon Ensemble. Last week’s opening party was a party in every sense of the word, with Build headlining.

Bandleader/violinist Matthew McBane is a gifted tunesmith. Much of the time he puts those hooks front and center and builds them cinematically (NPR uses the ensemble’s music a lot). Other times, he caches them in more complex architecture. This particular show higlighted both, alternating a brisk, biting early spring ambience with droll, deadpan humor. Bassist Ben Campbell and Universal Thump drummer Adam D. Gold – one of this era’s masters of dynamics – provided a deftly jaunty swing for the evening’s opening number, followed by a subtly orchestrated, slowly crescendoing piece with McBane and cellist Andrea Lee swooping against Mike Cassedy’s terse piano. McBane explained that the next composition would be more “mathematical,” and it was, with a richly snaky, intertwined counterpoint, once again rising to an insistent pulse.

McBane kicked off the next one with a wry pizzicato motif which quickly turned into a tongue-in-cheek chamber-rock parody of glitch-hop, or chillwave, or whatever the effete, trendoid flavor du jour is. From there Cassedy led them into the night’s darkest and most grpping piece, shifting from a moody, minimalist Satie-esque atmosphere to a more and more aggressively pounding crescendo where Gold backed off a little. He’d been feeling the room all night: did he think he might be playing too loud for the big auditorium? No – his kick drum was scooching across the stage. So Campbell calmly put down his bass, went over to the kit, adjusted it and then held it until the series of wallops was over. The group ended with a long, hypnotic piece that moved from warmly hypnotic to astringently atonal, All Tomorrow’s Parties as Julia Wolfe might have done it.

To open the evening, Dither Quartet guitarist James Moore played resonator alongside Redshift violinist Andie Springer for a brief series of relatively short works including a grippingly hypnotic, slowly sirening Paula Matthusen tone poem and a dancing, Appalachian-tinged Lainie Fefferman composition that eventually landed in more pensive terrain. As they played, artist Kevork Mourad drew a jagged, somewhat menacing series of tableaux that were projected behind the stage.

And it wasn’t all just music, either. There was a raffle, an afterparty, some pretty good New York State wine, and free food courtesy of a handful of boutique manufacturers of candy, syrups, jelly and pickles. The pickle people, in particular, provided a decent half-sour and some first-class, smoky pickled okra. But the stars of the show, foodwise, turned out to be best known for their music. Yarn/Wire – who’re playing here on Dec 18 – brought some homemade tomatilllo salsa that delivered an irresistibly lingering jalapeno/garlic burn. The next Ear Heart Music extravaganza at Roulette is on Oct 9 at 8 PM with Red Light Ensemble pairing off works by Satie, Cage and Grisey, among others, to accompany Melies silent films.

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October 1, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Build’s New Album Defies Categorization

Genre-defying instrumental quintet Build’s new album, simply titled Place, is an entertaining, meticulously conceived series of thematically connected instrumentals. Throughout the album, there’s a sense that violinist/bandleader Matt McBane has taken pizzicato violin melodies and fleshed them out for piano, bass, drums and string section. Much of this is brisk and cheery, with tricky rhythms and playful, quirky tunes that veer from insistent minimalism to hints of jazz. The cd case photos – Central Park on a late autumn afternoon – make a good match with the music. Yet despite the spring-loaded bounce of most of the pieces, there’s an undercurrent of unease which, when it comes front and center, provides some genuinely chilling moments which are by far the most memorable here. Along with McBane on violin, the group includes Andrea Lee on cello, Ben Campbell on bass, Michael Cassedy on piano and Adam D. Gold (also of lush, anthemic art-rockers the Universal Thump) on drums and percussion.

The opening cut, Behavior Patterns, sets the tone, piano hammering out a hypnotic pedal figure with pizzicato strings over it. Essentially, it’s a circular African theme broken up into its individual components, bass nimbly weaving through the understatedly percussive attack. The striking rhythms continue through the second cut, Dissolve, a minimalistic string arrangement delivering a motoric beat that winds up with a long, hypnotic, repetitive outro. The closest thing to a pop song here is Ride, bass playing artfully off a simple piano figure, strings kicking in with its catchy, crescendoing chorus, eventually building to a sweeping crescendo that winds out gracefully at the end.

The big epic here is Swelter. Divided as a triptych on the album, it’s more elaborate than that, despite the minimalism of the melodies. Part one features arrhythmic piano against suspenseful staccato strings, a terse cello solo and then piano leading it up and out animatedly; part two is vividly brooding and cinematic, a slow piano dirge broken up intermittently by almost off-key violin and ominous cello passages. The concluding segment introduces the jazziest interlude here and then reintroduces the theme of the album’s opening track, but more bustling and animatedly. They follow that with the sirening horror-movie sonics of Cleave, the eerie oscillation of the strings rising until they push the other instruments completely out of the picture.

The following track, Anchor matches the playful to the pensive, an interchange of glockenspiel, cello, bass and violin voices morphing into a blippy, blithe call-and-response that quickly takes a downturn as the string textures shift and the piano lands everywhere but on the beat. The album closes with Maintain, an catchy overture driven by emphatic staccato strings that hint at a big crescendo but in fact do just the opposite. For that matter, very little turns out as anticipated here: that’s only one of the joys of this somewhat quietly, matter-of-factly fascinating, uncategorizable gem of an album.

May 3, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Tall Tall Trees at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse, NYC 1/29/10

Tall Tall Trees didn’t play shit tonight. To be more precise, they didn’t play Shit, their funniest song – and they have many. If there’s one New York band that screams out SUMMER FESTIVAL, it’s Tall Tall Trees. On the coldest night of the year so far, they brought a sly, slinky midsummer cookout vibe to the comfy stone basement spot that if rumor is to be believed is threatened with extinction (stay tuned). Beyond the fact that it would be a shame – not to mention a considerable loss to the Columbia student community – if the makeshift club closed, it was especially nice to be able to see these guys play without having to peer over the shoulders of the usual hordes who come out to see them in Manhattan locations further south.

These guys’ sound is indelibly their own, part oldtimey blues/gospel revivalists, part bluegrass and part jam band. Bassist Ben Campbell played snaky, swaying lines while Matthias Kunzli stomped and pushed the band on a multicultural mix of percussion instruments, guitarist Kyle Senna and frontman/banjo player Mike Savino artfully and amusingly trading off licks. The one big jam moment of the night came early, a bubbling cauldron between the two on a blissful version of Spaceman, one of the more psychedelic numbers on the band’s debut album (very favorably reviewed here back in August). A new number,  the ragtime-inflected Walk of Shame, shamelessly chronicles the kind of stuff we do when we’ve had too much and we forget that we’re basically still at work.

“This is a traditional one,” Savino deadpanned, then led the band through another new song, Chocolate Jesus, a thoughtful digression on the kind of candy bar that even an Almond Joy can’t compare with. After a couple of easygoing, easy-to-like oldtime-flavored numbers, they wrapped up their too-brief set with a request, a fiery, incisive version of Sallie Mae. The album version is a smartly terse minor-key gospel-flavored song; live, the tale of the woman who left the poor guy with a house he couldn’t afford and a college loan he can’t pay resonated powerfully throughout the room full of undergrads, ending with a resounding boom as Kunzli smacked at his riq and practically knocked the little hand drum off its frame.

Tall Tall Trees play another even more incongruous small-room show at Banjo Jim’s at 5 (five) PM on Feb 5 for happy hour; it would make sense to say that you should get there early, which isn’t really much of an option unless you can sneak out of work somehow.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review – Tall Tall Trees

This is a bunch of New York jazz cats playing their own original take on country and bluegrass. It’s way better than that designation might imply. Banjoist/singer Mike Savino and drummer Mathias Kunzli comprise the rhythm section in innovative pan-Balkan string band Ljova & the Kontraband; guitarist Kyle Sanna arranged Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun for chamber orchestra, among other achievements, and bassist Ben Campbell plays with the Double Down Swing Band. In addition to the expert musicianship you would expect from a crew like this, Tall Tall Trees deliver funny, rustic original songs with an up-to-the minute satirical edge: these guys have a hair-trigger bullshit detector aimed straight at posers and status-grubbers.

Their best one is a truly universal anthem that anybody who’s ever worked for a living can relate to: “You don’t need this shit!” Savino pointedly reminds us. “In the middle’s the blues, and the end is the place you will likely be screwed.” There’s also the bluesy, rustic Appalachian-tinged The Ballad of Sallie Mae: the woman who done him wrong pressured him into signing on the dotted line, and now she’s got the house. And his student loan’s ninety days overdue. But all he can think of is the good old days. Similarly, Bubble Gum is an amusingly irreverent, banjo-spiced slap at commercialism: “Let me take a ride on the bottom of your shoes!”

The Spaceman in the song here is a fish out of water who just wants to go home – but if he can’t get off this planet, he’s willing to mate with an earthling. The songs are as diverse as the band members’ projects: among the rest of the tracks are a bouncy, sarcastic slide guitar boogie; a silly faux early 80s new wave ditty; a gently swaying, hypnotically swirling Stereolab-style number, and a hilarious, minutely detailed ballad about romancing the girl working the counter at the local Chinese takeout joint. It’s all a lot of fun: play this at a party and expect to see smiles and get plenty of “who are those guys?” Tall Tall Trees play Pete’s on Fri Aug 14 at 10.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment