Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Geoff Berner’s Pyrrhic Victory Party – One of the Year’s Best

Cynical, insightful, hilarious and iconoclastic, Canadian klezmer rocker Geoff Berner comes off as sort of the Eugene Hutz of current-day Jewish music. After wrapping up his Whiskey Rabbi trilogy, Berner made this ferocious, fearless latest one, Victory Party, with Canadian Jewish music maven Socalled. Berner is ironically more of a throwback to oldschool klezmer than any of the klezmer revivalists: in the days of the pogroms, klezmers (Jewish musicians) tended to be hellraisers, outcasts not only in society as a whole but often within their own culture as well, and Berner seems to embrace that fate as he calls bullshit on pretty much everyone who deserves it. This is a hell of an album, and ironically, though the music is more retro, less punk than his previous stuff, his vision is more fearlessly punk than ever.

The album gets off to a low-key, cynical start with the title track, a pyrrhic victory where the narrator journeys through a nightmare past “the charred remains of the orphanage, past the dogshit and corpses” to what poses for a party. “I knew we were right on the brink of our best years,” Berner remarks flatly. At his site, he explains that the song was inspired by the true story of a death camp survivor who “returned to Berlin to reclaim his bar. He paid German musicians to play klezmer tunes while he slowly drank himself to death.” Michael Winograd’s sarcastically blithe clarinet lights up the bouncy Jackie the Pimp, which offers an Iceberg Slim-style look at the downside of the profession. Wealthy Poet chronicles the ways the guy will help his girlfriend escape the oppressors, finally by giving her some matches so she can burn off her fingerprints at the border, the violins of Diona Davies and Brigitte Dajczer snarling and smoldering overhead.

The famous Yiddish-American protest song Mayn Rue Platz is transformed into a gorgeous duet with otherworldly vocals from Chinese-Canadian siren/erhu player Lan Tung. I Kind of Hate Songs with Ambiguous Lyrics is self-explanatory, and an instant classic, a song that needed to be written; Dalloy Polizei – a reworking of a hundred-year-old Russian Jewish folk tune – commemorates the murder of Ian Bush, shot from behind in police custody in Houston, British Columbia after being arrested for having an open container of beer. And with Berner’s accordion driving a cruelly amusing, deadpan, rustic shtetl-style cover of Canadian girlpunks the Sluttards’ I Am Going to Jail, he finds the commonalities between centuries of persecution of Jews, and centuries of persecution of nonconformists of all kinds.

A brutally sarcastic techno song, Oh My Golem explores the cruel irony of how the original, idealistic concept of Zionism was appropriated by genocidal, anti-Palestinian wingnuts in Israel. There’s also a plaintive, sad version of the waltz Cherry Blossoms, and a woozily slinky epic titled Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religous Agenda that pokes fun at religious cults. Savagely aware, catchy and contemptuous, this is refusenik rock at its best. Watch for this on our best albums of 2011 list at the end of the year if any of us are still alive to compile it.

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March 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Dollshot at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 2/3/10

Creepy fun in the West Village. Dollshot’s shtick is that they take art songs from the classical and 20th century canon, jam out the intros and outros and a lot of times in between. The effect is inevitably some shade of macabre. Dollshot’s chosen genre may be classical but their vibe is pure punk rock, fearless and iconoclastic. When she wasn’t projecting with a seemingly effortless, obviously classically trained clarity, frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan stood motionless and deadpan in front of the band like a recently undead girl from the Twilight movies. Tenor saxophonist/bandleader Noah Kaplan alternated between slightly restrained bop – this was a small room show, after all – and long, somewhat sinister overtone passages. Pianist Wes Matthews’ precise articulation enhanced the horror-movie music box feel, as did electric bassist Giacomo Merega, supplying slithery cascades when he wasn’t providing a funereal pulse.

Galatea by Arnold Schoenberg was the first recipent of a macabre sax and piano interlude. A couple of Poulenc songs contrasted pretty, impressionistic, almost pop piano with menace from all sides. A Wes Matthews original, The Trees began as a twisted pop song with bass rumbles that the sax would cleverly echo later. The mantra “The trees are falling” gave way to “I can’t reach you with the burning of a thousand hearts,” Merega adding gently elegiac, staccato bass chords on the outro. After a mini-set of Charles Ives songs, they played an instrumental that vividly paired off Rosalie Kaplan’s warm, soaring vocalese with sax that started out grumpy and got angrier quickly. They closed with another Poulenc composition, the overtones of the sax oscillating hypnotically over bell-like, martial bass.

Watch this space for upcoming gigs; like most Brooklyn jazz guys, Noah Kaplan gets around: his next gig is a trio show with Benjy Fox-Rosen (of Luminescent Orchestrii) on bass and Matt Rousseau on drums at Unnameable Books in Ft. Greene on Feb 6.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Luminescent Orchestrii at the World Financial Center, NYC 7/9/09

It was a strange match of venue and band: a fiery, erudite, practically pan-global string band playing the plaza out behind an utterly anonymous office tower. Still, the lunchtime crowd was obviously psyched to see something this unexpectedly good. Musicians typically being nocturnal, daytime shows tend to either get phoned in or turn into a trainwreck, yet under the blazing sun, Luminescent Orchestrii played as if it was midnight at Barbes – or in Barbes. They opened with a Romanian gypsy number, Yarba, violinists Rima Fand (who also plays in Jan Bell’s band) and Sarah Alden matching stark twin vocals, then taking the intensity up a notch on the chorus. They followed with a witchy tango written by Alden, the two violins firing off eerie trills, then taking it doublespeed at the end. Fand sang another tango, a slow, somewhat menacing number by resonator guitarist Sxip Shirey: “You won’t come back if you walk along the beach tonight – the moon has turned the sand too white to see.”

An Andy Statman cover got a particularly haunting treatment, driven by some powerfully chordal bowed bass from upright player Benjy Fox Rosen with a completely evil, chaotic breakdown in the middle into a bass solo that managed to put the crew back on course. Then he sang a stately, minor-key yet tongue-in-cheek klezmer tune told from the point of view of an old geezer stuck at a wedding he probably never wanted to go to, not wanting to dance, but very much enjoying the opportunity to raise a glass of mashke (booze) at the end.

The two women sang a sultry soul number over Shirey’s human beatboxing, followed by a darkly staccato, even funky tango and then a somewhat otherworldly Bulgarian song about an abduction, the two women’s acidly striking vocals alternating with instrumental passages. They closed their first set of the afternoon with a dark Moldavian instrumental, guitar and bass walking it apprehensively: supposedly it interpolated a Jimi Hendrix theme that didn’t really make itself clear. Shirey encouraged the crowd to stick around for another set, but it was clear that for most of the attendees, lunchtime was either over or would be soon. Gypsy music comes from (at least what used to be) cold climates: if what Luminescent Orchestrii delivered on a sunbaked porch by the river yesterday is any indication, they ought to be even more ecstatically fun after the sun goes down. Their next show is July 16 at Prospect Park Bandshell at 7, early arrival very strongly advised.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment