Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Travis Sullivan’s New Directions Kicks off the Summer Properly

The trouble with a lot of jazz albums is that a lot of bands can’t translate their interplay from the stage or even the rehearsal room to the studio. As a result, they sound stiff – or as if everybody was just trying to lay down their parts and get the hell out. Alto saxophonist and Bjorkestra bandleader Travis Sullivan’s New Directions, on the other hand, sounds like a live show, except with studio-quality acoustics. It’s a great summertime album, brightly tuneful, full of good spirits and inspired playing from pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Brian Fishler (AKA Frank Feta of Richard Cheese’s band). Sullivan favors a clear, uncluttered tone and strongly melodic extrapolations rather than any crazed, heavy breathing. But as attractive as the melodies are, this isn’t lightweight by a long shot. Intense? Not particularly. Subtle and fun? You bet.

The opening track, Jamia’s Dance works vividly expansive Sullivan explorations of an absurdly catchy central hook. Autumn in NH is not a drinking song as you might expect (New Hampshire tops all states but Wyoming in per-capita alcohol consumption) but rather a morosely lyrical mood piece that stretches the band as far out into free territory as they go here. A hard-charging, samba-tinged number, Tuneology picks up the pace and sets the stage for Hidden Agenda, which begins as a funky mid 70s style crime movie tune with echoes of Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver theme – the hidden agenda here seems to be a big, long crescendo that involves everybody in turn, with a funny Coltrane quote, a bass solo that nimbly and energetically works a piano line and a spiraling Sullivan salvo out. They cover Rodgers and Hart’s Spring Is Here slowly and make it much more wintry that you would expect; the catchy, sprightly Georgie contrasts an understated dark soul piano pulse with Sullivan spinning around brightly overhead. Their cover of Tears for Fears’ odious 80s schlockfest Everybody Wants to Rule the World is a real shocker – it’s unrecognizable until they hit the hook, almost, Sullivan defiantly evading its cloying quality and then immediately messing up the tempo, taking it out on a limb and handing it over to Eckroth. Third time around, Panascia’s panacea is to make it funky.

A jazz waltz, Leap of Faith is another track with a pensive undercurrent beneath Sullivan’s stunningly effortless, good-natured glissandos, Eckroth adding a wee hours wink, Sullivan making an abrupt shift in a much more straight-ahead direction afterward, setting the stage for a deliciously swirling crescendo. It’s the kind of moment you see in concert a lot, which doesn’t make it onto studio albums as much as it should. An enigmatically bustling song without words, Magic Monday has Sullivan and Eckroth trading busily opaque solos over Panascia’s muscular pulse. The album winds up with the title track, an aggressive, terse, catchy straight-up strut that wouldn’t be out of place in the JD Allen catalog, Panascia leaping to a sprint and then back again, Fishler finally getting a chance to cut loose and hit hard and makes the absolute most of it. File this under melodic jazz, yet another triumph for the Posi-Tone label, who in this decade are making a mark much in the same way that Impulse did in the 60s. Sullivan’s next gig is with Bjorkestra on June 14 at 9 at Highline Ballroom.

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June 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album Review: Smoothe Moose Mixtape #3 – We Love Video Game Music

While you were hunched over the xbox, the mysterious Smoothe Moose crew were busy in their smoky Brooklyn lab concocting a soundtrack for your alternate-universe adventures that’s as cool as it is funny. What they’ve done is taken four video game themes, actually all of them from classics that were either arcade or Nintendo games back in the 80s, and recorded dub versions of them. What hits you right away is how good that music was, even if it was coming out of a tiny, cheesy mono gameboy speaker. Click the link above and get a free download.

A Boy and His Blob, by Smoothe Moose’s Cosmo D and Dr. Thunder, gets the avant garde treatment, with a cello. It goes all spacey when they bring in the phaser, then it’s all blips and bleeps again. Ghouls and Ghosts, by Big Words gets a funky guitar treatment with shuffling triphop drums. This is actually a great song – it would make great surf music. No surprise, considering it’s a Japanese game from 1988. Castlevania is the one here everybody knows: the version by Cosmo D’s Sauce is a sick cyborg gypsy dance with a bop jazz sax solo. The Metroid theme that wraps up the mixtape is just plain good jazz, transformed into what could be an echoey dub version of an early 70s Herbie Hancock theme from one of those 4 AM local channel movies. Amidst all the sonic mayhem, there are good solos from cello, sax and especially the guitar. It’s really funny listening to how ornate this is in contrast to the original game’s lo-fi graphics. As the crew states on the download page, “We love video game music. We hope you’ll listen and be transported back to a different time when the drinks were lemonade and the food was Dunkaroos. Enjoy!”

We’ve been late on picking up on these guys’ mixtapes in the past: we reviewed their first  just when they were getting ready to release their second one (also a free download), and by the time that one was out we were halfway into the hibernation mode that lasted until last month here. The one we missed is some serious, far-out dub, an ambitious, high-energy joint featuring the MK Groove Orchestra’s horn section plus the lush vocals of jazz chanteuse and Bjorkestra frontwoman Becca Stevens. There’s a pretty straight-up version of the Junior Byles classic Curly Locks, which is especially cool considering how crazy the guy is; a sultry Billie Holiday-dub version of We Three by Wayne “The Train” Hancock; a sort of Uptown Top Ranking version of the 80s Chaka Khan cheeseball Ain’t Nobody, and deep space dubs of a Don Carlos and a Thom Yorke song. Stoner heaven.

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