Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jazz Passengers Are Excited to Be Reunited, No Joke

The Jazz Passengers’ new album Reunited – their first in over ten years – is as nonchalantly cool as anything they’ve ever released. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson’s cinematic compositions are as imagistic as ever, imbued with his signature wit, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes every bit the vintage soul crooner, both on the horn and the mic and vibraphonist Bill Ware his understatedly counterintuitive self. Violinist Sam Bardfeld, bassist Brad Jones, drummer E.J. Rodriguez and guitarist Marc Ribot channel their signature out-of-the-box arrangements, melodic pulse, slinky latin groove, and eclecticism, respectively. Much of this has an early 70s psychedelic feel, from the brief period where soul music, funk and jazz got to mingle unmolested before fusion came along and busted up the party.

Elvis Costello sings the opening track, Wind Walked By, a casually strolling noir-tinged New Depression era swing tune: “Shit out of luck, the American way.” Ware’s vibes eerily anchor Nathanson’s alto sax, Ribot’s guitar supplying a distant unease, swaying from nonchalant blues to off-center skronk on the outro. Seven, an instrumental works a hypnotic circular motif like an early 70s Herbie Hancock soundtrack number, Fowlkes and Ribot’s wah guitar building suspense up to a violin/guitar swirl. Fowlkes sings Button Up, a matter-of-fact soul/jazz groove, wah guitar mingling with Ware’s expansive, deadpan, bluesy cascades. Thom Yorke’s The National Anthem trades midnight Heathrow airport corridor atmosphere for 4 AM Ninth Avenue Manhattan drama – with Ribot and then Bardfeld skronking and screeching behind the aplomb of the rest of the crew, it’s every bit as menacing as the original. The best single song on the album might be Tell Me (by Fowlkes/Nathanson, not the Glimmer Twins), dark latin soul morphing into a buoyant 6/8 ballad, the warmth of the trombone silhouetted against the plinking thicket where Ware and Bardfeld are hiding out.

They redo Spanish Harlem as laid-back organ-driven swing with an amusing Spanglish skit, Ware, Fowlkes and Rodriguez joined by a whole different crew including Russ Johnson on trumpet, Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola and Susi Hyldgaard on vocals. There are also two bonus live tracks with longtime collaborator Deborah Harry. Think of Me, a Brad Jones/David Cale composition is lusciously restrained Twin Peaks swing. And who would have thought that she’d sing this 1995 concert version of One Way or Another (redone here brilliantly as Brat Pack-era suite) better than the original – or for that matter that she’d be an even more captivating singer in 2010, as recent Blondie tours have triumphantly shown. The only miss on the album is Reunited (the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop monstrosity), which pulls plenty of laughs in concert but misses the mark here: garbage in, garbage out. You could call this cd the comeback of the year except that there’s nothing really for them to come back from other than a long absence – which is happily over now. Last month’s shows at the Jazz Standard saw them clearly psyched to be back in action again; hopefully there’ll be more of it.

Advertisements

October 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jazz Passengers and Deborah Harry Party Like It’s 1989

The Jazz Passengers are defined by their sense of humor. Even their name is sardonic, as if to imply that they’re just along for the ride, which of course they aren’t. It’s a deadpan, surreal kind of humor that strikes some people as ineffably hip when it’s actually just a shared cultural response common to most oldschool New Yorkers, and the Jazz Passengers are nothing if not oldschool New York. Last night at the Jazz Standard they brought bundles of that humor, and that’s what energized the crowd – that and special guest Deborah Harry. Yet for all the jokes and satire, they also showed off a vividly perceptive, sometimes plaintive, understatedly sympathetic social awareness: they’re not just a funny jazz/R&B band. Alto saxist/bandleader Roy Nathanson, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and drummer E.J. Rodriguez did time in a late-period version of the Lounge Lizards, so they got an early immersion in jazz spoofery; violinist Sam Bardfeld, vibraphonist Bill Ware and bassist Brad Jones reminded that they were just as in on what was happening half of the time. Sub guitarist Kenny Russell played it pretty straight, alternating between terse wah-wah funk and bright, slightly distortion-tinged sustained passages. Much of their set was taken from their superb, forthcoming album Reunited, their first in over ten years.

Their opening number shifted from ebullient straight-up swing to suspenseful, noirish interludes, Ware nimbly sidestepping Jones’ gritty chordal attack when they brought the lights down low. Fowlkes sang the jaunty early 70s style funk number Button Up with a casually thought-out determination, Bardfeld doing a spot-on imitation of the wah-wah of the guitar when Russell took a solo. Seven, another song from the new cd, held tight to a similar Headhunters/Quincy Jones vibe, Nathanson and Fowlkes moving judiciously from agitation to something approximating atmospherics. Then they brought up “The Baronness.” Deborah Harry has been in finer voice than ever on recent Blondie tours: the Jazz Standard’s crystalline PA system revealed a little more huskiness, a little more grit than typically comes across with a rock band behind her, not to mention a completely natural, slightly sepulchral swing phrasing. The band serenaded her with a creepy, carnivalesque intro that she shouted down. “Blasé was never a strength of mine,” she sang without a hint of irony on her understatedly torchy opening number – it was one of the funniest moments of the night, one that would recur a bit later.

Little Jimmy Scott’s Imitation of a Kiss saw her shift from torch-song angst to a sultry purr: although she wasn’t exactly wearing her heart on her sleeve, she made it clear that this was a welcome return to the good times she’d had with this band in the years between Blondie’s top 40 heyday and their revival on the nostalgia circuit. The opening cut on the forthcoming album, Thought I Saw the Wind, is sung by Elvis Costello with a detached buoyancy; Harry made its down-and-out cinematography austere and poignant, and the band matched her phrase for phrase, sometimes chillingly: “A dime’s not enough, can you spare a quarter?” Up to this point, Nathanson had repeatedly made fun of a pretentious review the band had just received in an Austrian jazz magazine, to which Harry eventually responded, “Does it mean anything?” The answer came in their final song, a shambling cover of the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop cheeseball Reunited, which pretty much brought the house down, and just when it was getting completely out of hand, Harry took it upon herself to sing straight from the review. They encored with an unselfconsciously intense, hypnotically evocative, swirling version of When the Fog Lifts, Bardfeld’s deft accents punching through the mist rising around him. The new album is out in October: watch this space.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Pleasure Kills Are Pure Pleasure

Bay area rockers the Pleasure Kills’ new punk-pop album Bring Me a Match is a time warp from the days before autotune, before nonsense syllables replaced real lyrics in radio pop songwriting. There’s not a single bad song here. The tunes are irresistibly catchy and pack a punch, their signature sound blending distorted, melodic punk guitar with swooshy organ. The wounded wail of Lydiot, their frontwoman, has a regret-tinged phrasing like the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle except that she sings on key. At their best they evoke Angie Pepper’s legendary Australian proto-punk band the Passengers.

The opening cut Dancing on My Bed is a Ramones-style stomp with sweeping synth – “I’m stomping on my phone, I wanna be alone,” Lydiot insists: she may be all by herself, but she’s damned if she won’t have fun anyway. The title track is sort of Blondie gone punk; I Want You isn’t the Dylan hit, but a riff-rocking garage-punk song with some perfectly nasty Scott Asheton-style rolls on the drums. The strongest, and most original song here, is Hearts Run Out, with its wicked, catchy, growling guitar hook. Everything Lydiot sees reminds her of something from a dead affair: “I can never go home.” It wouldn’t be out of place on an album by legendary Milwaukee powerpop band the Shivvers.

Another standout cut is Modern Problems – with its snaky organ lines and ruthless pummelling drive, it’s like Radio Birdman at their most pop. Heartbreak in Space is a candy-coated punk-pump smash; Victoria isn’t a cover of the Kinks classic, but instead a jagged early 80s punk/new wave song and an insanely catchy chorus hook that fades out. They go back to the Radio Birdman pop, if not quite as intensely, with Ammunition, followed by the casually snide Bag of Bones, which bears some resemblance to post-X bands like Spanking Charlene. The album closes with And Me, nicking the intro from Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness, then launching into into an unstoppable punk/pop stomp with a surprise cold ending. It’s not an insult to say that if this had been released thirty years ago, an entire subculture would now regard it as a cult classic. Play it loud. San Francisco fans can catch the Pleasure Kills’ next show at Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk St. between Post and Sutter with Paul Collins’ Beat on 9/25 at 9.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Pretty Babies at Lakeside Lounge, NYC, Halloween 2009

by Heather M. Raphael

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday.  I don’t create wonderful and elaborate costumes myself, but I love to look at other peoples’ creative intoxications.  I was not let down by the Pretty Babies (insurgent comedienne/chanteuse Tammy Faye Starlite’s latest project) as Blondie, presenting the Parallel Lines album at Lakeside Lounge in the East Village on Halloween night.  We even had attendance by the current age Debbie Harry herself!  Was it really her or just a fabulous costume?  Unless she’s able to be in two places at once, the real Debbie Harry’s doppelganger had front row seats at our venue, while the real Blondie was playing Halifax, Nova Scotia.

My best laid plans for Halloween this year came crumbling down as the hours ticked away and my escape out of the city to a friend’s Halloween party was foiled by my love/hate relationship with technology.  Luckily a singer/songwriter friend came to my rescue, inviting me into her plans where we met up with some friends at the Lakeside.  It was empty and we scored a table right by the stage.  That’s when I learned about Tammy Fay Starlite and Linda Wynn, aka Linda Pitmon, one of the great female drummers (and also one of the great drummers, end of story).  We got to chat with Linda – very down-to-earth, instantly likeable – during set-up from our strategically placed table.

The Lakeside Lounge quickly packed in a crowd, some costumed, some not, as showtime was upon us.  Tammy…I mean, Debbie…I mean Blondie…oh whatever, gave several shout-outs to Steve Wynn, well known musician since the 1980’s for alternative and classic rock, who was there to see his lovely wife rock the drums.  And she kicked some butt up on that stage!  Not even an uncooperative snare could slow her down.  I’ve never been so mesmerized.  But let’s not forget the rest of the band that pulled this show together.  On bass was Sit n’ Spin’s Mony Falcone; on electric guitars were her bandmate Heidi Lieb and Jill Richmond of the Aquanettas; on keyboards was Bibi Farber; all dressed in black pants, white suit shirts and black skinny ties to boot.

The spot we had was perfect for viewing and listening.  Although Tammy’s mic could have been balanced louder, it did fit with how I always remember Blondie songs – missing half of the Debbie Harry vocals, whenever she sang in her lower, alto range.  At least it was authentic and a great ride down memory lane.  I don’t how the acoustics were for those on the side and and back to the bar: I can’t imagine they could see anything and since the visual aspects were as important as the music, those back there may not have gotten as much out of it.  Tammy Faye Starlite put on a fabulous performance, even getting up on a chair to reach out to her audience in back.  From what I hear, she is a crowd-pleaser, and was no less of one this night.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Pat Benatar and Blondie at Coney Island 8/13/09

What promised to be a gay old night of high camp turned out to be more like a trip to the supermarket: interminable lines of rude, obnoxious people, pleasantly cool temperatures, pretzels and drinks within easy reach and oldies radio songs playing over the PA. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, every out-of-town scam luxury housing developer’s best pal, spent a rambling, senile hour and a half on and off the mic before the show, ass-kissing and giving shout-outs to every corporate type he could still recognize who’d showed up. Finally, he was assisted off so that big lesbian faves the Donnas could phone in a small handful of generic bubblegum metal songs.

Long Island’s very own fifty-four year old Pat Benatar was next. It took about three seconds before it was obvious that the poor woman’s voice is completely gone. Like a battered cassette tape from the eighties, she’d waver on and off pitch, then drop unexpectedly out of the mix, then come back in like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters attempting to do karaoke. At this point in Benatar’s career, lipsynching might not be such a bad idea. Meanwhile, her husband Neil Giraldo released his inner fantasy over and over again with an incessant barrage of garish, gratuitous heavy metal guitar licks. Like that Love Camp 7 song goes, he plays a million notes where one would do, and if it fits the song that’s ok too. Not many of them did. Benatar’s set allowed for plenty of time to find the local McDonalds and the urinal – woops, dumpster – adjacent to it. Forty-five minutes after she’d taken the stage, she was still struggling to stay in the mix, one cliched power ballad after another. Benatar is a gay icon – there at least used to be several YMCA’s worth of Chelsea boys who wanted to be her. Not many of them seemed to have made the trip. Perhaps they were on to something the rest of the crowd wasn’t.

Similarly, Deborah Harry has made a career of singing off-key for the better part of 35 years if you count her time in the Stillettos. Be that it what it may, when Blondie were at the top of their game, they were one of the world’s greatest powerpop bands and they were all that Thursday night. What they did was anything but camp. This version of the band sizzled and burned, layering nonchalantly stinging, distorted guitar and playfully oscillating synth over a steady, thumping backbeat. Now in her sixties, Harry carried herself with grace, even gravitas in places, holding back for when she had to go to the top of her range and when she really had to nail the note, she inevitably did. Benatar ought to find out who her vocal coach is. Because this band plays so many of the same songs over and over again, they way they keep them fresh is to reinvent them. Children of the Grave – woops, Call Me – bore a much closer resemblance to the Black Sabbath original that Georgio Moroder ripped off and glued to a disco beat for the soundtrack to the Richard Gere vehicle American Gigolo (anybody ever sit through that one all the way? Yikes!). The best song of the night was a stinging, slightly mariachi-esque version of Maria. The Tide Is High was no better than Johnny Clarke’s cloying  rocksteady original, but Rapture was reinvented as evilly slinky funk with a big guitar break and then a new rap at the end which only offerered further proof that hip-hop is not Harry’s thing. A couple newer numbers were starkly minor-key and equally compelling. After they’d burned through a pleasantly loud, swaying One Way or Another, they left the stage and then it was clear that  Benatar had overdone it in more ways than one, cutting into Blondie’s stage time. The second of the band’s two brief encores was a rocking, organ-driven take of Heart of Glass. If you’re contemplating seeing Blondie on tour this month or next, you won’t be disappointed – especially when they have another charismatic, platinum-tressed siren, Sarah Guild and her amazing band the New Collisions opening for them.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments