Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/16/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #501:

JB Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim – Live ’63

Recorded in lo-fi mono by blues enthusiast Norman Oden at the obscure Chicago nightspot Nina’s Lounge and reissued 37 years later, this is a prime example of the blues as blue-collar neighborhood drinking music, not cultural tourism for politically correct yuppies. As The Hound has insightfully observed, Lenoir’s subtly chordal guitar style was a big influence on Ali Farka Toure, helping to jumpstart the desert blues movement. This doesn’t have Lenoir’s “protest songs” like Eisenhower Blues or Vietnam Blues, but this mostly solo set on his home turf is a treat. Pianist Sunnyland Slim – the guy who introduced Muddy Waters to Big Bill Broonzy and springboarded Waters’ career – plays with his usual casual, incisively smart style as Lenoir makes his way through the understatedly biting Harlem Can’t Be Heaven, hits like It’s You Baby and Brown Skin Woman along with a bunch of jams with titles obviously not supplied by the musicians, i.e. J.B.’s Harp-Rack Blues.The whole thing is streaming at spotify if you have it, deezer also (if you haven’t used your allotted monthly hour or whatever it is now); here’s a random torrent via The Blues-That Jazz.

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September 16, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #588:

Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34

If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #874:

Dorothy Donegan – Live at the 1990 Floating Jazz Festival

Early in her career, pianist Dorothy Donegan was dismissed by critics because she was pretty, she wore what were considered racy outfits for the time and she played everything – and drove her band members nuts onstage, segueing from jazz to R&B to classical, often within the span of a single song. She particularly enjoyed playing Rachmaninoff and excelled at it. Twelve years after her death, she’s gained recognition as one of the most extraordinary jazz pianists ever. By the time she recorded this album, she was as likely to be playing on a boat as at a club and this is one of those gigs. Yet it reveals her to be as blissfully intense and occasionally chaotic as she was at her peak in the 1950s and 60s, matching sizzling chops to frequent repartee with the audience (who seem at times to have no idea what just hit them). And the irony is that she does it with more than just her usual Blackbird Boogie and variations on a million themes. It’s a pretty generic set list for someone so adventurous, at least until you hear it. Most of these songs are standards, but she makes nonstandards out of them, blasting out of Someday My Prince Will Come into Tiger Rag, a bit later leaping from Misty to a rousing version of Ellington’s Caravan. There are also boisterous saloon jazz versions of The Lady Is a Tramp, After Hours and Round Midnight. A lot of her studio albums from the 50s are out of print and worth keeping an eye out for if you’re the kind of person to troll used record stores and the Salvation Army for abandoned treasures. Chiaroscuro still has this one in their catalog; if you’re looking for a torrent, good luck with this.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mose Allison at Madison Square Park, NYC 6/30/10

What’s the likelihood of seeing someone this good in a public park, for free? This being New York, we take this kind of show for granted. We shouldn’t. Transcending what must have been an awful monitor mix early on, saloon jazz legend Mose Allison, his bassist and drummer ran through a set of both iconic and more obscure songs from throughout the Sage of Tippo, Mississippi’s career. There was a nonchalance in how the band moved methodically from one song to the next, but there was none in the playing: there was an ever-present sense of defiance in the way Allison punched at his chords, with a judicious bite. Maybe he was venting his frustration of having no piano in the monitor, slamming out a brightly aggressive wash of notes early on that sounded like Stravinsky. Although he would probably laugh at that comparison – Allison has always downplayed his brilliance.

But at 82, he remains a formidable link in a chain of classic Americana that goes back to Robert Johnson and before (the trio played a swinging number written by Johnson’s stepson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, featuring a gleaming, elegantly legato piano solo). His encore was a Willie Dixon number, he told the crowd, but one which went back to Sister Rosetta Tharp. Her version is the spiritual Bound for Glory, redone by Dixon and recorded by Little Walter as My Babe, and now turned into My Brain, which Allison said with characteristic sardonic wit “was losing power, twelve hundred neurons every hour.” Which he can get away with saying because it’s so far from reality. Allison’s voice still has the same sly breeziness that’s been his trademark since the 1950s, and while he stuck mostly to a swinging, chordal attack on the keys, his fingers haven’t lost much of anything either.

And as good as the covers were (especially an unusually stark, rainy-day version of You Are My Sunshine, which Allison took care to note was written by former Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis, and an imperturbable version of Percy Mayfield’s You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down), it was the originals that everybody came to hear and which resonated the most. Your Molecular Structure is just as good a come-on as it was ages ago; the cautionary tale In the City echoed a more dangerous time in New York before gentrification that’s on its way back with a vengeance. Your Mind Is on Vacation struck a nerve: playful as the lyrics are, it might be the first great anti-trendoid anthem. “I’m not disillusioned, but I’m getting there,” he sang wryly on a number from his new, Joe Henry-produced album The Way of the World. And Kidding on the Square is still beyond hip, Allison both mocking and embracing the exuberance of its jazzcat (or faux-jazzcat) vernacular.

There are some other worthwhile jazz shows coming up at Madison Square Park: John Ellis and Double Wide at 6 PM on 7/21, and James Carter’s Organ Trio on 8/4 at 7.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mose Allison at the Jazz Standard, NYC 3/13/09

Mose Allison may have celebrated his eightieth birthday on the stage here last November, but he hasn’t changed a bit over the last (how many?) decades, giving new meaning to the phrase “absolutely undiminished.” Right down to his vise-grip handshake. There ought to be a PBS American Masters documentary about this guy (the BBC released Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues in 2006 – the Europeans are always a step ahead of us). The great songwriter/chanteuse Amy Allison’s dad shares his daughter’s droll wit and rich appreciation for Americana, in his case blues and jazz. It’s impossible to imagine Tom Waits – or for that matter, Dr. John – without him. Friday night’s show with his trio was typical, a clinic in tasteful, jazz-infused saloon blues piano songs infused with dry wit and occasional gallows humor.

 

This was a song set: when he soloed, he kept it brief and terse, seldom going for more than a verse at a time. There’s still nobody who plays like him – it’s hard to get through a set of blues without falling back on a familiar phrase or two, but Allison pulled this one off without them. Instead, it was lots of sharply percussive chords, brushing through the passing tones without making it obvious, and no wasted notes. Like his vocals, his phrasing on the keys is still the definition of cool. The band jammed their way into a particularly timely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: “Am I just plain greedy?/Do I worry about the ozone layer?/Do I worry about my new hairspray?” he asked with the usual half-a-wink in his voice. His cynical, apocalyptic side was further represented by the casual, laid-back Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, and a bit later, Ever Since the World Ended: “Remember how we went around lying about how we felt?” he mused. His trademark sly, sophisticated side was most entertainingly on display in the slow swing blues My Backyard – “where a maven of sorts forsakes his cohorts” – as well as the old Nat King Cole Trio brush-off song No Particular Time (when “you better bring along your glasses because I’m hard to find”). And there was plenty of dark understatement in a playful version of If You Only Knew, and the psychos-on-the-street saga Monsters of the Id with its eerie 1-5# hook.

 

As usual, the sound in the room was crystal-clear and the audience was still, following his every move: this place draws a crowd of real music fans, not just tourists.  

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Joe Louis Walker, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Scotty Moore and Ike Turner in Central Park 7/26/97

A fair approximation of what the Robert Cray/Albert Collins/Johnny Copeland album Showdown might have sounded like, live. Roomful of Blues opened the outdoor show with a set of pedestrian, swingy blues. Joe Louis Walker followed, backed by an excellent band featuring a terrific rhythm guitarist who only got one solo all night long but made the most of it. Walker is the absolute real deal: the guy can play. His opening tune was a long, extended number, possibly titled Hip Shaking Mama, featuring all kinds of searing, distorted solos on a black Gibson solidbody. Another original, Slipping and Sliding was next, and just as long, Walker switching to a Les Paul, playing with in an open tuning with a slide and this was as good as Sonny Rhodes at his best. It was pretty obvious that Walker knew this would be a shootout, and he was trying his best to establish himself as the meanest guitarslinger onstage before the others appeared.

Matt “Guitar” Murphy, of Blues Brothers fame, was the first to join him. Early on, he tried several of his trademark lightining-fast triplets and couldn’t get off the ground with them, so he stuck wailing furiously up and down on chords and burning through innumerable, supersonic blues runs, and ended up stealing the show. It’s hard to imagine Murphy, or for that matter any lead guitarist, turning in a more exciting performance than Murphy’s today: pretty impressive, considering the rest of the crew who would be up there with him. After a gentle, jazz-inflected solo in the duo’s first song together, he took a fiery, searing one in the next tune that had everything a good solo should have: spectacular speed, melodicism and a point to drive home, hard. Later he took another one but lost focus and fell back into triplet mode. At that point, Walker, who was playing rhythm, hit his distortion pedal and really slammed out his chords, as if to say, Matt, get your act together. Which Murphy did, spectacularly.

Scotty Moore, the legendary lead player in Elvis Presley’s original band then joined them, somewhat of a fish out of water. He comes from an earlier era, a jazzier, more reflective school of lead playing, like Les Paul or an even mellower Jimmy Rogers. He looked lost up there more often than not, surrounded by so much adrenaline: ostentation is not his thing. Walker savagely stepped all over the outro to one of Moore’s solos, bringing the intensity up to redline again in seconds flat.

Then Ike Turner joined the fray, first playing sensationally good, fast, brightly chordal blues piano, then wailing on a Strat running through all kinds of effects: chorus, digital delay and then a phaser. Which was showy, assuring him the spotlight whenever he took a solo, regardless of what he played. Although he was also excellent, using short bursts a la Albert Collins from time to time and with the phaser, this was intense and extremely entertaining. They did Rocket 88 as Turner returned to the piano and sang it; vocally, he’s lost quite a bit. Later, they all did Mystery Train, showcasing Moore again. Their lone encore had all five of the guitarists soloing and playing off each other and rather than sounding like Phish, this was amazing, Moore even being swept up in the madness and turning in his most incisive, bluesy solo of the night. A frequently transcendent, historically significant show.

July 26, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: From the Archives: S’Killit at Chicago Blues, NYC 7/4/96

Happy 4th!

The party started before noon and continued in Westchester at my girlfriend’s sister’s place. We then moved to a generic Mexican restaurant that her sister and husband were very fond of. Tequila flowed all afternoon. Somehow we made it back to the Metro North train, to the 6, to my place in Gramercy Park where homegirl promptly passed out. It was a nasty, humid, sweltering day, not a hint of breeze anywhere. But I wasn’t finished yet. By myself, I slogged down to 14th St. and 8th Ave. to Chicago Blues, which was surprisingly open, and even more surprisingly, the place was about half full, an enthusiastic crowd gathered toward the front of the club by the stage. S’Killit was in mid-set. They were a blues band fronted by an excellent piano player named Rusty Cloud, and had their full horn section.

The bars and lounges off the interstates from Maine to California abound with bad white blues bands, but S’Killit wasn’t one of them. Their main distinguishing feature was good songwriting. Cloud (who was Southside Johnny’s keyboardist for a time) wasn’t much of a singer, but he knew how to lead a band, how to work a crowd and wrote knotty, intricate, jazz-inflected songs. And when he was feeling more than he was thinking, he could play his ass off. The band used to play around town a lot during the early to mid 90’s and developed something of a following for their tunes and their impressive, jazzy improvisation, perhaps something akin to vintage Tower of Power without the Latin influences. Though it was an early show for them, on a holiday, the band was into it. I was about to leave just as they were about to begin their second set, but I heard the intro to Blue Fever (the title track to a cd they would release almost ten years later, still available at the cdbaby link above) and returned to the bar. It’s a long, slowly crescendoing, minor-key blues epic, the kind of thing they did best, so I thought it would be worth sticking around for at least this number. The only problem is that the place smelled like vomit. Which is why I’d wanted to leave in the first place. Strange: this wasn’t Doc Holliday’s. Chicago Blues pulled some pretty upscale acts sometimes, the sound was superb, and the place was always well-maintained.

After the song, I went outside (for a breath of fresh air – in those days, you could smoke in bars). But the smell lingered. All of a sudden it occured to me what the problem might be. I bent over and looked at my shoes, realizing what must have happened: someone had gotten sick in the bathroom at the Mexican place, and in the condition I was in, I was oblivious. No wonder the crowd was gathered at the front of the club: they’d seen me come in and wanted to get as far away as possible. That explains why the waitress was hanging at the end of the bar, watching the show. But I went back in anyway. An attempt to do a little cleanup in the bathroom proved pretty futile. The waitress kept bringing beers which I kept drinking, and in my condition this was not a good idea. How I managed to catch myself, pull myself together and stand up, in the split second before my face went into free-fall into my pint glass is something I’ll never know. If memory serves right, the slow stroll home was punctuated by a stop at the Twin Donut on 14th and 6th Ave.

July 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment