Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A History of Bollywood Music and Dance In Colorful 3-D Gets an Epic World Premiere at Lincoln Center

If you think it might be daunting to pull together a band who can competently reinvent seventy years worth of film themes by dozens of different composers, try choreographing every one of those songs for an ensemble comprising eighteen dancers. Heena Patel and Rushi Vakil pulled off that epic feat last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors with the world premiere of their multimedia extravaganza Bollywood Boulevard. A lively and insightful capsule history of Indian cinema as well as a revealing immersion in cinematic cross-pollination and playful mass movement, the performance drew a similarly vast audience of New Yorkers, many of whom knew the songs and sang along lustily.

For those who didn’t know the words, or the source material, or the vernacular, it was still a lot of fun. The band was fantastic, bringing a dynamically shifting rock edge to a wildly eclectic mix of themes, from a couple of baroque-tinged songs from the 1940s, to the mighty, angst-fueled ballads of the golden age of Bollywood in the 50s and 60s, to the funk and disco of the 70s and 80s and finally the surreal mashups of the last three decades.

Raj Kapoor’s 1950s epics and adventure star Amitabh Bachchan’s 70s vehicles featured heavily in the mix as the band kept a steady beat, from ancient carnatic themes interspersed within Gabriel Faure-esque Romanticism, to even more towering Romantic heights, gritty funk, irresistibly cantering bhangra and finally hints of the Middle East, sung with raw gusto by one the guys. The crowd was also finally treated to a couple of verses of Dum Maro Dum, the iconic pot-smoking anthem: remember, marijuana is an Indian herb.

It was particularly fascinating to see singer Rini Raghavan – whose own music with her band Rini is as picturesque as anything on this bill, and rocks a lot harder – bring a gentle melismatic nuance and a striking upper register to much of the quieter material. Playing violin with similar subtlety and plaintiveness, she was as much of a lead soloist as anyone in the group.

It was just as much fun to watch Harshitha Krishnan tackle many of the more kinetic numbers in her majestic, wounded wail. Keyboardist Rohan Prebhudesai spun volleys of microtones, stately orchestral washes and spare piano lines with equal aplomb over the nimble acoustic and electric fretwork of guitarist Niranjan Nayar and bassist Achal Murthy, backed by drummer Varun Das and percussionist Sanjoy Karmakar. Baritone singers Krishna Sridharan and Neel Nadkarni took alternately droll and intense turns in the spotlight as well.

All the while, a pantheon of South Asian deities or facsimiles thereof twirled and pranced and lept and glided across the stage. It wa a nonstop procession of fire maidens, and archers, and warriors…and starcrossed lovers, as the narrative continued into the 90s and beyond. Historical sagas, mythological epics, crime dramas, buddy movies and an endless succession of chick flicks were represented among dozens of Bollywood historical landmarks flashing on the screen above the stage. Personalities and characters from over the decades were gamely represented in a constantly changing series of costumes, with goodnaturedly split-seoond timing, by a cast including but not limited to Aaliya Islam, Aria Dandawate, Avinaash Gabbeta, Geatali Tampy, Manav Gulati, Minal Mehta, Panav Kadakia, Poonam Desai, Proma Khosla, Rhea Gosh, Rohit Gajare, Rohit Thakre, Sean Kulsum, Barkha, Bhumit, Bindi and Pranav Patel.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors ocntinues tonight, August 4 at 7:30 PM with violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson leading a chamber orchestra through lavish new arrangements of J Dilla hip-hop tunes out back in Damrosch Park.

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August 4, 2017 Posted by | concert, dance, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Contrasting Albums of High Notes

The American Modern Ensemble’s recording of Robert Paterson’s Star Crossing was one of last year’s most enjoyable albums, a noir film for the ears. Right now the eclectic composer/percussionist is about to unleash a suite about former New York Mets star and suspected steroid juicer Mike Piazza. Sandwiched between those two works is the Book of Goddesses, which is essentially his Pictures at an Exhibition, a bright, rippling, generally upbeat theme and variations which takes its inspiration from illustrator Kris Waldherr’s Book of Goddesses. Rather than being a depiction of female archetypes, Paterson’s intent here is to employ a vast palette of motifs from all over the globe to breathe sonic life into a series of pictures from the book. Eclectic concert harpist Jacqueline Kerrod is the central performer here, whether in the trio Maya, with Sato Moughalian on flutes and John Hadfield on percussion; the duo Clockwise, with violinist Marc Uys; or the American Modern Ensemble, with Moughalian plus violist Danielle Farina. The compositions are more rambunctious, less delicate than this instrumentation might imply, a series of interwoven variations on themes reflecting the origin of the goddesses themselves – or not. For example, the Chinese fertility goddess Xi Wang Mu, if this is to be believed, has some Bollywood in her – and santeria goddess Oya is smartly introduced by a bolero. Maybe by design, maybe not, the composer whose work this collection most closely resembles is Bollywood legend S.D. Burman.

The opening overture is titled Sarasvati – the Hindu goddess of knowledge, whose portrait is included in the album’s lavish cd booklet along with the rest of Waldherr’s pantheon. Rippling Chinese-inflected ambience gives way to a Bollywood theme which then goes north again, followed by Aphrodite, which is essentially an acoustic take on Greek psychedelic rock (think Annabouboula or Magges) – not exactly what you’d expect from a chamber music trio, with a rhythmic pulse and catchy melodicism that has become Paterson’s trademark. A swirling Irish reel named after the Celtic goddess Brigit is followed by cleverly polyrhythmic interpolations of previous themes, dreamy ethereality, bouncy Mexican folkloric inflections, that Nigerian bolero, and a balletesque, vividly contrasting number titled Yemaya, where the percussion comes to the forefront against Moughalian’s graceful flute.

There are also two companion pieces here. Freya’s Tears is a triptych building from pensive spaciousness, to mysterioso ripples, to echoes of a baroque minuet and then delicate Middle Eastern allusions. The concluding work, Embracing the Wind, a portrait of a runner who seems more of a fugitive than an athlete, harks back to the ominous unease of Star Crossing. On one hand, there’s a “look, ma, I’m writing Indian music now” feel to some of this, but it’s less showoff-y than simply diverse: clearly, Paterson listens widely and has a passion for the global styles he’s so enthusiastically embraced. Play this loud and it becomes party music: play it softly and it makes for good late-night ambience

Where the Book of Goddesses is lively and animated, Due East’s Drawn Only Once: The Music of John Supko is often blissfully dreamy and nocturnal. Flutist Erin Lesser and percussionist Greg Beyer join forces to create a frequently mesmerizing, intricate upper-register sonic web. There are two works here. Littoral, a lush, balmy, minutely nuanced seaside scene (including two spoken-word narrations comfortably back enough in the mix that they intrigue rather than drowning out the music) reaches symphonic length and sweep. Crescendoing almost imperceptibly, the flute flutters and then builds playful clusters over long, sustained, hypnotic tones and elegant vibraphone, becomes a dance and then a gamelan anthem that slowly and warmly winds down, a comfortable shoreline at dusk.

The second work, This Window Makes Me Feel, also rises with a slow, hypnotic elegance, growing closer and closer and finally achieving an optimistic resolution, with pianist David Broome and soprano Hai-Ting Chinn adding subtle textures to the mix. It’s a terrific late-night album and comes with an accompanying DVD, not viewed at press time.

February 24, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yemen Blues Mix It Up

Yemen Blues are yet another one of the explosion of impossibly esoteric, pan-global, psychedelic dance bands to spring up in the last few years. They’re Israeli; they draw on influences as diverse as classic levantine dance music, Bollywood pop, Balkan brass, funk, Afrobeat and Yemeni Jewish themes. To say that their latest, self-titled album is a blend of all of these is true in the purest sense of the word since each of the songs here echoes pretty much all of those styles. A few of them don’t. The opening track features a squirrely low-register reed instrument playing a hypnotic riff against a choir of voices; the third track is a pretty straight-up, repetitive Bollywood pop tune. There are also two bracingly slinky oldschool Egyptian tunes here, the first with a suspenseful cinematic feel, the second taking a sudden shift into an eerie minor-key psychedelic soul interlude that rises with the horns and violin going full steam.

The rest are a pretty irresistible grab-bag of riffs and ideas from around the globe. Track number two is a brass band hip-hop levantine number with a fiery violin solo and a flute-driven interlude straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1969. The title track works a gentle, folk-rock tinged melody reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here that eventually builds to a bouncy cabaret vamp and then goes doublespeed.

What sounds like a Moroccan sintir tune builds a long one-chord jam suspensefully, picking up the energy as the horns circle like vultures and swoop in all together for the kill. A long, slow, imploring duet features vibraphone and oud; another begins with oud, shifts to Afrobeat and then a flute-driven soul interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in the Isaac Hayes catalog. The album winds up with a lively blend of Afrobeat and Bollywood. Yemen Blues play Central Park Summerstage on 7/31; early arrival (i.e. 2 PM) is advised.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan: Great Album and Important Historical Document

The recently released Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan is as important historically as it is fascinating. Let’s not forget the “ban” in Taliban – during their official reign (many parts of Afghanistan are still de facto Taliban territory), music was outlawed. And even prior to the Taliban takeover, Afghan musicians who challenged previous regimes often paid with their lives, as in the case of balladeer Ahmad Zahir – represented here by a hypnotic, orchestrated, somewhat lo-fi hit – murdered at the peak of his popularity at age 33. Also included here is Setara Hussainzada, a finalist from the popular tv program Afghan Star (the Afghani equivalent of American Idol), driven into hiding after a wardrobe malfunction (her burqa slipped, revealing her face). Her contribution is a brief, somewhat woozy Bollywood-ish dance-pop number.

Although sarinda fiddle player Mashinai’s life was spared, his son’s was not. His child murdered and his house blown up, Mashinai was forced to give up playing and worked as a butcher at a local open-air market until music returned to the Afghan airwaves in 2001. Here he turns in a bracing fiddle-and-tabla instrumental. Perennial Afghan chanteuse favorite Mahwash contributes the collection’s best song, the furtively majestic Mola Mamad Djan, which with its intense dambura lute solo and insistent vocals reminds how deeply the levantine art songs of Oum Kalthoum and Fairouz had penetrated the Islamic world. The levantine mood recurs with a towering instrumental by the late rubab (lute) virtuoso Ustad Rahim Khushnawaz, accompanied by damburist Gada Mohammad and percussionist Azim Hassanpur, and on an understatedly lush ballad by female singer Naghma, Lebanese pop teleported to Kabul.

Of the other tracks here, rubab player Homayun Sakhi has a catchy, hypnotic instrumental punctuated by some genuinely breathtaking tremolo-picking. Damburist Mehri Maftun delivers a trickily polyrhythmic live performance, the crowd clapping along happily (which makes sense, given how long Afghanis went without the opportunity to do that). 20-year-old Rafi Naabzada (the 2009 Afghan Star winner), accompanied here by multi-instrumentalist Hameed Sakhizada has a deliciously tuneful, psychedelic pop song that sounds like a Central Asian Chicha Libre. Farhad Darya has two versions of the same song, a plea for peace: one a crunchy 2/4 rock number that gives shout-outs to cities around the world (in English), the other with more of a Bollywood dance-pop flavor. There’s also a long, trance-inducing traditional number from the Ahmad Sham Sufi Qawwali Group, who are included on a full-length bonus cd of similarly soaring, hypnotic devotional songs and instrumentals. The album is out now from World Music Network; those who like this may also enjoy the recently updated Rough Guide to the Music of India.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | folk music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Namaskar Say Hello to Harlem

Sixty years ago, players jazzed up Broadway songs. Namaskar jazz up Bollywood. Their show Tuesday night in the gorgeous 19th century interior of the Harlem Stage Gatehouse at 135th and Convent Ave. was every bit as hypnotic, yet far more direct than their lushly psychedelic new cd, whose release they were celebrating. The album, a collection of classically-influenced originals and vintage Bollywood themes from the 50s, is essentially the Marc Cary Focus Trio with drummer Sameer Gupta leading the band, accompanied by a cast of Indian music luminaries. This time out they had Rashaan Carter subbing on bass for David Ewell, along with Neel Murgai on sitar and Arun Ramamurthy on violin. Because the melodies are so simple – a couple of them were essentially one-chord jams – the musicians kept their lines smartly terse. Murgai played the sitar like a guitar, picking his spots judiciously as he moved up or down the scale, only once cutting loose with a fiery solo featuring some intense guitar-style tremolo-picking toward the end of the set. Ramamurthy took advantage of the openness of the situation, making full use of the bent notes and melismas of Indian classical music while Carter alternated between groove and melodic hooks: the bass carried the melody as much as any of the other instruments. Cary alternated between piano and Rhodes, often playing electric lines in his righthand while holding down his signature, saturnine low registers in the left, frequently tossing a riff or a tempo shift to Gupta, who’d cleverly fire back one of his own. Since the melodies are often so minimalist in this project, rhythm is the key to everything, Gupta emerging early on as captain of this trip, whether playfully hammering out vaudevillian lines on his rims, feathering a dreamy nest of trancey tabla textures or shading the music in varying tinges of grey over a 10/4 beat, as he did on one number.

Gupta explained that his original composition Attachment, which appears both on the Namaskar album as well as the Focus Trio’s stunning Live 2009 album (watch this space for more about that), was based on a rainy season raga from the classical Indian repertoire. Carter gave it a brisk intro that was almost bluegrass, leading into lush ensemble passages, Murgai’s languid lines contrasting with Ramamurthy’s busy intensity. A stab at a (relatively) brief raga, ostensibly one of Cary’s favorites, pulsed along on Carter’s insistent bassline, “A Harlem tradition,” Gupta took care to mention (bass in classical Indian music is usually handled by the tabla, or the wonderful lower-register sitar, the surbahar). Jangle, another track from the album, is based on a dance tune whose original title is “shake your ankle bracelets.” Cary filled out its framework with oceanic cascades of incisively bluesy riffage on the Rhodes. He didn’t launch into as much of the rippling glimmer he can sustain for minutes like he does with the Focus Trio, but when he did the effect was intense, often magisterial: there’s a rare depth and solidity anchoring his expansive, sometimes breathtaking flights. What was most impressive is that the strongest performances were on the newest material, from the opening jam with brief, memorable solos around the horn, to the long, catchy, fluid sitar-driven number that followed it, to the surprisingly mellow encore which took the show out on a gracefully contemplative note. The crowd – a pleasantly diverse crew who, if the shout-outs to various boroughs before the show were to be believed, represented everywhere but Staten Island – responded thunderously, not something you’d expect at what was essentially a jam band show.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sameer Gupta’s Namaskar Is Irresistible

Sameer Gupta, the drummer in Marc Cary’s Focus Trio has released the most irresistibly psychedelic album of the year with Namaskar (meaning “respect,” for all the traditions appropriated here), a resoundingly hypnotic attempt to blend Indian sounds with jazz. While Gupta combines a rich variety of styles here – film music, bhangra, trip-hop, carnatic songs and classical ragas – the f-word doesn’t apply. There’s a whole lot of fusing going on, but this isn’t fusion. Instead, it’s a suite of hypnotic, virtuosic grooves on simple, catchy themes, embellished by a mind-warping number of textures that float in and out of the mix. It ranks with the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack and the Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor as a classic of its kind, and though it’s generally a lot more subtle, there are places where it rivals those 60s classics for grin-inducing psychedelic excess: if you can hear this all the way through without smiling, you have a heart of ice. Essentially, this is the Focus Trio, Gupta leading the band on drums and tabla this time out with his longtime bandmate Cary on piano and a variety of electric keyboards, plus the renowned Indian master Anindo Chaterjee on tabla, Ramesh Misra on sarangi fiddle, Srinivas Reddy on sitar, David Boyce on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Prasant Radhakrishnan on carnatic sax, Charith Premawardanam on violin and the Trio’s David Ewell on upright bass.

The album opens with a terse, murky instrumental cover of carnatic song by Ustad Badi Ghulam Ali Khan on a theme of longing and impatience, the band maintaining a distant plaintiveness all the way through. They segue from there into a series of three pieces inspired by Indian film scores from the 50s and 60s, textures shifting in and out of the mix, Cary moving from wah-wah electric piano to woozy synthesizer layers and then echoey Wurlitzer as the rhythm morphs into a soul-funk groove. In places Cary’s terse staccato riffs run through a delay effect, taking on an electric guitar tone. The fifth track, Walk with Me strips the production down to a straight-up jazz piano song that works a catchy, hypnotic hook aggressively and warmly, Cary descending on the following track to the low depths he so excels at, driving it with a subterranean pulse that builds suspense all the way up to its quietly enigmatic conclusion.

From there, they bring back all the textures with tabla, reverb electric piano, what seems like a thousand drum loops (although those could be live – it’s hard to focus very closely on music that shifts shape as artfully and mysteriously as this does) and eventually a balmy sax interlude. And finally, after seven tracks, they reach a full stop. The last three cuts are a traditional sarangi piece imaginatively redone with blippy, futuristic electric keys contrasting vividly with dusky, bucolic tabla, an ebulliently atmospheric, jazzed-up raga and a trance-inducing cover of Miles Davis’ Blue in Green set to an insistent percussion loop and tabla way up in the mix. Gupta and band play the cd release show for this one at Aaron Davis Hall uptown on Oct 19 at 7:30 PM, free w/rsvp.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brass Menazeri’s New Album is Gorgeously Intense

Here in New York we have Slavic Soul Party, Raya Brass Band, Veveritse and of course the godfathers of East Coast Balkan brass, Zlatne Uste. The San Francisco Bay Area has gypsy brass band Brass Menazeri and they are equally awesome. Their new album Vranjski San is just out on Portofranco Records. As much as there’s plenty of cross-pollination in Eastern Europe, American gypsy bands really mix up their styles: there’s something to be said for the argument that the newly converted (or at least those who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this stuff) are more dedicated than those born into a religion. And as any fan of gypsy music or Balkan music knows, it’s sort of a religion. Brass Menazeri (pronounced “menagerie”) seize this passion and run with it, from from Serbia to Rajasthan. What’s most striking about the album is how long the songs are: most of them clock in at least five minutes or more, because what this is first and foremost is dance music. It’s a great album to wake up to if REALLY waking up is your game plan.

Many of the tracks use the eerie Middle Eastern hijaz scale, sometimes the minor keys (and occasionally the happier major keys) of the west, sometimes all of them in the same song. When the music goes all the way down to a break with the tapan (bass drum), that’s usually a signal that something unexpected and fun is about to happen. As much as virtually of the tracks here are dance tunes, many of the melodies are quite haunting. Mejra Na Tabutu has a graceful bounce, but also a rivetingly wounded vocal from one of the band’s frontwomen, and an otherworldly ambience – which makes sense, considering that the title means “Mejra in the casket.” Likewise, Phirava Daje (I Traveled, Mother) moves along matter-of-factly on a riff that sounds straight out of an old African-American spiritual, with a distant whirlwind of horns featuring both swirling rotary horn and moody, austere clarinet by bandleader Peter Jaques.

The title track, a mini-suite of sorts, blurs the line betwen klezmer, the Balkans and the Middle East, bubbling horns behind the plaintive lead melody. Another aptly titled number, Cocekahedron works rich, shifting layers underneath fiery doublestops and a cleverly orchestrated handoff from clarinet to trumpet. Perhaps the most strikingly beautiful song here is E Davulja (The Drums) with its poignant vocals and brooding clarinet over the horns’ staccato insistence. The Greek numbers here share a blustery, breathless, rapidfire intensity. There’s also a Balkanized version of a big Bollywood hit from the 90s full of playful call-and-response; a handful of introspective solo horn taqsims, including a rewrite of a Benny Golson theme; and the jazzy complexity of the cover of Saban Bajramovic’s iconic Opa Cupa that closes the cd. Minor keys or not, most of this is pure bliss. Bay Area fans can see Brass Menazeri’s next gig at the bracingly early hour of 11 AM on 9/15 at the SF Summerfest at Embarcadero and Battery.

September 13, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments