Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Drummer Kate Gentile’s Formidable Band Headlines At the Silent Barn on October 3

Why are so many of the best jazz albums made by bands led by drummers? Because they have the deepest address books: everybody wants to play with the good ones. Kate Gentile is the latest to keep this hallowed tradition going – her darkly vivid, intensely focused new album Mannequins is streaming at Bandcamp. She has an album release show coming up on a weird but excellently eclectic bill on Oct 3 at 11 PM at the Silent Barn. Art-rocker Martin Bisi – who may do his vortical morass of guitar loops at this one – opens the night at 8, followed by the album release show by assaultive shredmeister Brandon Seabrook‘s Needle Drive and then math-shred duo Bangladeafy. Cover is a measly $8.

As you would expect from a multi-percussionist – she also plays vibraphone here -, her compositions are very diversely rhythmic. The album is a jazz sonata of sorts, variations on a series of cell-like themes, interspersed with miniatures, some of them pretty funny. Matt Mitchell’s distorted synth fuels the staggeringly syncopated opening track, Stars Covered in Clouds of Metal – it comes across as super-syncopated late 70s King Crimson and quickly disintegrates.

Jeremy Viner’s tenor sax and Mitchell’s piano team with the drums for a sardonically blithe theme as Trapezoidal Nirvana pounces along like a Pac Man on acid, Gentile and Adam Hopkins’ bass anchoring a blippy piano solo as the rhythm slowly falls away. The starscape midway through, Gentile going for a noir bongo feel with her rims and hardware as Mitchell sparkles eerily and Viner wafts uneasily, is especially tasty. Again, King Crimson comes to mind, especially as the crescendo builds. 

Unreasonable Optimism pairs unsettlingly syncopted piano, vibes and sax, Gentile entering to provide some welcome ballast and gravitas. Mitchell’s creepy, Mompou-esque belltone piano takes centerstage as bass and drums prowl the perimeter diligently and then drop down to sepulchral wisps along with the sax.

The sardonically titled miniature Hammergaze evokes Kenny Wollesen’s gamelanesque explorations. Otto, on Alien Shoulders revisits the album’s tricky metrics, but more playfully, with squirrelly piano and squiggly electronics. The group follows the aptly and amusingy titled Xenormorphic with Wrack, bustling with animated sax and spiraling piano, the closest thing to mainstream postbop swing here. Then they run the knotty cells of Cardiac Logic.

Rattletrap drums, squalling and then furtive sax make way for deep-sky piano and vibes, then conjoin in the brief diptych Full Lucid. Likewise, the portentous atmospherics of Sear cede the path to the uneasily Messianic piano/sax lattices, steadily cascading variations and wry birdhouse tableau of Micronesia Parakeet.

The album winds up with two massive epics. Alchemy Melt [With Tilt] has a broodingly altered boogie interspersed within jauntily flickering interludes and more of those moodily bubbling cells, punctuated by a long, squiggly Viner solo. Does SSGF neatly synopsize everything? More or less, with stately/exploratory piano dichotomies, a brief bass solo, percolating sax and Gentile’s subtle wit. It ends distinctly unresolved. If you want entertainment and intensity, the album has plenty of both.

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September 28, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Darkness and Revelry in Equal Measure in Tomas Fujiwara’s Brilliant New Triple Double Album

Drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s music is all about creating a mood, and narratives, and destinations, and all the fun a band can have with interplay and conversations and occasional jousting on the way there. For all of those reasons, he’s one of the busiest guys in jazz. The musicianship on his new album Triple Double – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – is as deep as his address book. Just the fact that he’s got two of the most ferocious guitarists on the planet, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook sparring with each other makes this a must-own for fans of dark, gritty, occasionally hilarious music.

It’s pretty high concept: in addition to the guitars, there are two horns – Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and Ralph Alessi on trumpet – and two drummers, Gerald Cleaver holding down the second chair. It’s akin to a  more improvisational, less assaultive take on percussive British guitar band Action Beat, . In an interesting stroke of fate, Seabrook also put out a ferociously good new double-drum album, wryly titled Die Trommel Fatale, earlier this year. Fujiwara and the band are playing the album release show on Sept 22 at the Jazz Gallery, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $22.

The fun starts right ffom the first few bars of the squirrelly two-guitar conversation that opens the first track, Diving For Quarters. For the listener, it’s a challenge to figure out who’s who, especially as a long, rather grim crescendo slowly builds. Looming brass contrasts with a squall or two as Fujiwara swings with his work boots on, Alessi taking a long latin noir-infused solo up to a gleeful thunderstorm of drums and guitar swipes.

Likewise, Alessi chooses his moments in a long solo that bisects the leering storm and skronk of the two guitars and drumkits in Blueberry Eyes, Halvorson in the left channel, Seabrook in the right throwing blast after distorted blast at each other. Suddenly the sky clears and they’re following a circular, allusively New Orleans-tinged shuffle as Bynum comes to the front. Even as some sweet brass harmonies take over at the end, Halvorson can’t wait to let it trail out with a down-the-drain rattle.

A gloomy rainy-day ambience, astringent guitars over spare drums and cymbals, pervades Hurry Home, a psychedelic tone poem of sorts. Pocket Pass makes a flailing contrast, packed with blazing trumpet spirals, snarky kiss-off guitars, Halvorson’s bad cop against Seabrook’s deadpan good cop. All of a sudden it straightens out (as much as anything straightens out on this album) in a dark latin direction.

For Alan opens with a droll spoken-word sample of a ten-year-old Fujiwara in conversation with his mentor Alan Dawson, who encourages him to have a good time within the parameters. “If a cymbal falls in, if the pedal breaks, whatever.” This matter-of-factly rising Cleaver-Fujiwara duel stays on the rails even as flurries in each channel diverge: the chase is on! Eight-minute pieces for drums alone are rarely this entertaining.

An elegaic, mournful horn melody rises over the drums’ tumble and crush as Love and Protest coalesces, bolstered by Seabrook’s eerie, reverberating belltones and echo effects as the menacing cloud darkens. It’s finally punctured by Alessi, but even he’s eventually subsumed in the vortex. Halvorson artfully takes over the slasher role as the dirge returns.

Notwithstanding all the uneasy close harmonies, Decisive Shadow is awfully catchy, especially when the horns kick in, up to a trickily shifting, insistent vamp with a contrastingly ebullient Alessi solo. Halvorson’s shears and sputters signal the drums, and everybody else, to tunnel down into the darkness.

The group returns to the Hurry Home theme with gingerly tremoloing guitars amid the sleet of the percussion: it’s the album’s creepiest number. Sarcastic cornet opens Toasting the Mart, a twisted march, Halvfrson thinking about horror surf, the horns peeping in through respective windows. Seabrook flickers and then the whole thing dissolves in a toxic heap only to reemerge unexpectedly.

To Hours (a pun?) makes an apt concluding statement, from a loosely congealing free-improv interlude to an uneasily cantering vamp, Alessi battling the murky backdrop. This isn’t just one of the most gripping jazz albums of the year: it’s on the level of anything any of the cast here have released as leaders recently. One of the ten best, maybe five best albums of the year, to be more precise. Press play, hit repeat, you’ll get used to it.

September 17, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The World’s Funniest Jazz Band Return to Their Favorite Brooklyn Spot

What makes Mostly Other People Do the Killing so damn funny? They do their homework, they really know their source material and they can spot a cliche a mile away. Over the course of their dozen-album career, the world’s most consistently amusing jazz band have pilloried styles from hot 20s swing to post-Ornette obsessiveness. They also did a pretty much note-for-note recreation of Kind of Blue (that was their “serious” album). Their latest release, Loafer’s Hollow – streaming at Spotify – lampoons 1930s swing, Count Basie in particular. There’s an additional layer of satire here: ostensibly each track salutes a novelist, among them Vonnegut, Pynchon, Joyce, Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace. The band return to their favorite Brooklyn haunt, Shapeshifter Lab on June 29 at around 8:15, with an opening duo set at 7 from their pianist Ron Stabinsky with adventurous baritone saxophonist Charles Evans. Cover is $10.

The band keeps growing. This time out the three remaining original members – bassist Moppa Elliott, multi-saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea – join forces with Stabinsky, banjo player Brandon Seabrook, trombonist Dave Taylor and Sexmob trumpeter/bandeader Steven Bernstein, an obvious choice for these merry pranksters.

This is  a cautionary tale, one negative example after another. Respect for bandmates’ space? Appropriateness of intros, lead-ins, choice of places to solo or finish one? Huh?  For anyone who’s ever wanted to take their instrument and smash it over the head of an egocentric bandmate, this is joyous revenge. It also happens to be a long launching pad for every band member’s extended technique: theses guys get sounds that nobody’s supposed to.

It’s not easy to explain these songs without giving away the jokes. Let’s say the satire is somewhat muted on the first track, at least when it comes to what Seabrook is up to, Bernstein on the other hand being his usual self.

Honey Hole – a droll ballad, duh – is where the horns bust out their mutes, along with the first of the chaotic breakdowns the band are known for. Can anybody in this crew croon a little? We could really use a “Oh, dawwwwling” right about here.

A strutting midtempo number, Bloomsburg (For James Joyce) takes the mute buffoonery to Spike Jones levels. Kilgore (For Kurt Vonnegut) its where the band drops all pretense of keeping a straight face, from the cartoonish noir of the intro (Seabrook’s the instigator) to the bridge (not clear who’s who – it’s too much), to Stabinsky’s player piano gone berserk.

Stabinsky’s enigmatic, Messiaenic solo intro for Mason & Dixon (For Thomas Pynchon) is no less gorgeous for being completely un-idiomatic; later on, the band goes into another completely different idiom that’s just plain brutally funny. Likewise, Seabrook’s mosquito picking and Taylor’s long, lyrical solo in Meridian (For Cormac McCarthy) are attractive despite themselves. Maybe that’s the point – Blood Meridian’s a grim story.

The band returns to a more subtle satire – such that it exists here – with Glen Riddle (For David Foster Wallace), in many respects a doppelganger with the album’s opening track. They wind it up with Five (Corners, Points, Forks), which gives the gasface to Louis Armstrong – and reminds how many other genres other than jazz this band loves to spoof. As usual, there are tons of quotes from tunes both iconic and obscure:  this is the rare album of funny songs that stands up to repeated listening.

Not to be a bad influence, but these catchy, jaunty tunes reaffirm that if the band  really wanted, they could just edit out the jokes and then they’d be able to get a gig at any respectable swing dance hall in the world  Another fun fact: this album was originally titled Library (all MOPDtK albums are named after towns in Elliott’s native Pennsylvania). In researching the area, Elliott discovered that before it was Library, it was Loafer’s Hollow. The more things change, right?

June 27, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brandon Seabrook Will See You on the Dark Side of the Drum

Brandon Seabrook is one of New York’s great musical individualists. He made his name as a shredder – anybody who’s witnessed his neutron-beam attack on guitar or banjo can vouch for how accurately the bandname Seabrook Power Plant reflects his sound. Yet anyone who’s ever seen him play guitar in magically nuanced singer Eva Salina’s electric Balkan group knows how gorgeously lyrical and restrained his playing can be. Seabrook’s latest album, Die Trommel Fatale, is streaming at Bandcamp . As drummer Dave Treut, who’s played with Seabrook for longer than most anyone else, observed over drinks the other night at Barbes, it pretty well capsulizes Seabrook’s career so far.  He’s likely to become the loudest, most assaultive guitarist ever to play Joe’s Pub when he and the band show up for the album release show this June 8 at  9:30 PM. Cover is $15.

The premise of the album is what can happen when you anchor the music with two drummers, without cymbals. The result turns out to be less funereal than simply monstrous. Treut and Sam Ospovat rumble and crush behind those stripped-down kits, with Marika Hughes on cello, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Chuck Bettis doing the Odin deathmetal thing on the mic.

The album opens with Emotional Cleavage, which could be very sad or completely the opposite, depending on how you interpret the title. This one’s a mashup of free jazz, death metal and 70s King Crimson: squirrelly franticness side by side with lingering, Messianic unease. Clangorous Vistas begin with a wry car horn allusion, a high drone, then sudden insectile scampering into a dancing skronk that eventually catapults Seabrook into one of his usual feral, tremolo-picked assaults

Jungly electronics, eerily resonant jangle and warped, machinegunning squall alternate throughout Abccessed Pettifogger (gotta love those titles, huh?) Shamans Never R.S.V.P. is a real creeper, waves of stark strings underpinning Seabrook’s elegantly skeletal, upper-register stroll: it sounds like Hildegarde von Bingen on acid, and it’s one of the few places on the album where the percussion gets as ominous as the rest of the band. And then everybody goes skronking and squalling, with a tumbling duel between Treut and Ospovat. From there, the similarly shrieky Litany of Turncoats makes a good segue.

The Greatest Bile, a diptych, builds out of crackling, circling riffage to the most twisted march released this year, Seabrook radiating evil Keith Levene-esque overtones when he’s not torturing the strings with volley after volley of tremolo-picking. Opsvik’s calmly pulsing solo, and then Hughes’ far more grim one, reach down for something approaching a respite from the firestorm. The second part is just as dirty if a little less unhinged, like a drony Martin Bisi noisescape with the strings and drums hovering on the periphery. 

The sandy-paintbrush drum brushing of the atmospheric Rhizomatic comes as a welcome surprise, then the band goes back to Quickstep Grotesquerie (the next number, which would be an apt secondary album title). The final cut is a chaotic, cauldron sarcastically titled Beautiful Flowers. This isn’t exactly easy listening, but in its own extremely twisted way, it’s a party in a box. Lights out on the floor with headphones on! 

June 6, 2017 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra Resurrects Rare, Darkly Pioneering Cinematic Swing

Trumpeter Brian Carpenter‘s Ghost Train Orchestra has most recently capitalized on the nuevo moldy fig jazz market; their 2011 album Hothouse Stomp was an irresistibly frantic romp through the books of obscure hot jazz bandleaders Charlie Johnson, Tiny Parham and Fess Williams. But Carpenter has roots in noir music, from his days with Boston band Beat Circus in the early 90s, so the Ghost Train Orchestra’s new album Book of Rhapsodies is something of a return to form. When it’s not, it’s a mix of early third-stream compositions, some with a cinematic or cartoonish tinge, from some familiar and more obscure names from the 30s and 40s. There will be some listeners who see the cd sleeve art or the Raymond Scott compositions and assume that this is kitsch, or will misuse the word “ironic” in describing it, both of which would be a mistake

Beyond the frequent noir, there’s a winking, sotto vocce “see if they get it” to many of these compositions, but that’s less musician-insiderness than simply tongue-in-cheek fun. The album opens with Charlie’s Prelude, by Louis Singer (who wrote charts for the pioneering cult favorite John Kirby Sextet in the 30s), turning the immortal Chopin E Minor Prelude into a borrowed Black & Tan Fantasy with a bluesy slink and a broodingly resonant trombone lead from Curtis Hasselbring. Beethoven Riffs On, also by Singer, swings a theme from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony with a latin-tinged hi-de-ho bounce. Carpenter and ensemble rescue British composer Reginald Foresythe’s Volcanic (Eruption for Orchestra) from obscurity with a dixieland scamper spiced with the occasional eerie flourish from Dennis Lichtman’s clarinet. And Carpenter’s arrangement of another Foresythe track, Revolt of the Yes Men gives banjoist Brandon Seabrook a chance to buzz and be a tremolo-picking thorn in the side of the orchestra and their intricate exchange of voices; it’s more revolutionary than simply having been ahead of its 1936 era.

Dawn on the Desert, by Kirby Sextet trumpeter Charlie Shavers, does Gershwin’s Summertime as a Hollywood hijaz nocturne, Carpenter’s moody trumpet exchanging with Avi Bortnick’s ominously tremoloing guitar, then morphs into a skronky march reminscent of late 80s John Zorn. The album’s centerpieces, more or less, come from the Alec Wilder catalog: the lushly orchestrated, suspiciously deadpan Dance Man Buys a Farm (an apt juxtaposition with Raymond Scott’s The Happy Farmer); the more moody, tensely pulsing It’s Silk, Feel It; The Children Meet the Train, which is Old Man River thinly disguised at doublespeed; and Her Old Man Was (At Times) Suspicious, which with its sudden jump-cut phrasing is the closest thing here to Scott’s Looney Tunes soundtracks.

There are also a couple additional, absolutely killer tracks from the Scott catalog. At An Arabian House Party works a creepy noir swing fueled by Bortnick’s jagged, Steve Ulrich-esque guitar in place of the original harpsichord part, like Beninghove’s Hangmen playing it very close to the vest. And Celebration on the Planet Mars, with its surreal,  atmospheric swells and fades, serves as a magic carpet for the rest of the ensemble to take for an unselfconsciously joyous, vaudevillian ride. The rest of this edition of the band includes Andy Laster on alto sax; Petr Cancura on tenor sax and clarinet; Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola; Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; Brandon Seabrook on banjo; Ron Caswell on tuba, Michael Bates on bass and Rob Garcia on drums. Their previous album spent a long time at the top of the Billboard jazz charts; one suspects this will do the same. They play the album release show at Subculture at 8 PM on Oct 26.

October 12, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mostly Other People Do the Killing Rip Decades of Hot Jazz to Shreds

Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s latest release on their Hot Cup label, Red Hot, is the great lost Spike Jones instrumental album. It’s the New York band’s most cartoonish, and also most accessible album: punk jazz doesn’t get any better, or more caustically funny than this. Bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott insists that this is the best thing the group has ever done, and he’s right. Over the past few years, MOPDtK have parodied everything from post-Ornette sounds to 70s and 80s elevator jazz. But with 20s hot jazz trending hard with the one-percenters, it became obvious that the time was right for the Spinal Tap of jazz to give this genre a vigorous twist to put it out of its misery. This is one sick record. This time out, the core of the band, including Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea, saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans is bolstered by bass trombone legend David Taylor, pianist Ron Stabinsky and banjo shredder Brandon Seabrook.

Underneath the incessant jokes, there’s a method to the madness. They bedevil each other with the uneven meters common in hot jazz.  Seabrook adds an ever-present mosquito buzz as he tremolo-picks his strings, ad nauseum: even if you love the banjo, you will get sick of hearing from him. That’s part of the plan. Taylor, the first bass trombonist to ever play a solo show at Carnegie Hall, is in his eighth decade and has never tired of taking on a challenge, and fits in perfectly: he’s one of the funniest members of the cast.

As usual, most of the song titles refer to Pennsylvania towns. The Shickshinny Shimmy works a vaudevillian swing with droll comedic japes from the banjo and bass trombone,  morphing into a vaguely latin vamp and then back; a simplistic three-chord cliche gets in the way. Zelionople opens with a ridiculously long drum solo and then shuffles along with repeated breaks for tomfoolery every time the bass and drums drop out, a trope that repeats throughout the album with surprisingly interesting results. Taylor’s silly downsliding hands off to Evans, who disappears with a clam in his throat, then reappears as Irabagon shadows him with his tongue stuck out.

The title track,  a tongue-in-cheek march, goes doublespeed a la Spike Jones, Irabagon having a field day, mealymouthed and psyched to halfheartedly spoof dixieland along with the rest of the band. King of Prussia has a priceless ADD piano intro and solo from Stabinsky, spitball-in-waiting suspense from Seabrook and dorky acents from Evans. Turkey Foot Corner has Elliott imitating a tabla and introducing a barnyard scenario, Taylor aptly quoting a familar Wizard of Oz lick, Evans’ not-quite-there solo over Seabrook’s omnipresent deadpan woodpecker banjo.

Seabrook, Power, Plant explores the Romany influence on hot jazz, working its way down to a Nino Rota-on-acid bolero. Orange Is the Name of the Town jams out a faux sentimental waltz with weepy muted trumpet accents and a long interlude that Stabinsky slowly and hilariously unravels, lefthand and righthand oblivious to each other.

There are two more tracks. Gum Stump makes fun of blues cliches, Shea’s refusal to stay on track one of the album’s best jokes, Seabrook and Taylor muttering their disapproval. The last track, a hi-de-ho Cab Calloway shuffle, is a mess by the time they hit the second turnaround, Irabagon mealymouthing his first solo and practically regurgitating his second one, going out on a deadpan serious note. Don’t count on that next time around. The album comes complete with liner notes by “Leonardo Featheweight,” this time taking the story of a smoldering Pennsylvania ghost town to its logical conclusion.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Jazzfest 2013: A Marathon Account

The narrative for Winter Jazzfest 2013 wrote itself. “The festival began and ended with two extraordinary trumpeters from Middle Eastern backgrounds, Ibrahim Maalouf early on Friday evening and then Amir ElSaffar in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Except that it didn’t happen like that. Maalouf – whose new album Wind is a chillingly spot-on homage to Miles Davis’ noir soundtrack to the film Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud – was conspicuously absent, with visa issues. And by quarter to one Sunday morning, the line of hopefuls outside Zinc Bar, where ElSaffar was scheduled, made a mockery of any hope of getting in to see him play. But a bitingly bluesy, full-bore cadenza earlier in the evening from another trumpeter – Hazmat Modine’s Pam Fleming – had already redeemed the night many times over. In more than fourteen hours of jazz spread across the West Village (and into the East) over two nights, moments of transcendence like that outnumbered disappointments a thousand to one.

A spinoff of the annual APAP booking agents’ convention, the festival has caught on with tourists (the French and Japanese were especially well-represented) along with a young, scruffy, overwhelmingly white crowd like what you might see at Brooklyn spots like Shapeshifter Lab or I-Beam. Those crowds came to listen. Another tourist crowd, this one from New Jersey and Long Island, ponied up the $35 cover for an all-night pass and then did their best to drink like this was any old night on the Bleecker Street strip, oblivious to the music. It was amusing to see them out of their element and clearly nervous about it.

That contingent was largely absent on Friday – and probably because of the rain, attendance was strong but not as overwhelming as it would be the following night. Over at Bowery Electric, drummer Bobby Previte led a trio with baritone saxophonist Fabian Rucker and guitarist Mike Gamble to open the festival on a richly murky, noir note, raising the bar to an impossibly high level that few other acts would be able to match, at least from this perspective (wth scores of groups on the bill, triage is necessary, often a cruel choice between several artists). Watching Rucker build his way matter-of-factly from a minimalistically smoky stripper vamp to fire-and-brimstone clusters of hard bop was like being teleported to the jazz club scene from David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

Over at le Poisson Rouge, chanteuse Catherine Russell delivered a mix of alternately jaunty, devious and poignant swing tunes, none of them from later than 1953, the most recent one a lively drinking song from the Wynonie Harris book. Guitarist and music director Matt Munisteri added his signature purist wit and an expectedly offhand intensity on both guitar and six-stirng banjo as the group – with Ehud Asherie on piano, Lee Hudson on bass and Mark McLean on drums – swung  through the early Ella Fitzgerald catalog as well as on blues by Lil Green and Bessie Smith, riding an arc that finally hit an unselfconsciously joyous note as they wound it up.

Jamaican jazz piano legend Monty Alexander followed, leading his Harlem-Kingston Express as they turned on a dime from pristine swing to a deep and dark roots reggae pulse. Alexander has been having fun with this project – utilizing what are essentially two discrete groups on a single stage, one an acoustic foursome, the other a fullscale reggae band with electric bass, keys and guitar – for a few years now. This was as entertaining as usual, mashing up Uptown and Jamdown and ending with a singalong on Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. In between, Alexander romped through jump blues and then added biting minor-key riffage to Marley classics like Slave Driver and The Heathen. Alexander was at the top of his game as master of ceremonies  – he even sang a little, making it up as he went along. It’s hard to think of a more likeable ambassador for the Irie Island.

Across the street at the Bitter End, Nels Cline and Julian Lage teamed up for a duo guitar show that was intimate to the extent that you had to watch their fingers to figure out who was playing what. Both guitarists played with clean tones and no effects, meticulous harmonies intertwining over seamless dynamic shifts as the two negotiated blue-sky themes with a distant nod to Bill Friselll…and also to Jerry Garcia, whose goodnaturedly expansive style Lage evoked throughout a handful of bluegrass-tinged explorations. On a couple of tunes, Cline switched to twelve-string and played pointillistic rhythm behind Lage, who was rather graciously given the lion’s share of lead lines and handled them with a refreshing directness – no wasted notes here. The two beefed up a Jim Hall tune and closed with a trickily rhythmic, energetic Chris Potter number.

The Culture Project Theatre, just off Lafayette Street, is where the most improvisationally-inclined, adventurous acts were hidden away – and by the time Boston free jazz legends the Fringe took the stage for a rare New York gig, the place was packed. The trio of tenor saxophonist George Garzone, drummer Bob Gullotti and bassist John Lockwood gave a clinic in friendly interplay, leaving plenty of space for the others’ contributions, each giving the other a long launching pad for adding individual ideas. Gullotti was in a shuffle mood, Lockwood a chordal one, Garzone flirting playfully with familiar themes that he’d take into the bop-osophere in a split second, the rhythm section leaving him to figure out what was happening way out there until he’d give the signal that he was coming back to earth.

Nasheet Waits’ Equality was next on the bill there and was one example of a band that could have used more than the barely forty minutes they got onstage. It wasn’t that they rushed the songs, it was simply that this band is obviously used to stretching out more than they got the oppportunity to do, shifting shape rhythmically as much as melodically, through compositions by both the drummer/bandleader and alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. Warmly lyrical sax found a murky anchor in Vijay Iyer’s insistently hypnotic pedalpoint and block chords, Mark Helias propelling their third tune with careful permutations on a tireless bass loop. They danced out on a biting, latin-tinged vibe.

Seabrook Power Plant, somewhat less lethal and toxic than their name implies, closed out Friday night with a pummelling yet often surprisingly melodic set for the diehards who’d stuck around. Brandon Seabrook – the Dick Dale of the banjo – teamed up with bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Jared Seabrook for a hard-hitting, heavily syncopated, mathrock-tinged couple of tunes, the bandleader’s right hand a blur as he tremolopicked lightning flurries of chords that were more dreampop than full frontal attack. Then he picked up the guitar, started tapping and suddenly the shadow of Yngwie Malmsteen began to materialize, signaling that it was time to get some rest and get ready for day two.

Word on the street has been that the best strategy for the Saturday portion of the festival is to pick a single venue out of the total of six and camp out there, as one of the organizers sheepishly alluded as the evening got underway. This year that turned out to be gospel truth, validating the decision to become possibly the only person not employed by the Bitter End to spend six consecutive hours there. That choice wasn’t just an easy way out. Right through the witching hour, there were no lulls: the bill was that strong.

Percussionist Pedrito Martinez opened with his group: the sensational, charismatic Araicne Trujillo on piano and vocals, Jhair Sala on cowbell and Alvaro Benavides on five-string bass. Playing congas, Martinez took on the rare role of groovemeister with a subtle sense of dynamics, through a swaying set that was as electrically suspenseful as it was fever-pitched and diverse, slinking through Cuban rhythms from across the waves and the ages. Trujillo was a force of nature, showing off a wistful, bittersweet mezzo-soprano voice in quieter moments and adding fiery harmonies as the music rose. Given a long piano solo, she quoted vigorously and meticulously from Beethoven, Chopin and West Side Story without losing the slinky beat, matching rapidfire precision to an occasionally wild, noisy edge, notably on a long, call-and-response-driven take of Que Palo.

Chilean-American chanteuse Claudia Acuna was next, leading her six-piece band through a raputurous, hypnotic set that drew equally on folk music and classic American soul as well as jazz. Her voice radiates resilience and awareness: one early number broodingly contemplated ecological disaster and other global concerns. Chords and ripples rang from the electric piano, ornamented elegantly by guitarist Mike Moreno over grooves that rose and fell. After sultry tango inflections, a moody departure anthem and a surprisingly succesful shot at jazzing up You Are My Sunshine, they closed with an understated take on Victor Jara’s Adios Mundo Indino.

Of all of these acts, saxophonist Colin Stetson was the most spectacular. Playing solo is the hardest gig of all, notwithstanding that Stetson has made a career out of being a one-man band, one that sounds like he’s using a million effects and loops even though what he’s playing is 100% live. Tapping out a groove on the keys of his bass sax, sustaining a stunning mix of lows and keening overtones via circular breathing, some of what he played might be termed live techno. Holding fast to a rhythm that managed to be motorik and swinging at once, he evoked the angst of screaming in the wilderness – metaphorically speaking. Or being the last (or first) in a line of whales whose pitch is just a hair off from being understandable to others of the species, explaining how he felt a kinship with the “Cryptowhale” recently discovered on US Navy underwater recordings. Switching to alto sax, he delivered his most haunting number, spiked with sometimes menacing, sometimes plaintive chromatics and closed with a slowly and methodically crescendoing piece that built from dusky, otherworldly ambience to a firestorm of overtones and insistent, raw explosiveness. Of all the acts witnessed at this year’s festival, he drew the most applause.

In a smart bit of programming, trumpeter Brian Carpenter’s nine-peice Ghost Train Orchestra was next on the bill. Carpenter’s previous album collected jaunty, pioneering, surprisingly modern-sounding hot 20s proto-swing from the catalogs of bandleaders like Fess Williams and Charlie Johnson, and the band played some of those tunes, adding an unexpected anachronistic edge via biting, aggressive solos from tenor saxophonist Andy Laster and Brandon Seabrook, wailing away on banjo again. As the set went on, a positively noir Cab Calloway hi-de-ho energy set in, apprehensive chromatics pushing bouncy blues to the side, Mazz Swift’s gracefully edgy violin contrasting with Curtis Hasselbring’s terse but forceful trombone lines.

In addition to innumerable jazz flavors, this year’s festival featured a trio of acts who don’t really play jazz at all and the most tantalizing of them, Hazmat Modine, happened to be next on the bill. Frontman Wade Schuman played his chromatic harmonica through a series of effects that made him sound like a hurdy-gurdy on acid…or helium, depending on the song. Lively handoffs and conversations, notably between tuba player Joseph Daly and trombonist Reut Regev but also guitarists Pete Smith and Michael Gomez, Rachelle Garniez on claviola and accordion, Steve Elson on tenor sax, Pam Fleming on trumpet, and Rich Huntley on drums burst out of everywhere. Huntley took an antique field holler rhythm and made a hypnotic mid-70s disco-soul vamp out of it, as well as romping through samba swing, Diddleybeat, calypso or reggae, as on the minor-key but ecstatic opening tune, So Glad. The French have anointed the Hazmats as a blues band (their album Bahamut was the #1 blues album of the year there) even though they interpolate so many different styles into the genre and then jam them into unrecognizability. It was just as well that this set proved to be the final one of the festival – at least from this point of view – because after they’d vamped through a wryly surreal but ecstatic take of the carnivalesque tropicalia of the album’s title track, there was nowhere to go but down.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devious Accordion Fun from Guy Klucevsek

Music blogger reading Downbeat on the subway spies a mention of Guy Klucevsek’s most recent album The Multiple Personality Reunion Tour. How could a (relatively) new release by such an important figure in jazz and its outskirts have slipped under the radar here? Breathless email to the publicist at Innova – who put out this delightfully witty album at the end of January – results in a package of files which translates, at least to some extent, into what you are reading right now. This is not a heavy album, but it’s very smart, a bright, playful mix of short, droll numbers along with a handful of more expansive tunes. Novoya polka stars Brave Combo join Klucevsek along with a vast supporting cast mostly hailing from the downtown New York scene.

Marcus Rojas’ pulsing tuba drives the Balkan-flavored opening track, Breathless and Bewildered, shifting from major to minor with twin accordions in perfect unison. The pensive, slow Waltz for Sandy features drummer John  Hollenbeck at his most tersely coloristic, adding vividly sepulchral brushwork. Jo Lawry’s deadpan, breathless layers of vocalese color the tongue-in-cheek Gimme a Minute, Please (My Sequins Are Showing).

Klucevsek follows that with Larsong, a diptych for solo accordion that shifts from a purposeful Nordic folk theme to a rather wary canon. Likewise, Ratatouille builds a circular west African motif up to a lavish choir of voices and then back again. There are also three imaginative rearrangements of Erik Satie “hymnopedies,” the first being a sort of mashup of Satie and a European hymn, the second a slightly more hopeful version of the famous Gymnopedie No. 2 featuring bright Dave Douglas trumpet, and the third a stately klezmer-inflected dirge that goes unexpectely bouncing with a surreal off-centeredness that would make its composer proud.

The best song here is Pink Elephant, climbing from an insistent Taxi Driver-style intro to a balmy but bracing Balkan dance. Klucevsek doesn’ t show off much on this album, but he pulls out all the stops on a deliriously thrilling, trilling solo. He follows that with O’o, a jauntily swinging psychedelic calypso number with all kinds of trippy efx. The album winds up with Ladereld, extrapolating on the riff from California Girls; The C and M Waltz, a coyly orchestrated schoolyard jumprope theme, and the irresistibly funny party-gone-wrong scenario Moja Baba Je Pijana, complete with understandably distraught English translation. Big up to Klucevsek’s like-minded supporting cast, which also includes fellow squeezebox guy Alex Meixner, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, bassist Pete Donovan, drummer Kenny Wollesen, singers Theo Bleckmann and Peter Eldridge, saxophonist Steve Elson and Texas bandleader Little Jack Melody.

Klucevsek works fast: he’s already got a lavish double album featuring even more collaborations than this one due out later this fall from Starkland.

September 25, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Brian Carpenter Resurrects Obscure Jazz Treasures from the Gatsby Era

Hothouse Stomp, the new album by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra, captures a magical demimonde in American music from between roughly 1928 and 1931. Forget for a minute that by transcribing and arranging eleven now-obscure songs from that era, Carpenter has rescued them from the even smaller demimondes of 78 RMP record collectors and musicians who still play this kind of stuff. First and foremost, these rapidfire gems from Harlem and Chicago are some of that era’s coolest and most controversial party music, the P-Funk or hip-hop of that time. Kids danced to it until their feet hurt, and now so can you even if you can’t afford a Victrola or any those old 78s which now sell for ridiculous prices. On one level, many of the songs here have a quaintly frantic Keystone Kops vibe and a droll wit, but they also have a level of sophistication that far surpasses most of the era’s pop music. Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton are the big names that everybody remembers, but at the top of their game Charlie Johnson, Tiny Parham and Fess Williams were just as good. Carpenter’s imaginative new charts pay homage to the originals while freeing them from the narrow time constraints of a 78. The band here plays them joyously, sometimes almost conspiratorially: Carpenter on trumpet, harmonica and vocals on one number; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Andy Laster on alto sax; Matt Bauder on tenor and alto sax and clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring on trombone; Jordan Voelker on viola and singing saw; Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; Brandon Seabrook on banjo; Ron Caswell on tuba and Rob Garcia on drums.

Carpenter opens the album with a big, dramatic harmonica crescendo and then they’re off. Mojo Strut, by Chicago-based Tiny Parham and His Musicians, has an brooding Ellingtonian minor-key intensity under its bouncy beat but also a drum break that’s practically Spike Jones, and some crazed conversation between the saxes at the end. With its lush strings beneath the romping tune, Stop Kidding, originally done by Harlem band McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, blends serious and silly in the span of barely two and a half minutes. Another Cotton Pickers number, Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You (a popular staple of the oldtimey circuit), gets more of a New Orleans vibe with a good-natured alto solo, and matching vocals from Swift. Voodoo, by Parham, goes for a wary Black and Tan Fantasy feel with some quiet sizzle from the banjo on the way in and Voelker’s theremin-like saw building the atmosphere to somewhat crazed and dazed layers of horns. Harlem pianist Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra’s Blues Have Sure Got Me has a similar minor-key restraint, with the saw oscillating eerily behind Swift’s hushed, wounded voice.

A casually soulful, trombone-fueled, practically five-minute midtempo version of Johnson’s Hot Bones & Rice foreshadows how this stuff would morph into swing and dixieland. But enough of the intricacies of the music – as fun as it is to blast on the ipod, just try sitting still to the triumphantly swirling clarinet on Dixie Stomp, the lickety-split Lucky 3-6-5, the pensive sway of The Boy in the Boat, or Harlem bandleader Fess Williams’ seemingly calypso-flavored Slide, Mr. Jelly, Slide. They wrap up the album with a warm, summery Johnson tune, the surprisingly titled Hot Tempered Blues. If this often deliriously fun album piques your curiosity, some (but not all) of the originals can be streamed at the irreplaceable redhotjazz site if you have Real Audio.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jeremy Udden’s Plainville at Bryant Park, NYC 6/2/10

Sax player Jeremy Udden’s most recent album Plainville is a warm, often offhandedly beautiful collection in the same vein as Bill Frisell’s Americana jazz. Tuesday night at Bryant Park, Udden (pronounded oo-DEEN) and his five-piece combo worked smartly counterintuitive, unexpected variations on wistful, nostalgically bucolic themes. It was the first concert we’ve worn earplugs to in a long time, a necessity that on face value seems absurd considering that Plainville’s music is contemplative and generally quiet. More about that later. With Pete Rende alternating between accordion and electric piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Bill Campbell on drums and sub banjoist Noam Pikelny clearly having a lot of fun taking the place of Udden’s usual collaborator Brandon Seabrook, they included a handful of new cuts alongside the older material along with a pulsing, riff-driven, tensely allusive Pharaoh Sanders cover.

The highlight of the night, unsurprisingly, was Christmas Song, the poignant jazz waltz that serves as the centerpiece of the Plainville album. Pikelny opened it, tersely, letting the band bring in the embellishments, Opsvik’s central solo beginning plaintively but growing vividly uneasy, like a family gathering where everybody knows it’s time to leave but never does. The album’s title track, named after Udden’s Massachusetts hometown, evoked early Pat Metheny with its bittersweet-tinged melody and long accordion intro by Rende. A new composition, Portland turned on a dime from simple riff-driven vamp into a brooding, wary ballad with a Wild Horses feel, courtesy of a brief and almost brutally terse soprano sax solo from Udden. And Opsvik’s muscular groove pulsed over Campbell’s modified bossa beat to anchor Udden’s cleverly playful flights on a number about the street the composer grew up on. In a way, it was a perfect match of music and early summer ambience, but in another way it was just the opposite. Remember those earplugs? They became a necessity with the first distant but still earsplitting shriek of the first alarm sounding as the bus at the stop around the corner opened its doors. Count this as our last Bryant Park concert, kind of sad considering what a great run this location had in the early 90s with all the jazz festivals here during the summer months.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment