Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Joel Yennior Trio’s Smart, Entertaining Debut

Trombonist Joel Yennior is best known for his work with Either/Orchestra, but he’s also a composer and bandleader with an often deviously witty signature sound. His free jazz quartet Gypsy Schaeffer’s most recent album, from last year, was an absolute delight. So is his latest project, the Joel Yennior Trio’s debut cd, Big City Circus. And it’s more diverse than the wickedly playful improvisations that he excels at: his dark, pensive central suite here is just as compelling as the more upbeat compositions. This group has an interesting configuration: Yennior is joined here by Eric Hofbauer on guitar and Gary Feldman on drums: as a bassless outfit, the trio deftly switch around to provide a low-register pulse, whether the guitar is pedaling a chord or a low note on the beat, Yennior pulls his slide all the way out, or the drums rumble around. And it makes the arrangements interesting, particularly on Monk’s Gallop’s Gallop, Yennior and Hofbauer switching roles, Hofbauer doing subtly spot-on rhythm and bass at once during the first verse.

The genial original swing tune Dancing Dave sets a warmly melodic tone that remains throughout the album. Burt Bacharach’s A House Is Not a Home is a showcase for gently swaying, warmly tuneful upper-register work from Yennior as the guitar and drums swing tersely underneath. A shapeshifting Ran Blake ballad, Breakthru is closer to Gypsy Schaeffer’s unpredictable jams than anything else here, Hofbauer and Feldman prowling around, waiting for the moment when they all pull it together at the end.

Another original, Postcard to Dorothy is a vividly expressive, wistful jazz waltz. Yennior goes low and outside as Hofbauer solos gently up to a simple Coltrane-esque hook, some deft drum accents and then back. The centerpiece of the album is the practically sixteen-minute three-part suite Justice Lost, inspired by a dispiriting turn Yennior took as a jury member (it was a murder trial: they didn’t convict). They kick it off with a big, cynical intro, liberally quoting the Godfather theme, Feldman’s cymbals and eventually Hofbauer’s guitar chords resounding memorably beneath Yennior’s protesting trombone. The second part is a mournful Ellingtonian blues with some bitterly rustic muted playing by Yennior and a couple of pointedly ironic passages where guitar and trombone go off on completely different tracks but then lock back in a split second. It winds up with a staccato tango that hints at collapse, which it does after a bright solo by Yennior. Feldman gets marvelously suspenseful and whispery, trombone and guitar diverge further and further from any kind of resolution, and then it’s over. The album closes with a brightly tuneful, shuffling version of Estrellita, a Mexican pop song from the 1950s popularized by Charlie Parker. It’s a stealth candidate for best jazz album of 2010.

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August 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

A marriage made in heaven. Songwriter Ward White’s decision to hook up with keyboard polymath Joe McGinty is a smashing success, an update on the classic late 60s psychedelic chamber pop sound mined by Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and others. And lest you take the first few words here, or the deadpan cd cover photo, a “Great American Songbook” style parody of the artist and his young protege, on face value, McGinty & White are neither an item nor are they gay. The chemistry here is strictly musical, but it’s strong: White’s purist, richly historically aware, ferociously literate songwriting is a perfect match for former Psychedelic Fur McGinty’s seemingly limitless yet equally purist imagination. As a song stylist, this is White’s finest hour, exhibiting the kind of subtle inflection that Elvis Costello was going for circa All This Useless Beauty but never could nail. “You can’t outrun me, I’ll beat you home,” he almost whispers on the cd’s opening track, Everything Is Fine, the tension so thick you need a knife to cut through – and the unnamed antagonist won’t admit to herself that there possibly could be any trouble brewing. Then on McGinty’s Big Baby, a sort of Jimmy Webb homage, White gives the allusive seduction scene a steamy, downright sensual feel. And his exhausted, bled-white interpretation of I’m So Tired (a McGinty/White co-write) is equally visceral.

 

But the rest of the album is a snarling contrast, and that’s where it really takes off. One of the most adventurously literary lyricists out there, White smashes through the fourth wall and goes meta-ballistic with Rewrite, ruthlessly contemplating the shards of a relationship smashed completely to hell:

 

You can talk all you want,

I’ll just busy myself with revisions

God these things used to write themselves

You’re not wise to the wisdom of piss-poor decisions

The kiss that precedes the tell

We had it all worked out

Now it sounds so formulaic

What man would want it now

 

The menacingly organ-driven Knees is just as savage, perhaps the only song to ever memorialize CB’s Gallery as White snidely recalls an encounter with a younger woman:

 

Oddly nostalgic for a place I always hated…

When Blondie came over the box

First time I heard it in ’78 it was this record

That was before I was born she said…

You take it all you don’t negotiate

You take it all by inches and degrees

You can keep my heart, you bitch

Just give me back my knees

 

The Roxy Music quote at the end of the song is priceless and spot-on.

 

Break a Rule, a McGinty composition welds an odd and eerie early 80s synth feel to a haunting, George Harrisonesque ballad complete with watery, period-perfect Leslie speaker guitar. Stay In Love, by White gently and methodically uses the West Coast trip from (or to) hell as a metaphor for disollution over an unabashedly beautiful, sad Claudia Chopek string arrangement. The cd closes with a cover of Wichita Lineman, just White on vocals and McGinty on celeste, a characteristically out-of-the-box way to wrap up one of the smartest, most memorable albums of the past several months: look for this high on the list of the year’s best here in December. McGinty & White play the cd release for this one at Bowery Electric (the old Remote Lounge space) on May 21 at 11 PM.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/23/09

Every Tuesday, in the spirit of Kasey Kasem, we try to mix it up with new and interesting stuff in a variety of styles along with the occasional rare, vintage gem. Some of these songs may appear on our Best 100 Songs of 2009 list which we’ll publish as we do every year sometime during the last week of December. All of the links below are for each individual song with the exception of #1 which is unreleased, you’ll have to come out tonight to see it live!  

 

1. Jenifer Jackson – Maybe

Gorgeous Burt Bacharach style 60s bossa nova-pop with noir overtones, from one of our era’s greatest songwriters. She’s at the Rockwood tonight (3/24) at 8.

 

2. For Feather – Love Field

Not a Costello cover  – this is a dark chamber rock song. Sounds a lot like This Reporter. They’re at Spikehill at midnight on 3/26

 

3. Avantango – Cachila

Eerie but soaring tango jazz from the pioneering combo led by bassist Pablo Aslan.

 

4. Sheila Cooper – In Love with the Night Mysterious

Canadian sax player/chanteuse. Gary Versace’s ominous piano gives this lounge jazz number an undercurrent of menace. Streaming at her site. 

 

5. The Havens – Gowanus Canal

The all-female bluegrass quartet’s deadpan tale about ganja that is, um,  not exactly organic. Yikes! They’re at Freddy’s on 3/28 at 11.

 

6. Clara Bellino – Potential Criminal

Edgy pop song. We’re all potential criminals.

 

7. Special Patrol Group – Black Clouds

Sounds a lot like Echobelly: counterintuitive chord changes, sultry vocals, intriguing lyrics. They’re at Arlene’s on 4/24.

 

8. Singing Sadie – Put Down the Carving Knife

Vaudevillian oldtimey chanteuse from Australia. Self-explanatory and fun.

 

9. ELO – Laredo Tornado

High-quality live youtube clip from British tv, 1974. Different lyrics than the classic album version on the Eldorado lp: “Towers of concrete, hellish go-round, are there to make you die!”

 

10. The Orange Monsoon – Like a Dildo on Viagra

Not much of a song, but a great title.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town

Her best album, the first instant classic to be released this year. Over the course of her previous six albums, Jenifer Jackson has carved out a niche that is uniquely her own, even though she wears her influences on her sleeve (Bacharach, the Beatles, and Brazilian jazz/pop most notably). There’s an impressive clarity of vision that pervades her music – a courageous one. It’s what Camus meant by lucidite – it’s evident from the first song on this album that this is someone who is firing on all cylinders, every synapse wide awake and often painfully aware of what’s going on. Her melancholy, intricate, jazz-inflected psychedelia doesn’t shy away from despair or loneliness. But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel: as strange as it may seem at first listen, this is ultimately a hopeful, optimistic album. Recorded live in the studio in order to evince as much interplay as possible out of her stellar backing band, the cd is a multistylistic tour de force, opening with Don’t Fade, old school 60s- 70s soul with fluttery organ fills and a soaring vocal. Like Sandy Denny, Jackson’s formidable prowess as a singer may not be physical – she’s not a big belter – but she packs an emotional wallop.

The album’s next cut Suddenly Unexpectedly, set to a fast shuffle beat with a bossa melody and layers of keys, is pure psychedelic tropicalia. The following track, Saturday, is something of an epic, and might be the most powerful song she’s ever recorded. It starts out somewhat Beatlesque, like a George song from the White Album. She pedals a chord through the verse, then all of a sudden the minor-key chorus descends: “It doesn’t matter anyway – I’ll keep it in my memory, that lovely Saturday.” Then the second verse kicks in, and everything picks up a notch. Jackson is also a painter, and as the images unwind, this tersely imagistic portrait of a young woman absolutely and heartbreakingly alone is absolutely, heartbreakingly beautiful.

After that, we get I Want to Start Something, more old-school soul with psychedelic flourishes, accordionist Sonny Barbato playing some delicious licks off Jackson’s equally tasty rhythm guitar. Her voice takes flight again at the end of the verse: “I’d like to find a place that feels like home…been so many places I don’t know why I can’t find it.”

The next cut, Dreamland, begins with a strangely captivating, tinkly piano intro into a wash of cymbals, then Jackson’s guitar kicks in all by itself. It’s Nashville gothic with all kinds of eerie, echoey effects from lead player Oren Bloedow’s guitar. It’s scarier than the fast, bluegrass-inflected version she used to play live, with a gorgeously sad lyric: “The way you loved me was a sin/I played a game I couldn’t win/Still I tried so hard to enter in/To the outer edge of Dreamland.”

Other standout tracks on the cd include the title track, gentle pastoral raga rock evocative of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, with an amazing piano break by Barbato; Anywhere I Would Journey, with its slow descending progression and watery lead guitar; The Change, an epic old-school soul groove-fest that would be perfectly at home on an Isaac Hayes live album from the early 70s; and For You, which with its tricky time changes and 60s garage rock feel wouldn’t be out of place on a Love Camp 7 record.

This album is generously multi-purpose: it’s a hell of a headphone album, it would make a great bedroom record, but it’s also a good thing to give to anyone you know who’s going off the deep end. Jackson’s gentle, soft voice and her wise, knowing lyrics offer a kind of solace that’s completely absent in indie rock, and the inspiring interplay of the band behind her can be mesmerizing. She deserves props for having the guts to reach down into the abyss to come up with some of the songs on this album, while never losing sight of the subtle, frequently surreal wit that imbues so many of them. It’s only April, but I think we’ve found the best album of 2007 and this is it. Cds are available at cdbaby.com at the link above, in better record stores and at shows.

April 12, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments