Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pensive Rustic Cinematics from Sagapool

Sagapool hail from Montreal. They play tunefully esoteric, mostly minor-key instrumentals that would make a good soundtrack to a David Cronenberg film somewhere in the woods north of Quebec City. Their new album features Luizio Altobelli’s accordion, Guillaume Bourque’s clarinet, Alexis Dumais’ piano, Zoe Dumais’ violin, Dany Nicolas’ acoustic guitar and Marton Maderspach’s lithe, subtle drums as the main instruments, although they also use banjo, bass, alto sax, mandolin, electric piano, sandpaper and “whispering.” Gypsy music is an obvious influence, and there’s a little of that here, but they also touch on classical, jazz and various folk styles. Some of their stuff reminds of eclectic San Francisco group Pickpocket Ensemble. Although not a theme and variations per se, the album works best taken as a single integral work, as if actually intended to be a movie soundtrack. The tunes are catchy and will linger in your head long after the sun goes down for good.

The opening cut is set in a Montreal park, a slightly aching accordion melody that builds to a motorway anthem as the drums rumble along, muffled against swooshing ambience. They follow that with Coeur D’Aiguille (Eye of the Needle), a wistful clarinet waltz with glockenspiel and ambient accordion. Le Vent Des Iles (Island Breeze) is another waltz, this one more pensive and featuring the piano. It rises to a sailing clarinet solo and then a romp through a majestic swirl of arpeggios in the style of 70s art-rock bands like Genesis. From its staccato piano intro to its tense violin/accordion melody, Le Fil Boreal (Edge of the Northern Lights) sounds like it’s about to explode into a big anthem but never quite gets there. La Tristesse De L’Ampleur (Sad Expanse) is a rather plaintive folk/jazz guitar tune that shifts between tricky and funky, and another moody waltz, clarinet soaring brightly upward.

The two tracks here where the grey-sky atmosphere lifts are Marcel, a jaunty, carefree dixieland-flavored number, and the amusing closing cut, Mon Cousin Joue Du Synthe (My Cousin Plays Synth), a dark minor-key theme bookending some unexpectedly silly, campy 80s new wave tropes. There’s also a brooding neoromantic piano waltz with Erik Satie echoes; another violin tune that shifts between waltz time and trickier rhythms; and the vividly crescendoing De Cordes et De Bois (Strings and Wood), which matter-of-factly builds until it lifts off and becomes an action movie theme – and then reprises an earlier melody. Who is the audience for this? Montreal bartenders on the day shift; northern New England shopkeepers who aspire to be classier than Walmart; people whose days begin late and end early or wish that was the case.

Advertisements

March 8, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swift Years Mash Up Eclectic Sounds from Montreal and Around the Globe

Here’s how it works in the blogosphere:we’ve got every PR agent on the planet hammering on our virtual door, pleading for some attention, but we like it best when we do a writeup on the Montreal Jazz Festival, a Quebecois band we’ve never heard of finds it, and then sends us a link to their stuff. And it turns out, they’re great! Canadian trio Swift Years’ most recent album goes back to 2005, and it’s a ton of fun. They’re sort of a north-of-the-border counterpart to Tribecastan. What guitarist Patrick Hutchinson, mandolinist Bob Cussen and bassist Suzanne Ungar have assembled here is an endlessly surprising, eclectic, genuinely amusing mix of cross-pollinated global sounds. They don’t have drums on the album, but it’s so tight that you don’t notice unless you listen closely.

Musically, the two real killer tracks here are The Exile and The Sand, both tricky, bitter, bracing, psychedelic Smyrnika rock instrumentals much in the style of Annabouboula, with layers of mandolin, guitar and soaring bass. The real classic here is Old Man Santo. See, Old Man Santo – think about that title for a minute – had a Farm, E-I-G-M-O. On the farm he had some pot, and some pigs, and some cows, really bloody pissed-off mad cows everywhere. We won’t spoil the plot because it’s as funny as it is unfortunately true.

A lot of the other tracks here add reggae to enhance the comedic factor. Beside Me’s protagonist doesn’t let his lack of money stop him from trying to pick up the girl: “After supper we could split a beer,” he tells her. He’s strictly oldschool: “I’m a rotary phone, I’m the last bus home…at home I drink out of glasses that I take home from bars, an old piggybank is my retirement plan, the clothes from my back are from the Sally Ann.” Rasta Puszta blends reggae, bluegrass and a happy Eastern European dance in there somewhere. And I Dreamed I Stopped Smoking is an amusing faux-country song, like a zeros update on what the Stones did with Dear Doctor.

They do a tongue-in-cheek speed-up and then do it all over again on the gypsy-flavored Hanko Hanko, and merge Quebecois with bluegrass on the equally sardonic Mon Vieux François. The title track, which sounds like the Boomtown Rats doing a creepy reggae tune, offers a view of the afterlife where everything is pretty much the same for these guys, everybody playing everyone else’s culture’s music in one big mashup, with a politically aware edge. In this particular world, right-wing politicians are reincarnated as single mothers. The album also includes a gorgeous, plaintive Belgian barroom waltz, a medley of the Eddystone Light and three jigs, and a lickety-split string band version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business. The whole thing is streaming at Swift Years’ bandcamp site – thanks for finding us, guys! Now it’s the rest of the world’s turn to discover this entertaining band.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | folk music, gypsy music, irish music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Love Halifax

What’s the likelihood of arriving in a city where you’ve never been before, then going out to three completely random shows and seeing four excellent acts? That’s what happened to us in Halifax. It’s easy to do in New York, if you know where you’re going. But Halifax, unlike New York, doesn’t hide its best music at the fringes. When we left Montreal a week ago Monday, we thought we might get a bit of a respite from the crazy party that had been the Jazz Festival there: no such luck. Halifax may be laid-back, but it’s a party town. The party restarted less than 24 hours after we got there, at Nova Scotia’s oldest pub, the Seahorse Tavern, with Zulkamoon, a skaragga band with sax and keyboards along with the usual guitar, bass and percussion. It may have been a Tuesday night, but they got a bunch of dancers bouncing in front of the stage within minutes. Charismatic singer/percussionist nti TZT delivered defiant, rapidfire lyrics in Spanish as the band blasted through grooves that ranged from frantic ska to fast cumbia to slinky reggae. Pianist Pat Storer lit up one song with some evocative wee-hour jazz phrasing while guitarist Michael Nahirnak switched effortlessly from precise shuffles to twangy surf, alto saxophonist Matthew Reiner adding a wary intensity. They’re sort of the Halifax version of Escarioka: the two ought to do a doublebill somewhere in Chile.

Next on the bill were three-woman rock powerhouse Like a Motorcycle. Like the band before them they’re a breath of fresh air – or make that a blast of fresh air. There’s no other band out there who sound like them. Part punk, part no wave, part noiserock, they evoke an assaultive, early 80s vibe, their guitarist getting some gorgeously evil distorted tones out of her overdriven Gibson SG while bassist Michelle played simple, catchy lead lines over fast, cymbal-drenched shuffle beats. Michelle sang most of the songs, then the drummer took over on the mic: while bits and pieces of lyrics filtered through the mix, the roar and stomp made it hard to hear them – the energy was through the roof. With its insanely catchy, simple hook, their signature song – the second one of the set – sounded like X but more hypnotic and assaultive. Then they flipped the script with a balmy intro to the next one, like Live Skull doing Walk on the Wild Side, complete with tasty bass chords. The rest of their ten-song set switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor punk rock, to a couple of defiant Avengers-ish tunes, to a couple like the Bush Tetras on steroids, equal parts catchy and abrasive, the guitarist slashing her way out of a thicket of overtones as she reached for the hooks and then swung on them with a gleeful wrath.

Wednesday we went out to the Foggy Goggle (Canadians like funny names) to check out the weekly bluegrass jam. While these are inevitably intended less as spectacle than as a way for musicians to keep up their chops – as they should be – this made for good spectacle, especially since the crew onstage – adventurous, jam-oriented mandolinist bandleader, banjo, fiddle, bass and a flatpicking guitarist whose lickety-split leads were breathtakingly good – didn’t limit themselves to old standards that everybody knows. By the time they got to Little Maggie, they’d been through plenty of surprises, including some tasty blues.

By the time we’d made it to Thursday night, it was time to chill. All the nightcrawling and running around to historic sites – the original city graveyard,with its creepy, over-the-top 18th century tombstones; another about an hour on foot from the city center, where numerous Titanic victims, many of them still unidentified, are buried at a central memorial; a whalewatching cruise that made for good seal-watching but didn’t turn up any bigger cetaceans; and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with the world’s most extensive collection of Titanic artifacts – had taken its toll. At this point, we figured we’d wind up the trip quietly with a jazz show at Stayner’s Wharf, a comfortable seafood-and-beer joint on the water downtown. The Martin Davidson Trio launched into their set as we walked in, but even though this was clearly a “restaurant gig,” more of an exercise in ambience than scorching solos, they didn’t phone it in: instead, they threw off many hints that what they had in reserve was much more adventurous than what they were limited to in this particular setting. In a mix of mostly standards, Davidson played mostly tenor sax, switching to alto to wind up the set, sticking with a clear tone through an hour’s worth of purist, expansive solos. Occasionally it was just sax and bass as the Rhodes piano player backed away from his majestic block chords. On a couple of tunes, the bassist threw in some clever “is there anbody listening” swoops (yup, somebody was listening!); toward the end, a bossa number finally served as a launching pad for gritty bass and ringing piano textures: Davidson, playing alto, finally fired off some sharp bop-flavored salvos at the upper registers to close on a high note. From an audience perspective, it’s hard to imagine a better way to wind up the week: since Montreal, we’d literally come full circle.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geoff Berner’s Pyrrhic Victory Party – One of the Year’s Best

Cynical, insightful, hilarious and iconoclastic, Canadian klezmer rocker Geoff Berner comes off as sort of the Eugene Hutz of current-day Jewish music. After wrapping up his Whiskey Rabbi trilogy, Berner made this ferocious, fearless latest one, Victory Party, with Canadian Jewish music maven Socalled. Berner is ironically more of a throwback to oldschool klezmer than any of the klezmer revivalists: in the days of the pogroms, klezmers (Jewish musicians) tended to be hellraisers, outcasts not only in society as a whole but often within their own culture as well, and Berner seems to embrace that fate as he calls bullshit on pretty much everyone who deserves it. This is a hell of an album, and ironically, though the music is more retro, less punk than his previous stuff, his vision is more fearlessly punk than ever.

The album gets off to a low-key, cynical start with the title track, a pyrrhic victory where the narrator journeys through a nightmare past “the charred remains of the orphanage, past the dogshit and corpses” to what poses for a party. “I knew we were right on the brink of our best years,” Berner remarks flatly. At his site, he explains that the song was inspired by the true story of a death camp survivor who “returned to Berlin to reclaim his bar. He paid German musicians to play klezmer tunes while he slowly drank himself to death.” Michael Winograd’s sarcastically blithe clarinet lights up the bouncy Jackie the Pimp, which offers an Iceberg Slim-style look at the downside of the profession. Wealthy Poet chronicles the ways the guy will help his girlfriend escape the oppressors, finally by giving her some matches so she can burn off her fingerprints at the border, the violins of Diona Davies and Brigitte Dajczer snarling and smoldering overhead.

The famous Yiddish-American protest song Mayn Rue Platz is transformed into a gorgeous duet with otherworldly vocals from Chinese-Canadian siren/erhu player Lan Tung. I Kind of Hate Songs with Ambiguous Lyrics is self-explanatory, and an instant classic, a song that needed to be written; Dalloy Polizei – a reworking of a hundred-year-old Russian Jewish folk tune – commemorates the murder of Ian Bush, shot from behind in police custody in Houston, British Columbia after being arrested for having an open container of beer. And with Berner’s accordion driving a cruelly amusing, deadpan, rustic shtetl-style cover of Canadian girlpunks the Sluttards’ I Am Going to Jail, he finds the commonalities between centuries of persecution of Jews, and centuries of persecution of nonconformists of all kinds.

A brutally sarcastic techno song, Oh My Golem explores the cruel irony of how the original, idealistic concept of Zionism was appropriated by genocidal, anti-Palestinian wingnuts in Israel. There’s also a plaintive, sad version of the waltz Cherry Blossoms, and a woozily slinky epic titled Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religous Agenda that pokes fun at religious cults. Savagely aware, catchy and contemptuous, this is refusenik rock at its best. Watch for this on our best albums of 2011 list at the end of the year if any of us are still alive to compile it.

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Triple Bill on the Lower East 5/14/10

Three bands, a lot of fun, in fact one of the funnest nights of music so far this year in New York – at just about the last place you would expect it to happen. Toronto rock trio People You Know opened. They’re growing into their good ideas, and they seem to have an unlimited supply. It’ll be interesting to see what they do once they have a more polished sound because their rough edges are what make them so appealing. It’s not easy to find their influences because their sound is so original – biting electric guitar, skittish rhythms and insistent, trebly bass, on one level totally retro 80s but also in the here and now because guitarist Aimee Bessada jumps from style to style with zero regard for tradition, fearlessly, punk rock style. And it always works. Bass player Devon Clarke is a newcomer to the instrument, already writing catchy riffs that promise to get even more interesting as she grows more comfortable with them. Drummer Iman Kassam held it simple and spot-on for Bessada’s explorations through acidic Sonic Youth noise, screechy Slits quasi-funk and plaintive Wire-esque major/minor changes. She may not be listening to any of those bands, just writing her own hooks in her bedroom by herself – if so, good for her. She dealt with adversity well, tuning and singing at the same time, Tom Rush style, and when her Gibson SG finally became untunable, she borrowed one of the next band’s guitars and scorched her way with a terse bluesiness through the next catchy postpunk number, sounding like a more down-to-earth Interpol.

AwShockKiss were a thrill ride. They really know how to write a song, slamming into one fiery, insanely memorable chorus after another. Hits have to be simple enough to stick in your mind and this band knows that. Tightly and intensely, they jumped from one to another, barely leaving any time between them. Almost everything they did was in a bracing minor key. Frontwoman Kiri Jewell took over center stage with a throaty wail similar to Bessada’s. Considering that this was Crash Mansion, it was no surprise that her lyrics didn’t often cut through the sound mix – when they did, they carried a cynical, sarcastic bite. Like People You Know, they have an 80s sound, but a good one: they would have ruled the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. Their new bass player Charlie Cervone may have a Berklee degree but he doesn’t waste notes (a John Lockwood student, maybe?), adding an extra level of catchiness with a climb or a fill on a turnaround; their Telecaster player usually had the good sense to stick with roaring chords, mingling with Stefanie Bassett’s perfectly paced piano for some really gorgeous textures. They switched up the rhythm with a devious 7/8 verse on one number; their big 6/8 ballad was lit up with some spine-tingling tremolo-picking and then an otherworldly, reverb-drenched solo from the Tele player. The crowd screamed for an encore but the club wouldn’t give them one.

Another Toronto band, Hunter Valentine do one thing – fast, roaring new wave/punk pop – and do it tightly and passionately. Swinging her gorgeous hollow-body Gibson all over the stage, charismatic singer/guitarist Kiyomi McCloskey belted out her songs with a ferocious contralto wail in the same vein as Vera Beren – or, a generation before, Carole Pope of Rough Trade. Bassist Adrienne Lloyd and drummer Laura Petracca joined forces to provide a pummeling beat and sassy vocals when needed. Their biggest hit with the crowd was the savage powerpop song Stalker, McCloskey cutting loose with an unearthly shriek at the end of the second verse that practically drew blood – she hinted that she might do it again, but she didn’t. They wrapped up their fairly short set with Test Collision (a Toronto reference), quiet verse exploding into a roaring chorus, and then a bouncy number that they started with a wall of nails-down-the-blackboard guitar feedback.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: HuDost – Trapeze

The second album by adventurous Montreal band HuDost was produced by Malcolm Burn (Peter Gabriel, Midnight Oil) who gives their ethereal, sometimes country-flavored, sometimes goth-inflected pop songs a sheen that underscores their rustic side rather than glossing over it. With her clear, soaring voice, frontwoman/keyboardist Moksha Sommer echoes a couple of NYC rock legends – she’s something of a cross between a more overtly sultry Paula Carino and a less boisterous Juliana Nash. Perhaps adding to the already wary edge in her voice is that she recorded this album after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, but before the operation.

The album opens with the goth-pop epic Trespasser, a cut that with a little exposure will be a fixture in the background wherever black robes and eyeliner are found. About half the songs here take a traditional country ballad feel and add an unexpected edge, whether that might be exotic instrumentation (harmonium, bouzouki, oud and bendir) or a more hypnotic vibe – one of them sounds like a more interesting update on the Rosanne Cash hit Seven Year Ache. The most memorable track is an understatedly haunting number sung in both English and French, recounting how greedy developers paved over a cemetery for the poor, ripped out the headstones, left the graves and with erosion the bodies came through the ground again. Of the other tracks here, there’s a catchy Beatlesque hit that morphs into new wave, a vivid, psychedelic midtempo chamber pop ballad, and the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek All My Guitars (sung by guitarist Jemal Wade Hines), an artsy pop song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Snow‘s songbook. It’s nice to see a band like this who don’t sacrifice content for commerciality yet have a theoretically almost limitless upside for hit potential: these songs are catchy, and thankfully, Canadian radio is mandated to push Canadian artists, so they ought to have at least one market locked up.

The best news of all here is that Sommer is in good health again and the band will be on US tour Sept 16-Oct 15, watch this space for NY dates.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/31/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #331:

Jello Biafra & NomeansnoChew

Nightmare wee-hours NYC subway platform scenario with one of the most guitarishly delicious, reverb-drenched intros ever. The rats are everywhere, and they’re on the attack. Finally the train comes, but in typical MTA fashion, it doesn’t stop! From The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy, the Dead Kennedys’ frontman’s otherwise so-so 1989 collaboration with the dadaesque Canadian punk band. The link in the title above is a youtube clip of the full track.

August 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Beyond the Pale – Postcards

This is one of those great multistylistic Balkan-flavored bands which seem to be popping up all over the place. On their third excellent cd, Toronto-based Beyond the Pale (not to be confused with the Irish band of the same name) mix elements of klezmer, Eastern European folk and bluegrass for a completely original sound, alternately sizzling and haunting. String players Alekasandar Gajić and Bogdan Djukić and accordionist Milos Popović are Serbian; clarinetist Martin van de Ven is Dutch, bassist Bret Higgins and bandleader/mandolinist/cimbalom player Eric Stein (who also runs Toronto’s excellent Ashkenaz Festival) are Canadian: an unsurprisingly syncretic lot.

The dances here set frequently blazing, modern solos with an occasional rock edge flying over rustically-flavored melodies (Stein is particularly adept at this). There are two tangos, one more upbeat and intricate than the other, yet both share the clever interplay between instruments that pervades most of the album. There’s also a fluttery, heartfelt original arrangement of an old Jewish ngunim (liturgical melody) and a couple of noirish, klezmer/cabaret vocal numbers, one with a bracing cimbalom solo from Stein.

Katarina, with its staccato violin, bubbly clarinet and wistful accordion plays over some tricky changes, building to a nostalgic crescendo of strings. Gajic’s Back to the Beginning, written under the bombs in Belgrade is swinging but stark, with a jazzy, somewhat Jean-Luc Ponty-esque feel. One of the cleverest numbers here, Turkish Delight is actually a cover, a strikingly captivating, haunting reworking of a Levantine-inflected dance tune by 1950s schlockmeister/innovator Irving Fields originally released on the legendary cassette-only album of cruise ship instrumentals Melody Cruise Around the World. The album winds up with a darkly atmospheric accordion tune, a Balkan dance, a traditional doina and a brisk minor-key klezmer number. It’s fun, it’s pretty dark in places and you can even dance to much of this. Beyond the Pale have friends in high places (they played Theodore Bikel’s birthday party at Carnegie Hall); watch this space for New York dates.

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment