Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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

Song of the Day 1/28/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #182:

Dan Bryk – City Of…

In a Toronto of the mind, Canadian-American rocker Bryk sets the stage for the most amusing and heartbreakingly accurate state-of-the-music-world address ever recorded. It rocks, too. From his superb 2009 album Pop Psychology.

January 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment