Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Playful, Picturesque New Album and a Fort Greene Show by the World’s Most Mysterious Drummer

Why on earth would anyone be interested in an album of solo percussion? Because the world’s most mysterious drummer, Carlo Costa, is playing it. While he’s best known for his sepulchral, otherworldly sound, his new solo album, Oblio – streaming at Bandcamp – is the funnest, funniest and by far the most colorful project he’s ever been involved with. He’s playing the release show this Nov 29 at around 9 at Jack in Fort Greene. The intense improvisational trio of cellist Leila Bordreuil, bassist Sean Ali and violist Joanna Mattrey open the night at 8; cover isn’t listed on the club’s calendar or any of the musicians’ gig pages, but it’s usually $10 for shows here.

Costa’s new album has two tracks. The first clocks in at a bit more than twenty minutes, the second at about seventeen. It’s likely that most if not all of it is completely improvised. Here’s what happens: entertainment coming at you right down the pike.

A gentle drone punctuated by wavelike gong pulses, then a mysterious flicker or two! Somethihng is afoot! The crank of an antique car engine, a jaunty whistle or two, a perplexed persistence…the motor sputters but never quite starts.

The way Costa mimics a cello or violin simply by rubbing his drumheads is astonishing. Persistent squeaks over calm ambience, agitated chirps alternating with playful rattles…then a jungle begins to come to life! That, or a bagpipe gone off the rails while a thunderstorm looms in the distance. The clouds burst, and suddenly it’s a hailstorm!

A squeaky if steady crank slowly loses its grooves. More of that distant boom alternating with sand in somebody’s hourglass…or shoes. A shinto temple in the rain before 3/11 ruined everything…is that mosquitoes, a cash register about to self-combust, or the most brilliant approximation of a rainstorm ever recorded by a multi-percussionist?

Scurrying insectile phrases against lingering, high washes conclude album side one. Side two opens with a kitchen-sink feel that grows to a LOL-funny series of Rube Goldberg machine polyrhythms, once again over that ominous series of cumulo-nimbus gong hits in the background. Tree frogs! A woodpecker! A dude with a bandsaw trying to cut down the tree with the woodpecker in it?

Rain on the music box…hacksaws on a particularly stubborn pipe…Dr. Seuss clockwork…a squeaky wheel that gets no grease…and there you have it, the most psychedelically entertaining percussion album of the century!

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November 22, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Crepuscular Magic from Carlo Costa

Over the last year or so, drummer Carlo Costa has carved out a niche for himself as a first-rate improviser and bandleader with a penchant for suspenseful, frequently haunting soundscapes. His latest project, titled Natura Morta, is a fascinatingly ghostly four-part improvisation featuring violist Frantz Loriot and bassist Sean Ali. Seldom do any of the instruments serve their usual purposes: other than some ominous, hesitantly rumbling motifs by Costa on a couple of occasions, it’s hard to tell who’s doing what. Loriot hangs around the low midrange while Ali bows high harmonics much of the time, when the two aren’t supplying the occasional, seemingly random series of pizzicato accents, sometimes flitting in and out of the mix, sometimes scurrying furtively. What they’re doing isn’t melodic in any conventional sense – when Ali finally moves up a half-step from the root he’s been hammering, off and on, toward the end of the fourth track, it’s the first and really only time a real tune insinuates itself into the equation. Otherwise, if this is death, it’s an entertaining if disquieting place, something akin to the Chinese proverb about the luck of being born in interesting times.

The opening track, Entropy, is far less entropic than its title suggests: following a series of cues, the trio scurry and rattle against a drone. For awhile, everything is muted: mournful bell-like tones, distant footfalls and white noise, then Loriot introduces an element of scrapy, unvarnished horror. Harmonics oscillate up with a groan as it goes quietly into the night. The second track, Hive, has an unexpected humor, all three musicians rustling singlemindedly as if trying to get a grip on something that keeps slipping away. Drones – the rubbing of a drum head, maybe? – circulate through the mix and establish a circular, hypnotic rhythmic quality which the viola then sends packing, Costa moving from tentative to deliberate as he navigates his way gingerly down into the abyss. Track three, Marrow, is basically a drum solo in a catacomb atmosphere – is that a gamelan gong doing those almost subsonic booms? An echoing polyrhythmic effect disappears amid a series of quickly disintegrating scrapes and swoops, Costa eventually shifting to a matter-of-fact bustle against Loriot’s screeching overtones. The final track, Glimmer, spaces sepulchral single notes – a muted cymbal, a fragment of a bass figure, a hint of sustained viola – within a glacial tempo punctuated mostly by silence: the first minute or so is barely perceptible, it’s so quiet. Only the drums have any resonance, and only for a second at a time, low and booming and fading completely in what seems less than a second. In its own extremely well-conceived, twisted and defiantly perverse way, it’s a tremendously compelling listen and makes a terrific companion piece for Costa’s Crepuscular Activity album, a duo set of nocturnes with bass flutist Yukari that made the Top Jazz Albums of 2011 here.

June 22, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 25 Best Jazz Albums of 2011

If there’s one thing this page tries to avoid, it’s redundancy: if you’ve been here before, you’ve noticed that coverage here typically focuses on talent flying under the radar. That’s not to imply that the Marsalises, Vijay Iyers and Christian McBrides of the world aren’t valid artists, only that you probably already know about them. And there’s actually an album by a Marsalis (although not one who might immediately spring to mind) on this list.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even the most dedicated listener only has the opportunity to hear, at the most, a few hundred out of the thousands of jazz albums released every year. Then there’s the big can of worms that spills over with every attempt to rank them. How do you compare a big band with a stark bass-and-voice duo? How does a recording of sepulchral flute-and-percussion improvisations weigh up against a collection of intricate, politically fueled, narrative compositions? Isn’t all that just apples and oranges? Consider this a perhaps misguided stab at tackling all of the above, keeping in mind that the difference quality-wise between #1 and #25 here is infinitesimally small – all the albums here are worth your time.

Most years, trying to decide just which jazz album is the year’s best is a crapshoot. This year, however, there’s one that stands out over the rest of a very strong crop, and that’s the Curtis Brothers’ Completion of Proof. Written by pianist Zaccai Curtis as the Bush regime was finally coming to an end, it’s a towering, sometimes wrathful, cruelly sarcastic concept album that explores the effects of fascism and those who perpetrate it, from the school hall monitor to heads of state. As political art, it ranks with Mingus and Shostakovich for its insight and bleak, ironic wit: as music, it’s hard-hitting, ambitious but searingly melodic, as political music has to be. Drummer Ralph Peterson (who also put out a dynamite album of his own this year, Outer Reaches, a Larry Young tribute) gets special mention for propelling this monster: the rest of the cast includes Luques Curtis, Jimmy Greene, Brian Lynch, Donald Harrison and Pedrito Martinez.

JD Allen, who topped the charts here with I Am I Am in 2007, gets the #2 spot for VICTORY!, his elegant and equally hard-hitting trio sonata album with Gregg August and Rudy Royston. The tenor saxophonist’s laser-beam sense of melody, his majestic and fearlessly brooding, chromatically-charged themes, his artful use of his rhythm section and imaginative employment of duo arrangements have never been more impactful than they are here. There’s no other composer in jazz who’s ahead of this guy right now.

#3 goes to a group you may have never heard of, the self-titled debut by Beninghove’s Hangmen, who take Marc Ribot-style noir themes to all sorts of genuinely menacing places. Noir can become a cliche, but not with this band – veering from Mingus bustle to noisy, macabre surf rock, they breathe fresh air into every dark cinematic style you’ve ever heard. With Bryan Beninghove, Rick Parker, Eyal Maoz, Dane Johnson, Kellen Harrison and Shawn Baltazor.

4. Ran Blake and Dominique Eade – Whirlpool. To put the definitive noir pianist of our time anywhere other than #1 is hubris: at 76, he’s never been more counterintuitive or moodily interesting. Eade brings her equally restless chops to a mix of vocal standards, all of which they radically reinvent – and the best song here might be Eade’s original.

5. Ralph Bowen – Power Play. The tenor saxophonist is just as much about precision as he is power, but where he excels most is as a composer. Leading a quartet with Orrin Evans, Kenny Davis and Donald Edwards, his fiery, vividly uneasy melodicism was unsurpassed by anyone else this year.

6. Billy Bang Bill Cole. A 2009 concert performance with the late, great violinist/improviser – whom we sadly lost this year – inventing new elements with the noted multi-reedman. It’s essentially a series of tone poems, some rising with an astringent airiness, sometimes uncoiling with an unrestrained ferocity. There are some scary albums on this list: this is probably the scariest.

7. Delfeayo Marsalis – Suite Thunder. As with the Mingus Orchestra’s Live at Jazz Standard album last year, it probably isn’t even fair to include this album, which has the trombonist leading a big band that revisits the legendary Ellington suite with an A-list of players including but not limited to Branford Marsalis, Red Atkins, Victor Goines, Jason Marshall, Mark Gross, Tiger Okoshi and Mulgrew Miller.

8. Sara Serpa – Mobile. Serpa’s claim to fame is vocalese – imagine the purest, most crystalline soprano sax that could possibly exist, then add mega-amounts of soul, determination, originality and frequent existential angst along with moody, intense, counterintuitively crescendoing, sometimes third-stream themes inspired by writing about travel and migration. With Kris Davis, Andre Matos, Ben Street and Ted Poor.

9. The Captain Black Big Band. This was ticket that everybody wanted, and nobody could get this year, pianist Orrin Evans’ mighty, swinging steamroller. Evans is a cerebral guy, but this group is a pure raw adrenaline rush. With a huge cast frequently including Rob Landham, Gianluca Renzi, Todd Marcus, Ralph Bowen, Jim Holton, Anwar Marshall, Tatum Greenblatt, Mark Allen, Jaleel Shaw and Neil Podgurski.

10. Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra – Hothouse Stomp. The trumpeter resurrects blazing, barely three-minute gems from Harlem and Chicago in the 20s by Tiny Parham, Charles Johnson and Fess Williams. With Dennis Lichtman, Andy Laster, Matt Bauder, Curtis Hasselbring, Jordan Voelker, Mazz Swift, Brandon Seabrook and Rob Garcia.

11. Iconoclast – Dirty Jazz. Technically, this came out at the very tail end of 2010, but who’s counting? Julie Joslyn’s liquid mercury alto sax (and snarling violin) and Leo Ciesa’s slasher drums (and icily melodic piano) are in full noir effect on this uncompromising, smartly aware, assaultively lurid effort.

12. Brian Landrus – Traverse. Much like Gerry Mulligan fifty years ago, the baritone saxophonist pushes the limits of where his instrument can go, with a warm melodicism to match, over grooves that range from latin to reggae to a jazz waltz to hypnotic ambience. With Michael Cain, Lonnie Plaxico and Billy Hart.

13. Rich Halley – Requiem for a Viper. A raw, powerhouse, sometimes explosive, sometimes deviously witty improvisationally-driven collection of intense originals, more of a party than a funeral, the saxophonist backed by a mighty rhythm section of bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley along with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich.

14. Jen Shyu and Mark Dresser – Synastry. Just bass and vocals have never sounded more interesting than they do here on these two improvisers’ stunningly diverse, sometimes unexpectedly amusing and tuneful duos.

15. Monty Alexander – Harlem-Kingston Express Live. Where the preeminent Jamaican pianist of our era lyrically, genially and triumphantly explores both his jazz and reggae roots: it’s only a tad less exhilarating than his 1995 Yard Movement effort. With Hassan Shakur, Obed Calvaire,Yotam Silberstein, Andy Bassford, Hoova Simpson, Karl Wright and Robert Thomas.

16. Bad Luck – Two. Like Iconoclast, this is basically sax and percussion, with electronic effects that add a creepy edge to the compositions and improvisations on this white-knuckle-intense double-disc set from drummer/percussionist Christopher Icasiano and saxophonist Neil Welch.

17. Michel Camilo – Mano a Mano. Where the Dominican pianist teams up with his longtime bassist Charles Flores and percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo for an intimate but often exhilarating blend of third-stream and Afro-Cuban themes.

18. Patrick Cornelius – Maybe Steps. The alto saxophonist’s artful, shapeshifting compositions mine rich veins of modalities, murky noir themes and nocturnal melody: although this is a studio recording, it has the unleashed energy of a stage show. With Gerald Clayton, Peter Slavov, Kendrick Scott, Miles Okazaki and Assen Doykin.

19. The Phil Dwyer Orchestra – Changing Seasons. The Canadian saxophonist/bandleader’s take on a four-seasons suite is lushly tuneful and sweepingly orchestrated, and ends on a surprisingly effective, upbeat note. With a huge cast of characters including a full string section as well as contributions from Mark Fewer, Chris Gestrin, Jon Wikan and Ingrid Jensen.

20. Benjamin Drazen – Inner Flights. The saxophonist has speed and power, and even more impressively, a restless intensity when it comes to songwriting. Alternating between pensive, edgy modes and big swing anthems, he leads a first-class band featuring Jon Davis in particularly scorching mode on piano along with Carlo De Rosa on bass and Eric McPherson on drums.

21. Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble – Inana. This time out, the innovative Iraqi-American quartertone trumpeter brings Middle Eastern themes into American jazz rather than the other way around in this bracing, fascinating suite inspired by the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war. With Tareq Abboushi, Zafer Tawil, Ole Mathisen, Carlo DeRosa and Nasheet Waits.

22. David Gibson – End of the Tunnel. The trombonist’s late-night Memphis style 60s soul groove album that imaginatively adds rhythmic complexity to Booker T. and Stax/Volt B3 organ vamps. With Julius Tolentino, Jared Gold and Quincy Davis.

23. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – Third River Rangoon. It’s amazing how lush and hypnotic Brian O’Neill a.k.a. Mr. Ho gets a flute, marimba, bass and percussion to sound on this utterly narcotic collection of nocturnes, many of which playfully pilfer well-known classical themes. It’s by far the most psychedelic album on this list.

24. Carlo Costa – Crepuscular Activity. The drummer’s sepulchral duo improvisations with bass flutist Yukari make an excellent segue with #23 above, 27 whispery, creepy minutes of shadowy furtiveness and sometimes pure chill.

25. Dave Juarez – Round Red Light. Juarez is a guitarist who doesn’t play like one, favoring terseness and melody every time over flash and ostentation; this album’s nocturnes, boleros, waltzes and a couple of barn-burners have a vivid, sometimes wary European flavor. With Seamus Blake, John Escreet, Lauren Falls and Bastian Weinhold.

December 18, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Carlo Costa’s Crepuscular Activity – Play This with the Lights Out

Whether you might consider Carlo Costa’s Crepuscular Activity to be free jazz, minimalism, horizontal music, indie classical or just plain creepy, it’s a GREAT late-night album, a must-own for devotees of dark sounds. It’s short, 27 minutes and 54 seconds of Costa on drums and glockenspiel and Yukari on flute and alto flute along with a little ambient noise courtesy of the “city of Brooklyn.” Their slowly shifting soundscapes balance suspenseful stillness with slightly more animated passages, best experienced as a whole with the lights out.

The first of the three tracks, Sea Breezes begins with what appears to be random background noise – traffic? – Costa’s drums a distant wash, mysterious flute atmospherics floating in and out of the mix. A slow, skeletal alto flute tune begins to emerge over Costa’s distantly sepulchral timbres. The darkness lightens a little, like a clearing in a drizzle as Costa begins coloring it with gentle reverberating fills. The second track, Black Pond is a fourteen-minute suite, a series of slowly divergent motifs on glockenspiel and alto flute. Both instruments grow increasingly rubato – it’s an utterly eerie, hallucinatory effect. The glockenspiel eventually takes on what could be a water droplet pattern, and later a wind chime effect, flute holding it together, steady and wary.

The final piece, Snow on Trees is somewhat more energetic. Costa’s funereal, insistent, boomy rhythm anchors an only slightly less somber flute, then the two go off on an unexpectedly scraping and scratching tangent, Costa eventually rising to meet the flute’s agitation; and then the two switch roles. That’s the play-by-play version of this album. If you have no fear of losing control of your dreams, put this on as you settle in for the night.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Minerva Weighs Out Smart Headphone Jazz

Jazz trio Minerva’s new album Saturnismo is a lot of fun: it’s headphone music. Drummer/bandleader Carlo Costa is a first-class colorist. A rough guess is that he’s hitting his hardware here about 80% more than he plays on the actual drum heads. JP Schlegelmilch on piano and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass are tremendously thoughtful, often minimalist. Everyone contributes compositions. Tempos are generally on the slow side but sometimes just the opposite; the emphasis is on subtlety rather than volume or overt displays of chops. The vibe is free and conversational: throughout the album (especially the expansive, spacious Nocturnal Patterns) it seems as the group is trying to play as few notes as possible. Melodies are alluded to more than stated outright, sometimes rather amusingly. Compositions, such as they exist here, provide a somewhat skeletal architecture for conversations, slow crescendos and subtle dynamic shifts; the chemistry veers from conspiratorial to friendly jousting.

The opening, title track is a diptych, with the band slowly feeling their way in, up to a simple piano theme that they then deconstruct, bass artfully holding it together as the piano and drums diverge, with some neat rhythmic tricks. Part two is austere, otherworldly and often stunningly chilling, bass and drums tentatively sensing their way around the piano melody that hints at the macabre but doesn’t quite go there, which only enhances the suspense. The second track starts with the quietest of overtones, prepared piano – or is that a toy piano? – adding spare accents until it takes on a slyly creepy broken music-box feel, tinkly piano paired off against bowed bass. The third cut is more traditionally melodic, a deconstructed ballad of sorts, the band – Costa in particular – having a great time playing hot potato with the central hook.

Dream Machine is aptly titled, ethereal but with a muffled, mechanical rhythm, Costa brightening it with nonchalantly clinking color. The trio’s sense of humor comes front and center with Let’s Go I Don’t Know, a swing tune interrupted. Plateau, which follows in a more cynical vein, could be a parody of a ballad with the band tiptoeing around the theme. More space than melody, Nocturnal Patterns is something akin to jazz on Pluto, where one of their years is centuries of ours: it’s more a series of pregnant pauses interrupted by melody than the other way around, and the suspense is unrelenting. The real stunner here is Moth, a sparse, stark Satie-esque jazz waltz, Schlegelmilch’s coldly sparkling ripples and insistent clusters doubling on and off with Niggenkemper’s terse pulse, Costa throwing in an unexpected fanfare midway through. The album closes on a more upbeat, accessible note with the sly tiptoe funk of Clessidra and then the plaintively catchy beauty of Battle Cry, a tune which wouldn’t be out of place in the early Steely Dan catalog. Minerva play the cd release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on May 17 at 8:30 PM: it should be just as entertaining and unpredictable as the album.

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