Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Strange Girls Sing: Rachelle Garniez, Carol Lipnik and Little Annie at Galapagos, Brooklyn NY 12/9/09

The concert was billed as “Strange Girls Sing.” Which was something of a misnomer. Rachelle Garniez, Carol Lipnik and Little Annie aren’t really that strange at all, they’re just a reminder – and a harbinger – of an era where quality rather than trendiness or effeteness is celebrated. The way Galapagos is set up, it holds only a fraction of the people a similar warehouse-sized club would, yet all the same it was heartwarming to see all the pods and tables fill up as the night got underway. People, there is a renaissance in bloom and this particular evening was a prime example.

Rachelle Garniez never plays anything remotely the same way twice. Part steampunk goddess, part noir cabaret chanteuse, she’s just about the most quotable performer out there – yeah, she’s been reviewed here a few times before, but that’s because she always makes good copy. She took the stage solo with her accordion. “It must be nice to be an ice queen, colder than ice cream but not as sweet,” she mused. “This little song is about hypothermia…when hypothermia sets in, everything begins to look wonderful.” With that, she launched into the swinging country anthem January Wind, its blithe, Hank Williams-esque tune belying the anguish of the lyrics.

After that, she went into a digression about frogs, how their hibernation so closely resembles a death state, and how some of them ooze a chemical with psychedelic properties. And followed that with the bluesy Medicine Man, squeaky vocalese giving way to the out-of-control orgasmic wailing on the album version – but only for a little while. Then she switched to piano and lit into an Asian melody that gradually took shape and became the tongue-in-cheek yet viscerally poignant letdown anthem After the Afterparty. My House of Peace, her most recent single on Jack White’s label, made a good contrast with its carefree barrelhouse stomp, but the atmosphere turned ominously warmer quickly with the snide apocalypse anthem The Best Revenge, ending with characteristically understated drama, a little boy cluelessly enjoying himself while the thermometer rises yet another notch. She encored on accordion with the single most scathing song of the night, People Like You, as much a tribute to a dangerous, infinitely more interesting New York gone forever as it is savage dismissal of the clueless, pampered children and their developer collaborators whose attempts to turn the city into a suburban mall town have been tragically successful. “You could sleep on Rockaway Beach,” she related. “Back in the day they didn’t have SPF in suntan lotion – a handful of sand from Rockaway Beach from back in the day would hook you up with your minimum RDA.” And then launched into the song’s breezy Rickie Lee Jones swing.  In the middle, she sarcastically imagined sitting across from a member of the permanent-tourist class: “I like you in spite of those times you were looking over my shoulder to see if there was someone more important in the room.”

Carol Lipnik’s roots are similar, and her phantasmagorical, carnivalesque songs often take on a defiantly freakish, punk edge, but lately she’s been equal parts sideshow siren and mystic (notably in her ongoing collaboration with John Kelly). This time out she brought along a reverb pedal which she’d hit when she really wanted to drive a crescendo home, when the uppermost reaches of her four-octave  range weren’t enough. Backing her was the reliably gripping Dred Scott on piano, in particularly terse mode – as adventurous as his own darkly tinged jazz compositions can be, he held back to what was necessary and in doing that left a powerful mark.  Lipnik opened with the noir waltz Last Dance and immediately took the energy level to redline, vocalizing a lightning-fast, Coltrane-esque melisma somewhere in the stratosphere. Scott, dressed in his best Raymond Chandler coat and fedora, brought considerable suspense to a newer number, My Firefly. The rest of Lipnik’s happily hourlong set alternated between an offhanded savagery – as in the casually eerie drowning anthem When I Was a Mermaid – and rapt, soulful ecstasy, subdued a bit with considerable gentleness on the hypnotic Two-Headed Calf. It may be headed for the museum tomorrow, Lipnik related, “But tonight it is alive and in the north field with its mother.” She wound up the set with the utterly macabre Cuckoo Bird, Scott playing minor against major for the first verse, and then an audience-participation version of the Michael Hurley (and more recently, Cat Power) cult classic Werewolf, coming down in front of the stage to lead the crowd in a gleeful howl-along.

“You know the sad clown? I’m the opposite. Crying on the outside, laughing on the inside,” Little Annie explained (not surprisingly, Garniez has described herself the exact same way). Annie and her longtime conspirator, Botanica keyboardist Paul Wallfisch had just returned from another European tour, and she was running on endorphins, creating a carnival of soul that would only get more dadaesque as the evening went on, and it did, for over an hour. With her contralto growl, she’s been described as something akin to a white Eartha Kitt, and she was dressed for the part in perfectly matching black skirt, heels, hat and shimmery black jacket. “Tomorrow we’ll all have wines and we’ll all be fine…Lenox Avenue, Coney Island and Istanbul will all be rolled into one,” she explained in a rapidfire rap number that could be her version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Her peppy little beachside tableau where people “shake their Bootsy Collins in the sand” revealed itself as a vicious anti-trendoid diatribe about wealthy New York newcomers “speaking loudly on their cellphones making plans…we do not read the papers because they’re depressing and we do not understand.”

The rest of the show mixed several requiems with a varying tongue-in-cheek quality along with a long digression about the karmic consequences of reporting misbehaving cabbies to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a little straight-up noir cabaret (the Kid Congo Powers collaboration Good Ship Nasty Queen) and another rap number, Wallfisch taking a rare opportunity to play acoustic guitar onstage and proving as incisive as he is on piano. Annie marveled at the shaggy carpet that was making her work twice as hard when she kicked up her heels: “If I had a bedroom this is what I’d put on the floor.”

“You have a bedroom?” Wallfisch seemed surprised.

“No, that’s for people who sleep,” Annie replied, and then they resumed the show with a gospel-inflected number, more noir cabaret, a cover of the old pop standard Smile, the offhandedly defiant post-rehab broadside The Other Side of Heartache, a segue into Strange Love and by now it was past midnight and nobody had left.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 20 Best Concerts in New York in 2009

Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good. 

This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.

Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.

Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:

The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.

Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.

Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.

Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.

Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.

The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.

Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.

The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.

The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.

Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.

Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.

Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.

Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.

Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.

Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.

The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.

Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.

Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.

December 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best New York Concert of 2009

It was at Small Beast, of course, the weekly Monday series at the Delancey booked by Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, who usually hosts. This past Monday he was in Germany with Little Annie, so fellow dark rocker Carol Lipnik ran the show and opened it with characteristic noir panache. Small Beast being simply New York’s most exciting weekly rock event, it gets so much press here that we’ve tagged all the shows we’ve seen there (if you go to Categories, to your right and scroll down to Small Beast, you’ll find an embarrassment of riches). So it was no surprise that the best New York concert of 2009, barring something even more off-the-chart intense happening in the next month, would take place here.

Lipnik has a franchise on dark carnivalesque rock, more so than Tom Waits or anyone. This time out it was just as much about her four-octave voice – which she ran through two separate mics, one with a bullhorn effect – as it was about the songwriting. Climbing to the top of her stratospheric range, she whispered, purred and wailed, through a bunch of originals from her most recent cd Cloud Girl as well as an original setting of a Rumi poem, the hypnotic, raptly tense Your Pure Sadness. She also brought out every bit of surreal macabre in the Michael Hurley cult classic Werewolf (which you may know from the cover versions by Cat Power or Sarah Mucho). This was just the start of the night.

Next up was the self-described “baroque folk-punk” cellist/songwriter Bonfire Madigan, playing solo with the help of a loop pedal that she’d use to lay down a nimble pizzicato bassline over which she’d layer stark sheets of ambience along with some absurdly catchy pop melodies.She opened with a number based on a seditious seventeenth-century British play and followed that with a savage, two-chord Rasputina-esque chamber rock number. Several of the later numbers hitched Siouxsie-style menace to a clever pop sensibility. She closed with the dramatic, tongue-in-cheek grand guignol of a song titled The Lady Saved the Dragon from the Evil Prince and encored – the crowd wouldn’t let her go – with a somewhat pensive number that evoked Cat Power without the affectations.

Sporting a new Pat Benatar bob, Rachelle Garniez took the intensity to redline in seconds flat, playing solo and switching between accordion and piano. Even in the quietest moments she’s a charismatic performer, but this time out there was no doubt that she had come to conquer – the evening’s lineup had quickly turned into a Murderesses’ Row and Garniez was swinging for the fences. Just as Lipnik had done, she had the the vocal pyrotechnics going even before her first song, the wistful country ballad January Wind, had begun. She likes to jam out her intros and this was a prime example: “So happy to be here as the winter descends upon our town…your heart is cold and I wish mine was too, but instead the snow falls on my heart and creates a hissing sound.” After a long and very funny digression on frogs and their psychedelic properties, she sweated and sighed her way through the orgasmic vocalese of the noir cabaret Medicine Man with a passion that would do Millie Jackson proud. “I wish I’d written this and it was me performing,” one luminary in the crowd whispered to another.

The metaphor-laden 6/8 outsider anthem Tourmaline got the benefit of a gorgeously chordal accordion solo, then Garniez launched into a quizzically fierce new one inspired by someone from her past who’d recently found her online and was no less enamored for all the days between. As angry and dismissive as the song was – “you could have been anyone,” she raged – it also radiated poignancy. Garniez clearly left a mark during her early punk rock years and she makes no secret that she misses at least the fun parts of the pre-Rudy Mussolini era. She wrapped up the too-brief set with a defiantly jaunty version of My House of Peace, the new single she just did with Jack White: “Nobody gets away with murder in the House of Peace.” She’s at Barbes on Dec 3 at 10 if you’re cursing yourself that you missed her here.

Vera Beren also swung for the fences, but with an icy, unforgiving cool. Backed by a one-guitar version of her aptly titled Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, she played more piano than she usually does, filling out the sound with a characteristically slashing, gypsyish chordal attack while bassist Greg Garing swooped, dove and pummeled the crowd with chords when Beren’s crushing, goth-inflected anthems would rise to a fiery crescendo. She showed off her punk roots with a noir blues in 6/8 (it’s hard to think of another songwriter who writes so many great songs in that time signature), a “careless evil lullaby,” as she put it. Her big crowd-pleaser The Nod was a typically roaring, furious, hypnotic gypsy stomp, Beren’s contralto a black river of venom. Another number paired off fast Siousxie-esque rock against a stately, Blue Oyster Cult-inflected 6/8 art-rock sway. “I should have held you, not repelled you,” she lamented. She wrapped up her too-brief set with an old song from the 90s, Baby, an indelibly New York, Jim Carroll-style tale of the cab ride from and maybe also to hell, pelting the crowd with white roses as she roared to the finish.

After all the sirens, it might seem that McGinty and White would be anticlimactic, but they weren’t, which speaks volumes. Ward White has always been a good singer – that he could hold his own alongside the women before him, let alone continue the vocal intensity, testifies to how good he’s become (his version of Life on Mars was the high point of a recent Loser’s Lounge evening). Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on piano and Claudia Chopek on violin, he might have sung his best show ever. McGinty, by contrast, has all the vocal range of Lou Reed, but he’s all nuance anyway, on the keys and on the mic as well, contributing both his bubblegum pop satire Get a Guy and keeping the innumerable levels of the rest of the songs from ever going too far over the edge. Their playfully titled new album, McGinty and White Sing Selections from the McGinty and White Songbook is high on the Lucid Culture list of best albums of 2009. Unsurprisingly, the set list was full of those selections: the doomed romance of Everything is Fine; the sultry Big Baby, Chopek’s gently beautiful violin a study in contrast with McGinty’s jaunty piano; the ruthless kiss-off anthem Knees; the casual El Lay nightmare roadtrip ballad Stay In Love and the night’s closing number, Wichita Lineman, just White crooning over McGinty’s plaintive keys. By this point, it was almost two in the morning, most of the crowd had dissipated into the drizzle, but it was pure exhilaration for those who were sufficiently energized or unemployed to stick around. The next Small Beast will be December 7 featuring Wallfisch – back from Deutschland – along with the reliably charismatic Reid Paley and others.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Julia Kent and Carol Lipnik at the Delancey, NYC 10/12/09

Monday night was typical Small Beast – gauche as it may seem to review the same event week after week, the simple fact is that this is the best regular rock night in New York. Maybe the world. And it’s free. As usual (last week was an exception), Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch opened the night solo on piano. He’s the kind of player who is frequently at his best as a response to some kind of adversity, in other words, when he has something to transcend. Last night, by contrast, he was clearly in a good mood, a welcome opportunity for the crowd of cognoscenti to hear some of his warmer, slightly more carefree, gospel-flavored material: the title track to Botanica’s forthcoming album; the hypnotic Beauty Is; a version of the Paul Bowles lyric Etiquette, which he’d set to an aptly pensive tune; a noir cabaret number by Baby Dee; a typically jaunty version of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man and an absolutely psychedelic Ray Davies cover on which he was joined by the evening’s next act, cellist Julia Kent.

Yet another reason why Small Beast is so cool is how effortlessly it’s balanced in terms of gender: women have been the stars lately and this evening continued that trend. Kent – who did time in Rasputina and has an exhaustive symphony orchestra and chamber music background – is a first-class composer in her own right, playing a hypnotic set of expansive originals. Typically, she’d pluck out a playful bassline and then loop it, adding layer after layer of frequently haunting ambience over it much as the Quavers do live. To do this is far more complicated than it seems – your timing has to be spot-on, and Kent’s was. The effect was riveting and frequently cinematic. Moving from trippy, echoey and atmospheric to stark and haunting, she evoked composers as diverse as Jenny Scheinman and Shostakovich. The best piece of the night grew strikingly darker as its second movement kicked in; her final number layered squalling insistence over swaying, casually pretty arpeggios.

Then Carol Lipnik and her longtime cohort, pianist Dred Scott – whose Tuesday midnight shows at Rockwood Music Hall have become the stuff of legend – took the stage and took the volume up a notch. With her spectacular four-octave range, Lipnik barely requires amplification, and this time out she’d brought along a reverb pedal that she used to give her big crescendos even more firepower. As expected, the audience was rapt. Scott didn’t waste a note as he moved from the noir swing of The Last Dance, through the macabre tango pulse of When I Was a Mermaid, the playfully minimalist psychedelicism of You’re My Firefly and the hauntingly plainspoken sympathy-for-the-freak narrative Two-Headed Cow. Lipnik moved and swayed effortlessly from a wail to a devious smirk to what sounded like a wildly phasing human theremin. As one knowledgeable member of the crowd was quick to discern, wherever Lipnik was, she was invariably in the moment. Lipnik’s collaborations with Scott and also with John Kelly are ongoing – watch this space for updates. It would have been fun to stick around and see what the next act, violinist Rebecca Cherry and her nine-piece band had up their collective sleeves, but the F train was about to turn into a pumpkin and that’s no way to get home.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Carol Lipnik – Cloud Girl

Every now and then something comes over the transom here that slipped under the radar when it first came out – or in the case of this album, predated this blog. This is one of the best of those – the cd cover image of the rails of the Cyclone rollercoaster with its “REMAIN SEATED” sign overhead is apt. Celebrated for her alternately soaring and piercing four-octave range, Carol Lipnik is also a uniquely gifted songwriter with a frequently sinister, otherwise amusingly carnivalesque edge. Lately she’s been pursuing what appears to be developing into an extraordinary collaboration with singer John Kelly (John Kelly and Carol Lipnik on the same stage – just think about the possibilities that conjures for a minute). For the uninitiated, this is Lipnik’s most recent album and comprises much of what she plays live. It’s a good an introduction to this indelibly New York, Coney Island born-and-bred artist.

The cd opens with Tom Ward’s noir cabaret waltz Freak House Blues, a playfully lurid tale bouncing along with horror-movie organ from keyboardist Dred Scott – a first-rate jazz composer in his own right – and violin by Jacob Lawson. The second cut, Lipnik’s own Falling/Floating mines the same kind of creepy noir pop vein that DollHouse or occasionally Blonde Redhead would pursue back about ten years ago.

Last Dance ( a co-write with Jane LeCroy) flirts with madness:  “I can’t forget the last dance, because I’m dancing it still.” By contrast, another Lipnik original, Traveling is a lushly beautiful and sensually atmospheric. Then it’s back to the macabre with another waltz, Where Are You Going, examining the relationship between conformity and cannibalism as Lawson’s staccato violin screeches along on the beat. Atmospheric and echoey, the menace of Crushed is understated and effectively so: “Do you want me to stand on my knees for you?” Lipnik asks – but it’s obvious that she’s not offering. “I’ll be back, but I’ll be changed,” she warns on the soaring, crescendoing Mermaid Blues. Morir Sonando (a Spanish pun – it’s an orange milkshake) is a big bolero, pretty boisterous for a tribute to the delights of dreaming and sleep. The cd winds up with the haunting, hypnotic, somewhat Radiohead-inflected title track. For those who can’t get enough after all this, Lipnik’s just back from Yaddo and working on a new one. Carol Lipnik plays the Howl Festival, 8 PM on Sept 15 at the 45 Bleecker St. Theatre in the West Village.

August 21, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Dred Scott Trio with Strings at Smalls Jazz Club, NYC 6/10/09

Jazz with strings – what a great trend this could be! Guitarist Gene Bertoncini turned in a lushly beautiful set with a string quartet at the Jazz Standard back in March and this was even better. The Dred Scott Trio’s weekly Tuesday midnight residency at Rockwood Music Hall is now over four years old, at the point where legendary status starts to creep in, and this show in the more spacious, comfortable downstairs confines of Smalls reaffirmed that eventuality. Scott’s a fast, sometimes pyrotechnic pianist in the Kenny Barron mode, but more playful and stylistically diverse, as adept at ballads as he is barrelling along at full throttle. There’s a fearlessness and a completely out-of-the-box sensibility in his playing and his writing that ultimately goes back to punk rock. This show was typical in that Scott, bassist Ben Rubin and drummer Tony Mason, lushly augmented by an all-female string quartet, aired out pretty much every weapon in the arsenal.

They opened with a swinging original, Apropos of Nothing, vividly lyrical strings doubling the intro’s syncopated hook, then accentuating the end with a fast, staccato eight note passage. Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a genial, pretty straight-up bluesy number vastly benefited from the sweep of the strings. Scott had named another original Mojo Rhythm after a friend’s kid of the same name (you have to wonder about guys like that), a striking, intensely rhythmic number with Mason kicking up rolling thunder, Scott swaying and stomping through the opening melody, Rubin bringing in the crescendo on the chorus as the strings ably doubled it. And then Scott and Rubin yelled “Fuck you!” in unison. It was the only lyric of the set. An unsettling violin solo appeared amidst the pandemonium but without amplification, was pretty much lost in the melee.The cheesy eighties hit Let’s Get Physical was redone as a bossa tune with some tastefully incisive fills by Scott, ironically the evening’s least physical number.

Best song of the night was Bobo, the nickname for a California town Scott had spent some time in as a kid, a plaintive, Dave Brubeck-esque jazz waltz lit up by an absolutely gorgeous eight-chord head that screamed out to be brought back, again and again. And finally, it was. Scott then brought up longtime co-conspirator Carol Lipnik (whose show at the Delancey earlier this spring had to have been one of the year’s most transcendent live moments so far) for vocals on a cover of Brian Eno’s By This River. Warmly and inclusively, backed only by Scott’s piano, the occasional minimalist bass note or cymbal touch, her vocalese took the crowd way out to a different place (she’s going to Yaddo in a couple of weeks – maybe that had something to do with it). The band wrapped up the set with a scurrying, somewhat apprehensive tableau taken way up by a Scott solo, furiously and intricately working vast permutations of a walk down the major scale. If you haven’t seen this band yet, they’re at the Rockwood every Tuesday – you have no excuse.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at the Delancey, NYC 6/4/09

An intimate gathering of cognoscenti were treated to a transcendent trifecta to wind up this season’s Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey (the series continues, switching to Mondays on June 22 at 8:30 PM with Paul Wallfisch, the Snow and Marni Rice). Wallfisch was gassed from some obviously rewarding mixing sessions for the latest cd by his darkly intense art-rock band Botanica, opening the set as he always does, solo at the Beast (the 88-key spinet whose nickname spawned this weekly series). This time out the great noir keyboardist (and Little Annie partner-in-crime) aired out a more Americana-inflected bag of tricks, whether the rapidfire cabaret of the Little Annie tune Because You’re Gone, the Botanica number Asia Minor (which is actually an oldschool 60s soul song at heart), the warmly vivid Three Women and then venturing north of the border for a sly, sexy take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

A stripped-down trio version of Darren Gaines & the Key Party were next and while Wallfisch is a hard act to follow, they were anything but anticlimactic. With his hollowbody guitar providing a delicious, distorted blast of sound, Gaines led the two bandmates he’d brought along – violinist/singer Sara Syms (also of excellent country/roots band Dirty Water) and “lead trombonist” Rick Parker – through a mix of darkly witty, literate songs, mostly from the band’s latest, excellent album My Blacks Don’t Match. The band may play in a very stylized genre  – think every noir style ever invented, from Tom Waits to Lou Reed – yet so much of their material is out-of-the-box imaginative. What was most striking right off the bat were Gaines’ casual, unaffected intensity and offhandedly wry sense of humor. Like Wallfisch, he’s something of a raconteur, musing on some nasty song ideas that came to mind while stuck behind a quartet of sidewalk slowpokes on the way down to the bar from 23rd St. They opened with a roaring version of the caustic The Litterati, a snarling putdown of pretension, following with a worn-down, heartfelt, Steve Wynn-inflected take of She Says She Does, also from the new album. Syms – who sadly didn’t get to contribute piano as she does on the album – matched soaring vocals with terse, edgy violin lines while Parker added a tasteful, even minimalist oldtime saloon blues feel. They wrapped up the set with a handful of bitter “significant other songs,” as Gaines called them, ending with Monday Morning, a long, depressive countryish anthem from his first album Hit Or Miss. As good as this was, one can only imagine how intense the songs would sound with a full band.

Several women have headlined Small Beast this year and have been transcendent – Carol Lipnik, Larkin Grimm, Ingrid Olava in particular. Add Alice Texas to the list. The noir siren has the same kind of petite porcelain beauty as actress Pamela Karp and comes across as something akin to a darker, East Coast Exene: on key, more direct, less free-associative. She’s a reliably good performer but this time out she was extraordinary – maybe her protracted absence from the New York stage had something to do with it. Playing acoustic guitar, she was backed by bassist Kai Eric and Peter Mavrogeorgis, frontman of the excellent Bellmer Dolls – whose show opening for Nick Cave under Madison Square Garden last fall was crazy good –  as well as Wallfisch contributing honkytonk piano on a song, and backing vocals from Liz Tormes – another first-class songwriter – on a couple of numbers including an utterly psychedelic take of Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate. Mavrogeorgis – one part Don Wilson of the Ventures, one part Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, one part John Andrews of Botanica – simply has never played better, ornamenting the songs with graceful slides, eerie reverberating overtones and the occasional terse, fiery lead. They opened with a couple of Nashville gothic numbers, the second more percussive, featuring a scorchingly gorgeous, melodic guitar solo. Then a couple of Velvets-ish tunes and the highlight of the set, which came toward the end, an insistent anthem titled Oh, My Beautiful, haunting and sweeping with more eerie tremolo-bar guitar.

Small Beast – New York’s edgiest, most exciting weekly musical event, in case you don’t already know it – continues Monday, June 22 at the Delancey, upstairs at around 8:30 PM with Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow, free admission plus a free barbeque on the roof.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

This is the last thing you want to have playing if you’re trying to fall asleep. It’s pure adrenaline: there hasn’t been anything this viscerally exciting playing around here since Ivo Papasov’s new one came over the transom. It’s a safe guess that listening to this cd burns calories. Fishtank Ensemble’s shtick is that they add Asian spice to gypsy music, primarily via Mike Penny’s shamisen, a Japanese lute with a brittle, slightly more piercing tone than a koto. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is violinist/chanteuse Ursula Knudson, whose ability to project all the way to the top of her spectacular range is nothing short of exhilarating. Rachelle Garniez fans will notice a similarity, particularly on the jazzier numbers. 

 

The cd kicks off with the fast traditional gypsy dance, Saraiman, Knudson adding passionate vocals with some rapidfire vibrato. The second cut, Turkish March takes a familiar Mozart piece back to its roots at an extremely entertaining, lickety-split clip. Knudson adds a sprightly ragtime feel to the gypsy swing number Tchavo. Face the Dragon features its composer, violinist Fabrice Martinez trading off atmospheric sheets of sound with Penny’s spiky shamisen and a nifty little bass solo by upright bassist Djordje Stijepovic. A homage to Paco de Lucia written by guitarist Douglas Smolens, Gitanos Californeros sets a frenetic gypsy violin chart against smoldering flamenco guitars, Knudson upping the dramatic ante as the piece builds. Spirit Prison, a first-person, tongue-in-cheek account of life in the loony bins comes across as a hybrid of Carol Lipnik phantasmagoria matched to the purist oldtimey ragtime charm of the Moonlighters. Nice upper-register singing saw solo from Knudson too! They follow it with the eerie, shape-shifting Fraima, originally performed by Opa Cupa.

 

The Kurt Weill song Youkali is a showcase for Knudson in legit mode, followed by the whirling traditional dance Ezraoul, fueled by the raw intensity of Martinez’ violomba. After the the swinging pulse of Mehum Mato, the title track blasts along with a firestorm of fretwork from the shamisen and the violins, with the rest of the band eventually joining the melee: Dick Dale or a similarly talented surf guitarist would have a field day with this. The cd winds up with the Extremely Large Congenial Romanian, by accordionist Aaron Seeman, more singing saw and vocalese from Knudson, and a bonus track, Yasaburo Bushi, a ferocious Japanese folksong arrangement by Penny. Listen to this all the way through – this is a long cd, many of the songs clocking in at a good seven minutes – and then try breathing lightly. Impossible. A lock for our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.  

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Warsaw Village Band – Infinity

The band name is sardonic since Warsaw isn’t exactly a little village. In recent days the group’s press has stressed how many modern western influences there are on this cd, but most of them don’t really show. With lyrics in Polish, layers of otherworldly vocal harmonies and a haunting, alternately lush and rustic wash of violins and cello tastefully augmented by dulcimer, accordion and percussion, Warsaw Village Band’s new cd on upstart Brooklyn label Barbes Records has the same darkly minor-key, atmospheric feel as much of their previous work. Better put, they sound like what John Cale was trying to do on Venus in Furs and might have been able to pull off if he’d had any idea what Balkan music was all about. This album is scary-good in the purest sense of the phrase.

 

The intensity kicks in right off the bat with the cd’s first track, Wise Kid Song, set to a fast 6/8 beat, the group’s three women harmonizing over a catchy descending progression driven by staccato strings. At the end (western influence!) they run the strings through a phaser, 60s psychedelic style. Track two, 1,5H rides a hypnotic, suspenseful pulse with layers of sepulchral, contrapuntal vocals, big cymbal crash at the end to wind it up. Then they bring it down with Over the Forest, with a little bit of a hip-hop rhythm but with the sparsest drumming imaginable. Of all the tracks here, the next cut, the catchy Skip Funk is the only one that makes much of a nod to current commerciality with turntable scratching and an Afrobeat feel.

 

The rest of the cd is mostly a black angel’s death song. Is Anybody In There is simply a hypnotic chant over a martial drumbeat; Heartbeat sounds like a Polish amalgam of Black Sea Hotel and Carol Lipnik, darkly dramatic vocals over a hypnotic, bluesy melody. Polska Fran Polska has the violin echoing the Anitra’s Dance theme by Grieg over a stately, anthemic one-chord drone that jumps to life like a golem when the dulcimer comes in, then falls away at the end, down to just pizzicato violins. After that, two more ominous, incantatory one-chord jams, another march, a Weimar blues and a partita beginning with a swirling gypsy dance that slows down and gets all ambient before picking up at the end with the drums. Not something you want to put on late at night and fall asleep to unless you are a brave soul (and recommended for brave souls everywhere, regardless of whether you speak Polish – we can’t vouch for the lyrics one way or another). Since they’re on Barbes Records, a New York date – at least at their home base – shouldn’t be out of the question, watch this space for updates.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Carol Lipnik and Spookarama at the Delancey, NYC 4/2/09

Yet another good reason why the weekly Small Beast Thursday shows at the Delancey are the musical event of the week: a chance to see both Paul Wallfisch of Botanica and Dred Scott play back-to-back. It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating piano doublebill (in this case particularly apt, since the Small Beast in question here is the club’s 88-key spinet that somehow survives week to week). Since Wallfisch hosts the salon/concert series and also serves as the opening act, he gets a lot of ink here. Suffice it to say that he was in typically provocative, darkly incisive mode. He’s taken to covering a new song by another major artist also playing on the same night every time out. This time, in tribute to Marianne Faithfull (playing for megabucks in the West Village), he did It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue in addition to plenty of his own stuff including the fiery, politically charged How which this time around became an audience-participation number. Wallfisch does not acknowledge any fourth wall: attend this show and you are always in danger of becoming part of it, an especially enticing prospect for those who enjoy living dangerously.

 

Next on the bill was Carol Lipnik, the extraordinary and unique noir chanteuse who hasn’t played out in awhile. We covered her exquisitely beautiful but sonically disastrous show at the Spiegeltent downtown last fall. As it turned out, a member of last night’s audience was also in the vicinity that October night and had equally bitter memories of watching another performer, in her case John Kelly, being drowned out by the woomp-woomp-woomp blasting from the adjacent tent where the women onstage were undulating and taking off their clothes. But nothing like that happened last night (as far as anyone could see – if anybody was disrobing, they’d found a private place). Her voice awash in eerie reverb, Lipnik seemingly went into a trance, turning the loud, chatty crowd at the bar silent and riveted.

 

Backed by just her longtime keyboardist Scott (who also leads a spectacularly good jazz trio), she delivered a mix of both darkly familiar and new material, by turns phantasmagorical, carnivalesque, gleefully macabre and irresistibly compelling. With her red hair swaying behind her and the hint of a devious grin, Lipnik does not exactly look the part of someone who delights in mining the darkness, but that’s her home turf. She started out low, ominous and strong, at the bottom of her range with Scott playing a hypnotic, minimalist melody on a little synth organ he’d brought along. On the Tom Waits-ish Freak House Blues, she lept several octaves, seemingly to the top of her formidable four-octave range in a split-second as Scott played macabre major-on-minor behind her. When she sang “Take my life, please, take my will” as The Last Dance with You rose to a crescendo, it was impossible to look away. A couple of times – particularly on the darkest song of the night, the brand-new, literally morbid Cuckoo Bird – the two bedeviled the audience by stopping cold, mid-phrase. They also took the Michael Hurley cult classic Werewolf (also covered brilliantly by Sarah Mucho) and redid it as a swinging singalong before closing with a hypnotic, soulful retelling of the Rumi poem Don’t Go. Lipnik’s next show is at the Rockwood on Tues Apr 28 with Scott at 11, followed by Scott and his trio at midnight. 

 

Not to overstate the issue, but this is typical of what happens on Thursday nights at the Delancey. Next week’s show features another chanteuse, Larkin Grimm, whom Wallfisch insists is the next great voice to come along. Come out and find out for yourself. Or miss it at your peril.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment