Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ear Heart Music Gets Off to a Flying Start at Roulette

A lot of musicians end up becoming impresarios, at least part-time. Violinist Gil Morgenstern’s Reflections Series is one of the most obviously successful; pianist Alexandra Joan’s eclectic Kaleidoscope Series at WMP Concert Hall is also on the rise. Amelia Lukas, whose axe is the flute, started her series, Ear Heart Music, at the Tank. She’s moved it to Roulettte this year, with a formidable schedule of some of the creme de la creme of the indie classical world including Flexible Music and Cadillac Moon Ensemble. Last week’s opening party was a party in every sense of the word, with Build headlining.

Bandleader/violinist Matthew McBane is a gifted tunesmith. Much of the time he puts those hooks front and center and builds them cinematically (NPR uses the ensemble’s music a lot). Other times, he caches them in more complex architecture. This particular show higlighted both, alternating a brisk, biting early spring ambience with droll, deadpan humor. Bassist Ben Campbell and Universal Thump drummer Adam D. Gold – one of this era’s masters of dynamics – provided a deftly jaunty swing for the evening’s opening number, followed by a subtly orchestrated, slowly crescendoing piece with McBane and cellist Andrea Lee swooping against Mike Cassedy’s terse piano. McBane explained that the next composition would be more “mathematical,” and it was, with a richly snaky, intertwined counterpoint, once again rising to an insistent pulse.

McBane kicked off the next one with a wry pizzicato motif which quickly turned into a tongue-in-cheek chamber-rock parody of glitch-hop, or chillwave, or whatever the effete, trendoid flavor du jour is. From there Cassedy led them into the night’s darkest and most grpping piece, shifting from a moody, minimalist Satie-esque atmosphere to a more and more aggressively pounding crescendo where Gold backed off a little. He’d been feeling the room all night: did he think he might be playing too loud for the big auditorium? No – his kick drum was scooching across the stage. So Campbell calmly put down his bass, went over to the kit, adjusted it and then held it until the series of wallops was over. The group ended with a long, hypnotic piece that moved from warmly hypnotic to astringently atonal, All Tomorrow’s Parties as Julia Wolfe might have done it.

To open the evening, Dither Quartet guitarist James Moore played resonator alongside Redshift violinist Andie Springer for a brief series of relatively short works including a grippingly hypnotic, slowly sirening Paula Matthusen tone poem and a dancing, Appalachian-tinged Lainie Fefferman composition that eventually landed in more pensive terrain. As they played, artist Kevork Mourad drew a jagged, somewhat menacing series of tableaux that were projected behind the stage.

And it wasn’t all just music, either. There was a raffle, an afterparty, some pretty good New York State wine, and free food courtesy of a handful of boutique manufacturers of candy, syrups, jelly and pickles. The pickle people, in particular, provided a decent half-sour and some first-class, smoky pickled okra. But the stars of the show, foodwise, turned out to be best known for their music. Yarn/Wire – who’re playing here on Dec 18 – brought some homemade tomatilllo salsa that delivered an irresistibly lingering jalapeno/garlic burn. The next Ear Heart Music extravaganza at Roulette is on Oct 9 at 8 PM with Red Light Ensemble pairing off works by Satie, Cage and Grisey, among others, to accompany Melies silent films.

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October 1, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz Connect the Unexpected

If you listen to NPR or watch PBS, this is old news, so here’s to all of you who’ve made the switch from the small screen to an even smaller one and might not have noticed that pianist Christopher O’Riley and adventurous cello virtuoso Matt Haimovitz have a new album out. It’s titled Shuffle. Play. Listen., and they’ll be touring it next year, with a stop at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom on Jan 22. Pianist O’Riley, host of the NPR/PBS program From the Top, is no stranger to making neoromantic instrumental albums out of rock and pop songs: this double cd makes three in a row. It’s a lively and often exquisitely good duo performance, simply the best thing O’Riley’s ever put his hands on.

To succeed with a music show, you ought to know something about connections, which is what the first cd is all about. Who knew how much Bernard Herrmann’s classic soundtrack to the equally classic Hitchcock film Vertigo had in common with works by Stravinsky, Janacek or Martinu? This guy, obviously. To make those commonalities crystal-clear, imaginatively potent new arrangements of parts of the Herrmann score are interwoven between the other pieces, a concept that might seem preposterous but works brilliantly. Haimovitz gets most if not all of the juiciest parts, perhaps logically since Herrmann’s score was heavy on the strings, and also because O’Riley has the good sense to stay within himself. His playing is distinguished by smartly thought-out dynamics, pacing and elegantly terse embellishments rather than pyrotechnics.

The first cd opens on a deliciously macabre note with Prelude from the Vertigo Suite, done here as a creepy waltz with artful, unexpected cello/piano overlays. The duo follow that with Leos Janacek’s Fairy Tale, which follows a similar trajectory: after the minimalistic first movement (with some striking, Kayhan Kalhor-style echo effects from Haimovitz), it grows more wary and winds up with an understated menace. The nightmare scene from Vertigo follows, impressively understated with its agitated cello flurries. Martinu’s Variations on a Slavic Folk Song makes an unexpected but rock-solid segue, growing from stark to forceful, with a suspenseful edge very similar to Herrmann’s.

They segue back to the Vertigo Suite for the hypnotic Carlotta’s Portrait, then take a detour for a new arrangement of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, its highlights being the sad waltz that precedes the dynamically-charged, surprisingly quiet Aria and then the Tarantella, which pushes the limits of how far and how fast O’Riley can go. The Scotty Tracks Madeline scene from the film gorgeously juxtaposes longing with blitheness and a rapt upper-register duo between Haimovitz – who can get tones out of his cello that no one else can – and O’Riley. From there, a spirited take on Piazzolla’s Grand Tango – with each instrumentalist assigned to cover a little of the ground that Piazzolla’s bandoneon did on the original – is spot-on. The disc concludes with the thinly disguised, mournful minuet that serves as the film’s love theme.

The second cd reverts to the random vibe of O’Riley’s two other classical-rock piano albums, with generally good results. There’s a marvelously successful instrumental version of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song, right down to the cello winkingly spinning off a fade or a psychedelic riff straight off the record as O’Reilly rubatos the piano with just the right touch of suspenseful anticipation. And that band’s Weird Fishes/Arpeggi gets a graceful, circular indie classical treatment, focusing on its subtle counterpoint, as does the almost unrecognizable version of A Perfect Circle’s Three Libras. A couple of Cocteau Twins tunes reach for a slightly less hypnotic atmosphere than the originals, while two Blonde Redhead tunes – Misery Is a Butterfly and Melody – run richly memorable hooks over and over for an approach that builds toward grand guignol. There are also two John McLaughlin compositions here – Dance of Maya, whose austere acidicism doesn’t stop it from matching up well with Herrmann as it morphs into a bitterly bluesy minor-key romp, and A Lotus in the Back Seat, done as Ravel might have orchestrated it.

Another Cocteau Twins track, the lightweight Heaven or Las Vegas, isn’t as well-suited to this kind of serioso treatment as the other tracks are, and the derivative faux-baroquisms of the first movement of the Stravinsky make for two minutes of what-are-we-doing-here. And as far as the two Arcade Fire covers here are concerned, the two players take an energetic stab at elevating them to Herrmann-ish grandeur, but ultimately, garbage in, garbage out: Arcade Fire is a boring band. But those are only small complaints about an otherwise mammothly successful effort. O’Riley also has a very cool, gospel-flavored free download available, Time of My Time inspired by Kris Saknussemm’s recent novel Reverend America.

December 15, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 7/28/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #551:

Greta Gertler & Peccadillo – Nervous Breakthroughs

Recorded mostly in the late 90s but not available outside Australia until 2004, this is a lush, sweeping classic of chamber pop and art-rock. With her sometimes stratospheric high soprano voice, sizzling keyboard chops and playful, unpredictable songwriting, Gertler comes across as something of a down-to-earth Kate Bush (hard to imagine, but try anyway). With a rock band and string section behind her, she veers from the Supertramp-style pop of Happy Again and the vividly anxious Highest Story to more austere, windswept pieces like Away and the quirky I’m Not a Lizard, and even a blazing Russian folk dance, The Hot Bulgar. The bitterly triumphant, intensely crescendoing Moving Backwards is the real killer cut here, although all the tracks are strong. With its killer chorus, Julian should have been the big radio hit; there’s also a boisterous Aussie football song, and the bouncy, Split Enz-ish Charlie #3. Mysteriously absent from the blogosphere and the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby. Gertler has since taken her game up yet another notch as leader of the symphonic rock crew the Universal Thump, whose current album in progress is every bit as good as this one. You may even see it on this list someday.

July 28, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bastille Day, Georges Brassens Style

To celebrate Bastille Day, last night at Barbes the Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande and his Bad Reputation project played a richly lyrical, amusing yet often intense tribute to a dead French songwriter who is iconic on his home turf but little-known here. De Gaillande has been coming up with English translations and edgy chamber-pop arrangements of Georges Brassens songs for a couple of years now, many of them available on Bad Reputation’s album (which received a rave review here last year). Last night’s show included several of those numbers as well as new versions that hold up mightly alongside what de Gaillande has already reworked. Behind him, clarinetist David Spinley’s lines smoldered and gleamed with an often eerie gypsy tinge against the accordion swirls of Chicha Libre keyboardist Josh Camp and the jaunty pulse from Christian Bongers’ upright bass and the group’s new drummer, who was clearly psyched to be playing this gig. De Gaillande is also a much better guitarist than Brassens (a brilliant wordsmith but limited musician who actually wrote most of his songs on piano before transposing them to guitar).

Brassens’ songs are a goldmine of irony and black humor. He eulogizes people while they’re still alive, kvetches that the only people who won’t gleefully witness his execution will be the blind, and goes to bat for young lovers engaged in overt displays of PDA, only to remind them to enjoy their moment of bliss before it goes straight to hell. The band played each of those songs (including a stoic, nonchalantly intense version of Brassens’ signature song, Mauvaise Reputation, in the original French) along with sly versions of Penelope – which recasts the tragic Greek heroine as seduction object – as well as the Princess and the Troubadour, where a busy singer somewhat disingenuously resists the temptation to hook up with jailbait, and the absolutely hilarious Don Juan, a ribald yet subtle satire of wannabe-macho ladykillers. And the newer arrangements were just as fascinating. The original version of La Complainte des Filles de Joie is a coyly sympathetic look at the daily life of a hooker. De Gaillande’s translation cast the “filles de joie” as “ladies of leisure,” adding yet another, unexpectedly spot-on satirical element, right down to the “sons of vapid women” who frequent them: yuppies and whores, one and the same. He also led the group through swinging versions of a wry number about a guy who succeeds in seducing the wife of his neighbor, a lightning rod salesman, as well as the uneasy tale of an accordionist who’s gone off to the afterlife, lit up by a long, nicely ironic musette solo from Camp. By the time they got to The Pornographer – Brassens’ defiantly X-rated response to being banned from French radio – it was past midnight and nobody had left the room. Nice to see the songs of “the perverted son of the singalong” getting discovered by an audience he assuredly never would have expected to reach.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barbez Brings Paul Celan to Life in Midtown

Stark, often haunting, eclectic Brooklyn band Barbez have explored several different styles: Tom Waits-ish cabaret, Big Lazy-style noir soundtracks and most recently gypsy rock. The incarnation that played the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown Thursday night is the most interesting yet. Along with the encores, the show brought to life the band’s the most recent Tzadik album Force of Light, a musical companion to a series of poems by Holocaust survivor Paul Celan. Celan wrote in German – his original language – and met with considerable criticism for it. His earlier work is graceful, meticulously constructed and haunted; his later poems are considerably gnomic. He asserted that language was a sanctuary of sorts for him, the only way to make sense of the horrors he’d witnessed, including the murder of his parents in a death camp. Celan committed suicide in 1970. This version of the band – leader Dan Kaufman on guitar and lapsteel, Peter Hess on clarinet and bass clarinet, Danny Tunick on vibraphone and marimba, Peter Lettre on bass, John Bollinger on drums, the Quavers‘ Catherine McRae on violin – played in mostly minor keys alongside Cassie Tunick’s matter-of-fact narration.

The first song, Shibboleth set the stage for what was to follow, a succinct, distantly klezmer-tinged, fingerpicked acoustic guitar theme that expanded with subtle variations: it made an apt soundtrack for the accompanying poem, an imagistic cautionary tale. Kaufman switched to Strat for the album’s title track – the accompanying poem is cynical, Sysyphian and death-obsessed, the instrumental slow, swaying and austere with a violin lead track in place of Pamelia Kurstin’s theremin on the studio version, Tunick’s vibes signaling a desperate stampede down to a troubled, repetitive outro. Aspen Trees, based on Celan’s dedication to his mother, was an understated dirge driven by clarinet and another strikingly terse, melodic central hook by Kaufman. Based on two late poems, Corner of Time maintained the plaintive atmosphere with a stately sway, everyone in the band adding off-kilter accents in turn.

Count the Almonds, an allusion to a popular ghetto snack, was the most overtly klezmer-inflected composition of the night, utilizing intricately tremoloing vibraphone passages to build crescendos to one final swell with the drums going full tilt, then down and out with surprising gentleness. Their take on The Black Forest was funky and enlivened with all kinds of dynamic shifts; Conversation in the Mountains – based on Celan’s only known prose piece, was a long, doomed cruise to nowhere. The last of the Celan pieces, Sky Beetle gave Hess a long runway to launch a gliding, hypnotic bass clarinet passage evocative of hypnotic avant-chamber ensemble Redhooker. They encored with a brightly apprehensive chase scene of sorts based on an ancient Roman Jewish melody, and a surfy, creepily phantasmagorical take on an Alfred Schnittke piece. The polyglot crowd in the auditorium wanted more despite the fact that after about an hour and a half onstage, the band had literally heated up the room.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Victoire’s Debut Album Beckons from the Shadows

Cathedral City, the debut album by all-female chamber-rock group Victoire is a sometimes lush, sometimes austere, otherworldly beautiful suite of nocturnes. Hypnotic, psychedelic, often casually seductive, keyboardist/composer Missy Mazzoli’s songs blend simple, memorable rock melodies with elements of minimalism, horizontal music and classical music from the baroque to the Romantic to the avant garde. Despite the complexity of some of the arrangements here, she doesn’t waste a note: the casual solidity of her melodies gives the jungle of textures swaying overhead a solid foundation. As heavily processed and produced as this music obviously is, it retains a totally organic feel: there’s none of the rote mechanical coldness that you find in, say, Radiohead. The electronic keyboards of Mazzoli and Lorna Krier blend with Olivia De Prato’s violin, Eileen Mack’s clarinet and Eleonore Oppenheim’s upright bass to the point where the playing, and the arrangements, are perfectly seamless: the individual parts often become one.

The album opens with the aptly titled, darkly alluring Door into the Dark, solo Wurlitzer giving way to violin, casually noir menace shifting to warmer, soul-inflected ambience. It segues into the second track, I Am Coming for My Things, which like many of the cuts here has a disconcerting ambiguity: is it supposed to be funny? Plaintive? Menacing? All of the above? Over slowly unwinding atmospherics, a voicemail sample gradually reveals that someone’s coming for her things and she doesn’t have any money: electric piano and strings rise and fall, first with a jazzy riff, then stately with distant echoes of ELO. The title track evokes Stereolab at their most minimal, with some marvelously emphatic, brooding bass work by Oppenheim and a distantly towering vocalese antiphon.

The suspenseful, cinematic Like a Diver masterfully builds a series of slow crescendos, swirly Wurly pitted eventually against the violin, a playful dance emerging amidst the drama before it subsides again. A Song for Mick Kelly is anthemically elegaic, guest guitarist Bryce Dessner (of the National) providing menacing, reverb-drenched guitar that eventually grows to a fullscale roar, natural overtones shrieking from his amp. The album closes with the catchy trip-hop of A Song for Arthur Russell, referencing the late cellist and disco-era cult figure, and then India Whiskey, shifting suddenly and dramatically from out-of-focus, late-night wooziness to a joyous dance and a majestic, triumphant swell with the whole band going full-tilt – as full-tilt as a slow song can go, anyway. When the deadpan male voice reciting a series of numbers (a Philip Glass quote, maybe?) reaches zero, it’s over. There is so much more on this album that it’s impossible to mention all of it: in its own ethereal, methodical way, it’s a blast to listen to with the lights out. Victoire play the cd release show for Cathedral City at Joe’s Pub on October 2 at 7 PM; Mazzoli is also at Galapagos on October 5 for the world premiere of her string quartet Death Valley Junction.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Under Byen – Alt Er Tabt

Danish band Under Byen’s latest album offers up more of the intriguingly cinematic, often starkly intense chamber rock that’s earned them an avid worldwide cult following. Frontwoman Henriette Sennenvaldt’s ethereal delivery comes across as something of a cross between Bjork and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. The album title translates as “all is lost,” and while an eeriness pervades pretty much everything here, there’s also a lot of quirky fun and innovative, completely out-of-the-box songwriting. Songs swirl and then shift shape suddenly, eschewing any kind of verse/chorus pattern. Instead of using traditional rock drums, they keep their percussion low-key and lo-fi. Banjo, acoustic and electric piano add plaintive, sometimes ominous melody over atmospheric strings and tricky rhythms, established with the breathy first track. The album’s second cut, Territorium echoes Joy Division, its somber bassline over simple drum machine rhythm, layers of strings alternately swooping and crashing. The title track layers catchy, atmospheric vocal overdubs, terse accordion and strings over a clattering Atrocity Exhibition rhythm – imagine a Danish version of the Creatures.

Salades sets whispery, austere vocalese over reverb banjo, gamelanesque percussion and the occasional seemingly random string accent, followed by a warped, atmospheric trip-hop song  that matches disconcertingly out-of-focus vocals to wobbly bent-note banjo. The album’s most intense, epic track is Unoder, atmospherics contrasting with a repetitively looping series of chase themes that alternate noise with melody. Eerie bell-like keyboard tones dominate the next cut, Konstant, vocal and instrumental textures fading into the mix only to disappear in a split second. The album closes with two studies in contrasts, dreamy vocals pushed along by pulsing, astringent string arrangements, and the stately Kapitel 1, a fugue of sorts, voice alternating with accordion, piano, banjo and a big string section. This is a great late-night album.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Redhooker – Vespers

In terms of lush nocturnal beauty, this album tops the charts for 2010, end of story. Beguiling instrumental ensemble Redhooker defy categorization, incorporating elements of chamber music, ambient soundscapes, psychedelic rock and avant genres like minimalism and horizontal music, but whichever label you slap them with the result is the same, hypnotic and dreamlike. Where Brian Eno did ambient music for airports, this is ambient music for empty rooms in abandoned buildings, intimate yet impenetrably mysterious. There’s an almost magical symmetry to the compositions here, yet constantly an element of surprise. Essentially, this is a theme and variations interrupted by two long jams – which perhaps not ironically are the most captivating parts of the album. Guitarist/composer Stephen Griesgraber alternates between atmospheric washes of sound, simple but effective lead lines and gently insistent fingerpicking while the violins of Andie Springer and Maxim Moston trade harmonies and textures, with Peter Hess’ bass clarinet often carrying the lead counterintuitively in the lowest registers.

The opening track, Standing Still establishes a circular theme that weaves among the instruments like a lazy dragonfly in the bulrushes. The line goes straight back to Haydn if you follow it through the clouds. The aptly titled Bedside is a swaying minimalist lullaby with distant baroque echoes, a study in textural contrasts, guitar or bass clarinet playing stately melody versus the sweep of the violins. The first improvisation, Presence and Reflection begins ghostly, gently ominous with whispering waves of guitar noise, a draft-through-the-door atmosphere with distant echoes of (but not by) Pink Floyd. And then it’s a lullaby again, going out on a gentle, late afternoon tide.

Things get as lively as they’re going to here on the next cut, Friction, interwoven with subtly colliding textures and building to a tricky dance that wouldn’t be out of place in the Turtle Island String Quartet oeuvre. And then night falls again with the second jam, like Pink Floyd’s On the Run but quarterspeed – you could call it On the Crawl. In over fifteen minutes, starkly glimmering, Gilmouresque guitar rings out in the distance over dense waves of noise, the violins and then the bass clarinet eventually making a welcome, deftly terse return to paint in pieces of melody that slowly make shape out of shadow . The album ends with a rondo, each instrument working a judiciously studied piece of the original theme, ending with bass clarinet looming in from behind the strings like a sleepy caretaker who’s gotten to know the ghosts in this place by now. It takes a special kind of album to be this quiet and still keep the listener captivated, not to mention awake. This is that album.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

CD Review: Edison Woods – The Wishbook Singles [so far]

The marvelous New York chamber-rock band Edison Woods is releasing a new single every month. There are four of them so far and they are without exception exquisite. Edison Woods’ modus operandi is taking simple, catchy melodies and embellishing them with rich, atmospheric orchestration and beautiful harmonies from the keyboard duo of Julia Frodahl and Johanna Cranitch. Their miminalist approach is most striking in that they typically break chords up into arpeggios, utilizing the spaces between as an integral part of the arrangement as well.

 

The first of the singles, the Gardener is ambient and almost rubato with its gentle vocals and pensive, deliberate melody, methodically building while seemingly random melodic fragments twinkle in the background. Finding the Lions has a warm reassurance, a theme that recurs throughout their work. It’s a slow, calm, hopeful number in the band’s favorite time signature, 6/8, with some nice call-and-response with the organ: “Gonna find the parade, gonna wear those colors, gonna marry the lion…If I can’t hide from myself, they can’t hide from me, one day I’ll find the parade.”

 

Dance Me to the End of the World is another one in 6/8, a slow, sweet lullaby, essentially a soul song with the chords broken up into their separate components. There’s a warmly glimmering piano solo with just a hint of disquiet. The latest of the singles is Dear Heaven, a haunting consolation:

 

 

I can only imagine your mornings here

Do you hear my prayers?

Did I offer you flowers?

 

 

Frodahl inquires, concerned. The songs builds into a strikingly intense chorus with incisive, distorted guitar, up to the hushed harmonies of the refrain, “Sad, sad, sad.” There’s also a devious trick ending with the clarinet. This makes great late-night listening: headphones are very highly recommended. All the songs are available at itunes or at the band’s own site. Edison Woods play Galapagos on Feb 19.

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment