Lucid Culture


Tony Jones Puts Out a Fascinating, Hypnotic New Album

Tenor saxophonist Tony Jones has a new album out, prosaically titled Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness. It’s a clinic in how fascinating, and listenable, and intelligent free jazz can be. Jones’ co-conspirators in pitch, rhythm and consciousness – accent on the consciousness – are Charlie Burnham on violin and Kenny Wollesen, the latter of whom employs every inch of his drum kit and other various percussion instruments in some mysteriously ingenious ways. Available only as a vinyl record and a download, the album cover shows a high-rise building – the Marcy Houses in south Williamsburg, Brooklyn, maybe? – at night. It’s a simple yet quintessentially urban and metaphorically loaded image that makes a good fit with the quiet, thoughtful tunes here. Most of these still, suspenseful, frequently magical pieces have a nocturnal feel, casually exploring brief, memorable riffs and ideas. Most of them don’t go on for more than about four minutes apiece.

The first track, Dear Toy kicks off with a noir understatement, Burnham’s violin taking on an acidic, harmonica-like tone against Jones’ up-and-down flutters, Wollesen beginning with a rattle and bringing up the closing, reverberating crescendo with what sounds like a gong. The second cut is basically a violin solo, suspenseful and tense, working minute shades against a central drone note. A car horn motif introduces a casual duel between sax and violin and ends on a ghostly tone. As with most of the other works here, there’s no central rhythm, although individual members often will latch onto a consistent pulse as Burnham does early on in this one.

Wollesen gets his cymbals shimmering with a minute, masterful focus on the third track as Jones builds to a distant hint of swing: as close-miked as this obviously is, it feels as if you’re inside the drum kit. The fourth, Bits, is a conversational study between sax and violin, gingerly working its way up to an animated crescendo as Wollesen rattles around, Burnham finally taking it up to a fluttering, somewhat anguished fast staccato as Jones prowls underneath.

Howlin Wolf doesn’t offer much if any resemblance to the great bluesman, building from honking and insistent to spacious tradeoffs between Jones and Wollesen. The only number here where the volume raises above conversational is Billie, Burnham shifting artfully from pizzicato, to apprehensively ambient, to finally a series of deftly tangoish drumlike motifs as Jones anchors the conversation and Wollesen works otherworldly overtones from his cymbals. Division and Kent – a south Williamsburg intersection which is usually deserted, but could be a setting for potential conflict – is a study in contrasts, Wollesen’s drumhead whooshes panning back and forth for an ominous stereo effect, Burnham sounding various alarms while Jones plays his usual calm, collected role.

Finally, on the eight track, Wollesen gets a slinky groove going – with what sounds like a gong or tubular bells. Who knew they could be so funky! Casually, almost secretively, both Burnham and Jones join in the steady parade. The final track, Four Nights, wobbles and whispers and finally joins the sax and violin together in a dark chromatic melody over a keening cymbal overtone. Those are the mechanics of what’s happening: what those dreamy, occasionally nightmarish sonics evoke is left to your own imagination. Even for those who don’t leap at the chance to hear jazz improvisation, this is worth a listen. As a bonus, the sonic quality of the download is remarkably good: one can only imagine what the vinyl sounds like. Count this as a dark horse contender among the best jazz records of the year.

November 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tribecastan – 5 Star Cave

Imagine if your favorite world music band made a straight-up rock record. It would probably have some interesting rhythms – American beats are not the world’s most exciting – and probably fewer chord changes, considering that changing keys doesn’t happen very often, or at all, once you get past the Gulf of Suez. Tribecastan’s new cd 5 Star Cave could easily be that album. Their first album Strange Cousin, from last year, will probably prove to be a cult classic, a dizzying range of styles from around the world (with distinct Balkan/Asian overtones) played on a museum’s worth of stringed and wind instruments. This is the instruments from that same museum being used for rock instrumentals. As before, multi-instrumentalists John Kruth and Jeff Greene are joined by a like-minded, devious cast: Mike Duclos on upright and electric bass; world beat mastermind Todd Isler on a small army of percussion instruments, with cameos by Charlie Burnham on violin, Al Kooper on organ and guitar, Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas on vocalese and Steve Turre on trombone and shells, to name a few. If there’s one band they resemble – not that such a richly diverse band could ever be approximated anywhere else – it’s similarly devious, more Balkan-and-blues-minded New York band Hazmat Modine.

If the fictional, tongue-in-cheek republic (principality?) of Tribecastan really existed, it would be the last stop on the Silk Road. As much as the crew here appropriate a ridiculous variety of traditional global styles, this is an indelibly New York album – a fearless, sometimes gruff, sometimes completely punk rock sense of humor pervades a lot of these songs, whether the silly, “surf sarod” shuffle of the Violent Femmes ripoff that opens the album, the acoustic wah funk of Ghetto Garbo, the tongue-in-cheek Afrobeat blues of From Bamako to Malibu, a showcase for Turre to jump into and be as funny as the rest of the crew, or the shamelessly psychedelic faux gamelan soundscape He Hears the Ants. There’s also a calypso number, several adventures into funk and blues, and a boogie driven by slide mandolin and a forest of acoustic fretted instruments like something Roy Wood might have done in 1970 if he’d had an even greater attention span.

Yet as with their first album, it’s the darker material that really stands out. Starry Stari Grad and Hemlock Falls are arrestingly sad waltzes with Greek/Macedonian overtones. Bachir’s Blues (a reference, no doubt, to their joujouka pal Bachir Attar) has Kruth playing saz, Greene on boomy yayli tambur lute and even some Jew’s harp – the original wah-wah instrument. And the lone cover here is a darkly rustic Afghan traditional song, Kabul Hill. Tribecastan plays the cd release for this one at Joe’s Pub on May 8 at 8:30 PM with the whole cast of characters, celebrities included. Let’s hope the Tribecastan Concert Bureau has a big WWII-surplus 6X6 truck to get all those instruments to the club and then back home across the border in one piece.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment