Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú

This is what Spanish Harlem was rocking to forty years ago. What Sharon Jones did for oldschool soul, what Antibalas did for Afrobeat and what Chicha Libre is doing for chicha, Spanglish Fly is doing for bugalu. It’s what happened when Cuban son melodies collided with Stax/Volt and Motown, with fiery horns and a fat midtempo groove over a latin beat. It was a Nuyorican phenomenon and very popular back in the day. If you know Bang Bang by Joe Cuba, this is the same kind of thing. It’s about time somebody brought this stuff back and it’s a good thing it’s this band because they have authentic sabor with a 5-piece horn section, three percussionists, piano and a rhythm section plus Erica Ramos’ casually alluring, soulful voice soaring over it when there’s room. As dance music, it’s irresistible (at a live show, the group will often offer a free dance lesson for anglos or newschoolers who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this).

The cd’s opening track, Think (Pensamiento) is typical of what the old bugalú bands would do, a brand-new latin version of the old James Brown hit with fat low end, tight horns and a suspenseful intensity where the band theatens to completely rip it apart at the end but just manage to keep it together. An original, Latin Soul Stew was obviously made to be played live, with soaring trumpet over an ominous piano groove, the horns coming back in full force after a little vocal break. Another original, by one of the band’s trumpeters Jonny Semi-Colón a/k/a Jonathan Goldman sounds like ska but with a slinkier groove. Like a lot of bugalu hits, it’s a series of trick endings where the intensity builds every time the song comes back, with a gospel-inspired break toward the end. There’s also a joyously rattling cover of the big Ray Barretto crossover hit New York Soul. 

The band is an inspired collection of veteran New York jazzcats: besides Ramos and Goldman, they have Martin Wallace on piano, Mick Santurio on congas, Charly Rodriguez on timbales, Gabo Tomasini on bongos, Atsushi Tsumura on trumpet, Dimitri Moderbacher on bass, Rose Imperato on tenor sax, Jonathan Flothow on bari sax and Sebastian Isler on trombone. Spanglish Fly’s next dance party is April 2 at Camaradas El Barrio, First Ave. and 115th St. at 10 PM; the cd release show is on April 23 at Rose Bar.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

CD Review: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Robin Aigner – Bandito

“I can sing a song about any damn thing,” boasts Robin Aigner on her new cd Bandito. The song also asserts that she cooks a good dinner. If she’s as good in the kitchen as she is on the mic, she ought to open a restaurant – it would be a four-star affair. This album, Aigner’s second solo effort, is well titled. Aigner is mysterious: she has a thing about mistresses and even more of a thing for innuendo. Like the artist she’s most likely to be compared to, Laura Cantrell, Aigner is known best for her voice: highly sought after as a singer on the oldtimey/Americana circuit, she toured with the Crooked Jades and seems at this point to be a charter member of Pinataland. Her knockout punch is nuance – she can wrench an album’s worth of intensity out of a split-second’s hesitation or a typically understated, seductive melisma to wrap up a phrase. Yet it’s her songwriting that takes centerstage on this album, her second, a feast of historically-imbued, out-of-the-box steampunk imagination. Aigner switches between acoustic guitar and banjo, judiciously accompanied by Flanks bassist Tom Mayer, Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on spinet, Charles Burst on Rhodes and Dean Sharenow of Kill Henry Sugar on percussion.

The cd opens with the jaunty Pearl Polly Adler, a tribute to FDR’s [possible, unconfirmed, hee hee] mistress who “knows where he parks his car,” and makes sure to cover herself in case trouble ever comes her way. Delores from Florence tells the surreal tale of a globetrotting flapper who had to come up with an innovative solution to the problem of having “too many lovers.”And Annie and Irving imagines an anxious romance between Annie Moore (first immigrant to make it through customs on Ellis Island) and Irving Berlin, creeping around the shadows out in the Catskills.

The rest of the cd alternates hilarity with pensive intensity. A poignantly perplexed lament, See You Around features Aigner at her most haunting, over a sad tango melody. Mediocre Busker is one of those songs that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing Aigner was the one to do it: this guy turns out to be bad at everything else too. Aigner uses the equally tongue-in-cheek Found to do justice to both the crazy packrats and the lucky rest of us who have a thing for stuff others have left behind. Wrong Turn memorializes a couple of clueless northerners getting lost in the Bible Belt, while Get Me Home – a duet – amps up the seductive vibe with characteristic allusive charm. The album ends with Great Molasses Disaster, a vividly somber requiem for the day in January, 1919 when a giant industrial tank of molasses in Boston’s North End burst and unleashed a literal tsunami on the neighborhood, demolishing buildings, pitching a locomotive into Boston Harbor, leaving hundreds injured and 21 dead. Steampunks and Americana fans alike will be salivating over this (the album, not the molasses) for a long time. Aigner’s next gig is on Feb 26 at 7 PM at the cafe at the 92YTribeca with Brady Jenkins on piano.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at the New York Guitar Festival 2/4/10

Last night’s theme was film scores. The New York Guitar Festival is more avant garde than rock (WNYC’s John Schaefer emceed) – this particular Merkin Hall bill started out intensely and virtuosically with a rare artist who’s every bit as good as his famous father (Gyan Riley is the son of avant titan Terry Riley), then got more mainstream with an emotionally rich, frequently very amusing pair of Chaplin soundtracks just completed by Chicha Libre.

Composers have been doing new scores for old silent films for decades (some of the most intriguing recent ones include Phillip Johnston’s improvisations for Page of Madness, and the Trakwerx soundtracks for Tarzan and a delicious DVD of Melies shorts). Riley chose to add sound to a series of brief paint-on-celluloid creations by Harry Smith (yup, the anthology guy), which came across as primitive if technically innovative stoner psychedelia. Ostensibly Smith’s soundtrack of choice had been Dizzie Gillespie; later, his wife suggested the Beatles. Playing solo, Riley opened with his best piece of the night, an unabashedly anguished, reverb-drenched tableau built on vivid Steve Ulrich-esque chromatics. From there, Riley impressed with a diverse mix of ambient Frippertronic-style sonics along with some searing bluesy rock crescendos evoking both Jeff Beck aggression and towering David Gilmour angst. Most of the time, Riley would be looping his licks with split-second precision so they’d echo somewhere in the background while he’d be adding yet another texture or harmony, often bending notes Jim Campilongo style with his fretboard rather than with his fingers or a whammy bar.

With their psychedelic Peruvian cumbias, Chicha Libre might seem the least likely fit for a Chaplin film. But like its closest relative, surf music, chicha (the intoxicating early 70s Peruvian blend of latin, surf and 60s American psychedelia) can be silly one moment, poignant and even haunting the next. Olivier Conan, the band’s frontman and cuatro player remarked pointedly before the show how much Chaplin’s populism echoed in their music, a point that resonated powerfully throughout the two fascinating suites they’d written for Payday (1922) and The Idle Class (1921). The Payday score was the more diverse of the two, a series of reverberating, infectiously catchy miniatures in the same vein as Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack as well as the woozily careening Electric Prunes classic Mass in F Minor. While Chicha Libre’s lead instrument is Josh Camp’s eerie, vintage Hohner Electrovox organ, as befits a guitar festival, Telecaster player Vincent Douglas got several extended solo passages to show off his command of just about every twangy noir guitar style ever invented, from spaghetti western to New York soundtrack noir to southwestern gothic. When the time came, Camp was there with his typical swirling attack, often using a wah pedal for even more of a psychedelic effect. The band followed the film to a split-second with the occasional crash from the percussionists, right through the triumphant conclusion where Chaplin manages to sidestep his suspicious wife with her ever-present rolling pin and escape with at least a little of what he’d earned on a hilariously slapstick construction site.

The Idle Class, a similarly redemptive film, was given two alternating themes, the first being the most traditionally cinematic of the night, the second eerily bouncing from minor to major and back again with echoes of the Simpsons theme (which the show’s producers just hired Chicha Libre to record last month for the cartoon’s 25th anniversary episode). Chaplin plays the roles of both the rich guy (happy movie theme) and the tramp (spooky minor) in the film, and since there’s less bouncing from set to set in this one the band got the chance to vamp out and judiciously add or subtract an idea or texture or two for a few minutes at a clip and the result was mesmerizing. It was also very funny when it had to be. Bits and pieces of vaguely familiar tunes flashed across the screen: a schlocky pop song from the 80s; a classical theme (Ravel?); finally, an earlier Chicha Libre original (a reworking of a Vivaldi theme, actually), Primavera en la Selva. They built it up triumphantly at the end to wind up in a blaze of shimmering, clanging psychedelic glory where Chaplin’s tramp finally gets to give the rich guy’s sinisterly hulking father a swift kick in the pants. The crowd of what seemed older, jaded new-music types roared their approval: the buzz was still in the air as they exited. Chicha may be dance music (and stoner music), but Chicha Libre definitely have a future in film scores if they want it.

February 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, Part Two: Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s night of showcases for the annual APAP booking agents’ convention continued with two New York institutions who call Brooklyn bar Barbes their home, sandwiched around comedic Bay Area Cuban/American retro rockers the Cuban Cowboys. We have reviewed shows by Chicha Libre a few times; we have seen them more times than we can count. Even by their standards, this one was deliriously fun, the high point of the night (and when you can upstage Slavic Soul Party, that’s pretty damn good). For those who don’t know the band, their style of music is chicha, which takes its name from a Peruvian corn liquor which is sort of that country’s equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45. Wildly popular on a regional basis in the 1970s, chicha music blends psychedelically-tinged American surf music, a Colombian cumbia beat and bits and pieces of just about every other latin style from Brazilian to salsa. Chicha Libre had been asked by the producers of the Simpsons to provide a chicha version of the show’s theme song in honor of the cartoon’s 25th anniversary, which aired Sunday (you can hulu it): the song very cleverly skirted the theme but didn’t tackle it head-on until a break midway through. Because chicha bands in the style’s heyday so frequently chichafied music from just about everywhere else on the globe, Chicha Libre do the same, with results that vary from haunting (the understated, swaying version of Erik Satie’s macabre Gymnopedie No. 1 that they used to open the set on a subdued note) to amusing, notably a cover of Hot Butter’s 70s novelty synth instrumental hit Popcorn (which the band uses as a tribute to corn liquor and weed). They also gave Vivaldi the chicha treatment (Spring, from the Four Seasons, retitled Primavera en la Selva i.e. Springtime in the Jungle), as well as running through tight covers of songs from the classic chicha era, from the hilarious El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy), an infectious version of a Juaneco classic and the scurrying Pato de Perro (Dog’s Paw). Josh Camp’s vintage Electrovox electric organ swirled and spun off a forest of eerie overtones and Vincent Douglas’ Telecaster provided the requisite noir twang and clang while Olivier Conan’s cuatro in tandem with the percussionists clattered like an old VW taxicab, confident in its knowledge of every rut and bump in the road.

The Cuban Cowboys brought a stagy, occasionally campy, over-the-top sensibility to their Cuban-inflected mix of reverb-soaked surf and garage rock songs. A tongue-in-cheek number about a gay sailor bounced along on a ska beat; by contrast, a dark, minor-key tango reflected on the Obama adminstration’s failure so far to normalize Cuban-American relations. Another serious number, Dance with the Devil touched on the band’s disastrous experience with a big record label. They closed with the side-splitting Senor Balaban, a nonstop, rapidfire Spanish-language narrative about a kid getting a sex education talk from a bunch of old Cuban geezers. “It helps if she’s drunk,” one of them soberly asserts.

Slavic Soul Party have earned themselves a reputation as just about the most exciting thing happening in original Balkan brass music, and reaffirmed that with a characteristically blazing set to end the evening on an high note. The eleven-piece band has toned down the hip-hop attitude a little bit, concentrating on the music, from the joyous, spot-on James Brown funk tune they opened with, standing in the middle of the crowd in front of the stage, to the playfully satirical faux-techno of the title track from their previous album Technochek Collision that closed the night. Playing every Tuesday night at Barbes has made them incredibly tight – watching all the horns play one rapidfire cluster of eerie chromatics after the other, in perfect unison, was intense. Several of the songs were partitas, sometimes leaping into warpspeed, sometimes shifting with seeming effortlessness from a slinky, quasi-latin groove to fullscale stomp, accordion, trumpets and trombones all getting the chance to bring the songs to redline with breakneck solo crescendos. The title track to their latest cd was the high point, suddenly dropping to a Balkan trip-hop vamp taken up again on the wings of a blazing bop trumpet solo, all lightning doublestops and glissandos. It’s impossible to imagine that there could have been a better show anywhere in town that night.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Songs of the Day 9/19-20/09

Pretty much every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. We missed Saturday, spending the day helping yet another New Yorker become an ex-New Yorker and there was no internet service where they were. And why spend a hour on the  Blackberry when we could do it in five minutes the following day?

So, Saturday’s song was #312:

Chicha Libre – Sonido Amazonico

The greatest one-chord jam of alltime, a melody that will someday be as well-known as, say, Fur Elise or Satisfaction. Although the band is American, Chicha Libre have almost singlehandedly resurrected chicha, the intoxicating Peruvian hybrid of Colombian cumbia, American surf music and psychedelia that was wildly popular in the Amazon oil boom towns of the late 60s and early 70s. The original by Los Mirlos (available on the amazing Roots of Chicha compilation) is a lot of fun but it’s this version, the title track to Chicha Libre’s 2008 debut cd, which is the best, keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox adding a hypnotic swirl.

And today’s is #311:

Elvis Costello – No Dancing

Here the preeminent musical psychopathologist of our time dissects what being a killjoy is all about over wickedly catchy, slightly doo-wop inflected janglerock. From My Aim Is True, 1977. The link above is the album version; here’s a fascinating live video with the Attractions from what looks like the following year.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise, NYC 5/15/09

There have been more intense, more riveting shows this year but for sheer fun factor, this one tops the charts, a perfect match of band and milieu. Chicha Libre get plenty of ink here because they (at least at this point) seem to be the sole American practitioners of chicha, the intoxicatingly fun, reverb-drenched Peruvian hybrid of Colombian cumbias, American surf music, psychedelia and all kinds of other latin styles. The way Chicha Libre play it, on the surface it sounds a lot like surf music but it’s bouncier and although the music gets pretty dark in places, the band can’t resist taking pretty much anything – Michael Jackson, the Clash, Erik Satie – and doing it chicha style. They did pretty much everything last night. With much of the crowd gathered on the prow, the boat rocked on the waves as it left the harbor, guitarist Vincent Douglas gamely going with the flow and letting his richly twangy chords ring out while the floor shifted.

In two sets and what had to be at least two hours of music, the band mixed obscure chicha instrumentals by los Mirlos, Juaneco y Su Combo (whose anthology Chicha Libre’s own Barbes Records just put out) and others with originals which are arguably even better than the first wave stuff. Who knows, once word gets around and other bands start playing chicha, maybe someday Chicha Libre will be considered a good second wave act something like what the Specials were to ska. Douglas likes effects pedals, this time using a chorus box to add some aptly watery flavor to the title track from their album Sonido Amazonico (ranked in the top three on Lucid Culture’s Best Albums of 2008 list). As usual, the band couldn’t keep from grinning as they intoned “pavane, pavane, pavane” on their chichafied version of the famous Ravel Pavane, turning a requiem into a celebration. Both their versions of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and Alone Again Or by Love held pretty close to the originals, while Popcorn Andino (a cover of the silly 70s novelty hit by Hot Butter) gave Electrovox keyboardist Josh Camp a chance to build eerily reverberating atmospherics over the rattle and clatter of the two percussionists, Greg Burrows throwing in the occasional big cymbal splash, equal parts high drama and carefree buffoonery. The best songs of the night were two eerie new ones, so period-perfect that it was impossible to tell whether they were covers or originals (one suspects the latter). Finally, on the tongue-in-cheek Hungry Song (also from the album), the band finally cut loose and jammed out, percussion and Electrovox again leading the stampede. 

A word about the cruise: it’s nothing like what you would expect. Since Rocks Off is independently owned and operated, there are no officious ushers or corporate security goons, no garish ad banners and in fact it’s hard to tell the crew from the passengers, since everybody seems to be having such a good time. Disabuse yourself of any horrific memories of freshman year booze cruises or Cancun. This is a different animal, a distinctly New York version. The boat was clean, there was never a wait for a bathroom, no sorority girls passing out, no fratboys bellowing over the music. Just a bracing breeze and Chicha Libre.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Juaneco y Su Combo – Masters of Chicha Vol. 1

On May 2, 1977 five members of Peruvian chicha band Juaneco y Su Combo died in a plane crash. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that the band were at the time the country’s most popular practitioners of the style, a wildly psychedelic, danceable blend of Colombian cumbia, Brazilian and Latin dance music and American surf rock with reverb guitar and trebly electronic organ. Over 20 years later, small but influential Brooklyn label Barbes Records has made a full album of the group’s work available for the first time ever outside Peru. It’s about time.

 

During its initial heyday in the 70s, chicha – like bachata in the Dominican and jazz here in the US – was strictly the province of the lower classes, scorned by the elite. Because of this, Juaneco y Su Combo were a regional band in the purest sense of the word. They adopted the traditional dress of the Shipibo Indian majority of their native city of Pucallpa and frequently made use of imagery from Shipibo mythology in their lyrics (such as they were – most of their songs were instrumentals). Perhaps what’s most striking about the band’s success is that the various elements of their music were all foreign. The latin rhythm is anchored by traditional Cuban percussion; bandleader Juan Wong Popolizio traded in his accordion for a Farfisa organ, and lead guitarist Noe Fachin – known as El Brujo (The Wizard) was a fan of the Ventures and the Shadows. Like most other bands of the era, another major influence on the group’s music was drugs. Fachin – among those killed in the plane crash –  was a devotee of ayahuasca, a psychedelic common to the region. Perhaps as a result, this is the best high-velocity stoner music you’ll ever hear. As his nickname implies, Fachin had great speed on the fretboard, but his playing can be sloppy and sometimes either he or the band are noticeably out of tune. On much of the material here, all of them sound stoned, which only adds to the band’s woozy mystique. Like a lot of south-of-the-border music from the 70s, the overall sound is tinny, likely because much of this was recorded on the fly using low-budget gear. 

 

The cd’s best songs follow a formula common to salsa, two minor-key chords alternating on the verse and building to a big crescendo on the chorus which Fachin would typically make the max of. Un Shipibo en Espana (famously covered by Chicha Libre, Barbes Records’ owner Olivier Conan’s band and perhaps the best chicha band ever) is a prime example. The single best song on the cd – written by their late bassist Walter Dominguez – is La Patadita, a deviously murky, minor-key blend of surf and salsa. Fachin’s Vacilando con Ayahuasca (High on Ayahuasca) isn’t the hallucinatory sidelong suite you might expect, but a ripoff of the Ventures’ version of Caravan (a Duke Ellington tune: what a fun and unexpected game of telephone this turned out to be!). On the cd’s last cut, Recordando a Fachin (Remembering Fachin), his replacement does an enviable job of emulating his trademark frenetic, hanging-over-the-cliff style. This cd’s closest relative, in spirit anyway, is German film composer Manfred Hubler’s legendary 1969 Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack. Except that you can dance to it.

 

Barbes Records – who have a franchise on chicha music outside Peru – have also played a substantial role in building renewed interest in the style’s originators right where it originated, with the latest version of Juaneco y Su Combo (still fronted by original singer Wilindoro Cacique) currently one of the country’s hottest live acts. It’s probably only a matter of time before these songs start getting picked up by American surf bands (how’s that for irony?) One can only hope for continuing releases in the Masters of Chicha series; for now, several other bands, including Los Mirlos, Los Destellos and Los Diablos Rojos are included on Barbes’ seminal anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year.

 

 

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Roots of Chicha

What the soundtrack to The Harder They Come was for reggae, what the Nuggets anthology was for garage rock, The Roots of Chicha promises to be for chicha.  Like Australian country music, Japanese salsa or British rock, chicha is a quintessentially urban kind of alchemy, in this case a creation of the oil-boom cities of Peru beginning in the late 60s and continuing throughout the 80s where musicians raised on sounds from south of the border picked up electronic instruments and started mixing in surf music and psychedelic rock. Like bachata in the Dominican Republic or blues here in the US, the ruling classes in Peru scorned it. The radio didn’t play it and it was largely confined to the slums. Where it thrived.

 

The 17 tracks here are hypnotic and incredibly fun. Some of this sounds like scary surf music. Some sounds like salsa played by a psychedelic rock band (think early Santana without the 20-minute jams), with tinny guitars using all kinds of cheap effects. The beat is like ska but slower, and it swings more, but not as much as reggae. The feel is raw, direct and lo-fi; some would call it primitive. A labor of love created by Barbes Records’ Olivier Conan (leader of the sole American chicha band, Chicha Libre, whose intoxicatingly good debut cd just came out this year), this is the anthology that brought chicha out of Peru for the first time. None of the tracks here have ever been released outside the country, which is more surprising than it is tragic because these songs are so delightful. This is party music, after all (chicha is to Peru what malt liquor is here), and you don’t need to speak Spanish to appreciate it.

 

The Roots of Chicha includes song by five of the most pioneering chicha bands from the late 60s and early 70s. Los Mirlos open and close the cd on a similar note with tersely eerie, one-chord jams with the same mood as Egyptian Reggae by the Ventures, but stranger. They also contribute El Milagro Verde (The Green Miracle), another spooky, tinny reverb-guitar instrumental which is sort of the chicha national anthem, along with Muchachita del Oriente (Little Asian Girl), a party song that has nothing remotely Asian about it. Los Hijos del Sol are represented by another bouncing, incisively reverberating instrumental as well as two characteristically minor-key vocal numbers, the guitar taking off with the central catchy hook on the chorus.

 

Juaneco y Su Combo have three songs included here. Vacilando con Ayahuasca (High on Ayahuasca, a native psychedelic) isn’t the long psychedelic suite you’d assume but rather a catchy instrumental punctuated by a woman’s orgasmic sighs! Another faster instrumental sounds like a ripoff of Muchachita del Oriente – or maybe Muchachita del Oriente rips this off. Obviously there was a lot of cross-pollination going on. The third track is remarkably different, with a considerable Afro-Cuban influence.

 

Los Hijos del Sol follow what seems to be an effective and popular formula, verses that come straight out of salsa, with a lot of call-and-response to get the party going, followed by surfy guitar on the choruses. Los Destellos contribute a gorgeously hooky instrumental, A Patricia, that with a little exposure ought to be picked up by surf bands everywhere, as well as a vocal number and the world’s funniest Beethoven cover. Los Diablos Rojos manage to be both the most overtly surfy and most overtly latin of the bands here, equal parts dazzling Dick Dale tremolo guitar and third-generation Cuban son. There’s also a cut by electric banjoist Eusebio y Su Banjo, the defiant Mi Morena Rebelde (My Rebel Girl) which is more of a traditional cumbia than anything else here. Barbes Records continues to mine the rich vein of classic chicha with a brand-new anthology of songs by Juaneco y Su Combo, available for the first time outside Peru.

 

If the concept of seeing this stuff live intrigues you, Chicha Libre includes some of these songs in their set along with their sometimes even wilder originals. They play Barbes pretty much every Monday at 9:45ish, early arrival always a good idea.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment