Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Literate New Soul and Erudite Organ Jazz Cross-Pollination at the Delancey

Fun and interesting show this past Thursday night at the Delancey with tantalizingly brief sets from soul singer/bandleader Amana Melome and paradigm-shifting jazz organist Brian Charette and his Mighty Grinders trio with Will Bernard on guitar and Eric Kalb on drums. Melome has Ellington band royalty in her veins – her bassist grandfather Jimmy Woode was a member of the Ellington orchestra and played with many other golden age jazz names as well. The Stockholm-based chanteuse maintained a low-key vibe, drawing the crowd in with her simmering, jazz-inflected downtempo and soul grooves. Backed by an electric pianist who varied his textures from song to song plus a tersely swinging acoustic rhythm section, Melome aired out a mix of tunes from her latest ep Lock and Key. Like her music, her misty mezzo-soprano vocals build a mood and explore its intricacies and secret corners rather than wailing or pleading. Her most intriguing and original number was Icarus, which recast the myth as a tribute to thrill-seeking rather than cautionary tale. Other than emo and grunge, neosoul may be the unsexiest style of music on the planet, but Melome keeps it real and could elevate a lot of people along with her.

Charette is an intrepid player, as influenced by classical music and dub as he is by the icons of jazz organ. And he can be awfully funny – he’s the kind of guy who will get a crowd grinning and shaking their heads and asking each other, did he just play that? Uh huh, he did. As usual, he couldn’t resist throwing in a handful of droll quotes when least expected – and he’ll play anywhere. The Delancey is a rock club, but Charette was clearly amped to take the gig. He opened with the shapeshifting Yue Fei, from his Square One album and then followed with the LOL faux-operatic bombast of the tongue-in-cheek Not a Purist: welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends, step inside, step inside, he seemed to be telling the crowd.

Then he flipped the script with Hungarian Brown, a trickily rhythmic, haunting Romany melody fueled by Bernard’s searing slide work: who knew he had that up his sleeve. Charette and the band wound up the night with an expansively funky take of Jimmy Smith’s 8 Counts for Rita, leaving no doubt that was where James Brown – who got his start as an organist – found his first inspiration.

Charette’s next gig is at 8 PM this Friday, March 27 at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s Place with Matt Chertkoff on guitar and Jordan Young on drums, his last New York show before heading off to the Czech Republic where he’ll be touring next month as part of powerhouse saxophonist Mike DiRubbo‘s trio.

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March 24, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bora Yoon Brings Her Magically Enveloping Sonics to the Prototype Festival

Bora Yoon‘s music is ethereal yet deeply resonant. The Korean-American composer-performer’s first love was choral music, but her work also encompasses ambient soundscapes and tinges of pan-Asian folk themes. She has a penchant for site-specific works and a track record for artful manipulation of sonically diverse spaces: McCarren Pool, the Park Avenue Armory and city rooftops among them. While her signature sound is rapt and otherworldly, she spices that with a quirky, charming sense of humor. She’ll be airing out pieces from her latest album Sunken Cathedral – streaming at Spotify – throughout a four-night stand from Jan 14 through 17 at 7:30 PM (with a 10 PM show on Jan 15 and a 2 PM show on the 17th in addition) at LaMama, 74A E 4th St. at the ground floor theatre there as part of this year’s Prototype Festival. Tix are $25.

Knowing Yoon’s music for what it is, it’s hard to tell how much of the album is looped and processed and how much of it is organic, though to Yoon’s credit, it seems to be almost completely the latter: her electronic touches are deft and subtle. She opens it with her own arrangement of a Hildegard von Bingen antiphon, her crystalline voice rising over subtly shifting organ drones and dizzyingly hypnotic counterrythms. And then, out of nowhere, birdsong! It sets the stage for pretty much everything else to come.

Clamoring churchbells give way to ethereally ringing singing bowls and stately long-tone vocalese throughout Father Time, the second track. She follows that with the somber, achingly crescendoing piano ballad Finite Infinity. She radically reinvents the renaissance standard In Paradisum as an echoey tone poem, moving up from a tense more-or-less solo intro with a dog barking in the background, to a duet of sorts with four-piece choir New York Polyphony. After that, there’s a pricelessly funny, hynotically dancing vocalese-and-percussion piece featuring Yoon’s irrepressible mom via voicemail.

More churchbells, waterside sounds and windy ambience mingle with Yoon’s vocals, taking the medieval plainchant of O Pastor Animarum into the here and now. She does much the same with Speratus, interpolating a lively loop by chamber ensemble Sympho. Then she shifts gears with the increasingly agitated Little Box of Horrors, a spoken-word-and-loops piece.

Weights & Balances adds noir cabaret-tinged piano beneath Yoon’s New York angst-fueled existentialist contemplation of posterity and self-doubt: “Fate is what happens to you when you do absolutely nothing,” she asserts, seemingly as much a message to herself as to the world. The closest thing to traditional renaissance polyphony here is Semaphore Conductus, the choir’s precise sonics peppered with blippy percussive bits a la Radiohead.

In New American Theatre, Sekou Sundiata narrates his understatedly corrosive portrait of our post-9/11 New York surveillance state over sarcastically dreamy loops. The album winds up with the very subtly mutating, mesmerizingly circular Doppler Dreams. It’ll be interesting to see how much sonic magic Yoon can coax out of the dry black-box theatre space at LaMama: this may call for more of the onstage theatrics that she typically incorporates into her show.

January 8, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pensive, Quietly Dynamic, Relevant Album of Japanese-Tinged Themes from Kojiro Umezaki

Kojiro Umezaki‘s axe is the shakuhachi, the rustic Japanese wood flute, an instantly recognizable instrument that can deliver both ghostly overtones and moody, misty high midrange sonics. Umezaki’s background spans the world of folk music and indie classical – he’s a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble -and is a frequent collaborator with groundbreaking string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Umezaki also has an album, Cycles, out from that group’s violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s maverick label In a Circle Records and streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of originals along with reinvented themes from folk and classical music. As you might imagine, most of it is quiet, thoughtful and often otherworldly, a good rainy-day listen.

The opening track, (Cycles) America reimagines a theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony as a solo percussion piece for Joseph Gramley, who opens it on drums with hints of majestic grandeur, then provides loopily resonant vibraphone. The album’s thoughtfully spacious second track, 108 is where Umezaki makes his entrance, joined after a terse, slowly crescendoing intro by Dong-Wan Kim on janggo drum and Faraz Minooei on santoor. It builds to a swaying and then rather jauntily dancing groove with hints of South Indian classical music as Umezaki chooses his spots.

The traditional Japanese lullaby that follows is as gentle – and ghostly – as you might expect from a melody that could be a thousand years old, a graceful solo performance. Umezaki then delivers a circular, uneasily looping piece modeled after a famous 1923 post-earthquake work by Japanese composer Nakao Tozan, bringing it into the present day as a tense, distantly angst-ridden contemplation of a post-3/11 world.

On For Zero, Gramley plays lingering vibraphone  interspersed with the occasional emphatic cymbal crash or fuzzy wash of low-register synth. The album’s final track is a new version of a collaboration with Brooklyn Rider that originally appeared on the quartet’s 2010 album Dominant Curve, alternating between raptly inmersive atmospherics and edgy interplay between the quartet and the wood flute, a shakuhachi concerto of sorts.

October 19, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warmly Enveloping Sound Pictures from Doug Wieselman

Solo albums made on instruments that typically don’t play more than a single pitch at a time are usually of interest only to people who play those instruments. Doug Wieselman‘s warmly ambient, thoughtful, vinyl-only new solo album From Water is the exception to that rule. It’s a minimalist mix of loopmusic played on both clarinet and bass clarinet, occasionally flashing the dry, puckish wit that is one of Wieselman’s signature traits. The other is lyricism, which explains why he’s been one of New York’s most in-demand reedmen for well over a decade with acts from the legendary Kamikaze Ground Crew to Lou Reed and the Dimestore Dance Band. The longtime denizen of the original Knitting Factory/Tonic/Stone scene is playing the album release show for this one, presumably solo, on Feb 4 at 10:30 PM at the Poisson Rouge for $10.

The compositions’ unifying theme is melody influenced by the sound of water and wind, a close listen to the sounds of the earth and what they might imply and an elegantly shifting counterpart to what Handel did over 200 years ago. A handful of the works here are miniatures, the rest of them fairly brief, around five minutes or less. The opening piece sets long, layered tones over a quietly looping traintrack rhythm, Wieselman developing a rather plaintive melody with a clear, crystalline sostenuto. On a couple of other tracks, Wieselman’s pulsing, corkscrew loops evoke bagpipes, especially where he utilizes close harmonies, spinning them back through the mix with a kaleidoscopic swirl. In many of these numbers, he deftly orchestrates a calm/animated dichotomy, with spirals, trills and tersely melismatic motives set against a drone or a calmly circular phrase. Jazz is rarely if ever referenced here, the blues only distantly, although there are several nostalgic, folksy interludes and a long vamp with more than a hint of vintage 60s soul music.

There’s a pastorale where you might pull off your headphones to see if a certain sound is coming from your radiator, and also a choral version of that work, seemingly an arrangement for two voices recorded live. While there are a handful of passages where Wieselman utilizes his vaunted technique for some lickety-split arpeggios and trills, the album’s overall effect is soothing and contemplative. Turn on, drop the needle in the groove, you know the rest.

January 15, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Tuneful, Fascinating, Hypnotic Album from Ensemble Et. Al.

Idiosyncratic, cutting-edge percussion group Ensemble Et. Al. create catchy compositions with hypnotic grooves that bridge the gap between chillout instrumentals, pastoral jazz and indie classical music. Their previous ep When the Tape Runs Out was a lot of fun, as is their new one Present Point Passed, streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page. The quartet of group leader Ron Tucker, J. Ross Marshall, Jeff Eng and Charles Kessenich plays the album release show at Spectrum at 8 PM on Jan 18.

The opening track, No Matter How Fast You Run Today sets the stage for the rest of the album, a shuffling, mechanical series of cymbal loops underpining a resonant vibraphone melody. The tune’s warm/cold dichotomy reminds of a more minimalistic version of vibraphone-driven jazz sensations Bryan & the Aardvarks.

A Brief Story Without an Ending works a similar contrast through a series of simple, direct, modal vibraphone vamps that rise and fall on waves from the drums and cymbals. An Afterword of an Image balances mechanical marimba phrases against steady bells and resonant vibraphone that ebb and flow with a hypnotic, carillonesque grace. Choose Your Own Adventure takes a rather droll riff that sounds like a doorchime and weaves it amid long, suspenseful crescendos that begin as drones and peak with a restrained, precisely rippling intensity.

Where the Past Goes Once You Forget sets echoes of both carillon and gamelan music to a tricky tempo with insistent countermelodies and a simple, catchy synth bassline. The final track, Clock-Watching Isn’t Waiting weaves a couple of mechanical vibraphone riffs into a lullaby of sorts to which the ensemble adds more jaunty but similarly hypnotic, intertwined variations. If lingering, intricate and understatedly rhythmic tunesmithing is your thing, this music will draw you in and hold you rapt.

One closing thought: because this group uses synth bass here and there, why not put bass on all the arrangements? That isn’t to say that the group’s sound is lacking in any way, only that a harmonic anchor on the low end and yet another intriguing texture where presently there isn’t much of one would make this music even more captivating.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intriguing, Catchy, Resonant Sounds from Ensemble Et. Al.

Over a year ago, adventurous percussion group Ensemble Et Al sent a package of files over the transom here. Where they sat, and sat, waiting patiently for their turn on the front page. At last, that time has come: their ep When the Tape Runs Out is a lot of fun. Most of it is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page, along with their ep of group leader Ron Tucker’s arrangements of works by Arvo Part and Goldmund (Keith Kenniff) which is available for free download.

The opening track, A Beautiful Walk Through Industrial Wasteland builds to a groove that closely resembles Bill Withers’ Use Me. If that’s intentional, it’s clever; either way, the intricate, gamelanesque assemblage of lingering vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel tones along with less resonant metal and wood objects played by Tucker, J. Ross Marshall and Charles Kessenich manages to be both hypnotic and catchy. In a Crowded Room with Nothing to Think About works a playfully direct, Steve Reich-ish circular theme into a series of charmingly chiming layers. A disarmingly attractive, rather Lynchian lullaby, Confessions of an Honest Man balances atmospheric lows against tersely ringing highs.

Finding Simple Wonders As the Day Turns the Night develops a wickedly memorable minimalist melody into an eerie music box-like theme over an implied trip-hop groove. The ep closes with a warily spacious take on Arvo Part’s Fur Elina, a secret bonus track. Fans of downtempo and chillout music as well as indie classical types should check this out. Ensemble Et Al are on an intriguing triplebill of percussion ensembles with Concert Black and Iktus Percussion on March 26 at 8 PM at Galapagos, $15 advance tickets are recommended.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreamy, Woodsy Sounds from Makoto Nakura

Viirtuoso marimba player/vibraph0nist Makoto Nakura has a thematic album of new works by contemporary composers titled Wood and Forest just out on American Modern Recordings. If soothingly earthy sounds are your thing, he’s playing the cd release show at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W. 17 St. on Wednesday, Nov 14. The concert begins with a museum tour at 6:15, a brief break for refreshments and then the show at 7; $15 advance tickets are still available as of this writing. Also on the program is Nakura’s eclectic percussionist labelmate Robert Paterson, whose latest album showcases his pioneering six-mallet technique.

The version of Jacob Bancks’ The Trees Where I Was Born on Nakura’s album is a condensed arrangement of a work for orchestra and choir. As Nakura plays it, solo, it shifts from slightly jungly to strolling and folksy, through a spacious nocturne and then a crescendo that swells while maintaining a hypnotic Southern forest ambience. Violist Kenji Bunch’s Duo for Viola and Vibraphone features the composer joining Nakura on this triptych. A brightly circling, twinkling night theme hints at a brisk bustle, goes more cantabile and then illustrates birds in flight with a jaunty bounce that turns into something akin to March of the Baby Penguins.

By contrast, Paterson’s Forest Shadows opens with a dappled insistence but soon goes macabre: these woods are haunted! Based on plainchant, Bancks’ Arbor Una Nobilis is a long mini-suite, Jesse Mills’ violin mingling and sometimes dancing with the marimba through minimialist, staccato insistence, echoes of the baroque, quiet ambience and then a slightly more muted return.

Winik/Te, by Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez uses a Mayan myth as metaphor for ecological crisis, men made of mud and wood up to no good in the forest. Rubato rhythms and surreal conversational exchanges create the most vivid work here (along with Paterson’s eerie cinematics). The album concludes with Michael Torke’s After the Forest Fire, a portrait of destruction and renewal featuring Wilhelmina Smith on cello and David Fedele on flute, which quickly expands into the album’s most anthemic track. Throughout the pieces, Nakura’s nimble malletwork creates an echoey resonance that’s by turns trance-inducing, bracing and often utterly pillowy. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is usually an insult to the extreme: as far as this one’s concerned, it’s hard to think of any recent release that’s as pleasant a launching pad to Dreamland.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Energetic Trance Music at le Poisson Rouge

The idea of a low-key guitar-and-violin duo putting on a charismatic, totally psychedelic show might seem improbable, but that’s exactly what Grey McMurray and Caleb Burhans did last night at le Poisson Rouge. It was hypnotic in the purest sense of the word. As the musicians launched into a lingering, gently sustained two-guitar phrase that slowly took on one permutation after another as it made its way through a maze of effects pedals, the crowd slowly assembled around the stage, as if a trance. By now, the lights had completely gone out: the only illumination in the club came from the sconces at the bar and the speakers overhead. The blend of ringing, bell-like tones and dreamily atmospheric washes grew more complex, and then pulled back a bit, Burhans working feverishly over a mixing board. When he introduced a sudden, swooping phrase that slyly panned the speakers, heads turned, virtually in unison. A little later, he broke the spell as he reached for the mic and let out a restrained, tense howl. At that point, a handful of people quickly moved to the bar for a drink. Had the intensity been too much to take?

Burhans’ and McMurray’s new double cd Everybody’s Pain Is Magnificent – released on the New Amsterdam label under the name itsnotyouitsme – is an unselfconsciously beautiful chillout record. This show assembled several of its ethereally ringing, lingering segments as two roughly 25-minute suites. After the first had ended, Burhans encouraged the crowd to sit on the floor and take in the rest of the show, and pretty much everyone complied. If Burhans had suggested that everybody take the L train to Morgan Avenue and then lie down on the subway tracks, would the crowd have done that too? In the age of color-coded terrorist alerts and satellite tracking via foursquare and innumerable other marketing schemes, is this what audiences have become? Or, was this simply the power of the music revealing itself in all its glistening, trippy splendor? Was the experience something akin to what it must have been like to watch Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead circa 1967?

Maybe. As Burhans lay down one judicious wash after another from his violin, McMurray adding one stately sequence of notes after another, there were tinges of Philip Glass and Gerard Grisey as well: both musicians come from a classical background. In order to maintain the quietly mesmerizing ambience, the two practically danced on their pedals as they added and then subtracted one texture after another from the flow of sound as it looped around. In order to avoid the kind of mechanical monotony that often characterizes this kind of music, they built several polyrhythms into the mix. With split-second timing, they made the effect seamlessly ethereal rather than chaotic. And not everything they played was quiet and soothing, either. For what seemed minutes at a time, McMurray would wail up and down on his strings, add the passage to the mix, then add and subtract minutely measured amounts of distortion, or reverb, or sustain, or a combination of several effects at once. By the time the second suite was over, they’d almost imperceptibly taken the sonic trajectory to wary, somewhat icy terrain much like the best stuff on Radiohead’s Kid A.

Is this meant to be stoner music? From the look of the crowd, quite possibly. Or maybe it was just the heat. Burhans and McMurray were working hard onstage and deserved some air conditioning, and like the crowd, they didn’t seem to be getting any. It’s one thing for the bartender at some dingy Williamsburg bar to show up late and forget to put on the AC, but it’s hard to understand how not a single person out of the Poisson Rouge’s entire nattily uniformed staff couldn’t have flipped a switch and given their customers a respite from a grimly unpleasant global warming-era evening.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/30/11

Playing a little catchup today as we assemble a brand-new live music calendar for NYC – for our sister site, New York Music Daily. For those of you who’ve been following this list from the beginning, not to worry, we’ll get back on track, we did before and we’ll do it again. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album was #518:

King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown

Not bad for a bunch of cover versions that were all initially released as b-sides. Along with Lee “Scratch” Perry, the late King Tubby is considered to be one of the inventors and early giants of dub reggae, and this is his high-water mark. As you would expect with a hit album from Jamaica, 1976, versions exist which are credited to King Tubby himself (who engineered it), others to the other groove genius behind this, producer/melodica player Augustus Pablo. Either way, it’s a woozy, intoxicating ride, guitar, horn flourishes and all those echoey drum bits fading up and then out of the picture. Many of these songs rework hits by Jacob Miller, including the title track, Stop Them Jah, and Each One Dub, while Frozen Dub reinvents an old Heptones hit. There’s also Keep on Dubbing; Young Generation Dub; 555 Dub Street; Brace’s Tower Dub (part one and part two); Corner Crew Dub; Skanking Dub and Satta Dub. The late 80s reissue comes with four bonus tracks, included here in this random torrent via It’s Coming Out of Your Speaker.

September 1, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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