Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Amazing “Neo Middle Eastern” Triplebill at Drom

That opening act Zikrayat – celebrating the release of their new album Cinematic – didn’t steal the show from the other bands on the “neo Middle Eastern dance party” bill Thursday night at Drom attests to how good they were. There are plenty of terrific Middle Eastern musicians in New York, including the New York Arabic Orchestra and the crew who make Alwan for the Arts their home base. Zikrayat (Arabic for “memories”) mine the haunting, plaintive, lushly beautiful world of golden-age Egyptian and Lebanese film music from the 40s to the 60s. It was hard to tell bandleader/violinist Sami Abu Shumays’ originals from the classics: the band sent a poignant, mysteriously slinky mood and maintained it all the way through their hourlong set. Alongside Shumays this time out were Apostolis Sideris on bass, Bridget Robbins on ney flute, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq and a first-class dumbek (goblet drum) player who used his one solo to mess with his bandmates, and then the crowd, and got the whole house laughing at themselves.

After a couple of undulating, hypnotic dance numbers with all kinds of interplay – between violin and buzuq, or violin and ney – they launched into “one of those quirky Abdel Wahab operatic pieces,” as Shumays called it, moving majestically from an ominous buzuq taqsim against stark bowed bass, to a dramatic theme that went doublespeed and then back again. Another Abdel Wahab piece swayed with a sensual bounce, a launching pad for a stinging buzuq solo and some soaring crescendos from Robbins’ flute. The Lights of Lebanon, said Shumays, was “unbelievably tricky,” which was an understatement: it was sort of a Middle Eastern Abbey Road, a mini-suite of good ideas that could have been fleshed out even more than they were, the best among them a low, intense violin solo delivered with brooding poignancy. They closed with a couple of mysterious numbers, artfully mixing up the time signature. They’re at Galapagos on 11/21 playing classic Mohammed Abdel Wahab belly dance pieces at 7 PM sharp.

Raquy and the Cavemen had a new cd of their own, Release the Green Lover, to celebrate; the crowd reacted vigorously to the long drum solos that they used to consume the early part of the show and then closed with. Raquy Danziger, when she’s not playing whirlwind tabla rhythms, excels at the kamancheh (the Iranian spike fiddle popularized by Kayhan Kalhor), which she played in tandem with eleven-string guitarist Liron Peled. His custom-made axe adds layers of lushness to the incisive sting of a Turkish saz. A handful of the violin/guitar pieces, accompanied by a percussionist on Peled’s “dumset” (a full drum kit made out of dumbeks for extra low oomph), were toweringly intense, blending the ornate feel of 70s art-rock with Middle Eastern tonalities, all sorts of overtones floating from the strings. The Mad Marionettes was aptly titled, and absolutely creepy, with brooding, astringent kamancheh and all kinds of dynamic shifts. The album’s title cut was surprisingly playful, almost goth, with a 5/4 dance interlude two steps from Stonehenge.

Copal, the headliners, also had the release of their hypnotically captivating new cd Into the Shadow Garden to celebrate. Violinist/composer Hannah Thiem, backed by an incisive cellist plus a terse five-string electric bassist and drummer who used a syndrum for a snare, quickly established an irresistible groove that finally succeeded in gettting the dance floor in motion, and kept it bouncing for the rest of the night. Even the group’s dancer, who looked at least six months pregnant, moved with a pulsing grace. Thiem’s darkly catchy melodies are deceptively simple, giving band the chance to ease in and out of the mix, dub style, trade off riffs or bring the groove down to just the violin or cello and drums. Ungaro, an upbeat, tarantella-flavored number gave Thiem the first of many incisive, crescendoing solo spots; the aptly titled Shadows took on a surprising variety of shades, compared to the dusky mystery of the album version, including a hypnotically reverberating dumbek-and-drums interlude. A brand-new, as-yet untitled number shifted into brighter tonalities until the cellist went off on a chilling, trill-laden solo. They also explored klezmer-tinged and then atmospheric territory, with the plaintive Ether (whose German lyrics depict a bereaved woman searching for her dead lover, whose presence she can feel but not see), before going back to long, snaky, slowly crescendoing jams.

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November 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Copal Creates a Haunting Global Dance Mix

Hypnotic string band Copal’s brand-new second album Into the Shadow Garden is for dancing in the dark. Alternately lush and stark, vibrant and mysterious, bouncy and sultry, their violin-fueled grooves mix elements of Middle Eastern, Celtic, Nordic and Mediterranean styles. Violinist Hannah Thiem leads the group alongside cellists Isabel Castellvi and Robin Ryczek, bassist Chris Brown, drummer Karl Grohmann and percussionist Engin Gunaydin (of the NY Gypsy All-Stars). Right off the bat, it starts hypnotically with a drone that gradually fades up – then the drums come in, then a plaintive, Middle Eastern-tinged violin melody and the first of Thiem’s many gripping, suspense-building solos that will recur throughout the album. About halfway through, it becomes clear that this is a one-chord jam. Eventually, a second violin voice is introduced; some terse harmonies follow over the slinky beat, then it fades down to just an oscillating drone, the dumbek drum and violin, and out gracefully from there. In a way, it reduces the essence of this band to its purest form. It’s music that sets a mood, gets your body moving and keeps it going – it’s awfully easy to get lost in this.

There are a couple of vocal tracks. Ether is a slow, dirgelike piece with a spoken-word lyric – in German – that builds to a fullscale string orchestra groove over almost a trip-hop beat and a trance-inducing bass pulse, and then fades down like the first number. Velvet begins with an austere fugue between the violin and cello and then begins to sway on the waves of a catchy descending progression. It builds intensely with dramatic cymbal crashes and a cello bassline, then ends cold when you’d least expect it.

There are three other long pieces here, all of them instrumentals. Ungaro is a playful, bouncy tarantella dance. Cuetara gets a brooding minor-key vamp going over a slinky Levantine-tinged groove, Thiem soaring over a lush bed of strings and stark, staccato cello accents. The album ends as it began with a majestic one-chord jam, the aptly titled Shadows, Thiem’s long Middle Eastern opening taqsim building slowly, picking up other textures along the way, taking a bit of a lull for another long solo and ending on a surprisingly jaunty note. Although pegged as electroacoustic, there isn’t much going on here that’s electro other than the occasional atmospheric keyboard part. Copal are a deliriously fun live band – they play the cd release for this album on Nov 4 at Drom, headlining at 10 PM on a killer triplebill with haunting Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat opening at 8 followed by Middle Eastern-flavored rockers Raquy & the Cavemen at 9.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Make Music NY 2010

Constructive suggestion to artists who play Make Music NY or set up all-day events on the 21st: be aware of your spot’s sonic limitations. Don’t settle for just an ordinary busking location when this is the one day of the year that you have pretty much your choice of every desirable location in the entire city. Case in point: sure, there’s a lot of foot traffic under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, but the trains crossing every thirty seconds or so render you absolutely inaudible – even if you’re the Bad Brains. The Threefifty Duo were there, outside the Dumbo Arts Center. Lovely stuff, fascinating interplay, a group you should see if acoustic guitar is your thing. But it was impossible to hear them except when there weren’t any trains overhead. An act this good deserves to be heard.

Balthrop, Alabama didn’t have any trouble being heard. A lot of acts were listed at the cube at Astor Place. Fortuituously, Joe’s Pub finagled the entire Astor Place block between Broadway and Lafayette and that’s where the band was along with their gas generator. The generator did double duty as power plant and extremely useful noise cancellation machine, drowning out the alarms of the buses ending their route a block away past the K-Mart. And the band was great. A lot of rock bands make great albums – Balthrop, Alabama’s deliciously macabre Subway Songs cd from last year is a genuine classic – but too few of them can replicate that kind of magic live. These guys did, and under a blistering sun (the poor drummer’s back was to the sun throughout their 45-minute set), no small achievement. They mine the same smart, retro 60s psychedelic pop territory as McGinty and White or the New Pornographers, but have the added advantage of being just as adept at 60s countrypolitan songs (think Patsy Cline with a good live band). That they have a baritone sax in the band gives them instant cred; add a soaring rhythm section, horns, sprightly electric keys, guitars, an artist drawing pictures of the crowd and the surroundings, and a frontman who does a more stagy, somewhat lower register take on what Phil Ochs was doing circa 1968, and you get the picture. They opened with the gypsy-rock smash Subway Horns, from that album, ran through a bunch of period-perfect songs from their Cowboy Songs album (simultaneously released with it) and closed with a casually plaintive, Beatlesque pop song that could easily have been a big hit for ELO in the late 70s or early 80s. Choruses mutated into strange and pleasantly unexpected passages, song structures shifted counterintuitively, and the lead guitar was terrific, in a Bakersfield, 1968 kind of way. And in the short time since 2009, frontman Pascal Balthrop has grown even better as a singer. When he cut loose with the line “What the fuck” in whitewashed yuppie puppie global warming era Bloomberg East Village New York hell, 2010, those three words made the entire trip over to the east side worthwhile.

Brooklyn’s reliably haunting, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel were next on the bill here, followed by the intriguing Pearl & the Beard, but we had ulterior motives. Namely, to find a place to lie down (our prime mover tweaked his back, badly – six hours playing outdoors over the weekend in the deathly heat on hard concrete, not moving around a lot, will do that to you), so the next stop was Dumbo. We don’t like rules around here, but we have a few of them for MMNY, one of them being that we have to limit ourselves to one single artist that we’ve seen before. After all, MMNY is all about discovering new and exciting stuff. So we went looking for Gamelan Son of Lion at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Funny how things repeat themselves – two years ago to the day, we went looking for New York’s own wonderful gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara, and found them. No such luck with these folks. If the late afternoon sun was simply too much and they decided against it, no disrespect to them. It was a miserable day, even by the water.

But in the process of trying to find out where in the hell Pier Nine in Brooklyn Bridge Park is, we discovered House of Waters. When three minutes of a band is enough to tell you that you want to hear an hour or more of them, you know they’re onto something good. Their frontman plays the hammered dulcimer like a Middle Eastern kanun, fast, furious and incisive, and the killer rhythm section behind him feeds off that energy. Add them to the list of bands we want to see again. Ditto Copal, whose lusciously hypnotic, Middle Eastern-tinged string-band instrumentals made any plan B an afterthought, drawing us to the steps of Galapagos from blocks away. Their bass player set a record for discipline: he’d hang patiently in the same key, keeping the groove pulsing along for minutes at a clip, once in awhile going up an octave and swooping down when the moment called for it. Their violinist started several songs with taqsims (improvisations), joined by their cellist (whose soulful washes are more responsible for this band’s mesmerizing vibe than anything else) on one later number. Their drummer played slinky, devious trip-hop beats with his brushes, joined by an ecstatic dumbek (goblet drum) player. The Middle Eastern vibe was sometimes matched by a dark Brazilian forro feel; at the end of their last number, they finally took it into overdrive and wailed, hard, on the outro.

By now it was six PM. Another thing you need to know about the MMNY schedule is that set times are just as fluid as locations. According to the master calendar, from which we quoted liberally here (sorry, folks), Jan Bell’s marvelous oldschool country band the Maybelles were scheduled to play at 68 Jay St. Bar. But they weren’t playing til 7:30, which was the scheduled start time for our one indulgence of the evening, LJ Murphy. So it was time to get over to Greenpoint (F to the G, crossing over to the other side after a detour to Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Ave. – best pitas in town) It was strange seeing the noir rocker in daylight outside the Brooklyn Reformed Church on Milton St., moreso without a mic, even moreso considering that he was competing with a generic white blues band barely a block and a half away – and a bus stop as well. Still, the debonair, black-suited songwriter was characteristically fun, contemplating the adjacent 1850 building, running through a solo acoustic set of hits as well as newer songs: the poignant disappearing-weekend scenario Saturday’s Down, the surreal, raucous 1930s vaudeville-house tableau Buffalo Red, the brutally depressed post-pickup scenario This Is Nothing Like Bliss and a bonafide classic, the mauvaise foi cautionary tale Geneva Conventional, a warning to anyone who “stood pat while their world was shaking.” Murphy was clearly impressed with some of the other acts on the bill, and while his imprimatur is worth a lot, a dorsal area that was edging closer and closer to David Wells territory (and which required Wells-like exercises – we looked online for some video but mystifyingly couldn’t find any) meant that it was time to head out – even though Cassis & the Sympathies, another band on our list – were playing Battery Park.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment