Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 8/27/09

This hasn’t been a blow-off month for us – it’s been a fun month. We’ve been going out a fair amount, but not for the sake of creating content for Lucid Culture. Instead, this August has been a welcome chance to catch up with friends and to see some old favorites who’ve been reviewed ad infinitum. There’s still an ever-growing stack of cds here waiting to be reviewed and what looks like an amazing month of live music coming up in September, at least as far as NYC is concerned. Stay tuned and you’ll be able to find out about all that. In the meantime, as we do every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #335:

LJ Murphy – Bovine Brothers

Like a lot of the NYC noir rock legend’s other songs, this scathing anti-fascist broadside’s been through a lot of incarnations. The latest is a slow, 6/8 blues ballad. But the fiery, Costelloesque version he was playing circa 2002 or so is the best, a nightmare urban tableau where “a sermon blares from the roof of a radio car.” Unreleased, but there are bootlegs out there.

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August 27, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Nathan Halpern and Thomas Simon at the Delancey, NYC 7/13/09

Why do we love Small Beast? Because we’re lazy. Small Beast will be happening every Monday at the Delancey until October, when it moves back to its original Thursday. Which from a music blogger’s perspective is good for so many reasons, particularly since there are almost always three or four first-rate acts on the bill who’ve never been profiled here before. So Lucid Culture gets four night’s worth of work done in a single Monday evening when there are  no conflicts with other shows. And Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch always opens the night solo on piano. Imagine if you’d been able to see Bud Powell every week for free, in 1953 – completely different idiom, same vibe. It’s all about passion.

Since Wallfisch gets a good review here pretty much every week, suffice it to say that last night’s set was characteristically rich and multistylistic. He’d played a money gig earlier in the day, so he was all warmed up and got even warmer very quickly. He did lots of new material including some songs from the next Botanica album and some even newer than that – a soaring, classically-inflected ballad, a pretty, vivid pop song and counterintuitive covers of songs by Baby Dee, Little Annie, Aimee Mann and the Stones (Faraway Eyes done hilariously with faux-gospel piano).

Nathan Halpern really opened some eyes after that. The lead guitarist from Kerry Kennedy’s paisley underground noir band proved to be a first-rate songwriter as well, sort of Orbison seen through the warped prism of Pulp. Halpern is a crooner, likes a counterintuitive, sardonically literate lyric and a big countrypolitan sound gone somewhat apprehensively askew. As he does in Kennedy’s band, he’d build a crescendo to an unhinged tremolo-picking break, wailing up and down on the strings with a Black Angel’s Death Song style savagery. Backed by Andrew Platt alternating between piano, guitar and bass and drummer Heather Wagner adding marvelously subtle shades, Halpern made his way through a mix of big 6/8 anthems, a couple of jaunty, more overtly country-inflected numbers and closed with a towering, knowingly rueful number perhaps titled Darling When.

Viennese expat Thomas Simon closed the night on a frequently mesmerizing note with a long, practically seamless, improvisational set, something akin to Bauhaus doing a sidelong Abbey Road-style suite, fragments of songs segueing into each other while he and his extraordinarily good djembe player dug a murky sonic pit that swirled deeper and darker as the night went on with layers and layers of loops reverberating and pulsing throughout the mix. Simon’s guitar playing is very Daniel Ash – like the Bauhaus guitarist, he really has a handle how to build eerie tonalities using open strings. Frequently he’d start a segue with a single low, resonant bass note just as David J did on Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Simon moved to piano for a couple of interludes, using the same chordal voicings he’d been playing on the guitar for an intriguing textural contrast. At the end, they picked up the pace with an insistent, percussively hypnotic rhythm, then they took the drums completely out of the mix and Simon took all the effects off his guitar, letting the melody’s ominous, Syd Barrett-esque inflections speak for itself.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/3/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #420:

Jack Grace – Let Your Mind Do the Talking

The charismatic New York country singer’s finest and darkest hour as a songwriter. This is a haunting, somewhat epic minor-key anthem about a guy out in the sticks somewhere slowly and inexorably losing it. There’s a rough mix on Grace’s Staying Out All Night cd, as well as a live bootleg or two kicking around: in the years when he was a regular in the band, the late Drew Glackin would play lapsteel on this one, bringing the intensity to redline with his fiery solos.

June 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jang Sa-Ik Interview

Known as “The Voice of Korea,” singer Jang Sa-ik is poised to become the first worldwide Korean superstar. In a world of autotuned, prefabricated moppets, he casts a towering shadow, a dramatic yet tersely and often hauntingly soulful presence, blending traditional Korean folk music with an early 60s American noir pop sensibility. The story of how he got here is nothing short of heartwarming. Born the son of a farmer and traditional musician, he struggled through a succession of dead-end, mostly blue-collar jobs. It wasn’t til his mid-thirties that he took up the taepyeongso, the traditional Korean oboe, quickly discovering he had an aptitude for it. After playing with traditional music ensembles, in 1993 he won the first of a seemingly endless series of major awards in Korea, this one for instrumental artistry. However, his bandmates persuaded him to sing, and the rest is history: six hit albums later (including a striking new one, Chapter 6/”Mother, See the Flowers”), at age 59, he’s ready to conquer America. Charismatic yet thoughtful and philosophical, up close he responds with the same kind of poetic terseness that characterizes his music. Lucid Culture interrupted his busy schedule preparing for what will likely be his second consecutive sold-out show on April 18 at New York City Center:

 

Lucid Culture: What was your favorite kind of music when you were growing up?

 

Jang Sa-ik: Nong Ak, traditional rural Korean farming music.

 

LC: Did you want to be a musician when you were young?

 

JSI: No, I wanted to be a politician!

 

LC: What other artists have influenced your singing and your writing?

 

JSI: Kim Dae Whan, a free music drummer in Korea [who played in the pioneering 60s Korean rock band Add4].

 

LC: What other artists do you enjoy listening to these days?

 

JSI: World music artists, gypsy musicians, South American music.

 

LC: Was the taepyeongso your first instrument? When did you first start playing it, and why? Was your father responsible for this?

 

JSI: Yes, at the age of 35. The taepyeongso is a typical Nong Ak instrument.

 

LC: You’re best known as a singer, but you’ve also won major awards in South Korea as an instrumentalist. What do you prefer, singing or playing?

 

JSI: Of course, singing. I can express myself better by singing.

 

LC: When did you first start writing songs?

 

JSI: In 1993 I started writing songs, inspired by the many styles of Korean poetry.

 

LC: Do you remember what your first original song was?

 

JSI: Wild Rose [a beautiful ballad which became a runaway hit].

 

LC: What made you finally quit working at a sales job and start a professional career? Was it because you had finally saved up enough money at that point?

 

JSI: I did not make money doing other jobs. It is my destiny to be a singer.

 

LC: You frequently set other peoples’ lyrics to music. What qualities in other peoples’ poems are you looking for when you work with other peoples’ words?

 

JSI: The poems that match my heart and my life.

 

LC: Your songs are about working people, their families, their loves, everyday events. Do you do this because other singers aren’t writing socially relevant songs?

 

JSI: I like to explore the nuances of everyday life, and I also like to communicate through music. My life experience is deeper because I am old enough to have experienced all this.

 

LC: For example, one of your most famous songs, Daejeon Blues is about a guy who takes a train a long way to work, then he has to go to another city and leaves his girlfriend behind. Is this a common event in South Korea?

 

JSI: Daejeon Blues is a popular song, not mine!  It’s just a Korean pop tune.

 

LC: Some of your songs that I know – Wild Rose and Spring Rain, for example – sound like they’d be aptly suited to film. Have your songs appeared in movies in South Korea? 

 

JSI: Arirang [Jang Sa-ik’s version of the iconic Korean folk song, sung by a man cautioning his lover not to run away] is in the process of being put into a film. I’ve had several proposals about using my music in the movies. Korean TV dramas frequently use my music as well.

 

LC: Why did you sing Airirang at a soccer game between the North and South? Was it to create controversy, or to give hope to the idea of uniting the two countries?

 

JSI: Arirang is the national song of the Korean people. I often call this song a national anthem. Singing the national anthem of either country at the game wasn’t allowed. They specifically requested that I sing Arirang.

 

LC: You’re very successful in South Korea. What are your reasons for wanting to play to American audiences when nobody here outside the Korean community knows who you are?

 

JSI: I’d like to share modern and traditional Korean music with people all around the world.

 

LC: Most of your songs – at least the ones I’ve heard –  are slow, dramatic, very haunting and soulful. Do you ever write funny songs?

 

JSI: I think sadness is a very powerful emotion – I use it to free myself from life’s burdens. I don’t write funny songs. 

 

LC: Many of your songs are about old South Korean traditions. Do you write these songs for the Korean diaspora, or Korean-Americans who might miss their country and the old ways?

 

JSI: My songs are for all the Koreans over the world. My music probably appeals to their homesickness.

 

LC: Your new cd Volume 6/”Mother, See the Flowers” starts with two very powerful, very haunting songs. The first is This Is Not It, which is about looking back on life and wishing you’d done things differently. Are there things you wish you’d done differently?

 

JSI: The song doesn’t relate to my life. My intention is to encourage people to live their lives more seriously.

 

LC: The second song on the cd is a beautiful ballad about a mother whose son carries her into the mountains to die, because he can’t afford to support her in her old age. Was this a common practice in South Korea in the old days?

 

JSI: It was not a very common practice, but surely it was one of the ways to survive tough times during the Korea Dynasty about 800 years ago. These days I don’t see much difference in the way that young people treat their parents.

 

LC: Yet the mother in the song is not angry, she only wants the son to get home safe. Shouldn’t she be very angry at the son who’s left her to die?

 

JSI: Korean mothers know all that, but they sacrifice for their sons.

 

LC: Many of your songs deal with dying and the afterlife. What are your beliefs about that?

 

JSI: Death and life are the same. If you understand death, you will feel life is more precious and appreciate it more. In a roundabout way, the song puts this message across.

 

LC: The last song on the new cd is a big rock song with loud electric guitars. Is this a style you also enjoy? 

 

JSI: Yes, I like that style very much. It gives my music a different flavor.

 

LC: It appears that your audience covers a vast range of demographics, young and old alike. Is a reason for that?

 

JSI: I only sing songs – no dancing. So people focus more on listening  when I’m singing.

 

LC: You’re also a famous calligrapher in your native country. Is this something you’ve always done, or is it a new thing for you?

 

JSI: It was one of my hobbies. But I started realizing this was another thing that I enjoy doing. When I inscribe something on a sheet of white Korean traditional paper, I feel good.

 

LC: Can I ask you why in the past you’ve compared your music to Korean bean paste [a richly delicious, garlicky concoction that serves as the basis for most traditional stews and soups]? 

 

JSI: Korean bean paste is a completely natural, traditional ingredient. My music is the same.

 

Jang Sa-ik plays his only American appearance of the season at New York City Center on April 18 at 7:30 PM.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – A Southern Tale

The baritone Ninth House frontman’s second sparsely produced, mostly acoustic solo cd is much like his first, but more fully realized and thematic. As with last year’s Into an Unhidden Future, the production is straight out of late-period, Rick Rubin-era Johnny Cash, minimalist fingerpicked acoustic guitar choicely and often beautifully embellished with piano, strings and Lenny Molotov’s characteristically incisive lapsteel work. Sinnis’ songwriting, and his choice of covers, is more diverse than ever. The latest edition of Ninth House harks back to the band’s haunting, ornate, classically-inflected early zeros sound, so it’s no surprise that Sinnis would mine a more overtly Romantic vein here as well (there’s even a ballad that makes use of the theme from Beethoven’s Pathetique). 

 

 

 

The cd begins and ends on the same somber, death-obsessed note, the opening cut It’s The End, But There’s No Heaven as sepulchral as humanly possible with Molotov and violinist Susan Mitchell trading off ghostly trails of sound. As with Sinnis’ first cd, there are some remakes of old Ninth House songs here as well. Down Beneath, from 2000’s Swim in the Silence, is a dead ringer for the Cure; here, it’s transformed into a swaying country lullaby with rustic violin and terse piano from Matthew Dundas. Mind Melt, from the 2004 Aerosol collection of outtakes and live cuts likewise gets a warmly nocturnal treatment, as does the brand-new ballad Turn Another Page.

 

Freed (temporarily) from the confines of having to belt over a furious electric band, Sinnis has never sung with more casual menace – or casual soulfulness – than he does here. Covering I Still Miss Someone could all too easily go in the direction of parody or pointlessness, but Sinnis keeps it simple and acquits himself well. There’s also a low-key Broadway song (Lerner and Lowe’s Follow Me), a gothic rewrite of a Xmas carol, a couple of straight-up romantic ballads and the offhandedly scary existentialist lament There’s No Rhyme or Reason that winds up the cd. Fans of all the dark haunting guys: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Ian Curtis and Johnny Cash as well ought to get to know Mark Sinnis. You’ll see this one on our Top 50 CDs of 2009 list at the end of the year. Ninth House’s next show is at Hank’s on Feb 28 at 11.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment