Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trouble in Tribeca, 2011 Style: Sanda Weigl, Razia and Very Be Careful in Concert

It’s about fifteen minutes on foot from Tribeca to the West Village. After the first few times, those fifteen minutes turn into twenty. At which point it’s probably time to call it a night. We made the hike between the 92YTribeca and Bleecker Street more than a few times Friday night and still managed to catch a lot of the first night of Winter Jazzfest as well as the high points of booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s annual showcase further downtown. This marks our third consecutive year at their annual shindig. Why? Because their acts are so consistently good. The most entertaining one of the night, surprisingly, turned out to be the first. Seeing Romanian gypsy singer Sanda Weigl backed by an all-Japanese band might seem incongruous, but until the last artists and musicians here are displaced by hedge fund traders and their “luxury” condos, sights like that will still resonate as New York moments. Weigl is tiny, Edith Piaf-sized, with a similar contralto that if anything is just as subtle: she worked the corners of the songs, holding back until she really needed to hammer a point home, and then she’d cut loose. Her band was phenomenal. Whether prowling the upper registers of the piano with a menacing gleam, hammering out perfect, lightning-fast Balkan horn lines on the keys or supplying eerie washes of accordion, Shoko Nagai stole the show. Five-string acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi played fluid, melodic lines in the style of a great lead guitarist when he wasn’t gently but forcefully hammering out a rhythm of his own, while percussionist Satoshi Takeishi pulled a surprising amount of rattle and whoosh out of the woodblocks and single, big crash cymbal he’d set up on the floor.

With a wink in her eye, Weigl would begin each song with a brief explanation of what the Romanian lyrics meant. “You liked me when I was young, but now I’m old, I’m a pain in the neck,” she explained over Nagai’s horror-movie cascades. The madness of the music made a delicious contrast with the steely, often stoic intensity of Weigl’s vocals. One of the early numbers in the set sounded like a cocek dance; a lost-love lament (one of several, it seems) had more of a Weimar blues/noir cabaret feel. The rest of the set included another Balkan dance, the tale of a woman who loves her children so much that she leaves her Prince Charming and returns to an abusive husband, and a song whose protagonist thinks that the ideal death would be during sex. After less than forty minutes, the band was yanked offstage: the crowd wanted more but didn’t get it.

Malagasy-American chanteuse Razia was as subtle as Weigl and her band were dramatic, and was every bit as compelling. Backed by an incisive, terse acoustic guitarist and a tight rhythm section, drawing deeply from her excellent new album Zebu Nation (just out on Cumbancha), she ran through a similarly abbreviated set. Her voice has a gentle, reassuring resilience, perhaps unsurprising coming from a woman whose musical journey led her from her native Madagascar, to Paris, and ultimately to New York where she assembled this band. A couple of the songs circled with trancelike polyrhythms that lent an Afrobeat feel. Another built to surprising intensity, anchored by a series of increasingly busy bass riffs. An attempt to start an audience clapalong with those polyrhythms met with mixed results: her own crowd was game, but the rest of the room was rhythmically challenged. They wound up the set with an undulating dance tune based on a hypnotic two-chord vamp.

After a break for jazz a few blocks north and then back, it was time for Very Be Careful, who are sort of the Colombian Gogol Bordello. When they were based in Brooklyn, they were notorious for raucous rooftop parties, so seeing them in such genteel surroundings was a bit of a shock, albeit a sort of heartwarming one, especially for a band whose crazed live album is titled Horrible Club. This set featured a lot of material from their latest one Escape Room, among them a couple of hypnotic classics from the 1960s along with the bouncy cumbia La Abeja (The Bee) and the acidically swirling La Alergia (Allergies, a song written by the band along with Deicy Guzman, mom to accordionist Ricardo Guzman and his brother Arturo, who got a tastily booming, slinky pulse out of his shortscale Danelectro reissue bass all night long). It would be nice to be able to say that they got the whole crowd swaying, but the truth is that they basically separated the kids from the oldsters. The younger people, for whom cumbia is what reggae was to the generation before them, moved toward the stage; the older crowd hung back, seemingly oblivious.

Sharply dressed bell player Dante Ruiz took a couple of stabs at seeing how much energy he could wring out of a room which by now had been on their feet for several hours and seemed to be feeling it, then backed away and concentrated on the band’s hypnotic sway and clatter. In a sense, it was as surreal as watching the Pogues on the BBC: if there was any time to be randomly making out with someone, this was it, but nobody went for it.

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January 13, 2011 Posted by | concert, folk music, gypsy music, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/13/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #839:

The Roots of Chicha 2

This is the first album to make its debut here on this list. Pretty impressive, considering what a major event its predecessor was. In 2007, the first Roots of Chicha anthology not only introduced the world to what, for better or worse, could be called Peruvian surf music: it also spearheaded a revival of chicha music in the land where it was born. Not bad for an album on a small label (Barbes Records) run out of a Brooklyn bar. And where the Roots of Chicha was a good anthology, this follow-up is a great one. More than its predecessor, this is a rock record: the Roots of Chicha focused on the woozy psychedelic cumbias coming out of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 60s and early 70s, many of them with more of a latin sound than the songs here. This focuses more closely on the rock side of the phenomenon, a mix of songs from 1969 through 1981. Some of them vamp out on a chord, hypnotically, all the way through to the chorus. Most of them have a vintage, 1960s timbre, the guitars playing through trebly amps with lot of reverb backed by tinny Farfisa organ and tons of clattering percussion. Many of these have a swaying cumbia beat, but a lot of them don’t. Likewise, a lot of the songs use the pentatonic scales common to Asian music – some wouldn’t be out of place in the Dengue Fever songbook.

The best song here is an absolutely gorgeous version of Siboney, by Los Walkers. It’s sort of the chicha equivalent of the Ventures’ cover of Caravan, a reverb-drenched rock version of a familiar, distantly ominous melody made even more so. Another knockout is Los Ribereños’ Silbando, a vividly brooding minor-key shuffle that foreshadows Brooklyn chicha revisionists Chicha Libre. The best of the chicha bands of the 70s, Los Destellos (see #903 on this list) are represented by a simple, one-chord fuzztone stinger and the Asian-tinged, warped bucolic jam La Pastorcita. Likewise, Los Wremblers contribute two, one more of a celebration than the title would make you think, the other the original version of La Danza de los Petroleros that became a big hit for Los Mirlos. 80s stars Chacalon y la Nueva Crema contribute a catchy workingman’s lament; Manzanita y Su Conjunto have three songs here that showcase their artful ability to switch from Cuban son montuno, to hypnotic acid rock, to catchy cumbia-pop. There’s also a one-chord wonder (well, almost) by Compay Quinto; Grupo Celeste’s scurrying, bass-driven Como un Ave; Ranil y Su Conjunto’s savage, Asian-flavored Mala Mujer; Colegiala, by Los Ilusionistas, an iconic number that was used – albeit in bastardized, almost unrecognizable form – in a well-known television commercial in the 80s; and Los Shapis’ El Aguajal, another famous one. Very little of this has been available before now outside of Peru; much of it was out of print for years in its native land. All of this you can dance to, and like surf music, it’s easy to get completely addicted to it: youtube is a goldmine of chicha. The extensive liner notes to this album are a great place to start. It’s out now on Barbes Records.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jordi Savall Discovers the New World

Virtuoso viola da gamba player and early music maven Jordi Savall needs no introduction to fans of classical music: as a bandleader, soloist, researcher and all-around time traveler, he’s unearthed all sorts of fascinating medieval treasures from Spain to the Middle East. Now, he turns his sights on Latin America with his pioneering new album El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, a collaboration with Mexican early music adventurers Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, his choir La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Swiss-based ensemble Hesperion XXI and Catalan soprano and early music specialist Montserrat Figueras. Utilizing a museum’s worth of baroque-era guitars and ancient guitar-like instruments along with a chamber orchestra and lush vocal harmonies, Savall and his fellow travelers run through an eye-opening mix of recently rediscovered, little-known early music from Mexico and the Americas dating back as far as the seventeenth century.

As Savall somberly avers in the fascinating, extensive liner notes, all of this music was the soundtrack to genocide: the music of the conquistadors always took precedence over the sounds of the embattled indigenous peoples. Yet cross-pollination is everywhere, even on the earliest works here. Ironically, many of those who worked alongside the conquistadors were outcasts from Spanish society: Jews, heretics and also an element that was considered criminal (but whose only crime may have been running afoul of the Spanish crown). It is therefore unsurprising that they would be more likely to mingle with the locals and become familiar with their music. The conquistadors, predictably, disliked it to the extent they banned it, including at least one and maybe more of the pieces here. All of these are taken from ancient manuscripts, subject to improvisation as was the custom then, with occasional, additional lyrics by Patricio Hidalgo and Enrique Barona of Tembembe Ensamble.

The one-four-five chord progression is everywhere, particularly on the early Mexican son jarocho numbers. Other pieces are folk songs arranged with the ornate harmonies of 1700s Spanish pop opera. The two oldest pieces are a traditional Mexican waltz from around 1650, and an operatically-tinged, bouncy antiphon for chamber ensemble and guitars that may date back as far as 1732. There’s a risque Mexican folk song about “cuckolding the priest,” a metaphorically charged tribute to the joys of green chiles that got a 24-year-old woman tried and probably executed for singing it, and a strikingly complex, contrapuntal Mexican slave song celebrating a fiesta where “we will all be white people tonight.” A couple of seafaring ballads, an operatic lullaby, a richly textured, guitar-orchestra number from Colombia, a bouncy operatic Mexican hymn and pair of Peruvian songs which predate the cumbia revolution by about two hundred years round out the album. It’s a long, strange trip, and absolutely essential for latin music fans. It’s out now on Alia Vox  (distributed by Harmonia Mundi here in the US).

August 19, 2010 Posted by | classical music, folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/8/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #905:

Los Destellos – Seleccion de Los Destellos

Founded in 1966 by guitarist Enrique Delgado, the “father of cumbia Peruana,” Los Destellos may not have invented chicha music – the woozy, trebly blend of Colombian cumbia, American surf rock and psychedelia – but they were among the first to play it. Of their fifty-plus albums, this one, a sort of greatest-hits anthology with an emphasis on their 1960s catalog – is as good a representation as any. Delgado’s spikily reverb-tinged staccato guitar lines bounce and ping up against tinny electronic organ and a clattering percussion section, blending hypnotic two-chord vamps, surfy pop melodies, folk themes and even a twisted cover of Fur Elise. Virtually every track here is an off-kilter gem: the slinky, haunting El Avispon, the hypnotically catchy Jardin de Amor and Dulce Amor; the surfed-out folksongs Chachita and Otro Ano, the Asian-tinged La China Maria, the chordally delicious Traicionera and Guajira Sicodelica, a bizarrely beautiful twelve-string guitar instrumental drenched in so much reverb that it sounds like Delgado is playing through a chorus box. Although an icon in Peru, Delgado sadly never lived to see the worldwide success a regrouped version of the band would achieve over the last five years, under the direction of his sister and longtime musical director Edith Delgado.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/2/10

Here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. Every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. The Larch – Strawberry Coast

Brooklyn new wave revival – but smart new wave revival. This has Squeeze overtones – and big brother watching on the spycam. From the band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. The Notekillers – Papers

This was avant composer David First’s instrumental noise/surf/punk band, a proto Sonic Youth circa 1981. This is a twisted surf tune; the band is back together and reputedly as energized as ever.

3. Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go

Tersely haunting and Radiohead-esque, live on Minneapolis TV. Thanks to Jamie of the Brooklyn What for the link!

4. Tris McCall – Sugar Nobody Wants

Expert tunesmithing and wordsmithing – this one’s a tribute to trespassing, which is always fun especially if you live somewhere that’s really boring.

5. Wintersleep – Black Camera

The Auteurs as done by Sloan in 7/8 time.

6. Ocote Soul Sounds – Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo

Dub cumbia! Yum! Like Chicha Libre but trippier.

7. Not Waving But Drowning – The Drowned Man’s Ball

Menacing, dramatic noir cabaret, like the Dresden Dolls but better.

8. These New Puritans – ???

Scroll down to the “live on the BBC” clip – trancey percussion driven chamber rock with a woodwind section!

9. The Giving Tree Band – Early to Bed

Bluegrass/Americana with a message: night owls unite! Free download.

10. Low Society – Girls Puke For Free

German hardcore band singing what could be an anthem for the entire Lower East Side now that the tourists have taken over.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | country music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Songs of the Week 7/5/10

It’s Tuesday which means it’s Top Ten day. It’s just another way we try to spread the word about all the good music out there. As you’ll notice, every song that reaches the #1 spot on this list will be on our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of December. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one.

1. The Larch – Tracking Tina

Sounds kinda like vintage Squeeze – a snide, tongue-in-cheek spoof of paranoid yuppie parents who have no problem snooping on their children. From the band’s latest and greatest album Larix Americana.

2. Sabrina Chap – Never Been a Bad Girl

Defiant, Rachelle Garniez-style cabaret tune – the video is killer.

3. Cumbia Villera – Pecho Frio

Slinky organ-and-guacharaca fueled punk cumbia tune.

4. The Nu-Sonics – Hello No Goodbyes

Sweet Big Star-influenced janglerock: Alex Sniderman on guitar, Scott Anthony (from Rebecca Turner’s band) on bass

5. Ivana XL – 2043

Noir minimal guitar and voice – Young Marble Giants for the 21st century.

6. Mighty High – Cable TV Eye

Brooklyn’s #1 regressive rock act have a message for all you Stooges wannabes!

7. The Black Angels – Bad Vibrations

Roky Erickson meets Syd Barrett somewhere in limbo. From their forthcoming album Phosphene Dream.

8. Just Another Folksinger – The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

That’s the name she goes by – but she’s actually pretty cool and funny.

9. James Parenti – It’s Almost Always Raining

Tinges of Elliott Smith – but not a slavish imitation – pensive and aptly titled.

10. Andy Love – Kara Cali

Funny, good-naturedly fake Middle Eastern music

July 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Chico Trujillo – Chico de Oro

Chico Trujillo are Chile’s #1 party band – they play soccer stadiums there, where this album has probably already gone oro. Currently on their first American tour, they make their New York debut on June 12 at La Oveja Negra in Astoria and then at Barbes with Chicha Libre on June 13. They spun off of popular punk band La Floripondio, but the undercurrent here isn’t rock, it’s ska – although they play cumbia, the one-two punch of Sebastian Cabezas’ trumpet and Luis Tabilo’s trombone gives the songs here a boisterously oldschool Studio One flavor. There are a lot of different types of cumbias, just like reggae, the genre it most closely resembles and may inevitably eclipse as the world’s most popular party music. Chico Trujillo play pretty much all of them.

They’re kind of like a bigger band version of Chicha Libre (their Barbes Records labelmates), with a slinky groove, twangy reverb guitar and eerie, trebly organ, but more lush arrangements. Likewise, a lot of the songs are mostly instrumental, some of them limited to just vocals on the chorus. The lyrics, such as they have them, are funny, whether kibitzing on the oldschool Conductor, the gonzo vaudeville of La Cosecha de Mujeres (Harvest of Women), the self-explanatory Loca (Crazy Woman) or No Me Busques (Don’t Go Looking for Me).

As it setttles into a slinky, hypnotic sway, the album’s opening track hints that it’s going to go completely noir, but it doesn’t – it’s closer to the psychedelic soundtrack sound that guys like Lee Hazlewood were mining in the late 60s, welded to a vintage Jamaican undercurrent. But guitarist Michael Magliocchetti gets the chance to surf out in tandem with the organ on the boisterous second cut; the third track incorporates echoes of hip-hop along with a rich, lush organ crescendo toward the end. Pollera Amarilla (Chicken Farmer) sends trumpet soaring over that classic, swaying groove, guitar and percussion rattling and cackling ominously in the background. A couple of other songs have a 60s rocksteady feel and happy horns; La Escoba (Sweep) is straight-up ska-punk; Lanzaplatos is a noir bolero rocker, and Los Sabanales sounds like a hyperspeed Mexican ranchera ballad. South America has a long tradition of fertile cross-pollination, which explains why these guys have so many flavors that it’s hard to keep track. The only miss here is a tongue-in-cheek cover of a Marc Anthony hit that’s so awful that even an inspired performance by pretty much everybody in the band can’t redeem it. The album clocks in at almost an hour, with fifteen tracks – they sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Very Be Careful – Escape Room

Los Angeles band Very Be Careful have built a well-deserved reputation as sort of the Gogol Bordello of Colombian music, both for their delirious, hypnotic live shows and the snotty yet absolutely authentic attitude of their albums. No disrespect to Carlos Vives, but Very Be Careful take vallenato back to its roots in the north, to back when, just like roots reggae, it was the party music of the drug underworld – it doesn’t sound anything like him. Which makes sense: Very Be Careful’s slinky cumbia pulse has a lot in common with late 60s Jamaican rocksteady, the otherworldly swirl of the accordion is nothing if not psychedelic and so is the eerie insectile scrape of the guacharaca, the beat of the caja vallenata and clatter of the cowbell. Although if you asked this band for more cowbell, you’d probably get one upside the head – they bring a menacing, hallucinatory party vibe a lot like the Pogues back in the day when Shane MacGowan was drinking at peak capacity but still lucid. That considered, their new album Escape Room works equally well for the drinkers, dancers and stoners in the crowd. It’s all originals along with three rustic, boisterous covers, with the same resilient-bordering-on-aggressive feel of their 2009 live album, the deliciously titled Horrible Club.

The opening track, La Furgoneta (The Van) is a cumbia, its catchy descending progression carried by Ricardo Guzman’s accordion as his brother Arturo swings low with broken chords on the bass, way behind the beat in a style similar to great reggae bassists like Family Man Barrett. It segues into a hypnotic, two-chord number, La Abeja (The Bee), followed by the fast, bouncy, wickedly catchy La Alergia (Allergies), accordion playing major on minor, vividly evoking a horror-movie summer haze.

The first of the covers by legendary vallenato composer Calixto Ochoa, Playas Marinas (Sandy Beaches) is a party song, a staggering series of flourishes as the bass runs a catchy octave riff over and over. The other, Manantial del Alma (Springtime of the Soul) makes a sly attempt at seduction, the guy just wanting the girl to let him play for her. Another oldschool number, by Abel Antonio Villa, evokes a guy’s heartbreak, vocals on the verse trading off with accordion on the chorus – although it’s a party song without any real heartbroken vibe, at least musically.

The rest of the album is originals, and they’re great. El Hospital sounds like something the Clash might have done on Sandinista, wry and cynical. La Broma (The Joke) has the accordion playing minor on major this time, to equally ominous effect. The metaphorically charged La Gata Perdida (Lost Cat) has the poor critter going round in circles: “I think this killed me.” They end it with the upbeat La Sorpresa (Surprise) and then the aptly titled, psychedelic El Viajero del Tiempo (Time Traveler), bass playing three on four beneath insistent, trance-inducing minor-key accordion. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy this, although you won’t get the clever, often snide, pun-laden lyrics. But as dance music, it doesn’t get any better than this – it’s out now on Barbes Records. Another reviewer had problems with this cd, calling it unsubtle and complaining about being blasted by the accordion, to which the only conceivable response is, who wouldn’t want to be blasted by an accordion? Very Be Careful play Highline Ballroom on May 23 – also keep an eye out for their annual Brooklyn 4th of July rooftop party (they got their start here, playing in the subway).

April 28, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

El Grupo del Verano 2008! Chicha Libre Finally Puts Out a CD

This is the cultural artifact of the summer of 2008. It’s the one album released this year that you want to put on if you’re having a party and you want to get everyone’s attention (or impress everybody with your brilliant and eclectic taste): you’ll get plenty of “who’s that?”s. Readers of this space already know plenty about Chicha Libre’s intoxicatingly good live performances at Barbes throughout the past year: now, the party is available for takeout. On their debut cd, Sonido Amazonico, America’s best (and only) chicha band have revived the amazingly danceable, hypnotic, psychedelic sound that was popular in the slums of the Peruvian Andes thirty-five years ago, while adding their own inimitable vision and wit.

Chicha is what resulted when Peruvian bands first heard American surf and psychedelic rock and then added electric instruments, rock arrangements and Caribbean rhythms to their own sound. What Antibalas did with driving, horn-driven African groove music, what Dengue Fever is doing with deliciously psychedelic Cambodian pop, Chicha Libre is doing with chicha. When frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan first heard the style, he was hooked, to the point where he found himself traveling to South America to track down as many original recordings as he could get his hands on, as well as the elusive musicians who created it. The result was the fascinating anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year on his label, Barbes Records.

Chicha Libre’s debut mixes instrumentals and vocal numbers, originals as well as deviously crafted cover songs. While in most surf music the guitars carry the melody, in Chicha Libre’s music it’s usually keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox (a relic from the 70s which is basically an electronic organ with settings that mimic the sound of an accordion) which serves as the lead instrument. In addition to Conan, the rest of the band includes two percussionists, acoustic bass and Barbes co-owner Vincent Douglas playing reverb-drenched, surfy guitar. The result can be haunting, triumphant, celebratory or absolutely mesmerizing, often all in the same song. While just as in surf music, there’s occasional cheese in places, Chicha Libre thankfully tones it down as much as possible. The vocal numbers (in both Spanish and French) are the most overtly humorous songs on the album.

There are so many great songs here. The title track, a hypnotic yet danceable one-chord vamp that builds to a nasty Douglas solo, and Tres Pasajeros, an ominous train-ride theme written by Camp. The amusing Hungry Song plays with the macho posturing found in a lot of latin music. Their cover of the obscure El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy) has the narrator asking plaintively in Spanish, “Why are you making fun of me?”

They take the famous Ravel Pavane and chichafy it, breaking it down into dub reggae at one point, then the band starts chanting “pavane, pavane, pavane,” quiet and deadpan in the background while the guitar solos. Indian Summer tips its hat to Serge Gainsbourg in a big way, Conan and las Rubias del Norte frontwoman Allyssa Lamb doing spot-on early 70s ye-ye harmonies over a slinky spy theme. They also cover Hot Butter’s silly synth instrumental hit Popcorn with a sarcastic, punk edge: the Electrovox is out of tune on the highest registers, and there’s a silly bass solo. And then the band adds their own lyrics, a tribute to corn whiskey and weed. The album ends with its best song, a cover of what is probably composer Erik Satie’s signature work, Gnossienne #1 (you’ll recognize it from a million movie soundtracks). As simple as it is macabre, it’s also extremely difficult to play on the piano because Satie deliberately omitted the time signature, leaving the rhythm completely up to whoever’s playing it. Chicha Libre give it a slightly staggered tango pulse, making it as sexy as it is dark. What else is there to say – this is a great album, a must-own if you like psychedelia, right up there with the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack and Mass in F Minor by the Electric Prunes. Five maduros con queso. The cd is available at better record stores, online and at shows. Chicha Libre play the cd release tonight at Drom at 10; Las Rubias del Norte open the show at 9.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment