Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/12/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #476:

Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire

With Halloween coming up, here’s the creepiest and possibly least listenable album on this list so far, a 1940 recording with the composer himself conducting an insane clown posse with Erika Steidry-Wagner on vocals. The group – piano, violin, cello, flute and clarinets – do a chilly, methodical job with this four-part suite’s creepy atonalities, many of which you may recognize since they’ve been used over and over again in many horror movies. Catchy, singalong material? Hardly. But it’ll wake you up – and maybe keep you up. You can stream the whole thing and also download it free from archive.org. Those preferring a more up-to-date, slightly more polished (but less crazy) version might want to investigate the 1998 recording by Ensemble Intercontemporain with Pierre Boulez on piano and Christine Schafer singing, all up on youtube here, here, here and here. If you want to download the album, it’s here.

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October 14, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michel Reis’ Point of No Return Captures the Zeitgeist

Luxembourg-born pianist Michel Reis’ Point of No Return is a stunningly vivid, darkly powerful album, easily one of the two or three best to come over the transom here so far this year. This is not an album of blazing solos or gratuitous displays of chops, yet it conveys an intensity of emotion rarely reached via any approach, whether loud or quiet. The word “haunting” is often misused, but not here. Reis wanders judiciously through minor keys for an austere, rain-drenched, frequently cinematic ambience, leaving plenty of space for the ghosts to wander. Some of this reminds of Fernando Otero in a more restrained, contemplative moment, or Dave Brubeck circa Brandenburg Gate Revisited.

There are so many “OMG, that was good” moments here that it doesn’t make sense to list them all – or ruin the suspense. If you think that a bass solo can’t be plaintive or deliver an impact, let bassist Tal Gamlieli’s cautious, pause-laden one on the sad, plaintive, simply titled Folk Song hit you – it’s what he doesn’t say that resonates most intensely. When Vivek Patel’s flugelhorn and Aaron Kruziki’s soprano sax shadow each other on the austerely catchy opening track, The Power of Beauty, the effect is much the same. As is Patel’s tentative reach and then decision against a flight upwards coming out of Reis’ incisively hammering chords on the bossa-flavored It’s Only Been a Dream. The cinematic Riverside Drive paints a vivid noir tableau, Reis’ uneasy piano flutter matched by Adam Cruz’ drums as the menace rises and then recedes, leaving the calm cityscape ominously unchanged. And The Sad Clown, a darkly carnivalesque song without words, wouldn’t be out of place on Frank Carlberg’s creepily theatrical Tivoli Trio album.

Not everything here is as dark. Sailing Away at Night is an irresistibly fun narrative, moving out into the depths where the waves are calm and the air is still, but then, uh oh, here come the raindrops! Time to head back to port! The title track works off a rippling, circular hook that threatens to head off into Yellowjackets territory but doesn’t, thanks to a scowling bridge and an exchange of fisticuffs between the piano and drums. There’s also a diptych of sorts, Street of Memories followed by Leaning in Towards Tomorrow, that juxtaposes comfortable, distantly blues-pop tv-theme phrases with hints of the otherworldly – clearly, even those safe streets are not without their ghosts. Reis plays the cd release show for this one on April 6 at 7:30 PM at Miles Cafe.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 12/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #783:

Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

As the leader of dark, artsy Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, Mark Sinnis and his ominous baritone have been a forceful presence in the New York music underground since the late 90s. Lately, he’s been devoting as much time to his solo acoustic project, most fully realized with this one, his third solo release, from early 2010. It’s an obscure treasure and it’s probably the best thing he’s ever recorded with any group. This one mixes brand new tracks with a couple of radically reworked Ninth House songs and classic covers. 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, a not-so-thinly veiled requiem for a New York lost at least for the moment to gentrifiers and class tourists, is a stampeding rockabilly number just a little quieter than the Ninth House version. Likewise, the lyrically rich Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me (which made our Alltime Best 666 Songs list) doesn’t vary much from the original, although the Cure-inflected Quiet Change is….um, quite a change. With a new last verse, Sinnis’ version of Gloomy Sunday leaves no doubt that it’s a suicide song. Likewise, the cover of St. James Infirmary is definitely an obituary, although the Sisters of Mercy’s Nine While Nine is a lot more upbeat, a vividly brooding train station vignette. The catchy, rustically swaying Skeletons and the downright morbid, Johnny Cash-inspired In Harmony wind it up. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to have made it to the usual share sites, although it is available at shows and at cdbaby.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | lists, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Susan McKeown’s Darkly Inspiring New Album

Sad music isn’t depressing – on the contrary, it’s just the opposite. That’s why it’s so popular. This is one sad album – and a very ambitious one. On Singing in the Dark, Irish/American singer Susan McKeown has taken a series of poems dealing with death, depression and madness from over the centuries and set them to music, along with a choice cover of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem that offers just a glimmer of a respite. She sings them clearly and directly, with a tinge of a brittle vibrato which fits these lyrics well – she goes in with both eyes open but not quite steady, and at its best the effect is nothing short of chilling. Among Americana singers, Kelli Rae Powell comes to mind.

Over darkly reverb-drenched, Richard Thompson-esque electric rock, McKeown takes Anne Sexton’s A Woman Like That (Her Kind) and uses it to transpose the archetype of a witch to the present day, “a woman that is not a woman” ostracized for her sadness and unafraid to die for it. A Gwendolyn Brooks poem, That Crazy Woman is set to a swinging 6/8 piano melody: “I’ll wait until November, that is the time for me,” McKeown sings with a quiet defiance, and a nod to Nina Simone. Renaissance poet John Dowland’s death-obsessed In Darkness Let Me Dwell gets a subdued, Andalusian-flavored treatment, while 19th century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan’s The Nameless One, one of several suicide songs here, gets a low-key, acoustic folk arrangement.

The most ambitious track here is The Crack in the Stairs, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s vividly imagistic depiction of clinical depression set to an minimalist, atonal piano melody by contemporary Irish composer Elaine Agnew, taking on a macabre music-box touch as McKeown chronicles the dust on the furniture and the piano hidden beneath a lock rusted shut. Richard and Linda Thompson again come to mind on Mad Sweeney, a brooding rock arrangement of a traditional song about a king whose madness literally returns him to a state of nature, and also on Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis’s Angel of Depression. McKeown wrings every drop of pain she can muster out of the chorus: “Oh yes, I’m broken, but my limp is the best part of me…and the way I hurt,” guitar limping along to drive the point home. There’s also the evocative, jazz-tinged smalltown death vignette Good Old World Blues, an Elis Regine-inspired version of Violetta Parra’s bitter, sarcastic Gracias a la Vida and an understatedly gloomy take of the traditional Irish song So We’ll Go No More A-Roving to wind up the album. Susan McKeown plays Highline Ballroom on January 15.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/30/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #822:

Carol Lipnik – Cloud Girl

Those of you who follow this list as we count it down with a new album every day might have noticed how lighthearted it’s been in recent weeks. That was deliberate: we didn’t want to beat you to death with one shade of black or grey after another like we did with the Best 666 Songs list that we just finished this past July. But with Halloween coming up, we’re going back to the dark stuff. This one, for example. Coney Island born and bred, noir chanteuse Carol Lipnik walks a tightrope between sinister and sultry. The cover image of this 2006 cd, a shot of the rails of the Cyclone rollercoaster with its “REMAIN SEATED” sign, is apt. Celebrated for her bone-chilling four-octave range, she’s also a multi-instrumentalist songwriter and a regular collaborator with jazz piano great Dred Scott.This is her most phantasmagorical album. It’s got a couple of creepy waltzes – one about cannibalism, another about madness; the playfully lurid Freak House Blues; the macabre pop of Falling/Floating By, and the lushly moody, menacing Crushed. Other songs work dreamy atmospherics for a more distant menace: the lushly beautiful Traveling and the haunting, hypnotic, Radiohead-inflected title track. Lipnik’s been working lately with cabaret/avant garde star singer John Kelly , which gives them about eight octaves worth of vocals put together. Her first two albums before this one, My Life As a Singing Mermaid and the intense Hope Street are more stylistically all over the map – she’s terrifically adept at soul, blues and gypsy music – and also worth getting to know.

October 30, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/3/10

Less than a month til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1! Saturday’s song is #26:

Joy Division – New Dawn Fades

Prelude to a suicide note: “A loaded gun won’t set you free, so they say.” Bernard Albrecht’s jangly, watery guitar carries the understatedly plaintive intensity. From Unknown Pleasures, 1979.

July 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mariza – Terra

Terra, the fifth album by Portugal’s “Queen of Fado” coincides with a marathon 47-city US tour kicking off on Valentine’s Day in Chicago which should vault the chanteuse from cult status here [scroll down to the next paragraph if you’re familiar with fado music]. Fado, meaning “fate” is the national music of Portugal, dark, troubled ballads sung by women with an ache in their voices. Fado is characterized most overtly by “suadade,” a uniquely indigenous term whose translation falls somewhere between angst, longing and sentimentality, all qualities which show up here in droves. On this album, Mariza is backed by a tasteful acoustic backing unit including six- and twelve-string guitar, upright bass, piano and drums. There’s a little bolero feel here as well as a somewhat noir cabaret sensibility and a few songs that stray toward more modern pop territory, with the omnipresent twelve-string adding an otherworldly, eerily ringing edge.

As can be expected, laments comprise much of this cd, most notably Já Me Deixou (Now It’s Left Me) and Alma De Vento (Soul of the Wind), with their dark swaying relentlessness. The most striking number on the album is Beijo De Saudade (Sentimental Kiss), its catchy 12-string melody set against restrained muted trumpet, the vocals getting all smoky on the second verse. It’s based on a poem by a famous Cape Verde poet, written as he lay dying in his hospital bed in Portugal, badly missing his native land. There’s also more upbeat material including the bouncy Rosa Branca (White Rose), whose narrator finds she’s danced so much that the flower she’s been wearing has fallen to pieces: “If you love roses so much why don’t you love me?” she inquires exasperatedly. As can be expected, the strongest songs here are the more traditional numbers: when they edge toward a more overtly commercial, contemporary American sound, both singer and band sound a little out of their element. The cd ends on a particularly haunting note with Morada Aberta (My Door Is Open), where Mariza asks the river to rise up and wash away every physical and metaphorical trace of the past.

There’s also a “secret” track here, an English-language cover of the old pop standard Smile that doesn’t add anything. That one song aside, this music is nothing if not edgy. If the whole American noir crowd, i.e. your Nick Cave, Botanica and Dresden Dolls fans can be wooed, Mariza will have a massive crossover fan base on her hands. Here’s to casting the first stone. Mariza’s American tour kicks off on 2/14 at 8 PM at Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.

February 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment