Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jazz Passengers Are Excited to Be Reunited, No Joke

The Jazz Passengers’ new album Reunited – their first in over ten years – is as nonchalantly cool as anything they’ve ever released. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson’s cinematic compositions are as imagistic as ever, imbued with his signature wit, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes every bit the vintage soul crooner, both on the horn and the mic and vibraphonist Bill Ware his understatedly counterintuitive self. Violinist Sam Bardfeld, bassist Brad Jones, drummer E.J. Rodriguez and guitarist Marc Ribot channel their signature out-of-the-box arrangements, melodic pulse, slinky latin groove, and eclecticism, respectively. Much of this has an early 70s psychedelic feel, from the brief period where soul music, funk and jazz got to mingle unmolested before fusion came along and busted up the party.

Elvis Costello sings the opening track, Wind Walked By, a casually strolling noir-tinged New Depression era swing tune: “Shit out of luck, the American way.” Ware’s vibes eerily anchor Nathanson’s alto sax, Ribot’s guitar supplying a distant unease, swaying from nonchalant blues to off-center skronk on the outro. Seven, an instrumental works a hypnotic circular motif like an early 70s Herbie Hancock soundtrack number, Fowlkes and Ribot’s wah guitar building suspense up to a violin/guitar swirl. Fowlkes sings Button Up, a matter-of-fact soul/jazz groove, wah guitar mingling with Ware’s expansive, deadpan, bluesy cascades. Thom Yorke’s The National Anthem trades midnight Heathrow airport corridor atmosphere for 4 AM Ninth Avenue Manhattan drama – with Ribot and then Bardfeld skronking and screeching behind the aplomb of the rest of the crew, it’s every bit as menacing as the original. The best single song on the album might be Tell Me (by Fowlkes/Nathanson, not the Glimmer Twins), dark latin soul morphing into a buoyant 6/8 ballad, the warmth of the trombone silhouetted against the plinking thicket where Ware and Bardfeld are hiding out.

They redo Spanish Harlem as laid-back organ-driven swing with an amusing Spanglish skit, Ware, Fowlkes and Rodriguez joined by a whole different crew including Russ Johnson on trumpet, Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola and Susi Hyldgaard on vocals. There are also two bonus live tracks with longtime collaborator Deborah Harry. Think of Me, a Brad Jones/David Cale composition is lusciously restrained Twin Peaks swing. And who would have thought that she’d sing this 1995 concert version of One Way or Another (redone here brilliantly as Brat Pack-era suite) better than the original – or for that matter that she’d be an even more captivating singer in 2010, as recent Blondie tours have triumphantly shown. The only miss on the album is Reunited (the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop monstrosity), which pulls plenty of laughs in concert but misses the mark here: garbage in, garbage out. You could call this cd the comeback of the year except that there’s nothing really for them to come back from other than a long absence – which is happily over now. Last month’s shows at the Jazz Standard saw them clearly psyched to be back in action again; hopefully there’ll be more of it.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Pat Benatar and Blondie at Coney Island 8/13/09

What promised to be a gay old night of high camp turned out to be more like a trip to the supermarket: interminable lines of rude, obnoxious people, pleasantly cool temperatures, pretzels and drinks within easy reach and oldies radio songs playing over the PA. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, every out-of-town scam luxury housing developer’s best pal, spent a rambling, senile hour and a half on and off the mic before the show, ass-kissing and giving shout-outs to every corporate type he could still recognize who’d showed up. Finally, he was assisted off so that big lesbian faves the Donnas could phone in a small handful of generic bubblegum metal songs.

Long Island’s very own fifty-four year old Pat Benatar was next. It took about three seconds before it was obvious that the poor woman’s voice is completely gone. Like a battered cassette tape from the eighties, she’d waver on and off pitch, then drop unexpectedly out of the mix, then come back in like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters attempting to do karaoke. At this point in Benatar’s career, lipsynching might not be such a bad idea. Meanwhile, her husband Neil Giraldo released his inner fantasy over and over again with an incessant barrage of garish, gratuitous heavy metal guitar licks. Like that Love Camp 7 song goes, he plays a million notes where one would do, and if it fits the song that’s ok too. Not many of them did. Benatar’s set allowed for plenty of time to find the local McDonalds and the urinal – woops, dumpster – adjacent to it. Forty-five minutes after she’d taken the stage, she was still struggling to stay in the mix, one cliched power ballad after another. Benatar is a gay icon – there at least used to be several YMCA’s worth of Chelsea boys who wanted to be her. Not many of them seemed to have made the trip. Perhaps they were on to something the rest of the crowd wasn’t.

Similarly, Deborah Harry has made a career of singing off-key for the better part of 35 years if you count her time in the Stillettos. Be that it what it may, when Blondie were at the top of their game, they were one of the world’s greatest powerpop bands and they were all that Thursday night. What they did was anything but camp. This version of the band sizzled and burned, layering nonchalantly stinging, distorted guitar and playfully oscillating synth over a steady, thumping backbeat. Now in her sixties, Harry carried herself with grace, even gravitas in places, holding back for when she had to go to the top of her range and when she really had to nail the note, she inevitably did. Benatar ought to find out who her vocal coach is. Because this band plays so many of the same songs over and over again, they way they keep them fresh is to reinvent them. Children of the Grave – woops, Call Me – bore a much closer resemblance to the Black Sabbath original that Georgio Moroder ripped off and glued to a disco beat for the soundtrack to the Richard Gere vehicle American Gigolo (anybody ever sit through that one all the way? Yikes!). The best song of the night was a stinging, slightly mariachi-esque version of Maria. The Tide Is High was no better than Johnny Clarke’s cloying  rocksteady original, but Rapture was reinvented as evilly slinky funk with a big guitar break and then a new rap at the end which only offerered further proof that hip-hop is not Harry’s thing. A couple newer numbers were starkly minor-key and equally compelling. After they’d burned through a pleasantly loud, swaying One Way or Another, they left the stage and then it was clear that  Benatar had overdone it in more ways than one, cutting into Blondie’s stage time. The second of the band’s two brief encores was a rocking, organ-driven take of Heart of Glass. If you’re contemplating seeing Blondie on tour this month or next, you won’t be disappointed – especially when they have another charismatic, platinum-tressed siren, Sarah Guild and her amazing band the New Collisions opening for them.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments