Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Kronos Quartet, Emily Wells and My Brightest Diamond Sparkle and Flicker at Lincoln Center

The Kronos Quartet are celebrating their fortieth anniversary this year, so it makes sense that the beginning of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival – one of the best ever – would be centered around that landmark occasion. The world’s most adventurous string quartet have an auspicious new cellist, Sunny Yang (replacing Jeffrey Ziegler) and their usual slate of premieres and new commissions. Even by their paradigm-shifting standards, their world premiere of Ukraine-born Mariana Sadovska’s Chernobyl: The Harvest – with the composer on vocals and harmonium – this past evening at the Damrosch Park bandshell was nothing short of shattering,  It’s a suite of old Ukrainian folk songs reinvented to commemorate the horror of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which by conservative standards killed at least a million people around the globe and caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world’s second-greatest power at the time.

Singing in Ukrainian, Sadovska began it a-cappella with her signature nuance, a thousands shades of angst, sometimes barely breathing, sometimes at a fullscale wail, occasionally employing foreboding microtones to max out the menace. Violist Hank Dutt got the plum assignment of leading the ensemble to join her, Yang’s foreboding drone underpinning a series of up-and-down, Julia Wolfe-esque motives. Quavering, anxious Iranian-tinged flutters from the cello along with violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, astringently atmospheric harmonics and a big, uneasy crescendo, the harmonium going full steam, built to a savagely sarcastic faux circus motif and then a diabolical dance. That was the harvest, a brutal portrayal whose ultimate toll is still unknown. Through a plaintive theme and variations, Sadovska’s voice rose methodically from stunned horror to indignance and wrath: again, the triptych’s final theme, Heaven, appeared to be sarcastic to the extreme, Sadovska determined not to let the calamity slip from memory. Nuclear time forgives much more slowly than time as we experience it: 26 years after the catastrophe, wild mushrooms in Germany – thousands of miles from the disaster scene – remain inedible, contaminated with deadly nuclear toxins.

In a counterintuitive stroke of booking, luminous singer Shara Worden’s kinetic art-rock octet, My Brightest Diamond headlined. They’re like the Eurythmics except with good vocals and good songs – hmmm, that doesn’t leave much, does it? Or like ELO during their momentary lapse into disco, but better. Sh-sh-sh-sh-Shara can get away with referencing herself in a song because she does it with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and because she’s as funny as she can be haunting. She loves props and costumes – a big cardboard moustache and a fez among them, this time out – and draws on a wide-ranging musical drama background. But she saves the drama for when she really needs to take a song over the edge, belting at gale force in contrast to a fat, droll synth bass pulse late in the show. Her lively arrangements rippled through the ensemble of Hideaki Aomori on alto sax, Lisa Raschiatore on clarinet and bass clarinet, CJ Cameriere on trumpet, Michael Davis on trombone and Alex Sopp on flutes, like the early/middle-period Moody Blues as orchestrated by Carl Nielsen. Sopp’s triumphant cadenzas capped off several big crescendos, as did Aomori on the second number, a circus rock song with dixieland flourishes. Worden brought the energy down to pensive for a bit, crooning with a low, ripe, Serena Jost-like intensity and playing Rhodes piano on a hypnotic trip-hop number. Worden switched to minimal but assured electric guitar on a slow, pensive tune and then a warm, gently arpeggiated love song, then to mbira on a similarly hypnotic but bouncier Afro-funk song. “A girl from the country had a dream, and the best place she could think of was here,” Worden beamed to the packed arena as she wound up the night. “We’re living the dream.”

Emily Wells was lost in limbo between the two. The smoky patterns on the kaleidoscopic light show projected behind her on the back of the stage offered more than a hint of the milieu she’s best suited to. It was a cruel if probably unintentional stroke of fate that stuck Wells, a competent singer, between two brilliant ones. Her music is quirky, playful and trippy to the extreme. Wells can be very entertaining to watch, when she’s building songs out of loops, adding layers of vocals, keys and violin, switching between instruments and her mixing board with split-second verve. But as her set – the longest one of the night – went on, it became painfully obvious that she wasn’t doing much more than karaoke. She sang her dubwise, trippy hip-hop/trip-hop/soul mashups in what became a monotonously hazy soul-influenced drawl without any sense of dynamics. Where Sadovska sang of nuclear apocalypse and Worden tersely explored existential themes, the best Wells could do was a Missy Elliott-ish trip-hop paean to Los Angeles. And when she addressed the crowd, Wells seemed lost, veering between a southern drawl and something like an Irish brogue. But the audience LOVED her, and gave her the most applause of anyone on the bill.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors is phenomenal this year: the Kronos Quartet will be there tomorrow and then Sunday night. The full calendar is here.

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July 25, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #591:

Black Box Recorder – Passionoia

Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/15/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #745:

Earth Wind & Fire – I Am

This is as pop as we ever get here, although at the time this came out it wasn’t impossible for a good band to hit the top ten like this one did. The black ELO’s 1979 release captures them at their lushest and most ornate. Ironically (or, sadly, maybe not so ironically), neither of the big hits here were written by the band. Boogie Wonderland (brilliantly punked out a few years later by the Lemonheads) is a cover, and El Lay schlockmeister David Foster provided at least the groundwork for the woozy electric piano-and-synthesizer ballad After the Love Is Gone. The rest is what the band is best known for, catchy, tuneful funk with fearlessly gargantuan string and vocal arrangements. In the Stone is the one everybody knows; Can’t Let Go, You and I and Let Your Feelings Show have the same buoyant slink. With its off-center portamento synth, Star actually evokes what ELO was doing at the time; there’s also the harder-hitting vamp Rock That, a live concert standard. For those who question this album’s presence here instead of the band’s far more raw, psychedelic, Parliament-style funk from the early 70s, this may be slick, but it’s hardly stupid – and everything the band ever did prior to this point is also worth a listen. A Vegas-style version of the band, which might but probably doesn’t include any original members, continues to tour. Here’s a random torrent (when you see the album cover, click for the link).

January 15, 2011 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thunderball Gives You a 12 Mile High

With a nod and a wink to Isaac Hayes, Gamble and Huff, Manfred Hubler (the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrackmeister) and Herbie Hancock circa 1971, Thunderball’s latest album 12 Mile High is blissfully over-the-top psychedelic chillout music. A lot of it, especially toward the end of the album, is trip-hop; if you like it slow and slinky, you can dance to this. There’s some bhangra, plenty of funk, a little disco, some spacey dub and a lot of cinematics. Each of the dozen instrumentals here is a mini-movie, many of them basically bedroom scenes through a thick ganja haze.

The party starts with a gorgeous sitar melody ringing out over a layered tabla groove. The title track keeps the sitar, adding bass and blippy synth over a midtempo disco beat. Make Your Move climbs from an ambient, suspenseful intro to a soul/funk trip-hop song with falsetto vocals: Sylvester on the DL. A couple of reggae tunes shift from sly dub and a repetitive refrain of “herb, sinsemilla” to an ominous one-chord jam driven by swooshy organ, with a wary vocal that sounds a lot like Luciano.

There are latin interludes here as well. Low Down Weather is a slinky latin funk vamp with casually animated blues guitar pairing off against echoey Rhodes electric piano, and a hilarious sample on the way out in case you didn’t see it coming. Ritco Ritmo, with its Brazilian-tinged guitar, sounds like Os Mutantes one generation removed; Rio Mescalito is a jaunty acoustic blues guitar shuffle that grows woozier as whatever they’re smoking starts to kick in. There are also a couple of boudoir themes with laid-back sax and girlie vocals (which get old fast), a funky one that could be Sly Stone on good acid, the trippy mystery tableau To Catch a Vixen, and the lush, blues-toned one-chord jam Penthouse Soul that takes the album out on an especially hypnotic note. There are so many layers oscillating and moving up and through the mix and out and back again that it’s impossible to keep up: which is why these tracks are so successful. Always leave them wanting more, or so they say.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 11/8/10

We’re getting better at this. Our weekly Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast is supposed to happen on Tuesdays; last week we didn’t get to it til Friday, so at this rate we’ll be back on schedule by December! Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (or if you can listen on your iphone at work: your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, 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. Elvis Costello – One Bell Rings

From his sensational new album National Ransom, this chillingly allusive account of a torture victim draws on the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes as inspiration.

2. LJ Murphy – Fearful Town

One of New York’s greatest chroniclers takes on the gentrification era, live with the superb New Orleans pianist Willie Davis. This one topped the charts here in 2007 so we can’t put it up at #1 again…that would be cheating.

3. The Newton Gang – Westbound

JD Duarte’s soulful Texas baritone delivers this pedal steel-driven country escape anthem: live, they really rock the hell out of it. They’re at the Brooklyn County Fair at the Jalopy on 11/13 at 10.

4. The New Collisions – Dying Alone

This is the video for their offhandedly chilling new powerpop smash from their new album The Optimist. “God knows you hate the quiet, when you’re dying, dying alone.”

5. The Gomorran Social Aid & Pleasure Club – The Great Flood

Noir cabaret by a brass band with a scary girl singer. They’re at the Jalopy on 11/18.

6. Ljova Zhurbin & Clifton Hyde – Theme from The Girl and Her Trust

A new theme for the DW Griffith silent film, live in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Ave. Tunnel.

7. Los Crema Paraiso – Shine on You Crazy Diablo

Venezuelan tinged Floyd cover – for real.

8. Shara Worden with Signal – The Lotus Eaters

The frontwoman of My Brightest Diamond singing one of the highlights of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s new song cycle Penelope.

9. Wayman Tisdale – Let’s Ride

The late NBA star doing some serious funk, featuring George Clinton – this is the cartoon video.

10. Witches in Bikinis – All Hallows Eve

Not the surf punk original but a disco remix, even more over the top and just as funny

November 11, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, lists, Music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Art-Rockers Release a Maxi, Maxi New Single

The single is titled Flow. With a fast hypnotic 2/4 pulse, Brooklyn rockers My Pet Dragon’s new single sets a nocturnally exuberant lyric to a memorably uneasy chromatic melody, acoustic guitar over an insistent beat with judiciously swooping synthesized orchestration. For a band who don’t often evoke the 80s, it’s got a very mid 80s goth feel, although frontman Todd Michaelsen’s voice soars over the atmospherics with a casual joy that you’d never hear from, say, Clan of Xymox. This is the upbeat, pop side of MPD – live in concert, they give it a swirling majesty and gravitas to match the anthemic, often epic ferocity of their other material. An instrumental-only version of the song is also included, which works almost as well as the full-length track with vocals – you could even do karaoke to it (it would make a good workout – Michaelsen hits some high notes).

Since this is a maxi-single (a really ubermax one, actually an ep if you want to be precise about it), the B-side is an unrecognizable cover of Release, by an unmentionable 90s grunge band. For the sake of argument, this might as well be an original: it’s been reinvented as a slow, atmospheric 6/8 ballad that sounds kind of like a B-side by the Church, with new English-language lyrics – or at least in understandable English. And for those who like disco remixes, this one has not one but four, in various shades of electronicness (Karsh Kale is responsible for the first). All of this is available at MPD’s site. They’re playing the small room at the Rockwood on 11/20 at 11, as good a choice of a Saturday night show as you can find in town right now.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 9/14/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #868:

Blowfly – Blowfly’s Party

Whether or not Blowfly really earned his nickname as a teenager when castigated by his grandmother for singing “C’mon baby, suck my dick,” instead of “do the twist,” Clarence Reid still has a franchise on x-rated R&B. He was making what used to be called “party records,” no doubt inspired by Red Foxx and Rudy Ray Moore, as early as the 1970s, when he wasn’t working as a hired-gun songwriter for acts as diverse as Betty Wright and KC and the Sunshine Band. But he saved his best stuff for himself. Maybe because he was so funny (or maybe because musicians thought that a connection to his filthy alter ego might translate into a hit single, or a session gig), he attracted topnotch players in droves. This album, from 1980, was an underground sensation and actually made the Billboard charts despite getting no airplay (apparently Blowfly didn’t think of making a “clean” version). Everything here is good for a laugh: Blowfly’s Rap (a Kurtis Blow ripoff) and Show Me a Man Who Don’t Like to Fuck, for example. Can I Come In Your Mouth is actually all about equal opportunity: Blowfly makes it clear to the girl that he’s willing to reciprocate. And some of the tracks are downright hilarious, particularly Who Did I Eat Last Night. All of this you can dance to. In the mid-zeros, Blowfly teamed up with a bunch of punk musicians and issued two albums of sexually explicit punk covers on Alternative Tentacles. Now in his seventies, he still tours. Be extra careful looking for a download – because some consider this adult entertainment (it’s actually the most juvenile album on this list), links that appear to be for torrents may lead to attack sites or malware: good luck and sweep your machine afterward.

September 13, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magnifico Gives Gypsy Punk a Kick in the Pants

Slovenian dance music maven Magnifico sounds a lot like Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, right down to the intentionally fractured English, the crazy beats and the more-subtle-than-you-think satire. A lot of his new album Magnification is completely over the top, but some of it isn’t. On the more disco-oriented songs here, he affects a lounge lizard persona that gets old pretty fast. But the rest of the album has a sarcastic, even savage punk edge. A lot of his lyrics are in English, yet one of the best, and most overtly hostile songs here, is a parody of corporate American pop – and those in the former Eastern Bloc who mindlessly imitate it. “Giv mi mani,” he asserts, phonetically, “And I will call you khhhhhoney.” As much as he tries, he can’t get the English aspirate “H” out.

Along with the insistent Balkan horns and the dancefloor beats, Magnifico blends in spaghetti western reverb guitar as well as train-whistle C&W pedal steel for extra menace – or for an extra satirical edge. The most iconoclastic song here is a cover of House of the Rising Sun done spaghetti western style, substituting the former Yugoslavia for the whorehouse in the original. The most striking one is a big orchestrated ballad, Ljuba, whose crescendoing chorus is suspiciously intense – like so much of what’s here, it could be a parody of a dramatic Balkan standard from the 1950s. Bosangero Nero, which seems to have political overtones, slinks along on a Mexican groove with surfy reverb guitar; the somewhat obvious yet irresistibly amusing Emily riffs on American girls and features a theremin solo. There’s also a warped country song taken straight to the Balkans; a bouncy song in Slovenian with a soca beat, bachata guitar and weepy pedal steel; a mystifying trip-hop song where the narrator seems to be saying that you can do anything to him except insult him (but maybe not); and a menacing, completely unrecognizable guitar-noir cover of the cheesy 1950s hit That’s Amore. Because this is dance music, these tracks go on for a long time: it’s a long album, fifteen tracks in all, something that gypsy punk fans around the world – and pretty much anybody looking for a good beat and a good time – will have fun with.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thousands of One Hypnotize the Crowd at Nublu

You gotta love a band whose first gig was at a maximum security prison. Thousands of One weren’t inmates at the time, and what they do is legal – at least while Obama is in office. Last night at Nublu the reaction of the people in the crowd pretty much said it all – half of them were bobbing their heads, completely lost in the music. The rest were dancing. The band’s sound echoes and reverberates, bringing a hypnotic, psychedelic dub sensibility to funk, downtempo grooves and hip-hop, with tinges of roots reggae and Afrobeat. A couple of their early jams worked an oldschool 70s disco groove, drummer Joel Blizzard riding the snare and hi-hat behind the echoes of keyboardist Chad Lieberman’s Rhodes piano and Jake Roberts’ hypnotic, reverb-toned guitar vamps. A couple of others kicked off with darkly majestic, cinematic intros, like Dr. Dre or Busta Rhymes would do fifteen years ago – except that these were played on real instruments. Frontman Jhakeem Haltom delivered rapidfire but smoothly fluid, rhythmically dazzling, conscious and defiant hip-hop lyrics when he wasn’t singing, taking a long, trance-inducing conga solo or even playing flute on one long 70s-style soul jam that evoked Gil Scott-Heron’s Midnight Band at their most expansively mesmerizing. The band also brought along an extra alto sax player who doubled on vocals or percussion.

Bassist Brent Eva played a five-string bass with a low B string, delivering an extra cushion for the spine or the booty on the low end, a couple of times slamming out a series of fat, boomy chords as the band’s ten-minute-plus jams finally wound their way to a big crescendoing conclusion; other times, they’d fade down gracefully, a couple of times to trick endings that Lieberman or sax player Mark Wienand would pick up in a split-second and build to another big swell. Wienand’s soprano sax solo on a fast, rocksteady-tinged jam toward the end of their first set added a genuinely riveting undercurrent of unease. Building from a suspenseful Rhodes intro to a murky but catchy funk groove, the best song of the night was Ancestors, Roberts finally kicking out a brief, blistering funk-metal solo right before they finally wrapped it up. Hip-hop with a good live band is always inspiring to see; in this case, the band was as good or even better than the lyrics. Watch this space for future NYC dates.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Dende & Hahahaes at Lincoln Center 4/15/10

Dende & Hahahaes have a stylistically diverse new album out that highlights their ability to shift energetically between samba, roots reggae and a whole lot of other tropical styles. Thursday night the crowd at the Atrium at Lincoln Center didn’t start dancing until the band’s first salsa groove, but most of them stayed on their feet for the rest of the show.

A big man with a megawatt grin, percussionist/singer Dende led the band from behind his congas – and played acoustic guitar on one song, a bracingly catchy minor-key vamp lit up by a long wah-wah solo by their electric guitarist. The rest of the vocals were supplied by a soulfully brassy singer who played boomy pan percussion when she wasn’t on the mic. With the relentless beat coming from band’s front line, their drummer got the chance to add some nimble counterrhythms when he wasn’t putting up with Dende’s playful showboating (there was a point where Dende demonstrably decided to adjust the drum volume, which drew plenty of laughs). Their keyboardist swayed in her seat, alternating between hypnotic latin vamps and bouncy samba lines in addition to some slyly woozy synthesizer settings – one of their several catchy Bahian numbers saw her playing through a fluttery flute patch, another with a reverberating Rhodes sound.

A trio of songs worked a hypnotic midtempo afrobeat groove; a couple others had an amped-up jangly, guitar-driven forro feel. The singers would take turns running a simple, insistent lyrical line, in Portuguese, many of them becoming singalongs with the large and exuberant expat crowd. Bassist Ze Grey hung back and provided fat, catchy hooks all night, waiting til the end where he’d finally cut loose with a blast of chords and fiery, melodic riffage. And when they finally closed the set with a catchy, irresistibly bouncing minor-key disco number – the Gap Band gone to Bahia – Grey played delicious variations off the central hook while the keyboardist turned her synth all the way up for a crazy, distorted texture. They encored with a cut off the new album that sounds like a Brazilian adaptation of Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean, Dende working the crowd in the front and on both sides of the stage (one woman he enticed up onstage was clearly out of her element, but another seized the moment and wowed the crowd with her moves). The free Thursday concerts here continue on April 22 at 8:30 with intriguing Chinese-American avant jazz chanteuse Jen Shyu.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment