Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Dende & Hahahaes – Bahia de Todos os Santos

This is a really good, oldschool style, mostly roots reggae album from a bunch of A-list New York Brazilian musicians. Dende fronts the band and plays percussion, maybe the reason why there’s so much of it and why it’s so high in the the mix. It’s sort of a trebly alternative to the bottom-heavy, rustically and hypnotically drum-flavored sound popularized by Ras Michael back in the 70s, giving the songs a boost of energy and some cool textures you don’t often hear in classic reggae. Behind Dende there’s Gustavo Dantas on guitar, Ze Grey on bass, Adriano Santos on drums and zabumba, Ze Luis on flute and sax, Carlos Darci on trombone, Takuya Nakamura on trumpet and guests Vinicius Cantuaria on guitar and Amayo from Antibalas supplying vocals on one track. Lyrics are in Portuguese.

The album kicks off with a catchy, upbeat roots reggae number, followed by one that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bob Marley catalog. They follow that with a couple of latin grooves, growing more and more hypnotic. Then they pick up the pace with a fast disco beat, and then a ska number with a Message to You Rudie feel followed by a psychedelic, Santana-style organ interlude. There’s also a smoky, vamping, soul-inspired number, a tricky yet hypnotic tropicalia tune with flute and a backward-masked intro, a fast piano-driven number in 11/4 time, a slinky soca-flavored dance song with tinkly piano and festive horns, a majestic yet catchy roots reggae number with echoes of vintage-era Burning Spear and then a jungly, gamelanesque percussion interlude to close it out. Like a summertime vendor selling ices from his cart at Delancey and Clinton, whatever tropical flavor you like, this album has pretty much everything. Dende & Hahahaes’ next New York show is at the Atrium at Lincoln Center on April 15.

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April 7, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Spy from Cairo – Secretly Famous

The audio equivalent of good hashish. Ridiculously catchy, danceable and psychedelic, The Spy from Cairo has put together an upbeat album that spans practically every style of pop music to come out of the Arab world over the last fifty years. The production is typical of what you get these days in Middle Eastern pop, somewhat slick and artificial with synthesizer and percussion loops in addition to the layers of real drums and percussion here. The “secretly famous” artist here also plays soulfully and intensely on the oud, saz (the gorgeously plinky Turkish lute), ney flute and a small army of percussion instruments, all of which happily get long, extended solos over the throb of the beat. What’s new and innovative is the dubwise feel he brings to much of this – for example, he turns the Farid Al Atrache oud classic Ala Shan into Egyptian reggae as someone like Mad Professor or Niney the Observer might do, instruments fading up into the mix and then out just as quickly when you least expect them.

The originals are just as good. The opening track, cleverly titled Nayphony works a catchy ney flute hook over a slinky trip-hop beat and a gorgeous, classically-inflected Arab melody, cifteli (an Albanian version of the saz) clinking beautifully as the string synthesizer climbs and then fades above it all. The second track is a Jordanian wedding tune given a snakecharmer feel with drum-n-bass production. With vocals and lyrics by guest chaneuse Ghalia Benali, Ana Arabi defiantly evokes Arab pride – and pride in denouncing terrorism – over a hypnotic, atmospheric dance-pop tune.

The single most gorgeous song here is Leila, a tribute to the great Mohamed Abdel Wahab with a long, exhilarating, pointillistic kanun solo. There’s also Kembe, which is trip-hop with oud playing variations on a hypnotic two-chord vamp; Jennaty, a particularly psychedelic, slightly funky number with oud played through a wah pedal; and Saidi the Man, a classic bellydance tune redone first as dancefloor pop, morphing back in time to a mesmerizing jam out with saz and percussion. Plus a resoundingly successful, woozily Rachid Taha-esque venture into rai-reggae. This is first and foremost a headphone album (those ipod earbuds don’t do justice to the fatness of the bass here); it also ought to make a great party-starter (or finisher: crank this at 4 AM if you’re in a space where either your neighbors can’t hear it, or if they’re cool and they might come over and wind down the night with you).

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Teddy Pendergrass

Iconic R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, frontman of seventies soul hitmakers Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and one of the greatest voices of the twentieth century, died of cancer Wednesday night in a hospital outside Philadelphia. According to his publicist, he was 59.

Originally a drummer, Pendergrass joined Melvin’s group in 1969. Producer Leon Huff, of Gamble and Huff – inventors of the Philly soul sound – takes credit for moving him out from behind the kit and in front of the mic, having ostensibly heard him singing along during a break in the studio. Beginning in 1973, Pendergrass would lead the band on numerous Gamble and Huff-produced, lushly symphonic hits including Wake Up Everybody, The Love I Lost and If You Don’t Know Me By Now. With his fervent, world-weary rasp, Pendergrass conveyed a wisdom and a depth well beyond his years and became a magnet for women fans around the world.

In 1982, Pendergrass was injured in a near-fatal car accident which rendered him a paraplegic. Nonetheless, he continued to record and release numerous urban radio hits and solo albums, many of which reached gold record status, although his voice was never the same. As the years went by, he earned similar acclaim as an advocate for the disabled.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Rare Elements – Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Either you’re going to like this album or you’re going to hate it. If you’ve been a fan of Middle Eastern pop from the last 25 years, you may not notice or care that the drum machine is such a prominent feature here. If, however, you are a purist when it comes to rhythm, you are advised to seek out the great Turkish-American composer Omar Faruk Tekbilek‘s back catalog, a vast and frequently fertile repertoire of hypnotic, otherworldly, virtuosic sufi-influenced songs and instrumentals. The title of this new cd is somewhat confusing: it’s the second in the Rare Elements series of disco remixes of world music artists (the first was sarangi player/singer Ustad Sultan Khan). On one level, setting Tekbilek’s compositions to a monotonous computerized thump makes about as much sense as a disco remix of Muddy Waters or Mingus. Yet you could also consider this a sneak attack on the dancefloor (and maybe Tekbilek’s attempt to connect with a broader audience on his home turf). So if this album succeeds at scoring a few hits in the Levant or turning a few club kids here toward the East, it will have been worth the effort. What’s lost, of course, is the hip-tugging swing and groove of the real drums and percussion you’ll find on Tekbilek’s more upbeat songs from previous albums. To his infinite credit, the compositions and his soulful, passionate playing on a grand total of twelve instruments here including ney flute, baglama lute, oud and zurna oboe are so strong that they transcend most every attempt to commercialize them (sadly, as expected, the remixers here get top billing over the composer).

The album’s second cut sets a nicely hypnotic, slinky snakecharmer riff to a mechanically swaying trip-hop beat. The third track has a late 80s Lebanese habibi pop feel, layers of synth taking the place of the acoustic unstruments.  The next cut injects a pounding trip-hop beat beneath starkly beautiful, spiky baglama and expressive flute; after that, more trip-hop, this time in the vein of a tv spy show theme, ominous baglama reprocessed eerily with swooshy synth. Tekbilek doesn’t even come in til five minutes into the seventh track, but it’s worth the wait. Finally, on the next cut, the music gets centerstage over the computer and it is absolutely luscious, a classic Levantine dance motif with swirling flute and darkly clanking baglama – and then it morphs into trip-hop.

There are a couple of numbers that are so heavily computerized that it’s impossible to tell if there’s any Tekbilek on them. And there’s one LOL-funny spot where the remixer cut and pasted some fast sixteenth notes in the same way that hip-hop dj’s mimic the sound of a skipping record – they could have plugged Tekbilek in and he could have simply played the riff in probably half the time it took to do it on the computer, and with soul. But can we do that? No. We have to be effete about it. We have to make it sound fake and cheesy instead. But even with that, Tekbilek still rises clear and ecstatic above the din. This also makes a good late-night wind-down cd: the beauty in the samples of Tekbilek’s music will soothe you as the drum machine puts you to sleep.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Insound Digital Mixtape July 2009

Quick, how many New Order wannabes can you name? This mixtape seeems to have all of ’em, many of them featured at this year’s Seaport Music Festival. If the original wasn’t enough for you, here are the sons and daughters of Bernard, Gillian and Steve (Peter deserves better than most of this because he’s a good musician whose personal taste in music runs far afield of this catchy but mostly derivative stuff). Let’s see what we have here:

 

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Tooth Decay. Vocoder vox, hypnotic 80s synth, New Order meets Midnight Starr – catchy and simple. They’re playing South St. Seaport on 7/24.

Blank Dogs – Waiting (mix 2). Uptight, untight drums, early New Order i.e. circa Movement, when they were a guitar band but with a late 80s shoegaze edge. Could be better, but it has some promise.

Casiokids – Verdens Storste Land demo. Closer to the synthy stuff New Order were doing on Brotherhood and afterward

Dan Friel – Ghost Town Pt. 1. New Order as played on a dollar-store imitation Casio through the bottom-of-the-line Guitar Center brand amp

Here We Go Magic – Fangela. Less New Order than 60s psychedelic pop done demo-style with a drum machine and barely demo-quality vocals. A good guitar band like the Motion Sick could have a field day with this.

Obits – Two-Headed Coin. Catchy 60s bass riff, reverb-drenched 60s garage guitar, kinda noir. Best track on the cd so far. Hmmm…ought to check this band out sometime. They’re at South St. Seaport on 7/31 opening for Polvo, supposedly sometime around 7.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Come Saturday. Total Teenage Fanclub ripoff, i.e. middle-period Jesus & Mary Chain without any balls. The first real dud here. How come of all these bands so far, only the Obits have ever heard of a minor key?

Polvo – Beggar’s Bowl. Now this kicks ass! Hypnotic swirling intro, evil growling leads, a stomping rhythm section and then some eerie slightly Middle Eastern flourishes. And how about that flameout at the end, damn! Were these guys the best guitar band of the 90s or what? Sounds nothing like New Order either. They’re at South St. Seaport on 7/31.

Ribbons – Inclusion. OK, back to the New Order wannabes, at least this has some passion and some percussive guitars. New Order play Television maybe.

School of Seven Bells – Face to Face on High Places. Arty, kinda 4AD, ornate synth giving way to trebly, minimal Bernard-style guitar, then the synth comes back. So unoriginal. At least they’re not ripping off Pearl Jam.

Slow Club – It Doesn’t Have to Be Beautiful. Rich white kids with a drum machine taking a pitiful stab at bluegrass. Barf.

Superchunk – Misfits and Mistakes. Yawn, booooring. Strictly for 35-and-overs who miss hearing this garbage at college parties in the 90s.

Versus – Eskimo. Not their best song (Fontaine wrote most of their real good ones) – this is just a simple poppy riff over and over again until suddenly the eeriness kicks in. But then it’s gone. Fast forward…

The Wave Pictures – Just Like a Drummer. Oh jeeeezus…a 30-year-old guy singing like he’s 13. And he uses the word “hipster” in a way that might not be a slur. Puke. Next…

Zaza – Sooner or Later. OK, back to the New Order…or maybe Clan of Xymox. This is nice – swoopy, minor-key synth, incisive electric piano and now a little rhythm guitar.      

 

So here’s what you get for free (download it here for the next week): three solid hits, a bunch of ok-to-good stuff and only three real duds. Plus you can dance to most of this. Burn the best of this for your kid sister to help wean her off the Jonas Bros.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment