Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Quatre Vingt Neuf Reinvent Little Rascals Soundtracks, Hot 20s Jazz and Dixieland at Barbes

When Quatre Vingt Neuf launched into their most recent show last month at Barbes, it was a jazz power play. Bryan Beninghove came up with that term: it means more people onstage than there are in the audience. But by the time the irrepressible quasi oldtimey swing band wrapped up their show around midnight, the room was packed. Quatre Vingt Neuf are last-minute like that.

They played their first gig last year when the venue had a cancellation. Owner Olivier Conan emailed Wade Ripka, who would end up playing tenor banjo in the group, to see if he could pull a pickup band together. Sure, said Ripka, who’s in a bunch of other bands (rembetiko metalheads Greek Judas and retro Russian psych-pop crew the Eastern Blokhedz to name a couple) and has a deep address book. Since Conan lives in France now, all this was done over email.

And unlike most venues, Barbes actually promotes the artists who play there. So when Conan hadn’t heard back from Ripka by around midnight, European time, he sent a final reminder to make sure that the bar would have some kind of live entertainment that night.

Apparently the show was a success. When Ripka asked for another gig for this ensemble, Conan agreed – but insisted on naming the band. He came up with Quatre Vingt Neuf (French for Eighty-nine – a revolutionary year). Since then, they’ve featured as many as seventeen players onstage. Last month’s show featured a relatively small septet.

Quatre Vingt Neuf’s shtick is that they play hot 20s jazz and dixieland with a rock rhythm section, a rarity since when those styles first originated, recording technology hadn’t been developed to the point where bass or drums could be recorded in a full-band situation. Realistically speaking, Quatre Vingt Neuf hardly qualify as a rock band. At the May gig, drummer Chris Stromquist (who also plays in Greek Judas and Balkan brass band Slavic Soul Party) broke out his bundles and brushes and swung with an unexpectedly subtle flair – it’s a side of him not that many people get to see. The same with bassist Nick Cudahy – who also plays in Greek Judas and the Blokhedz – walking the changes and using horn voicings in a couple of wry solos.

Interestingly, bandleader Ripka stuck to rhythm and didn’t take any solos. But the band played several of his arrangements of Little Rascals theme music, from scampering Keystone Kops miniatures to longer, more coyly crescendoing, cinematic pieces. Even the ballads were upbeat. Soprano saxophonist Jason Candler sang a handful of them, when he wasn’t sending wildfire spirals upward. Trumpeter John Carlson played terse, centered good cop to trombonist Tim Vaughn’s boisterous honks and snorts and extended technique. They’re back at Barbes on June 13 at 10 PM, headlining a great swing twinbill that begins at 8 with plush singer/baritone uke player Daria Grace & the Pre-War Ponies, who excel at oldschool mambos and can also be a lot more boisterous than most retro swing bands.

Advertisements

June 3, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Swingaroos Offer a Good Reason Not to Stay Home on the 17th

The good news about St. Patrick’s Day this year is that it’s on a Tuesday. Does that mean the amateurs won’t be celebrating it early this weekend, turning every bar from Hell’s Kitchen to Hell’s Gate into Hell itself? Probably not. But there will probably be fewer of them out this coming Tuesday the 17th, if you’re stir-crazy enough to go out that night. And if you end up at the big room at the Rockwood at around 10, you’ll get to see a really fun, original retro swing band, the Swingaroos. Does that mean the Rockwood folks expect lots of drunken dancing? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. More likely, it means the band is taking a gamble that they’ll be playing their irrepressibly cheery update on 30s and 40s sounds to a captive audience.

Their album All Aboard is streaming at Bandcamp. Pianist Assaf Gleizner’s stride stomp fuels the opening track, Steam Train, singer Kimberly Hawkey ably voicing a train whistle and then serving as emcee for jaunty solos by Dan Glaude on clarinet, Nat Ranson on trombone and then a scampering one from the piano.

Hawkey shows off her brassy and smoky sides on the high-spirited stroll A Walk in the Park, bassist Chris Conte adding a lively, tiptoeing solo. To the Beat! looks back to Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. Then the band brings it down with Far Across the World, Hawkey’s expressive (and subtly droll) vocals anchored by Gleizner’s resonant chords and a balmy Glaude alto sax solo over drummer Mike Gordon’s misty brushwork

Grocery List is a funny Louis Jordan-style jump blues: “A ham, a clam, a leg of lamb, it’s just baloney,” Hawkey intones, having all kinds of fun with food innuendos – and a pretty fair impersonation of a kazoo solo. The band has just as much fun making a slowly strolling noir theme out of Brahms’ famous Hungarian Dance, with a tip of the hat to Duke Ellington. Nagasaki is the lone Roaring 20s cover here, done with a rapidfire, coy hokum blues flair.

The band follows that with the album’s best track, Shadow Man, with its Brecht-Weill style angst and Hawkey’s moody, world-weary, distantly Billie Holiday-inflected vocals. Gordon’s tapdancing drums take centerstage on the brisk I Can Take It. The album ends with a silly cover that’s infinitely better than the original, which will probably draw some chuckles from people in the crowd who were in grade school back in the 90s.

March 11, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Montreal Jazz Festival 2011, Day One

The world’s most unpretentious jazz festival got off to an auspicious start yesterday. As with jazz festivals around the globe, the Montreal Jazz Festival encompasses many other styles of music as well. The local media raved about flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia’s performance last night, while word on the street was that tickets for the singer from that famous 70s metal band, and that has-been 80s funk guy, were hot. But as usual, the real action was in the smaller rooms. New York was well-represented: David Binney, pianist Dan Tepfer playing a duo with Lee Konitz, and Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog numbered among the literally hundreds of acts on the festival bill, which continues through July 4. And the habitants‘ groups proved just as interesting as the innumerable acts from out of town.

Our Saturday got off to an early start at one of the many makeshift beer tents with a smoking, genre-busting set by Montreal sextet Hot Pepper Dixieland (a spinoff of Le Dixieband, with a different drummer and clarinetist). Playing a mix of the well-known and the lesser-known, not just blissed-out dancefloor shuffles (although they did some of those too), they mixed in a hot 20s early swing vibe along with elements of ragtime. And they started out as brooding and minor-key as this kind of stuff gets before picking up the pace with a spiky, vividly rustic St. James Infirmary, a balmy My Blue Heaven and finally a surprisingly bracing, ominously minor-key tinged When the Saints Go Marching In.

Later in the afternoon, there was a “battle of the bands” on the esplanade, pairing off two marching units: Swing Tonique Jazz Band on the west side versus Streetnix on the east. Ostensibly a contest to see who could drown out the other, each entertained a separate crowd: volume-wise, the more New Orleans-flavored Swing Tonique had the upper hand versus Streetnix, who mined a more European vibe (including a bouncy, amped-up version of La Vie en Rose). Eventually, Streetnix launched into Caravan and resolutely stomped their way up to the middle of the plaza where Swing Tonique joined them, and then graciously gave their quieter compatriots a chance to cut loose. The entire crew closed with an energetic blues, with solos all around: by then, the crowd had completely encircled them, pretty much everyone sticking around despite the intermittent torrents of rain that would continue into the night.

Our original game plan was to catch jazz pianist John Roney next, but that was derailed by a pitcher of beer and some enormous mounds of fries over on Rue St.-Denis. Having watched Lorraine Muller a.k.a. the Fabulous Lolo – former frontwoman of popular Canadian ska bands the Kingpins and Lo & the Magnetics – play a tantalizing soundcheck earlier in the day, it was great to catch a full set of her band’s totally retro 60s ska and rocksteady. Two of our crew immediately suffered intense drummer envy: this guy had the one-drop down cold, and had a sneaky, rattling fill ready for wherever it was least expected. For that matter, the whole rhythm section, including bass, guitar, organ and piano, was pretty mighty, a solid launching pad for the band’s killer three-piece horn section, which Lolo joined a few times, playing baritone sax. They reinvented Hawaii 5-0 as a syncopated noir rocksteady theme and later on took a stab at the Steven Stills moldie oldie Love the One You’re With (did Ken Boothe or somebody from that era cover it, maybe?). Montreal reggae crooner Danny Rebel, a big hit with the crowd, duetted with Lolo on a straight-up ska tune and a balmy rocksteady ballad lowlit by the guitarist’s reverb-drenched twang. The rest of the set switched cleverly back and forth between bouncy and slinky. A band this good deserves a global following.

Last stop of the night was the Balmoral, a shi-shi bar around the corner where bassist Jean-Felix Mailloux was playing an intriguing set of original compositions in a duo with Guillaume Bourque on clarinet and bass clarinet. Mailloux’ background in gypsy jazz was obvious, but his influences extend to both klezmer and third stream sounds. One of the bass/bass clarinet numbers was a clinic in the kind of interesting things that can be done with a minor mode and a simple three-note descending progression; another paced along with moody tango ambience; another plaintively alluded to Erik Satie. Mailloux alternated between melody, pulse and pure rhythm, tapping out the beat on the body of the bass as Bourque circled with an intensity that ranged from murky to acerbic.

And despite the rain, the festival atmosphere was shockingly convivial (at least from a New Yorker’s perspective). A high school girl working security sheepishly asked one of us to open up a purse (cans, bottles and dogs are verboten) instead of giving us New York Central Park rent-a-pig attitude; beer vendors wandered throughout the crowd, as if at a hockey game. Although there was a tourist element, the occasional gaggle of fratboys or douchettes in tiaras and heels lingering on the fringes, this was overwhelmingly a laid-back, polyglot local crowd, not a lot of English being spoken other than the occasional song lyric. It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off a vacation than this.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roosevelt Dime Have Oldschool Fun with Vintage Americana

This one’s a lot of fun. Anchored by Andrew Green’s spiky banjo and Hardin Butcher’s soaring, smartly tuneful trumpet and cornet, Roosevelt Dime’s lineup is pretty unique today, although eighty years ago banjo-and-horns bands were pretty common. Their aptly titled new album Steamboat Soul sets set vintage 1960s-style soul or country songs to wry, clever arrangements that go back another forty years or so, sometimes with hokum blues or dixieland tinges. All this falls somewhere in between Preacher Boy, the 2 Man Gentlemen Band and the Wiyos. Weaving in and out of period vernacular and accent – “a pack of tobacco and a late night pay phone call,” and so on – they set a vibe that varies from laid-back to boisterous. All the songs here have the immediacy and warm interplay of a live album, Seth Paris’ clarinet and saxophones interweaving with the trumpet, pulsing along on the laid-back beat from Eben Pariser’s bass and Tony Montalbano’s drums.

The opening track, with its rapidfire lyrics, has an almost hip-hop feel, with a sweet clarinet solo: as long as the singer’s got his booze and Johnny Cash on the turntable, he’s content. The second cut, Where Did You Go kicks off with a semi-truck horn and ends with a siren: in between, it’s a swaying hokum blues that reaches for a sly Mississippi Sheiks vibe.The band motor through the fast banjo shuffle What a Shame as the kick drum boots it along, then chill out with the easy calypso vibe of Sway. Jubilee is a rousing second-line tribute to “the funkiest joint in town” and its hard-drinking house band. And Digging Song is absolutely brilliant, a spot-on swipe at trendoids with an oldtimey tune but contemporary references, as is the next track, Slow Your Roll, snidely referencing pretty much every Brooklyn neighborhood to suffer the blight of gentrification.

But it’s the soul songs here that really set them apart from the rest of the oldtimey crew. Wishing Well takes a Willie Mitchell-style Memphis shuffle back in time, a clever sendup of a golddigging girl (or one who wants to be a golddigger, anyway). Helpless has more of a ballad feel; the wistful Long Long Time reaches for the rafters with a lush, crescendoing string arrangement. The album winds up with Spikedriver, a biting update on an oldtimey railroad song. Fans of Americana music from across the decades have a lot to sink their teeth into here.

November 11, 2010 Posted by | blues music, country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment