Lucid Culture


Benny Sharoni’s Retro Jazz Is a Hit

The last jazz album we reviewed was noisy, frenetic and half rock. This one is all melody, laid-back and gorgeously oldschool. It’s one of those sleeper albums that you can put on and fool your snob friends with – just tell them it’s a rare reissue from fifty years ago, and most of them will buy it. Boston-based tenor saxophonist Benny Sharoni assembled a first-rate band to join him in a convivially expansive, purist mood on his new album Eternal Elixir. Joey “Sonny” Barbato (whose 2006 cd Crackerjack is a genuine classic and one of the finest of its rare kind, an accordion jazz album) plays piano here, joined by Barry Ries on trumpet, Mike Mele on guitar, Todd Baker on bass and Steve Langone on drums, with Kyle Aho taking over the 88s on four of the tracks. The vibe here is retro in a refreshing way: it feels like one of those early 60s Impulse albums, driven by camaraderie rather than showboating, the kind of date players record because they have something they think is worth capturing, rather than simply to satisfy the terms of a label deal.

The album opens with Bernstein, Sharoni’s propulsive tribute to the conductor/composer, Barbato’s fluidly precise runs echoed by Sharoni further on. French Spice, a tastily catchy Donald Byrd tune from 1961 that moves deftly from hypnotic pulse to proto-funk to straight-up swing and back again, Sharoni taking his cue from Wayne Shorter’s casually soulful performance on that song (as he does on another Byrd composition here, an understated version of the vampy Pentecostal Feelin’). Barbato’s terse, understated solo turns with a grin from blithe to bluesy in a split second. The version of Estate here mutes its bossa origins, recasting it as slow swing and stripping it down to its inner soul with aptly summery, almost minimalist solos from Barbato and then Sharoni. Likewise, the band breathes new life into Bobby Hebb’s Sunny as a latin jazz number, a launching pad for some lively melismas and trills from Ries and some impressively straight-up blues from Aho.

Benito’s Bossa Bonita, an original gets the same casually comfortable, easy-wearing swing of Estate, with a couple of especially choice, effortlessly congenial solos from Sharoni and a terse conversation between Aho’s piano and Baker’s bass. To Life, based on the 1964 Cannonball Adderley version, maintains the laid-back bluesy mood, Ries (with a mute) and then Sharoni gimlet-eyed and content while Barbato keeps watch with sharp, incisively staccato chords. Another original, Cakes, sways with a distant Donald Fagen feel (Sharoni is a fan, having discovered Steely Dan as solace during his mandatory tour of duty in the Israeli army, a low point in his life), and a moody, reverb-tinged Mele solo. The album winds up with The Thing to Do, a cagy, swinging Blue Mitchell tune from 1964 and Senor Papaya, which takes its title from Sharoni’s papaya-grower father back home in Israel. Sharoni admits it’s quite ironic since Sr. Papaya himself is so laid-back and the song anything but. The Benny Sharoni Quartet plays Fridays in August at 8:30 PM at Winslow’s Tavern in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.


August 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Avi Fox-Rosen – Welcome to the Show

This one dates from the end of last year, when Lucid Culture was running at, um, less than full speed. Meanwhile, the emails were piling up and so were the albums. We could have built a Compact Disc Ranch in the desert next to the Cadillacs with most of them. Because even the good ones that remained have lost their currency as far as press and bloggage are concerned, we moved on. But this one we couldn’t leave behind. Like a more rocking, shapeshifting Steely Dan, Avi Fox-Rosen’s latest album Welcome to the Show leaps to the top of this year’s list so far. It’s funky, carnivalesque and mystifyingly multistylistic – if there’s a genre this guy can’t write in, it isn’t apparent here. Most of the songs are terse and short, clocking in at three minutes or less. With a noir undercurrent matched by vividly aphoristic black humor, guitarist Fox-Rosen sings with a cool, suave, deviously jazzy vocal delivery that’s well-suited to the lyrics – think Donald Fagen’s equally gifted, more ill-at-ease bastard stepchild.

This is a loosely thematic concept album about the current, dismal state of the world, the intro like a carnival barker’s theme, completely apropos for the Bernie Madoff era. The first full-length track, Life Is Short & Then You Die cynically sets the stage, the CIA planting a flea on a blind man as a bug (the electronic kind) – bizarrely logical creative touches like that are all over this album. Truth & Beauty follows, a slinky reggae beat with accordion and a too-sweet-to-be-true music box theme – imagine Botanica in a good mood. The album’s centerpiece, the funky, breathless narrative White Collar Crime gets Bowie-esque with its watery chorus-box guitar hook, right down to an inspired, Adrian Belew-style shredding solo.

The next track sounds like Vampire Weekend if that band had balls; Tower of Babel is the most overtly ominous, bluesy of all the tracks so far with nice evil balalaika-ish organ.The menacing vibe lingers with Two Glasses, a stripped-down soul song with creepy accordion and bells, then lifts with the subtly sardonic Rhodes piano of the jazz-rock nocturne The Grey Area and then the LOL, marimba-reggae come-on Hot Girl on a Bike. The album winds up on a pensive note with a big piano ballad that turns into a defiant drinking song, and an atmospheric accordion tune. This is first and foremost an ipod record (if that turn of phrase doesn’t have you scratching your head): there are so many fun musical japes, lyrical jabs and hooks here that you need to spend awhile with it to discover all the good stuff. Fox-Rosen’s next band gig is Feb 20 at the Workmen’s Circle Purim Bash at the Synagogue for the Arts, downtown at 49 White Street at 9 PM-ish; his new theatrical creation, a puppet cabaret satire titled The Church of Babel co-written with Ora Fruchter takes place at the New Yiddish Repertory Theater in the Workmen’s Circle, 45 E. 33rd St. at 8 PM on 2/18.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/8/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s is #535:

Steely Dan – Any World That I’m Welcome To

“…is better than the one that I come from.” Brooklyn may know the charmer under Donald Fagen, but it also knows the contemptuous outsider who obviously didn’t feel very at home there and wrote this somewhat plaintive, uncharacteristically straightforward piano ballad about it. And for good reason: this was 1975 and the borough was in many respects as provincial as rural Alabama. For that matter, parts of it still are: ask someone from Williamsburg. From the album Katy Lied; also available wherever there are mp3s.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment