Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Radio Birdman – Zeno Beach

Volcanic comeback album by these legendary Australian garage punks that mixes a violent apocalypticism with a handful of black humor-driven, traditional garage rock numbers that sometimes veer to the goofy side. For three years in the late 70s, there was no better band on the planet. Driven by lead guitarist Deniz Tek’s maniacal Middle Eastern-inflected playing over a pummeling surf beat, Radio Birdman’s first two studio albums set the standard for uncompromising, raw, fast rock. Influenced by the Stooges, MC5, Blue Oyster Cult, Doors (you should hear the bootleg of their cover of LA Woman) and Ventures, they burned from 1976 to 1980 when Tek left the band for the Air Force and two of the remaining members spun off into the New Christs. Radio Birdman’s releases after the initial breakup are a mixed bag: the mix of alternate versions of songs from their classic 1979 album Radios Appear, including a couple of deliriously good outtakes, is a masterpiece; their 1997 live album, recorded at one of their annual reunion concerts in Australia, found the band lost in a maze of Marshall stacks and high-tech gear, their signature raw power blunted by a booming sound system. This, then is their real comeback, and it’s pretty amazing. With the exception of the new drummer, these guys are in their fifties now and can still outplay and out-write just about any band out there.  

As with their best work, it’s an eerie, death-defying ride. Just a glance at the song titles proves they haven’t lost their dark vision. You Just Make It Worse. Remorseless. Found Dead. Die Like April. Hungry Cannibals. Locked Up. This is desperate stuff; the rage that drove them in 1979 hasn’t dissipated one iota. The album kicks off with We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today), sounding nothing like the Grateful Deadly title might imply: it’s a blast of chromatic, minor-key fury, fueled by the twin guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak (who’s become a brilliant lead player in his own right), and organist Pip Hoyle. The album’s next track is a surprisingly trad garage riff-rocker, something that would sound perfectly at home on a good Lyres record. Next we get the haunting, aptly titled Remorseless: the tension of this burning, funereal midtempo song never lets up. After that’s over, Found Dead continues in the same vein. Connected explores reincarnation, a topic Tek has addressed in his solo work. The impressively ornate, artsy Die Like April builds off a hook that sounds suspiciously similar to something by their Aussie compatriots the Church. Heyday takes a Beatles lick and does pretty much the same thing.

 

Eventually it’s back to the nuevo-60s garage feel with the tracks If You Say Please and Hungry Cannibals, the latter of which brings some welcome comic relief. But it’s black humor, it doesn’t last long and you get the feeling that just maybe, the band might not be joking after all. After that, Locked Up is a scorching, Stooges-inflected riff-rocker; then the album winds up with two uncharacteristically sunny tunes, both by keyboardist Hoyle. The Brotherhood of Al Wazah riffs on Middle East terrorism, and the title cut works both as a tribute to a good surf beach and a warning that we could all be On the Beach.

 

Frontman Rob Younger no longer comes across as the Australian Iggy Pop; the oldest member of the band, he’s come to sound eerily like another Australian rock legend, guitarist/songwriter Marty Willson-Piper from the Church. You wouldn’t think a voice like that would necessarily work with such a ferocious band behind it, but it does. Descend into the maelstrom with these guys if you dare. One of the best albums of the decade so far, end of story.

April 26, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment