Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Intriguing, Catchy, Resonant Sounds from Ensemble Et. Al.

Over a year ago, adventurous percussion group Ensemble Et Al sent a package of files over the transom here. Where they sat, and sat, waiting patiently for their turn on the front page. At last, that time has come: their ep When the Tape Runs Out is a lot of fun. Most of it is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page, along with their ep of group leader Ron Tucker’s arrangements of works by Arvo Part and Goldmund (Keith Kenniff) which is available for free download.

The opening track, A Beautiful Walk Through Industrial Wasteland builds to a groove that closely resembles Bill Withers’ Use Me. If that’s intentional, it’s clever; either way, the intricate, gamelanesque assemblage of lingering vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel tones along with less resonant metal and wood objects played by Tucker, J. Ross Marshall and Charles Kessenich manages to be both hypnotic and catchy. In a Crowded Room with Nothing to Think About works a playfully direct, Steve Reich-ish circular theme into a series of charmingly chiming layers. A disarmingly attractive, rather Lynchian lullaby, Confessions of an Honest Man balances atmospheric lows against tersely ringing highs.

Finding Simple Wonders As the Day Turns the Night develops a wickedly memorable minimalist melody into an eerie music box-like theme over an implied trip-hop groove. The ep closes with a warily spacious take on Arvo Part’s Fur Elina, a secret bonus track. Fans of downtempo and chillout music as well as indie classical types should check this out. Ensemble Et Al are on an intriguing triplebill of percussion ensembles with Concert Black and Iktus Percussion on March 26 at 8 PM at Galapagos, $15 advance tickets are recommended.

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March 18, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loga Ramin Torkian’s Mehraab Puts a New Spin on Classical Persian Music

Mehraab, the title of Iranian composer/multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian’s new album, means “shrine” in Persian. It’s an enormously successful attempt to play classical Iranian instrumental music through the swirling, hypnotic prism of dreampop and shoegaze rock. Musically, this most closely resembles Copal’s haunting Middle Eastern string-band dancefloor instrumentals; sonically, it’s remarkably similar to Huun Huur Tu’s landmark 2008 electroacoustic Eternal collaboration with producer Carmen Rizzo. Torkian takes care to mention in the liner notes that the electronics here are limited to how the instruments are processed, without any computerized backing tracks. Since all the instruments here are acoustic, the efx add welcome layers of sustain and reverb. Sometimes a riff becomes a loop; occasionally, the timbres are processed to oscillate or change shape as they move through the mix, dub style. Torkian plays a museum’s worth of stringed instruments, including but not limited to guitar, sax, baglama, viola da gamba and rabab, accompanied by Khosro Ansari on vocals (singing in Farsi) and a small army of percussionists including Omer Avci, Zia Tabassian, Mohammed Mohsen Zadeh, Azam Ali and her bandmate Andre Harutounyan.

The songs are dreamy, windswept and often haunting. The opening instrumental, Gaven (The Wild Deer) works an apprehensive descending progression in the Arabic hijaz mode, lutes and strings over reverberating layers of percussion and an astringent viola da gamba passage. Az Pardeh (Through the Wall) contrasts a matter-of-fact lead vocal with a somewhat anguished, hypnotic drone playing tensely against a central note, in a stately 6/8 rhythm. Golzare Ashegh (Garden of Love) establishes a sense of longing with its austere arrangement and dreamlike ambience; Chashme Jadu (Your Bewitching Eyes) is absolutely bewitching, in a creepy way, ominous astringent atmospherics over echoey clip-clop percussion.

With its subtle oscillations working against a distant, reverberating loop, the title track brings to mind a Daniel Lanois production, a simple, memorable, ringing motif circling through the mix. It’s the first part of what’s essentially a suite, segueing into Parva (Compassion) with its dub echoes and trancelike flute. Souz-El-Del (The Burning Heart) is the most rhythmically tricky piece here, a forest of lutes and what sounds like a kamancheh (spiked fiddle) doubling the dark levantine melody – it’s an absolutely gorgeous, sweepingly majestic, haunting song. They go out with a tersely wary, cello-like string theme. Simply one of the year’s most captivating and haunting albums.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #694:

Portishead – Roseland NYC Live

To say that when this album came out in 1998, it was the last thing anybody expected from Portishead is an understatement. This is the only good album the band ever made – it sounds nothing like anything they recorded before or afterward. Recorded with an orchestra and a (mostly) live band at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, it’s more like the Cure with strings and a girl singer. Together, the live percussion, orchestra, moody synth and guitar combine for a tense 80s goth vibe that offsets the occasional doofy electronic blip or the annoying turntable scratching. It’s a mix of downtempo trip-hop grooves like Humming, Cowboys and Only You along with the orchestrated wah soul of All Mine, the mood pieces MysteronsOver and Half Day Closing, the fan favorite Glory Box and epic closers Roads and Strangers: slow, slinky stuff, sort of the equivalent of Isaac Hayes for white kids. Reputedly the band has since disowned this. Here’s a random torrent.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/21/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Friday’s is #739:

Alice Lee – Lovers and Losers

Her third album, from 2005, edgily blends oldschool soul vocals and vibes with hip-hop and tropical rhythms, with Lee playing guitars and keys and backed by an inspired crew including Pere Ubu’s Tony Maimone (who also engineered the album) on bass. Her contralto voice cools the burn from lyrics that range from torchy to arsonistic, although the bitterness is sometimes cushioned by her wry sense of humor. A lot of this sounds like what Fiona Apple was reaching for about five years ago but never could hit. In a perfect world, the big hits would have been the concert favorite A New Bruise, the hypnotic trip-hop Retrograde Heart and the catchy, wounded soul-pop of Perfect Girl (which Lee assures she’ll never be). Friendly Fire sets artsy janglerock over a slinky funk beat; Heroin jolts you with a big metal guitar crescendo. The swirling, trippily atmospheric Gloria and I Breathe evoke Lee’s brief flirtation with downtempo chillout music; the masterpiece here is Last Night (as in “last night on earth”), one of the most evocative nocturnes ever written. Lee ends the album with the acoustic soul of Going Home, the gorgeously funky, bass-driven No Idea and the solo acoustic tropicalia of Hard to Forget. The album doesn’t seem to have made it to the share sites yet, but it’s still available at Lee’s site and cdbaby.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Matthias’ and Nick Ryan’s Cortical Songs Get Nervous

Many of you have heard of this album because it contains a remix by Thom Yorke (which in this case is pretty inconsequential – he phoned it in). Be that what it may, John Matthias’ and Nick Ryan’s new Cortical Songs album, just out on the British Nonclassical label, is an intriguing and ambitious electroacoustic effort inspired by the most ancient instrument of them all, the human body. Matthias is an adept violinist and also a proficient singer, although he doesn’t contribute vocals on this album; Ryan is his laptop-toting sidekick. Together with the Trinity College of Music String Ensemble conducted by Nic Pendlebury, they’ve created an innovative suite based on the patterns of neurons firing in the brain. These “cortical songs” follow definable patterns – which makes sense, considering how much of human activity involves repetition – which lend themselves to musical interpretation. Matthias and Ryan don’t follow actual cortical patterns here, but instead a computer program that’s designed to replicate them. They’ve also added elements of improvisation via cues that add a sense of randomness: hence, this particular performance can never be exactly replicated. It’s an interesting mix of the baroque and the modern, emphasis on the modern, heavy on minimalism and horizontality.

It opens as pensive minuet, Matthias leading the procession, which quickly bulks up with layers of atmospherics and counterrythms that fades into and out of the wash of sound. The second movement is an insistently hypnotic tone poem with overtones wafting overhead, evoking the more ambient work of the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor, up to a big sudden swell. The third fades up even more atmospherically, with minute suspenseful shifts against the wash that build until Matthias reenters pensively, leading to a bracing crescendo that fades down again to a quiet angst. The fourth reprises the opening minuet, then strips away the rhythm, leaving the motif to mutate and expand with considerable unease. It’s a compelling chamber work.

And that’s where it ends for us. A series of remixes of parts of the suite follows: one skips around ludicrously as if the recording program suddenly went haywire, and the engineer kept what was left because he’d been paid and had to turn in something. Toward the end there are a couple that allude to a familiarity with dub, or at least dubstep. What someone like Lee “Scratch” Perry could have done with this – with analog equipment, of course – one can only wonder.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newspeak’s Fearless New Album Out 11/16; CD Release Show at Littlefield on the 14th

Much as there are innumerable great things happening in what’s become known as “indie classical,” there’s also an annoyingly precious substratum in the scene that rears its self-absorbed little head from time to time. Newspeak’s new album Sweet Light Crude is the antidote to that: you could call this punk classical. Fearlessly aware, insightfully political, resolutely defiant, it’s a somewhat subtler counterpart to the work of Joe Strummer, Bob Marley and Marcel Khalife even if it doesn’t sound like any of them. Sometimes raw and starkly intense, other times lushly atmospheric, this new music supergroup of sorts includes bandleader David T. Little on drums, Caleb Burhans on violin, Mellissa Hughes on vocals, James Johnston on keys, Taylor Levine (of hypnotic guitar quartet Dither) on electric guitar, Eileen Mack on clarinets, Brian Snow on cello and Yuri Yamashita on percussion.

The first track is Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with Aggravated Assault), a swinging, percussive Mingus-esque theme set to a blustery trip-hop rhythm with a noir organ break, and pummeling drums as it reaches an out-of-breath crescendo at the end. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To – inspired by Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, master of tactful disobedience – builds from austerity to another trip-hop vamp, Mack’s plaintive melody and Hughes’ deadpan, operatically-tinged vocals overhead. From there they segue into Little’s title track – essentially, this one’s about Stockholm Syndrome, a love song to a repressive addiction. As before, this one starts out plaintively, builds to a swirl and then a disco beat over which Hughes soars passionately. It’s as funny and over-the-top as it is disconcerting, and the big, booming rock crescendo with its cello chords, distorted guitar, strings and winds fluttering overhead leaves no doubt what the price of this addiction is.

Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This holds to the hypnotic, richly interwoven style of her work with her mesmerizingly atmospheric band Victoire. Violin swoops and dives gently introduce wounded guitar-and-piano latticework, which extrapolates with a characteristically crystalline, unselfconsciously epic sweep as one texture after another enters the picture, only to leave gracefully to make room for another. Brenschluss (the German term for the tip of a ballistic missile), by Pat Muchmore alternates apprehensive, spoken-word passages evoking early Patti Smith or recent Sarah Mucho with tense atmospherics, overtone-spewing metal guitar and a tricky art-rock string arrangement that builds to a conclusion that is…pretty much what you’d expect it to be. The album closes with Burhans’ Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI, a long, cinematically evocative, extremely Lynchian composition that seems to be modeled on Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme. As it picks up with slide guitar, vocalese, and dramatic drum crashes, it could be Pink Floyd’s Any Colour You Like for the 21st Century – although that would be Requiem for a Ford Plant in…probably somewhere in Mexico. The album’s out on New Amsterdam Records on Nov 16; Newspeak play the cd release show for this one this Sunday, Nov 14 at Littlefield at around 9. If the album is any indication, it could be amazing.

November 12, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 11/1/10

Our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast is a little late again, sorry, we’ll try to have next week’s for you on Tuesdays like we usually do. 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 (and you have headphones – 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. The Toneballs – Chelsea Clinton Knows

Characteristically incisive lyrical rock from Dan Sallitt’s jangly post Blow This Nightclub crew. They slayed with this a couple of weeks ago at the Parkside.

2. Annabouboula – Opium Bride

Psychedelic Greek rebetika surf/dance rock with sultry female vocals. They’ve got a long-awaited new album out and it’s great.

3. The Del Lords – When the Drugs Kick In

The legendary 80s Americana rockers’ first new song in 20 years, and it was worth the wait.

4. The Visitors – Living World

The New Race garage-punk classic recorded live 2008 via thebarmansrant.

5. Para – Roboti

Quirky, catchy Slovakian 80s flavored rock. They’re at Drom 11/17 at 9.

6. Copal – Shadows

One-chord jams don’t get any cooler than this hypnotic, trippy violin/cello Middle Eastern dance-rock vamp. From their excellent new album. They’re at Drom tonight at 10 if you’re in the mood to get out of the rain and dance.

7. Meg Reichardt – Frozen Toe Blues

The Roulette Sister and Chaud Lapin on a rare solo jaunt doing a typically irresistible oldtimey blues number.

8. Jeremy Messersmith – A Boy, a Girl and a Graveyard

This is the Tattooine guy, Elliott Smith style.

9. Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You

We couldn’t let the year go by without at least giving this one a mention. C’mon, you know you love it.

10. Buffalo Springfield – Burned

From the initial reunion show by the 60s psychedelic pop/Americana rock legends – this is with Neil on vocals, live via Leftsetz.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Copal Creates a Haunting Global Dance Mix

Hypnotic string band Copal’s brand-new second album Into the Shadow Garden is for dancing in the dark. Alternately lush and stark, vibrant and mysterious, bouncy and sultry, their violin-fueled grooves mix elements of Middle Eastern, Celtic, Nordic and Mediterranean styles. Violinist Hannah Thiem leads the group alongside cellists Isabel Castellvi and Robin Ryczek, bassist Chris Brown, drummer Karl Grohmann and percussionist Engin Gunaydin (of the NY Gypsy All-Stars). Right off the bat, it starts hypnotically with a drone that gradually fades up – then the drums come in, then a plaintive, Middle Eastern-tinged violin melody and the first of Thiem’s many gripping, suspense-building solos that will recur throughout the album. About halfway through, it becomes clear that this is a one-chord jam. Eventually, a second violin voice is introduced; some terse harmonies follow over the slinky beat, then it fades down to just an oscillating drone, the dumbek drum and violin, and out gracefully from there. In a way, it reduces the essence of this band to its purest form. It’s music that sets a mood, gets your body moving and keeps it going – it’s awfully easy to get lost in this.

There are a couple of vocal tracks. Ether is a slow, dirgelike piece with a spoken-word lyric – in German – that builds to a fullscale string orchestra groove over almost a trip-hop beat and a trance-inducing bass pulse, and then fades down like the first number. Velvet begins with an austere fugue between the violin and cello and then begins to sway on the waves of a catchy descending progression. It builds intensely with dramatic cymbal crashes and a cello bassline, then ends cold when you’d least expect it.

There are three other long pieces here, all of them instrumentals. Ungaro is a playful, bouncy tarantella dance. Cuetara gets a brooding minor-key vamp going over a slinky Levantine-tinged groove, Thiem soaring over a lush bed of strings and stark, staccato cello accents. The album ends as it began with a majestic one-chord jam, the aptly titled Shadows, Thiem’s long Middle Eastern opening taqsim building slowly, picking up other textures along the way, taking a bit of a lull for another long solo and ending on a surprisingly jaunty note. Although pegged as electroacoustic, there isn’t much going on here that’s electro other than the occasional atmospheric keyboard part. Copal are a deliriously fun live band – they play the cd release for this album on Nov 4 at Drom, headlining at 10 PM on a killer triplebill with haunting Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat opening at 8 followed by Middle Eastern-flavored rockers Raquy & the Cavemen at 9.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sameer Gupta’s Namaskar Is Irresistible

Sameer Gupta, the drummer in Marc Cary’s Focus Trio has released the most irresistibly psychedelic album of the year with Namaskar (meaning “respect,” for all the traditions appropriated here), a resoundingly hypnotic attempt to blend Indian sounds with jazz. While Gupta combines a rich variety of styles here – film music, bhangra, trip-hop, carnatic songs and classical ragas – the f-word doesn’t apply. There’s a whole lot of fusing going on, but this isn’t fusion. Instead, it’s a suite of hypnotic, virtuosic grooves on simple, catchy themes, embellished by a mind-warping number of textures that float in and out of the mix. It ranks with the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack and the Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor as a classic of its kind, and though it’s generally a lot more subtle, there are places where it rivals those 60s classics for grin-inducing psychedelic excess: if you can hear this all the way through without smiling, you have a heart of ice. Essentially, this is the Focus Trio, Gupta leading the band on drums and tabla this time out with his longtime bandmate Cary on piano and a variety of electric keyboards, plus the renowned Indian master Anindo Chaterjee on tabla, Ramesh Misra on sarangi fiddle, Srinivas Reddy on sitar, David Boyce on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Prasant Radhakrishnan on carnatic sax, Charith Premawardanam on violin and the Trio’s David Ewell on upright bass.

The album opens with a terse, murky instrumental cover of carnatic song by Ustad Badi Ghulam Ali Khan on a theme of longing and impatience, the band maintaining a distant plaintiveness all the way through. They segue from there into a series of three pieces inspired by Indian film scores from the 50s and 60s, textures shifting in and out of the mix, Cary moving from wah-wah electric piano to woozy synthesizer layers and then echoey Wurlitzer as the rhythm morphs into a soul-funk groove. In places Cary’s terse staccato riffs run through a delay effect, taking on an electric guitar tone. The fifth track, Walk with Me strips the production down to a straight-up jazz piano song that works a catchy, hypnotic hook aggressively and warmly, Cary descending on the following track to the low depths he so excels at, driving it with a subterranean pulse that builds suspense all the way up to its quietly enigmatic conclusion.

From there, they bring back all the textures with tabla, reverb electric piano, what seems like a thousand drum loops (although those could be live – it’s hard to focus very closely on music that shifts shape as artfully and mysteriously as this does) and eventually a balmy sax interlude. And finally, after seven tracks, they reach a full stop. The last three cuts are a traditional sarangi piece imaginatively redone with blippy, futuristic electric keys contrasting vividly with dusky, bucolic tabla, an ebulliently atmospheric, jazzed-up raga and a trance-inducing cover of Miles Davis’ Blue in Green set to an insistent percussion loop and tabla way up in the mix. Gupta and band play the cd release show for this one at Aaron Davis Hall uptown on Oct 19 at 7:30 PM, free w/rsvp.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Radio I Ching Hypnotize Pretty Much Everyone Within Earshot

Radio I Ching put on what could easily be the most psychedelic show of the year so far tonight at Otto’s. Drummer and bandleader Dee Pop earned a lifetime’s worth of cred in free jazz circles for his long-running weekly shows at CB’s Gallery and then briefly at Cake Shop, but he’s as solid a straight-ahead swing player as there is. According to their myspace, the band play “esoteric party music and stoner swing,” which after experiencing them and being able to stumble away afterward, makes a lot of sense. His bandmate Andy Haas (who achieved immortality a long time ago with the sax solo on Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach) began the show on dijeridoo, laying down a swirling series of loops that became a maze and then a vortex from which nothing could escape, including Don Fiorino’s fiery, metalish blues licks and even a crazed series of tapped progressions: walking into the room while that was going on was as mystifying as it was impossible to resist. Bassist Felice Rosser (well-known as the leader of Faith) ran the show, holding down a steady pulse while the drums went off on a brisk walk to parts unknown, Haas layered one mystifying texture after another and Fiorino switched guitars, often leaving a series of loops running through his pedals, sometimes using an electric tenor guitar with a mini-Firebird body.

They ran the set like a single piece, drums or bass leading the segue into one segment after another. Haas went off on a distantly Middle Eastern tangent on soprano sax at one point, Fiorino following apprehensively. The swirling, pulsing groove continued as the drums went doublespeed, Rosser finally leaping in while all the sax and guitar loops spun on what felt like an axis bold as love as Fiorino contributed hallucinatory, acidically echoing lead lines. Speaking of which, after a couple of detours into slinky soul grooves, including one sung by Rosser (Abbey Lincoln? Nina Simone? It’s hard to remember which at this point), they took a brief, barely recognizable stab at Machine Gun, Rosser nailing the bassline with a casual, backbeat precision as Haas and Fiorino added sustained, atmospheric sheets of sound. There was a single detour into what typically characterizes free jazz, Haas throwing out a glissando for the guitar and then Rosser’s vocalese to echo; otherwise, it was mostly a single, long, one-chord groove. Toward the end, they kicked into a two-chord vamp full of what had become unexpectedly welcome circular phrases and a wicked bass groove from Rosser, one of the few times in their set that it was easy to look up, get reoriented and realize that this was not a dream, the kind you never want to wake up from. Unfortunately, there were plenty of other moments like that, not so pleasant: none of them the fault of the band. Fiorino wished aloud for someone to go out to the bar and tell the dj to turn the music down, a wish no doubt echoed by everyone who’d been enjoying the show.

October 7, 2010 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments