Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mehmet Dede of Drom Reflects on the Defiant Relaunch of A Popular Manhattan Nightspot

In these difficult economic times, while some New York clubs desperately pander to the lowest common denominator with jello wrestling, beer pong and other ways of killing time on the Jersey Shore, the elegant New York East Village nightclub Drom at 85 Avenue A between 5th and 6th St. is relaunching itself as an all-purpose world music emporium on April 1. It should come as no surprise that we’re fans of the club: having rated Drom as Best Manhattan Venue of 2009, we watched them slowly gravitate to being more of a restaurant before rededicating themselves to the live music that made the place such a mecca in its first two years, beginning in 2008. Drom’s Director of Programming and Bookings, Mehmet Dede, who along with global promoter Serdar Ilhan is responsible for the makeover, took some time out of his schedule to speak with us. Here’s the scoop:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: It’s no secret that we’re glad to see that Drom is back – we spent a whole lot of time at your place a couple of years ago. What’s behind the decision to make it a fulltime music venue again, other than it’s a lot of fun?

Mehmet Dede: It’s always been a fulltime music venue. About a year after it opened some creative differences arose among owners and the programming became less cohesive – the club lost its soul, in a way. When co-founder and brainchild behind the club, Serdar Ilhan, bought out his partners last summer (with his new partner Ekmel Anda), he not only remodeled the club, but also made necessary programming and management changes to re-brand the venue to fit its motto, “Global Music for a New World.”

LCC: On one hand, what you’re doing makes sense: the Poles want Polish music, the Turks want theirs. Same with the Azeris and the Dominicans and every other great culture in this melting pot of ours. So there should be a consistent market for all of that. Yet no club dedicated to “world music,” that is, music that represents pretty much every culture, has ever managed to stay in business in New York. Are you on to something that nobody else is?

MD: We tend to think of “world music” as music that brings together communities. What I think sets Drom apart is that it is open to sounds from more countries, communities and genres than other clubs: You can hear Russian space-age pop music, an alt country band and traditional Greek music all within the same day, at times here.

LCC: Does the grand reopening involve the sound system, or the decor? Since day one, you’ve been one of the best-sounding rooms in town – I hope that won’t change…

MD: We’ve enhanced the sound system, added new gear to our technical inventory and enlarged the stage area. We’ve also painted the floor, added new artwork to the walls, and new furniture as well. The biggest change is the addition of a big chandelier, which makes you feel like you’re listening to the artist in your living room.

LCC: You and Serdar use the club as home base for your frequent global music festivals, whether in Central Park, at the UN or the Town Hall among other venues. The latest kicks off with a mammoth free concert in Central Park on Friday, June 17 with legendary Turkish songwriter/filmmaker Zulfu Livaneli. Will you continue promoting big events like that one?

MD: Yes. Serdar and I started off as promoters, and over time added producing festivals and running a nightclub to the list. Today, while we continue to produce one-off shows in and around town, we wanted to bring our experience in doing these events to a live music hall.

LCC: Your schedule for April is as eclectic as anybody could want. Palestinian-American songwriter Stephan Said continues his monthly residency; you also have jazz, Turkish music, a terrific classical pianist playing her cd release show, Turku’s hypnotic Silk Road songs on the 16th, and diverse Middle Eastern sounds with Duo Jalal on the 27th, just to name a few events. Anything else that we should know about?

MD: I would add to that list the Beatrockers & Hardknockers event on April 23rd – the ultimate showcase of the beatbox artform. Poum Tchack, a sextet from the South of France, who are elegant and classy, will play on April 30th. Last but not least, new-soul-comer Chris Turner will play at Drom in April.

LCC: Maybe this isn’t your department – or maybe it is – but I noticed that while pretty much every other restaurant out there has raised their prices, Drom’s are lower than they were last year. And the menu is simplified. What’s up with that? Will you still have that mezze [appetizer] plate that I love so much?

MD: We have simplified the menu because we have a better idea now of what people eat when they attend a concert at our venue. We are primarily a live music hall:  to complement that, we’ve added easy-to-eat main courses, bar food and finger food to the menu. Don’t worry, your fave appetizers will remain on the menu!

LCC: Is there a reason why your place is so pleasant and so many other clubs aren’t? I mean, when I go to Arlene Grocery, the crackhead who does the door acts like she wants to rip my head off. If I want a decent seat anywhere near the stage at City Winery, I have to show up super early. Yet when I come to your place, it’s dark and cozy, everybody’s friendly and relaxed, I can always manage to find a spot somewhere to sit if I’m hungry and I never start to feel like going up and strangling the sound guy. Does one have to be Turkish or Bulgarian to run a club that doesn’t make the customers feel like they’re in a concentration camp?

MD (laughs): Maybe it’s the Turkish hospitality?!

Advertisements

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Dec. 10, a Global Dance Party with Real Live Music – Who Knew?

A lot of people know about this, actually – but there’s always room for more. Scott Kettner and Mehmet Dede are the brain trust behind the frequent Is America Part of the World? global dance parties around New York. For awhile they did them at the Brooklyn Yard; this time out they’re at Littlefield. Scott plays drums in the excellent, absurdly eclectic Brazilian-flavored Nation Beat; Mehmet holds down a corner of the Drom nightclub empire and produces music festivals including the NY Gypsy Festival. Here’s their take on their next show, Friday, December 10:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: The club’s going to keep the floor open, people will be dancing just as they usually do at your shows, right?

Mehmet Dede: Yes, absolutely. Our series is about the heart and mind as well as the feet – it’s a global party. Dancing and having fun is an important element for us.

LCC: All this is happening Friday, December 10 at Littlefield, showtime says 8 PM, is that actually the time the bands start?

MD: Doors are at 8 PM; the first band, Tall Tall Trees, will go on at 9. After midnight we’ll continue with DJ Turnmix, who is an excellent dj from Barcelona. Did I say this is a global dance party?

LCC: What’s the deal with tickets? Thirteen bucks, that’s about four dollars a band…

MD: Yes, we wanted to keep the ticket prices down to give people more for their money. In this economy, I think people will appreciate it.

LCC: Let’s see if I got this right, first band is Tall Tall Trees, who are a very funny, wry sort of acoustic Americana jam band with banjo and guitars and upright bass. True?

MD: That’s a pretty good description. Scott?

Scott Kettner: Yes, they’ll be the first band. They are a really high energy band that take Americana and rockabilly to a whole new level. I think they are using electric bass now.

LCC: The second act is Brooklyn Qawwali Party, at ten, right? I’m personally not a fan of qawwali music so I was very surprised to see that these guys are a funk band, from what I’ve seen on youtube they’ve got about 50 people in the band and they really rock the party. Do they also do the hypnotic sufi chanting stuff?

MD: It’s not exactly 50 people, but yes they are a crowded band, and they love to jam onstage. Some songs can easily top 10 minutes. They’re both hypnotic and transcendental, but also groovy and danceable. They are a party band with a spiritual vibe. It’s a joy to see them on stage.

LCC: Scott, I have a bit of an inside track on your band Nation Beat because I’ve seen you a bunch of times – with Liliana Araujo your Brazilian chanteuse, and with Jesse Lenat the country crooner for example. You play country, and Brazilian styles, and funk, and soul, and I’ve even seen you go into a surf groove. Do you have a favorite of all these styles, and what is it?

SK: My favorite is when all of this music blends and there is not a “style.” That’s what really gets me off about drumming and music…when it can’t be defined. I love hearing a band play and walking out wondering what the hell it was. That’s partly the purpose of this festival, to bring together groups who are blurring the lines of genre and just pulling together the music they love to create a sound that isn’t contrived. When I was in high school I played in a surf punk band called Liquid Image and also played in some local funk and blues bands. Then I moved to NYC to study jazz and developed a passion for Brazilian music. So when I sit behind the drums or compose a song I’m always searching for a way to bring all of these musical experiences together.

LCC: A surf drummer: I knew it. Very very cool, as you probably know we are huge surf music fans here. Now out of all those Brazilian genres you play, what would you say is your specialty? Forro? Frevo? What does Nation Beat bring to it that’s original, that makes it all yours?

SK: I really love maracatu and forró. I moved to Brazil specifically to study maracatu back in 2000 and have developed a very deep relationship with the music and culture of this rhythm. Nation Beat is a collaboration between Brazil and the US. We’re a band that seeks the similarities between the music and culture of the northeast of Brazil and the southern United States. We play a lot of rhythms from the northeast of Brazil; maracatu, forró, coco, cirando and frevo, all music that Liliana Araujo grew up listening to. When her and I get together we bring our musical backgrounds to the table and the result is Nation Beat. This is what makes it OUR music, the fact that we’re not trying to imitate a style but rather bring our musical backgrounds together to create OUR own music.

LCC: Is it ok if I ask some hard questions now? For example, how effectively do you think “Is America Part of the World?” comes across? What I mean is that the idea is pretty funny if you think about it – obviously, America is part of the world, we’ve got just as much a right to make “world music” as anybody else. But is it good branding? Something people are going to remember?

SK: I think it’s a great name…thanks for the idea! [grin]

LCC: At this point in history, is Brooklyn really part of the world? You’re playing a club in Gowanus where there are all these hideous gentrifier condo buildings sprouting up amidst the warehouses, rents are rising, destroying the neighborhood. How would you respond to a cynic who might say something like, “These guys are just a bunch of rich white kids ripping off styles from around the world, if they really cared about the world they’d bring in a real qawwali band?”

SK: First I’d say I’m not rich and not even close to it and I think I can speak for all of the musicians on the event. Second I’d say if all you really want to hear a “real” qawwali band you probably won’t come to our festival and probably shouldn’t. The whole point of this festival is to bring together bands who are interpreting the music that they have a passion for. We’re searching for the point of convergence where our musical backgrounds meet with our musical passions. That’s it. If you think about the history of all music in the new world; jazz, blues, salsa, merengue, samba, maracatu, rock and roll, etcetera, you will not be able to define this music without realizing the fact that it took many cultures, many people coming together and mixing their musical and cultural backgrounds. None of this music would exist if it weren’t for Europeans, indigenous and African people being thrown into a turbulent culture where they had to find common ground to communicate together with music. So what’s the difference if we choose to do the same thing today?

LCC: I’m always impressed with how diverse the crowds are at your shows: at least they’re part of the world. Beyond the usual Bushwick blogs, how do you get the word out about them? Or is it a word of mouth thing, either you know or you don’t?

SK: I send out a big newsletter every month announcing our gigs and we also do the social networking song and dance. There’s a community of people who are really interested in what we’re doing so they just keep tuned in to what we’re up to.

LCC: How’d you end up at Littlefield this time? I like the place a lot – the sound is good and there’s none of the disrespect you get on the Lower East Side for example…

SK: My partner Mehmet and I checked out the club and really liked the vibe of the people and the room. It also has a great sound.

LCC: After this, when’s the next show and who’s on it?

SK: This will be Nation Beat’s last show in town until 2011. I have a brass band playing forró music on December 14th at Barbes.

Is America Part of the World starts at 9 on Friday, December 10 with Tall Tall Trees, Brooklyn Qawwali Party at 10 and Nation Beat at 11 at Littlefield, 622 Degraw St. (3rd/4th Aves.) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, easy to get to from the F or R trains. Tickets are $13 at the door and will probably sell out: early arrival is advised.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Zlatne Uste and Raya Brass Band at Drom, NYC 6/13/09

Big party at Dracula’s castle last night, were you there? Alone in a darkened room, The Count? Not exactly. While not quite the mobscene that the NY Gypsy Festival’s show at le Poisson Rouge was last month, the big Balkan brass band concert last night was well-attended and deliriously fun. It was something of a juxtaposition of the old guard and the young lions of the thriving but still largely under-the-radar New York Balkan underground. The dancing started before the bands did, the dj spinning an auspiciously diverse, pan-global mix of Mehanata-style stuff while a line formed and circled the room, growing longer by the minute. Then Zlatne Uste took the stage. The nine-piece Balkan brass juggernaut – four horns, trumpet, tuba, drum and two saxes – were the first of the New York Balkan brass bands, dating from way back in 1983. Their name means “golden lips,” definitely a boast, but they back it up. “Most of us are older than you are,” their trumpeter somewhat proudly told the crowd. A guy in the crowd kept yelling for them to play his favorite song, the Goran Bregovic hit Kalasjnikov. “Not now!” a fellow partyer grinningly advised. “They always do that later.”

They opened with their darkest number of the night, basically a murky two-chord chromatic dance vamp and then another that was even simpler, serving as a chassis for some darkly intense soloing from the trumpet and sax. Most of the songs were instrumentals, although several band members sang on the vocal numbers, sometimes sharing a line or trading off.  A few were marked by a noticeable shift, opening somewhat wary, the staccato pulse of the horns then growing bouncier and more carefree. As their long, exuberant set went on, the sea of dancers grew, through a bouncy, happy number in 4/4, a bracingly soulful cocek dance and several with far trickier, syncopated rhythms that didn’t phase the dancers a bit. One of the guys in the band sang a drinking song (rakia, the potent Balkan apple brandy featured prominently). The crowd – a diverse mix of expats and Americans – was clearly psyched to hear what were obviously some old favorites. As predicted, they finally did Kalasjnikov, a lickety-split vocal number, one of the horn players leading the crowd in an exuberant “one, two, three, OPA!” to wind up the chorus.

After a lengthy break, Raya Brass Band came out of the back room and secured a spot on the floor, quickly encircled by not one but two lines of dancers. There’s been a buzz about this band lately and it’s well-deserved. Where Zlatne Uste got the party going, these guys took it up a notch. Their sound is looser, far darker and they threaten to fly off the hinges at any second: this band is all about adrenaline, taking the intensity as high as it can go and then adding something on top of that. Clarinetist and sax player Greg Squared – also of the equally intense, somewhat more diverse Ansambl Mastika – is a pyrotechnic player in the Ivo Papasov mold, delivering an endless series of long, careening, wildly flurrying clarinet solos packed with lightning-fast melismas. On the sax, he backed off only a little. Yet it was his achingly terse, minimalist clarinet solo toward the end of the set that was the most intense of all. Trumpeter Ben Syversen is a kindred spirit, blazing through the songs’ eerie Middle Eastern scales while accordionist Matthew Fass (also of Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar) held things together as much as he could, ominously and atmospherically. Sometimes the band would all blast through the same repetitive riff as an ensemble, otherwise barrelling along with the fat, undulating groove of the tuba and drum as trumpet, sax or clarinet cut loose, the songs going on for minutes on end without respite. Eventually, two of the women from the Brooklyn Balkan a-capella quartet Black Sea Hotel (who have a sensationally good debut album just out) joined in and belted a few choruses

By 2 AM, the drunk munchies were kicking in, and the kitchen was still serving food. By the way, these NY Gypsy Festival events are a surefire way to get away from tourists and trendoids. Tourists, if they knew this stuff existed, would think it’s weird and scary (a lot of it is); trendoids, if they knew anything about it, would ridicule it as declasse. There’s nothing more populist than when the band is on the dancefloor and either you’re in the band or you’re unable to escape being drawn into the joyous vortex of dancers around them.

Raya Brass Band is at Mehanata on 6/25 at 9; the 6/27 Turkish Woodstock at Central Park Summerstage at 3 featuring Mazhar-Fuat-Özkan, Painted on Water with Sertab Erener & Demir Demirkan plus the NY Gypsy All-Stars with iconic clarinetist Hüsnü Senlendirici is not to be missed, and afterward the organizers have kept things going with an afterparty at City Winery, Senlendirici playing with the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and more from the Gypsy All-Stars. Is this turning out to be a good summer or what?

June 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Megitza Quartet at Drom, NYC 1/28/09

Wednesday’s show by the genre-blending Chicago group the Megitza Quartet at Drom matched passionate intensity with innovation, roaring through an impressively varied series of arrangements incorporating elements of Balkan, Brazilian, tango and flamenco music. Frontwoman/bassist Malgorzata Babiarz used every bit of mystery she could summon from her dark contralto, with a subtlety that became all the more striking on the few occasions she reached back, turned up the volume and wailed. Acoustic guitarist Andreas Kapsalis showed off a fiery, lightning-fast, flamenco-inflected attack contrasting with accordionist Marek Lichota’s fluidly melodic runs while drummer Jamie Gallagher hung tastefully in the background, then rose to nail several split-second crescendos without a millisecond to spare.

 

They kicked off the set with a minor-key bossa nova number that morphed in a second into a rousing Balkan dance, Kapsalis pounding on the body of his guitar and delivering lickety-split yet surgically incisive flamenco fills. Their next song was a catchy dance tune that maintained the flamenco feel, like the Gipsy Kings for a more sophisticated (or more indigenous) audience. Babiarz then put down her bass as the band brought it down for a rather subdued, wistful take of the title track from their new cd Boleritza, building to one of the few dramatic vocal crescendos she took all night.

 

The most spectacular song of the night was a Kapsalis original, an open-tuned guitar instrumental titled Ethnic Cleansing. Chopping his chords furiously for a hypnotic, ringing effect, he built the song to a ferocious three-chord descending progression on the verse which was then interrupted by an equally hypnotic drum interlude. From there the band took it back for a long return trip through the verse and then that amazing chorus again. The crowd didn’t know what hit them.

 

Then Babiarz picked up her bass again for another dance number, vocalese swirling and blending with Lichota’s accordion. They breezed into a slinky, accordion-driven musette-inflected number that suddenly went doublespeed, and closed with a plaintive Polish folksong  – “This comes from the mountains where I come from,” Babiarz told the audience – that started rustic and haunting before a seemingly endless series of permutations, rising and falling without warning, fueled by a catchy bass hook played on the guitar. The band is currently on tour: Chicago fans can look forward to a free show on Feb 27 at the Chicago Cultural Center.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Brazz Tree, Metro Strings and Alessandra Belloni & I Giuliari di Piazza at Drom, NYC 1/12/09

The APAP annual shindig AKA the booking agents’ convention usually creates a decent handful of extra-interesting double and triplebills around town, and this was one of them, starting out funky and fun and ending up completely hypnotic. The star of the early evening was violinist/songwriter Mazz Swift, who played with both opening act Brazz Tree as well as Metro Strings, the quintet who followed, and showed off the rare kind of talent that will probably outlast both bands. A gifted, fiery violinist with a casually soulful vocal delivery, her strongest suit is her tersely crystallized songwriting and particularly her lyrics. Randi Russo is the most obvious comparison, in spirit if not stylistically: the two share a gift for a savage, offhandedly apt turn of phrase and a defiant, nonconformist sensibility. You’ll be hearing a lot more about her in less obscure corners than this.

 

In a too-brief set with Brazz Tree, she was accompanied by a talented acoustic guitarist and a drummer who played one of those electrified wooden drum boxes that were all the rage about ten years ago and strikingly replicate the sound of a fullsize kit. Their first song, Out of Time sauntered along on a haunting Middle Eastern inflected riff. Then the guitarist artfully lay down a loop and they continued in a similar vein with a new one titled Everyone Will Be a Star, a snide commentary on reality tv and the cult of celebrity. The rest of the show was a mixed bag: on several occasions, the guitarist had the chance to go for the jugular and really nail a phrase or bring a chorus to redline but each time he backed away into generic Dave Matthews-esque open chords. That may resonate with the hacky sack crowd now, but when Dave finally hangs up his guitar and goes off on the hacky sack senior tour, those cliches won’t cut it anymore. The guy obviously has the chops to do more, as he proved throughout the set and on the trio’s closing song, a darkly funny hard-times anthem with a wickedly catchy, upbeat chorus. They’re off on the college circuit at the moment, with a stop back here at the National Underground at 11 on Jan 31.

 

Metro Strings seem to want to go in the same direction as the Turtle Island String Quartet (they augment theirs with a drummer) but don’t yet have the material. Of their brief seven-song set, only a Swift composition, a bouncy yet reflective number perhaps titled Shine On, stood out from the group’s soporific if cerebrally orchestrated pop and bombastic yet emotionless ELP-inflected prog rock.

 

Noted Italian percussionist/singer Alessandra Belloni and her all-female trio of dancer/singer/percussionists I Giuliari di Piazza were a striking contrast with the ornate feel of the previous two acts: one wouldn’t think that simply vocals and percussion would be enough to hold an audience for a full forty-five minutes, but they did that and then some. As the lights onstage went down, it was as if the crowd had been transported to a secret clearing somewhere in the Piemonte to witness some wonderfully obscure, mystical ritual. Alternating between high, eerie incantations and earthy folk melodies and playing a small museum’s worth of percussion instruments, they wove a sonic web not unlike another very popular vocal group, le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. As head spell-caster, Belloni was so wrapped up in the music herself that she’d back off the microphone, eager to launch into the next song, even as she announced what it would be. In addition to melodies from various parts of Italy as well as Brazil and a couple of impressive solo turns from band members, their dancer whirled through the club, finally dragging a couple of audience members out on the floor as the drums and voices wailed high overhead. It was a performance that was as physically gripping as it was sonically captivating, even psychedelic. Belloni will no doubt be back in New York before long; watch this space.

 

 

January 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Chicana Gypsy Project at Drom, NYC 1/11/09

Casualties of global warming, the band had spent the previous two nights in the Madrid airport courtesy of an unexpected snowstorm. They touched down at Kennedy with little time to spare before the show, sans baggage and instruments. In a stroke of true class, the management at Drom rushed to rent instruments (the upright bass, violin, two guitars and drums must have cost the club a bundle). To the band’s credit, they shook off the fatigue and, in their American debut, played a rousing, inspired show. The Chicana Gypsy Project’s shtick is gypsy versions of pop songs from both American and latin music. Singer/dancer Maria Bermudez told the crowd that she’d made it “from the barrio of Los Angeles to the barrio of Santiago,” which made sense, given what was on the program. Whether twirling and providing clickety-clack rhythm with her tap shoes or singing  in a casual, soul-inflected style with just the hint of grit, she made a compelling presence in front of the band. Behind her were two men singing backup and clapping along furiously, along with acoustic and electric guitar and a tasteful acoustic rhythm section. Overall, the feel was like a hipper version of the Gipsy Kings.

After a big, dramatic dance intro, the band brought it down with Summertime, then brought it back up again after the first verse, alternating fiery flamenco flourishes with torchy blues. Moondance was pretty straight up, with a soulful, unadorned blues solo from the electric guitarist. The violinist then came up to join the band on the jazz number Think of Me, adding an eerie edge in contrast with the smoothness of the melody as the band veered from tango to swing and then back again.

George Benson’s This Masquerade was faster and bluesier than the original, with nice solos from the acoustic guitar and violin. Round Midnight was the vocal version, given an almost southwestern gothic feel early on with tremolo guitar before morphing into a fiery flamenco dance. A couple of ranchera ballads alternated similarly between anticipation and gusto. The best song of the night was their closer, an original, a rousing rock en Espanol stomp capped by a scorchingly frenetic yet tastefully bluesy electric guitar solo. For a laugh, they segued briefly into Tequila, complete with vocals. With a rare combination of accessibility and imagination, this band has a high ceiling as a touring act here in the states. One suspects they may be back soon, watch this space.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Haale at Drom, NYC 10/25/08

This was the drums-and-cello set: that Bronx-born Persian-American rocker Haale Gafori and her band could still be as rivertingly powerful as they were under the circumstances speaks volumes. Drom is typically one of New York’s best-sounding rooms, and throughout their Saturday night show, Haale’s vocals, Brent Arnold’s cello and Matt Kilmer’s percussion were crystal-clear in the mix. Trouble was, her guitar was almost totally inaudible. Haale’s music makes frequent use of open tunings and big washes of sound that ring out for what feels like minutes on end, with many of the songs building to ecstatic crescendos. Good thing the cello was so high in the mix, in fact so loud that there were overtones flying from the strings, otherwise this would have been for all intents and purposes a hip-hop show.

 

But the material and Haale’s voice simply refused to be denied. The sound was dark, saturnine and all-enveloping, something akin to an amalgam of smoldering, early PJ Harvey, fiery electric Randi Russo, and Iranian traditional song. “We just spent a week in Brazil,” she told the crowd. “It was like silk…I’ve never heard such a tapestry of birds and insects.” Beginning in Persian, switching to English and then back again, she was a fearless force, her soulful alto soaring over Arnold’s dark, atmospheric washes as Kilmer played a neat three-on-four beat. The band came out swinging with two big anthems from their new, aptly titled cd No Ceiling, eventually bringing it down a bit with the tongue-in-cheek yet similarly eerie Off-Duty Fortune Teller. Haale then introduced the trance-rocker Paratrooper by explaining that when Jimi Hendrix was in the Army, he’d listen to the drone of the airplane engine, vowing to figure out how to get that same sound out of his guitar.

 

Of the other songs in the set, Home Again and the title track to the new cd had the most straightforward rock feel, by contrast to the hypnotic slow burn of the rest of the material. The trio closed with the fiery epic Ay Dar Shekasteh, Kilmer capping the crescendos with a massive splash on the gong that coiled serpent-like above his kit.

 

It would have been nice to stick around to hear Iranian hip-hop artist Yas and then Brooklyn reggae/dancehall outfit Jah Dan & Noble Society, but they had a hard act to follow, and there was another stop on the night’s agenda.

 

 

 

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Erkan Ogur and Ismail Hakki Demircioglu with the Dunya Ensemble at Drom, NYC 10/11/08

If looks could kill, the bar along the club’s back wall would have been littered with lifeless bodies. One of the Boston-based Turkish traditional group the Dunya Ensemble’s percussionists cast a contemptuous glare at the crowd in the back who wouldn’t stop talking. Before the show, he’d made an entreaty to the sold-out crowd: “This music comes from silence and is best enjoyed in silence,” he explained poetically. Perhaps the majority of the audience, pressing toward the stage, agreed enthusiastically. In the back, some clearly did not. This was the closing party for the most recent Turkish Film Festival and since pretty much everybody had been sitting and watching in silence for the better part of the day, there was a faction here who weren’t up for standing in silence for another hour, or maybe another minute. Which on one level makes perfect sense, although it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to talk through a set of music as otherworldly beautiful as the group onstage were playing. The six musicians – the highly regarded Erkan Ogur and Ismail Hakki Demircioglu each playing lute, accompanied by saz (a three-stringed Turkish instrument that sounds much like the Persian tar), harp and two percussionists – ran through a mix of sacred and secular songs imbued equally with longing and riveting beauty.

 

Everyone except the harpist sang, a chorus of powerful, soulful baritones who would murmur, low and intense and then leap to a passionate crescendo. When all the stringed instruments were going at full volume, the blend of jangly, plinking textures was as bracing as it was hypnotic. Traditional Turkish music frequently uses the Arab scale, but not always, making frequent use of fifths and octaves which, while neither major nor minor, often create a forest of eerie overtones. It was those tonalities ringing quietly in the excellent sound mix that imbued a considerable portion of the music with a haunting, ethereal feel. A couple of numbers featured just a single lute backed by percussion and a chorus of voices; another early in the set had a beautifully rustic, pastoral feel. The group’s two best songs were stately, slowly crescendoing, hypnotic anthems, the first built on a deliberate, three-chord descending progression that hit a potent crescendo as the chorus kicked in. Like a considerable amount of music from the Middle East, much of the group’s material featured extended introductions, whether vocal or instrumental, giving each player the chance to solo. By the end of the night, the group (along with many people in the crowd gathered by the stage) had managed more or less to shush the crowd at the bar, in fact drawing many of them in to see what their fellow concertgoers had found so captivating.

October 12, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment