Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Smallz and Dwight & Nicole Live at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/24/08

The game plan was high-concept:  to review two New York sirens at the absolute peak of their powers. But like so many high concepts it backfired, courtesy of a lack of contingency for late trains, and the fact that Amanda Thorpe had started her solo set on time and didn’t play for very long. At the end, she indulged the audience with a request, the title track to her new cd Songs from Union Square – which you’ll be reading about, very soon – and held the audience in the palm of her hand, as usual. She hadn’t rehearsed the song for this show, and when she came to the chorus, she stopped playing and did it a-capella. Just hearing that soaring, starkly emotional voice by itself made the whole ordeal of getting to the club worthwhile.

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Smallz (which may be a shortlived name, considering that Edmonton punks the Smalls are something of a legend in the Great White North) was next. Gertler – whose song Edible Restaurant, the title track to her new cd, was NPR’s song of the day last week – is nothing if not imaginative, and this unit is clearly her fun project. It gives her a chance to be as devious as she can be, which is extremely. Sharing the stage were Groove Collective bassist Jonathan Maron, who plays his instrument like a great lead guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist Rob DiPietro who doubled on drums and guitar, sometimes playing both at once, guitar in hand and foot on his kick pedal. Maron stole the show tonight with several solos, one which ran for about five minutes during an instrumental late in the set, filled with chords, bent notes and finally a searing, incisive run where he hit his octave and distortion pedals to perfectly recreate a guitar sound. From what they played tonight, DiPietro’s thing appears to be ruminative, slightly jazz-tinged pop songs (which he played on guitar). With tongue planted firmly in cheek and a frequent smirk on her face, Gertler was clearly reveling in the chance to go wild with her space echo effect and play some real funk, neither of which she gets to do much in her regular band, which has been off on a terrifically authentic oldtimey tangent lately. They closed with a delightful number driven by Gertler octaves which could have been a spot-on parody of early 80s synth new wave, or it could have been an actual hit from the era: imagine Kim Wilde’s Kids in America with some actual substance and a real long, psychedelic outro. Maron went up and down on his octave pedal for a siren effect at the end. Shows like this bring back fond memories of the days when there was a pot dealer on every corner of Avenue C, from Houston up to 14th. With this band, there was no need for drugs: they were the drug. Let’s hope they keep this unit together and find a name that sticks.

Add Dwight & Nicole to your list of must-see acts: if you like real, passionate, old-fashioned soul music that works on your mind as much as your heart, you owe it to yourself to discover them. The obvious comparison is Ike & Tina Turner, but beyond the fact that the duo is a brilliant guitarist and equally brilliant soul singer, it doesn’t go any further than that. Tastefully and subtly fingerpicking his Gibson Flying V guitar, Dwight Ritcher showed off his impeccable, purist feel for vintage soul and blues, which Nelson shares. With a voice like maple sugar, sweet but crystal clear, her subtle phrasing reveals her jazz background. Their myspace page likens them to Ella and Jimmy Rushing: it would be interesting to hear them dive into that repertoire (they have a Blue Note show coming up in the spring – why not?). Dimes to dollars they’ll nail it. Tonight they played an absolutely riveting set of mostly originals. Their best song of the night, Johnny Gets High – basically a one-chord vamp that sounded straight out of the Bill Withers songbook – slowly built tension until an explosion of gorgeous harmonies on the verse, chronicling the tribulations of a guy who wants to keep his life together but can’t resist the pipe, or the needle, or whatever it is he does. A little later they did a completely unselfconsciously romantic take on the old Slim Harpo classic Hip Shake, Ritcher’s nimble, walking bass contrasting with Nelson’s warm, summery Sunday afternoon vocals. Nelson’s tribute to her grandmother, an impatient soul who just wanted to get off Staten Island and get away, was a honeyed, straight-up pop song. They closed with another original that evoked Little Wing, Nelson crooning over Ritcher’s gentle, sparsely Hendrixian chordal work. The two were followed by Gary Wright, who thankfully didn’t do Dream Weaver (sorry, Gary, we know you hear this all the time). Of course, it wasn’t the Spooky Tooth guy: this Wright is infinitely better, a lefty guitarist who contributed tasty blues licks on a Dwight and Nicole song and later did a set of his own, solo, eventually running through a long cover of what is arguably Bob Marley’s best song, Burning and Looting, a spot-on critique of how the persecuted beat up on each other rather than taking out their frustrations on those who persecute them. Ritcher played piano on that one, revealing that roots reggae is possibly the only style of music he doesn’t know like the back of his hand. Dwight & Nicole will be at Banjo Jim’s starting around 9 every Thursday, giving them a chance to build up the fan base here that they so much deserve.

January 26, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Dwight & Nicole and Howard Fishman at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/11/08

Dwight & Nicole took the night from shithouse to penthouse (a putrid, suburban Lite FM act had preceded them) in the span of seconds. A cynic might consider them a lounge act, but a closer listen reveals them to be the real thing, a completely authentic, 1960s style soul act. Dwight Ritcher was battling a nasty cold, but he still managed to nail his harmonies and play his Flying V guitar with a virtuosic, purist touch, very reminiscent of Steve Cropper. Nicole Nelson is the real deal, a genuine soul singer with a subtle, jazzy touch, stylistically evocative of Sharon Jones at her gentlest, or Dinah Washington in straight-ahead mode. Tonight she didn’t use any melisma, and hardly any vibrato, and held back from belting until she really needed to go to the well. When she did, it was spine-tingling. Ritcher and Nelson have the kind of intuitive chemistry that comes with toiling night after night in dives of all kinds, and it was clear that she was making up a lot of her lyrics on the spot. Yet she sang them as if she’d been living in them her whole life. Exuberance, joy, sadness, heartbreak: every emotion she tackled, she nailed them all.

The duo also have a deep feel for the blues. They recast Slim Harpo’s Hip Shake as a slinky, seductive soul number, and did a spot-on version of the Muddy Waters classic Honeybee. The most delightful thing about the original is the counterintuitive, staccato way Waters used his low E string to punctuate the phrases. Ritcher obviously knows the song well: his playful, purist take would have made Muddy proud. At the end of the night (the duo played between the other bands’ sets and then again after pretty much everybody had left), Ritcher moved to piano and, after some urging, Nelson picked up his guitar. She ought to play more: with her impeccable sense of melody and good taste, one can only imagine how good she’d sound if she could work up a few songs, or a few vamps.

Blues guitarist Howard Fishman got his start in New York busking on the Bedford Avenue L train platform. He was the first artist to have a weekly residency at Pete’s Candy Store, and released two excellent albums of original songs (the second of which actually made our top 20 list a few years ago, in a former incarnation). He built up quite a following, and then, completely without warning, he turned into Dave Matthews. And immediately fell off the face of the earth. He’s back, if not exactly humbled, tonight accompanied by a first-rate crew including Roland Satterwhite on violin, Ian Riggs on upright bass and a superb trombone player who stole the show with his soaring, crescendoing solos. Fishman mixed older material with a few covers, including a subtle and soulful version of the brilliant Willard Robison obscurity Where Are You. Having left the rock and the jam-band stuff behind, he’s taken on a little bit of a gypsy edge in his chordal attack, giving his material considerable added bite. Each of the supporting cast took a turn on vocals, Satterwhite impressing the most with a Chet Baker-style take on Pennies from Heaven to close the set.

Fishman’s stage persona is indifferent, sometimes abrasive, qualities which can be admirable for a punk performer (John Lydon made a thirty-year career out of acting that way), but that could make it more difficult for someone more reliant on audience rapport. Which might explain why Fishman was at Banjo Jim’s tonight instead of headlining the Gershwin Hotel as he triumphantly did in his first incarnation as a bluesman. He still sings like your older uncle who only shows up for birthdays and seders, but the lyrical wit and understated, purist musical sensibility that were part and parcel of his earlier work are back and in full effect. As good as it is to be able to reinvent yourself, it’s just as useful to be able to return to a previous incarnation, especially as captivating as Fishman used to be and has become again.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment