Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Hot Club of Detroit Gets to the Junction At Full Speed

Prime movers in the gypsy jazz resurgence, the Hot Club of Detroit’s new album, Junction, features a somewhat revamped lineup since bassist Andrew Kratzat suffered a near-fatal car accident last year. But there’s good news on all fronts: Kratzat and his fiancee continue on their road to recovery, and the band found a capable replacement in Shawn Conley. Otherwise, the original core of accordionist Julien Labro and guitarists Evan Perri and Paul Brady is back, joined this time out by reedmen Jon Irabagon and Andrew Bishop plus chanteuse Cyrille Aimee, with whom they’ve toured extensively. Irabagon’s wit and supersonic chops, Bishop’s eclecticism and ironclad sense of melody and Aimee’s purist charm each contribute to the diversity of the songs here. In the spirit of the band’s previous efforts, this album imaginatively blends jaunty grooves with ideas from all over the musical spectrum, continuing to push beyond traditional gypsy jazz.

That’s apparent right off the bat with a funky Irabagon composition, Goodbye Mr. Anderson (a Matrix reference, in case you might be wondering). It’s basically a two-chord jam with a catchy turnaround: spiraling solos from Labro’s accordion and Perri’s electric guitar set up an even more blistering, adrenalizing one from the composer himself.

They follow that with Song for Gabriel, the first of several Perri/Labro co-writes, bouncy and lyrical with some rich alto sax/accordion harmonies. Aimee sings La Foule over tricky, syncopated gypsy jazz: it’s a mouthful, and rather than trying to outdo Piaf, Aimee takes it in a much more understated direction, Perri adding an aptly wistful, expansive acoustic guitar solo.

An upbeat tune simply titled Hey! makes a launching pad for a wildfire cutting contest between Irabagon and Bishop: after a roller-coaster ride of doublestops, trills, unexpected hesitations and gritty microtones, they take it down to a cool accordion/bass/guitar pulse. Chutzpah, a John Zorn homage, kicks off with a tongue-in-cheek improvisational intro and then adds a subtle klezmer tinge, Irabagon springboarding off it with microtonal alto sax pyrotechnics. Then they resurrect a rare Django mass (which Reinhardt left unfinished), Messe Gitane, accordion taking the rather morose role of the church organ, Perri’s guitar eventually taking it into warmer terrain and then handing off to Bishop’s crystalline clarinet.

Django Mort, a setting of a Jean Cocteau poem is delivered very low-key by Aimee over a slow, stately sway. The cinematic, pensively swaying title track, with its folk-rock tinges and plaintive accordion, reminds of Montreal eclecticists Sagapool. The most memorable of all the tracks here, Midnight in Detroit is over too soon in just over a couple of minutes, Labro’s Balkan swirls lighting up the guitars’ nocturnal backdrop.

There’s also a George Shearing homage done as an offcenter, pensive ballad; the deliciously original Puck Bunny, a wry mix of country blues,gypsy swing and jump blues that evokes the Microscopic Septet’s take on Thelonious Monk; a vocal take on Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman that far surpasses a similar version by [who???] which was a rock radio hit in the 70s; and a Phish cover which transcends the original simply by not being an embarrassment. It’s out now on Mack Avenue.

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August 19, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/14/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Friday’s is #746:

Edith Piaf – 65 Titres Originaux

The prototypical noir cabaret singer, tiny but tough, brassy but brittle, Edith Piaf earned the right to sound world-weary by the time she’d hit her teens. Brought up in a whorehouse, she may or may not have been a child prostitute, might have hired the hitman who killed a guy who wanted to pimp her out, lived hard and died young when all the booze and drugs caught up with her. In between she became the voice of a people – and she did it her way, defying convention. As a singer, she never marketed herself as a sex object, and she wrote many of her own lyrics – the ring of authenticity in all those tales of street urchindom is no affectation. Among the thousands of Piaf collections out there, we picked this three-disc reissue from a few years ago because it has so many songs, and most of them date from her peak period in the mid-thirties through the fifties. La Vie en Rose is the one that everybody knows, and by comparison to her other stuff at least, it’s schlock. Instead, try the bitter Milord, the anguish of La Foule (The Crowd, which is shockingly not on this album), the brooding, suspenseful Padam Padam or the downright creepy L’Accordeoniste. The rest of the songs range from gypsy jazz (Les Momes de la Cloche/Kids in the Street), to lyrically rich, wistful ballads (Le Disque Use/Used Record); ragtime (Un Refrain Courait Dans la Rue/There’s a Rumor Going Around); lush orchestrated tours de force (Je M’en Fous Pas Mal/I Don’t Give a Fuck) and completely over-the-top stuff like Misericorde, which is totally goth, right down to the tolling bell and the choir of bass voices. 65 songs here: every time, the pain in her voice transcends any language barrier. Here’s a random torrent.

January 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Marianne Dissard – Paris One Takes

Sometimes the best albums are the hardest ones to explain. For example, Marianne Dissard’s new one, Paris One Takes (available as a free download here) has been in heavy rotation here at Lucid Culture HQ for over a month. Everybody loves it – for Dissard’s sultry, breathy, angst-laden vocals, the charm and bite of her French lyrics, and the exuberant intensity of the band. Stylistically, up-and-coming New York chanteuse/bandleader Kerry Kennedy is the obvious comparison. Recorded live in the studio, the album collects songs from Dissard’s acclaimed debut album L’Entredeux as well as from the forthcoming L’Abandon, scheduled for release late this year. It’s a very smart move on her part: not only does it win her new fans, it’s great PR. Guns & Roses sue anyone who leaked their album, but Dissard wants everyone to share her songs. That’s how you build a fan base these days.

Dissard’s best known as a French singer who specializes in southwestern gothic rock: she’s actually a Tucson resident who moved there to make a documentary film about Giant Sand. Although there’s a strong noir cabaret influence here, this is most definitely a rock record, a potent document in itself in that this is Dissard’s road band, tight and inspired, still buzzing from the energy of a European tour. They take the coy “choc-choc” bounce of La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) and thrash it, following with the creeping menace of Le Lendemain (The Day After), a co-write with longtime collaborator Joey Burns of Calexico (Dissard memorably sang the female vocal on Calexico’s cover of John Cale’s Ballad of Cable Hogue several years ago). The scurrying Les Draps Sourds (The Blinds) evokes Piaf at her most frantic, spiced with Olivier Samouillan’s bracing rai-flavored viola and Brian Lopez’ reverb guitar. Merci de Rien du Tout/Flashback (Thanks for Nothing) mines a catchy yet brooding Velvet Underground vein.

With a cynical, snarling guitar-fueled edge, Les Confettis (Confetti) reminds of Dylan’s When You Go Your Way and I Go Mine. Shifting and mixing styles, the band make ominously hallucinatory desert rock out of the anguished 6/8 cabaret ballad Indiana Song, and follow that with the stomping garage-rock abandon of Trop Exprès (Too Obvious). Sans-Façon, a beautiful lament, evokes the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies, while It’s Love, written by drummer Sergio Mendoza, reminds of Botanica in a particularly pensive moment. Other tracks add echoes of Steve Wynn and electric Neil Young to Dissard and Burns’ brooding melodies. Definitely one of our favorite albums of 2010 and an auspicious sneak preview of Dissard’s next one. Sometimes the best things in life really are free.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ghost of Cesar Franck, Part Two

Monday night began with a stellar performance of Romantic music for cello and piano featuring a gorgeously permutating version of terminally underrated Belgian composer Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A Major. It was as if his ghost was in the room. After the show, it was time to head up to Small Beast at the Delancey, the weekly edgy music salon (now with free barbecue!)  that’s recently migrated from Thursdays to Mondays for at least the time being as the weather heats up (let’s face it, this respite we’ve been enjoying is about to end). Franck’s ghost came along for the ride, maybe bringing Chopin along (it’s unknown if the two composers knew each other – Chopin was at the height of his popularity just as Franck was graduating from the conservatory, but both were wallflowers so it’s unlikely). Seated at the Small Beast (the 88-key spinet piano) doing his own Romantic thing was Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, who since he books Small Beast has received an enormous amount of ink here. Suffice it to say that his own individual blend of classical and gypsy influences, along with the rock and the honkytonk and the gospel, is something you ought to see if you like any of those styles. This time was characteristic: some new Botanica material (one a dead ringer for vintage Procol Harum), some noir cabaret and a soul song.

Marni Rice was next. The accordionist/chanteuse is a quintessentially New York artist, a throwback to a more dangerous, vastly more interesting, pre-condo era, around the time Bernie Madoff was president of  the NASDAQ exchange (presumably because his Ponzi scheme was so successful). She opened solo with one of Edith Piaf’s first recordings, Mon Pernod, a haphazard barroom narrative from 1926 that she’d transcribed from an old record. With a twilight feel on her accordion, Rice switched between a slightly menacing, noir cabaret delivery and a soulful alto, backed by former Pere Ubu bassist Michelle Temple (who also doubled on guitar) and Wallfisch on piano on one song. Another evocative narrative, Rice explained, she’d written after returning from Paris to her old stomping grounds near the old Second Ave. sidewalk sale, a reliable source of bargains run by a rotating cast of junkies and derelicts around 6th and 7th Sts. in the 80s and early 90s. “I’ll be all right…til winter comes,” one of them casually tells his sidewalk pal.

The duo also swung their way through the noir cabaret of Dripping with Blue, a spot-on rainy NYC street tableau and Priere, an original that gave Rice a chance to relate a hilarious anecdote about playing one of Louise Bourgeois’ salons, Bourgeois giving her an earful about how the stuff she grew up listening to in Paris was “so much more elevated” than the old barroom songs in Rice’s catalog…but did Rice know this one, and that one, and could she play it? They closed with Red Light, “about insomnia and spending too much time on the subway,” and a fuzz bass-driven punk rock song. When the luxury condos all turn into crackhouses and the old days come back, we’ll undoubtedly still have Marni Rice around to usher them in a second time.

Next on the bill: the Snow, rocker Pierre de Gaillande’s main band these days when he’s not doing his amazing Georges Brassens Translation Project, Melomane having gone on hiatus for the time being. This was a full-band show, drum kit down on the floor in front of the bar. Cesar Franck’s ghost was still in full effect, the Parisian vibe more evident than ever in Gaillande’s writing – in a lot of ways it makes sense that he’d be the one to introduce Brassens to English-speaking audiences because the two writers share a cleverness, a punk rock fearlessness but also a meticulous sense of craft. Frontwoman/keyboardist Hilary Downes, as usual, got to take center stage and keep the crowd entertained, but it was the songwriting that carried the night: the noir garage swing of Reptile, the subtly shifting, understatedly haunting Undertow, a swirling version of True Dirt (title track to the band’s excellent debut cd), a soul duet and the hilarious Russians, an aptly snide look at what happens when a corrupt communist regime goes even more corruptly capitalist.

Hindsight being 20/20, it would easily have been possible to stick around and see what Christof Widholm of Morex Optimo was doing with his latest project Pharmacy & Gardens. However, in the interest of staying on top of the scene to the extent that there is a scene and there’s a top to be found there, the game plan was to get over to Union Pool in time to see how Rev. Vince Anderson’s first night there was going. Answer: another mobscene, even more delirously populated than closing night at Black Betty a week ago. Union Pool is a lot bigger than Black Betty, and the crowd filled it, a swirl of bodies in refreshingly diverse shades swaying and bouncing to the pulse of the band. They were celebrating baritone sax player Moist Paula’s birthday, so there was a full horn section up with Anderson and the Moist One and the guitar and rhythm section and they were positively cooking, one of the jams going on for at least 25 minutes. While it’s a safe bet that most of the crowd had no concern about how late the party went – this was Williamsburg, after all – the house was still full well past two in the morning. And it was clear that Cesar had come along along for the ride – though you won’t hear any Franck in Anderson’s fiery electric piano cascades or Billy Preston-inflected organ, it’s safe to say that not only does Anderson know Franck’s work, but it’s quite possible he’s played it on a church organ at some point. At least the vibe was the same – Anderson’s gospel is the gospel of the heart, where emotion rules, where the rules are cast to the wind and the good guys always win. At least they did Monday night.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Eunice Poulos Sings Piaf at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC 12/7/08

An imaginative and inspired program including both iconic and obscure Piaf songs. To her credit, classical soprano Eunice Poulos didn’t try to out-Piaf Piaf. The Little Sparrow imbued most of what she did with a lot of brass and sass; Poulos’ interpretation required that she simply remain in legit mode, which she did with a pure, clear tone if not a lot of emotional variation from one song to another. But her unabashed enthusiasm for the material, and her terrific backing band, were impossible to resist. Pianist Mitchell Vines turned in a marvelously nuanced and sensitive solo reading of Poulenc’s Improvisation No. 15 in C Minor (which the composer dedicated to Piaf), along with an absolutely riveting take on the somewhat noir cabaret number Padam Padam and the other upbeat numbers that closed the show – in fact, by the time they’d reached that point, the whole band was just as caught up in the drama and emotion of the songs as the crowd. The rhythm section of Rex Benincasa on drums, percussion and bells and bassist John Loehrke was poised and subtle, with accordionist Uri Sharlin (of Pharaoh’s Daughter and others) gracefully supplying the afternoon’s most haunting tonalities.

 

Billed as “La Mome Piaf [Kid Piaf]: The Life and Work of Edith Piaf,” the vividly narrated program didn’t follow any kind of career trajectory, although related songs were frequently paired. Je T’Attends (Waiting for You), the Charles Aznavour cabaret song, stopping just short of camp, was paired with a stripped-down, almost whispery La Vie En Rose, just voice and accordion. The sarcastic come-on Milord paired off with one of Piaf’s more iconic numbers, La Foule (The Crowd), which closed the show on a rousingly dramatic note. For an encore, Poulos and Vines had selected the strikingly brief, impressionistic La Grenouilliere (The Frog Pond), a pensive ode to an island in the middle of the Seine that served as a popular date spot during the 1930s. Francophones might take exception to Poulos’ delivery – she rolls her R’s, a l’espagnole – but the performance was rich with the longing that sometimes spills over into outright anguish, which continues to earn Piaf new devotees with every passing year.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments