Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lush, Epic, Hauntingly Cinematic Jazz from the Robert Sabin Dectet

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is Humanity Part II, released by bassist Robert Sabin and his dectet in 2015. The black-and-sepia cd packaging leaves no doubt about this lushly Lynchian musical reflection on the horrible things people do to each other There’s a dead woman lying in the woods on the front cover, silhouette of a guy going after his wife with an axe in the cd tray and a gloomy quote about loss and absence from Albert Camus’ La Peste on the inside cover flap.

These piece are epic – the shortest one is more than five minutes and the aptly titled concluding number, Leviathan, clocks in at almost eleven. The title track, a relentlessly enveloping rearrangement of Ennio Morricone’s theme to the John Carpenter film The Thing, opens the suite. Sabin’s bass and Jeremy Noller’s drums keep a calm, clenched-teeth suspense going beneath the band’s tectonically shifting sheets of sound, both tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and guitarist Jesse Lewis reaching for postbop blitheness but quickly getting pulled down into the mist.

The ten-minute, Ingmar Bergman-inspired Through a Glass Darkly builds morosely out of a brooding guitar vamp. Ben Stapp proves that there can be noir hidden deep in the valves of a tuba, Rigby follows with a long, vividly downcast, smoke-tinted solo of his own and Sabin’s top-to-bottom, Gil Evans-like orchestration is deliciously uneasy. As is the way the guitar, then the bass, then the whole ensemble stalk Noller’s drum solo and make a carnivalesque mambo out of it. Gato Loco ought to cover this.

Sabin takes his inspiration for Scarecrow from the scene of a hanged man in the desert depicted in Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. A tensely circling bass theme and ambered, spacious horns lead to an enigmatic John Yao trombone solo as the band swings straightforwardly.

Ghost is a portrait of a house whose occupant has just died, a somber belltone pavane punctuated with artfully suspenseful use of space, moody horns leading to a pensive Rigby solo. Noller and Lewis team up for an allusively syncopated latin noir pulse, then back away.

Tenebre, inspired by Dario Argento’s cult film, opens with moodily circling syncopation, alto saxophonist Aaron Irwn and trumpet Matt Holman reaching to poke a hole in the grey clouds overhead. The bandleader’s solo swings morosely and then stalks as Leviathan rises from the depths toward macabrely cinematic heights, Irwin offering a sardonically contented wee-hours solo, a crowded club full of unsuspecting victims. Then Lewis hits his distortion pedal and bares his fangs! As the credits roll at the end, the monster gets away to ensure that there will be a sequel – we can hope, anyway.

One of the most lustrously dark and troubled albums of recent years, this could be the great lost Gil Evans record, or the soundtrack to a cosmopolitan David Lynch thriller yet to be made.

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October 23, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare New York Show and a Killer Album from Paris Combo

Long before the Squirrel Nut Zippers were a gleam in anybody’s eye, or there was such a band as the Flying Neutrinos – remember them? – Paris Combo were swinging the hell out of a sound that was part 20s, part 30s and part 80s, at least when they started. Since then, they’ve maintained a devoted fan base on their side of the pond, but they make it over here too infrequently. Their French lyrics are sardonic, playful and funny; likewise, their music has a lot more edge and bite than your typical goodtimey swing band, which makes sense considering that they got their start when punk rock was still current. These irrepressible, ever-more-eclectic Parisians are making a rare New York stop at City Winery on Feb 21 at 8 PM; $22 admission is available, meaning that you can stand somewhere within shouting distance of the bar and not feel stressed about buying expensive drinks.

Paris Combo’s latest album Tako Tsubo – a Japanese term for the very real cardiological effects of heartbreak – is streaming at youtube. The opening number, Bonne Nouvelle (Good News) is a real stunner, part tarantella rock, part Romany swing. Frontwoman/accordionist Belle du Berry understates the narrative’s ominous undercurrent: it’s about playing with fire, more or less.

Pianist David Lewis opens Je Suis Partie (I’m Out of Here) with an uneasy minor-key glimmer, du Berry channeling moody angst as the band leaps into a bouncy groove from bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac and drummer François Jeannin. Then Lewis supplies balmy trumpet over guitarist Potzi’s breezy, cosmopolitan swing shuffle in the album’s title track, with a droll, tongue-in-cheek hip-hop interlude.

Anemiques Maracas is one of the album’s funniest numbers, part Morricone soundtrack spoof, part yuppie satire. Profil does double duty as balmy, vampy retro 60s ye-ye pop and snide commentary on internet dating. Notre Vie Comme un Western (Our Life As a Western) opens as a surprisingly uneasy waltz and then takes on a cynical bolero-tinged atmosphere, Europeans equally mesmerized and mystified by American cultural imperialism.

Part Django swing, part tongue-in-cheek spy theme, D’Heidi has a wide-eyed sarcasm that recalls the group’s Dutch 80s/90s contemporaries Gruppo Sportivo. The slashing wordplay of Specimen comes across as a French counterpart to New York murder ballad duo Charming Disaster. Just title of Mon Anatomie Cherche un Ami – part Doors, part Chicha Libre – takes that cleverness to to the next level,

Vaille Que Vaille (Somehow) follows a pretty savage faux-Spanish waltz sway: it’s an oldschool existentialist cautionary tale. The faux-reggae Cuir Interieur (Leather Seats) is just plain hilarious: if the Tubes had been good French speakere, they might have sounded something like this. The album winds up with Orageuse (Stormy), which is funny because it’s hardly that – it’s a balmy before-the-rain scenario, at best. Every time you listen to this, you discover something new and amusing, which might well be poking fun at you too. Count this as one of the best albums to come over the transom here in the past several months.

February 18, 2017 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Historically Vital, Epically Sweeping Film Music Album from Daniel Hope

Violinist Daniel Hope‘s latest release, Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album (streaming at Spotify), isn’t just a fascinating and rewarding listen: it’s a important historical document. Film preservationists race against the ravages of time to salvage rare celluloid; likewise, Hope’s new recordings of film music by Jewish expatriates, mostly from pre-and post-WWII Hollywood, have historical value for that reason alone. What’s just as important is how vividly Hope underscores how Jewish composers’ contributions were as vital in defining an era in filmmaking as their colleagues on the theatrical side were. What’s more, this new recording, made with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the baton of Alexander Shelley, is much cleaner and higher quality than any old, mono celluloid version could possibly be. Many of these pieces are not heard all the way through in the films, and while there were stand-alone soundtrack albums for some of the movies whose music is featured here, others had none, all the more reason to savor this.

As you would imagine from the filmography chronicled here, it’s a lavish, Romantic ride. The album opens with Miklós Rózsa’s ripe, vibrato-fueled 1959 love theme from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Hope leading the way with a crystalline, guardedly hopeful, soaring tone. Likewise, his highwire lines light up Rózsa’s lush, flamenco-inflected 1961 Love Theme from El Cid. And yet another romantic theme – this one from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, from sixteen years earlier – shows that Hungarian-born composer had his ecstatically crescendoing formula well-refined by then.

Taken out of context, Thomas Newman’s interlude from the immortal plastic bag scene in American Beauty is remarkably plaintive, a quality enhanced by this performance. The swing-era standard As Time Goes By, popularized in Casablanca, wasn’t written by Max Steiner, the composer of that film’s score, but by Tin Pan Alley song merchant Herman Hupfeld: Hope chooses it to end the album, in a stark solo rendition. A sad Henry Waxman waltz from the 1962 weepie Come Back, Little Sheba foreshadows it

The source material here reaches beyond mainstrean Hollywood. There’s also a majestic, string-driven version of a Walter Jurmann Weimar ragtime piece; Eric Zeisl’s striking overture Menuhim’s Song; and a surprisingly Celtic-tinged instrumental ballad by Werner Richard Heymann.

Not all the composers here are Jewish, either. John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List adds context, along with an achingly lush 1988 Ennio Morricone set piece from Cinema Paradiso that draws a straight line back to his predecessors here.

And the album isn’t just film scores. German crooner Max Raabe sings a marvelously deadpan version of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his work with Andres Segovia, gets a shout via a rippling take of Sea Murmurs, from his Shakespeare Songs suite. Erich Korngold – whose Hollywood success springboarded a career in serious concert music – is represented first by a dynamic version of his Violin Concerto in D. Hope dances and weaves over an alternately sweeping and gusty backdrop as a dramatic melody with all the hallmarks of a movie title theme rise to the forefront. The Serenade from his ballet suite Der Schneeman (The Snowman) is more low key, with a similarly heart-on-sleeve ambience. Virtually everything here will sweep you away to a land that time happily hasn’t forgotten – if you tend to find yourself immersed in something on Turner Classics at three in the morning, do yourself a favor and get this album.

December 15, 2014 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oleg Kireyev Crosses Boundaries and Raises the Suspense at Symphony Space

Thursday night at Symphony Space, Oleg Kireyev and his quintet made their North American debut. playing movies for the ears. Kireyev is a connoisseur of cinematic latin-tinged 70s soundtrack jazz, much in the same vein as Ennio Morricone (the Taxi Driver soundtrack seemed to be a blueprint for much of this set). Perhaps taking a page out of the Kenny Garrett book, saxophonist Kireyev began the show on piano, establishing a catchy, trad late 50s Miles vernacular with his spacious block chords. Then he handed over piano duties to Yuri Pogiba, switching to tenor for a lively, intertwining conversation with trumpeter Rustem Galiullin.

The rest of the concert saw the group building picturesque scenarios, caffeinated urban chase scenes punctuated by the occasional moody electroacoustic tableau, icy longtone sheets of synth enhancing the tense, airconditioned chill. You might not expect a guy playing Paul McCartney’s choice of bass, a vintage Hofner model, to make his most memorable solo an evocation of a soaring horn line, but that’s what Oleg Yangurov did. And you might not expect a Russian to keep the clave going, whether straightforwardly or artfully concealed on the hi-hat amidst a thicket of polyrhythms, but drummer Rustem Kalimov was on it all the way through. Kireyev varied his tone from bell-clear to gruff and throaty, depending on what the music called for. And for all the relentless suspense and gravitas and occasional windswept steppe ambience, Kireyev has a sense of humor. He got the crowd chuckling when he dared them to vocalize along with him – by throat-singing. “It’s easy,” he grinned, something the crowd did not confirm even though they were having a great time trying to mimic his keening overtones.

October 1, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magnum Opus from Marcel Khalife

Often considered a Lebanese counterpart to Bob Dylan, oud virtuoso and bandleader Marcel Khalife has been a freedom fighter for decades, even before founding the Al Mayadine Ensemble in 1976. Jailed and exiled for championing peace and human rights in the Middle East, his stance has never wavered. Today, his work continues to inspire fellow activists as the Arab Spring spreads around the world. For decades, he maintained a close friendship with the late, great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, turning many Darwish poems into songs that would become anthems throughout the levantine world and beyond. It would not be an overstatement to compare Khalife to another artist, legendary Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab, who also blended sounds from around the globe with classical Arabic song. Even by Khalife’s eclectic standards, his latest album Fall of the Moon, with the Al Mayadine Ensemble and Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Sirinko, is a titanic achievement. A lavish double-disc set streaming in its entirety at Khalife’s Bandcamp site, it juxtaposes ornate western classical orchestration with stark Middle Eastern melodies, both songs and instrumentals. Khalife and guest chanteuse Oumaima Khalil sing in Arabic; the cd booklet supplies English translations. Lyrical themes are alluded to via imagery far more often than they’re stated outright: it’s typical of Darwish’s poetry that what isn’t said that often resonates most powerfully. This is one of the most gripping and powerful albums in recent memory.

The title cut, a lavish, balletesque orchestral piece, could be Morricone, or a Rachmaninoff symphonic dance with Middle Eastern tonalities. The most vividly affecting of all the songs is Mohammad, a plaintive portrait of a child in a battle zone, sung a-cappella by Khalil. Themes of exile and longing for home run deep here, unsurprising considering that Darwish was Palestinian. The concluding song, The Damascene Collar of the Dove, pictures a fugitive back in Damascus, knowing that absolutely nothing will ever be the same again. Like many of the songs here, it’s a diptych, a vintage-style levantine melody that begins with an unnamed qanun player taking the lead and follows an increasingly haunting series of variations on a brooding theme that rests uneasily between traditional motifs and an angst-driven western sensibility: in that sense, the music perfectly matches the lyric. That occurs again and again not only throughout the album, but throughout the collaboration between Khalife and Darwish, brothers in arms in so many respects.

The rest of the album is more elusive, and allusive. The opening track, The Pigeons Fly begins with elegantly pensive piano by Rami Khalife, son of Marcel. Even when he solos, Marcel Khalife’s oud playing here, and throughout the album, is precise and biting but also understated, as are his vocals: his music has always been about intention rather than ostentation. What’s essentially a deftly orchestrated, acoustic levantine pop song speeds up and takes on a distantly imploring edge, following Darwish’s surreal imagery: “We are ours when a shadow enters its shadow in marble, and when I hang myself it is myself I resemble on a neck that embraces only clouds.” A refugee’s tale, And We Love Life sets a dark vamp to funky syncopation that grows more insistent as the melody weaves between the oud, the bass (played either by longtime Khalife collaborator Peter Herbert or Mark Helias – the liner notes don’t say who) and Khalife’s percussionist son Bachar. It’s a chilling piece of music: “We find a place to settle, plant some fast-growing crops and harvest the dead.”

The Stranger’s Bed, a sonata of sorts, features intricately wary interplay between Bachar Khalife’s piano and Fabio Presgrave’s cello. Oh My Proud Wound, a habibi ballad for a lost land, has Ismail Lumanovski’s clarinet reaching the highs usually carried by a ney flute in this kind of music, with a characteristically soaring, terse solo as it reaches a distantly anguished swell. Houriyeh’s Instructions – a rather nostalgic litany of advice from mom – evokes the classic Ya Rayyeh, from an otherworldly intro to its lush guy/girl harmonies. Of all the diptychs here, Now, In Exile is the most eclectic, with a suspenseful but punchy opening bass solo with Led Zep echoes, then a dancing theme that first goes carefree but soon brings in the clouds. From Darwish’s final work, In the Presence of Absence, it’s an elegy for an old lion of the revolution who can see the end coming.

A Song on My Mind, with Anthony Millet’s accordion playing sleek lines in the midst of all the strings, has the cinematic sweep of a classic Abdel Wahab number, juxtaposing bloody wartime imagery with the memory of when the locals were the only ones who fenced off the olive groves. Two other tracks, Remember and The Poem of the Land (an “over my dead body” theme) set trickly rhythmic Middle Eastern themes to swirling art-rock arrangments not unlike the Moody Blues at their peak. The most memorable of all the melodies here might be Palestinian Mawwal, whose warily circling string intro grows into a gingerly crescendoing Middle Eastern orchestrated dance interrupted by gunshot percussion.

There’s also an Andalusian-flavored dual-guitar instrumental played with precision and fire by Mahmoud Tourkmani; a couple of magnificently orchestrated, acoustic habibi pop tunes; and a lavishly orchestrated waltz with echoes of Beethoven, Celtic music and also a theme from Marcel Khalife’s austerely intense Taqasim album from 2008. For sheer majestic sweep and vision, there’s no other album released this year that can touch this.

April 30, 2012 Posted by | classical music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 4/28/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #642:

Ennio Morricone – The Platinum Collection

Everybody’s favorite Morricone is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly soundtrack, right? After all, it’s where the Italian film music maestro created his prototypical spaghetti western sound. Give him credit for basically inventing southwestern gothic all by himself, but he’s actually much more diverse than that. This exhaustive four-disc retrospective showcases his eclecticism, with tracks from the 50s through the late 80s. Many of these themes are probably better known today than the B movies in which they appeared (The Ballad of Hank McCain, for instance). From guitar tunes to sweeping, lushly orchestrated overtures, wrenching angst to balmy contentment, Morricone evokes it all, usually in five minutes or less – much less, sometimes. The sixty tracks here include the dark proto-Bacharach La Donna Della Domenica; the brooding Sicilian Clan; the cartoonish My Name Is Nobody; the sweepingly beautiful Deborah’s Theme from the pretty awful Once Upon a Time in America; the totally noir Dimenticare Palermo; the plaintive accordion waltz from The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man; the iconic Fistful of Dollars, and of course tracks from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly including the title theme and the climactic cemetery scene. Here’s a random torrent via sharingisliberty.

April 28, 2011 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Big Lazy – Postcards from X

Their most cinematic album, on which the most mesmerizing instrumental band on the planet broaden their sonic palette from the usual charcoal and grey to include, perhaps, burnt ochre and dark olive. The album cover looks like a poster for a 60s spy film, with the shadow of a woman running with a briefcase. The case opens to show the woman’s ankle and the briefcase, but it’s not clear if she’s running alongside a wall covered with dying ivy…or if she’s lying on a path in the woods. The visuals couldn’t be more appropriate.

Big Lazy’s first two releases were all menace and suspense, conjuring up images of black-clad figures slipping in and out of the shadows in a 4 AM industrial wasteland, the pavement cold and luminous with late autumn rain. This one, their fourth, is much more diverse. Big Lazy unsurprisingly get a lot of film soundtrack work, and the songs on this album may well be destined for Sundance or Hollywood. Several of them begin menacingly and end on a sunny note, or vice versa, with innumerable twists and turns in between. The album opens with Thy Name Is Woman, virtuoso guitarist Steve Ulrich playing with distortion instead of his usual oceans of reverb. Essentially, it’s a 6/8 blues, propelled by brilliant bassist Paul Dugan’s staccato arpeggios. The next cut, by Dugan, is Walk It Off, opening with bowed bass playing the ominous melody as Ulrich plays the bassline on guitar. All of a sudden, on the second verse, Ulrich launches into some noir jazz as guest keyboardist Ed Pastorini’s Hammond organ kicks in. It’s very 60s. The following cut Glitter Gulch begins with a sexy bassline, like The Fever, with dark, quietly booming drum flourishes and eerie organ. Then it morphs into a Morricone-esque spaghetti western theme. After that, Ulrich returns with more guitar distortion on the brief, skronky Drug Czar.

The cd’s next track, France, is a very funny song, something akin to how Serge Gainsbourg’s 60s backing band might have covered Big Lazy. It’s an uncharacteristically bouncy number with just enough moments of incisive reverb guitar to give the listener pause. Drummer Tamir Muskat (ex-Gogol Bordello) spices the following cut, His Brother’s Wife, with all kinds of metallic percussive effects, with Ulrich and Dugan reverting to the dark, New York noir sound of their previous work until a country-inflected chorus with soaring lapsteel. After that, on Postcard from X, bowed bass carries the melody over plinky, ragtimish guitar. It’s an unusually wistful, pretty song, evocative of the great Southwestern gothic band Friends of Dean Martinez as the lapsteel flies in at the end of the song.

The best song on the album is the lickety-split, minor-key punkabilly theme To Hell in a Handbasket, another Dugan composition. Los Straitjackets or Rev. Horton Heat only wish they wrote something this adrenalizing. After Dugan and Ulrich play their fingers off for a couple of minutes, there’s a brief bass solo and then a gently happy ending. The lone cover on the album is an Astor Piazzolla classic, Pulsacion #4, which most closely resembles Big Lazy’s early work, all macabre chromatics and scary reverb. The cd’s next tune Naked begins with Dugan pedaling a single note over a suspenseful, steady beat, evoking a movie scene where the hero may be having second thoughts. You want to tell him (or her), don’t go back in the house, don’t get in the car with that guy and whatever you do, stay inside the tent. But they don’t, and all hell breaks loose. The album concludes with The Confidence Man, a total 60s spy movie theme, jazzy with staccato bass and tinny organ, its menace building gently at the end of the verse, then breaking through the door when the chorus kicks in.

If this album can reach the people who blast the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack at parties, that’s where it needs to be. Inevitably, it’ll be a cult classic for decades to come. Be the first person on your block or in your dorm room to turn your friends on to this amazing band. And if you think the occasional lightheartedness of this album might mean that Big Lazy has lost any of the white-knuckle intensity of their live shows, not to worry: check our reviews page for a glimpse of the best show we’ve seen this year, Big Lazy’s cd release at Luna Lounge last month. Classic album, an instant contender (along with Jenifer Jackson’s new one) for best of the year. Five bagels. Pumpernickel (because that’s the darkest kind available).

June 6, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments