Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: First Meeting – Cut the Rope

This album is the sonic equivalent of a Thai curry gone awry, where you accidentally use an entire can of green chiles, then you add too much garlic, then you realize you’re out of everything else but spices. So you throw the curry in and sautee everything, but on too high heat – the outsides caramelize while the insides stay raw. And then you discover you have nothing to chase it with, no rice, just water. You might find the results completely inedible, but you’d be surprised to know how many of your friends wouldn’t be able to get enough of that endless, raw burn. Like your kitchen disaster, trumpeter Natusuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii’s new album with Cut the Rope, their free jazz outfit, is more of an abrasive intoxicant than it is music. It’s best described, and experienced, as a whole: it might be best appreciated while under the influence of something and it might (but might not) have been created under the influence of something too.

Drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto doesn’t hang out much: his main job here is supplying a dense wall of white noise via lush layers of cymbals. When he’s not doing that he’s hitting every piece of metal within reach and probably breaking a stick or two. Yet he can be just as delicate, particularly playing bells during a misty, rustically-tinged duet with Fujii’s koto-like prepared piano. Guitarist Kelly Churko (who also plays with Tamura and Fujii in Fujii’s massive Orchestra Tokyo) runs the gamut from eerily tentative blues, to death metal, to chicken-scratch skronk, to running a simple, muted bossa nova beat during a quieter interlude (which eventually gets stomped on mercilessly by the drums). In a stage whisper through his valves, Tamura conjures the ghosts of free jazz trumpeters past, otherwise squalling or bleating, especially during a memorable duel with Churko’s metal riffage. Fujii serves as the voice of reason here, typically introducing what melody there is, whether plaintive and eerie as is so often her custom, or just plain funny (particularly a latin interlude that the rest of the band completely ignores during the practically 25-minute fourth track). But like an overstimulated cat, the noise always lures her away to see what’s up and join the fun. Everyone finally finds his or her feet – pretty much – during a couple of extended, eerily modal loops toward the end, Fujii and Churko’s macabre music box piano and guitar duet taking it down to a delightful surprise ending.

Most people will find this album pure hell to sit through (check out Tamura’s solo work, Orchestra Tokyo or the most recent Tamura/Fujii small combo, Ma-Do for accessible tunes and high spirits). On the other hand, there’s got to be a couple thousand devotees of noise and vigorous free jazz around the world who would find this hard to walk away from. You may have to drag them with you because you may not want to be around it. Can somebody please open a window? It’s smoky in here and everything smells like garlic.

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April 2, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Accomplish Jazz

The title of Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord’s new album is sarcastic, quite possibly a slap at critics who might think that they haven’t been quite “jazz enough”  in the past. The press materials for the album quote one reviewer who classifies them as fusion, which completely misses the point. With Lundbom on electric guitar, the irrepressible Moppa Elliott on bass, Thelonious Monk competition winner Jon Irabagon on alto, Bryan Murray on tenor and Danny Fischer on drums, this is a group for whom thinking outside the box is second nature. They have about as much in common with, say, Chick Corea as they do with Grizzly Bear. They’re not quite as vitriolic as their PR says they are, but there’s plenty of bite here. The cd cover features a couple of passengers’-eye snapshots taken on what looks like the Bear Mountain Highway in upstate New York – will they go over the cliff, or won’t they? – which speak volumes for what’s inside. Interestingly, Lundbom plays it pretty clean here – he goes straight through his amp, without effects, showing a preference for sinuous horn voicings. Elliott, by contrast, is his gritty, growling self, in particularly snarling mode here, although he does contribute the same kind of sly, snide humor of his own band Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Irabagon and Murray add clever and often unanticipated color.

Lundbom takes his time getting started, but eventually starts wailing and tremolo-picking and goes off the hinges as the rhythm section rumbles on the opening track, Truncheon, Irabagon firing off a whole series of rapidfire blues licks straight out of the Ron Asheton playbook. Elliott moves the next cut, Phoenetics along methodically with funeral march and then bell motifs, a study in contrasts between the prettiness of the sax-driven head and the uneasy permutations that follow. The third track is a cover of the Louvin Bros.’ The Christian Life, which they play straight up with just a bit of tongue-in-cheek uptightness until Murray tosses off a casually dismissive little trill, and within seconds Elliott is in on the fun, punching the beat sarcastically. Murray then tries a high-spirited “woops, I forgot we’re in church” solo, but it’s too late, the genie is out of the bottle and when the band stomps all over Elliott’s silly guitar voicings at the end, it’s hilarious.

Lundbom bends and sways, Bill Frisell style, to open the next cut, Tick-Dog, a Cedar Walton adaptation, shifting from unease to swing to a big squalling Murray solo and then a puckish ending from Elliott. The final cut, Baluba, Baluba is a funky stomp, horns accenting Lundbom’s big, early 70s-style blues/funk solo, Irabagon then adding an unleashed Jimmy Page feel way up the scale. When the band finally smashes the thing to pieces after about eight minutes worth of this, the chaos is deliciously rewarding: after keeping it together for the whole album, they’ve earned it . Great headphone music for anyone who’s just closed down the bar but needs more of the night.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment