Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Burn One in Soho

If you might be wondering why a band would call themselves the Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society, just spell out their initials. Yeah mon – for one reason or another, they played the cd release show for their new one, G.R.A.S.S. on Fire, at the Apple store in Soho. It’s hard to think of a more unlikely venue, and the fact that the store went for the idea turned out to be pure stoner genius. The sound in the little upstairs auditorium was great and so was the band.

The new album is instrumental versions of the songs on the Wailers’ famous Catch a Fire album. G.R.A.S.S. put their own original spin on them. More unpredictable and adventurous than Dub Is a Weapon, more straight-ahead than Giant Panda, less jazzy than Monty Alexander, the hourlong show saw them sticking pretty much to the verses and choruses of the originals while adding their own solos and some extended psychedelic jamming that was tasty to the extreme. Their sound is strictly oldschool, anchored by a onetime Jack Grace Band rhythm section, J. Granelli on bass and Russ Meissner (who’s still in that band) on drums. Granelli spent most of his time hanging just behind the beat like Family Man Barrett would do in Marley’s band, while Meissner kept things simple and smart, on one occasion hitting a pedal for some echoey dubwise riddims. Keyboardist Nate Shaw spun between effects, from high, oscillating Dr. Dre drones to lush organ chords, while his counterpart across the stage, Nick Balaban, worked edgy blues piano, murky clavinova basslines and some scary, tinny synth leads into a neat tradeoff with Shaw on a long, extended version of 400 Years.

After a long, suspenseful, sustained guitar intro by David Bailis, Paul Carlon’s bright, melodic soprano sax lines lit up the opening tune, Concrete Jungle. Shaw’s melodica dodged the torrents from David Barnes’ harmonica on a long, crescendoing take of Baby We Got a Date; they turned Kinky Reggae and Midnight Ravers into a mini-suite with some sweet horn charts. They didn’t do much of any straight-up dub with the exception of a quiet, spacy interlude toward the end of Stir It Up (a smart move – take a pop song and make it totally psychedelic). They wound up the show with a long Stop That Train, a version of High Tide or Low Tide (a Wailers outtake which might have been the most truly gorgeous tune of the night) that stayed true to the original, right down to the plaintive turnaround at the end of the verse, and an epic 400 Years that Bailis used as a platform for a gently contemplative intro, ferocious raga lines in midstream and finally at the end, when the organ and horns were at full force, took it deep into the heart of metal like Burning Spear’s band would do 25 years ago. It was that good. The new album is streaming right now at the band’s site.

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March 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

iLa Mawana: Soldiers of Jah Sound

On their new album Soldiers of Sound, Boston reggae band iLa Mawana offer a classic roots sound: no stiff computerized beats, no cheesy synthesizers, just a fat oldschool groove and one warm summery tune after another. The obvious comparison is John Brown’s Body although there’s definitely a Bob Marley influence there too. The band’s tight four-piece horn section sets them apart from most of the other roots acts out there. Singer Gianpaolo Blower is casual and laid-back and bass player Ryan Hinchey hangs behind the beat like Family Man Barrett of the Wailers while guitarist Dave Rosen sticks to rocksteady riddim and the occasional tingling Chinna Smith-style riff. Drummer Sammy Wags and organist Jason Moore keep it tight and terse as well. Lyrically, they keep it conscious, upbeat but socially aware. It grows on you slowly: by the time it’s over, it’s obvious that this is a stealth contender for one of the best albums of 2010.

The album opens with a big anthem, The Golden Age, spiced with wah guitar and a big horn chart after the first verse. The second track, Jigyo Keta is a catchy festival of good vibes: “Radiate it from your soul, lighting up hell’s dark sidewalk…imagine that.” The title track is a close cousin of the Marley classic Rastaman Vibration, with a long, balmy sax solo. The slinky workman’s anthem 40 Hours, an instant singalong, ought to energize crowds everywhere: “Give me back my 40, give me back my 40 hours!”

Mortal Motion is fast, almost a ska tune, taking a brooding look at mankind’s march to self-annihilation. The hypnotically pulsing Green Bridge, a standout track here, features an organ breakdown that leads the band up to a big soul-drenched ending. On the slow, Marley-ish Voodoo Spell, Rosen finally takes a guitar solo and makes all his notes count.

The fast, organ-driven Journeyman sounds a lot like a vintage John Brown’s Body song from 1996 or so, until it hits a big, tricky, jazzy outro. Grow My Way has an especially sweet bass groove and a hypnotic, echoey trumpet solo. The album winds up with a reggae-pop number followed by Tree Dub, a hint at how far outside they can take their songs in a live setting, and the defiant, slowly unwinding anthem I Define Me. They’re a killer live band (we enthusiastically reviewed one of their New York shows last May); they’re currently on tour, check their tourdates page. Click here to help them in their campaign to be High Times Magazine’s Band of the Month

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: iLa Mawana at Sullivan Hall, NYC 5/6/10

Here’s a fun band to check out this summer if you can figure out how to spell their name (you have to wonder how stoned whoever came up with that one was). iLa Mawana play all different kinds of roots reggae – upbeat anthems, slow grooves, sweet ballads and some psychedelic dub – and do all of it well. Late on a weeknight, they kept the Sullivan Hall crowd in the house and had everybody swaying through a 40-minute set that could have gone on for twice as long if the club had let them. Bassist Ryan Hinchey was perfect, supplying fat, chronic low end just a hair behind the beat like Family Man Barrett did in the Wailers. Drummer Sammy Wags had the one-drop down cold but also had a lot of different beats up his sleeve, especially on the faster numbers, abetted by a nimble conga player stashed toward the back of the stage. Organist Jason Moore added funky blips and bleeps when he wasn’t washing away the River of Babylon with a river of his own; guitarist Dave Rosen didn’t get the chance to step out much, but when he did he showed off a warm, understated Steve Cropper soul style. Singer Gianpaolo Blower goes for casual and laid-back – this band is all about good vibes – with some brassy, spot-on high harmonies from the band’s friend Sarah, who came up from the audience to join them for the second part of the set. They segued from their slinky opener, Dub Electa into a quick romp through a hypnotic one-chord jam, then into another original featuring a casually bluesy solo from their excellent alto sax player (their three-piece horn section added a welcome brightness over the trance-inducing pulse of the bass). Shifting chords hypnotically until it was practically impossible to find the beat – just moving anywhere at this point felt good – Tree Dub gave their trumpeter a chance to choose his spots.

The title track to their forthcoming new album Soldiers of Sound was as dubwise as they got, bringing it down with simple yet dizzyingly effective reverb guitar. The set wound up with a couple of fast, bouncy numbers, Frankly and Mortal Motion and closed with the big, spiritually charged Karmaland that wound down to just a tasty keyboard solo over the bass and drums at the end. If roots reggae is your thing – from the classics to current-day stars like Groundation and Meta & the Cornerstones – iLa Mawana (there – got it right) will hook you up. The cd release show is at Harpers Ferry in Allston, MA on 5/15; summer tourdates below.

May 07 – Greene, NY – Headyfest

May 08 – Narragansett, RI – The Wheelhouse

May 15 – Boston, MA – Harpers Ferry

May 20 – Miami Beach, FL – Purdy Lounge

May 21 – Sarasota, FL – Pastimes Pub

May 26 – Gainesville, FL – Backstage Lounge

May 27 – Orlando, FL – Plaza Theatre

May 28 – Panama City Beach, FL – Reggae J’s

May 29 – Satellite Beach, FL – Sports Page

May 30 – Sebastian, FL – Captain Hiram’s Resort

June 01 – Austin, TX – Flamingo Cantina

June 06 – Huntington Beach, CA – Gallagher’s Pub

June 16 – Portland, OR – Mt. Tabor Theater

June 17 – Arcata, CA – Jambalaya

June 18 – San Francisco, CA – Mojito

June 19 – San Francisco, CA – The Mezzanine

June 26 – Block Island, RI – Captain Nick’s

June 27 – Block Island, RI – Captain Nick’s

July 08 – Westerly, RI – Paddy’s Beach

July 16 – Rochester, NY – Dubland Underground

Aug 27 – Ithaca, NY – Castaways

Also worth knowing if Afrobeat is your thing – the massively funky, horn-driven 12-piece band Emefe, who played before iLa Mawana were also a lot of fun and had a lot of people dancing.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Very Be Careful – Escape Room

Los Angeles band Very Be Careful have built a well-deserved reputation as sort of the Gogol Bordello of Colombian music, both for their delirious, hypnotic live shows and the snotty yet absolutely authentic attitude of their albums. No disrespect to Carlos Vives, but Very Be Careful take vallenato back to its roots in the north, to back when, just like roots reggae, it was the party music of the drug underworld – it doesn’t sound anything like him. Which makes sense: Very Be Careful’s slinky cumbia pulse has a lot in common with late 60s Jamaican rocksteady, the otherworldly swirl of the accordion is nothing if not psychedelic and so is the eerie insectile scrape of the guacharaca, the beat of the caja vallenata and clatter of the cowbell. Although if you asked this band for more cowbell, you’d probably get one upside the head – they bring a menacing, hallucinatory party vibe a lot like the Pogues back in the day when Shane MacGowan was drinking at peak capacity but still lucid. That considered, their new album Escape Room works equally well for the drinkers, dancers and stoners in the crowd. It’s all originals along with three rustic, boisterous covers, with the same resilient-bordering-on-aggressive feel of their 2009 live album, the deliciously titled Horrible Club.

The opening track, La Furgoneta (The Van) is a cumbia, its catchy descending progression carried by Ricardo Guzman’s accordion as his brother Arturo swings low with broken chords on the bass, way behind the beat in a style similar to great reggae bassists like Family Man Barrett. It segues into a hypnotic, two-chord number, La Abeja (The Bee), followed by the fast, bouncy, wickedly catchy La Alergia (Allergies), accordion playing major on minor, vividly evoking a horror-movie summer haze.

The first of the covers by legendary vallenato composer Calixto Ochoa, Playas Marinas (Sandy Beaches) is a party song, a staggering series of flourishes as the bass runs a catchy octave riff over and over. The other, Manantial del Alma (Springtime of the Soul) makes a sly attempt at seduction, the guy just wanting the girl to let him play for her. Another oldschool number, by Abel Antonio Villa, evokes a guy’s heartbreak, vocals on the verse trading off with accordion on the chorus – although it’s a party song without any real heartbroken vibe, at least musically.

The rest of the album is originals, and they’re great. El Hospital sounds like something the Clash might have done on Sandinista, wry and cynical. La Broma (The Joke) has the accordion playing minor on major this time, to equally ominous effect. The metaphorically charged La Gata Perdida (Lost Cat) has the poor critter going round in circles: “I think this killed me.” They end it with the upbeat La Sorpresa (Surprise) and then the aptly titled, psychedelic El Viajero del Tiempo (Time Traveler), bass playing three on four beneath insistent, trance-inducing minor-key accordion. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy this, although you won’t get the clever, often snide, pun-laden lyrics. But as dance music, it doesn’t get any better than this – it’s out now on Barbes Records. Another reviewer had problems with this cd, calling it unsubtle and complaining about being blasted by the accordion, to which the only conceivable response is, who wouldn’t want to be blasted by an accordion? Very Be Careful play Highline Ballroom on May 23 – also keep an eye out for their annual Brooklyn 4th of July rooftop party (they got their start here, playing in the subway).

April 28, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment