Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Maria Pomianowska Brings Her Magically Shapeshifting Polish String Sounds to the Lincoln Center Festival

Maria Pomianowska‘s axe is the Biłgoraj suka, a medieval Polish forerunner of today’s violin, which she’s responsible for literally reconstructing and rescuing from obscurity. Leading her chamber ensemble, she’s playing her own hauntingly eclectic, classical and folk-influenced repertoire for the instrument this Tuesday, July 25 at 8 PM at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center as part of this year’s the Lincoln Center Festival. Tix are steep – $35 – but this is a rare chance to see this magical Polish artist.

Pomianowska’s’s latest album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The Voice of Suka, an aptly titled series of pastoral themes. It’s sort of a wider-angle, more panoramic take on what Vivaldi did with the Four Seasons, although there’s surprisingly less wintriness here than in the chilly coda to the Italian composer’s suite. Maybe it’s natural for a Polish composer to wish for summer, and for an Italian to crave a little frost.

Pomianowska’s  Biłgoraj suka (named for its city of origin) has a ripe resonance enhanced by the natural reverb of the room where the album was recorded. The core of her period-instrument ensemble comprises Aleksandra Kauf on vocals, Bilgoraj suka and mielec suka; Iwona Rapacz on bass suka, and Patrycja Napierała on percussion. The album’s title track, Step has a steady pulse that also proves true to its title, a deceptively simple series of echo phrases from the strings over syncopated clip-clop percussion, with a windswept Nordic flavor. Wind, a breezy, lilting, baroque-tinged dance, is grounded by long, sustained, drony bass suka lines.

Rainbow begins as a lush. graceful waltz and then Pomianowska picks up the pace; it ends cold. By contrast, Ocean has a dancing bass suka vamp holding down a deeper, darker pulse, a bouncy one-chord groove with Pomianowska’s bouncy eighth notes and rustic melismas overhead. Valley is even darker, a melancholy, starkly memorable Slavic pavane for choir and strings, Pomianowska deftly building it to a baroque swirl. She echoes that later on in River, with its stern choral arrangement.

The album’s most intense, shapeshifting track, Island, bridges the gap between Middle Eastern and Celtic modes, from a steady Nordic pulse to a brooding waltz out. Pomianowska goes in the opposite direction with Fjord. its hazy summer ambience punctuated by incisively flickering suka lines, up to a somber stroll in the same vein as her earlier valley theme. Forest is more shady and shadowy than verdant as the ensemble waltzes resolutely with uneasy Balkan tinges.

Desert, the most mysterious track here, has an enigmatically catchy, Balkan-tinged melody and variations anchored by a dark, distantly boomy Middle Eastern daf drumbeat, up to a breathtaking trick ending. It makes a good good segue, and an even better parallel, with the slowly crescendoing, epic Monsoon, slowly rising with Indian tabla rhythm and similarly uneasy modal variations. The album closers somberly with a wistful song without words, Sluzytem Ja Tobie (I Brought This to You). This music will resonate with a lot of people: fans of classical and Hardanger fiddle music and also the moody folk sounds of the Balkans and further east.

July 23, 2017 Posted by | classical music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday Night at 68 Jay St. Bar: Almost a Secret

One of the great remaining things about music in this town is that if you have your ear to the ground, you can catch major artists doing low-key shows working up new material in unexpected surroundings. Case in point: Midnight Hours’ gorgeously rustic, harmony-driven show at 68 Jay Street Bar Saturday night. The Roulette Sisters’ resonator guitar dynamo and de facto frontwoman Mamie Minch put this trio together with oldtime Americana siren Jolie Holland and Biggish Bandleader JC Hopkins, and it brings out the best in all of them. Tickets for Holland’s concert at City Winery earlier this year were $20, and she’s worth it: she’s got dozens of good songs, and she’s a hilarious performer. This show was free.

The harmonies were amazing. Minch’s badass contralto held down the lows in places, but Holland got to show off her low range as well, and when the two women went up, Hopkins was there to anchor the songs. He played acoustic, then electric guitar and delivered some potent blues harp on one number. Holland’s stark box fiddle playing gave many of the songs an especially bucolic edge. Early on, they did a version of the Flying Burrito Bros.’ Sin City, taking it back in time fifty years. The best song of the night, Minch and Holland matching each other nuance for nuance, might have been titled What You Got to Say, Hopkins’ terse Chris Brokaw-style leads shadowing his bandmates hauntingly. Hopkins dedicated a wistful number to an ex-girlfriend and a swing-flavored one to his grandfather while Holland panned for jewelled microtones and ominously ambiguous blue notes from beginning to end. Minch got the crowd roaring with an original with a nonstop torrent of lyrics, and wound up their final set of the night with a forceful traveling song, its narrator leaving no doubt that she wanted to get the hell out.

Potently eclectic Luminiscent Orchestrii violinist Sarah Alden headlined, playing an astonishingly diverse set of Americana and Balkan music, backed by upright bass and a guitarist who toward the end of the show played some luscious lapsteel on several western swing tunes. They swung into the set with some bluegrass, followed by a chilling instrumental that Alden wrote about getting lost in a graveyard as a young child. “This is clapping music,” the Oklahoma-bred member of our crew explained as the band launched into an energetic version of Trouble in Mind. From the Appalachians to the Balkans to a biting “Transylvanian mix,” Alden and the band wailed and soared. By one in the morning, the band was still at it, Cangelosi Cards’ frontwoman Tamar Korn joining them for more western swing. And the best singer of the night wasn’t even onstage: Jan Bell, who books the series of Wednesday and Saturday shows here, was behind the bar instead. Watch this space for upcoming Midnight Hours appearances; Holland is at Bowery Ballroom doing the cd release show for her new one on 6/28.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Stunning Black Sea Music Summit at the Met

Billed as Strings of the Black Sea, yesterday’s show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art lived up to the boast made by the organizers’ emcee beforehand: it truly was a landmark concert. It was a New York Eastern European music summit, sort of the Black Sea equivalent of those early 60s Rolling Stones Revues with short sets from a nonstop parade of icons like Howlin’ Wolf, Ike & Tina Turner, Otis Redding et al. The emcee wished aloud for a series of full-length concerts by each of the individual performers here next year, a wish that deserves to come true. As with Debo Band at Joe’s Pub on Friday, there was incongruity in seeing most of them rip through one adrenalizing dance number after another in front of a relaxed, comfortably seated crowd in the museum’s sonically superb Rogers Auditorium. But the audience was energized; the ripple of excitement after it was finally over was impossible not to connect with..

Christos Tiktapanidis got the party started, solo on politiki lyra fiddle (also known as a kemence). What he casually introduced to the crowd as slow was fast and what was fast was lightning-fast, a bracing display of fingerboard wizardry, all split-second doublestops, through a crescendoing opening taqsim (improvisation), a stark levantine dance and a happier number that lept from 5/8 to 7/8 time. Beth Bahia Cohen and Ahmet Erdogdular followed with a brief duo set on the Turkish tanbur lute: she bowed hers, holding it upright like a fiddle while he played his guitar-style with a pick. The two doubled each others’ lines effortlessly through another opening taqsim, stately songs from the 18th and 19th centuries, a rapidfire dance by Cohen on kemence and then an inspired, chromatically charged dance number sung by Erdogdular, who’s rightfully earned acclaim as one of Turkey’s foremost exponents of highly ornamented traditional Ottoman singing.

Julian Kytasty brought the lights down with a somber, haunting solo performance on the wide-bodied Ukrainian bandura, a sort of cross between a concert harp and a lute that frequently took on the incisively pinging, staccato tone of a qanun or a cimbalom. He began with a rueful number sung from the point of view of a dying warrior, encouraging his young protege to pick up where he fell. He explained that the blind minstrels who’d traditionally played this repertoire had been brought to extinction in the Stalinist terror of the 1930s. “Singers are never popular with the powers that be,” Kytasty reminded, in a song that “could be straight out of today’s headlines,” a brutally cynical number detailing how truth gets trampled underfoot and thrown into prison while lies are held high for all to see, to be celebrated by the status quo. His dynamically-charged, virtuosic picking took on a flamenco edge on another lament that he managed to fingerpick while simultaneously tapping out a beat on the body of the instrument.

Nikolay Kolev played solo on the Bulgarian gadulka fiddle, an instrument which has grown many additional strings over the last century: his has fourteen, including the resonating, sympathetic ones. He immediately took the intensity to redline, on a couple of wild, hypnotic, rhythmically tricky minor-key dance tunes, a ruthlessly, fluidly efficient romp in the Middle Eastern hijaz mode that began with yet another taqsim and an anthemic tune in 6/8 that vividly and uneasily bridged major and minor without quite being either. The final act paired violinist Nariman Asanov, one of the foremost (and few) Crimean Tatar fiddlers in the US, with ubiquitous and characteristically energetic, witty accordionist Patrick Farrell (who seems to pop up on practically every first-rate Balkan music bill in town, and leads the absolutely hilarious, unique Stagger Back Brass Band). With a singlemindedness that made it seem as if they’d played together for years, they slowly fanned the embers of a violin taqsim over an accordion drone until they were blazing and then romped through a brief series of fiery, minor-key dances, one with a wickedly catchy klezmer feel. Farrell finally got to solo as Asanov held the rhythm down and made the most of it. The entire crew, minus Kytasty (who needed a chair and mysteriously wasn’t provided with one) encored with a simple, memorable Anatolian folk tune, seemingly a tea drinking anthem, Erdogdular’s unamplified vocals soaring over the song’s darkly tinged, chromatic four-bar hook. The next concert in this series is at the Ukrainian National Home on September 25 at 7 PM featuring the North American debut of Ukrainian sensations Tecsoi Banda.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fishtank Ensemble’s New Album Is More Gypsy Than Ever

Fishtank Ensemble boast that they’re the “leading American gypsy band.” Their third album, Woman in Sin goes a long way to back up that claim: they just might be right. Energetically speaking, they raise the bar for pretty much everybody else. Frontwoman Ursula Knudson’s dramatic four-octave voice soars to the stratosphere along with Fabrice Martinez’ violin over Doug Smolens’ fleet, nimble acoustic guitar and Djordje Stijepovic’s incisive bass, frequently augmented by accordion or Knudson’s singing saw. Their previous album Samurai Over Serbia mixed Asian melodies into a wide range of gypsy and Eastern European styles; the melodies on this one run from Spanish flamenco to a Greek ouzo anthem to the shores of Tripoli. It’s an excellent approximation of their high-energy live show.

The title track is a scurrying oldtimey swing number, a feel replicated on the gypsy jazz version of Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and, later, the Betty Boop flapper vibe of CouCou, both punctuated by inspired, spikily virtuosic Smolens solos. The instrumental Espagnolette, a live showstopper, is basically a Belgian barroom dance featuring some wild singing saw and vocalese. The somewhat epic Amfurat de la Haidouck kicks off with the gypsy equivalent of a heavy metal intro, a tricky sway with furious, rapidfire chromatic accordion and a long, methodical buildup to a wild, frenzied, swirling coda. They follow that on a smaller scale with the shapeshifting dance Djordje’s Rachenitza and then Pena Andalouz, which sounds like an acoustic Alabina song. The  album also includes another crazily metamorphosizing dance tune, a stately waltz that gives Knudson and Martinez a chance to show off a more introspective side, an ecstatic Greek drinking song and another dance that interpolates dark Middle Eastern passages within a more upbeat gypsy framework. It’s another winner from one of this era’s most adrenalizing, captivating bands in any style of music.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Cady Finlayson & Vita Tanga – Electric Green

Since summer has made its ferocious entrance, it’s time for party music. It’s too hot to think about anything serious here in New York except for how good it would feel to be in an airconditioned pub with a pint of Guinness and maybe something like what Cady Finlayson and Vita Tanga have put together here. Finlayson (her first name is pronounced “caddy” like the car) plays five-string fiddle; Tanga plays acoustic, electric and “percussive” guitar, meaning that he mutes the strings of his electric and then taps out a simple rhythm on them. This album has the feel of a demo put together to show interested publicans what the duo are capable of onstage, but it also makes a good listen for anyone who loves the diversity and emotional resonance of traditional Irish fiddle music.

Over the course of ten brief tracks, the two get a dance groove going, bring it down longingly and wistfully and then back up again. As expected, Finlayson handles the lead lines, with Tanga supplying terse, understated and surprisingly interesting guitar work, especially when he’s using his wah pedal. Most of the tracks here clock in at under two minutes, the most interesting one titled March Set, Finlayson taking a long, vibrant break while Tanga keeps the beat going; they wrap up the album with what they call “All Set for St. Pat’s,” a medley of Wearing of the Green, Sean South and Pumpkin’s Fancy, the latter with almost a reggae groove emanating from the wah-wah guitar pedal. It’s nothing if not imaginative, offering the impression that their live show is good craic. New York is jampacked with first-class Irish musicians: count Cady Finlayson and Vita Tanga among them. Their next listed live gig is for Make Music NY, at 3 PM at the New York Public Library Branch at 112 E 96th St. off Lexington Ave.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | irish music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Vasen – Vasen Street

Much of this is a happy Indian summer album – and with the turn the summer has taken here, we’re going to need something to keep our spirits up if this August steambath continues into September. Whatever the case, this is a mostly cheery, meticulously interwoven, smartly playful album of original Swedish string band instrumentals along with some imaginative reworkings of traditional material. Vasen‘s guitarist Roger Tallroth uses an open tuning to maximize the incidence of ringing overtones, much in the same vein as Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa (a Nordic autoharp with a set of reverberating sympathetic strings). The trio’s lead instrumentalist is viola player Mikael Marin, whose dynamically-charged playing ranges from pensively rustic to completely ecstatic.

A trio of dance numbers open the album, the third being Botanisten, a tribute to some Bay Area pals. It’s appealingly verdant and has some psychedelic tempo shifts if that means anything to you. Garageschottis is clever and shapeshifting as it builds tension. The title track, a tribute to a bunch of Indiana fans who campaigned to name a street in their hometown after the band, starts striking and minor-key before morphing into a dance. The best single cut on the cd is Absolutely Swedish, fast with eerie textures, sounding like there’s a wild mandolin solo going on. But it’s not! It’s Tallroth on the guitar, way up at the top of the fretboard, having fun as the nyckelharpa plinks in the background and the viola feels around for its footing.

Mordar Cajsas Polska (Killer Cajsa’s’Polka) takes its name from a friend of the band, fiddler Cajsa Ekstav who attacked some windows with her beer mug to to kill a swarm of wasps who’d invaded her studio. Ostensibly the results were not pretty. This isn’t nearly as murderous as the title implies, but it sways and spins and you can dance to it, as you can most of the album. Which wraps up with another series of upbeat dance numbers and finally the pensive Yoko, written about a Japanese manager (theirs?). It turns out somewhat pensive, reflective and ultimately very interesting. Happily, it’s not exasperated. Fans of JPP, Frigg and the rest of the A-list of Nordic string bands will love this; bluegrass fans ought to give this a test drive too, it’s a lot of fun. They’ll be on US tour starting September 18 in Boulder at the Boulder Theatre.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara – Tell No Lies

Last year’s collaboration between Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara, Soul Science (very favorably reviewed here), was more in the vein of desert blues. This time around, Adams brought a mixtape with a lot of rock on it to the sessions for the new album: he’d play something for Camara, who’d record it on his cellphone and then come up with a complementary part. Perhaps as a result, this rocks a lot harder, yet retains the hypnotic, otherworldly vibe of their first collaboration. There seems to be a more improvisational quality here based on a call-and-response chemistry between the British guitarist and the Gambian riti fiddler who, unbeknownst to each other, were fans of each others’ work before they ever met.

The album kicks off with Sahara, insistently hypnotic with layers of briskly incisive blues riffs, Camara singing a repetitive chorus in his native tongue. The second cut Tonio Yima has sort of a Texas boogie feel with big guitar screams from Adams, a repeater-box vibe straight out of How Soon Is Now by the Smiths and an amusing lyric by Camara, a guy at a party disingenuously telling someone not to stress out too much if he gets stepped on or spat on. It’s a big party, after all!

Over a burning Bo Diddley beat, Kele Kele (No Passport No Visa) rails against the exploitation of undocumented immigrants. Fulani Coochie Man rails against the hoarding and misappropriation of foreign aid to Africa: the textures of Camara’s fluid blues runs on the fiddle against Adams’ walking bassline are delicious. There’s also plenty of desert blues here along with a track that opens with a variation on an older New Order riff, a song that sounds like La Bamba gone garage rock and then to Africa, one with a calypso feel and the album’s concluding cut, Futa Jalo, a pretty, gently watery acoustic guitar know-your-roots number with swirls of electric guitar in the background and warm, fluttery, almost saxophone-derived lines from Camara. Fans of all of the above styles will find the album in its entirety richly rewarding. Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara play the Lincoln Center Festival on July 21 at 8 PM.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Blue Moose & the Unbuttoned Zippers at Trinity Church, NYC 4/16/09

The hippy-dippy name is deceptive. Blue Moose & the Unbuttoned Zippers are not a jam band (although they probably could be) – they’ve taken it upon themselves to introduce American audiences to traditional Swedish fiddle music. Playing completely without amplification in the echoey confines of the beloved old downtown historic landmark, they impressed with their seemingly effortless command and unaffected love for the genre. Along with acoustic guitar, mandolin and violin, the band features a nyckelharpa, a cross between an autoharp and a viola, with keys and a set of resonating strings in addition to the usual four which are bowed or plucked.

 

Throughout the set, they often alternated between bouncy folk dance numbers and darker, more stately instrumentals, in addition to a vivid sea chantey and a wistful ballad, both with English lyrics, the latter delivered by the band’s two women on vocals and nyckelharpa. Several of the other pieces on the bill managed to be both rousing and hypnotic at the same time, aided by the band’s fondness for tunings that maximized the eerie overtones emanating from the strings. An original titled Burbank Street began with scatty vocalese from the two women, turning slow and dark and then light again with split-second precision. They wound up the show with a pretty, atmospheric waltz and a tongue-in-cheek original called Welcome to My Cave, its silly lyrics offset by the almost gleefully dark atmospherics of the melody. Fans of the well-known Scandinavian string bands like Frigg and JPP will enjoy this stuff; bluegrass fans should also check them out, they’re a lot of fun. If the hour had been later, there doubtlessly would have been people dancing in the aisles.  

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Breadfoot Featuring Anna Phoebe – Tea with Leo

The heir apparent to the legacy of John Fahey teams up with an inspired violinist on this gorgeously rustic, fluid album of pastoral acoustic instrumentals. Like Fahey, Breadfoot blends 19th century folk, old-time country and delta blues influences but resists any impulse to be bound by the traditional constraints of any of those idioms. What results is equal parts great Sunday afternoon album and passout record: it’ll get you going as well as it gets you down for the night.

The opening track, A Hard Day in Manhattan wanders along with an understatement that would do Fahey proud, an exercise in subtlety and dynamics. It’s all melody, no garish flourishes or ostentation. The album’s second track, the wistful, 6/8 lament Hilary Rose is over too soon, barely into its sad, thoughtful testimonial. By contrast, the following cut, Polly Loved Me (I Know) is a rousing Appalachian dance, sparks flying from the frets of Breadfoot’s six-string banjo (!!) and the strings of the fiddle.

Of the other tracks on the album, the next one, International Esther is probably the most overtly Fahey-esque number and wouldn’t be out of place on Blind Joe Death. That’s high praise. Very nice hesitation time at the end of the tune. Kecha is guitar only, a brightly bouncing open-tuned Piedmont blues melody a la Pink Anderson. The album’s best single cut may be the thoughtful, gently pensive Smoking on the Stoop. The cd concludes with the 6/8 ballad On the Day that I Go, which would make a great soundtrack to that Twilight Zone episode – I think it was called Willoughby. You know the one, the guy takes Metro North from Manhattan, think’s he’s on the way home but he winds up back in the 1800s, watching thekids take hayrides through the dusty, unpaved streets of his town. There’s also a rousing bonus track that kicks in after what seems eternity.

Clocking in at under half an hour, this cd’s greatest flaw is its brevity: it leaves you wanting twice as much. And not that the violin isn’t a welcome accompaniment here, but for anyone who’s heard him live, Breadfoot’s idiosyncratic vision and brilliant melodicism come through clearest when he plays solo. See him when you can. When’s the last time you danced to a solo acoustic guitar instrumental, anyway? Cd’s are available online, at shows and better record stores nationwide.

April 22, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment