Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Fresh New Take on Ancient Afro-Cuban Grooves

In Cuban slang, “¿Que Vola?” means “What’s up?” ¿Que Vola? are also a transnational collaboration between three members of legendary Afro-Cuban ensemble the Osain del Monte Orchestra, and several current and former members of French big band the Orchestre National de Jazz. Their debut album is just out and streaming at Spotify. They also have a popular youtube series which follows various band members as they roam around Havana.

In the first video, Ramon Tamayo Martinez performs an ancient, supernatural African drum ritual. In the second, bassist Thibaud Soulas throws a party in memory the beloved mentor who introduced him to Afro-Cuban music. Next up, percussionist Adonis Panter Calderon has to deal with the drama of trying to reschedule a concert cancelled by the Cuban government – all because the president of the country’s ally, Vietnam, has died. After that, Calderon and trombonist Fidel Fourneyron talk music and history in a gritty Havana barrio. The series finale features yet another memorial bash, underscoring how the Afro-Cuban tradition removes barriers between performers and audience. If you’re part of the party, you’re probably playing something.

The album is part rustic, animated streetcorner descarga and part terse, emphatic European jazz. Several of the tracks sound like ancient chants with the vocals switched out for simple horn lines. It opens with a mightily crescendoing salute to the god Chango, minimalist brass over a shapeshifting thicket of percussion: imagine an epic Amir ElSaffar overture percolating with Cuban beats. The second track, Nganga begins with jaunty call and response between Founeyron’s trombone and the rest of the horns: saxophonists Hugues Mayot and Benjamin Dousteyssier and trumpeter Aymeric Avice. Then Bruno Rude’s Rhodes piano takes over beneath a bubbly sax solo as the music gets crazier.

Calle Luz is a sparkling Afrobeat jam, drummer Elie Duris laying down a tricky beat as the horns punch in and out. The next track, titled ¿Que Vola?, builds from a neat implied clave to a starry Rhodes solo, then the horns burst in and accelerate toward warpspeed.

Iyeta comes across as variations on another lively chant with vocals switched out for horns. Fruta Bomba is a carnivalesque number with trickily polyrhythmic allusions to salsa annd Afrobeat. The sprawling Resistir closes the album, a mashup of clave syncopation, Afrobeat and Return to Forever with some deliciously unanticipated noirish swells. They’re playing the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. for free at 7:30 PM on June 27; then they’ll be at Dizzy’s Club on the 29th at 11:30 for $20.

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June 23, 2019 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luscious Noir Atmosphere in Alphabet City Last Night

An icy, distantly lurid, reverbtoned mist of sound began wafting through the PA moments after keyboardist Enzo Carniel’s haunting House of Echo quartet took the stage last night at Nublu 151. Slowly and methodically, guitarist Marc-Antoine Perrio added thicker washes to darken the fog, finally introducing a few portentous, lingering chords from his Fender Jazzmaster. Bassist Simon Tailleu added subtle pitchblende textures, then Carniel’s Fender Rhodes finally entered the picture with a brooding, echoey minor-key riff. There hasn’t been music this profoundly noir made anywhere in New York this year.

Which makes sense; Carniel and his group hail from the part of the world that invented noir. The rest of their set was every bit as Lynchian as their opening Twin Peaks tone poem. It would be at least ten minutes before drummer Ariel Tessier made an entrance, trailing the music as it unspooled slowly on its path of no return. As the set went on, it was somewhat akin to Sun Ra playing Bill Frisell…or Anthony Braxton disassembling Angelo Badalamenti film themes at a glacial pace.

Carniel stuck mostly to blue-neon arpeggios and rippling riffs, often making live loops out of them: there were places where minimalist 20th century composers like Ligeti came to mind. Tailleu could easily have put much of what he played into a loop pedal, but instead he ran those slowly circling motives and greyscale shades over and over without tiring. And when he finally went up the scale for a tersely bowed solo, Carniel took over and ran the riff.

Perrio’s role grew more and more demanding as the hour grew later and the temperature fell outside, shifting with split-second precision between stompboxes, resonantly pulsing Fender licks and echoey phrases looped via a mini-synth. A guest tenor saxophonist joined them for a few numbers, adding wary, astringently enveloping phrases, at one point becoming the trailer in an intricate five-piece rondo. Tessier’s spaciously echoing work on the toms gave the music additional grim inevitability.

Perrio’s emphatic, enigmatic series of minimalist chords around a central tone in the last number echoed 90s shoegaze acts like Slowdive as well as cinematic indie soundscapers like the Quavers and Aaron Blount. It was a real surprise, and practically funny how they made a resolutely triumphant anthem out of it at the end, hardly the coda you’d expect after such a rapturously dark buildup.

After House of Echo, tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart completely flipped the script, leading a spirited quartet – Aaron Goldberg on the Rhodes plus bassist Or Bareket and drummer Ari Hoenig – through a series of jazz variations on well-known Shabbat themes. Goldberg really made that Rhodes sing with his robust neoromantic chords and cascades in the opening number, which Schwarz-Bart had obviously written for acoustic piano.

The saxophonist’s duet with Hoenig on Adon Olam was as poignant as it was propulsive; it was also the only other moment in the set where Schwarz-Bart’s reinventions of these old Jewish themes took on a particularly solemn tinge. Where John Zorn and his posse, or Uri Gurvich will take ancient cantorial melodies to similarly otherworldly places, Schwarz-Bart’s shtick is to make catchy, toe-tapping, early 60s Prestige Records-style postbop out of them.

Oseh Shalom was almost unrecognizable until he backed away from a sizzling, perfectly articulated, Coltrane-esque series of arpeggios to reveal the theme. He prefaced his version of the foundational Passover litany Ma Nishtana with similarly apt commentary on migrations, forced and otherwise, happening around the world in this era. Much as there was plenty of relentless good cheer in the rest of the set, it would have helped if Schwarz-Bart had stayed away from the pedalboard and the cheesy octave and pitch-shifting patches that only ramped up the schmaltz factor.

The show was staged by Paris Jazz Club, the indispensable website which maintains an exhaustive concert calendar for Paris and the surrounding area: it’s absolutely essential if you want to find out what’s happening, especially off the beaten path. House of Echo continue on tour tomorrow night, Jan 17 at 8 PM, opening for pianist Florian Pelissier’s quintet and then psychedelic Afropop bassist Bibi Tanga & the Selenites at L’Astral, 305 rue St.-Catherine Ouest in Montreal. Cover is $28.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hot Saturday Night Date with Les Chauds Lapins

Saturday night at Barbes the room was packed. Once Les Chauds Lapins began their set, it was literally impossible to get inside to see them playing their pillowy, bittersweet original arrangements of jazzy French pop songs from the 1930s and 40s. Like Les Sans Culottes, Les Chauds Lapins (literally, “The Hot Rabbits,” 30s French slang for “hot to trot”) occupy a significant slice of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Over the years, hotshot guitarist/singer Meg Reichardt’s French accent has gotten pretty good. Co-leader Kurt Hoffmann distinguishes himself with his meticulously witty new arrangements as well as his agile clarinet playing. But in this band, both musicians play banjo ukes on most of the songs, this time backed by a swoony string section with bass, cello and viola. So these new versions are considerably different from the original piano-and-orchestra or musette-style recordings.

Les Chauds Lapins further distinguish themselves by performing a lot of relatively obscure material, not just the best-known hits by Piaf, Charles Trenet and so forth. The chirpy sound of the two ukes enhances the songs’ droll, deadpan wit: both Hoffman and Reichardt have a thing for bouncy romantic ballads about affairs that start out looking just grand but by the second verse or so have gone straight to hell. And Hoffman had the strings punching and diving and dancing with a verve to match the songs’ lyrics.

They opened with Vous Avez L’Eclat de la Rose (a free download), about a girl who smells like jasmine but may not be so sweet after all. A little later on they did one of their big crowd-pleasers, Le Fils de la Femme Poisson (The Fishwife’s Son): he’s in love with a circus freak, but if that doesn’t work out he’s always got a gig waiting for him playing accordion at a relative’s country whorehouse. Reichardt sang another surreal number from the point of view of a girl who gets trashed beyond belief early in the evening, hooks up in the bushes with some random guy and then starts to lose her buzz, realizing that she might have made a mistake. But, what the hell: “Let’s dance,” she tells him as she straightens her dress. Hoffman’s bubbly, precise clarinet added a cheery dixieland flavor; Reichardt, who’s a mean blues player, showed off her increasingly impressive jazz chops on one of the songs midway through the set. A lot of the material this time out was relatively new, at least for them, one of the most interesting numbers being a vocal version of Django Reinhardt’s Swing 33.

And most everybody listened through all the puns, and the innuendo, and the double entendres. OK, there was one gentrifier boy, or maybe not a boy, whatev, in the back of the room, hell-bent on impressing everyone within earshot with how blithe and fey he was, and he WOULDN’T SHUT UP. But nobody paid him any mind. People like that don’t usually go to Barbes anyway. Les Chauds Lapins will be there again on Valentine’s Day at 8.

January 19, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Individual Takes on Gypsy Jazz

Why does pretty much everybody agree on gypsy jazz? Because you can hum it? Because it’s so infectiously energetic? Because in order to play it, you have to be really good, and for that reason gypsy jazz bands are generally excellent? All of the above? You decide.

And it’s not an ossified genre either – there are plenty of acts who are taking it to new and exciting places. Les Doigts De L’homme are one of them. What differentiates this four-piece French band from all the other Django Reinhardt descendents out there? Les Doigts De L’homme have three guitarists, and a bass player, which gives them extra sonic depth and an opportunity for richly interwoven melody. It’s not necessarily that their sound is more lush: their latest album, titled 1910 (referring to Django’s birth year) is brisk, jumpy, danceable stuff. But the contrast between bandleader/guitarist Olivier Kikteff’s hard-hitting, incisive attack versus co-lead guitarist Benoit Convert’s lightning-fast but more effortlessly fluid style is often viscerally breathtaking. Behind them, rhythm guitarist Yannick Alcocer and bassist Tanguy Blum lock these shuffles down tight.

And the tunes aren’t just your standard shuffles, either. There’s a couple of waltzes: a Kikteff original that imaginatively mixes blues and Djangoisms, and a bitter, biting take of the great accordionist Tony Murena’s Indifference, the longest and most intense number here. The rustic title track, another Kikteff original, has the guitarist working his way in slowly and methodically before the whole band scurries off with it. Their version of St. James Infirmary Blues shifts vividly from anguish to despair, Kikteff’s almost manic depressive lead followed by a plaintive solo by Convert. The long, expansive, amusingly titled Improsture #1 for solo guitar offsets the gently meandering ambience with Kikteff amped just short of distortion. And Reinhardt’s Bolero gets a stately, spacious intro, distantly glimmering guitars and a tersely brooding Stephane Chause clarinet solo.

There’s plenty of fun, upbeat Django material too, everything you’d want from a homage to the iconic guitarist: Appel Indirect, the musicians cleverly dropping out and then back in; Blue Lou, which gets a bright, dixieland-flavored treatment and a 100-mph cruise control solo from Convert; a gracefully snarling version of Minor Swing, as well as energetic, supertight covers of Feerie, Swing 48, Blue Skies, Old Man River, I’ve Found a New Baby and Russian Melody. As you would expect from this album, Les Doigts De L’homme are a great live band: of all the acts we saw at Montreal Jazz Festival and elsewhere during our Canada trip earlier this summer, these guys were the most exciting.

If you’re into gypsy jazz, another group that might interest you is Occidental Gypsy. You might know them from their jokey cover of Thriller. What jumps out immediately is how inspired their acoustic arrangement is – and what a bad joke the lyrics are. Rather than imitating Jacko’s stagy whisper, frontman Scott Kulman goes for a breathy faux-Chet Baker approach. Otherwise, vocal tunes are not this band’s strong suit, but you can pull an excellent playlist from the instrumentals on their new album Over Here. Veneto blends salsa piano with gypsy guitar jazz, while lead guitarist Brett Feldman’s Con Pasion spirals poignantly. Occidental Stomp swings a lot more than the title implies, with a bittersweet Django edge and some deliciously precise Echae Kang violin. There’s also interestingly gypsified bossa nova, a bracingly wistful waltz, and the aptly titled Panamanian Express.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 3/24/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #677:

Les Chauds Lapins – Parlez-Moi D’amour

One of the alltime great boudoir albums, and you don’t have to speak French to appreciate it (although that helps). This is the irresistibly charming 2007 debut by a group that began as a side project of two Americans, Roulette Sisters guitarist/chanteuse Meg Reichardt and former Ordinaires bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Hoffman. In the passing years, the band took on a life of its own, with a great new album Amourettes just out and a cd release show tomorrow at 10 at the 92YTribeca for all you New Yorkers. At the time they released this, Les Chauds Lapins (French slang for “hot to trot”) specialized in mining the witty wordplay and lushly jazzy arrangments of now-obscure French pop hits from the 1930s and 40s (the band has since broadened their palate a bit). This one’s got the coy Il M’a Vue Nue (He Saw Me Naked), the unselfconsciously romantic J’ai Dansé Avec L’Amour (I Danced with Love); the surreal Swing Troubadour; the sad shipwreck lament La Barque D’Yves (Yves’ Boat), the dreamy title track (whose original version was included in the soundtrack to the film Casablanca) and the not-quite-so-dreamy Parlez-Moi D’autre Chose (Let’s Talk About Something Else) among the thirteen sweepingly nocturnal tunes here. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available (also on vinyl!) from the band’s site.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musette Explosion Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/13/08

Just for the record, this is not the same band formerly known as the Jon Spencer Musette Explosion. Instead, it’s accordionist Will Holshouser and guitarist Matt Munisteri (half of Munisteri’s superb vocal jazz outfit Brock Mumford), along with some kind of rhythm, usually tuba player Marcus Rojas, but tonight they had a killer upright bassist instead, playing all kinds of gorgeous broken chords, slides and even mimicking a Munisteri solo at one point.

Musette Explosion and the Barbes house band, Chicha Libre, each play a style of indigenous accordion music which was revolutionized when blended with the American pop music of its era. In the case of Chicha Libre, the essential liquor was Peruvian cumbia (pronounced KOOM-bee-a, not kumbaya) dance music, mixed with 60s American surf and psychedelia and played on electronic instruments. Musette Explosion play blue-collar French and Belgian barroom music from the 30s and 40s; its catalyzing element was swing jazz. It’s richly melodic, intensely emotional music, requiring not only great chops but also an intense emotional sensibility to play it as it was meant to be done. The trio onstage tonight alternated between two types of musette: bouncy, upbeat dance numbers and wrenchingly beautiful laments in waltz time. Not to flog a dead horse, but it never ceases to amaze how good the shows are in the tiny back room at this club – and though there’s always a good turnout, it’s not hard to fill the space. There should have been a line around the block for this one, it was that spectacular, especially considering how popular gypsy music has become.

Holshouser got the enviable job of playing the lead instrument on a mix of vintage tunes by accordionists Gus Viseur, Jo Privat and Tony Murena, in addition to at least one original, with the tongue-in-cheek title Chanson Pop. “We have no idea why it has that title,” he deadpanned, echoing a joke which had been bouncing around between the band all night long – this band makes no secret of how much fun they have playing this stuff. It began like a gentle janglerock song from the early 90s – echoes of Lloyd Cole, perhaps? – with a warm series of major-key hooks, before branching out into an unexpected series of permutations, and then time shifts, toward the end.

Munisteri is the rare guitarist with an instantly recognizable, signature sound. He’s something of a contradiction, a traditionalist whose playing is far more imaginative than any tradition could possibly contain. Blending styles ranging from pretty trad Wes Montgomery octaves, Django Reinhardt percussiveness, soulful, swaying country lines and macabre gypsy runs, he parked his usual understated wit off to the side and went straight for the jugular. The best solo of the night was played on neither accordion, bass, nor guitar: it was Munisteri wailing on his banjo on the Jo Privat composition La Sorciere (The Witch). This particular witch is a seductress, a fair beckoning one who spins around the room, mesmerizing every unlucky suitor with her deadly gaze. Munisteri brought out every ounce of macabre in the song, his fret hand a blur, tremolo-picking wildly as if playing a balalaika, then slamming out the rapid series of chords that wind up the turnaround at the end of the verse.

In another gorgeously lyrical number toward the end of the set, he surprised everyone with a fetching, bent-note, somewhat Chet Atkins country melody. Holshouser whirled and fired off notes at lightning speed, frequently using a rapidfire, machine-gun staccato on a single key. While playing, he’ll often fix an ominous, almost John Lydon-style thousand-yard stare on the back wall of the room, but tonight there was no glare, only the trace of a smile. He let the music tell the rest of the story, and the band did the same.

Holshouser is off to Europe for the next couple of weeks; meanwhile, when not playing big, fancy jazz joints, Munisteri rejoins his Brock Mumford cohort, trumpeter Jon Kellso for their weekly 7:30 PM Sunday session at the Ear Inn. He’s also doing the next couple of Mondays solo at Banjo Jim’s at around 7 PM.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment