Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/31/11

If you think we were idle over the weekend, guess again. It’s that time of the month: we’ve been frantically assembling a brand-new NYC live music calendar for February and March which we should have up by tomorrow. More reviews and other stuff coming in the next couple of days, too. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #729:

Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays – As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls

If you’re wondering what on earth Duke Ellington is doing at #759, with these guys thirty albums ahead, relax: all of these are in completely random order. You probably know this one even if you don’t think you do, especially if you watch nature programs on PBS. Babbling brook in early spring? Dollars to donuts that’s Pat Metheny’s cool, rippling guitar somewhere in the background. Which is the rap on him: Metheny is one of the genuinely nicest guys in jazz, and cynics are quick to dismiss him for being monochromatic. This is his most pensive album, from 1981, rather obvious from the black-and-white album cover shot of a tornado. The centerpiece is the often strikingly brooding, atmospheric, roughly twenty-minute title suite: it’s as much Mays’ triumph as it is Metheny’s. September Fifteenth is a thoughtful Bill Evans homage; the Americana jazz returns with a vengeance on It’s For You and Ozark, both of which have been used as tv mood music for decades. Estupenda Graca foreshadows the turn Metheny would take toward tropicalia and latin sounds later in the decade. Here’s a random torrent.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nordic Connect Choose Their Spots Memorably

Although all the members of jazz group Nordic Connect claim Viking ancestry, there are no galloping rhythms, twin guitar solos or for that matter much of anything on their new album Spirals that’s ordinarily associated with a raised forefinger and pinky. If they’ve come to conquer, this is a stealth attack. Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, her sister Christine on saxophones, Maggi Olin on acoustic and electric piano, Mattias Welin on bass and Jon Wikan on drums combine for a thoughtful, tuneful, counterintuitive collection of songs without words. Instead of going for an easy crescendo, they tend to pull back, let the mood build and then gracefully expand on it. This one makes a good segue with Noah Preminger’s  new After the Rain, recently reviewed here, although its ancestors are twenty years younger. Most of the tracks here are by Olin, although each of her bandmates also contributes.

66 Mike, by Wikan follows in the melodic vein of the other tracks, but more brightly, serving as the launching pad for the high point of the album, Ingrid’s grittily joyous solo, the most uninhibitedly intense moment here. Castle Mountain, by Christine, pairs warmly sostenuto horns against an understatedly funky rhythm section; she contributes an airily evocative soprano sax solo followed shortly by a wryly shapeshifting one by Wikan. Another Christine composition, Yew, works an allusive beauty: it’s a love song without cliches, her sister thoughtfully expansive against an equally allusive rhythm section, in sync as much with regard to the silences between their accents as the beats themselves. Ingrid’s composition Earth Sighs is a tectonically shifting tone poem with the freest feel of any of the songs here, building with a casual, tersely conversational ambience (Nordic people are not given to exaggerated displays of emotion) to the point where all of a sudden a gently resolute ballad emerges out of the discussion. It’s as if they were raising a barn: lots of seemingly unrelated activity, then the corners come up and the architecture is in place.

Olin’s songs are a clinic in implied melody and understatement and that carries over to how she plays: she lets the melodies in rather than hammering them out. On the opening track, Travel Fever, she develops a spacious contrast with her ringing, terse Rhodes accents against Wikan’s neat sidestep shuffle, Ingrid soaring in the distance, Christine in buoyantly and then handing off the melody as happens so frequently on this album. Song for Inga begins moody and brightens quickly with a deft series of spirals from Ingrid. M-Oving, the first of Olin’s two ballads here, pairs warmly spare piano with soulful muted trumpet, and a tersely rippling piano solo from which Ingrid emerges with some amusingly oscillating electronic effects. Ballad North works a somewhat majestic, emphatic hook methodically to the point where a swaying 6/8 blues underpinning slowly emerges while Christine swirls triumphantly and Ingrid buttresses her. The album closes with the high-spirited, tongue-in-cheek shuffle Brejk a Leg, whose most amusing moment out of several is a laugh-out-loud surfy drum solo (hmmm…is anybody in this band a Misha Mengelberg fan?). There’s a lot going on here: as much as the album makes for great atmosphere, it’s considerably more rewarding on headphones.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electric Jazz Before It Got Cheesy – Surprise Reissues from the CTI Vaults

2010 being the fortieth anniversary of 1970s cult jazz label CTI Records, it’s no surprise that there’d be reissues from those vaults coming out right about now. For fans who might be put off by the label’s association with the dreaded f-word, the good news is that the reissued stuff far more closely evokes the Miles Davis of, say, In a Silent Way, than it does fusion. The first one in the series is Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, which often beautifully capsulizes the late 60s/early 70s moment when jazz had gone pretty much completely electric with psychedelic rock overtones, but hadn’t yet been infiltrated by stiff drumming and paint-by-numbers electric guitar solos. Herbie Hancock, who maybe more than any other artist excelled the most during that brief period, plays electric piano and organ here, most stunningly during an absolutely chilling Rhodes solo on an eerily fluttering cover of John Lennon’s Cold Turkey. And he really chooses his spots on a slowly crescendoing version of Suite Sioux. Joe Henderson sets the mood that Hancock will take to its logical extreme on Cold Turkey, but the tenor player is completely tongue-in-cheek to the point of inducing good-natured laughs for his playful insistence on Suite Sioux and the brighty cinematic Intrepid Fox. The atmospheric ballad Delphia has aged well, as has the title track. It’s present here in two versions: the studio take, with its whirling intro building to blazingly catchy jazz-funk, and a far slinkier live take with a sizzling, spiraling George Benson guitar solo. Drummer Lenny White never played more judiciously than he does here, and forty years later, hearing Ron Carter on Fender bass is a trip: he doesn’t waste a note, with a touch that pulls overtones out of the air. It’s up at itunes and all the usual spots.

As is the digital reissue of the 1972 California Concert double album from the Hollywood Palladium, a showcase for CTI’s frontline stable at the time: Hubbard on flugelhorn, Carter on bass, Hank Crawford on alto, George Benson on guitar, Johnny Hammond (the former Johnny “Hammond” Smith) on Rhodes and organ, Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Hubert Laws on flute, Billy Cobham on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. Benson absolutely owns this record: his unhinged atonal flights and circles of biting blues have absolutely nothing in common with the smooth grooves of Breezin’. He pulls Hammond up and pushes him to find the hardcore funk in a long, characteristically loose version of Carole King’s It’s Too Late. An over twenty-minute take of Impressions takes the vibe back ten years prior, fueled by the guitar and the organ, Laws taking it up eerily and stratospherically, Carter doing the limbo with equal parts amusement and grace. Fire and Rain is happy unrecognizable, reinvented as a woozily hypnotic one-chord jam that could be War during their Eric Burdon period. Straight Life starts out as rocksteady and ends as funk; So What gets taken apart and reassembled, at doublespeed the first time around. The high point here, unsurprisingly, is Red Clay, with its blistering flugelhorn and guitar passages…and then Carter casually detuning his bass when the band leaves him all by himself onstage. The recording is far from perfect: Airto is inaudible much of the time, and supporting horn accents fade in and out of the mix during solos. And these grooves are long: do we really need five minutes of band intros by an announcer who’s obviously half in the bag? Still, it really captures an era, one that sadly didn’t last very long.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fabrizio Sotti’s Computer Crashes; His Album Doesn’t

Fabrizio Sotti may be best known as a producer, someone who’s worked with hip-hop luminaries like Dead Prez, Ghostface Killah and reggae toaster Half Pint (and also some who are less than luminary). He’s also a thoughtful, stylistically diverse jazz guitarist. What he seems to be going for on his latest album Inner Dance is an update on the expansively playful vibe of those Wes Montgomery/Jimmy Smith albums from the 60s. This is a feel-good story in more ways than one: halfway through recording, Sotti’s hard drive died and he lost everything (yet another argument for the benefits of two-inch tape). And he also lost the services of bassist James Genus, who’d played on the original tracks but whose schedule had become too busy to accommodate further recording. So Sotti brought in B3 organist Sam Barsh, and suddenly they had a new vibe to work with. What they ended up with is actually a very 80s sounding album – but 80s in a good way. Sotti frequently utilizes a watery chorus-box tone, Barsh alternating between tasteful atmospherics and good-natured exuberance. Victor Jones handles the drum work with a crafty understatement, with Mino Cinelu taking over the throne on the title track.

They open with a gently purposeful swing blues, and then the acoustic guitar ballad Kindness in Your Eyes, Sotti negotiating his way through it nimbly, with some nifty tremolo-picking over atmospheric waves of organ. They segue into the title track: finally Sotti kicks into gear with a very Wes solo after an interminable one by guest harmonica player Gregoire Maret, then segue out and pick up the pace with I Thought So, a showcase for fluidly dancing, staccato fretwork and bubbly, classically-tinged arpeggiation by Barsh. Amanecer, a cowrite with brilliant Chilean soul/jazz chanteuse Claudia Acuña (who also sings on the track) has an aptly hushed beauty, Sotti’s flights up and down the scale midway through the song wisely and poignantly restrained. A Michael Brecker homage, Brief Talk actually more closely resembles the blue-sky ambience that Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays were mining circa As Falls Wichita. Then they pick up the pace with the best of the upbeat numbers here, Last Chance, offer a tribute to Monk with the swinging, artfully voiced Mr. T.M. and close with a brief, ruminative nylon-string solo vignette. When he’s not behind the board, Sotti is sought after as a sideman: one listen to this album and the reason for his popularity becomes clear.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Bernie Worrell’s SociaLybrium at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/10/10

The name of Bernie Worrell’s latest band is an ironic pun: the last thing the legendary P-Funk keyboardist and music director wants is a comatose, complacent audience. The tired workday crowd at the park where Myrtle deadends into Jay in downtown Brooklyn wasn’t dancing, but they were paying close attention. Worrell and his backing trio rewarded them with a characteristically sly, smartly diverse show. The Wizard of Woo doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but he has a couple of degrees from the prestigious New England Conservatory, and that knowledge resonates throughout pretty much everything he plays. Today Worrell did a lot of funk, but he also showed off his jazz chops, and more captivatingly, his jazz ideas: agile chromatic piano runs, incisively terse blues-based phrases, lots of swirling, Jimmy Smith-inflected organ and a devious refusal to land on an obvious resolution at the end of a phrase. Drummer J.T. Lewis kept things terse and rock solid, and bassist Melvin Gibbs was a revelation: he’s come a long, long way from his days in Living Color. Moving from a steady, almost minimal low-register boom to the occasional judicious chord and a bent-string melody here and there, he was welcome wherever he decided to embellish the melody, and he didn’t waste a note. Worrell has no doubt been a good influence. Southpaw Strat player Ronny Drayton has spectacular chops and used them most effectively on the quieter numbers, adding spacy, atmospheric washes, thoughtfully chorded soul fills and even some bracing sheets of feedback out of one of his solos. But when he soloed, it was all gratuitous funk-metal: he’d put the bite on or add garish vibrato where he could have really driven Worrell’s slow crescendos all the way home. Unless Worrell counterintuitively wanted him to play the buffoon (as Worrell himself did a few times with woozy portamento and some even squigglier, oscillating synth textures). You never know with this guy: he’s bright.

Worrell opened solo, playing variations on the Kool Man ice cream truck theme. They shuffled their way through a psychedelic, reggae-tinged vamp titled Rockers Uptown with Worrell evoking Augustus Pablo with some humidly breezy melodica work when he wasn’t adding organ fills. They wound that up with a dub flourish of an outro, led by Drayton of all people. Worrell explained that another number, predictably titled Funk, was a commentary on “world government” and complacency on the part of those who mindlessly accept it. “Put it in the trunk, stash that shit!” he snarled. The best number of the afternoon started out darkly atmospheric, driven by guitar washes and string synthesizer, almost a requiem – and then it got comedic, with all kinds of silly synth fills, and somehow the band made it work. BQE, from the band’s new album started out as a warped boogie but an endless guitar solo made it interminable, like getting stuck in traffic on the way to Coney Island right after the Prospect Park exit. But again, maybe that was the point. When Worrell announced that they were about to do a Buckethead song, that was the signal that it was time to get up and get back to work. For those who regret missing this show, the band is playing the Undead Jazz Festival, with a show at le Poisson Rouge on the 12th at about 9:15.

June 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genre-Smashing New Guitar Albums from Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins

Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins are both gifted acoustic guitarists with individual voices, each with an innovative, flamenco-inspired approach and a new album out. Jacome imaginatively blends both rock and Middle Eastern melodies within a traditional gypsy flamenco framework, while Rollins brings a biting flamenco edge to his groove-oriented world jazz instrumentals. If flamenco or gypsy guitar is your thing, both of these guys should be on your radar, particularly since each has his best days ahead of him.

Jacome is a feel-good story: as a teenager, he wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, but was happily disabused of that fantasy when he discovered flamenco. He immersed himself in it the old-fashioned way, learning from the source from Roma in Spain. His new album Levanto is a fullscale ballet, a theme and variations complete with dancing – as a purist, he’s continuing a centuries-old tradition that blends music with dance, legend and storytelling. Dynamics are his strong suit: he’s the rare guitarist you actually want to hear more of (lots more of, actually – as with Rollins, he’s sometimes conspicuously absent on his own album). Backed by the vivid, incisive violin of Jennifer Mayer, Adrian Goldenthal on bass, Kristofer Hill on percussion and a trio of brassy vocalists (Chayito Champion, Olivia Rojas and Vanessa Lopez), the group alternate between fiery dance instrumentals, dramatic ballads, poignantly fingerpicked passages and a lot of tap-dancing. Jacome makes artful use of the Arabic hijaz scale as well as interpolating catchy rock passages within the compositions’ stately architecture. The problem is that as an album, the segues are jarring – just when a song seems about to sail joyously over the edge, here come those dancers again. It’s easily solved once you upload the tracks and sequence them yourself (it should be emphasized that fans of oldschool flamenco will have no problem with this; however, a lot of momentum gets lost if you just leave the tracks in their original order). What this really should have been is a DVD – it leaves the impression that there’s a whole side to the spectacle that doesn’t translate if the audio is all you have.

Rollins comes at flamenco as a jazz player with blazing speed and a wealth of original ideas: by the time the fifth track begins, he’s delved into rhumba, samba, Cuban son and back again. Like Jacome, he has an inspired cast of characters behind him including Charlie Bisharat on violin, Dave Bryant on percussion, the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor guesting on kamancheh on one track and Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and their daughter Diana Booker contributing backing vocals. Rollins tosses off one lightning phrase after another, sometimes handing them off to Bisharat, other times to the wryly muted trumpet of Jeff Elliott. He imaginatively works the traditional descending scale of flamenco music in all kinds of new ways, even adding some tersely textural electric guitar beauty to the title track. The highlight of the cd is the triptych at the end, the Migration Suite, upping the ante with biting, Middle Eastern flavored arrangements and motifs. The problem here is the production: when there are horns here, they’re so compressed that they sound like a synthesizer, an effect that compromises all the playing here, even Rollins’. Where the Brazilian vocalists might have been able to contribute something memorable, they’re as buried in the mix as the Jordanaires on an old Elvis record. Even Kalhor gets flattened out. There may be a reason behind this: one of the cuts here was a “most added” track on easy-listening radio earlier in the year. Which on one level is fine, Rollins deserves to be heard – but in a context that does justice to the fire and imagination of his playing, his compositions and the peers he plays with. More than anything, this reminds of the work of another quality guitarist, Peter White, whose series of world music-inspired acoustic instrumental albums about 20 years ago typecast him as an easy-listening, smooth jazz guy rather than the world class player he is.

Lucky Arizonans can see Chris Burton Jacome play the cd release show for this one at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N Arizona Ave. in Chandler on May 2.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Eldar Djangirov at the Jazz Standard, NYC 9/10/09

Dave Brubeck has given hotshot Kyrgyz-American pianist Eldar Djangirov the thumbs-up, and it makes sense that he would: beyond the two’s shared melodicism, both have a flair for incorporating classical motifs within a jazz framework. Djangirov’s obvious precursor – not assuming that he’s familiar with her work – is the legendary Dorothy Donegan, a ferociously powerful player who was equally at home with the blues and Rachmaninoff. Last night at the Jazz Standard, Djangirov (or Eldar, as his label prefers, given the potentially difficult surname), impressed with a vivid and heartfelt Chopinesque sensibility when he wasn’t barrelling through cascades the length of the keyboard in a blaze of Debussy-inflected color. Where was the jazz? As a great bluesman in the house remarked, this was “Euro-jazz.” Which won’t be a problem for adventurous listeners in search of innovative new talent: this guy qualifies many times over. Still, you have to wonder where his American audience is. It might be more of a rock crowd.

The rhythm section stayed out of the way for most of the show, probably due to unfamiliarity with both the material and the style, and the guest saxophonist didn’t add much on the few occasions he was given, so this became Djangirov’s show – he could have played it solo and wouldn’t have lost any fire. He opened with Exposition, the aptly titled opening cut on his new cd Virtue. It’s an ostentatious showcase for jazzing up classically-inflected hooks, and it worked until he went to his old analog synthesizer above the piano keys and then it was like Yes following Brubeck, a jaw-droppingly awkward segue to say the least. There would be a few like that later.

Insensitive, by contrast, is sarcastically titled – there’s a beautifully lyrical pop song underneath, and Djangirov brought out all the jeweled facets beneath its fluid rivulets. And then lit into an even more attractive, early Romantic style prelude that led back into the theme. Blues Sketch in Clave, also from the new cd, was neither really blues nor clave – it had more of a boisterous Brazilian rhythm – and also featured some beautiful cascading passages. Although a solo cover of the Sinatra standard I Should Care was a heavy-handed mess, Djangirov also gave it a welcome, unexpectedly ominous edge with some gypsy-inflected flourishes in the right hand. The same feeling would take centerstage on the night’s best song, Lullaby Fantasia, which alternated breakneck runs with poignant Chopinesque interludes.

On one level, following the crowd is never necessarily a good idea. But a crowd will also run from a burning building, and crowds of both rock and jazz players have run from most of the keening, woozy synthesizer sounds of the 70s simply because they’re cheesy. It’s amazing what timbre will do: Monk on the piano sounds like Monk; on a synth, it could be anything but Monk and that includes Phil Collins. That Djangirov would be unaware of that is probably a cultural tic: in much of Europe, and pretty much everywhere further east, fusion is still in vogue. While it wouldn’t be fair to label any sound or timbre completely off-limits – even the cheesiest synth has its uses, if only for comedic purposes – if he doesn’t put the thing on the shelf, at least for the jazz rooms, he’s going to get stuck with a fusion tag. Which would be too bad, because his sound innnovatively blends so many other, far more captivating styles. Still in his early twenties, there’s reason to believe this might be a passing phase. He’s at the Jazz Standard through Sunday the 13th, and considering the crowd for yesterday’s early set, reservations and/or early arrival are very highly recommended.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion – Not Radio Material

This cd is a rare blend of accessibility and excitement. The title is sarcastic: much of this album is perfect radio material for adventurous noncommercial djs, while some of the compositions are easygoing enough to sneak into a smooth-grooves playlist. Don’t let the F-word scare you off – true to their name, Chicago area Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion play fusion jazz, meaning solos around the horn, interplay between the instruments absent as usual, rhythm straight up, four on the floor. But jazz fans are supposed to be open-minded – and for any fan of string music, with fond memories of the 70s or an ear for Jean-Luc Ponty or Weather Report, this is a treat. Bandleader Edgar Gabriel, playing electric violin, viola and even electric mandolin, demonstrates virtuoso chops, impressive taste and a whirlwind of styles, backed by a rhythm section of electric and acoustic piano, electric or standup bass and live drums (with this stuff, you never know sometimes). The first cut on the cd is straight-up funk, Gabriel impressively working a horn melody; the second cut is thoughtful and midtempo with a bit of a rhumba feel, featuring a warmly exploratory tenor sax solo by Michael Levin. The fourth track, Mobile is a fiery, percussive, flamenco-fueled number with a bracingly atonal Macedonian edge.

I Knew That, by keyboardist Kevin O’Connell switches the time stamp on mid-40s style swing, Gabriel’s flourishes alternately ambient and bluesy. By contrast, O’Connell’s Blue 7 evokes the cool jazz feel of what Ponty or Stephane Grappelli were doing in the 60s, Stevie Doyle adding an incisive guitar solo from a period ten years down the road over steady, minimalist blues variations. Nose Bleed is the requisite fusion-metal number, Gabriel running his axe through a screechy wall of distortion. The cd’s best cut is Renaissance man, a bouncy dance that blends a Django/Grappelli vibe with klezmer overtones, alternating between lively Gabriel atmospherics and some absolutely spot-on, lickety-split clarinet work by Levin. The only miss here is the third track, a Lite FM vocal number – sung by somebody’s girlfriend maybe? – which has no place on an album this good. Otherwise, there’s plenty for everyone here, proof that there’s plenty of music that can simultaneously be mainstream AND good.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mark Steiner, the Crass Brass and Ingrid Olava at Small Beast at the Delancey, NYC 3/19/09

You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again, get used to it: Small Beast is the best weekly music event in New York, as much in the spirit of an Enlightenment-era salon as it is a concert. Thursday nights, the Delancey is where the cognoscenti hang out, and host Paul Wallfisch (of Botanica, who are playing Joe’s Pub tonight at 7 with a string section!) always brings a fascinating and eclectic group of edgy acts to fill a bill that runs from about nine to midnight.

 

Thursday’s Small Beast was one of the best. Former Piker Ryan and Kundera frontman Mark Steiner now makes his home in Norway; his debut solo cd made Lucid Culture’s Top Ten Albums of 2007 list. Casually blasting away on a Strat through a fiery wall of distortion and reverb and accompanied only by the incomparable Susan Mitchell (who plays with everybody: Magges and Mark Sinnis, to name a couple) on viola, he ran through a set auspiciously loaded with new material, dark, haunting, dramatic but sometimes unexpectedly funny. From the tempo of the new ones, it was clear that he’s still a big fan of 6/8 time.  One was a hypnotic two-chord minor-key vamp with some characteristically eerie pizzicato work from Mitchell (who’s been working with Steiner for fifteen years, she said); another built slowly and ominously with an anthemic Nick Cave feel to a repetitive, ringing chorus that saw Mitchell slashing against it with some fiercely staccato runs. Steiner was in his usual wiseass mood, eventually revealing that the Icelandic word for toast (as in prost, nasdarovye, l’chaim, cheers) is pronounced “scowl.”

 

Wallfisch joined the duo for a cover written by a mutual friend, now deceased, providing the most compelling solo of the night, a moment that was nothing short of heartwrenching. It was clear that both he and Steiner had lost a good friend. Starting with a little honkytonk (didn’t know he had that in him!), he took it down the scale with a restrained anguish. They closed with an old Piker Ryan song, the tongue-in-cheek Weimar blues Devil in the Bottle.

 

The Crass Brass were next. This is saxist/guitarist Tony Jarvis and trumpeter Jeff Pierce’s jazzy project. They were making their live debut, at least in this particular configuration with an excellent pianist and tight rhythm section featuring ex-Botanica bassist Christian Bongers. Most of the set was occasionally sloppy but playfully fun trip-hop instrumentals with inspired playing from all members: once they get the songs in their fingers, or get the solos worked out, they’ll be fine. The only drawback was a guest singer who surprisingly nailed Crying (the Orbison tune) with some spot-on falsetto but couldn’t rise above a generically showy 70s Bad Company style on the bluesier songs.

 

Norwegian chanteuse Ingrid Olava closed the night, having wrapped up the last of her three-day stand headlining at Cake Shop just minutes earlier. Although she confessed to being a little buzzed from the booze (and promptly took up Wallfisch on his offer of more wine), it didn’t show. She explained that she wanted to do something different, a wee-hours show. Instead of playing her standard set of originals, she treated the crowd to an intriguing and intensely passionate mix of covers along with a couple of her own. No matter that the piano, having been used by all four of the acts on the bill (Wallfisch had opened the night solo, as usual), was going further and further out of tune. Opening with the old blues Nobody’s Fault but Mine, she wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals, proving as much a bonafide oldschool soul belter as sultry noir cabaret stylist. An original set to a staggered tango beat began as a caution to stay away but quickly took on a compelling, longing tone: “We’ve just begun,” she intoned, equal parts hopefulness and dread.

 

After a couple of heartfelt diversions into the Tom Waits and Gillian Welch songbooks, she told the crowd that she was going to do something “unbelievably pretentious,” but it was the furthest thing from that. With perfect recall of the song’s epic lyrics, she dove into It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding and played it all the way through, her piano giving it a gorgeously noir edge, bringing out every bit of anguish and intensity in Dylan’s classic lyric. By the time she got to “It’s all right, ma, it’s life and life only!” and then an ominously perfect little outro, the once-chatty crowd was rapt. No doubt Olava will be playing a considerably larger space the next time she’s in town. Shows like this make a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge in chilly 2 AM drizzle worth every step.  

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – Planet Pimp

Punk jazz in the spirit if not the style of the first Lounge Lizards album, a rabbit decked out in earrings and a lot of bling staring impassively from the cover of the new cd by Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. Basically, what this full-throttle collection by the Japanese inventors of what they call “death jazz” most resembles is a high-quality 80s fusion action film soundtrack. Jazz purists will find this hamhanded and monochromatic, but the band’s looking to reach a vastly wider audience. This is subversive stuff.

 

If nothing else, the group gets props for most bizarre band name of the year. Which one’s Soil, and which one’s “Pimp?” Or is soil a verb? And maybe pimp too? And why the parentheses? So as to discourage the yazuka from believing that real prostitution is involved and wanting a piece of the action? Whatever the case, it’s a lot of fun. Right from the cd’s first moments, it’s all drama with a big thunderstorm, Bach’s Toccata in D blasting through a cheap electronic organ patch…and then they’re off to a somewhat rough start with what sounds like a shredding Steve Vai guitar solo (could be a synth player – hard to tell – this band has a good keyboardist). Then things get interesting. It’s a very vivid, cinematic ride, and you can dance to it. A couple of piano-driven latin jazz numbers, what sounds like a big adventure movie theme, a couple of Keystone Kops chase sequences and a brief, barely 90-second Mingus homage whose energy threatens to rip off the roof. One of the latin numbers here is titled Sea of Tranquility, and it’s anything but. But there is a smooth, loungey trip-hop number that you can download for free. The whole cd is also available on itunes.

 

The group actually evolved out of the Japanese disco scene. When a group of promoters imaginatively began interspersing jazz amongst the dull, computerized thuds and blips, they discovered to their delight that audiences loved it. Beginning as the promoters’ house band, S&PS have become big stars in Japan. They’re not in it to wow the critics, they’re just here to bring the party and they do that massively well. For years, the major labels tried to sell computerized music to an American audience because it’s so ridiculously cheap to create, and met with utter failure. But an entire generation of Europeans and Latin Americans grew up, as Black Box Recorder acidly noted, to the sound of the synthesizer. They learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums. S&PS seem to want to change all that. A lot of people forget that not for years but for decades, jazz was the default style of dance and pop music throughout the western world and elsewhere as well. It might be wishful to think that could happen again, but if S&PS get their way, a lot of “celebrity djs” will find themselves unemployed.

March 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, Rant, review | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment