Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nick Moran Puts a New Spin on Old Grooves

Nick Moran’s second organ trio album, No Time Like Now is “not a Chicken Shack band” record, the jazz/funk guitarist asserts. It’s not that he doesn’t love classic B3 grooves, it’s just that he wants to be freed from the constraints of that idiom, which he makes absolutely clear right from the album’s opening track, a funky reinvention of Cream’s Strange Brew. Drummer Chris Benham pushes it along with a steady, somewhat restrained pulse as organist Brad Whiteley cascades and swirls with a similar terseness before they bring it way down for a relaxed, starry halfspeed guitar interlude. Moran’s bluesy bends, unclutted, clear tone and precise staccato reach back for a Memphis soul feel as much as they do to George Benson. As the album goes on, the group expands their palette to include soul, rock and a whole lot of funk.

The rest of the compositions are Moran originals. My Beautiful is a carefree bossa nova ballad given extra heft by Whiteley’s washes of sustain, and then an alternately smoky and spiraling solo before Moran takes an effortlessly cheery one of his own. The next cut, Intention is a slow, warmly catchy soul groove that wouldn’t be out of place in the early Grover Washington, Jr. songbook (a good soprano saxophonist would have a field day with this melody). Then they pick up the pace with the deep-fried southern funk of Slow Drive, Moran channeling vintage Larry Carlton circa 1976 with his agile pull-offs and coppery vibrato, segueing into the trickily rhythmic Wishful Thinking with its artful dynamic contrasts, subtly plaintive, crescendoing chords and then an off-center, Walter Becker-ish guitar solo.

Not everything here is as easygoing. The title track, a casually hopeful, warmly pulsing, nostalgic ballad, underscores the irony of Moran’s final conversation with a friend who died suddenly afterward. Say Hi to Paris is an aptly wry, funky, vintage Crusaders-style homage to the late New York blues singer and bandleader Frankie Paris, an irrepressible character who played pretty much every dive bar in Manhattan that had music 20 years ago. The Physicist Transformed, a biting, minor-key elegy for a friend who was a scientist by day, bluesman by night, builds from a Balkan-tinged circular riff, through suspensefully crescendoing nocturnal cinematics to a drum solo that stops just thisclose to crushing. And Natalya, inspired by Natalya Estemirova, the Chechen human rights activist murdered in 2009, maintains a stunned, brooding ambience, Moran stately and wistful against Whiteley’s eerie, funereal chords. The album closes with on an upbeat note with Renewal, a steady, purposeful clave tune lit up by Whiteley’s insistent volleys and Moran’s casually propulsive, loping single-note lines. The Nick Moran Trio plays the album release show for this one this coming Friday, March 9 with three sets starting at 7:30 PM at the Bar Next Door.

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March 5, 2012 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mattson 2 Invent a New Genre: Their Own

If you like 80s music, jazz, and/or watery guitar with the occasional touch of twang and reverb, this is for you. The Mattson 2’s latest album Feeling Hands blends elements of 80s Britpop, classic jazz guitar and surf music into a coolly energetic instrumental rock style that’s uniquely their own. Guitarist/bassist Jared Mattson sometimes evokes the frenetic, jazzy virtuosity of Paul Cavanagh, of 80s cult heros The Room; drummer Jonathan Mattson shifts effortlessly from surf rumble to 80s bounce to more intricate, cerebral patterns.

The album opens with Pleasure Point, a twangy sci-fi instrumental that adds an 80s edge to classic Shadows-style surf. With its simple, catchy chorus-box guitar hooks, Black Rain wouldn’t be out of place on a New Order album circa 1985. Ode to Lou (Lou Donaldson, maybe?) matches blithe Wes Montgomery-ish guitar to David Boyce’s fluttery but balmy tenor sax. They take a spacious, almost rubato Bill Frisell style noir Americana theme and follow it with a clangy variation that goes in a jazzy mid-80s Britpop direction… with a 70s soul string chart!

Mexican Synth is not particularly Mexican: it’s more like George Benson goes to Manchester. Guest Ray Barbee delivers a long, absolutely sensational, casually savage guitar solo on Chi Nine, Jared Mattson’s furious righthand attack shadowing him. When the strings come in, it’s something of a relief from all the wild intensity. Give Inski’s (what’s up with these titles, huh?) vamps on the opening chords of the Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic: essentially, it’s a funk tune done in straight-up 4/4. There’s also the surf jazz number Obvious Crutch, judicious verse alternating with intense chorus, and Man from Anamnensis, opening with a minimalist, early 80s style new wave hook and builds from there, like the Mighty Lemon Drops gone to the Newport Festival. Fans of all the aforementioned artists ought to check this out. It’s out now from Galaxia.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two More Unlikely Gems from the CTI Archive

The reissues keep coming from the CTI vaults. Creed Taylor’s influential 1970s West Coast jazz label may be remembered for fusion, but the fact is that they put out some amazing albums. The highlight of the latest batch is Freddie Hubbard’s improbable 1971 First Light, with George Benson, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, Phil Kraus on vibes and Richard Wyands on keyboards plus an orchestra. Something this casually lavish could only have occurred in the 70s – especially for a jazz trumpeter who wasn’t likely to sell ten thousand albums. Did anybody make money on this project? Doubtful. But it was worth it many times over. After all the mysterioso atmospherics fade down, the eleven-minute title track is essentially a two-chord vamp over a tense son montuno beat: Hubbard works it thematically and judiciously, pretty remarkable considering that you can practically smell the ganja wafting from under the door at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio. The orchestra’s thousand butterfly wings flutter, announcing choruses and solos, Benson goes lickety-split to bring the energy up a notch and turns it over to Hubbard until it’s obvious that he’s out of gas.

The cover of Paul McCartney’s odious Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey is deviously funny, Hubbard distancing himself from the cloying opening riff at the first turn and turning it into a diptych of one-chord funk jams, Benson unable to do much with it so he hits the same riffs again and again. If you ever suffered through the original in the supermarket or via lite FM radio, the trick ending will make you laugh. It’s amazing how they take Henry Mancini’s Moment to Moment and mix funk, a boozy ballad vibe and an orchestra; the cover of Yesterday’s Dreams is the piece de resistance here, done as brooding bossa nova, orchestra magically interpolated with big swells at just the right moments. Leonard Bernstein’s Lonely Town gets a subtle 1971 LA noir treatment; the rest of the album includes both an outtake (another vampy one, Cedar Walton’s Fantasy in D) and an expansive 1975 live take of the title track with Carter, DeJohnette and not Eric Gales on guitar, as the liner notes indicate, but an uncredited and quite agile Rhodes player.

Another choice pick from the CTI vaults is George Benson’s Beyond the Blue Horizon, also from 1971. It’s a similarly unexpected treat: a Hammond B3 album that’s about as far from Breezin’ as…hmmm, Kind of Blue is from Bitches Brew. Here Rev. Benson is backed by Clarence Palmer on organ plus a rhythm section of Carter and DeJohnette. They take So What as a swinging shuffle, Benson running through the raindrops, Carter bobbing and weaving as DeJohnette works an almost martial beat. Luiz Bonfa’s The Gentle Rain is bossa as Jimmy McGriff might do it, Palmer’s swift, brooding intensity shifting it to more of a tango before the storm subsides and Benson reemerges with a smile.

The rest of the album is Benson originals. All Clear has a warm, grazing-in-the-grass soul groove, followed by the atmospheric, catchy, gently swaying Ode to a Kudu. The last, Somewhere in the East, is a real eye-opener, probably the most “free” that Benson has ever been captured on vinyl, Carter’s steady groove anchoring Carter and Benson as they hammer and bend, sometimes atonally. Three outtakes are included as well: All Clear done more as a straight-up B3 shuffle; an even more ethereal guitar-and-drums take of Ode to a Kudu and a surprisingly straightforward Somewhere in the East: it’s something of a shock that this jaunty swing version, with its biting, rumbling outro wasn’t chosen for the album instead. Both of these are back in print, for a long time let’s hope, on CTI Masterworks.

May 5, 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

CD Review: The City Champs – The Safecracker

Dance music doesn’t get any better than this. Sounding like they just got off the train from Memphis, 1968, the City Champs lay down an irresistible hip-twisting groove in the same vein as classic soul instrumentalists like Booker T & the MGs, the Meters, the late Willie Mitchell and the Bar-Kays. The production values are strictly oldschool – this may be a cd but it sounds like a vinyl record, warm and glowing with Hammond organ and tersely tuneful soul guitar, propelled with muscle and swing by veteran Memphis soul/blues drummer George Sluppick. Yet as retro as the production is, this isn’t just a homage – guitarist/bandleader Joe Restivo adds an understatedly jazzy virtuosity while the southern flavor flows from organist Al Gamble’s Leslie speaker. Sometimes the guitar will build to a crescendo or wrap up a solo and then hand off to the organ, sometimes vice versa, and sometimes – this is the best part – everybody grooves together.

The title track is an edgy, gritty crime movie theme that wouldn’t be out of place in the Herbie Hancock songbook, circa 1970. Takin’ State is a strutting staccato dance shuffle, Restivo slipping and sliding with a carefree, sly Steve Cropper feel. The low-key, George Benson-inflected jam Love Is a Losing Game has the guitar handing the reins over to the organ to bring the lights down and steam up the windows – maybe love’s not such a losing game after all.

Poppin’ bounces along on a catchy New Orleans blues guitar riff that boils over and then simmers as Sluppick gets the cymbals cooking, then the organ picks it up and blazes. The funkiest track on the album is The Whap-a-Dang, organ swirling in, Booker T style, after Restivo’s pimpmobile solo. Pretty Girl sounds like George Benson covering a sultry midtempo, Hugh Masekela hit; the cd closes with Coming Home Baby, a head-bobbing Stax/Volt blues groove which is a dead ringer for a Booker T hit from around 1964 except with more expansive guitar. Soul music lovers and jazz guitar fans alike will love this. The City Champs are at Highline Ballroom on Feb 26 with the North Mississippi All-Stars, wear comfortable shoes. They’re also in the new documentary I Am a Man, which you can stream here.

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment