Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trouble in Tribeca, Part One: Bad Reputation, Rana Santacruz and Pistolera at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Friday night was Trouble Worldwide night at the 92YTribeca, part of the annual booking agents’ convention with sets from a mix of the best Barbes bands along with a couple of ringers, Rana Santacruz and the Cuban Cowboys. The Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande opened the night with his latest side project (this guy seems to always be in about five bands at once), Bad Reputation, whose raison d’etre is English versions of the songs of iconic, often bawdy French individualist Georges Brassens. Guillotinings and the Bastille aside, the French typically allow for a greater freedom of expression in song lyrics than has traditionally been the case here, so it was as striking as it was amusing to hear Gaillande deadpanning about “the nun who defrosts the penis of the amputee” in the ribald Don Juan. Guitarist Tony Jarvis lit up that one with some casually intense tremolo-picking, then switching to bass clarinet for most of the other numbers as the band gave them a swinging noir cabaret feel. Gaillande has obviously put a great deal of effort into making Brassens’ wordy, argotique narratives flow smoothly in English – and with rhymes! – and this paid off immensely in the curmudgeonly but sweet 1953 song Public Benches, the blithely cynical 95% of the Time (a hilarious tale of a woman who won’t settle for anything less than sex with love), the minor-key waltz Philistines (a tribute to teenage delinquency), the O. Henry-esque Princess and the Troubadour and the first song Brassens ever wrote, a defiant outsider anthem probably dating from 1940s. Bad Reputation’s debut cd is due out auspiciously on Barbes Records sometime this year.

Backed by a boisterous band including rhythm section, violin, accordion and banjo, Mexican songwriter Rana Santacruz delivered a wry, quirky set that brought a brisk Celtic edge to traditional Mexican folkloric styles. A characteristically tongue-in-cheek number, Noche de Perro reminisced about an affair gone sour, the howling of the dogs in the night a vivid reminder that “they were more faithful than you were.” They wrapped up a very well-received show with a punked out – or Pogued-out – cover of a Vicente Fernandez ranchera number and a drinking song.

In their micro-set, Pistolera sounded like the Mexican Go-Go’s with their playful, sunny, sweetly melodic janglepop. The songs – from their forthcoming second album which transplants New York to the desert – included a bouncy ranchera rocker about the New York subway, a reggae-flavored vacation song and the swinging, effervescent, minor-key Todos se Cai (Everybody Falls Down). Then they switched gears and proceeded to play as their alter ego, the children’s music group Moona Luna. 99% of the time, children’s music is smarmy, condescending and patronizing, obviously as a selling point for the yuppie moms who buy it regardless of the fact that they too were once young and hated that stuff. But just when it seemed that like every other children’s band, this group should be exiled to the lowest circle of hell, they played the most anti-parent song of the night, which goes something like this, in both Spanish and English:

I like to jump on the bed
I like to jump on the couch
I like to jump on the floor
More! More! More!

Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’ two-year-old daughter inspired that one. Obviously, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe someday the two can share a stage and do that together.

The second half of the show, with Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party is reviewed here.

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January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ghost of Cesar Franck, Part Two

Monday night began with a stellar performance of Romantic music for cello and piano featuring a gorgeously permutating version of terminally underrated Belgian composer Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A Major. It was as if his ghost was in the room. After the show, it was time to head up to Small Beast at the Delancey, the weekly edgy music salon (now with free barbecue!)  that’s recently migrated from Thursdays to Mondays for at least the time being as the weather heats up (let’s face it, this respite we’ve been enjoying is about to end). Franck’s ghost came along for the ride, maybe bringing Chopin along (it’s unknown if the two composers knew each other – Chopin was at the height of his popularity just as Franck was graduating from the conservatory, but both were wallflowers so it’s unlikely). Seated at the Small Beast (the 88-key spinet piano) doing his own Romantic thing was Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, who since he books Small Beast has received an enormous amount of ink here. Suffice it to say that his own individual blend of classical and gypsy influences, along with the rock and the honkytonk and the gospel, is something you ought to see if you like any of those styles. This time was characteristic: some new Botanica material (one a dead ringer for vintage Procol Harum), some noir cabaret and a soul song.

Marni Rice was next. The accordionist/chanteuse is a quintessentially New York artist, a throwback to a more dangerous, vastly more interesting, pre-condo era, around the time Bernie Madoff was president of  the NASDAQ exchange (presumably because his Ponzi scheme was so successful). She opened solo with one of Edith Piaf’s first recordings, Mon Pernod, a haphazard barroom narrative from 1926 that she’d transcribed from an old record. With a twilight feel on her accordion, Rice switched between a slightly menacing, noir cabaret delivery and a soulful alto, backed by former Pere Ubu bassist Michelle Temple (who also doubled on guitar) and Wallfisch on piano on one song. Another evocative narrative, Rice explained, she’d written after returning from Paris to her old stomping grounds near the old Second Ave. sidewalk sale, a reliable source of bargains run by a rotating cast of junkies and derelicts around 6th and 7th Sts. in the 80s and early 90s. “I’ll be all right…til winter comes,” one of them casually tells his sidewalk pal.

The duo also swung their way through the noir cabaret of Dripping with Blue, a spot-on rainy NYC street tableau and Priere, an original that gave Rice a chance to relate a hilarious anecdote about playing one of Louise Bourgeois’ salons, Bourgeois giving her an earful about how the stuff she grew up listening to in Paris was “so much more elevated” than the old barroom songs in Rice’s catalog…but did Rice know this one, and that one, and could she play it? They closed with Red Light, “about insomnia and spending too much time on the subway,” and a fuzz bass-driven punk rock song. When the luxury condos all turn into crackhouses and the old days come back, we’ll undoubtedly still have Marni Rice around to usher them in a second time.

Next on the bill: the Snow, rocker Pierre de Gaillande’s main band these days when he’s not doing his amazing Georges Brassens Translation Project, Melomane having gone on hiatus for the time being. This was a full-band show, drum kit down on the floor in front of the bar. Cesar Franck’s ghost was still in full effect, the Parisian vibe more evident than ever in Gaillande’s writing – in a lot of ways it makes sense that he’d be the one to introduce Brassens to English-speaking audiences because the two writers share a cleverness, a punk rock fearlessness but also a meticulous sense of craft. Frontwoman/keyboardist Hilary Downes, as usual, got to take center stage and keep the crowd entertained, but it was the songwriting that carried the night: the noir garage swing of Reptile, the subtly shifting, understatedly haunting Undertow, a swirling version of True Dirt (title track to the band’s excellent debut cd), a soul duet and the hilarious Russians, an aptly snide look at what happens when a corrupt communist regime goes even more corruptly capitalist.

Hindsight being 20/20, it would easily have been possible to stick around and see what Christof Widholm of Morex Optimo was doing with his latest project Pharmacy & Gardens. However, in the interest of staying on top of the scene to the extent that there is a scene and there’s a top to be found there, the game plan was to get over to Union Pool in time to see how Rev. Vince Anderson’s first night there was going. Answer: another mobscene, even more delirously populated than closing night at Black Betty a week ago. Union Pool is a lot bigger than Black Betty, and the crowd filled it, a swirl of bodies in refreshingly diverse shades swaying and bouncing to the pulse of the band. They were celebrating baritone sax player Moist Paula’s birthday, so there was a full horn section up with Anderson and the Moist One and the guitar and rhythm section and they were positively cooking, one of the jams going on for at least 25 minutes. While it’s a safe bet that most of the crowd had no concern about how late the party went – this was Williamsburg, after all – the house was still full well past two in the morning. And it was clear that Cesar had come along along for the ride – though you won’t hear any Franck in Anderson’s fiery electric piano cascades or Billy Preston-inflected organ, it’s safe to say that not only does Anderson know Franck’s work, but it’s quite possible he’s played it on a church organ at some point. At least the vibe was the same – Anderson’s gospel is the gospel of the heart, where emotion rules, where the rules are cast to the wind and the good guys always win. At least they did Monday night.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Barmaljova and the Georges Brassens Translation Project at the Delancey, NYC 2/12/09

Ever notice how every blogger wants to be a promoter? Ohmyrockness has been doing it and now the other trendoid sites are getting into the act. We went into this ass-backwards, from booking shows to blogging. Every now and then somebody (usually a really good, struggling musician looking to build a following) will ask, why don’t you start booking shows again? Answer: with what Paul Wallfisch is doing with his weekly Thursday show at the Delancey, Small Beast, anything we did would be redundant. This is the place to be: it didn’t take the cognoscenti long to discover it. If you want to find out what’s really going on in New York music, if you wonder where the really good stuff that’s totally ignored by all the indie rock blogs is, make a weekly date with the Delancey on Thursday nights.

 

Wallfisch opened the evening as he always does, solo on piano. We’ve given the guy a lot of ink here lately – suffice it to say that European fans of his band Botanica are in for a treat. And New York fans who’re thinking twice about shelling out $100 for tickets and drinks for Steve Nieve at City Winery should check out Wallfisch here for free – one’s as good as the other, and the vibe is similar, dark all the way around, even on the more lighthearted songs. This time around, as has become usual, he played a lot of new material with a few songs from the Botanica catalog mixed in. Then he invited his frequent co-conspirator Little Annie along with haunting Edison Woods frontwoman Julia Frodahl up to provide vocals on a couple of of Annie’s big audience hits, the eerie Diamonds Made of Glass and the sardonic yet wistfully funny party survivor’s anthem The Other Side of Heartache, Frodahl’s richly melancholy soprano blending gorgeously with Annie’s smoky contralto. Wallfisch and Frodahl ended the set on a typically adventurous, rousingly successful note with a torchy Nina Simone blues that the two had never played together before.

 

Barmaljova, the duo of Romashka frontwoman Inna Barmash and violist Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin was next. The two are a couple, so their chemistry onstage made sense. Ljova played the entire set on his custom-made “familiola,” a six-stringed hybrid of violin and viola with a low F one note lower below a guitar’s low E. Expertly using its dynamic range, Zhurbin made an afterthought of the idea of having any more musicians behind them. Barmash said after the show that with the crowd filling the corridor between the stage and the bar that she felt the need to hold back a little, which gave her the chance to work the margins and the spaces between the notes, and she did that marvelously. She’s not just one of the most powerfully affecting singers in New York, she’s world-class, as she proved with songs in Russian, and Yiddish. The duo are partial to minor keys and laments, yet they made the atmosphere triumphant rather than downtrodden, even on the casually furious revenge ballad Koyl (Yiddish for “bullet,” as in “that a bullet would find you,” from their cd with their group the Kontraband).

 

Pierre de Gaillande, frontman of the Snow and Melomane, has started yet another new band, the Georges Brassens Translation Project, who played an upbeat yet haunting set of gypsy and noir cabaret French ballads featuring Gaillande’s English translations of the iconic French songwriter’s frequently corrosive, sometimes sexually charged lyrics. With the slinky sway of the guitar, the acoustic rhythm section and Gaillande’s deadpan delivery, this is a sexy band. Brassens is well-loved by boomer-era Francophones but went largely ignored – he wasn’t sufficiently “branche” i.e. cool enough – until a recent revival (if you read French, check out this intriguing article from france-amerique). Gaillande, one of this generation’s finest lyricists himself, has been unapologetic about how he’s updated some of Brassens’ colloquialisms, most apparent in the caustic May/December romance parody Don Juan. I Made Myself Small (Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit) was another triumph: “I make myself small in front of the dolly who calls her mommy whenever she’s touched,” Gaillande explained. Their version of The Pornographer revealed the title character as anything but: he just has a purist’s sensibilities. Which were effortlessly abundant throughout over an hour onstage. Watch this space for upcoming shows. Botanica make a return to NYC after a European tour at Joe’s Pub at 7 PM on March 21; Ljova and the Kontraband play March 8 at Barbes at 8ish. And this week’s Small Beast show, Feb 19 starting at 9ish features Wallfisch and Little Annie along with Serena Jost and Dan Machlin’s new project, in addition to subversive author Cintra Wilson.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment