Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vieux Farka Toure Kicks Ass on The Secret – How About the Special Guests?

Many years ago, a bunch of early jam band guys got together and decided to make a tribute to Muddy Waters. The result was a lacklustre album called Fathers and Sons (it’s easy to find, if you really want to hear it). The guys from the Butterfield Blues Band and their friends were bigger fans of Muddy’s than he was of them, but probably since it beat working as the handyman at Chess Records (which is what the guy who might have been the greatest blues slide guitarist of all time did when he wasn’t on tour or in the studio), Waters did the album. And phoned it in. Fast forward a little more than forty years: some of the big names on the American jam band circuit have discovered powerhouse Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure (the oldest son of the great Ali Farka Toure). And they’re all over his new album, The Secret. The biggest secret here is that almost all of them elevate their game – with one exception, this isn’t a bunch of white wannabes patronizing somebody from another tradition whose music they admire. For the most part, this is a clinic in how musicians from different cultures can create real alchemy if they’re inspired.

What’s nicest to see is that Toure is allowed to be the star he is, doubletracking and tripletracking here and the result is exhilarating. Acoustic rhythm guitarist Ali Magassa holds it down incisively and hypnotically with broken chords and simple, direct riffs over the loping calabash and djembe of Souleymane Kane. The first track, Sokosondou sets the stage for what’s to come with an endless succession of molten lava hammer-ons and hypnotic call-and-response vocals in Toure’s native dialect. Toure plays acoustic on the second cut, Aigna, where Derek Trucks does a surprisingly killer evocation of a sitar with his slide guitar, livening up the dusky atmospherics, getting darker and growlier as it goes on. Guess all that hanging out with Susan Tedeschi has been a good thing for him! The fourth track, Ali is a vertigo-inducing polyrhythmic forest of guitars, Toure throwing in a subtle, ominous chromatic allusion once in awhile

The first of the Malian/American hybrids, here, Watch Out is a swaying, funky number featuring Eric Krasno (of the generic Soulive and dubious Lettuce), who contributes some biting, vibrato-toned incisions with a little wah thrown in for good measure. Aaron Neville, who knows a little something about hypnotic grooves, hangs back with the beat and adds terse, smart organ fills; Toure winds it out with one of his unstoppable, stunningly precise, adrenalizing solos. A boisterously swaying, mostly acoustic number, Wonda Guay has Toure lingering overhead like an out-of-control helicopter. The title track, a hypnotic, resolute instrumental features a guitar track by his late father along with spiky textures from Ganda Tounkara’s ngoni and Cheikh Diallo’s distant flute atmospherics. It’s one of those tracks where it’s hard to figure out who’s playing what – you just get lost in it. The poignantly catchy closing track, Touri, is much the same. Borei, a fast, shuffling concert favorite is a feast of Toure textures, fast fluid runs, chords blasting on the beat and a searing, mostly one-note solo midway through.

The most traditional desert blues song here, Sankare Diadje has a typical call-and- response over a hypnotic, circular two-chord theme. Meandering, midtempo and ominously modal, Gido features John Scofield, who slinks through a wary, slowly furtive chromatically-charged solo and only puts the bite on once, at the very end, when he can’t contain himself any longer. Amani Quay begins with a gorgeous twelve-string acoustic intro that gives way to a shuffling, hypnotic groove, Toure picking it up and blasting through yet another rapidfire solo, this one a little sunbaked and slightly restrained. The only dud here features the clown prince of wretched jamband excess, Dave Matthews. When you put this on your ipod, you’ll want to delete track three. But what a pleasant surprise this is – and reason to check out what Derek Trucks and Eric Krasno have been up to lately.

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June 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/8/10

We’re going to head out today for a little R&R to celebrate Elvis’ birthday after an exhausting but transcendent evening running around Bleecker Street to catch a bunch of Winter Jazzfest shows (by the way, the festival continues tonight and is not sold out). If the force is with us we’ll put up something about it in a few hours. In the meantime, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #752:

Albert Collins – Live 92-93

One of the most powerful musicians ever to pick up a guitar, Texas blues legend Albert Collins died barely three months after recording the last tracks on this 1995 album. You would never know it. Running his Telecaster through an amp custom-made to get the icy, reverb-drenched “cool” sound that defined his playing, he blasted through one lightning-fast interlude after another, nonstop. And for a guy who played so many notes, no one has made so many count for so much: fast he as he was, he didn’t waste any. And while his guitar playing has a snide, sarcastic edge (he played almost exclusively in minor keys), his songs are fun and frequently amusing. The party anthem that earned him an audience of college kids in the late 80s is I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinking), done here with a hilarious bridge where his guitar imitates a belligerent conversation between three drunks in a tavern. There was nobody more adrenalizing at Texas shuffles than Collins (he originally wanted to be an organist, but when his car broke down on the highway, he went off to find a tow truck and someone made off with the brand new Hammond B3 in the trailer that he was pulling, he decided he’d stick with guitar). There are a bunch of them here, all of them absolutely kick-ass: Iceman; the funky Put the Shoe on the Other Foot, and T-Bone Shuffle. There’s also the sarcastic Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home, his lickety-split signature instrumental Frosty, a romp through the standard Travellin’ South and a scorching version of Black Cat Bone. Pretty much everything Collins ever did from the early 80s onwards, even his hastily produced studio albums on Alligator, is worth owning. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Bad Segues, Amazing Show

By any standard, this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival is one of the best ever: of all of New York’s summer festivals, this is one you really should investigate if you’re in town – especially because it’s free. Sunday’s lineup outdoors on the plaza under the trees was an improbable but smartly assembled “roots of American music” bill.

“Are you awake?” Etran Finatawa’s electric guitarist asked the crowd, in French: from the response, the answer was barely. With their swaying triplet rhythms and expansively hypnotic, gently crescendoing one-chord jams, the Niger-based duskcore band were a perfect choice to get the afternoon started. They’re as captivating as Tinariwen, starting methodically and getting more diverse and interesting as the set went on. One of the earlier numbers started with a meandering solo guitar intro, like a Middle Eastern taqsim, and grew surprisingly into a boisterously shuffling anthem. One of the band’s percussionists – dressed in what looked like warrior regalia – opened a percussive, stop-and-start number solo on screechy ritti fiddle. Desert blues bands change modes more than they change actual chords, but Etran Finatawa’s most memorable song, an especially epic one, worked a dramatic shift from minor to major and then back again for all it was worth. And then like many of their other songs, they shut it down cold.

Los Straitjackets, arguably the world’s most popular surf band after the Ventures and Dick Dale, made about the most incongruous segue imaginable. But counting them as a roots band isn’t an overstatement: there isn’t a band alive in the small yet thriving surf rock subculture that hasn’t felt their influence, especially because they write original songs, in a whole slew of styles. Happily keeping the choreography and the cheesy stage antics to a minimum, they aired out their repertoire instead with a mix of cheery Buck Owens-flavored country stomps, Gene Vincent twang, three-chord Chuck Berry-style shuffles, and a couple of attempts at a happier spaghetti western style (along with one that was not happy at all – it was the highlight of the show). Drummer Jason Smay’s playful Gene Krupa-isms got the crowd roaring on an extended surf version of Sing Sing Sing; guitarist Danny Amis (who played bass on one song) led the band in a rousing version of a Jimi Hendrix song (ok, it wasn’t a Hendrix song, but that was Jimi on lead guitar on Joey Dee and the Starliters’ Peppermint Twist). Guitarist Eddie Angel showed off expert and boisterous command of every twangy guitar style ever invented, from Dick Dale tremolo-picking to sinuous, fluid Bill Kirchen country licks. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

The Asylum Street Spankers were their usual adrenalized selves, but a sadness lingered: the band is breaking up. Other than the show they played right afterward at Joe’s Pub (one hopes they got there in time), this was their last one in New York. It’s hard to imagine another band who were as funny as they were virtuosic. Banjo player Christina Marrs, multi-instrumentalist Charlie King, resonator guitarist Nevada Newman and the rest of the crew (Wammo was AWOL) all showed off their prodigious chops in turn, tersely and intensely. Their big college radio hit, Scrotum, was “a mixed-blessing song,” as Marrs put it, but she traded off vocals with Newman and King with a freshness and salaciousness that made it hard to believe they’ve sung it a thousand times before. The high points of the show were the political ones: the hillbilly sway of Lee Harvey Was A Friend of Mine, which cites Jack Ruby as “the biggest sleaze in town,” and My Baby in the CIA, a hilariously understated chronology of CIA-sponsored anti-democracy coups over the decades – and a lot of other things, some relevant, some less so but still fun, like King’s throat-singing. Marrs cranked up the volume with her amazing pipes on fierily sultry covers of the Violent Femmes’ Jesus Walking on the Water and Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working; they closed with a swinging version of Don’t Let the Music Die, but it was about to and that was too bad. At least it’ll be fun to find out where all the individual Spankers end up once this year’s ongoing farewell tour has run its course.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debra from Devi’s Top 10 Guitar Albums

This falls into the “ask an expert” category. Debra, who plays lead guitar and fronts the ferocious, psychedelic power trio Devi (whose excellent debut cd you can get at itunes and in stores) knows a thing or two about guitar – she’s one of the most uniquely individual, virtuosic stylists of this era. Here are the ten albums that really hook her up:   

 

Key to the Highway, Freddy King – Best phrasing in the blues and so tuff and sexy it makes me want to dance on a table in hot pants for Mr. King. I snuck a lick from “Hideaway” into Devi’s jam version of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” (You can hear it at 3:43).

 

Another Perfect Day, Motorhead – I moved into a grungy cat-stank apartment on Avenue B one December and by Christmas Eve I couldn’t breathe. Found myself in Bellevue sucking adrenalin from a tank to open my lungs and was told I’d die if I tried to spend another night in my apartment. The only friend I knew who didn’t have a freaking cat was bassist Nick Marden. He had a bird, a rat, a pitbull and a snake. Slept under the Christmas tree in the living room and awoke to Nick handing me this album, saying “Merry Christmas.” Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson was kicked out of Motorhead after the tour for Another Perfect Day for wearing leg warmers and being generally fey, but I was hooked from the opening note on his soaring, searing, gorgeous playing. Thanks Nick.

 

That’s Entertainment, Gang of Four – Every once in awhile a guitarist comes along who is so original, he makes everyone else sound boring and dated and stupid. Andy Gill’s playing is utterly fresh, sharp, and compulsively danceable. I saw Gang of Four play and all I remember is flying into a state of spasmodic ecstasy from the Gill’s first slashing rip across the strings.

 

Filth Pig, Ministry – God, I love this record. I’ve been known to put it on repeat and listen to it for 8 hours in a row. The guitars sound like thunder, like earthquakes, like tsunamis. One of my fave moments ever was meeting Al Jourgensen and having his wife Angie ask him, “Guess which Ministry album Deb likes the best?” and me and Al both hollering at the same time “FILTH PIIIIIIIIG!!”

 

Dreamboat Annie, Heart — Nancy Wilson’s acoustic guitar playing is exquisitely feminine and also every bit as rock as the Celtic touches Jimmy Page was giving Zeppelin. Otherwordly and heartbreakingly beautiful. Need to cry your way through a breakup? This is the album.

 

Country Life, Roxy Music — Phil Manzanera’s romantic passionate solos slay me. When he lets that delay fly, it sounds like flocks of magical sparkling geese heading straight to heaven. Saw Roxy Music at Radio City Music Hall. Cried. Sighed. Swooned.

 

Texas Flood, Steve Ray Vaughan – Hands that could crush a Volkswagen. His best solos are on this album and they are bursts of fire. I learned his solo on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and I use what I learned all the time. Snuck a few variations on the licks from that solo into mine on “C21H23NO3”.

 

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols – Guitars like a punch in the face. Steve Jones set the standard for the tightest, most powerful playing on the tightest, most powerful punk rock record ever. Taught the rest of us how to triple track separate parts for maximum wallop. It still makes me want to throw furniture and slamdance as hard as it did the first time I heard it.

 

Ritual de lo Habitual, Jane’s Addiction – Dave Navarro’s solo on “Three Days” is a rippling, cascading masterpiece. He took what Daniel Ash was doing in Bauhaus with digital delay and mixed it up with Jimmy Page and superscorchers like Nuno Bettencourt to create a new style that everyone’s been ripping off every since.

 

Santana, Santana – Jimmy Page said “tone is in the fingers” and Carlos Santana’s fingers make the guitar sound like a celestial viola. His gorgeous sense of melody is like nobody else’s either…he never gets stuck in a blues bag. Even just trying to play along with him for just a few minutes opens up entire new vistas.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Everything by Led Zeppelin, everything by Pink Floyd

 

Pretenders, The Pretenders

 

Sweet Forgiveness, Bonnie Raitt

June 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Jim Campilongo Electric Trio Live at Barbes 1/5/08

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Jim Campilongo is one of the world’s most exciting guitarists, with a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound. He gets great reviews from the guitar magazines, is revered by his peers, yadda yadda yadda, and in case the hype scared you off, you missed a great show Saturday night. He comes across as something of the missing link between Bill Frisell and Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich. Like Ulrich, he loves his dark, macabre chromatics and plays with a ton of reverb and tremolo. Campilongo gets the latter effect by bending the neck of his vintage Telecaster ever so slightly, rather than using a whammy bar. Stylistically, he covers a lot of ground, from one end of Route 66 to the other, encompassing surf, country, western swing, jazz and plain old down-and-dirty distorted rock. Tonight he mixed material from his latest album Heaven Is Creepy along with a cover or two, and some new material from what will be his eighth album, possibly titled Finger Puppet. As the title implies, the new stuff is predictably as ominous and captivating as the rest of his recent work.

He played the central hook to a new one – titled Helen Keller, perhaps? – by turning the tuning peg on the low E string down a half-step and then back again in time with the music, and with perfect pitch. On another recent number, the eerie Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, he backed off a little, delivering it very calculatedly as the rhythm section cranked it up. He awed the crowd with his technique, quickly raising and lowering his tone controls for volume while delaying his attack on the strings just a fraction of a second to create a backward-masked effect. Campilongo’s rhythm section was superb, the drummer alternated between sticks and brushes, feeling the room and varying his dynamics so he didn’t drown anyone out. The upright bassist contributed fluid excursions up the scale when he wasn’t holding down a snaky groove. At Campilongo’s most heavenly creepy, backed by those two, there were moments when, if you closed your eyes, this could have been Tonic, ten years ago, with Big Lazy onstage.

Campilongo is casual and down-to-earth as a frontman, apologizing for his guitar volume in Barbes’ cozy confines (though it’s hard to imagine anyone in the standing-room-only crowd who would have complained if he turned up even louder). Fellow guitarists who haven’t reached Campilongo’s level of popularity will be reassured to know that the last time he played here, it was to an empty room: nobody came. As musicians all know, there’s no way to tell who’s going to turn out, or if anyone will at all, whether you’re an unknown or one of the greatest fret-burners of your generation. Obvious the Barbes owners’ knew the crowd would be out in full force the next time around, and they were right: latecomers found the room too packed to squeeze inside. Campilongo has played Monday nights at the Living Room, off and on, for what seems forever, so it was a nice change to see him venture out to play a New York-area club that doesn’t treat its customers like shit.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments