Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Duke Robillard at Wagner Park, NYC 7/17/08

Duke Robillard has made a reputation as one of the few blues guitarists who can indulge in a lot of pyrotechnics without overplaying. Tonight, the former Roomful of Blues lead player turned in an almost shockingly terse set: has he lost a step, or was he just in a minimalist mood? Those who came out expecting to hear mile-a-minute solos and wild, frenetic wailing doubtlessly came away disappointed, but for those who think long guitar solos are overkill, this was a show to see. The crowd was weird: in addition to the usual contingent of old stoner guys in Pink Floyd t-shirts, there were tons of rugrats, and a young woman who looked like the actress in Carnival of Souls clinging tightly to a pillow-sized stuffed animal that she wouldn’t let go of, even when her boyfriend showed up. There was also a mobster and the muscular, tattoed guy who appeared to be his enforcer, arguing over a favor the enforcer wanted. Whenever the conversation got really heated, they went closer to the stage to keep their discussion private. No dummies, those guys.

Robillard had an excellent band behind him, a saxist who doubled on harp, keyboardist and rhythm section. Robillard’s always been more of a swing jazz guy than a straight-up blues player, but it was mostly all the latter tonight. Robillard’s remarkably chordal aproach has always distinguished him from similar flashy players, and unsurprisingly, it was that material that stuck out from the rest of the songs in the set, particularly a straight-up, Stonesy rock song possibly titled She’s a Live Wire. Early in the set, Robillard tried taking flight a couple of times but couldn’t get off the runway, so he held back the rest of the way. He started playing his usual big, beautiful Gibson hollowbody, then switched to Telecaster and immediately found his groove. Then, surprisingly, he put it down and sang a cheesy old 50s hit, which didn’t exactly work out because nobody comes out to hear Robillard sing: he’s one of those guys who sounds like he has a frog in his throat. He then picked up the Tele again for a couple of cuts from his new album Swing Session, a jump blues and a slow ballad, then picked up another Fender that he said somebody had handed him and asked him to play, and complied. And played his most interesting solos of the night. With the same charmed guitar, he then tackled a T-Bone Walker number (now there’s a jazzcat playing blues!) and began it with some classic T-Bone style 4-on-3 playing, before closing with a long, almost Grateful Dead-style one-chord jam to close the set.

To answer a question recently posed, why would anyone want to see a blues show? Well, you can dance to it – the kids definitely were. It’s fun, and if the band is good and doesn’t overdo it the soloing and interplay between musicians is very cool (translation: it’s great stoner music). And the blues cats keep dropping like flies: someday you or your children may not get to hear any of this anywhere but on a recording.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment