Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Klezwoods Romp Through the Dark Corners of Eastern European Melody

Peter Jaques of Brass Menazeri describes klezmer as a “gateway drug” to the music of Eastern Europe. The same could be said for violinist Joe Kessler’s band Klezwoods,since that’s his background. Their debut album may be classified as klezmer, and many of its most exhilarating moments are on its Jewish songs, but the material here spans the entirety of what used to be the Ottoman Empire. Basically, it’s haunting minor-key dance music with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and occasional latin tinges, and it pushes the envelope, its jazz-influenced, playful arrangements utilizing the whole band and giving them a richer, fuller sound than it would seem their nine members could create. The band is colossally good: Sam Dechenne on trumpet, Jim Gray on tuba, Jeremy Gustin on drums, Greg Loughman on bass, Michael McLaughlin (of Naftule’s Dream) on accordion, Brian O’Neill on percussion, Alec Spiegelman (of Miss Tess’ band the Bon Temps Parade) on clarinet and sax and Tev Stevig on electric guitar.

The opening track, a Yemenite Jewish number that Kessler learned from his father Jack (a highly regarded cantor), takes on a lush majesty, plaintive clarinet contrasting with muted trumpet, distant accordion and sweeping violin. The tricky Bulgarian dance Gankina Oro has the first of several bracingly rippling guitar solos by Stevig, this one sounding like a bouzouki but with better sustain. A Turkish folk melody, Bahar Dansi pulses along on a reggaeish beat, a playfully warped sax solo kicking off a boisterous game of hot potato between seemingly everybody in the band. They follow that with a somewhat deadpan, methodical take of Mache Teynista (The Mother-in-Law Dance), blippy tuba under tense, staccato accordion.

The highlight of the album is the slinky, hypnotic, absolutely gorgeous Cuperlika, from Macedonia, darkly pointillistic guitar giving way to the violin, accordion and finally a powerful, epic crescendo. Hey Lady sets levantine violin to a jaunty, altered tango beat with spiraling jazz guitar and a long, adrenalizing crescendo. Stevig takes his most intense solo of the night as the band vamps behind him on the Middle Eastern tune Nassam Aleyna. Syrtos is a Greek number which actually sounds more like traditional klezmer than anything else here other than the romping medley of hasidic dances that closes the album. And there’s also Giant Jew, a tongue-in-cheek klezmer take on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Loughman’s solo bass tiptoeing deviously around the theme. The chemistry between band members makes Kessler’s split-second choreography work perfectly: as it should, considering how much fun this band is obviously having. The klezmer crowd will love this, as will anyone with a fondness for the dark, otherworldly singalong melodies and tricky rhythms of Eastern Europe. It’s out now on Either/Orchestra’s upstart label Accurate Records. Boston area fans can enjoy their cd release show on October 4 at Atwoods, 877 Cambridge St. in Cambridge.

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September 17, 2010 Posted by | folk music, middle eastern music, Music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Phil Sargent – A New Day

Brooding, thoughtful and emotionally resonant, guitarist Phil Sargent’s new album transcends the jazz label – although he’s backed up by a first-rate cast of jazz players. The instrumentals here are innovatively arranged for an interesting configuration of piano, bass, drums and also a vocalist in place of a horn player. Singer Aubrey Johnson does a terrific job, her vocalese shifting timbres slightly just as Sargent does, utilizing a pitch pedal in places in the same way that Sargent manipulates his tone with his guitar effects. Aside from a Pat Metheny-esque motorway instrumental, which is straight-up rock, and the remarkably nuanced heavy metal menace of the sixth track (a bit of a breather for the band, who’ve stayed within themselves marvelously up to this point), the whole album is a clinic in how to maintain a mood. With some help from guest keyboardist Brian Friedland on organ and piano on the third track, bassist Greg Loughman and drummer Mike Connors carry a lot of emotional weight here with understated grace.

Johnson sets the tone that will dominate throughout right off the bat on the distantly pensive title track, Sargent taking his time to get going and finally taking flight uneasily with a hint of raw distortion as the bass and drums, and guest pianist John Funkhouser – a marvelously rhythmic choice – rattles around behind him, piano solo moving captivatingly from judicious chords to a full-on swing attack. The second track is all contrasts, Johnson’s understated wistfulness against the melody’s buoyant sway. Bass and guitar follow her in turn, downcast: even when Sargent is finally firing off a flurry of eight notes, he’s still looking over his shoulder. You don’t realize how beautiful this song is until it’s almost over. Johnson sings the dark tango-inflected first verse of the following cut over Sargent’s volume-knob swells. It builds – Sargent feels around for his footing and eventually lands with a terse series of chords before leaving the ground with more of them, then Loughman solos as Sargent plays with his volume knob again.

The well-titled Gridlock opens with bass carrying the melody over Sargent’s fingerpicking, growing from unease to fullscale menace and then backing off (the first person to identify what 70s art-rock phrase Sargent is quoting from at around 1:50 – Robin Trower? Jethro Tull? – wins a prize). They wind up the album with a characteristically subtle, bossa-tinged ballad. This won’t be on some people’s lists of the best jazz albums of 2010 but it’s definitely on ours.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The John Funkhouser Trio – Time

Jazz pianist John Funkhouser seems like the kind of guy who took the name he was given and ran with it. On his playfully titled new trio cd, he plays with the tasteful incisiveness and groove of a bass player…maybe because he is one. When drummer Mike Connors rattles and clatters and prowls around, Funkhouser hangs on a bright salsa motif until he’s done. When bassist Greg Loughman launches into a stark, extended bowed solo, Funkhouser works a hypnotic, circular phrase that ups the suspense. The cd title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the abundance of odd time signatures the three utilize, much in the same spirit as Dave Brubeck. As rhythmically challenging as much of this is, it’s also vividly catchy and tuneful. There should be more jazz like this.

Their version of Green Dolphin Street, which opens the cd, adds a latin flair and a smartly strolling, casual bass solo. The album’s first original, Ellipse, began as a not-so-simple exercise in polyrhythms, piano playing  in five in the left hand and on the right in seven while the bass stays in six (and ends a beat early on the sixth bar, thus rounding everything out at an even thirty-five). But it’s the furthest thing from math-jazz; it sounds perfectly natural, and Loughman’s plaintive bowing gives it a vintage Jean-Luc Ponty feel. Prelude and Fugue in A Minor is a characteristically irreverent take on Bach, kicking off with a cowbell solo, then taking its Teutonic menace to Puerto Rico where it begins to feel more at home. The two-part Dyin’ Nation/Emancipation begins with bass and piano doubling a restless unease, working the haunting vibe to where joy and triumph come in and take over. Eleventy-One is both a workout in eleven as well as a sly Hobbit reference (Bilbo Baggins was eleventy-one when he left the Shire for the final time), deviously funky stomp alternating with a pretty, lyrical theme that Funkhouser builds to big, blazing rivulets…and then back to the funk, Isaac Hayes style.

Alone Together reverts to neo-Brubeck, all tension between bright theme and more pensive undercurrent, Funkhouser clearing the clouds after Loughman has apprehensively planted them everywhere. Dating from a few days after the election of 08, Ode to a Lame Duck is surprisingly less a dismissal of the Bush regime than a brisk, understated requiem for a decade of torture and tyranny. With echoes of the haunting Roman Polanski collaborator Krzysztof Komeda, it’s the best number on the album. This time around it’s Loughman who gets to take the latin vibe deep into the low registers. The album concludes with Kelp, a gorgeously murky seaside tableau marked with some particularly poignant interplay between bass and piano as the cymbals whir atmospherically in the background. Give this to your Brubeck fan friends for Christmas and see if they can tell the difference.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment