Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stephane Wrembel Releases a Lavish, Charecteristically Edgy New Romany Jazz Album at Drom Tonight

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel made a name for himself as a stormy, erudite interpreter of Django Reinhardt, but his own body of work encompasses far more than that, using Romany jazz as a stepping-off point for his own distinctive ventures into Middle Eastern sounds and psychedelic rock. His lavish, dynamically rich, often poignant new double cd The Django Experiment is streaming at youtube. Disc one is mostly an imaginative mix of Django classics; disc two is mostly originals, in more of a jazz vein than what audiences get at his ongoing, legendary most-every-Sunday night 9 PM-ish residency at Barbes. He’s playing the album release show tonight, June 10 at 8 PM at Drom; hopefully by now you have your $15 advance tickets because it’s an extra five at the door.

The first disc opens with Nuages, Wrembel’s elegantly spare, resonant lines over Thor Jensen’s spring-loaded rhythm guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen’s bass and Nick Anderson’s drums. Wrembel takes somewhat the opposite approach with his tremolo-picking on the waltz Gin-Gin, then he and Folman-Cohen have fun working the chromatic edges of Bouncin’ Around, a close cousin to Brother Can You Spare a Dime.

Nick Driscoll’s clarinet spirals around and intertwines artfully with Wrembel on the jaunty Dinette. By contrast, Wrembel and Jensen max out the modal melancholy in a majestically spacious take of Troublant Bolero, up to a characteristically careening crescendo. It makes a good segue with the first of Wrembel’s originals, Windmills, a brisk, deliciously broodng waltz.

The band goes back to the Django catalog for a bubbly, lickety-split take of Place de Broukere, followed by the bucolic desolation of Carnets de Route,Wrembel’s moodily magical mashup of Django and Pink Floyd. The up-down dynamics continue with the coyly strutting Djangology and then Wrembel’s plaintively mined take of Sasha Distel’s Ma Premiere Guitare. Disc one winds up with Wrembel’s wistful waltz Jacques Prevert followed by a roller-coaster ride through Django’s Minor Swing. the bandleader channeling Wes Montgomery up to a mightily plucked bass solo and finally a stampede out.

The second disc begins with the epically vamping Douce Ambience. It perfectly capsulizes the confluence of Middle Eastern modalities and Romany swing that Wrembel first began mining around ten years ago, the guitarist’s understated unease in contrast with Driscoll’s relentless centrifugal force on soprano sax, Anderson taking it out with a long hailstorm of a solo. Viper’s Dream is pretty close to the Django version, with a little wryly bouncing Tal Farlow thrown in.

A waltz by Bamboula Ferrret benefits from Wrembel’s judicious, occasionally tremolo-picked phrases mixed into an attack that’s equally precise and resonant: all those notes don’t just vanish into thin air. Boston, another waltz, begins wistfully, grows more elegaic and then Wrembel builds a long, growling upward drive. Then the band flips the script with the toe-tapping shuffle Double Scotch, Driscoll adding dixieland effervescence.

Reinhardt’s midtempo stroll Tears reveals itself here as the source of a Beatles hit that Big Lazy likes to take even deeper into the shadows. Nanoc, which is Wrembel’s Caravan, opens with a levantine slink and slithers further off the rails from there. Then he makes a surreal juxtaposition with Django’s Louis Jordan-influenced Heavy Artillery, which is anything but. After that, Minor Blues is middle ground, more or less, Wrembel adding an understated intensity, part Wes Montgomery, part psychedelic rock, with a long, practically frantic sprint out.

Interestingly, the album’s best track isn’t one of the barn-burners but Wrembel’s slow, hushed, allusively flamenco-ish Film Noir. Raising the ante again, Driscoll’s clarinet infuses Songe d’Automne with an indian summer breeze. The final cut is the enigmatically balmy ballad Anouman, ironically the closest thing to straight-up postbop here. Over and over, Wrembel reaffirms his status as paradigm-shifter and one of the world’s most engaging, original innovators in Romany guitar jazz.

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June 10, 2017 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Somberly Memorable Final Album from Gato Libre

Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii‘s previous album with their Gato Libre quartet, Shiro, incorporated elements of flamenco, Middle Eastern, Romany and rock music within an improvisational context. The group’s most recent and final album, Forever, often more closely resembles Fujii and Tamura’s Ma-Do ensemble, which uses traditional Japanese melodies as a stepping-off point. This one is sadly notable for being one of the last recordings made by the group’s late bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and for whatever reason has a considerably more subdued, moody ambience. As before, Fujii plays accordion rather than piano here, alongside her trumpeter husband plus acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura.

Much of this is a theme and variations set to slow, rubatoesque tempos; the quartet moving forward methodically if not necessarily with a specific meter. Tamura kicks off the opening number, Moor with a stately, anthemic theme over sheets of accordion and plucking from the guitar and bass, rising more rhythmically and then receding, a portentous overture. Court, the second track, follows the same trajectory to a brooding bass vamp withi eerily, distantly lingering accordion. Hokkaido is a cinematic mini-suite, pastoral accordion handing off to more energetic trumpet and then a flamenco-tinged guitar solo. Moseda follows a warmly bucolic, almost Beatlesque theme and then shifts unexpectedly into darkness with an absolutely delicious, chromatically bristling bass solo – it’s the closest thing here to the material on the previous album.

Nishiogi is another catchy one, pensive accordion over nimbly precise bass and fingerpicked guitar, with a long, expansive but purposeful bass solo. Japan is portrated as nebulous and dreamy but with an elegaic bittersweetness (Tamura and Fujii would soon leave their native land for Germany, perhaps explaining that mood) over a sober, marchlike rhythm. A more nostalgic tone poem, World, follows that, another moody bass solo giving way to flamencoesque guitar. The title track moves back and forth from waltz time, up and down, maintaining the nostalgic feel. It’s a memorable way for both the group and Koreyasu to bow out.

September 14, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Energetic, Eclectic, Haunting Sounds from the Jason Seed Stringtet

While echoes of Django Reinhardt and Astor Piazzolla pervade the Jason Seed Stringtet’s new album In the Gallery, the Milwaukee guitarist’s compositions are even more eclectic than simply a blend of Romany jazz and nuevo tango. He’s put together a formidable string band, playing acoustic alongside Glenn Asch on violin and viola, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Helen Reich on viola and and Scott Tisdel on cello, and the Chicago Symphony’s Dan Armstrong on bass. Although these players come from classical backgrounds, there’s a lot of improvisation, and the band has a lot of fun with it. Armstrong gets to bow just as much as playing basslines; Seed likes acidic close harmonies, especially with the high strings, making an uneasy counterbalance with his sinuously precise, catchy lead lines.

Seed opens the album with a solo introduction into the Goulash Rag, a biting, dancing theme that runs closer to bolero territory. Swirling high strings hand off to a cello solo over dancing bass; they take it out with a flourish. The subdued, brooding Tangoesque offers an appreciative nod to Bill Frisell’s Strange Meeting, Seed’s guitar elegantly intertwining amid the stark arrangement, with edgy solos for cello, viola and bass and then the first of the album’s many trick endings. Pictures of an Exhibitionist has a bit of a funk edge to go with the tango and the Romany guitar flavor, capped off with a sailing, glissando-fueled violin solo. Ishtar opens with a dark, droning Middle Eastern-flavored low-register taqsim and morphs into a klezmer-esque dance, Seed adding an acerbic flamenco edge, the ensemble taking it out with a shivery intensity. Krakow’s central theme is like Django at his most plaintive, with a darkly searing cello solo, the viola following in the same vein, Seed taking it up anxiously and then gracefully down again.

\Where the Corners Meet features Yang Wei on pipa, a spiky, circular theme growing to a wistful but animated crescendo, Tisdel artfully shadowing the fretted instruments as it builds to anthemic proportions. In the Right Line follows a moody folk-rock trajectory, while Caterpillar Kif is the album’s big showstopper. Agitated strings switch back and forth with a wryly bluesy theme that Seed once again takes in a flamenco direction; it gets funkier, then Tisdel takes it dancing to yet another trick ending.

One in Five might be the album’s most intense track, with a brooding rainy day guitar-and-cello duet into more flamencoesque guitar, Tisdel’s soaring chromatics against Seed’s pensive, spare, rhythmic pulse. The title track closes the album, and it turns out that this is one haunted gallery: Seed’s long, nebulously spacious solo intro hands off to Armstrong, who supplies chilling, stygian sustained lines all the way through to a darkly ironic ending. A lot of people – fans of art-rock, jazz, classical and global sounds – are going to love this album. It’s one of the year’s best, whichever category you might think it fits (and realistically, it doesn’t really fit any, which helps explain why it’s so enjoyable).

August 21, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Django Festival Allstars Return to Birdland with a Hot New Album Recorded There

It’s that time of year again when the Django Reinhardt Festival takes over Birdland, starting at 8 PM on June 25 and continuing through June 30. Fortuitously, the Django Festival Allstars have a new album out, Live at Birdland, recorded at last year’s festival. The sound quality is outstanding, as you would expect from this venue, and the playing is sensational, even by the rigorous standards of le jazz manouche. The track selection is eclectic and draws deeply on originals with contributions from several members of the band, rather than simply recycled Django Reinhardt classics. As timelessly enjoyable as the Django catalog is, it’s good to see this group pushing hard on the envelope at the forefront of the tradition.

There are three numbers associated with Django here. The band kicks it off with Swing Gitan, lead guitarist Dorado Schmitt adding a bluesy ominousness over the swirl of Ludovic Beier’s accordion, the two joining forces as the song winds out in flurry of tremolo-picking. Nuages, true to its name, builds a rich, Gil Evans-tinged reflecting-pool backdrop for Schmitt’s spacious hanmer-on work and guest Anat Cohen’s slinky soprano sax. There’s also Manoir de Mes Reves, essentially My Funny Valentine recast as a steady Romany jazz ballad. The other covers here are an accordion-fueled Beier arrangement of Caravan, with a droll new title, Camping Car, a feature for cellist Jisoo Ok, as well as an amped-up take of Out of Nowhere and a rather unexpectedly, hard-rocking, early 70s-tinged version of Them There Eyes.

But it’s the originals here that make this band what they are. Dorado Schmitt’s ballad For Pierre carefully sets up an austere feature for violinist Pierre Blanchard. Blanchard’s Balkanic Dance juxtaposes his biting lines against Beier’s nonchalantly sizzling chromatics. The plaintive Valse en Exil, another Blanchard tune, sets moody violin over elegantly dancing guitars, a lush backdrop rising and falling behind them. Schmitt’s El Dorado is a lively bossa in disguise, a rhythm they revisit as the album closes with Bossa Dorado, building suspense with a relentless intensity as they resist the urge to take it over the top.

The poignant, elegaic spaghetti western bolero Song for Etorre, another Schmitt tune, might be the album’s strongest track. The rest of the cuts include Pat’s Waltz, a bouncy Beier number built around rapidfire, clustering guitars; a hypnotically shuffling, Brazilian-flavored tune by co-lead guitarist Bronson Schmidt; and Dorado Schmitt’s funk-tinged Melissa. To call this one of the best jazz albums of the year seems almost unfair to the rest of this year’s releases, considering the sheer talent that this good-natured family bands bring to the material.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gypsophilia Brings Their Great New Album and Electrifying Live Show to NYC

As fans of the music know, Canada is a hotbed for gypsy jazz. It’s the French connection. Eclectic Halifax septet Gypsophilia are one of the most exciting groups playing that style to come out of the Great White North, and they’re coming to New York for two June shows. June 6 they’ll be at Rock Shop in Gowanus at 9 PM with charismatically assaultive, noir bluespunks the Reid Paley Trio opening, then they’re playing at Drom the following night, June 7 on a fantastic triplebill with the Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Italian band Taluna for a ridiculously cheap $10.

Gypsophilia have a new ep, Horska, just out and will no doubt be airing out the songs on it in concert. Its title track is an absolute smash, a creepy noir theme that goes through all sorts of permutations over Adam Fine’s pulsing bassline, Sageev Oore’s menacingly distant piano interspersed between biting solos from violinist Gina Burgess, trumpeter Matt Meyer and an especially ominous, microtonal one from guitarist Alec Frith. They reprise the song at the end of the album in an echoey, effects-laden dub version that’s just as dark.

In between there’s the jauntily swinging, hi-de-ho romp Bir Hakeim, which is less Egyptian than Parisian, maybe inspired by the Paris Metro stop which commemorates the World War II battle. They follow that with the intricate Oh My Orna, crescendoing from a baroque-tinged waltz to a wistful theme carried by the violin and echoey electric piano. Corentin Cariou has a bit of Romanian feel, speeding up and slowing down again, followed by the edgy Stickm, another catchy minor-key tune that hits a peak with Meyer’s muted trumpet solo. There are seemingly thousands of bands paying homage to the Django Reinhardt legacy – many of them do it well, but few are as distinctive and interesting as Gypsophilia.

May 27, 2013 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exhilarating US Debut by Budapest Bar

[Over the past couple of weeks, this blog has supplied its sister blog New York Music Daily with lots of content. Today it’s payback time]

Budapest Bar made their North American debut last night at CUNY’s sonically superb Elebash Hall just north of the Empire State Building. The Hungarian band works a cosmopolitan gypsy vibe, as opposed to a rural one, meaning that they play a more concert hall-oriented mix of styles which include both jazz and classical music. They outdid Nick Cave at noir, did the “most famous Hungarian song ever,” Gloomy Sunday, as an elegant funereal instrumental, and covered Haydn and Lizst, including the latter’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 complete with rapidfire cimbalom solo by Mihaly Farkas. A bit later on, the cimbalom virtuoso ended his solo with a blindfold on and didn’t miss a beat: it was the biggest crowd-pleasing moment of many.

Frontman Robert Farkas began with a boisterous number that he spiced with some droll flourishes, pulling a string over the bridge of his violin for some creepy horror movie door-closing tonalities, switched to guitar a couple of times midway through the show and ended with a high-spirited series of birdsong voicings on the final encore. Keyboardist Karoly Okros wore a path into the stage, alternating between piano and accordion – if he’s not the only guy who’s equally adept at Liszt and noir Americana, then Hungary has something on the US. Bassist Richard Farkas (this seemed to be a family event, no surprise in gypsy circles) held the careening monstrosity to the rails, whether with a terse minimalist pulse on the gypsy numbers or nimbly walking the scales on the jazz tunes. The speed, virtuosity and soul these guys and women channeled makes most American gypsy bands pale by comparison.

The band brought two singers. Juci Nemeth sang the higher, more ethereal numbers; Tania Saedi, with her sultry alto voice, handled the jazzier material with a sassy aplomb worthy of Ella Fitzgerald. But it was Nemeth who took the most spectacular flights of the night on a rapidfire, diabolical shuffle right before the encores. Gypsy bands in Budapest bars from the turn of the 19th century through the Nazi invasion played a vast spectrum of music from the dead-serious classical pantheon to the wildest jazz: this concert, with its tangos, swing tunes, explosive cadenzas and expert showmanship brought that world alive again in all its pyrotechnic glory.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, gypsy music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Delicious Middle Eastern Guitar from Michel Sajrawy

Palestinian guitarist Michel Sajrawy ‘s latest album Arabop transcends category. What it most closely resembles is the current wave of electric gypsy music: fans of bands like the NY Gypsy All-Stars will love this stuff. Here he’s joined by a crew of Israeli musicians from his Nazareth hometown, teaming up for a vividly powerful mix of Middle Eastern and Balkan-tinged romps as well as a handful of haunting longer-scale numbers. Sajrawy plays with an envelope effect popular with guitarists east of the Danube that fills out his precise, staccato lines to the point where sometimes it sounds like he’s playing an electric piano or synth. What’s most impressive is that often he sounds like he’s playing a fretless guitar even though he’s simply bending strings on a standard-issue Strat. The result is a new hybrid musical language incorporating both traditional Egyptian modes and western tonalities, much in the same vein as David Fiuczynski here in the US and Salim Ghazi Saeedi in Iran.

The opening track kicks off with a slinky guitar vamp followed by a haunted, pleading soprano sax solo by Maali Klar, who shares a fondness for microtones and whose contributions to this album are some of its most riveting moments. Alto saxophonist Amiram Granot plays casually contrasting chromatics over the pulse of Stas Zilberman’s drums and Wisam Arram’s percussion. As he does on several tracks here, Sajrawy also plays electric bass on this one; Valeri Lipets holds down the low end on the others.

1 Count Before 40 begins with a pensive oud taqsim by Samir Makhoul, builds to a stately sway, Sajrawy navigating the space judiciously with a bit of a Greek folk feel: they work the dynamics up and down to a pinpoint guitar solo out. The title track, structured as sort of a musical palindrome,  blends biting Black Sea riffage, a long and rather chilling microtonal bop guitar solo and more of that delicious, ney-like microtonal soprano sax from Klar.

The cospiratorial, whispery Syncretic Beliefs is basically a microtonal tone poem, Sarajway playing casually but purposefully over a djeridoo-like drone. Batumi works a trickily rhythmic groove, Sajrawy expertly shifting it further from the Middle East into otherworldly microtones and then spiraling bop, Klar taking it deep into the shadows in the wake of Sajrawy’s long solo. The album’s best track is the brooding, dirgelike, practically ten-minute epic Hal Asmar Ellon, swaying with a haunting understatement, Granot’s alto summoning the spirits from the nether regions this time: it sounds like an electric version of a Trio Joubran piece.

Sajrawy mimics an oud line on the watery intro to Ya Lel, which eventually picks up with a funky edge before returning to the brooding initial theme. Likewise, Invention is a launching pad for Sajrawy’s nimble cross-genre exploration, moving once again from the desert to bop-land. At the end of the album, Sajrawy takes the popular Egyptian tune Longa Farah Faza and turns it into a sizzling organ shuffle – it’s the only place on the album where he shows off his supersonic speed and he makes the absolute most of it. Like the rest of this album, it’s a feast of blissfully edgy chromatic guitar.

January 5, 2013 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Name That Tune with the International String Trio’s Help

Old habits die hard. If you go back as far as the radio-and-records era, you were probably used to having a cd – or if you were lucky, a vinyl album – to refer to for song titles and now-archaic things like liner notes and musician credits. As fast as all those things are disappearing, jazz bloggers are obsessive about them. But sometimes it pays to resist OCD and leave the news release and the promo copy out of sight and just get a handle on the music. That’s the approach that everybody ought to take with the International String Trio’s new album Movie Night. Just listening to Slava Tolstoy’s nimble gypsy jazz guitar, Ben Powell’s elegantly nuanced violin and Ippei Ichimaru’s terse bass will get your head bopping and eliminate any prejudices that might arise from a peek at the credits.

Here’s why – this is a concept album, a collection of the band’s favorite movie music. It’s not known what opinions the band have, if any, about the movies themselves. Which is why it’s best just to catch the lively, carefree violin and gypsy jazz allusions on the breezy first track and ask yourself, what on earth is that? It’s too straightforward to be a pop song and you probably won’t recognize it, and here’s why: it’s the Feather Theme from Forrest Gump. In case you’re wondering, there’s nothing from Xanadu, or any of the Friday or Elvis movies here – although those flicks, forgettable as they were, all had some good tunes.

If gypsy jazz is your thing, you will enjoy the trio’s versions of the two Django Reinhardt classics here: the group gives them both the groove and the bite those songs deserve. What is that sad waltz with the biting violin solo out? That’s I Will Wait for You, a Michel Legrand composition from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. And what’s that jaunty early swing number? Singing’ in the Rain? That’s right – these guys transform that moldy old schlockfest into something actually listenable.

Track six is a pensive, pretty ballad: could this be French? No, it’s the Schindler’s List Theme, by John Williams. That other understatedly moody, pretty waltz? Stephen Flaherty’s Once Upon a December, from the film Anastasia. And that sprightly Irish reel? That’s an acoustic cover of the Dropkick Murphy’s I’m Shipping Up to Boston and it’s way better than the original, Sox fans be damned!

Is that other waltz Haydn? No, it’s Shostakovich, done nonchalantly as gypsy jazz with Powell out front and center. David Raksin’s Theme from Laura is well-known, as is Maurice Jarre’s Somewhere My Love – but who knew that one had a laid-back, minor intro before the syrupy theme kicks in? The album closes with a matter-of-fact version of the Tennessee Waltz – wait a minute, that’s Ashokan Farewell. Aw heck, all those old folksingers ripped each other off. Who is the audience for this? Gypsy jazz fans may find these takes inspired but some of the source material on the weak side; otherwise, fans of the more accessible side of chamber and folk music won’t go wrong giving this a spin.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | classical music, folk music, irish music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eclectic Gypsy Jazz from Tarkany Muvek

Hungarian combo Tarkany Muvek put a deviously entertaining, traditionalist spin on what we in the cimbalom-deprived United States tend to lump together under the nebulous rubric of gypsy jazz. The group’s latest album Introducing Tarkany Muvek is out as a digital download from World Music Network and it’s tremendously enjoyable, as original as it is intelligent. Frontwoman Juliana Paar’s high soprano ranges from misty, to stark and haunted, to wounded and brittle, over the richly resonant cimbalom (Hungarian hammered dulcimer) of the group’s main composer, Bálint Tárkány Kovács along with multi-reedman Gergo Kovats (also of Koala Fusion and Oláh Dezso Septet), violist Endre Papp and bassist András Bognár. They have a sense of humor (the first song on the album is titled Bite It) and shift seamlessly between folk and jazz idioms. A bouncy Hungarian torch song becomes a jaunty jump blues; Kovats’ tenor sax ranges from Louis Jordan ebullience to Philip Glass hypnoticism, and Papp’s elegant orchestration gives the music a welcome heft and lushness.

That first track sure has some bite: a protege of the legendary Kalman Balogh, Kovacs prowls from apprehensive to triumphant and back, sometimes in a split second, then the song goes halfspeed with a misty tenor sax interlude before picking up again. They follow that with a pensive, starkly hypnotic ballad and then the ironically-charged Hush Peacock, which segues into a bouncy Hungarian torch song that morphs unexpectedly into a lickety-split jump blues. There’s a trancily rhythmic number built on a Steve Reich-esque circular riff, a rubato folk-rock ballad with flute aptly titled Autumn Sketch; a tongue-in-cheek bounce entitled So Much I Love, and a cleverly low-key, loungey take on the gypsy standard Csirrip that Paar sinks her fangs into just enough to keep the irony in the red.

They follow that with an instrumental that sends the sax soaring over a tense, mysterioso background that the cimbalom eventually joins to add an extra layer of suspense that Kovats eventually ends up shattering – it’s one of the album’s most enjoyable moments. After that, they take an absolutely charming stab at a tiptoeing retro Roaring 20s vibe that wouldn’t be out of place in the Lake Street Dive fakebook, then wind up the album with a number that begins on a minimalist, Satie-esque note, Kovats’ smoky sax adding a warm wee-hours edge before the whole band picks it up and sends it up flying. Lucky Hungarian fans can catch their next gig on September 7 at 9 PM at the Mustache Festival.

September 5, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evocative Rainy-Day Music from Tin Hat

Tin Hat’s new album The Rain Is a Handsome Animal isn’t what you might expect: it goes in much more of a jazz direction than their earlier material, most famously their haunting contributions to the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack. This one’s similar to the Hot Club of Detroit’s work with Cyrille Aimee but with a wider sonic palette – if that’s possible. Some of the tracks – a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers sung by violinist Carla Kihlstedt – are airy and bouncy. Some of them have considerably more weight and gravitas. Minor key melodies dance and leap to a mix of beats, some of them tropical, with upper-register ambience from Kihlstedt, animatedly swirling interplay between accordionist Rob Reich and clarinetist Ben Goldberg providing a shimmery backdrop for guitarist Mark Orton’s spiky melody lines and gypsy-tinged pulse. It’s lively but bittersweet, measured but energetic.

A word about the lyrics: these are all settings of e.e. cummings poems (resisting the temptation to capitalize that name here is not easy). Those aren’t as whimsical as you might expect, but they’re still pretty obvious – although the genuineness and occasional unselfconscious urgency of Kihlstedt’s vocals gives them an unexpected dignity. One can only wonder what she could do with more substantial lyrical material. A couple of tracks wouldn’t be out of place in the more carefree section of the Rachelle Garniez songbook. The first, If Up’s the Word, works its way down from intertwining, reedy harmonies to a suspenseful interlude that underscores the lyrics’ urgent carpe-diem message. The second, Yes Is a Pleasant Country takes what’s essentially a blithely bluesy torch song and almost imperceptibly moves it into more pensive terrain on the wings of Kihlstedt’s increasingly biting lines.

The album’s opening track begins as a samba of sorts and builds from there, Kihlstedt’s vocals mining a coy breathiness. The instrumental title track blends gleefully brisk, swooping violin, gypsy guitar picking and a neat solo from Goldberg that rises from low and soulful to a joyous spin capped by Kihlstedt’s stratospherics. Sweet Spring, a love song, begins suspensefully and hushed before moving into uneasily dreamy territory fueled by contrasting piano-versus-violin textures.

Open His Head and the aptly citrusy Grapefruit both develop tango melodies out of acidic atmospherics, as does Unchanging, shifting from a fugue of sorts, to a rich mix of upper-register tonalities over the twin pulse of the bass clarinet and guitar bassline. A western gothic song that reminds of John Cale, Buffalo Bill shifts from a vivid brass to a drony atmospheric outro. The tour de force here is The Enormous Room, an epic that moves from quietly mysterious atonalities to pulsing wariness driven by the bass clarinet, a rather slashing Kihlstedt solo and then a warmer, anthemic guitar melody.

The most overtly jazzy track here is the brief So Shy Shy Shy; the most easygoing is the cheery, bucolic 2 Little Who’s. Human Rind has an uncharacteristically dark lyric matched by a bracing, intense interlude that circles out with a troubled insistence, while Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town reaches for a big rock anthem feel, with mixed results.

There are three more tracks here – the folks over at New Amsterdam don’t shortchange you! Diminutive works a sad rainy day tableau with fluttery violin front and center; the album wraps up with Little I, a hypnotic yet incisive tone poem, and Now (More Near Ourselves Than We), a torchy ballad that quickly goes in a more uneasy direction. Seventeen songs, many shades of grey, many shades of understated brilliance. Whoever would have thought that an e.e. cummings album would turn out like this?

August 28, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment