Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Edgy Guitarist Jon Lundbom’s New Album – Sweet Home Y’all?

Guitarist Jon Lundbom is one of the Hot Cup Records crew, associated with notorious/uproarious jazz parodists Mostly Other People Do the Killing. As you might expect, his music shares that group’s corrosive sarcasm, but that’s only part of the picture. For Jeremiah, his seventh album with his long-running band Big Five Chord, he’s brought back  the usual suspects – Jon Irabagon on soprano sax, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto (hybrid baritone/alto) saxes, Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums along with Sam Kulik on trombone and Justin Wood on alto sax and flute. They’re playing the album release show next Wednesday, Feb 4 at 10 PM at Cornelia Street Café; cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

As the title implies, the album is an instrumental jeremiad, more or less. The bustling energy and keenly focused improvisation of Lundbom’s previous live album, Liverevil, take a backseat here to disquiet, anger and cynicism. In a city where the elite jazz players who still remain are often forced to take cheesy folk club gigs backing wannabe American Idol girls just to be able to make rent for another month, that anger shouldn’t come as any surprise.

And yet, the horn charts throughout the album have an unselfconscious, understated poignancy and bittersweet beauty. The opening track, The Bottle is not the Gil Scott-Heron classic but a Lundbom original named after a town in Alabama (he stole the concept from Elliott, whose repertoire is littered with Pennsylvania place names). And it’s full of sarcasm – although Alabama doesn’t seem to factor into it. It sways and shuffles, with snide, offcenter horns, a busily bubbling, more-or-less atonal solo from Lundbom and some neat contrasts between Murray’s squall and the rhythm section’s hypnotically waterfalling drive.

The next Alabama song (these compositions are about as Alabaman as Kurt Weill) is Frog Eye, with its lustrous, majestic if uneasy horn arrangement punctuated by chirpy pairings between Irabagon and Elliott, Lundbom lurking in the shadows before emerging with a smirk. The third one, Scratch Ankle opens somewhat the same before conversations between the horns go their separate ways.

Lick Skillet, which may or may not be a Tennnessee reference, pairs an irresistibly funny, Spike Jones-ish intro from Kulik with another astigmatically glistening horn chart and a spoof on latin flute funk. First Harvest, a wiccan song recorded on Lundbom’s previous album, gets a morosely terse new arrangement by Wood that Murray and Irabagon take up a notch. By contrast, W.P.S.M. takes a jauntily shuffling New Orleans-inspired strut outward, agitatedly..but then Elliott rescues it with some classic comic relief. The album winds up with Screamer, a loose, easygoing jam that seems tacked on for the hell of it. Who is the audience for this? People who like edgy sounds, and jazz with a vernacular that relies less on tunesmithing than creating and maintaining mood. This isn’t an album to lull you to sleep or dull your hangover but it sure as hell will make you feel something. It’s not officially out yet, although the first tune is up at Soundcloud.

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January 29, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snide, Smart, Amusing Stuff from Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord

Guitarist Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord come out of the irreverent Hot Cup Records camp. In their world, nothing is off limits. Humor is always either front and center or lurking around the corner; anger is wholeheartedly embraced; tradition calls for mockery. Punk jazz? Esthetically yes, chopswise no: these guys – bassist Moppa Elliott, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray and drummer Dan Monaghan – can flat-out play. Lundbom’s previous album Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! mined a savagely satirical vein. His new one, sarcastically titled No New Tunes is considerably subtler. It’s not particularly easy listening. Nothing ends with any kind of resolution. Tonalities lean toward harsh veering on abrasive; structures fall apart on a moment’s notice, but more elegantly than you would expect in this band’s kind of music, considering that the group shares members with Mostly Other People Do the Killing and twisted Merle Haggard cover band Bryan & the Haggards.

A Steve Coleman sample and pummeling, assaultive drums kick off the opening track, The Bad! Thing, leading into a wandering, uneasy guitar solo in 6/4 time, working its way through jagged jousting, rumbling chaos and a sideways, walking swing that ends unresolved. Lundbom plays without effects through what sounds like a vintage Fender Twin amp with plenty of natural reverb and just a tinge of distortion that fits his sometimes offhandedly dismissive lines well. The album’s closing track, an almost shockingly straight-up bop swing tune, is a case in point, its centerpiece being a long, amusing interlude where Lundbom simply will not go off task, holding the center even though nobody else is, refusing to cave to peer pressure until he’s made his point.

Titles are giveaways here. Talent for Surrender is an example of how bandmates can keep just enough distance from each other without completely losing track, shifting through airy convergent harmonies to skronky bop, squiggling Sonny Rollins-influenced sax contrasting with unexpectedly terse rhythm. And Be Made Visible takes at stab at a ballad: not to spoil a good joke, but Murray’s faux romanticisms after an unfulfilled, searching Lundbom solo are…well, what you would expect from this band.

The Other Third One pulses briskly through agitated, spinning bop, sarcastic skronk and a tasty, shivery, casually assaultive Lundbom solo over a rather tongue-in-cheek, too-terse-to-be-true rhythm section. And Follow the Swallow plays unexpectedly low-key, offcenter variations on a bouncy swing ditty, Irabagon refusing to cede centerstage even when Lundbom makes it clear he’s no longer welcome there. That’s the kind of moment that defines this band, and there are lots more of those here: it’s cool to see how these guys have such confidence in what they’re doing that they refuse to take each other seriously. Like many of their scenemates, the band is making this album available on vinyl as well as a download: if you’re looking for a cd, you’ll have to burn one. Although the sound quality of the vinyl (not reviewed here) is bound to be superior to any digital format.

October 25, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sick Free Jazz Guys Cover the White Light/White Heat Album

This is better than the original – although that’s really not saying much. It’s way funnier too, like what Rawles Balls might have done with it if they were a horn band. Lou Reed used up all his best songs on the Velvets’ first album; White Light/White Heat is basically just a crappy garage band taking a stab at psychedelia. The members of Puttin’ on the Ritz, whose song-for-song if not exactly note-for-note cover of White Light/White Heat is just out on Hot Cup Records, seem to share that view. The group is BJ Rubin on vocals, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums (half of irrepressible, iconoclastic free jazz crew Mostly Other People Do the Killing), Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxes, Sam Kulik on trombones and Talibam’s Matt Mottel on “Turkish organ” on Sister Ray.

Rubin is not much of a singer, although he enunciates well enough so you can understand the lyrics – which is half the fun. They’re awful. Lady Godiva’s Operation? He does both the lead and the overdubs in one take. Bastardizing its inner artsy pop song might have felt revolutionary for Lou and crew in 1967; these guys expose it as amateurish and overdone.

Likewise, on The Gift, Rubin’s deadpan, nasal delivery is an improvement on John Cale’s half-buried mumble, although the sad tale of Waldo Jeffers mailing himself to his beloved Marsha has not aged well either. I Heard Her Call My Name, as it goes completely over the top, Gossip-style, reveals the original to be a parody of soul music. Sister Ray, all seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds of it, sounds like a bad jam Lou came up with on the spot when Verve’s people realized he was out of material. It’s there that Rubin’s enunciation really kicks in: counting how many times the word “ding-dong” appears in the song would make a great drinking game. The band – a formidable mix of A-list talent – basically slum it, playing the changes pretty straight with a minimum of the kind of mayhem they’re capable of. Which seems intentional.

If you like this one, you should check out Bryan and the Haggards’ equally sick album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. The likelihood of this crew putting out another album isn’t all that good, but here are some other overrated albums that definitely deserve this kind of treatment: Bitches Brew (guys, you would have the time of your life with this); Harvest, by Neil Young (super easy changes!); Evol, by Sonic Youth. Think about it.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

This absolutely gorgeous album – just out on Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Hot Cup label – is a lock for one of the best of 2009 in any style of music. It’s marketed as jazz, although it could just as easily be called minimalism or classical. It would make an amazing soundtrack if the label could find a film that deserved it. Baritone sax player Charles Evans uses the entirety of his instrument, not just the low registers. He can make it sing, like Gerry Mulligan, but with more imagination, adding overtones and harmonics and a vibrato that he can slow waaaaaay down to Little Jimmy Scott speed. The most obvious comparison, imaginatively if not exactly stylistically, is genre-defying funkstress and ambient baritone sax composer Paula Henderson. Pianist Neil Shah is a first-rate rock songwriter and barrelhouse player, but what he does here is 180 degrees from that – to say that his playing here is haunting is a considerable understatement. Jazz fans will hear echoes of Keith Jarrett, but his real antecedent is Erik Satie. This album, a suite of six pieces, has Shah laying down a frequently macabre, terse mode that Evans colors with deliberateness and precision; other times it’s Evans who introduces the mood and has Shah embellish it ever so slightly. It’s as poignant as it is hypnotic.

The first two pieces are trio suites of their own,  the intial track, Junie, quickly establishing the otherworldly glimmer that will dominate from here on in. Shah expertly works two different palettes, ominous in the left hand, colorful and Romantic in the right, when it comes time for his solo. They take it out with a Messiaenesque warped boogie of sorts, Evans supplying rhythmic accents loaded with implication. The second mini-suite, On Tone Yet, demonstrates the uncanny chemistry between the two musicians: the two play these songs as a truly integral unit, as if a single mind was bringing them to life (or exhuming them – this is dark stuff). Shah’s insistent series of simple chords, switching a single voice among the keys for an effect that goes from subtle to sinister in a split second, veers off into a strikingly cantabile passage and then menacingly back again, is a high point. They float it out with Indian-inflected ambience, sax holding the piano up to keep it from disappearing into the murk.

Mono Monk is the most minimalist song on the album, Evans and Shah emphasizing the space between the notes with as much stern judiciousness as what they play. The lone cover here, Jan Roth’s sarcastically titled An Die Fliegenden Fische (The Flying Fish) is more of a jellyfish, albeit a playful, bluesy one, Evans contributing a pretty, lyrical solo matched by Shah’s Bill Evans-style cascades. The cd wraps up with a nine-minute number with a title that goes on almost as long and fairly neatly sums up the whole set: mournful Satie-esque piano followed by Evans’ most expansive, bluesiest solo of the night; some call-and-response; a pregnant pause, and then sax and piano switch roles.

There are only two drawbacks here. The first is an overabundance of crowd applause after the songs – we’re talking thirty seconds at the end of the cd. That’s Guns & Roses stuff, and while it’s hardly a disaster, it is annoying. It sounds like there were three people in the audience and they’re trying to compensate for it, and they can’t (but what a treat to have been one of those three, in what is obviously a sonically exquisite space!). The other quibble is that, hey, they’re at Saint Stephens: da-da, da da-da-da-da, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-DA-da-da-da! Dude, why not do that one? Dollars to donuts these two would do something with it that would make Jerry Garcia proud.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing – This Is Our Moosic

As with the Coen Brothers, it helps with these guys if you get the references, but if you don’t, they’re still a whole lot of fun. The Moosic in the title of the cd refers to a town in Pennsylvania, as, in fact, do all the compositions here by these self-described “bebop terrorists.” Perfectly illustrative image: bass player/bandleader Moppa Elliott standing in his suit with the rest of the band on the Moosic Little League field, casually wielding an aluminum bat. Elliott provides seven paragraphs worth of liner notes, which can be condensed to the following: “In the spirit of Ornette Coleman, we never play the same song remotely the same way twice, nor do we attempt to. We’d rather ham it up and converse through our instruments, sometimes with great wit, sometimes totally incoherently. Why? Because we can, because we’re casually but extraordinarily good at what we do – in fact, we almost won a big award last year and we’ll probably win a few before we’re done – and that savoir faire allows us to take the kind of chances most groups should never, ever attempt.”

 

Yet even with Elliott’s Ornette fixation, the compositions on this cd stand out every bit as much as the group’s formidable chops and ever-present sense of humor. Ultimately, MOPDTK are hardcore purists who never heard a cliche they didn’t want to lampoon, and they waste no effort in hunting them down. Elliott listens widely and, it seems, almost encyclopedically, at least as far as jazz is concerned. Although his compositions reflect a staggeringly diverse array of influences and perhaps consequently sprawl all over the place, he’s a powerfully terse player, a hard hitter who likes a dirty, gravelly tone. Drummer Kevin Shea plays with vivid intelligence and is perhaps the biggest ham in the band (although Elliott is right up there with him). Sax player Jon Irabagon comes across as a soul guy with a wry sense of humor, although some of the most sublimely ridiculous flights here are his. Trumpeter Peter Evans is their hitman, a ferociously fast, bluesy powerhouse who limits his messing around to when it really counts. Stylistically speaking (at least as far as writing is concerned), this band’s closest relative is the legendary New York group the Microscopic Septet.

 

Fifteen seconds into the cd’s opening track, Drainlick, Shea is already messing around. Written around a 60s boogaloo theme, the band burn through a verse, eventually all go off scurrying in separate directions, sax and trumpet yodel at each other and then everybody comes together on a flight up the scale. By the time they’re three-quarters of the way there, they realize how funny that is and they start making fun of that too.

 

Fagundus (a real Pennsylvania town) opens with big, roaring bass chords – since Shea functions much like a pianist in this band, coloring the music, the actual propulsion often falls to Elliott, who attacks it with gusto. Later Irabagon goes out of control, eventually pulled back to earth by an insistent Evans. East Orwell manages to spoof both lite FM smooth-grooves jazz and middle-period, middlebrow Maynard Ferguson: it’s a hoot listening to the band members badgering each other to get in on the madness. The cd’s seventh track, Biggertown begins as a chase sequence, brings it down to the drums, watches a little suspense turn into a game of hide-and-seek and then segues into the 12/8 blues Effort, Patience, Diligence which matter-of-factly chronicles and then savages pretty much every blues cliche there is. The cd ends with its funniest number, a cover of Allentown by Billy Joel. While it wouldn’t be fair to give the joke away, it’s the last thing you’d ever expect from this group, and the satire is cruel and hurtful. Billy Joel is a good musician, so he’d understand what these guys are doing: if he actually cared about what anybody thinks (fat chance of that), it might actually make him rethink his career. As far as Pennsylvania geography is concerned, the only thing missing here is Intercourse, which the band may be saving for the next cd. Until then here’s a strong contender for funniest and funnest cd of the year.

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment