Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Seth Kessel Puts a Swinging New Spin on an Old Sound

[Editor’s note – this blog’s sister publication/online place New York Music Daily appropriated all the rock, blues, and occasionally some of the jazz – including this one, which they’re sharing with us]

Jazz guitar legend Peter Leitch once joked grimly that in order to get steady work, maybe he should don a straw hat and play nothing written after, say, 1930. Seth Kessel and the Two Cent Band embody that esthetic, with their own original tunesmithing – and get a lot of work in the process. Their latest album is the aptly titled In the Golden Days, streaming at their Bandcamp page. Kessel plays energetically and eclectically on a hollowbody electric, straight through his amp without effects, alongside Gabriel Yonkler on soprano and tenor sax, Jackson Hardaker on trombone and tuba, Jason Bertone on bass and either Yaeir Heber or Hironori Momoi behind the drums. Kessel is also an excellent singer with an unaffectedly wry delivery and writes clever, funny lyrics in the spirit if not exactly the vernacular of the hot jazz he obviously loves so much.

The title track hints that it’s going to go in a noir direction but instead becomes a sardonic, lickety-split circus rock shuffle: the golden days when “we sat in the street, drank malt liquor and didn’t eat” had their ups and downs. The kiss-off swing anthem Don’t Contact Me is a lot of fun: “You know what, I take back that apology, you never bothered putting money down at Milk and Honey after getting paid for helping a friend, and all the while expecting to get laid,” Kessel relates. Southern Fried splices a twistedly noisy rock guitar solo onto a period-perfect Louis Jordan-style jump blues. They give the old standard Some of These Days a droll circus intro, a rapidfire, mandolin-like Kessel solo and then speed it up at the end – it sounds like a big concert favorite.

The strongest tune here might be Theme Song for Gregory Sallust, a moody, Romany-tinged waltz with biting soprano sax and a trombone solo that goes from blippy to brooding at the drop of a dime. The Chuck Berry-ish Let That Train Roll By looks back on one of the ones that got away – this one was definitely somebody to avoid, Yonkler’s smoky tenor sax handing off to Kessel’s noisy gutbucket solo. “I was hardly sober when you screwed me over,“ Kessel muses in the wry but understatedly vengeful Goodbye July, lit up by jaunty soprano sax, a guitar solo that mixes C&W and the blues, and a low, somewhat tongue-in-cheek one from the trombone.

They reinvent the old blues ballad After You’ve Gone as lickety-split swing, sly lowdown tombone grounding it in reality. In the Early Night is an amusingly telling look at one aspect of a Brooklyn musician’s life in 2014, getting hit on by rich gentrifier girls and not minding the influx of cash with mysterious origins. The conspiratorially cinematic instrumental Kestrel’s Revolution works a hi-de-ho theme with Balkan tinges. Turn the Heavens, a steady, shuffling ode to nocturnal entertainment of the adult variety, reminds that while this band may not do dixieland as tightly as some others do, they definitely have the spirit. The album winds up with an apprehensively scurrying oldtimey folk number. Kessel plays in a lot of projects; this band currrently doesn’t have anything on the calendar, but you can catch his duo show with Pete Matthiesen every Tuesday at 9 at Arcane, 111 Ave. C between 9th and 10th Sts.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Carpenter Resurrects Obscure Jazz Treasures from the Gatsby Era

Hothouse Stomp, the new album by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra, captures a magical demimonde in American music from between roughly 1928 and 1931. Forget for a minute that by transcribing and arranging eleven now-obscure songs from that era, Carpenter has rescued them from the even smaller demimondes of 78 RMP record collectors and musicians who still play this kind of stuff. First and foremost, these rapidfire gems from Harlem and Chicago are some of that era’s coolest and most controversial party music, the P-Funk or hip-hop of that time. Kids danced to it until their feet hurt, and now so can you even if you can’t afford a Victrola or any those old 78s which now sell for ridiculous prices. On one level, many of the songs here have a quaintly frantic Keystone Kops vibe and a droll wit, but they also have a level of sophistication that far surpasses most of the era’s pop music. Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton are the big names that everybody remembers, but at the top of their game Charlie Johnson, Tiny Parham and Fess Williams were just as good. Carpenter’s imaginative new charts pay homage to the originals while freeing them from the narrow time constraints of a 78. The band here plays them joyously, sometimes almost conspiratorially: Carpenter on trumpet, harmonica and vocals on one number; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Andy Laster on alto sax; Matt Bauder on tenor and alto sax and clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring on trombone; Jordan Voelker on viola and singing saw; Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; Brandon Seabrook on banjo; Ron Caswell on tuba and Rob Garcia on drums.

Carpenter opens the album with a big, dramatic harmonica crescendo and then they’re off. Mojo Strut, by Chicago-based Tiny Parham and His Musicians, has an brooding Ellingtonian minor-key intensity under its bouncy beat but also a drum break that’s practically Spike Jones, and some crazed conversation between the saxes at the end. With its lush strings beneath the romping tune, Stop Kidding, originally done by Harlem band McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, blends serious and silly in the span of barely two and a half minutes. Another Cotton Pickers number, Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You (a popular staple of the oldtimey circuit), gets more of a New Orleans vibe with a good-natured alto solo, and matching vocals from Swift. Voodoo, by Parham, goes for a wary Black and Tan Fantasy feel with some quiet sizzle from the banjo on the way in and Voelker’s theremin-like saw building the atmosphere to somewhat crazed and dazed layers of horns. Harlem pianist Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra’s Blues Have Sure Got Me has a similar minor-key restraint, with the saw oscillating eerily behind Swift’s hushed, wounded voice.

A casually soulful, trombone-fueled, practically five-minute midtempo version of Johnson’s Hot Bones & Rice foreshadows how this stuff would morph into swing and dixieland. But enough of the intricacies of the music – as fun as it is to blast on the ipod, just try sitting still to the triumphantly swirling clarinet on Dixie Stomp, the lickety-split Lucky 3-6-5, the pensive sway of The Boy in the Boat, or Harlem bandleader Fess Williams’ seemingly calypso-flavored Slide, Mr. Jelly, Slide. They wrap up the album with a warm, summery Johnson tune, the surprisingly titled Hot Tempered Blues. If this often deliriously fun album piques your curiosity, some (but not all) of the originals can be streamed at the irreplaceable redhotjazz site if you have Real Audio.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/8/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #693:

Paul Whiteman – Greatest Hits 1920-27

The jazz snobs are gonna kill us for this one. Ninety years after the fact, Paul Whiteman is still paying for the hubris of calling himself the King of Jazz in an era when Jelly Roll Morton was hot and Duke Ellington was coming up. Almost a century later, it doesn’t even seem that anybody wants to download his stuff. Which is too bad. His shtick was lushly ecstatic, lavish orchestrations of the hits of the day. In the 1920s, there were thousands of hot jazz bands working regional circuits all over the country – in fact, outside of the US as well – but nobody with the juice that Whiteman had, nor as much access to the new phenomenon of radio. Whatever you think of his arrangements, you can’t fault his taste: he was the first to have a hit with Rhapsody in Blue. This popular 1950s vinyl reissue – still kicking around used record stores – collects a lot but not all of the big hits, extending as far as 1932 (the album title actually gets it wrong). Can you argue with Paul Robeson doing Old Man River? Bix Beiderbecke on cornet on Ramona? The irresistibly towering grandeur that the band gives catchy pop songs like Japanese Sandman, Whiteman’s signature song Whispering, or My Blue Heaven? There’s also cinematic stuff like Valencia, Birth of the Blues and Song of India as well as comedic but still charming material including the cartoonish I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and the Three O’Clock in the Morning Waltz among the almost two dozen tracks here. A rigorous search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything – if we find something more interesting than an anthology, we’ll put it up here.

March 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ear-Regulars Still Rule Sundays

Popularity is never a reliable barometer for quality: would you stand in line with the tourists and the permanent tourists for eight hours just for a hastily grilled burger at that overpriced joint in that midtown park? Not likely. Longevity, on the other hand, is a sign that something good is going on. The Ear-Regulars began their Sunday evening residency at the Ear Inn over three years ago and are still going strong. What they do is sort of the teens equivalent of what Thad Jones and Mel Lewis started at the Vanguard fifty years ago. Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, guitarist Matt Munisteri and the rest of the guys who rotate through the band here get a lot of work, a lot of gigs: this is their fun night out. But it isn’t a gig for messing around. Listeners can get lost in this – but the band doesn’t. The focus they bring to their usual mix of obscurities and mostly obscure classics from the 30s, and sometimes the 20s, is pretty intense, but less so when you realize what a fun time they’re having over there in the corner. This time they had Joel Forbes on bass and Chris Byars on tenor sax, joined by Nathan Botts on trumpet on a couple of numbers. Botts was celebrating his anniversary, so the band ran through a couple of verses of a slow, summery, lyrical ballad of his titled Anna (his wife’s name – she seemed to have no idea that he’d be pulled away from his table to join the band this time out). A little later he joined Kellso, running a couple of warmly bluesy solos on a swinging, warmly familiar midtempo pre-Benny Goodman-style number.

And that’s the vibe they mine. A couple of numbers worked familiar, bluesy changes into chromatic descending progressions on the choruses, a chance for Munisteri to add extra edge and bite to his percussive, incisive playing. He cut his teeth in bluegrass and old hillbilly music, and that influence still rings true, most noticeably during his sinuous bent-note work in one swaying, fluid solo. Solos around the horn is how these guys do it, yet there’s always an element of surprise. Forbes trolled the rich subterranean depths of his bass all night, stickin with a low, rolling groove even when he’d get a verse of his own, Munisteri holding it together with staccato precision as the four-string weaved over the center line and back again. Kellso is a blues guy at heart and brought his usual bluesman’s wry humor and joie de vivre to the songs, whether subtly working the corners with a mute, or casually blazing away over Munisteri’s spiky chordal pulse. Likewise, Byars sailed buoyantly and melodically through the changes. What these guys are playing, after all, are songs – and they keep them that way. The instruments do the singing. By the time they’d wrapped their first set, the crowd had grown to the point that they were backed up all the way to the door: pretty much everyone who didn’t get here by 6:30 didn’t get a seat.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 11/22/08

Nine-piece band squeezed into the little back room playing hot jazz from the late 20s and early 30s, all of it good and much of it sensational. Much in the same vein as Michael Arenella, trumpeter Carpenter and his crew play boisterous three-minute Prohibition-era dancehall hits. While it was strange to watch the crowd simply sitting there while the band ripped through one tune after another – this is dance music, after all – it was a treat to be literally on top of the band, watching the interplay between musicians. Jazz snobs may scorn this stuff, but it’s great fun. “This is Woody Allen jazz,” one astute woman in the crowd remarked to her boyfriend between songs.

 

Minor keys are what this band does best, and that’s what they opened with, a frenetic, somewhat klezmerish stomp from 1929 called Mojo Strut, Carpenter playing harp through a bullhorn to add the strange, carnivalesque edge that continued throughout most of their set. They did a couple of ridiculously catchy numbers written by Gus Williams (Charles Mingus’ uncle), the best of these being Friction, driven by plinking banjo and soaring violin. The single best song of the night, the boisterous yet haunting Boy in the Boat had an early Ellington feel, its eeriness brought out most intensely by a sizzling violin solo and some expertly spooky work by One Ring Zero’s Michael Hearst, sitting in on theremin.

 

Because the songs are short, this group’s solos are brief: the only extended improvisations of the night were intros, duels in fact: first sax and trombone, then sax (Jessica Lurie bringing a  modernist yet smartly melodic sensibility to the old stuff whenever she was called on) vs. clarinet. A couple of times the banjoist began songs using a bow, building tension to the breaking point. After over an hour onstage, Carpenter – now playing slide trumpet – took them scurrying out the way they’d come in, dark and mysterious. Kudos to Barbes for squeezing them – literally – into the room. A band this good deserves a stand at the Vanguard. They’d bring out a lot of people out of the woodwork. Probably some ghosts too.

November 25, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment