Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Noir Unease and Cinematic Wit on Curtis Hasselbring’s Number Stations

A number station is a Cold War artifact, a mechanical voice broadcasting seemingly random words and numbers for spy networks around the world to decode. Curtis Hasselbring’s latest album, Number Stations works a deviously ambitious spy-versus-spy battle between his two main bands: the long-running New Mellow Edwards with Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet, Trevor Dunn on acoustic and electric bass and Ches Smith on drums and marimba, along with his quartet Decoupage with guitarist Mary Halvorson, vibraphonist Matt Moran and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. Hasselbring is one of the great wits in jazz: that and an ever-present element of suspense take centerstage here. The whole ensemble has a ball with this. Ostensibly there are secret messages embedded in the music: the whole thing – gorgeously recorded by Hugh Pool at Excello – is streaming at Cuneiform Records’ Bandcamp page, fire it up and see what you can decipher!

Takeishi’s faux Morse code sets the stage for Halvorson and Moran teaming up with a mysterioso insistence on the opening track, First Bus to Bismarck, whose eerie swing brings to mind the early Lounge Lizards. Hasselbring’s moody trombone signals a loosening with an almost shamanistic, hypnotically percussive ambience. Tux Is Traitor anchors spiraling vibraphone in more insistent pedalpoint, an offcenter Speed tenor solo and some deliciously warped Halvorson lines, a spy theme on acid. Warped cinematics hit a high point with the droll, period-perfect kitchen-sink bossa and faux-shortwave flutters of Make Anchor Babies, inspired by Bernard Herrmann’s score to the 1956 Hitchcock film The Wrong Man.

With its no wave cinematics, punk rhythm and skronky guitar harmonies mingling with the vibes, Green Dress, Maryland Welcome Center 95 NB evokes mid-80s John Zorn. It’s Not a Bunny (how about these enigmatic titles, huh?) builds to a pretty standard funk groove, Halvorson adding background menace, Moran’s long, pensive solo signaling a woozy cross-pollination between the two ensembles. It’s the first example of the free, easygoing improvisation that the group builds on the following track, Stereo Jack’s, Bluegrass J’s, a playfully jousting round-robin.

The brief, coyly titled Avoid Sprinter brings back the punk stomp juxtaposed with lively ripples. The album winds up with a slyly uptight little gremlin theme: Hasselbring should sell this to the Simpsons or South Park folks for their Halloween episodes. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2013 page here at the end of the year if we make it that far

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July 8, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lorraine Leckie Haunts Banjo Jim’s

Lorraine Leckie’s songs have a stylish menace, but they’re more about menace than style. Calling her excellent backup band Her Demons completes the picture – her music mines a rich urban noir vein, equal parts powerpop, Americana and psychedelia, a throwback to a more dangerous era in New York both musically and otherwise. Last night at Banjo Jim’s she treated a packed house to a mix of well-worn crowd-pleasers as well as new material with a similar dark, gritty intensity. Her casual, unaffected vocals took on just the hint of a snarl in places, especially on the bitter 6/8 murder ballad, Hillbilly, where a Mississippi transplant moves into the neighborhood, steals the narrator’s man and ends up paying the ultimate price for it. An anti-trendoid song? Maybe. Although she originally hails from Ontario, Leckie’s Williamsburg roots go back a lot further than the recent infestation of trust-funded posers.

She opened with a swinging, bluesy, phantasmagorically-tinged number possibly titled Everything Goes Wrong, a song that would fit nicely in the Carol Lipnik catalog. Guitarist Hugh Pool – who played inspired, tunefully virtuosic, smartly thought-out fills and riffs all night – kicked off the ominously boogie-flavored party anthem Language of the Night with a train-whistle motif. Alyson Greenfield joined the band on piano on the catchy Ontario: “Drank my last shot of the Ontario sky,” Leckie sang wistfully (they have good whiskey up there). She dedicated a surprisingly upbeat, optimistic solo acoustic song about crackheads in love to filmmaker Clayton Patterson (who was in the audience). The swaying, catchy Paint the Town Red and the Werewolves of London-ish Rainbow ended the set on a high note: they encored with a sultry, noir blues and then an ecstatically resounding version of Nobody’s Girl, a gorgeous paisley underground rock anthem that could be the great lost track from the Dream Syndicate’s first album. Leckie has a new solo cd coming out next month, with a cd release show coming up at the big room at the Rockwood: watch this space.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The One and Nines

If you love oldschool soul music, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings or Eli “Paperboy” Reed, you will love the One and Nines – they are the real deal. With piano, organ, horns, understatedly gorgeous guitar, a slinky rhythm section and the warmly irresistible, heartfelt vocals of frontwoman Vera Sousa, the vibe is totally mid-60s. If the band had existed when John Waters did Hairspray, this album would have been the logical choice for the movie soundtrack.

The album kicks off with Walked Alone, a gorgeously catchy, upbeat tune straight out of Memphis, 1968 with big honking baritone sax. Sousa shows off an effortlessly bright, soaring, unselfconscious style in the vein of 1960s soul icon Bettye Swann while the guitar and bass soar just in the right places. The second track, Wait is a longing, insistent 6/8 ballad like Sharon Jones in a particularly vulnerable moment – horns rise out of the end of the verse, then it’s just tremolo organ and Sousa’s sweet voice.

“You say I look like I’m always bored, but are you just speaking for yourself?” Sousa asserts gently but insistently in Something on Your Mind, backed by gently incisive guitar and a Willie Mitchell-inspired horn chart. Just Your Fool is a duet, one of the guys joining with Sousa’s fetching harmonies for a pre-Motown vibe, from right around the time doo-wop started to morph into something more interesting. The band follows Sousa as she builds intensity on Anything You Got, a psychedelic soul groove with organ and then Steve Cropper-esque guitar, finally fading out with soulful muted trumpet over the band’s shuffling rhythm. Guitar finally takes centerstage, if only for a few moments on the bright, bouncy horn-driven Tears Fall. The secret bonus track, an alternate take of Just Your Fool, might have the best vocals on the whole album. All of these songs would have been hits in the 60s – or some hardcore soul fan would be rediscovering them right about now and trying to get the surviving members of the band back together, that’s how good this is. Mixed by Hugh Pool at Excello and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the production has the feel of an old vinyl record, vocals up front, drums back where they need to be. Even better news is that the band’s got a 7″ vinyl single coming out hot on the heels of the album – get your 45 adapters ready. Watch this space for NY-area live dates.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments