Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Loga Ramin Torkian’s Mehraab Puts a New Spin on Classical Persian Music

Mehraab, the title of Iranian composer/multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian’s new album, means “shrine” in Persian. It’s an enormously successful attempt to play classical Iranian instrumental music through the swirling, hypnotic prism of dreampop and shoegaze rock. Musically, this most closely resembles Copal’s haunting Middle Eastern string-band dancefloor instrumentals; sonically, it’s remarkably similar to Huun Huur Tu’s landmark 2008 electroacoustic Eternal collaboration with producer Carmen Rizzo. Torkian takes care to mention in the liner notes that the electronics here are limited to how the instruments are processed, without any computerized backing tracks. Since all the instruments here are acoustic, the efx add welcome layers of sustain and reverb. Sometimes a riff becomes a loop; occasionally, the timbres are processed to oscillate or change shape as they move through the mix, dub style. Torkian plays a museum’s worth of stringed instruments, including but not limited to guitar, sax, baglama, viola da gamba and rabab, accompanied by Khosro Ansari on vocals (singing in Farsi) and a small army of percussionists including Omer Avci, Zia Tabassian, Mohammed Mohsen Zadeh, Azam Ali and her bandmate Andre Harutounyan.

The songs are dreamy, windswept and often haunting. The opening instrumental, Gaven (The Wild Deer) works an apprehensive descending progression in the Arabic hijaz mode, lutes and strings over reverberating layers of percussion and an astringent viola da gamba passage. Az Pardeh (Through the Wall) contrasts a matter-of-fact lead vocal with a somewhat anguished, hypnotic drone playing tensely against a central note, in a stately 6/8 rhythm. Golzare Ashegh (Garden of Love) establishes a sense of longing with its austere arrangement and dreamlike ambience; Chashme Jadu (Your Bewitching Eyes) is absolutely bewitching, in a creepy way, ominous astringent atmospherics over echoey clip-clop percussion.

With its subtle oscillations working against a distant, reverberating loop, the title track brings to mind a Daniel Lanois production, a simple, memorable, ringing motif circling through the mix. It’s the first part of what’s essentially a suite, segueing into Parva (Compassion) with its dub echoes and trancelike flute. Souz-El-Del (The Burning Heart) is the most rhythmically tricky piece here, a forest of lutes and what sounds like a kamancheh (spiked fiddle) doubling the dark levantine melody – it’s an absolutely gorgeous, sweepingly majestic, haunting song. They go out with a tersely wary, cello-like string theme. Simply one of the year’s most captivating and haunting albums.

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June 19, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Huun Huur Tu Summon Their Ancestors

Arguably the best-known group singing the otherworldly, overtone-laden shamanistic folk songs of their native Tuva (in the far east of what used to be the Soviet Union), Huun Huur Tu return to their roots with their new album Ancestors Call. Many of the tracks here are original acoustic versions of songs that appeared in their swirling, lushly produced 2008 Eternal album with Carmen Rizzo. As with the rest of their work prior to that album, these austere soundscapes vividly evoke the desolate rigor of nomadic life on the steppes, with simple chord changes, Asian-tinged melodies and hypnotic vamps that often go on and on for minutes on end. Vocals are what they’re best known for, and that’s most of what they offer here: instrumentation is limited to spare fiddle, lutes and occasional flute. Lyrics are in their native dialect, a mix of traditional folk numbers and variations of what are obviously centuries-old themes. They open with a simple, tongue-in-cheek shepherd’s song, followed by a gently galloping battle anthem, and a fast, scurrying, tongue-twisting boast: the guy’s got a fast horse and a pretty girl and he wants the whole world to know, a universal song if there ever was one.

The best track on the Eternal album is also the most stunning one here, the long, atmospheric, hauntingly astringent tone poem Orphan’s Lament. Longing for home and family is a recurrent theme, whether on a simple, swaying, tongue-in-cheek-sounding number that sets jews harp up against woozily oscillating vocal overtones, or a nostalgic immigrant’s tale. A tribute to the beautiful women of one particular Tuvan clan is surprisingly gentle and ambient (an even lusher version can be found on Eternal).

A traveler’s tale gallops along hypnotically, while a prayer for prosperity summons the spirits from the lowest registers – to alien ears, it sounds practically demonic. The album concludes with the windswept title track and its insistent, clip-clop, syncopated rhythm. Huun Huur Tu’s longevity and consistency should come as no surprise, considering that previous generations who played this music did it for life. They’ll be on US tour in early 2011, watch this space; the new album’s just out on World Village Music (who just won a major Womex award: good for them).

November 2, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 50 Best Albums of 2009

You’ll notice that aside from the #1 spot here, these aren’t ranked in any kind of order: the difference, quality-wise between #1 and #50 is so slight as to make the idea of trying to sort out which might be “better” an exercise in futility. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list.

1. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

Like London Calling, it’s a diverse yet consistently ferocious, sometimes hilarious mix of styles imbued with punk energy and an edgy, quintessentially New York intensity. Time will probably judge this a classic.

2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

The former Hangdogs frontman’s finest, funniest, most spot-on moment as a fearless, politically aware Americana rocker.

3. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, this is a murderously angry album about living under an enemy occupation: love in a time of choler?

4. The Beefstock Recipes anthology

A rich double album of some of New York’s best bands, with standout tracks from the Secrets, Paula Carino, Erica Smith, Skelter, Rebecca Turner and many more.

5. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

Arguably the most insightful – and most brutally funny – album ever written about the music industry. The tunes are great too.

6. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs

The sprawling Brooklyn band go deep into 60s noir with this brilliantly morbid, phantasmagorical ep.

7. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

In the spirit of Dark Side of the  Moon and Closer, this is a masterpiece of artsy existentialist rock. You’ll find several tracks on our Best Songs of 2009 list, including our #1 pick, Never Looking Back.

8. Botanica – americanundone

All the fearless fury and rage of a Botanica live show successfully captured at a show in Germany late last year.

9. Kelli Rae Powell – New Words for Old Lullabies

The amazingly lyrical oldtimey chanteuse alternates between sultry, devious romantic stylings and sheer unhinged anger.

10. McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

Ward White and Joe McGinty’s wickedly lyrical collaboration puts a fresh spin on retro 60s psychedelic pop.

11. The Church – Untitled #23

The Australian art-rock legends’ latest is yet another triumph of swirling atmospherics and intense lyricism.

12. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

Her best album – the New York song stylist has never been funnier or more acerbic. Includes a charming duet with Elvis Costello.

13. Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra – Live in Brussels

A lush, majestic effort recorded with the stellar crew who played on his most recent studio album Crossing Dragon Bridge.

14. Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Haunting and poignant but also cleverly amusing, the New York rocker has never written better or sung more affectingly.

15. The Jazz Funeral – s/t – free download

The best band ever to come out of Staten Island, New York, these janglerockers write excellent lyrics and have some very catchy Americana-inflected tunes.

16. Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize – free download

The last album the great Americana songwriter ever recorded, a harrowing chronicle of dissolution and despair.

17. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The Church’s iconic twelve-string guitarist’s finest work ever, a sweeping, majestic, multistylistic masterpiece.

18. Black Sea Hotel – s/t

New York’s own Bulgarian vocal choir’s debut is otherworldly, gorgeous and strikingly innovative.

19. Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

Latin meets noir cabaret meets acoustic gypsy punk on the Bay Area band’s sensational second album.

20. The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

The tenor saxophonist/composer goes straight for wherever the melody is, usually in four minutes or less, with one of the world’s great rhythm sections, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Time may also judge this a classic.

21. The New Collisions – s/t

All the fun and edgy intensity of vintage 80s new wave reinvented for the next decade by platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild and her killer backing band.

22. Ten Pound Heads – s/t

The great long lost Blue Oyster Cult album: relentlessly dark, edgy, occasionally noir art-rock songs with layers of great guitar.

23. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

A hilariously woozy, fun romp through the songs from Sergeant Pepper, by the allstar NYC reggae crew who brought us Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread.

24. Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer

Intense, memorable Nashville gothic songwriting from one of its finest practitioners.

25. Chris Eminizer – Twice the Animal

Cleverly lyrical art-rock songwriting with tinges of vintage Peter Gabriel from this first-rate New York rocker.

26. Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

The Tuareg rockers’ most diverse, accessible album, as memorable as it is hypnotic.

27. Monika Jalili – Elan

Classic songs from Iran from the 60s and 70s, fondly and hauntingly delivered by the Iranian-American siren and her amazing backup band.

28. Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon

The iconic Bulgarian clarinetist delivers maybe his most adrenalizing, intense album of gypsy music ever.

29. The Stagger Back Brass Band – s/t

The Spinal Tap of brass bands are as virtuosic and melodic as they are funny – which is a lot.

30. Eric Vloeimans‘ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s

The Dutch trumpeter leads a trio through a particularly poignant, affecting mix of classically-tinged jazz.

31. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

Recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York last year, this is a boisterous, furious mix of hilarious skits and songs by the Dead Kennedys of the oldtimey scene.

32. Salaam – s/t

Sister-and-brother Dena and Amir El Saffar’s richly memorable, haunting seventh album of Middle Eastern instrumentals and ballads.

33. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

Their shtick is that they add an Asian tinge to gypsy music, giving it an especially wild edge. The singing saw work on the album is pretty amazing too.

34. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

An eerily glimmering, suspensefully minimalist masterpiece by the baritone sax player and pianist, recorded in a sonically exquisite old church earlier this year.

35. The Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map

Their first one without Yo-yo Ma is also their most adventurous mix of Asian and Middle Eastern-themed compositions (by Osvaldo Golijov, Angel Lam, Evan Ziporyn and others), played by an allstar cast including Kayhan Kalhor, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, pipa pioneer Wu Man and a cast of dozens.

36. Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel

The NYC songwriter’s most straightforward, catchy yet also maybe her most lyrically edgy album yet – and she has several.

37. Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

Wry, Tom Waits-inflected noir songs by this excellent NYC crew.

38. Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A deliciously jangly followup to their classic 2007 album Sometimes Always Never.

39. The Komeda Project – Requiem

The New York jazz crew’s second collection of works by the Roman Polanski collaborator who died tragically in the 1960s is brooding, morbid, cinematic and Mingus-esque.  

40. Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Like the Roots of Chicha series, Waxing Deep’s second devious, danceable collection of genre-hopping obscure Latin funk from 1970s Cuba onward is packed with obscure gems.

41. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

Ominous, windswept, atmospheric North Asian ambience produced with stately, understated power.

42. The Moonlighters – Enchanted

Another great album: gorgeous harmonies from Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball, charming retro 20s songwriting and incisive steel guitar from NYC’s best oldtimey band.

43. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa/Black River

Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt share a telepathic chemistry in duo soundscapes ranging from clever and playful to downright macabre.

44. Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man

The multistylistic chanteuse, legendary in the cassette underground, gets her haunting, intense, otherworldly vocals set to smart, terse new arrangements from dreampop to 70s style Britfolk to trance.

45. Devi – Get Free

Ferociously smart pychedelic power trio rock with one of the most interesting lead guitarists out there right now.

46. Obits – I Blame You

Dark, catchy, propulsive retro 60s garage rock with echoes of the Stooges and early Pink Floyd by this inspired Brooklyn band.

47. HuDost – Trapeze

Sweeping, sometimes hypnotic, artsy songs that move from Americana to gypsy to goth, with frontwoman Moksha Sommer’s graceful vocals.

48. Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

Hauntingly visionary, provocative, politically aware songs set to gorgeously rustic, late 1920s blues, swing and hillbilly arrangements by the great Americana guitarist.

49. Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009

Fearless conscious bilingual hip-hop (in Taiwanese and English) from this international star.

50. Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight

A trio of old British punks – Justin Adams, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds – combine to create a masterpiece of desert-inspired duskcore.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

A million producers have tried to technify world music; most have failed spectacularly.  This is a welcome change, an extraordinarily successful hybrid of old and new, acoustic and electronic. Like the cd cover, the music on famed “throat singers” Huun Huur Tu‘s new album Eternal effectively evokes the windswept steppes of their native Tuva in the west of what was the Soviet Union. Like a warped Asian version of Radiohead, this cd sets folk songs impressively bulked up and energized with big-room studio production alongside austere soundscapes that conjure up hauntingly barren badlands vistas. Producer Carmen Rizzo’s most notable achievement here is that he keeps the compositions intact. He’s not trying to make third-rate hip-hop or techno out of it with a cheesy subsonic bass pulse, instead using the songs as a foundation and then layering subtle shades of orchestration around them, always keeping the melodies front and center.

The cd’s opening cut is a ballad in the Asian scale set to a hypnotically repeating, minimalist keyboard sample. Throughout the cd, Rizzo uses the group’s trademark swirling vocal harmonies (the singers hold a low note and let the resulting overtones circle around) as just another instrument in the orchestra rather than making them the sonic center. The second track is another Asian-flavored vocal number with tabla-like percussion, building to a swirl of oscillating vocals and then segueing into the next cut with a trip-hop beat. After a brief, suspensefully static tone poem, there’s the best track on the album, the murky, atmospheric Dogee Mountain (Interlude), blending layer upon layer of sound over a haunting, minimalist two-chord progression.

The stark intensity remains with In Search of a Lost Past, an austere, Radiohead/Alan Parsons soundtrack piece where the singers’ overtones become so distorted as the high frequencies build that it’s almost as if they’re having some devious fun with a vocoder. The album concludes with a hypnotic march set to reverberating electric piano and yet more dense, echoey layers of vocalese, and then a brief chant which for once sets those otherworldly harmonies centerstage. This works on just about every level it could: as psychedelic rock, as straight-up world music composition and chillout album. One of the year’s best so far. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo will be at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 with a sellout expected, advance tickets highly recommended.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment