Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Avishai Cohen Brings His Pensive, Mysterious Middle Eastern Jazz to Highline Ballroom

Avishai Cohen is on a roll. The Israeli jazz bassist specializes in moody, often haunting compositions which draw equally on Middle Eastern and western classical music as well as jazz. Like another brilliant Israeli jazz bassist, Omer Avital, Cohen has gone deeper into the Middle East lately, although Cohen takes less of the spotlight than Avital typically does, and tends to be more compositionally than improvisationally-inclined. His most recent album, Almah is a blend of Middle Eastern and contemporary classical music and features both oboe and a string quartet. Like Cohen’s two previous efforts, Duende and Aurora, the lineup also includes brilliant third-stream pianist Nitai Hershkovits, who’s joining Cohen along with drummer Daniel Dor for a trio show at Highline Ballroom on June 22 at 8 PM; tix are $30.

Over Cohen’s past three albums, you can see a trajectory unfold and a distinctive, individualistic style continue to evolve. Cohen’s intimate, straightforward, emotionally direct songs without words often take on a Spanish tinge throughout Aurora, which is basically a trio album featuring Shai Maestro on piano with occasional oud from Amos Hoffman and vocalese from Karen Malka. There are plenty of tricky time signatures, generous amounts of rubato, and dynamics galore. Duende, a duo album with Hershkovits, is more rhythmic, swings more and relies more on blues-based tradition rather than the apprehensive chromatics of Aurora – other than the gorgeous theme-and-variations that comprise the former’s opening tracks. Almah has a starkly orchestrated overture, a little minimalist indie classical, austerely rhythmic Arabic melodies, an uneasy lullaby, a couple of bracingly acerbic, chromatically-fueled waltzes, and a bitingly rhythmic, rather ferocious piano feature for Hershkovits that might be its strongest track.

Since Cohen is playing this show with the trio, you can most likely expect lots of stuff from the two older albums and maybe material from even earlier. Settle in, wait for the lights to go down and let the suspense begin.

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June 15, 2014 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yemen Blues Mix It Up

Yemen Blues are yet another one of the explosion of impossibly esoteric, pan-global, psychedelic dance bands to spring up in the last few years. They’re Israeli; they draw on influences as diverse as classic levantine dance music, Bollywood pop, Balkan brass, funk, Afrobeat and Yemeni Jewish themes. To say that their latest, self-titled album is a blend of all of these is true in the purest sense of the word since each of the songs here echoes pretty much all of those styles. A few of them don’t. The opening track features a squirrely low-register reed instrument playing a hypnotic riff against a choir of voices; the third track is a pretty straight-up, repetitive Bollywood pop tune. There are also two bracingly slinky oldschool Egyptian tunes here, the first with a suspenseful cinematic feel, the second taking a sudden shift into an eerie minor-key psychedelic soul interlude that rises with the horns and violin going full steam.

The rest are a pretty irresistible grab-bag of riffs and ideas from around the globe. Track number two is a brass band hip-hop levantine number with a fiery violin solo and a flute-driven interlude straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1969. The title track works a gentle, folk-rock tinged melody reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here that eventually builds to a bouncy cabaret vamp and then goes doublespeed.

What sounds like a Moroccan sintir tune builds a long one-chord jam suspensefully, picking up the energy as the horns circle like vultures and swoop in all together for the kill. A long, slow, imploring duet features vibraphone and oud; another begins with oud, shifts to Afrobeat and then a flute-driven soul interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in the Isaac Hayes catalog. The album winds up with a lively blend of Afrobeat and Bollywood. Yemen Blues play Central Park Summerstage on 7/31; early arrival (i.e. 2 PM) is advised.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting and Ecstatic Global Sounds from Gilad Atzmon

Reedman/multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s chutzpah is consistent throughout both his music and his politics. His band the Orient House Ensemble takes its name from Yasir Arafat’s old digs (Atzmon is Israeli-British; his politics are progressive, i.e. supportive of the Palestinian people). Innovatively and often hauntingly blending elements of Middle Eastern, Balkan and klezmer music along with jazz, his latest album (which came out in the UK last fall) is characteristically eclectic. Here Atzmon plays alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet and accordion, along with Frank Harrison on piano, Wurlitzer and xylophone; Yaron Stavi on bass; Eddie Hick on drums, and Tali Atzmon providing atmospheric vocalese on many of the songs.

They bookend the album with a playful, carnivalesque waltz and then an oompah dance for a Sergeant Pepper feel, a considerably blithe contrast with the intensity between intro and outro. The expansive title track sets bracing, Balkan-tinged sax over suspenseful piano that grows more otherworldly as Atzmon heads for the stratosphere. There are two gorgeous, bitter, low-key laments here, the first of them winding up unexpectedly on a more optimistic, nocturnal note. A jazzy take on Ravel’s Bolero has Atzmon staying pretty close to the page over a hypnotic, almost trip-hop rhythm; the most memorable number here is the vivid, cinematic London to Gaza. Opening as a judicious, wary mood piece, Atzmon introduces a bright muezzin call followed by Harrison’s darkly tinged, modal jazz waltz and finally a crazed sax crescendo followed by more bustling piano urbanity. Likewise, In the Back of a Yellow Cab traces a long ride, possibly through an Israel of the mind, a slow slinky groove followed by a pair of animatedly orchestrated sax conversations and a more conspiratorial one between the bass and piano. They follow with All the Way to Montenegro, a jolly clarinet dance that breaks down to a long, suspenseful clarinet taqsim before winding up on an ecstatic note. Many moods, many styles, often very gripping. The album is out now on World Village Music.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Eyal Maoz’s Edom – Hope and Destruction

Raise your fist. Now extend your index finger and pinky. This album rocks. The second album by Eyal Maoz’s Edom, just out on Tzadik, is a nonchalantly dark blend of pounding instrumental metal and surf music with brooding Middle Eastern flourishes. The obvious comparison is Texas cult instrumentalists Intodown, with a slightly more ornate, noisy sensibility. In this power quartet, multi-faceted guitarist/composer Maoz is backed by keyboardist Brian Marsella (of Cyro Baptista‘s band and the fascinating melodic jazz ensemble the Flail) along with a plodding rhythm section. From the first few bars of the first song, it becomes clear that these guys really don’t have a clue about surf music. But that’s cool. That’s what gives them an original sound. The Yardbirds didn’t have a clue about blues either, and nobody can say that they didn’t rock.

As you would expect from a bunch of guys with a jazz background, they vary the tempos and dynamics. Maoz sets down eerie, often anguished layers of noise and feedback over simple, catchy chromatic vamps. Marsella utilizes several keyboard patches: quavery Vox organ, smooth Hammond and seemingly every bleep and bloop stored within the memory of whatever he’s playing (a Nord Electro seems a good guess). Most of the craziest noise passages are his, although, predictably, the most beautifully lyrical moments – particularly the Vox solo on the fifth track – are his as well.

The best song on the cd is Shell, a terse, catchy, macabre number that sounds like the Coffin Daggers gone to the Golan Heights, especially menacing as the organ doubles Maoz’ sinister guitar line. The best single solo is by bassist and producer Shanir Ezra Blumankranz, on the same song – it’s long and bluesy and deliciously terse and you don’t want it to end. Beyond the chromatic metal vibe of most of the other tracks, there’s also one that nicks a familiar hook by the Cure before going all hypnotic with a two-chord vamp, a bizarre attempt at a bubblegum surf song and a big, cinematic track simply titled Two with a noise breakdown evocatively colored with Maoz’ hammerlike attack. It’s nothing if not original and probably sounds terrific live. Shesh shesh shesh (that’s 666 in Hebrew).

September 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment